Jesus and His Army - Jesus Army Life, Day 226

On Saturday we all went to a big church celebration in Birmingham. There were 29 of us there in all and at one point some of the newer guys were presented as 'Jesus Army soldiers' on stage. I can't tell you how proud I was to see them up there - it wasn't the fact that we had done something great, it was simply that these guys had become part of the family. We love 'em.

The event was unashamedly 'Jesus Army' and I loved it. Sometimes I wonder about getting the balance right between focussing on Jesus the Head and the church his Body. Is it possible to fully acknowledge one without paying attention to the other? No one can worship Jesus without being fully committed to seeking the good of his Church, no one can be fully committed to the church without a desire to put Jesus first before all things. At Birmingham however, we seemed to be fully for Jesus, fully for his Church and it was great.

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousnes
Matthew 6:33

There was difficulty too for one of the couples. The husband had taken ill and they had to go home early, a small matter in itself, but we have no desire to see this illness become troublesome in the long term. Needless to say, while everyone else enjoyed themselves they found the experience quite difficult.


The flesh - Jesus Army Life, Day 225

I am full of admiration at the commitment of members of my household. Church life happens because we choose to make it so. Lives are laid down, the Holy Spirit is released and souls are set free to find and know God. Simple really.

Meanwhile, I groan with the implications of learning the reality of more death to self. It's not easy and I'm not pretending to be perfect, but it's got to happen. Last night we had an excellent baptism by all accounts. I, however, scurried myself away to deal with the anger I felt towards just about everyone. We talk about 'the flesh' being everything about us which is least spiritual, and my flesh was in full force: how dare they think this, how dare they assume that? But in truth, all that was happening was that I was trying to escape the glare of my own selfishness being found out. I'm still reeling now, but I love this church and must continue on, very much in spite of my 'self'.

A little tip: If ever you find that you're justifying yourself to yourself that's the flesh. You just have to allow it to die (John 12:23-26, Mark 8:34-38), talk to trusted friends if necessary, get wise advice and determine to fix your focus back onto God.


How easy we forget the love You showed - Jesus Army Life, Day 220

Last night, we remembered the importance of loving each other. It's not that there's been any bitterness between us, life has been fairly run-of-the-mill lately, it's just that we're growing.

At our Agape meal (the words mean a feast of the Father's love) we prayed for all our friends and praised God for his work in their lives. And then we received a 'word' from the house leader. That, as many are added to us, in all the business, it's crucial that we cover each other with love. Our love for one another is the security, the attractive fire that helps others feel safe in God's house. It helps them to grow and discover the reality of God at work in them.

Then we shared in the bread and the cup, remembering Jesus.

Our Agape meals are for those who make a covenant with others to commit to build this church for the rest of their lives. It is a serious commitment and a beautiful one. I have never doubted the beauty of such sacrificial love. Part of the beauty is that we entrust ourselves to the invisible work of God in that moment. None of us know what circumstances will arise in ten, twenty or thirty years time, we simply choose to hold true to our vow and trust in God.
LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
He... who keeps his oath
even when it hurts.
Psalm 15


Pleasant? Pah! - Jesus Army Life, Day 214

What is the sign of a friend? That he tells you secret Sorrows? No, that he tells you secret joys.
Oswald Chambers

When we meet people we always go through the formalities of asking how the other person is doing. Often the questioner actually doesn't care, or sometimes they're comfortable enough with the formality to ask how you are doing once they're done with the small talk.

While I know there are degrees of conversation and formality is one of those things you have to pass through I just can't bring myself to give a dishonest answer! I can't say "I'm alright" if I'm not and I can't suppress good feelings with a simple "Okay" - I want to engage with people, I want each conversation to be an opportunity for love and heart-sharing; so I always try to tell the truth while comically keeping the answer as short as I can.

You'll often hear me say, "I'm good," or "Struggling, but winning." It's just my way I suppose. Other people have their little battles with formalities too, like never saying "I love ice-cream" because love is too strong a word. We're strange folk really.

Lately, I've been appreciating that if everyone did answer that formal "How are you?" or "Alright?" honestly then there would be a lot more grumbling and maybe even some more sympathetic listening. But we avoid straight answers because we want to pretend for the other person's sake that everything is pleasant, that's why these conversations are called 'pleasantries' aren't they?

But hold on! The world isn't pleasant, it's beautiful, it's chaotic, it's tragic, it's awesome, it's fear ridden, it's accursed by the Fall. Rarely is it simply pleasant. And I think we've got our standards of joy too high! If I'm struggling then it's a good thing - I'm learning to cope with the everyday difficulties of life, and that's good. If I'm happy then it's a real blessing - it's a miracle (stop laughing in the back there...) a real gift from God in this hard, hard world.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Ecclesiastes 3

Why do we try to pretend that we've got heaven on earth when we blatantly haven't? We're lost, we live in a fallen world. Why not actually go for bringing a real bit of heaven to earth and by our efforts, some real blessing, a real touch of heaven, into others lives? The approach I want to take in life is that every task is an opportunity, each road is a mountain to climb. I don't want to give up fighting, because then I know that I'm winning. Yes, I'm a striver, but I'm going for the top, I've got a race to win; there's a lot more beauty out there which eternal pleasantries could not describe.

