Category: Infusing Culture

Is God really a DJ? Encountering Jesus in the Night Life

This post by Luke Rollins was originally published at Seventy Two

“I believe God invented music” she said to me over the music, and shrugged almost apologetically. “I’m here to dance and enjoy it.” Her previous words floated like soap bubbles in the atmosphere around us, delicate and strange against the backdrop of rising techno. I tried to grasp at them, stammering as I realised I was repeating myself. “You’re a Christian?” She nodded patiently again and casually surveyed the dance floor, smiling slightly as the beat dropped and the floor jumped beneath ecstatic feet. I scrambled amongst the alcohol fumes for an insightful, clever reply and found nothing. Instead, I looked bewilderingly around the nightclub, a space I knew well; dark and fractious, a stained and crumbling palace layered in sweat and pheromones, sticky with eau de parfum and caked rum. Shattered lives bounced to transient euphoria and everyone looked vacant and alone; anxiously searching for the next good time amidst the sonic tumult. My new friend took a sip from her water as I turned to speak to her again. “But what….” I stumbled, suddenly wanting to tell her everything and simultaneously fighting the urge to disappear out the fire escape. “But what is a Christian like you….” I drew back and with a desperate flourish, pointed at the writhing dance floor, “…doing here?”

It’s a question that I’ve heard frequently in the years since this encounter; wrapped in the same disbelief and doubt accompanied by quizzical and curious eyes trying to understand. It’s a question I’ve heard from other Christians too, reframed and echoing in church halls immeasurably removed from the club contexts in question. Why would you want to go to these places? It’s a legitimate query. Is God really interested in nightclub culture? Is He actually going to bother with a community consumed with hedonism, sensuality, hubris and vice; openly indifferent to the seemingly archaic values of the Christian church and avid purveyors of an aggressively progressive, liberal New Age approach to spirituality? Many assume not. I’m not so sure.

My role as a DJ Ministry Coordinator at Third Space Ministries is grounded in defence of this scepticism and fuelled by my own incontrovertible experience to the contrary. My lone conversation on the dance-floor of a club resulted in an admittedly slow, yet deeply transformational and painful journey back to faith. Unbeknownst to the stranger on the dance-floor that night, she was talking to a very lost and hurting prodigal son, ashamed and disgusted with himself; someone who knew the truth of Jesus and had chosen the path of least resistance only to discover that all the fun and pleasure that the World had promised came laden with vast and merciless reams of savage small print and a crippling APR scheme.

Corridors of drugs and alcohol were beginning to narrow and darken around me; guilt and disappointment were scratching on the doors of my nightmares, waking me up in cold sweats of panic and oppression. And it was in the midst of this broken rebellion that Jesus showed up, alive and peaceful in the life of the girl in front of me. She didn’t realise it, but in that moment I understood: no matter how far I ran, how bad it became and how much I tried to forget about God, He hadn’t forgotten me. He was still there, in the most unlikely of places. So potent was this moment of grace that sobriety uncomfortably descended and I realised, just for a fleeting second of emotion, how much I desperately wanted what she had. As the party raged around me, I heard His heart, camouflaged in a language I didn’t yet fully understand; a small and irresistible call in the turmoil of my absconsion. Time to come home, He said.

I’m always fascinated to read about Jesus choosing to associate amongst the apparently humbler contexts of the societal strata. His own band of disciples were rough talking fishermen, tax collectors and zealots. He pronounced forgiveness upon sex workers (Luke 7.50), invited himself to dine with the crooked and devious (Luke 19.5), had compassion for the aimless crowds (Matthew 9.36)  and confronted the possessed and broken (Luke 8.29). He didn’t avoid the dirt and the grime, the uncomfortable and the crowded, the noisy and the clamorous. He controversially and beautifully declared that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners…” (Mark 2.17) Would Jesus have gone to a nightclub? Would He, to the great offence of those around Him, have nevertheless positioned Himself amongst the hurting, the searching, the needy; unfazed by the smoke and mirrors of offensively loud music and bright lights literally hiding a multitude of sins? I completely believe He would be there. In fact, I think He would probably have been the last to leave.

