How to do Jesus culture - Jesus Army Life, Day 432

I'm reading a book on the behaviour of the English (Dad, no anti-imperialism comments please). It's called 'Watching the English - the hidden rules of English behaviour' and it's by Kate Fox, an anthropologist.

Aside from the seeming irony of the English now being under the scrutiny of their own anthropologists (I always thought their gaze was intended for mud huts and the noble savage - hm, my turn to shut up) this book does offer a delightful opportunity for me to laugh at myself and others as I see reflected in its pages the quirks and oddities of those around me, my own habits included. I haven't yet turned a page without laughing out loud at the peculiar idiosyncracies revealed in the book.

For example, we all know that the English love talking about the weather (this apparently has nothing to do with the weather but is about inviting conversation instead) but did you know that the English are the only nation in the world to form a queue - even if there is no one waiting! In other countries it seems the person waiting for a bus will go sit and read somewhere and turn up when the bus arrives but in our country we will begin standing in an orderly line of all of one person in the sure certainty that this is the proper way to behave in such a situation.

I find this interesting because in my church (a very very English church) we talk not of having an English culture but a 'Jesus culture'. Now, before you laugh out loud, this does make theological sense: we are told in scripture that we are a 'new creation' and that we are not of the 'first Adam' but the 'last Adam', Jesus says 'do not be like them' and it says elsewhere 'come out from them and be seperate'. And so we believe the Church should have a different culture to the world, a culture influenced by the powerful love and grace of Jesus, instead of the cheating corruption and hypocrisy of the world.

Yet while principles such as brotherly love and spiritual authority may well dictate how we are supposed to act as a church they still never completely iron out the peculiar wrinkles of character that makes one people group different from another. Cultural differences are not to be ignored, hence Paul writes that Cretans are lazy and promotes healthy competition between the Corinthians and Macedonians.

In our church some of the things we do are curious and some are still very English. Two examples I would pick are welcoming people and greeting people. I don't know where this tradition began but we have a very strange way of all clapping to welcome someone when they are introduced to the congregation for the first time. It seems like the decent thing to do and I can't suggest many alternatives (it's embarrassing enough to be introduced!) but it also seems silly to be applauding someone you've never even seen before and probably will never ever applaud again.

Hugging is also quite funny because it's very 'Jesus culture' but not very English. It's lovely to have someone express their affection for you (even if again, you don't know them very well) but it's comical to seem some of the embarrassed positions men get into when they receive a hug from some burly character they'd normally run away from.

As I go on (I'll try not to leave it so long next time) I'll try to write down some other observations about Jesus culture - oooh there's lots that could be said...


The fullness of life - Jesus Army Life, Day 421

The last few days have been hectic but I'd be lying if I said I haven't enjoyed them too. The stresses have far been outweighed by the successes, which, looking back now, helps you realise that it's all worth it.

A major concern has been some friends who have found themselves with no place to stay. We've been able to help them out with a bed for a few nights and there's movement towards a solution for each of them. But sleeping arrangements at White Stone haven't been easy. We've had an influx of people stopping over at weekends (two sisters moved beds three times in two nights in order to host everyone!) so I've been told I've got to put on my domestic deacon hat and regulate sleep-overs. It's a good thing though because it means we've also got a few new people living in community: they're all sisters at the moment, one moving in permanently, one doing a Training Year, and one trying us out, but there are some brothers hoping to live here as well which means there's a battle over the spare room to become a brother's room or a sister's room!

Life is Full! photo by davesag of flickr.comThe fullness of bed spaces is somewhat indicative of the fullness of life. I've been up the M6 twice this past week, once to support a church meeting in Stockport and once for an overnight trip to Liverpool (just because I've never been there before). The evening meetings in community have been excellent lately: rather than seeming like programmed events, they've just felt like it's the natural thing to do because we love Jesus and we want to be together.

There have been lots of late night chats sitting round and enjoying each other's company and lots of varied activity too. The last Agape is a good example, it was particularly pokey with questions about how we talk to each other (for good and for bad). The brother leading it has really grown in his ministry of pokiness. But other events have carried their fun: from "I had a dream" speeches to get people doing the washing up, to playing man-hunt in the dark. I've been personally convicted over some teaching we've had about self righteousness and seperate teaching about friendships and I've been trying to put both into practice (yes, I'm really learning the art of self righteousness now.)

And if you're wiped out by just reading the above, imagine how I feel living it! But it's all good. You see, I've just celebrated my 7th year in community - with my sanity still intact... only just.


