Follow by Email

Saturday, 31 August 2013

The Journey

If we are going to break out of our small worlds, we have to be prepared to travel. We need to be willing to go on a journey. It was actually my recent travels that really made me realise how small my world has been in many ways. Since then I have reflected on how the language and concept of journey has been really dominant over the last 2 years - both personally and for the church community I belong to. We have been on a very significant journey that has involved change, challenge, excitement, adventure, surprise, being unsettled, learning new things and new ways etc. - and the journey continues, with even more twists and turns, and unexpected directions. Right now, my own personal journey has meant significant change.

Of course, there is a very real sense that we are all continually on a journey. At risk of cliche, 'life is a journey' and perhaps all that I am describing is simply this journey of life. Maybe. And then of course, as Christians, absolutely central to our faith is the idea of pilgrimage. We are those who have set our hearts on pilgrimage (Ps.84:5), on a journey to Zion, to the heavenly dwelling, to the promised land, to the fulfillment of the divine dream, to the city with foundations (Heb.11:10). And so travel, journey, pilgrimage etc. should be our common lot and daily experience. This is true. But I also believe that there are seasons in the spiritual life when we are made aware of this pilgrim call more than at other times (just as there are seasons when the language of establishing foundations, or sending down roots, are the appropriate and primary metaphors). And it is also sadly true that we - both individually and corporately - can allow ourselves to become settlers rather than pilgrims, to stall on our journeys. God then graciously stirs things up, and us up, so that we are unsettled, and have the opportunity (if we respond) to set out on the journey again. Many of us feel that this is exactly what has been happening.

So over the next week or so, I intend to reflect on this idea of the journey, its various aspects, and its meaning for me - and maybe for some of my readers - now. In the next post I will look briefly at how and why the Bible presents and explores this idea of the journey. Hope it will help.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Enlarging our world through reading

One way to enlarge your world is through reading. And reading writers outside of your tribe, often very different thinkers - people you may disagree with on some things and even many things, but who you can nevertheless learn something from. I have read many books from my tribe of Pentecostal-charismatics over the years - and many different families within that tribe - but in recent years I have also read material from conservative evangelicals, emergent church leaders, faith teachers, classic and progressive Pentecostals, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran theologians etc. I have enjoyed this wide reading and benefited greatly. I don't agree with them all - in fact, some I passionately disagree with on some things - but that's OK, because only reading people you agree with in order to reinforce what you already believe is exactly what perpetuates tribalism.

Of course I recognize that not everybody has the inclination or the time to do lots of book reading, but there are other ways of engaging with thinkers from other tribes - blogs, websites, youtube, audio downloads etc. I also recognise that in our busy lives we must prioritise our time toward what God has called us to, and to existing God-given connections. There is a danger of losing focus, and achieving breadth at the expense of depth. But enlarging our world can actually contribute to the depth if it causes us to think through what we believe more carefully; and you can be led to new God-given connections as you enlarge your world.

So here's a list of people I've read, engaged with and learned from in the last couple of years. Please note that I am not claiming to have read whole books by all these writers; some I have only dipped into (all are Christians of different tribes, and there is one Jewish rabbi). In a world of blogs, online articles, Google previews and Kindle samples etc. - it is so much easier to at least get a taster of what others are thinking.Why not google one of these names that you have not heard of, or heard of only vaguely, and see if they enlarge your world. And if anyone wants to recommend to me some writers who have challenged and enlarged their thinking (as opposed to just reinforcing what you already believe), please do so - especially female writers who I think are under-represented in the Christian world, but that might be just because my world is still too small. I'd also love to hear your thoughts on any writer from the list you do engage with:

Bill Johnson, Danny Silk, Kris Vallotton, Greg Boyd, Dallas Willard, Peter Scazzero, Roger Olson, Ann Voskamp, Brennan Manning, Frank Viola, Jurgen Moltmann, Hans Kung, N.T Wright, C S Lewis, George MacDonald, Scott Mcknight, Tim Keller, T Austin Sparks, Brian McClaren, Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Christina Cleveland, Don Miller, Steve Uppal, Paul Scanlon, Stephen Matthew, Richard Foster, Steve Backlund, Andrew Wommack, Miroslav Volf, Amos Yong, David Bentley Hart, Richard Rohr, Jonathan Sacks, Graham Cooke,Paul Tripp, Gordon MacDonald, Ben Witherington, William Paul Young, C. Baxter Kruger, Henri Nouwen, Andrew Wilson. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Things Are Changing For Me

Because I feel that God wants to do a restoring work in areas of my heart and life – and after much prayer, reflection and discussion with my wife and close friends - I have come to the conclusion that the Lord requires me to lay down my leadership of Community Church Huddersfield, and to step down from eldership there. I have realised that it would be too difficult to continue with the pressures of leadership while co-operating with God in the work he is doing in and with me at this present time.

I will continue as a member of the church family and will continue to use my teaching and other gifts as part of the body, but I will not be in governmental leadership. I will be working alongside the leadership of the family of churches that we are in relationship with, in the area of theological research and developing written teaching resources. I will also continue to blog, and hope readers will find helpful what I have to write here.

