Archives For hope

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“The church exists to set up in the world a new sign which is radically dissimilar to the world’s own manner and which contradicts it in a way that is full of promise.”

Karl Barth

One of the best scenes in television.

The weight of words

October 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

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“I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.” Markus Zusak

Words are powerful. So often it’s what people say to us that lingers in our minds, nagging away at us and chipping away our confidence. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a cutting comment or an unintentionally upsetting remark – and the chances are, we’ve made a few of those comments ourselves. Words have power.

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The Hebrew language has a depth which our tongue can only dream of. There are seven words to describe love, with the three most commonly used drawing distinctions between friendship (raya), intimacy (dod) and commitment (ahava). This allows for intentional use of words to define a situation.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words we use to define and describe our faith; the language we use when discussing our relationships with Jesus.

In the course of my day I can say I love Jesus, the sun, the West Wing, kiwi fruits and the book I’m reading. I can also hate tube delays, chocolate ice cream and the way a national news story is portrayed by the media.

Two words – love and hate – that we apply to countless situations, to the point where there is a danger they lose their meaning. Do I love God the same way I love kiwi fruits? No. Do I hate injustice the same way I hate chocolate ice cream? No.

Yet the limitations of language mean the lines are blurred.

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The question is, does it really matter? Because truth be told, it seems unlikely a whole generation will be able to change the language they use to describe their feelings. Individually, I may be able to adjust what I say, but it will not make much impact on others.

Or will it?

You only have to spend a short amount of time in a group of people to notice certain phrases repeated again and again. Within a small, intentional group, language crosses the boundaries of our own tongues. What we say gets picked up. Repeated. Embedded. Accepted.

So maybe we do need to adjust our language. We cannot create a new set of words overnight, but we can adjust our intention and think about what we say, and how we say it. We can reserve reverence for the things that matter, and disdain for the things that deserve it.

It may not change the world, but it may just begin to change, in a small way, how we talk about God.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling

tbToday, I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Tyler Braun. I first came across Tyler last year when I did a review of his brilliant book Why Holiness Matters.

Tyler is a great guy, and a voice worth listening to in a world where so many people are clamouring for attention. He’s humble, wise and discerning, and I have really valued and learnt a lot from his thoughts on mentoring over the last few months. His post below is about just that – mentoring – and it’ a great read. Over to him – and I’d love to know your thoughts on what he says.

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Certainly not all churches are representative of this, but mentoring is quickly the buzz word of choice for churches looking to reach younger generations. Fortune 500 companies are making the news by starting mentoring programs they hope will fulfill the desires their younger employees have for interaction with more experienced members within their organizations.

With the success these moves have made for companies, churches are also starting programs for mentoring. If churches start programs for mentoring they’ll kill the entire concept by trying to force relationships. What I think churches need is not another program, but a shift in mindset. Anyone can create a sign up sheet for those looking for a mentor, but churches should be equipping people with the tools needed in order for mentoring to become a core focus.

In 5 years, your church will have moved on to the next quick fix if you create a mentoring program, but if you instill a mindset of mentoring within a church, in 5 years you’ll have a church full of people who are more connected and shine forth the light of Christ like never before.

First off, it’s important to define what is meant by mentoring, so it’s understood what is being discussed:

Mentoring is inviting someone into an intentional relationship for the sake of personal and spiritual growth.

I have no doubt my call away from creating mentoring programs is discouraging for those who have had in mind to do this very thing. So let’s spend time examining how we can instill a mentoring mindset in a church. Over time this will be more effective than a program anyway.

The Gospel Leads to Mentoring

The lack of understanding about what the Gospel is can be seen all around as the Gospel is truncated to simply mean being saved from sin. Jesus then is Savior, but not King. The focus on grace is simply saving grace. Where is the focus on equipping grace? Where is King Jesus found in a lived out theology? What does God have for us to do with our lives after he saves us? These questions are often ignored.