And despite all my convictions, I’m still amazed that when we do dare to go, God does indeed emerge from the sidelines, as He did for me all those years ago. Only recently I watched with astonishment at an outdoor event at which I was DJ’ing as God opened conversation after conversation, specifically on this occasion with men ravaged by the fallout of lockdown. Divorce, trauma, abuse, substance misuse, gambling, it spilled out in flurries of pain and covert tears through trembling cigarettes and eyes avoiding direct contact. I was suddenly required to listen, provide hope, offer gentle encouragement as God colours began to bloom between the disco beats and empty wasp filled pint glasses.  I prayed for a man in the car park as he wept and hugged me, his atheism temporarily parked at the tiniest promise of breakthrough. A strange favour shaped the atmosphere; the music I played and the manner in which I performed seemed to touch people and sparked questions and discussion. Everyone somehow seemed to know I was a Christian and worked as a chaplain before I’d said a word to them. The fact that I was a DJ too didn’t seem in the least bit incongruous to anyone. At one point, I practically had a queue of people wanting to talk. None of it had anything to do with me at all. All I really did was pray and go.

Of course, it is not for everyone. No one is pretending the darkness isn’t real in these spaces. As a chaplain, I walk alongside DJ’s and creatives who are often at the sharp end of this scene, facing the temptations and the ramifications of a culture founded on financial strongholds and occult persuasions. This is not an arena for lone rangers and missional mavericks. Rather it is best approached prayerfully and respectfully with the support of a committed, accountable community.

And yet, as challenging as the environment threatens to be, my own testimony reminds me that it is a demographic that the church cannot ignore. Whether we choose to confront it or not, the fact remains that a huge percentage of young adults have found their church amongst the lasers and smoke. It is where they find community, it is where they go to worship, it is where they find joy, it is where they experience transcendental moments. All of it may be counterfeit, chemically enhanced and corrupt but that does not negate its spiritual legitimacy in the hearts of those who go.

Simultaneously, it is an experience that naturally comes with a high price tag and little reward. It does not satisfy but merely offers momentary gratification before evaporating in an oily memory, leaving a snail trail of shame and disappointment in its wake. Mental health statistics are staggeringly poor amongst the DJ’s whose careers are built in the club culture. We have a generation of young clubbers at breaking point with body image insecurities and social media fuelled lifestyle pressures. It is in this vacuum of disillusionment that the Kingdom of God appears as a desperately beautiful alternative. New Age doctrine, as twisted as it may be, nevertheless means more and more individuals are quite prepared to consider and discuss the spiritual realms. Crucially, they have also discovered the painful limitations of these pseudo faith deviations. Make no mistake, people are hungry. They just don’t know what to eat.

So as debate continues to rage about the future of post-covid nightlife and the community tentatively dances on a knife edge of uncertainty, I believe we have an opportunity to present the glorious alternative of God’s great dance floor to a group of people who are constantly searching. Maybe, like me, one simple conversation, barely audible over the madness of an all out rave, could change a life, end an exile, offer a moment of grace to step back into the arms of our Father, already running to meet us in the darkness of the nightclub, clutching a VIP pass for unashamed access to the greatest, purest party in existence. I know He did it for me. And He’ll do it again.

The post Is God really a DJ? Encountering Jesus in the Night Life appeared first on Seventy Two.

Finding Jesus in the most ‘unlikely of places’

This post by Ellie Barrett was originally published at Seventy Two

As we look at the life of Jesus on earth, we see that He consistently makes a point of spending time with people who others would not. His time with the woman at the well (John 4:1-26) is one of these times and is part of a great demonstration that there is no one in society Jesus wouldn’t want to pursue. This woman was at the edge of society, coming to the well for water at noon in the heat of the afternoon to make sure she wouldn’t be seen by others who may judge or avoid her. As it says in the scripture, it was not the done thing for Jesus a Jew to associate with a Samaritan woman (John 4:9). But she needed something that only Jesus could give and so He stepped over a cultural boundary to bring her love, conviction and the offer of eternal life.

“…Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

Jesus was often intentionally in the most unusual of places. Those places which had been rejected by the current religious culture. One of these places today is the Strip Club industry. For Christians, these are places to be avoided at all costs. While it is true that it would be unwise as Christians to casually step into a Strip Club or a context that would be a compromise of our values, Jesus shows us that there also must be a context where we can love, impact and bring Jesus to people groups like this one. Just as with the Samaritan woman, every person on this earth has needs only Jesus can fulfil. We are called to partner with Him in reaching those in need (Matthew 28:18-20). The questions are who, how, and what does this look like?

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Matthew 28:19

For us at Third Space Ministries, this looks like building relationships with Strip Clubs and sending in small groups of women who are trained and accountable once a week. They offer sweet treats, conversation, prayer and support to the women they encounter. This leads to opportunities for deeper conversations about faith, long term discipleship outside of the clubs and practical support depending on the needs of the individual. Through this we are able to introduce women to Jesus who may not usually feel comfortable or allowed to be themselves around Christians, visit a Church or explore faith.