As I am sadly aware how the Christian rumour-mill can distort things, I thought I would write something down clearly here on my blog. I want to be absolutely clear that although it involved making myself accountable to others, and has not been an easy decision, it is a conclusion I have come to myself, and believe it is God’s will for me at this time. I have not been sacked! I have not jumped before being pushed! I am choosing to do this, as I believe it is the Lord’s will. And I am so grateful to God for a wonderful wife, amazing friends, and an outstanding church family who have offered me nothing but love and support. I am so thankful for the culture of unconditional love and openness that God continues to cultivate among us. I hope to return to leadership at some point but right now I am trusting God with my future while seeking simply to respond to his leading in the present. I’d appreciate your prayers.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A little more on tribal thinking.

For those who'd like to think a little more on the subject of the tribal mentality, there is a fascinating article here by Caroline Myss. I do not agree with all she says, especially the over-emphasis on individualism, I have no idea what 'tribe' or worldview/belief system she identifies with, and I am not a fan of the conspiracy theorist website that it is posted on. But part of avoiding tribal thinking is being willing to learn form those with whom you disagree, and who are not like you.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Tribal thinking

The small world mentality I mentioned in my last post is similar to what has been described as tribal thinking. This is when we think that the group or the tribe we belong to is the best, or the truest, the most important, or the only one that really counts. We get sucked into group-think, rather than being able to really evaluate things for ourselves; it becomes almost impossible to challenge our tribe's assumptions, values and belief systems and we are affected in our prejudices towards other tribes and ways of thinking by the assumptions of the tribe we belong to or identify with. As a result we can react badly to thinking and perspectives that are different to our tribe, and allowing our beliefs to be challenged and changed becomes really difficult. End result: living in a small world!

It is significant that the nation of Israel was made up of twelve tribes, that were different in character, culture, aspiration and prophetic mandate, but made up one nation. And that the apostle John hears the heavenly song about those redeemed from every tribe, language, people and  nation (Rev.5:9). God's kingdom is multicultural - and makes room for many tribes!

All people at least come under the influence of one tribe (ethnic, cultural, political etc.) even in the individualist West. And I believe all Christians are part of a spiritual tribe, and that there are many families or households within those tribes. Being part of a tribe and spiritual family  is fine (and inevitable). It is the danger of tribal thinking and tribalism that we should avoid. It is also OK to have affection and loyalty to your family and tribe, but not to the point that the beliefs of the tribe cannot be subject to critical reflection, or that other perspectives are dismissed, and even derided; and we become unwilling to learn from others. Two things to help keep us free of tribal thinking - 1) be willing to continually learn, even from those we are very different from and disagree with on many things, and 2) be willing to change and grow in your understanding, beliefs, perspectives and practices.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Living in a small world

Finally getting back to blogging. The twists and turns of my sabbatical have been surprising and challenging. But some clarity for the way forward is beginning to emerge (more on that in future posts). During the summer, I have traveled a lot (unusually for me) - to different parts of the Philippines, and to Illinois and California in the US, and to Ireland for our family holiday. During my travels, I was struck by the fact that really the world I have been living in for many years has been far too small. But I am not talking in terms of geography. It is possible to travel the globe often and still live in a small world. I am thinking in terms of the Christian world, the body of Christ across the globe, the diverse and varied expressions of Kingdom communities in different parts of our world. And not only because of recent travels, but through reading and discussion with others over the last couple of years, I have realized that for many years I was stuck in a small - though really good - segment of the Christian 'world'. And I guess I ending up thinking that, even if it wasn't all that there was, it was enough; and that it was central to all that was happening in the Kingdom. But frankly, that's like someone living in a small vicinity of Huddersfield and thinking it's the epicentre of world affairs!

Alison and I have recently visited a small church in Manila, linked to NFI in the Pacific Rim; and a fantastic work among orphans and abandoned children in the rural parts of Puerto Princesa; we have visited Wheaton College, one of the bastions of mainstream evangelicalism in the US - it was attended by Billy Graham and there is a Centre in honour of this remarkable man who, as well as preaching the gospel to millions and advising and praying with Presidents and world leaders, helped to break down the divisions between Christians of different tribes; we visited the impressive campus of Willow Creek Church, one of the largest churches in the US and were blessed by their friendliness and sense of community and concern for the poor; and of course we have visited the amazing Bethel Church in Redding, California. We absolutely loved our time in Bethel, but just a little word of warning: while it is important to know the people and ministries that God brings into our lives to help us at a particular point in our journey (individual and corporate) and for us to learn as much as we can from them, let's not exchange one small world for another. Let's be open to learn from a wide range in the Body of Christ, and not just one part of it. Do you know I met great Christians in the US who had never heard of Bill Johnson!!?

I also want to add that I think it is important to know and honour your roots and heritage, while still being open to learning from across the whole Body. I am thankful for the neighbourhood I grew up in - but there is a big world out there!