Er…would you like an (anointed) digestive biscuit?

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It happened again. Last night my friend Simon (name changed) brought yet another Polish guy to our house church meeting; a man who

God works through these really rather powerfully.

had not been to a similar cell group before.

How? God told Simon, again, to offer the man a biscuit from the pack he was carrying. Simon, as last time, didn’t want to, but when the Almighty pressed the point he felt he really had to.

Sure enough, the man – let’s call him Ed – didn’t want the biscuit. But interest was aroused. Before he knew it he was inside our Christian community house and dancing round the table singing a worship song in 4 languages just like the rest of us; just like red indians in fact! I tried to put myself in his shoes – he must have been blown away!

These God-ordained, anointed biscuits of churchward-pulling power are the business, I tell you. I would recommend them to any serious contemporary gospel evangelist.

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Would you…ahem…like a custard cream?

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My friend Simon was on a bus when he heard God say to him ‘invite the guy next to you to come with you to church’.

God can use biscuits of any size, shape or colour

‘What? No!’ was his response, as Simon, in characteristic human fashion enacted over the ages, bottled out of doing just what God had said.

Simon didn’t fancy asking a complete stranger – and a disconcertingly well dressed one at that –  to come with him to church ‘out of the blue’.

As a hopeful compromise, he offered the guy he was sitting next to a biscuit from an open pack he had with him. The chap refused.

‘Invite him to church’ came God’s insistent voice. So there and then Simon invited this complete stranger to come with him to the church meeting he was going to.
I know this because the meeting was taking place last night at my house, a Christian community in Handsworth Wood, Birmingham.

Richard, the stranger that Simon invited, was the last person to leave. He and I talked at length after Simon and all the rest had gone. He was fascinated by my off the wall lifestyle. Over a cup of tea and a NICE biscuit we shared stories and he asked probing questions. Did I really share my salary? What happened with my money? How did we guard against fraud?
Richard was very struck by what he’d seen; the warmth and worship and friendship. He was guarded, but then he’s had some tough experiences in life and finds it hard to trust. He is intelligent, urbane and has a faith in God; I could tell that he was really impacted by the evening’s meeting.

In his words: ‘what struck me was the warmth Simon showed me. People just don’t talk on buses in Birmingham; they are miserable and ‘in themselves’. I had to come and see what made him different.’

Serpent’s teeth and O.A.P’s

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John Humphreys, the ‘Today’ programme host, spoke to the chief exec of faltering care company Southern Cross yesterday. The chief exec, Christopher Fisher, sounded increasingly like a dysfunctional robot as Humphreys turned the screw,  increasingly bothered by Fisher’s text book but echoingly hollow and inadequate replies.

And well he might be bothered. 31,000 elderly and vulnerable people are being frightened by the prospect that they might be having to find another place to live quite soon. They don’t need this worry; to face the potential scramble for new lodgings when they are old, infirm and possibly alone in the world.

The company bosses already cashed their shares in a while back and made a killing. Now it is anyone’s guess whether a rescue plan can be cobbled together. In many ways this is a business saga like any other. The difference here is that Southern Cross provides us with an illustration of the inherent queasiness of a situation where care has been commodified.

Care homes are a relatively new development and only in the 21st Century have they become the standard form of care for the most aged and incapacitated people in our society. Before that it was family, friends, the church maybe.

Now, ‘you pays your money, you gets your care’. But when it becomes a money issue, the care on offer becomes subject to the vagaries of the market. The help you desperately need in order to end your life with a measure of dignity may well be withdrawn because a banker no longer sees your care home as a prudent investment. It’s not pretty, but it’s the way our society seems to have gone with our unsound emphases on money as the key to everything and independence at all costs.

Shakespeare would have understood John Humphreys’ unease well. In his play ‘King Lear’ the abandoned, desolate old King wanders the freezing, rain sodden heath at night. His daughters have taken his property, got what they wanted, and abandoned all affection for him in the process. King Lear is overwhelmed by a sense of the ghastliness of life without genuine human warmth:

‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/ To have a thankless child.’

I feel for those in Southern Cross care homes who are now aware of their lack of the security that real care should bring. I hope they still have families who can help them. May they be saved from the serpent’s teeth of the bankers, the loan companies and the insurers. That is perhaps an appropriate prayer for a prayer-less age.

Me last please.

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A friend was speaking to an old African chap recently, a church leader, about his prayer life. The man said he prayed for his church, his leaders, us in the UK, his family, himself: in that order. After adoring God, of course.

Another African, Archbishop John Sentamu, prays in a similar way, praising and thanking God and putting himself last on the list. I heard him say that to the nation on Chris Evans’s radio show not long back.

How wonderful! How self forgetful! How unlike me!

Sadly, I’m often top of my prayer shopping list. Today I realised that I was moping through another me-centred set of prayer issues and gave myself a bit of a shake, asked God to centre me much more on him.