Three years on from the start of ministry we have the access and strategy that allows us to reach women who work in Strip Clubs. To begin with however, all we had was a heart for an industry and time to pray for God to show us the way where it felt like there was no way. We didn’t know where to start but we knew Jesus would know the way and would already be moving in these places. After 18 months of prayer walking we felt God reveal our next step and over the next few months we aimed to build a relationship with the club God had highlighted but with no particular plan. We watched amazed, as God opened doors and connected us with all the right people to launch our ministry.

Because of the people Jesus chose to associate with, we know that even if it wouldn’t be the first place we would go as Christians, there is no person or culture that Jesus isn’t looking to impact today. For any person, place or culture we turn our eyes to, we will see that God is present, moving and ready for you and I to capture His heart for them. If we as Christians have a heart for a mission field, we can guarantee Jesus is already there, going before us and showing us the way. We can be confident in the assurance that we don’t need to go in blind trying to find a way to bring Jesus somewhere in our own strength. All we need to do is spend time asking Jesus where He is in that place, honour Him and welcome His already existing pursuit of those He created.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take”  Proverbs 3:5-6

Strip Clubs is one of the places that we as Third Space Ministries felt God was leading us. Maybe for you God is highlighting another place or group of people? What do you see around you as you walk around your neighbourhood, your workplace, or the places you like to visit to unwind? Maybe in these places there are cultures or people groups you would love to impact but you wouldn’t know where to start? Maybe there are people you wouldn’t usually notice or come across. Maybe like the woman at the well they wouldn’t expect you to want to associate with them because of the culture you are both surrounded by. Only you will know who God is leading you to. I can tell you though, that He will be leading you to someone, and if He is He will show you the way.

 

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What song do you sing?

This post by Rob May was originally published at Seventy Two

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ John 12:20-33

Earlier this year we heard about a rare bird that had lost its song. There are only 300 Regent Honeyeaters left! Too few to teach the young ones to sing like a Honeyeater. Instead they’ve started singing all kinds of weird stuff.

This is why church and passages like John 12:20-33 matter. Around you in the church is a choir to teach you to sing properly. Because if we are not careful, we find ourselves no longer sounding quite as Christian as we should.

‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains a single grain. But if it falls and dies it produces many seeds.’

The Greeks had come looking for Jesus but it’s not clear what they expected to hear.

For John, they are representatives of the nations coming to see Jesus. Scripture being fulfilled and people still coming looking for Jesus.

Some come for nostalgia’s sake, the warm feeling of a distant memory that comes back. Others hope Jesus will help them to live successful and trouble-free lives. Just enough religion to keep a guilty conscience at bay. A little spiritual disruption but not so much that they can’t go skiing every year. Just enough passion and commitment to feel like maybe you might change the world but not so much that you might end up risking everything. To join a church doing ‘whatever it takes’ to grow rather than a church teetering on the edge of death. Rock star worship, gifted designer-clothed speakers, some money for the poor, a stint at the foodbank and a flat overlooking the river at Battersea.

Maybe this is where the Greeks hoped they would one day live.

Our Easter song says that Jesus had to fall and he had to die. He cannot cling on and still live. But in this dying there will be much fruit.

Perhaps we wished he’d stopped talking there. Left us out of it. We want to be one of those many seeds that come from his resurrected life. But can we just go straight there? Skip Lent and Good Friday? Straight to Easter Sunday and the joy of resurrection!

Anyone who loves their life will lose it; while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves must follow me; and where I am my servant will be also.

There’s hyperbole here of course. Like tattooed knuckles: Love-Hate. Love life and lose it. Hate life and keep it.

Jesus didn’t hate life. He was not a hair-shirt Christian incapable of appreciating and celebrating beautiful art or music or the kindness of a stranger. Like a Puritan lying awake at night tortured and bitter worried that someone, somewhere is enjoying themselves. Eating and drinking, laughing and sharing stories with Jesus.

I read somewhere recently  that a common factor in healthy growing churches is laughter. Healthy churches laugh easily and often. Like Jesus.

To spend time with Jesus was not to be with someone who wished he was somewhere else. We know people like this. They never quite have enough time for you. There’s always something or someone more important or better for them to be seen with. Leaders who prefer to invest in their legacy rather than in the church’s losers. They’re not listening to you because you matter. They are just waiting before they can tell you little more about themselves

Jesus was at his most lively and life-giving in the presence of sin and brokenness. Desolate lives abused and over-looked. Jesus was to be found in some God-forsaken home surrounded by tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes. Not your average middle-class dinner party but very much a Christian one.