Sowing from your heart - Jesus Army Life, Day 409

We religious leaders need to look very much more deeply. We can so easily have talks with people, and they can say we have helped, write us grateful letters, even stand steady for a time till the juice we have put into them runs out; but, we may have brought them no hunger for God because that hunger is no ache in our own heart nor brought them anywhere near to the end of self.
Florence Allshorn (1887-1950)

Last night I had a wonderful time with the young men I nurture. We ate pizza and chatted about the church and their lives and I gave them a bit of direction from the bible. As usual I probably talked too much but I really enjoyed the time and I think they did too. The over-riding sense was that we're in it together and we have to look out for one another.
by jowo of flickr.com
With reference to the quote above I do feel quite convicted because I so want to pass on to these guys the love of God of he has placed in me - that reliance on God which means ultimately you derive your faith from no one else but Him.


Stimulating conversation - Jesus Army Life, Day 408

brilliant photo by zoom zoom of flickr.com Last night I had a wonderful chat with two friends whom I don't often get to talk to much. It made me realise how, with all the comings and goings, I truly miss the joys of satisfying stimulating conversation.

This is no one's fault in particular, there are many characters in my social circle capable of holding witty or inspirational dialogue, and they do. But I suppose the trouble is that we are focused on a cause. And so all that we talk about is the cause: its challenges and mysteries, its successes and failures; and, when you see the same people all the time (and when you have a chance to talk) that cause is the only on going conversation. Familiarity breeds contempt? I don't think so. I imagine its the same in various business offices up and down the country: you either talk about the work you do or something shallow like the latest scandal.

And such dominance of our chatter is not problematic per se. It reflects the focus of our heart. But it is so nice to be able to turn your mind to something else or even (remembering that we did talk about God a fair bit) to simply approach the subject from a different perspective.


For the rest of our lives - Jesus Army Life, Day 406

This beautiful shot is of an icy February morning looking toward Baslow Edge from Curbar, Derbyshire by glowingtones of flickr.com
Wow, it's 6.30 in the morning and I've already been awake for about 20 minutes. I don't mind, there's something beautiful about waking up early and gathering in those first thoughts of the day. If you actually bother, the mind seems so much more lucid when the day is young.

I'm just waiting for the kettle to boil so that I can make some coffee and then I'll go and pray, but using this moment this helps me think about what I want to pray for so I don't feel I'm wasting time.

It's looking like it's going to be a lovely day. In a short while I hope to go for a run and then come back, do some household chores, travel over to Birmingham for the wedding, return to welcome early birds for tonight's gathering and then lead the proceedings for our weekly house-church meeting. There are many things I could pray for but most importantly of all it's that people today will advance into the blessing of God's kingdom. It's what Jesus came to bring, it's what he taught, it's all that we have to live and fight for, so I'm going to give my attention to that.

I do so want to be a man of real and deep prayer. I don't really think I've got a lot else going for me when it comes to increasing the life of the church, so I want to learn to truly pray. Seeing the words I've just written before me makes the reality of that aim very stark. Prayer, walking and talking things through with God, is a real challenge and there can be no room for boasting about this. I'm a total beginner trying to learn the ropes. But, what I really want to gain, and this I will boast about, is the heart of God. At least with his passion, a sense of his will and his perspective, I have a modicum of a chance of bringing the power of change to people's lives - the possibility of opening a doorway for others into his kingdom.

I think I could have expressed this clearer but I've said everything that I wanted to say so it's okay... The stag-do by the way was wonderful, with a barbecue in a wooded glade, many friends, worship around the fire, bringing prophetic words with symbolic gifts to the groom and praying for his future, it seemed pretty perfect. And now for the blessing of his wedding.

And now for the rest of our lives. Carpe Dium.


Stag night - Jesus Army Life, Day 405

by vivek of flickr.comLife is stressful when loved-ones find their life is in a mess - I should be used to it by now.

The de-stress plan tonight is a Zion stag-do which will involve prophecy, fun and laughter for the groom. It's ironic that the closest non-church goers often get to 'brotherhood' is probably a stag-do where the women aren't allowed and the men enjoy being men. A shame I guess, in church that kind of lifestyle is happening all the time but er... no strippers!

(...unless they're the paint kind).


Heart of worship - Jesus Army Life, Day 404

Last night in our cell group we decided to spend time in worship. Seven of us ventured down to the prayer shed, we explored some scriptures and then began to worship.