"Yes, I'm alright and I'm struggling, because I've seen this world society for the forgery that it is, and I'm not satisfied! My heart longs for something better!"

Okay, rant over. Please don't feel scared. I'm alright now and... thanks for listening.

P.S. Somewhere on me is a tag that says: This little man is lost. If found please return to heaven. Thank-you.


Contributing members - Jesus Army Life, Day 213

We're quite encouraged at the moment, our Saturday meetings have had an increase of spirit-life with many more people coming (smashing our 'more than 24' target) and lots of contribution from younger folk. It'll be interesting to see how things progress.

At the same time it's important that we keep looking after each other and stay close in our relationships. It's all too easy for some of us to be 'knocked out' of the action. Illness doesn't help either, but it's good to be humble in all these things and to keep relying on the grace and mercy of Jesus.


God Incarnate - Jesus Army Life, Day 211

Lots to cover from the weekend. Highs and lows? Too many to mention. But we've got some good God stuff going on. When God gets into the place he has a habit of interfering in your life and pressing out the bad bits... Wouldn't have it any other way.

For so many people God can get a bit too personal - and then their crankier side comes to the surface. It does in all of us. But God isn't interested in how we want to appear to be or what we think we want, he's just interested in us, bringing out more of our beautiful God-made reality. Everything else for him can just go hang on a cross.

So how about it? You up for some more challenging times where you think it's people getting under your skin when really it's God-at-work? You still up for keeping that cosy image of Jesus where you feel safe or do you want him to really invade your life and begin getting a bit more... intimate?


Gratitude - Jesus Army Life, Day 209

Yesterday I received a phone call from a friend who I'd been trying to catch up with but hadn't seen for some time. I was delighted to hear from him - we go back some way and I helped him out once. We arranged to meet up again and at the end of the call he said: "Thanks for the past."

It touched me.

Last night 15 of our youngsters tripped off to Northampton to sit around a fire in a woods and hear stories of "Christian outlaws" of the past, including Luther, Fox and Bunyan. I think they enjoyed it. Four young sisters then came back to camp overnight in out garden in freezing temperatures. I haven't seen them yet, so I can't say what colour their skin was first thing this morning.


Mr Tippy

Mr Tippy the cat was buried in the garden yesterday following a car accident. A faithful friend always, especially at 7AM in the morning when he'd jump onto your bed to express his affection in that most cat-like of ways.

He is sorely missed.

Rites of Passage - Jesus Army Life, Day 207

I'm thinking a lot about training men at the moment. In this society, where rites of passage are largely consigned to visits to the pub and smoking weed together, young men need steps to help them enter into manhood and spiritual maturity in a more constructive manner.

One writer argues that growing men need experiences of fear-breaking, faith and festivity to mark a conscious development into adult society. Baptism is obviously one step for teenagers who choose to follow Jesus, another might be their first nerve racking evangelism experience (both are public events where a believer's witness and faith are involved), but what else is there?

I've been working on some Challenge Cards which, hopefully, I'm going to launch tonight for some of our newly baptised members. They cover six areas: Communication, Instruction, Attitude, Lifestyle, Battle, and Brotherhood. (In normal Christian parlance these would be described as a believer's witness, doctrine, devotional life, everyday practice, spiritual warfare and fellowship.)

Each card breaks up into six challenges, and hopefully, as they achieve and these and as we celebrate their accomplishment together the teenagers will sense in some small way that they are becoming men and women of God.


Longsuffering - Jesus Army Life, Day 206

I'm avoiding talking about the stupid argument I had last night with my friend. It was all my fault, well mostly, but that's another story...

We're currently making plans to rearrange some of our community activities because we have builders coming in next week. (Cue lots of frustration and stress.) A wall is being knocked down in order to extend our dining room for when things get a bit cramped.

It should help a great deal in the long run: no more squeezing 30+ people into a room the size of a double bedroom. No more enduring the shouts and crudities of various forms of teenage life while feeling like there's no place to run and hide. At least now the air won't turn blue as quickly. Seriously, the extra space should mean there's a general lessening of volume which will at least be kinder to some of our older members.

Knocking down walls is not exactly the most interesting event in church life but it can signify that something important. I won't get all prophetic just yet though. Practically, we're hoping to share our Thursday night mayhem around a few of the other community houses. We've had to move a regional leaders' meeting too. But personally I'm looking forward to sitting around having our Agape meal on our laps again. It always was quite a humbling experience and it reminds me of how we used to dream of having the home we now have.

(Cue waves of gratitude to God and longsuffering friends.)


Daring to go deeper - Jesus Army Life, Day 205

I received an encouraging email in response to yesterday's blog - it said:

...the deeper the pain, the deeper the friendship...