If the Gospel saves us, and also equips us for the present and the future by infusing God’s power within us, then we can begin to see how we are called to care for others. If mentoring is only a quick fix to reach a generation it will never become sustainable, but connecting mentoring to the core belief of Christian faith means it becomes integral to the outworking of that faith.

Lead the Way

Churches are full of leaders who want their church to build a mentoring mindset but they’d prefer to leave to work for others. If developing a mentoring mindset is something you desire for your church, but you cannot find the time or energy to help lead the way, you need to find something else to focus on then. Without the key staff/volunteers/idea leaders leading the way, mentoring will not develop.

Just as you should never preach a message you haven’t first taught yourself, you should never tell others to do something you are not first willing to do.

Look for the Linchpins

Every church has indispensable people who are the glue of the congregation. They hold everything together by serving, teaching, leading, praying, etc. Churches develop a mentoring mindset because these linchpins put their effort toward it.

Reach out to these indispensable individuals and start having conversations that help get the ball rolling. While it is vital for you to lead by example, you also cannot lead the church toward mentoring on your lonesome. You need others who are passionate about investing in people. Who are the leaders in your church or community that people are drawn to? These linchpins are the people you need on board.

Celebrate What’s Already Happening

Chances are mentoring is already taken place, in various forms, all around you. But often it’s taking place with little to no intentionality or fanfare. Opportunities are wasted because people choose to stop investing their time and energy in them.

You have the opportunity to champion the pockets around you where mentoring is taking place. You have to start somewhere, and celebrating what is working is a great place to start.

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Tyler Braun is the author of Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost Our Way—But We Can Find it Again. Tyler lives in Oregon with his wife Rose and son Judah. You can find Tyler on Twitter or his blog, www.manofdepravity.com, where he writes about Millennials and finding the significant life we’re all searching for.

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“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis

This might sound bizarre. In fact, it is bizarre. But sometimes, when the sun is at its warmest and the skies at their bluest, I find myself longing for winter.

It’s not that I don’t love the sun. I cherish its warmth, the way the world feels more optimistic when it shines, the way it accentuates the vivid spectrum of colours that paint our world. Yet something within me pines for winter.

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I think it is because when I am enclosed by the cold grip of winter and defined by the darkness that it brings, I appreciate and recognise the importance of the sun more.

Those things I love about the sun – its brightness, its warmth, its life – I recall only rarely while I can feel its gentle warmth upon my face. The value of the sun is diminished by its constant presence.

Rather like a low hum in a quiet room, after a while it becomes background noise, until it is either muted or drowned out by a louder voice.

This is not the sun’s fault, but my own.

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From this, two challenges – or perhaps opportunities – present themselves. One is to continue to nurture the memory of the sun during the winter period. To recall its hope, remember its beauty, to cling to its life during the dark months.

The other is to recognise the presence of the sun while it shines. To not become so familiar with it that it becomes merely a background hue. To appreciate it in the here and now.

To bask in its warmth. To live in it.

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“And then her heart changed, or at least she understood it; and the winter passed, and the sun shone upon her.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Culture of Grace

May 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write about grace. Yet it hasn’t happened, because I haven’t been able to find the words I need to express what I want to say.

Then I found this video, by the wonderful folks at Trinity Grace Church. It’s 3 minutes and 15 seconds long, and it encapsulates all I wanted to say and more.

I urge you to watch it.

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“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Mother Teresa

I recently heard a story of a lesbian and a Bishop who were part of a television debate. There was a huge amount of vitriolic argument, with the criticism aimed mostly at the Bishop. The majority of those present, both on the panel and in the audience, suggested his views on sexuality, equality and ethics were outdated and bigoted.

Despite the abuse thrown his way – particularly on the issue of sexuality – the Bishop responded to each question with love, humilty and grace.

At the end of the debate the lesbian participant approached the Bishop, moved at how he had responded so gracefully. She said this:

“I would rather be disagreed with and loved than tolerated.”

The Bishop – despite having strong views on her sexuality – had treated her with love, grace and respect. He hadn’t judged her, hadn’t criticised her, hadn’t made her feel guilty. He had shown her love.

