J.E.S.U.S. Revolution!

It should have been boring... Yesterday, the entire church gathered for its AGM and the night before we (the youth element of the chuch) had been parading through Northampton like a carnival of holy anarchists shouting, "Jesus - Revolution"... I should have been tired. But it was actually hugely gratifying to attend meetings where, together, we assessed our position as a nationwide church.

There were the financial reports from the community businesses and church trusts. We're doing okay on that front. And there was a lot of focus on our covenant commitment together, more than usual. And since covenant is my favourite topic (I'll explain some time) I was rather pleased.

There were reports on how the church was doing around the country and we had a presentation on how close we were getting to our targets for growth, which sounded a bit like the Saturday football scores! But it was soon followed by a sound reproach from the church pastor and something of a prophetic warning, which deserves some thought.

My Dad joined us for the celebration in the evening (first time) and his were pretty astute. Apparently there's quite a punk culture in our church! lol All in all a good day, and a good evening chatting to friends when we got home.


Friendship Jesus style

Thursday nights are always a good opportunity to assess how we're doing as a growing church-plant.

We have what we call a 'friendship meal'. It's a regular opportunity to invite just about anyone to join us for the evening. As a community house, White Stone performs a particular role in church growth. It's not the same as simply having friends round for tea, people invite themselves! (Though we do have right of refusal.) Friendship meals especially offer people the chance to gain access to church-life in a totally informal way, and all the spiritual help that comes with this.

We begin with a grace time, which is a focus for everyone to be together spiritually and pick up any news or announcements, and then we eat. It's a great time for love, laughter and affirmation. The rest of the evening is spent doing anything we please though the emphasis is on being friends together.

The evening is often an opportunity for prayer, and last night three of the young guys took over the prayer-shed in quite a loud way! But it can be a time for peace too, several people got involved in games and art work, and there's occasion for support and solidarity and personal encouragement. A couple of friends came round last night who are making initial steps into Christian life. Sometimes, those who come round face very stressful situations in life, a community can offer strength and practical help in these times. And, finally, it is a time to miss people who aren't there - one of the greatest clues to how well we are serving others and consequently growing.

For me Thursday evenings, show how Christ-like I can be (or not be). At my first friendship meal I offered to make everyone a drink, all 30 of them! The subsequent confusion over who wanted tea or coffee and how many sugars they took taught me my first community-lesson: never offer to make everyone drinks! But on Thursday nights, when the whole world seems to flock into your front room, it is a good test of the heart to see how willing you are to give and to receive. (Especially when it comes to giving everyone lifts home!)

And how did I fare last night? Okay, I guess. I lasted about two hours out of the four, then I began to feel a bit tired and sad inside, a small voice in me was screaming out that I had a right to some friendship too! But it was only a small voice. I suppose it just means I need to make sure I'm not too overstrec... no, no... you see, this is what I mean by becoming more like Christ. Ah... the way of the .

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Meeting of hearts

Last night I prayed with a brother. He looks to me as someone to encourage him and he is very dear to my heart, so we get together to pray every so often, weekly if we can. Once he'd finished the pancake a sister saved for him we walked through the rain to the prayer shed at the bottom of the garden. The electricity had been cut off so we fumbled around for some matches and lit a few candles. We talked about a few issues, most of all the constant need to stay close to God and then we prayed. Much of the prayer was for his friends which I was happy about because a lot of them need to find God in a very real way. But it was simply good to be open-hearted together before God and I think we both left with a feeling of euphoria, knowing we had touched the divine and journeyed down the road to becoming disciples a little more.

Times like that are so important.

Earlier in the evening I joined some other brothers and sisters for a conversation on multiculturalism and Kingdom culture. Two of us were Punjabi, I'm mixed race (Caribbean, British) and the other two were English. By Kingdom culture I mean the values and manners we have adopted in our church to express the Kingdom of God. You see we've been told we in Coventry are too 'English' as a church. People from other nations have come among us and said just that. But working out how to change (and whether we want to) is a bit difficult.