I like that, and it inspires me to be willing to embrace others with more trust and for the sake of a greater love.

I never mentioned how wonderful Sunday lunch was. We usually have other households to dinner on Sunday, but this weekend the dining room was packed with just our own household members which was excellent, and another measure of how far we have come since our start seven years ago. Praise God for what he's doing.

At dinner yesterday evening, we were recalling the early days, when several of us were entering into the vision of starting a new community house together. There were a few of our newer members at the table too. Afterwards, the brave souls went along to the local celibacy meeting to see what it was all about. Not that it really takes much daring to do that, but some people get so frightened of the possibility of becoming a celibate, they daren't go near it!

On, a sadder note, one of the household cats was run over last night. He survived, but is being looked after by a vet at the moment.


Love and forgiveness - Jesus Army Life, Day 204

I have a friend who has been on the receiving end of discipline by his church recently. Deservedly so, but I can't help feeling there's a lack of love or real interest too.

In my limited experience, the denial of love, or as a friend once put it: neglect, is one of the biggest injustices I know. I defy anyone to stand in pure judgement over someone he has not first loved. In our church we're taught that we win the right to speak into someone else's life: to criticise, to encourage, to share, to command, only if we love them. The power of authority comes from the willingness to sacrifice yourself for others. We should tremble with fear if we admonish someone on any other basis.

I'm learning, I think for the first time, that forgiveness isn't always so easy. Sure, there's one level where I feel I can forgive anyone anything, but there's another level where it's hard to let go off an injustice, however much you try to forgive.

I've been reflecting on the power of love and fear recently, and I guess it ties into this problem of forgiveness. Jesus says,

If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Matthew 6

Forgiveness is about the decision to love - not the decision to forget. What kind of Father God do we have if we believe that his forgiveness involves no love, if it's simply a choice to let us off the hook? The forgiveness that Jesus speaks of is a decision to get reconnected with others, to realise that, if you want to move on, somehow you're going to have to work with these people again, even if it's only in your own heart. It may take time and pain but anything else isn't really forgiveness.

Fear can rule our lives, but forgiveness is a way out, and it's something I have to stay continuously open to because, personally, I find it hardest trusting my own friends. I guess it's crazy but I have to choose to work with the same people I know could hurt me in the next instant. And that's not always easy. Most people fear to approach a stranger, I don't, I fear the man who knows me.

Strangers are easy - I know exactly where a stranger is coming from: they don't trust me. And that's okay, I can work with that because I am still willing to love them. But, ironically, the man who knows me I don't feel so confident with, because I know I can love them as much as I like, but if their agenda is not entirely good I can't stop them hurting me. Consequently, I find myself in this strange position where there are many I want to love but few people whom I entirely trust. A friend can hurt you more than an enemy's wounds.

It's interesting that Jesus did not "entrust himself" to the people who believed in him but loved them and forgave anyway (John 2). Perhaps the reality is that only with repentance and right actions can we choose to really trust people. But the choice of love has to be there from the start.


Prodigals - Jesus Army Life, Day 203

Don't you cry anymore, anymore, anymore
'Cos Daddy's gonna come and take your tears away...

(Just a song I was singing to the family's 40 week old baby this morning.)

Last night was great. Following the baptism (in very cold water), we had a dozen teenagers at our Saturday evening meeting, including the return of prodigals, and there was some good Spirit life too. Smashed through our "more than 24" target for Saturday night meetings, and there was a good mixing together among the people groups too (well, better, we still have a lot of work to do on that score).

God do more among us and build us into a family.


A different climate - Jesus Army Life, Day 202

I'm looking forward to tonight. Several people are coming to our place for a time of prayer and intercession. At the same time I'll be helping prepare a young man for his baptism tomorrow...

He says he wants to get baptised in a river "just like Jesus." But the river Jordan was much warmer than tomorrow's promises to be!


Adventurers - Jesus Army Life, Day 201

No, I'm not sick, I'm working from home today.

The sickness bug continues to do it's rounds however. I can think of only two people living here who haven't been knocked out by the bug at some point. Things are feeling a lot lighter for everyone though. There's a lot of positivity and determination around again.

It's great to work from home, you get to hear the sounds of the children in the background. The day feels as if it has more of a natural rhythm, centred, of course, around the kitchen; mealtimes are obviously more communal than lunch at the desk.

I've been writing a lot about the sisters lately. Naturally. They're an integral part of the household life. But there's a lot that I miss as well, like the time they went for a midnight walk in the snow. They're usually up for some adventure (and I'll report them here if they tell me...) like the time they tripped off to see the sea and walk along the beach, in the middle of the night... two and a half hours drive away! And the many opportunities to dance in the rain... and the list goes on.

Anyway, all this is simply to report that last night they successfully got a sisters' 'cell group' under way. I think there were about seven of them, and there could easily be more... It's an activity that's been ripening to happen for ages. Expect lots more stories of adventures. And praise God for what he's doing among us.