‘Your will be done’. Years ago, before I was a Christian, I prayed on bended knee to a God I mocked, slighted and scarcely believed in – to get me into Cambridge University. I wanted to be with my girlfriend (who went there), I wanted to be successful and to be seen to be doing well. That was one prayer in a long list of self centred prayers which I am glad, with hindsight, that God did not answer. I guess He knows we will be a lot better off if we ditch our sappy, self orientated plans for our best benefit and get into His perfect will for our lives.

How much life do you expect?

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Yesterday I was talking to one of the main leaders of my church about the ‘Multiply Network’ that we are part of. This network is an affiliation of church groups united in a vision of brotherhood love and new testament church. It’s not my area of involvement, really, but I was listening with interest. It inspires me that we’re part of a movement that touches many lives in 24 countries.

But this struck me yesterday. Of all the overseers that we had recently appointed in these 24 countries, at least two had already died – in Africa. Simply because, out there, life expectancy is lower than where we are.

I guess in this country we are more or less used to thinking we’ll probably get to our three score years and ten, unless heart attack, cancer or car crash intervene. It creates a certain expectation of life that the world out there doesn’t share. Is it an arrogance? Perhaps it is, fostered by a pretty good health care system and no scarcity of food. In any case, I’m sure that the way we count our days is different to the Africans.

Singing songs on a crashing plane

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Last night I dreamed that I was in a plane that was drifting without power. We brushed the trees, terrifyingly, before landing on a motorway – safely.

I am, to all intents and purposes, a monk, living in a Christian community. Sometimes I can hardly believe that I got this way. It was so far off my radar of what I wanted to do in life.  I posses little, have abandoned money. I join in singing songs in a sordid world. My life is not my own. My joy is Jesus, even when living for him is crushingly painful.

Here are some words from a monk of Gethsamani, Kentucky, that caught me recently:

‘The basic thing of a monk in the search for God is an ongoing discovery of who we are. A monk will be called to do many things in the line of obedience that he may not especially like to do but he feels takes him into the area of God’s providence. He’s vowed his life to God, so this is a radical expression of our dependency on God. There is a surrender, as it were, in that obedience, in going into places that you wouldn’t ordinarily go by yourself.’

That surrender is breathtaking. I concur that to follow Jesus is to go places that you would rather flee. It is to experience the opening of your raw and distempered soul to the searing inspection of the light.

The powerlessness you experience in the vowed life is at times perhaps what it’s like being on a plane – like in my dream. You feel you are out of control and your whole life is crashing. But you pray and hold tight, and keep on singing those songs, because we’re coming down to land, and we’re going to be alright.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

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On Friday night I received a great compliment.

A friend and I were out in Birmingham city centre sharing Jesus with people. We stopped in Victoria square to admire the fountain. Someone had chucked a whole box of Ariel automatic in there and the fountain was foaming up massively, like some sort of giant size ice cream machine.

We got chatting to some girls nearby who, seeing we were Christians, asked us if we thought that the world was going to end the next day. (This was Friday night, Harold Camping and his happy throng were predicting the rapture the next day.) I said that, on balance, I thought it was more likely that rather than the coming of the Lord tomorrow, there would be the dawning realization – for anyone who hadn’t figured it out already – that Harold Camping and his crazy crew were genuine religious wackos and that tomorrow would be a pretty normal Saturday all in all. I was looking forward to a spot of gardening myself.

I followed up my opinion by telling them that although I didn’t think Harold Camping’s prediction had a shred of credibility to it; Jesus was absolutely real and you could bet your life on Him. Everything he says is true, I said.

The girls didn’t seem that relieved to hear me say that doomsday wasn’t nearly upon us, but then they hadn’t seemed too bothered about it in the first place. They listened with interest to my Jesus talk and then the compliment came: ‘You know’, said one of the girls, ‘you aren’t a bit like those shouty types in town with their Bibles. You’re like my brother’.

That really pleased me, because, though at various times in my life I have wanted to drive a digger, be a head waiter, househusband to a supermodel, James Bond 007 – and other such careers –  I have never (strangely enough), ever wanted to be seen as a foamy-mouthed, goggle-eyed, scripture- spitting fruitloop. I don’t hold it against anyone who wants to do that kind of thing; maybe it has some kind of purpose; but it’s just not me. In fact, if you’d asked me a while back if I would ever consider being an evangelist I would have laughed. No way, Jose! But meeting Jesus changed everything for me, of course.

So despite the fact that I wear a red cross, read my Bible and offer people Christian literature, I am glad to be seen as on people’s level rather than spitting down upon them from an invisible street pulpit.

I take it that this is how Jesus himself was with people; a friend of all sorts – and not ashamed to identify with those he calls to follow him.  Not red faced, angry and pointing the finger; not heavy; a brother.

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