It seems that while we want to be multiracial we don't want to be multicultural? Why? Because our emphasis is on being one people in Jesus. I think, on the negative side, thJesus Army brothers together in Londonere's some inherent fear of dealing with other cultures in that statement but it is true that if we are to be New Creation (Jesus Army talk for living regenerated) then it involves shaking of old cultural parameters. That is not to say we get rid of all our customs, far from it, but where they interfere with love, we let love for our brothers and sisters cross the divide. Most of all we want to get rid of some of our Englishness, at least so that we can help Christians from other countries find their spiritual home among us. Our church in London has a very strong mix of cultures and we want to repeat just that. But it does raise some very difficult, perhaps naive, questions, such as:

  • What's wrong with being English?
  • What in the world is Kingdom culture? (Irony intended)
  • How do we shift from looking through our own cultural spectacles to see this issue from Jesus' perspective?

I think in practice the answers are a lot easier than we imagine. When we have Jesus in common it's best to start there and let love rule our course. We'll just work the rest out as we go along. I'll no doubt comment more on it in the future, suffice to say that it was a very excited and rich conversation and it continued as I went to pray with my brother.

The Christian Paradox (Harpers.org)

The Christian Paradox (Harpers.org) I found this interesting. I know how keen some of my American friends are to protect the reputation of their own country, and rightly so - they have a culture of backing up the home team (the English don't bizarrely - they prefer the underdog). But it is always useful to sit back and take a real look at what is going on. Hence this survey of the state of real Christianity in the US.

Curiously enough I think it can often be said in the UK that the non-religious come across as more Christian than the Christians! At least in terms of how they refuse to judge others and are keen to help, or at least sympathise with those in need. I know I'm treading on thin ice here (and I'm quite probably wrong) but I think I can say at least this with full assurance: There is a great desire for Christians to stop compromising and actually get on with doing what they believe. When the Jesus Army first got started they were referred to in the press as 'real Christians!' Whatever 'real Christians' means it is reflective of the feeling that there is a lot of hypocrisy out there; and this latest report is just part of that.


Agape last night

Quick report on our Agape meal last night: the Spirit was moving, in spite of many of the saints seeming a bit tired. We felt close to Jesus and the brother in charge spoke to us about... you know what? I can't actually remember! I know it was something about laying down your life... I was listening!!

Oh, the spirit is willing but the body is weak! (sigh)


Jesus Army life ain't easy

Arrive home after dropping a friend off from work. Then play-fight with resident teenager. Followed by stupid argument with best friend (over poetry books!) Relaxing dinner ending with passing round a bucket of penny-sweets several times. Great laughter over brother who hates the sour taste forcing himself to swallow them. Household Leader's meeting.

For those of you really interested in the nuts and bolts of community life. We decided to firm up my post as household/domestic deacon (which means I oversee all the work involving cooking and cleaning, garden and house improvements, furniture, and other materials intended for general use). Basically it was felt that the homemaking instinct was getting out of hand and we were probably spending too much. Fairly amusing to hear a brother complain about some projects until he remembered his own scheme, he then requested that he (with the other elders) should receive a report about the finances before they were shown to the rest of the house.

We also discussed keeping our vision and targets in sight, upcoming baptisms and how our flock was doing. It was good to see six men standing and holding hands at the end for the future work of Jesus.

One recurring question lately has been whether I believe my church has a future? Strange question until you consider the uphill struggle we face as a community orientated church.
It is easier to draw a crowd than to grow a family.

Communities take time to build and are not the fastest model when it comes to planting new churches. Nurturing interconnected relationships involves personal sacrifice. It's not simply a matter of filling pews on Sunday, creaming off the strongest Christians for a new church project and ignoring the high turnover in the rest of the congregation. Establishing a community means that every member counts and that every member has something to contribute. The strongest among us lay down what advantage we have for the weakest.

Add to this experience the need to reach other people for Jesus and you have a lot of work on your hands. Keeping Jesus central as your own life wanes away becomes quite a challenge. There don't seem to be that many willing to make that kind of sacrifice and my question is really about whether I can really maintain the sacrifice myself, let alone go on to pioneer a new church elsewhere. I know I could have made an easier choice and it's tempting to think that the easier choice would be better...

However, I do think this church has a future and because it does I want to be part of it. It's not only knowing what God is doing and has done among us that persuadesJesus Army life can wear you out! me. From a human viewpoint I can see that the UK desperately needs a church that is going to stand against soul-suffocating consumer culture, a church that shouts loudly the name of Jesus amid all the other brand names on the high street, a church that encourages grassroots movement, fosters close relationships and is renowned for helping the needy. I want a church that reflects Kingdom values as Jesus saw them: a consecrated people loving the outcasts.