Now, worship is never an easy thing in my experience. Of course, loving God is childsplay, it's the simplest thing to sing out your heart, even the birds can do that. But mankind is a complex creature and, because worship requires two participants, if God doesn't show up you're a bit stuck. The reality is, of course, that God will always show up, (he's omnipresent!) but will we always recognise him? We're not always in a place to receive him. And sometimes, if we're honest, we basically can't be bothered.

And that was the experience of some last night.

by 3rd foundation of flickr.comTrue worship, like prayer, requires an exploring of our own hearts, it means facing up to God - and that is not always easy to do. Jesus said that the kind of worshippers the Father seeks will worship him "in Spirit and in truth" remember. I don't think you can really worship if there hasn't been some spiritual rebirth in you, and you certainly can't if you're not willing to be honest with God. It's fundamental.

Truth be told it's one of the reasons I don't get on too well with charismatic worship, give me a soul searching, bitingly honest dirge over a lively 'Jesus is my girlfriend' song any day of the week. I need the grip of reality to express myself. I can't worship if I'm not being honest about where I'm at. I'd far rather worship with tears than with lies.

You can call me a moody old sod if you like (and you'd be wrong - I have a PhD in moodiness and am well able to blast my own self-pity out of the water when necessary...) in fact, I love a good energetic soul-satisfying knees up; the child in me always longs to dance. But nothing puts me in a stupour as much as falseness.

And I think, in one way or another, that it's the same for all people. True, we come to God by degrees, the closer we get to him the more horrified we become at the cruelty of our own hearts. Yet, whatever stage we're at worship comes down to a basic "I want you God" and an honesty to follow through the implications wherever they may lead.

May we raise men, humble enough and passionately honest enough, to lift the roof off when we cry out to God. And as they break through, may God say "Son, your sins are forgiven."


Mission Bell - Jesus Army Life, Day 403

Huuuzzzaaaggggghhhh!! One of the younger sisters made covenant last night! It's a signal that we're breaking into a new phase of growth, where the radical drive to give up your life for the cause of Christ comes before all else.

We may have been able to grow in our numbers but calling people to commitment has been difficult, but we're breaking through and hopefully this genuine hearted sister will be the first of many.

Radical causes have their strains however. At the moment it is the frustration of still being very busy. Having completed a four day evangelism campaign and a three day festival last month, this month offers more evangelism days, work in the Drop-In, big church celebrations and smaller household and cell-church events. Moaning? Not me (well, not much); we only get these vital opportunities to build the church because we're committed. Really, there is nothing better on earth worth expending our energy for.


No funeral for the Church - Jesus Army Life, Day 401

photot by wilhei55 of flickr.comA few of us went to a funeral today. It was for the father of one of our young sisters. He was honoured by all who spoke about him. And you realise too late you'd have liked to get to know him more.

A visit to another church always has its fascination for me. Just as listening to the story of a man's life makes you reflect on your own life-achievements, so visiting another church leads you to ponder the good and bad in your own congregation, and whether we, as God's people, are achieving our purpose.

Unfortunately for this church their numbers are dwindling and their average age is getting older. I was left angry to think that so many churches in the UK are dying out. Once again I see the reality of the battle we are fighting for Jesus in this country.


Still learning - Jesus Army Life, Day 399

Learning to live in the Spirit is an interesting exercise. Occasionally you might want to, often you don't, but life in the Spirit is a key requirement of living as a Christian. Living in community you often don't have a choice! If you want to be effective you have to live in the Spirit... Oftentimes young disciples will arrive having spent all day in town and, really, they haven't really thought much about spiritual all day. And they come in with moods and moans and fears and anxieties and the Holy Spirit is somewhere very low on the priority list. Obviously this isn't all the time but when they do come in with all this mad stuff if you're not willing to be in the Spirit yourself then you have no hope of leading them into higher things. And honestly you're no better than they are - your carnal self might just be a tiny bit more mature.

by Pandiyan of Flickr.comSo the demand is to get into the Spirit and live the life! To stop being selfish and continue pouring yourself out. To enjoy living in the glory of God. It's the nature of repentance I guess, to keep embracing the cross, that's how Jesus loved us, it's the narrow way.


Snip - Jesus Army Life, Day 398

photo by hues06 of Flickr.com This Tuesday one of our members reaffirmed his commitment to the covenant we share as a church - and he was welcomed to our Agape meal with open arms.

I don't think the significance of this should be missed. Here is a brother who is saying to his church as Paul said "you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you" (2 Corinthians 7) and "you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown" (Philippians 4). When church is so real that it captures our heart nothing else matters; and that is exactly as it should be.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.
Jesus, Luke 14

It is the reality, the cut off from the world, the circumcision, that we are baptised into.