Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Spoken from the Heart

Selwyn Hughes

Day after day we go about our tasks on this sin-stained planet gathering one impurity after another, being forced to listen to blasphemies and language that is an offence both to God and all decent people. Because of this, how we need to breathe in the filtering freshness of the spiritual oxygen that comes to us through His Holy Spirit.

One of the great evidence of the Welsh Revival in 1904 when God’s breath blew over the Principality in a powerful way was the fact that people’s lives were cleaned up in the most amazing manner. Old debts were paid, bad language gave way to the praises of God and people would cross the valleys to each other’s homes in order to clear up any bad feeling that had been between them.

It is a well-known fact that miners who directed the pit ponies with swear words, after they were converted didn’t want to swear anymore, so they had to teach the pit ponies new and cleaner commands.

It was like this in the Hebrides Revival in 1959 too. A group of people were praying in church and some stood
up and read from Psalm 24: ‘Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.’

One of the congregation followed the reading with a prayer that went something like this, ‘O God, forgive us if our hands are not clean and our hearts are not pure.’ A young man immediately stood up and startled the congregation by crying out: ‘It is so much humbug to talk about our hearts and hands not being clean. We need to drop the ‘our’ and replace it with ‘my’.’

Then he proceeded to pray, ‘Oh, God, my hands are not clean, my heart is not pure…forgive me,’ and falling to the ground in repentance provoked others to follow in the same vein. People made their praying very personal and cried out to God in such a way that the Holy Spirit fell on the island ushering in one of the great movements of the Spirit in the twentieth century.

From chapter 3 of Spoken from the Heart – sermons by the author, published by CWR 2005

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Ambiguous Evangelism

Bob Mayo with Sara Savage and Sylvie Collins

I worked for three years as the chaplain at London South Bank University. South Bank was a large multi-campus site with around 18,000 students. I had one room and no immediate role in the life of the university. My initial task was to make people realise that there was a chaplain in place. I had to deal with the fact that there was no understanding in many people’s minds of what a chaplain might do – but could only do so after they had realised that there was someone there at all.

I had no publicity budget and I felt that I was never going to manage to communicate clearly to a large and transitory student population. There were some people who would always come along and there were others who were never going to come. If all I did was to communicate a clear and comprehensive picture of the services on offer in the chaplaincy, then it would have brought me to the attention of people who were potentially interested in any case and therefore would probably have found them anyway. It would probably also have confirmed in the minds of others why they would not choose to access the services of a chaplaincy. I wanted to connect with some of those ‘others’ and give them just enough awareness to make them think of making further enquiries. So I set out to present the work of chaplaincy creatively and ambiguously.

On one occasion, I performed a play-parable by setting myself up with all the equipment needed to clean people’s shoes. Formally dressed in black suit and clerical shirt, I presented myself as a caricature of a priest. People were intrigued, amused and confused. When asked why I was doing this, I would deliberately reply enigmatically. I would tell people that it was all ‘part of the service.’ My cleaning people’s shoes while dressed up in full clerical garb was an acted-out parable, the point of which was not to explain what I was doing but to leave people intrigued enough to wonder and to ask further questions.

Over the next three years, I used various other pieces of ambiguous communication. I took photographs of a biscuit and used it on a poster with the words ‘@ The Chaplaincy.’ I did email-shots of staff and students using words of poems such a Stevie Smith’s ‘Not waving but drowning.’ When the kettle was stolen from the chaplaincy, I put up 300 notices around the university saying, ‘God knows who has got the kettle.’ I created different designs for the writing paper I used. One design had an image of a priest-clown in a dog collar; another was with a spoof press release: SHOCK HORROR! VICAR FOUND DOING HIS JOB!

By providing the optimum level of information and insight, people can choose either to pursue an interest or else to walk away from what they have heard. David Attenborough said on Desert Island Discs (1999) that the best way to get someone interested in a subject is to show a great energy combined with a great ignorance. There is a lightness of touch assumed within this approach that does not leave people feeling disempowered or judged, but instead allows them to come back to ask about what they hear as being said. When the disciples of John the Baptist come to ask Jesus if he is ‘the one who was to come’ or whether they should expect another, Jesus does not give them a point-by-point explanation but tells them to look around and to draw conclusions from what they see.