I look to God to help us (to help me) because it's not easy.


Don't live in vain

This weekend my household joined the rest of our church on Trafalgar Square in London for a Jesus-rally. It was a great day and I met a a man who had arrived from Africa looking for work. He had been unsuccesful so far and my friend (who spoke to him in French) shared some food with him and put him in touch with some friends in the city.

I was surprised at how friendly the atmosphere was in spite of police sirens which were audible every hour, there were armed police around as well, but I was impressed at how people were continuing their every day lives.

The shooting (execution) of an innocent man has touched everyone in the UK. There's a good reason we generally don't have police with guns - it's so accidents like this don't happen. All I can think is that none of the lives which have passed in recent weeks need to be forgotten. Even in our small community we can work to help people and communicate the value of life and the high importance of prefering others to ourselves. It's an important statement in turbulant times such as these. In fact it's the reason we call ourselves the 'modern Jesus army': problems are occurring everyday and we want to be militant in helping others find solutions.

Faith can be part of the problem but it can also be part of the solution. In fact it's crazy to think that when Jesus offered himself as the solution so many try to cope through difficult times without him. We all need to know Jesus in this life because of the trials that we face.


Life in the midst of death

Okay, so I did complain about the chopped down trees. I have to admit I got a pretty good response from the office. They affirmed that we were responsible for the property and should have been asked before anything was destroyed. It's a bit late now but the workman was apologetic and actually quite helpful. And in the end the tree should grow back.

Last night was very good. I got the sense that some of the youngsters/goths are becoming Jesus Army disciples, misbehaving like teenagers but understanding there's a need to be responsible too. We're becoming quite a family. We had a time of considering the latest bombings in London and listened to God on how we need to respond in such matters. Do keep praying for the safety of the city, we know that prayers make a difference in these dangerous times though all might seem hopeless. We're just hearing of a shooting now...


Pilgrimage Journal: "Take nothing for your journey"

Pilgrimage Journal: "Take nothing for your journey" I just found this, it expresses something of what I was trying to express in the post below about owning nothing in this world. I like this guy's style. I think I'll take a bit more of a look at what he has to say... he seems to like community living too.

The withered fig tree

It only took five minutes of being home from work to upset me. We've had plumbers in to sort out a water leak. I had to inspect it because I'm responsible for household matters (the official title is 'Domestic Deacon'). Well, they'd dug a trench in the garden and destroyed two small trees in the process. I can't tell you how frustrated I felt. It put me in a mood for most of the evening!

The trouble is we only rent the property and builders are contracted by the owner: my Church. I doubt complaining would do much good, the tree-killing-brother would only argue it was necessary. This is part of the fall-out of choosing to own nothing personally by living in community; sometimes you feel your say in things you care about is too easy to ignore. But, it is only a trivial matter and I chose to wave such rights when I signed up. Nonetheless it's amazing how much hold on you an object can have, even a couple of small trees.

If you think I've given in too easily, you're welcome to say so. What goes through my mind is that if I've surrendered my life then I have to be willing to accept the pains as well as the joys that go with that. I mean, I've chosen to lose my life in this world and gain it in the next so what do a couple of trees matter? (John 12) ...But somehow they do.

The title I've used above comes from a story of how Jesus cursed a tree when it produced no fruit. It was a living metaphore for his judgement on those who pretend to be alive but aren't generous with their life. I want to be generous enough to give away the goodness of my life so that many can be blessed as a result. Maybe I will complain and stir the waters a little, it's better than remaining stagnant.


We have one who speaks to the Father in our defence

Yesterday I screwed up. I don't want to go into the gory details but I was left feeling like rubbish and out of my spirit. To make things worse it was Agape that evening, a 'love-feast' we have once a week to celebrate our commitment together through the bread and wine.

During the worship time I was on my face feeling like I wanted to be rid of all my sin-stained self. How could I covenant once again with these brothers and sisters after I had been so callous? Needless to say when the evening's leader suggested a time for confession I eagerly grabbed a brother and we shared on our various failings. We prayed together and recalled the gospel truths: that Jesus gave up his life because of this.