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In the latest edition of Relevant Magazine, editor Cameron Strang writes this:

“Even when it isn’t popular, or it means we might be labeled or even attacked, we are called to speak the truth in love. We can no longer be voiceless.”

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In Rumours of God, Jon Tyson and Darren Whitehead point out that in the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t criticise those society would define as sinners.

Jesus loves them. He forgives them. He rebukes those who considered themselves righteous, the Pharisees.

But to those who were expecting to be condemned, Jesus only shows love.

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I wonder what our worlds would look like if that was how we treated people. I wonder what my world would look like if that was how I treated people.

If I was quick to love, slow to judge, even slower to condemn.

After all, that’s what Jesus did.

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“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” Langston Hughes

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between understanding God and knowing God.

I think it’s important we try, within reason, to understand God. While we can never fully get our minds around his power, love, grace or holiness, it is undoubtedly helpful in our relationships with him to grapple with these facets of who he is.

After all, many people over the years have helped other Christians by developing their understanding of God.

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But more so, I think sometimes we (and by we you can definitely read I) worry too much about understanding God and don’t spend enough time simply knowing him. I may not fully grasp God’s love for me, but I can fully experience it. I may not completely comprehend how great the gift of grace is, but I can embrace it and live my life in it.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we should never try to understand God. There’s a definite time and place for such thinking.

But I believe understanding God alone will not transform us, will not turn our lives upside down for his Kingdom and fill us with the peace that God offers.

Only knowing God can do that.

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“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart…live in the question.” Rainer Maria Rilke

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“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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All around, trees are blossoming. Up and down the roads surrounding my office, the trees are showing off their finest pinks, delicate petals proclaiming that spring has finally beaten winter.

I love the annual reminder that winter is only for a season. It seems that each year, just as it seems winter has set in for good, glimmers of spring appear. Slowly. First, a bud. There’s a long way to go, but there’s a whisper of hope in the air.

The bud grows. Day by day it becomes bigger as the blossom inside prepares for its moment. If you look closely, you can see hints of what is to come as the bud bursts at its seams.

And then one day you wake up and there, in all its glory, is a tree shimmering with blossom.

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It doesn’t last forever. This display of breathtaking colours will depart all too soon, leaving nothing but memories and brown petals on the pavement.

But each year we know that despite the depths of winter, spring will triumph, announcing itself in a burst of colour.

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“What a strange thing! To be alive beneath cherry blossoms.” Kobayashi Issa

40 Days of Water

February 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

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This year, for Lent, I’ll be taking part in blood:water mission’s 40 Days of Water challenge.

The rules are simple – no drinks other than water for 40 days (excluding Sundays, which are rather enticingly called ‘feast days’). The money which I would spend on other drinks I’ll give to blood:water, who will in turn give the money to communities in Uganda who don’t have access to clean water.

It’s pretty straightforward. I’m also going to be blogging and ‘social media-ing’ my journey for blood:water, which is really exciting.

Because if I’m honest, I’m not really looking forward to it that much.

I’m not addicted to any other drinks, but I am a fan of many. I struggle in the morning without an orange juice hit first thing and a coffee mid-morning. During the 40 days I’ve got my wife’s birthday, a wedding, a trip to the rugby and plenty of occassions where drinking only water will seem a little disappointing.

But then the thing is, this isn’t supposed to be about me. I’m not doing this for health reasons, or because I think it will bring about a change in how I act, although in a way both of those would be welcome.

I’m doing it because there are people out there who don’t have access to something as basic as clean water, and I have a way of making a small but significant difference. Yes, it will probably be annoying. I’m sure there will be times when I want to pack it in (and I’ve decided I’ll fine myself if I do).

Mother Teresa said this: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

The prophet Isaiah says this: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”

For 40 days, I am going to try and learn to do right and seek justice.

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To learn more about blood:water mission visit their website, and to learn more about 40 Days of Water visit the campaign page. You can also follow #40days on Twitter.