From chapter 5 of Ambiguous Evangelism, published by SPCK 2004

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse

Jason Boyett
March 26, 1997
Failed opera singer Marshall Herff Applewhite and his soul-mate, a spirit-channelling registered nurse named Bonnie Lu Nettles, hook up in the 1970s and start their own little saucer cult. Typical story: He’s a two-thousand-year-old alien, she’s no less than God Almighty and the mother ship is supposed to swing by to pick them up in the 1975. It….doesn’t. Bonnie ends up being mortal after all and dies of cancer in 1985. Applewhite (known to his followers as "Do," as in "Re Mi Fa So") continues to attract cult members, collecting them in a sprawling house in Rancho Santa Fe, California, under the pleasant moniker "Heaven’s Gate." Most of them are computer geeks. They build websites. They shave their heads. They wear colourful little jumpers and matching tennis shoes. And the guys get castrated.

They all live happy little productive robot-like lives until 1997, when amateur astronomer Chuck Schramek mistakes a star for a "Saturn-like object" following the Hale-Bopp comet. Schramek goes on the Art Bell radio show, and before you know it, his "object" has become a bona-fide UFO hiding in the comet’s wake. Which is good news for Do and his androids, because that’s exactly what they’ve been waiting for all this time. It’s Bonnie Lu! She’s swinging by to pick us up!

So the Gaters shoot a creepy video in which they each say bye-bye to family and friends. After dropping the tapes in the mail, they share a few spoonfuls of poisoned apple sauce. Police get a tip from a family member who gets nervous after watching the "I’m-leaving-on-a-spaceship" video. Next stop is the nightly news, complete with footage of each member stretched out dead on his or her cot – their shed "earthly vehicles" covered by a purple cloth.

October 1997, St Louis.
Pentecostal pastor Kenneth Hagin predicts Christ’s Second Coming and the Rapture of the saints, starting in St Louis, ‘The heart and centre of the nation." Of course. Never having personally been to St Louis, the Pocket Guide can’t give an accurate report. Did anything happen? Is anyone still there? Did Jesus become mayor or what?

From chapter 3 of Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse – the official field manual for the end of the word, published by RelevantBooks, 2005

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Journey Towards Relevance

Kary Oberbrunner

Conformists often ‘get killed’ out in the world because they have no community of faith. Many conformists are independent wounded sheep who have been bitten by other sheep. The last thing they want to do is hang around with more sheep. Organised church scares them, and so they wander out on their own to face the big world.

I understand this tendency. I just don’t agree with it. If the only church available is a church filled with legalistic separatists, then by all means separate from the separatists! Nonetheless, every believer needs to be involved in a community of faith. These communities probably look a lot different than the traditional church many of us grew up attending. They don’t need to meet in a building or have an order of service.

The trend among many young adults is to just be floaters. They’re not sure why they attend a church, but they think it’s something they should do. So, for a time, they casually try out churches. They may even commit to attending a church. But, every church has its warts, and soon they become disillusioned and quit assembling.

At one point in my life, I became disillusioned with the Church. I saw its gossip, legalism, and petty rule-based religiosity. I attended out of duty for several months. Then I decided to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I decided to stop looking at my needs and how the Church was not meeting them. I saw a vast number of wounded believers who were just as tired and fed up as me. I decided I would try to serve them.

I quickly found there were needs all around. Sure, the Church has warts. After all, it’s filled with people like you and me. Regardless, there is no perfect church. I think God must have a sense of humour. He knew I had given on the Church so much, and ironically, He decided to have me work in one.

I’m not sure which church God wants you to be a part of. In fact, you may need to start your own. Why not? If the churches around you are so archaic and filled with separatism, then assemble your own gathering of believers. You might see how difficult it is to have a community of faith who are transformists.

From chapter 5 of The Journey Towards Relevance – simple steps for transforming your world, published by RelevantBooks, 2004

Who Stands Fast

Michael Duncan

I believe God eventually showed me I had to let go of those years so as not be further embittered by them. It took a long time to do this and still I was left with gnawing question of how to frame my understanding. These were years of tears, grief, death, losses, extreme hardship, bitter disappointments, betrayals, sickness, insomnia, and confusion. How do you make sense of them? What do you do with that? At last, I think I am beginning to see.

Early in 2004, I was fulfilling a speaking engagement in a New Zealand city and true to form, visited a Christian book store. Once inside I am like a child in a toy store. My eyes morph into saucers; I salivate and relish each and every purchase. On this occasion, my eye caught the title: God at War, by an author I had never heard of before, Gregory Boyd. As I was doing some post graduate research in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who courageously stood up to Hitler even to the point of joining a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, I was interested in issues of pacifism and violence. Without even scanning the sub-title, contents page or the price, I impulsively bought this book.