The evening went better after that, we shared a meal, took the bread and wine and prayed together for various people. The teaching was on how an awakened conscience leads to godliness... and I can honestly only begin to desire that some of that process would happen in me.



Last week a sister suggested we go cherry picking in the Memorial Park near our house. About eight of us went along and we collected two ice-cream tubs worth of fruit. It was quite a sight with four people up the cherry tree and the others scrambling around on the ground, purple lipped with all the cherries they didn't manage to gather into the boxes. Several people commented as they walked past how they wanted to be involved. Being together is a huge part of Jesus Army Church life

From time to time all relationships hit obstacles, so it is great to have neutral opportunities to work together; we need to take time to enjoy one another's company and affirm we are still on the same side. At one point our whole church used to turn out to pick the gooseberries we'd grown or harvest potatoes, it still happens now to some extent. This kind of activity has a long lasting effect on the strength and bonds in relationships. And, at least one week later, we're still enjoying the fruit of our labour. Mmmmmmmm.



Yesterday we stopped at a different Jesus Army house in Coventry, known as Bright Flame. The place has always had a sense of peace about it. It's not just the breeze that blows from one end of the lounge to the other on a warm summer's day, there is almost a mystical quality to it. You walk in and immediately you feel a sense of calm.

After the morning meeting the afternoon was spent relaxing and laughing with several brothers, half of whom were Iranian. I think the sense of strong brotherhood and loving acceptance appeals to our Farsi brethren. Bright Flame also do great puddings! But it's quite something when the mood of a place makes you want to stay for the whole afternoon, chocolate cake aside!

I forgot to mention that in the morning White Stone had a house 'family breakfast' together. It's a time set aside for resident members to discuss issues and share together. I can't speak for others but personally I always enjoy these times. For others the idea of an early morning meeting may prejudice their view a little. We spoke about practical matters such as building work and the washing up dilemma ("He who does the washing up builds the church!") and then we shared on a question of spiritual bias. It was a good question and went something like this: Which of the following areas do you find easiest and which do you need to improve at? The options were:

Mystic (prayer, contemplation)
Activist (serving, evangelising)
Charismatic (spiritual giftings)
Evangelical (bible study)

It was emphasised that each of these had dangerous extremes but that they were all useful to the man of God. I put myself down as an Activist, needing to gain ground in my Charismatic life.

In the evening, after a walk with a good friend, discussing the current pressures we feel, I went out to invite people to church and ended up spending a long time speaking to a homeless guy. We've known each other for a few months and he's currently in a hostel having just got out of prison. There's something I like about him, despite his ability to talk non-stop; perhaps it's just that he will not give up fighting for survival. He asked if I had any shoes I could lend him, we are a similar size so I should be able to find him some. Later that evening I had real cause to worship as I chatted to another friend who used to be homeless. She told me how she had been off the drugs for several months and was housed and preparing to go to college. We had first met about four years ago when the Jesus Centre started, she was a 'working girl' (a prostitute) and it blessed me completely to know she was sorting herself out now.

The end of the evening was spent with the goths who like to come round. They are as good a laugh as ever, but have an annoying habit of reminding you of your age! I very much appreciate the sacrifice of the brothers and sisters in the house who sacrifice their time in giving the younger ones lifts home or doing the inevitable masses of washing up after times like these.


Good ol' evangelism

TGI Friday! Following last week's success in 'not evangelism' (a new initiative where, too tired to make much of an effort at evangelism, my friend and I just took a walk and proceeded to share the gospel in three chance meetings on the way) we decided to have a go at not doing anything again...

We didn't have to go far. Before long we met a gang of teenagers (there was something about the red cross teeshirts that attracted them) and they asked if we could bless them. One by one they queued up. We brought them the word of God and prayed a blessing for each of them. 10 people within 10 minutes of leaving your front door isn't bad going. Some of those guys had very open hearts and we prayed for them again as we continued on our way.

The experience contrasted with a later moment when I deliberately went up to a guy to tell him that he was loved by God. He was a little alarmed but he took it well enough. I can only pray that that small event might be a turning point for his life, nonetheless the lesson is clear: evangelism is so much easier when it is not a forced issue and people approach you instead. Basically there are far fewer obstacles to deal with.

It was another experience entirely volunteering at the homeless drop-in this morning. A real opportunity to love the poor, we try do exactly that and help them in any way we can, it isn't the right place to push your beliefs on others. Still, amidst all the innumerable questions, people do like to think about God. You can still see those who are open to being disciples. For example we met a young Christian man who'd recently fallen out with his parents and was trying to find his own way, and another who gladly helped us when we needed an extra bit of washing up done. There's something curious about people who are hungry for God, I couldn't define it but it's there.

It's bee a busy day. This afternoon I joined the rest of my household who had been out in Cheylesmore giving out Streetpapers. There were a few small chats and we met some people we knew, shoppers naturally prefer to finish and get home and we were working in a quiet area of the city. But in the evening we had a BBQ and some young friends joined us as we enjoyed a beautiful evening. We gave out a few burgers to passers-by and met someone who used to be around the church which was nice. It wa only as we were packing away that someone came up who very much needed to talk. We exchanged numbers and invited her over for a chat sometime.

We're not always so on the ball when it comes to making opportunities to meet with people. When you live in community you desperately need to do that if you want to avoid moving in the same small circles. We have to keep practicing sharing our faith in any way we can. God's love counts more than anything else.



Last night at White Stone we had over 30 people for dinner. There was a mixture of family, friends and the usual gathering of 'goths' who seem to have made our place their second home. We spread out into the garden and the 'youngsters' (the cheesy name we prefer to use for them) provided much of the entertainment for the night, including human pyramids, bonfires and other raucous behaviour.

The bonfire was a result of our own resident 'youngster' choosing to burn some of his old possessions, including a tobacco pouch and some Warhammer books. As a Christian he had been challenged by a friend to get rid of the things of his 'old life'. It was a good and probably important gesture, though another friend found the whole idea too much. "That's why I'm not a Christian because it makes you do things like that," he announced. Obviously he hated to see things he valued go up in smoke, but a little challenge to the soul is never a bad thing. That young friend knows he's going to have to count the cost when he finally does cross the line.

But there was challenge for the young disciple too: to meditate on the bible phrase to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). It's all too easy to destroy our lives in the name of Jesus, far harder to build a habit of giving your whole self willingly for the purpose of loving others.

We had some late night entertainment too, a blues jamming session with guitars played by a student friend and a resident brother plus saxophone played by me. It was a fitting way to say goodbye to that particular friend who was returning to Singapore after graduating from Warwick Uni. He had stayed with us the previous summer and this experience, plus the devouring of Keith Green's autobiography: No Compromise, has given him a thirst to establish Christian Community when he finally stops roaming the planet. My only fear is that it might be a little too late by then... Nonetheless he's a great guy, bound to do much for Jesus' Church. You can keep up with his travels on his own blog.

Earlier in the evening I'd helped another friend move some furniture. I met his brother who was less of a recluse then I'd been led to imagine. There was so much in me that wanted to steal that chance meeting as an opportunity for the gospel but politeness and limited time got the better of me. I'm challenging myself to share my faith with others as much as possible. It's far too easy to relax. I want others to know Jesus and I want to see this family, my family, grow.


First Kiss

I guess everyone writes their first post with some trepidation. The idealist will hammer out his manifesto, the inquisitive, I imagine, is more free to share his restlessness. I'm certainly more of the latter, though the title of this blog might not suggest so...

It's all rather like your first kiss I suppose. You don't really want to get it wrong, but you need to get the whole love-affair going somehow! (Though, thinking about it now, I'm sure my first kisses were far more of the idealist's temperament - just goes to show, I may sound timid, but somewhere inside there is obviously a raging spirit wanting to kick down a few doors and turn over some holy cows - cord of whips included.)

Men have to get angry before they can become holy. (The Times 16/5/5)

I certainly feel unsure about all this, I'm looking forward to expressing myself, but this is no kiss-and-tell diary. The idea of this blog is to give those who are inquisitive some insight into the radical life of Christian community (the all things in common kind; Acts 2:44; a bit like the one in BBC2's The Monastery, where the above quote is taken from, but much younger).

And for the idealists out there? Will this appeal to your more revolutionary sentiment? I think it's going to challenge your socks off! It certainly does mine. See it as an opportunity to watch a prophetic movement from a more personal perspective. But, whatever way you like to kiss and express your love, this is me expressing some of mine.