Back home, settling into my bookish cave, I began to realise, to my absolute amazement that I had just bought a 413 page book on spiritual warfare. I set about devouring this tome and so began a journey of discovery and the path to the profound explanation I had been seeking. This book began to theologically frame my story. I found it incredibly refreshing, insightful liberating and theologically challenging. I have since bought just about everything Gregory Boyd has written and sifted through it with a theological toothpick.

From chapter 2 of Who Stands Fast – discipleship in difficult places, published by UNOH Publications, 2005 –

Friday, December 02, 2005

Walking by Faith

Florence Howland

That month I had a bad report on the state of the [Mission] hall floor. It was very old, full of dry rot, and had to be replaced. It was most unsafe. Five hundred pounds our builder quoted. What could we do? We didn’t have that sort of money.

As I discussed the problem and the need for urgency with the builder, the Deaconess who opened the mail came to me with a cheque made out to the Kensal Medical Gospel Mission for five hundred pounds. I was bowled over and could hardly speak and the builder who knew I had heart trouble said, ‘Miss Howland, what’s happened? Is somebody there with you? Have you had a bad turn?’

"No,’ I replied, ‘but you just told me that the floor might cost five hundred pounds and I have just been sent five hundred pounds in the mail, but I don’t know who sent it to me.’

‘You know,’ he said, ‘that’s what I can’t understand about you. If I had nothing in the bank I’d feel really weak. But if I suddenly found I’d got five hundred pounds I’d feel mighty strong. With you it’s the other way round. Nothing in the bank and feel ok. Five hundred pounds in and feel all weak. I don’t know: the stories you girls can tell about God supplying everything you need.’

Where had this money come from? Early on I had an idea but couldn’t understand what had motivated the gift. It started with the relieving nurse who got caught in the rain and seemed to be as poor as a church mouse. One Saturday night after being out for the day and returning to our Mission she passed numbers of public houses still open. Children were playing the streets waiting for their parents to finish drinking and fighting at closing time. When she got home a voice said to her, ‘and you are prepared to take Dividends from those breweries that cause this sort of thing to happen.’ Immediately she got down on her knees and prayed, ‘Lord, if those shares that my aunt left me when she died are in a brewery I will give them all to you.’

It turned out they were brewery shares and she kept her promise. She gave our Mission five hundred pounds, which helped pay for the floor, and five hundred pounds also to Adeline Wallace of the Mission of Hope.

From chapter 7 of Walking by Faith, published by the author, 2005

Thursday, December 01, 2005


Spencer Burke

The thing that I’m worried about is the fact that the two big films of 2004 were The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11. And what were they? They were basically two very extreme films. They were both promoted within these incestual little Petrie dishes, whether it was to liberal Democrats or to conservative Christians. What both these films tapped is the point here. The Passion, in the long run, probably didn’t have that big of an effect because a lot of Christians were the ones who went to see it. Fahrenheit 9/11 didn’t have that big of an impact, at least not as big as the Republicans were all worried about, because it was a bunch of lean-hard liberals who went and saw it. It just proves one thing: that people will get really excited and spend a lot of money for ‘their thing.’

So I’m hoping that we move away from that and embrace broader films that help share the story. Why does it have to be a ‘Christian’ film? I don’t know if you saw it, but at the same exact time The Passion came out, a film called In America was playing. The Christian Science Monitor called me and asked me to go review The Passion . So I went and saw the film, and I said to the Monitor, ‘You know what? I saw In America the night before I saw The Passion. If I were to invite the people in my neighbourhood to talk about the issue of redemption, I would invite them to In America. I mean, it’s an amazing, powerful script.’

The problem is that you never hear a pastor or anyone anywhere say, ‘I challenge all of you right now to go out to our information booth. We have In America tickets available. In fact, we rented the entire theatre. We want you to bring your neighbourhoods to see this film.’

I think we need to start embracing films that might not be considered ‘Christian’ a little more. We live in a Christian ghetto that says, ‘If they’re not for us, they must be against us. Anybody who practices faith, meditation or prayer is evil if their focus isn’t Jesus.’ Then we embrace criminals and crooks from the business world, bring them in and pay them high dollars to train our pastor to run churches as if the pastors were CEOs. And now some of these business crooks are in jail.

From page 88 of Practitioners – voices within the emerging church, published by Regal 2005