Something lit up in his face when they cried out for mercy. He came and touched them. Healed them and they lived. He spoke hope and love, compassion and forgiveness. He came not for the righteous but for sinners. Not for the healthy but the sick. There is a way of life loved by Jesus but it is a way of life not of this world’s making. And it is a life that reaches into our world from the throne room of heaven.

There is also a way of life that Jesus hates.

It’s the life of those who strut in the presence of power and position. They abuse and violate the very life-giving laws they signed up to protect. Concerned only for themselves, their station and position, asserting their self-importance to anyone who might listen.

That’s when his anger simmered. That’s when his calling and vocation came into sharper focus.

With steady gaze Jesus stood before those who wanted to destroy him. And, in glorious obedience, he let go of this grain of wheat only to watch it fall and die.

Was this what the Greeks wanted to hear? Is this why they wanted ‘to see’ Jesus? Is this the song the Greeks wanted to learn? Is this what they wanted to be heard singing to the end of their days?

We’ve seen something of both lives in the last 12 months. We’ve seen signs of the life we see in Jesus and we’ve seen signs of a life we should despise. We’ve lived a year ‘stripped back’. We’ve been given choices we don’t normally get offered.

Families with more time together than they could have previously imagined. Friends more isolated than they’ve ever been. Neighbourhoods unknowingly becoming signs of the kingdom. The poor cared for. Neighbours shopped for. Weekly foodbank collections. Jesus has come amongst us.

We have been given a gift although sometimes it didn’t feel like it. What really matters most in life? What song do you want to sing?

But then we look again and see the other world.

No more money for tired nurses but some for a shiny new room with microphones, two flags and a podium. Less aid for world’s poor but more nuclear bombs. There’s more than enough to feed the poor, but first we must satisfy the rich.

Goldman Sacks workers asking for their hours to be capped to an inhuman 80 hours a week. Goldman Sach’s 2020 net revenue? £32.1 billion. Apparently, still not enough. And we’re back in Egypt with the slave masters. Thank God Jesus hears the songs of the slaves.

Alex McCammond steps down as editor of Teen Vogue because someone unpleasant dug up rash and offensive tweets she posted as a teenager. Thank God we didn’t have Twitter when we were growing up. A world with no forgiveness for our sins even with a confession.

The brutality of social media. The absence of grace and generosity. The absence of life. Just dying and death but no redemption.

If you want to talk about sin how about sin number 10? ‘Thou shalt not covet!’

Not all the Greeks moved to Battersea, of course.

Rather than clinging on tightly to their grains of wheat, some let them fall and found that they lived. They went back to their friends and neighbours and they sang the songs of Jesus. They moved in amongst the poor and they sang the songs of Jesus. They sat down with the abused and they sang their songs. They sang forgiveness to those who confessed and repented. They opened their homes singing  the songs of Jesus. They faced up to the powerful, stood in the gap, spoke up for the voiceless and they sang their songs. Some even went to the ends of the earth still singing the songs of Jesus.

They gave up craving the things of this world and gained the life of eternity. And they sang their songs. The world was judged and the ruler of this world was driven out!

We would recognise them. They sound like us. They sing like us. I think we would recognise the melody. Unless of course, you have forgotten the song. Or worse still, prefer not to be reminded.

But I don’t think that’s true, is it…?

 

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Riding the Next Wave

This post by Joth Hunt was originally published at Seventy Two

I’m not a surfer but I did grow up by the sea and I have always enjoyed riding a wave by body boarding. I understand that the best surfers are those who know which are the best waves to ride. They patiently watch the horizon to learn the language of the sea before choosing the largest and best waves. Missional listening and leadership is partially about watching the societal and cultural waves on the horizon and then, with the help of the Spirit, getting ready to ride those waves in the best way possible.

No one saw the wave of COVID coming, and if they had, they probably wouldn’t have realised what a huge impact it was going to have. It was like a wave that understandably caught even the best surfer unawares! However, as we see the vaccines roll out and the potential of life returning to some kind of normality, it is worth looking out to the horizon and asking what cultural waves might be heading our way and whether it is possible to missionally serve our communities by riding some of these waves.

I can’t say with great certainty what these waves might be, but I do want to suggest three possible waves worth considering:

Mental Health

The first wave I think worth highlighting is the potential for a wave of mental health issues as people come out of lockdown and restrictions. Many of us are aware of how lockdown has challenged our own mental health and wellbeing. Some of us have been quite surprised by how we have reacted to the challenges that we have faced. Personally, I have yearned to get out of the routine space of home and find a new scene. During the winter months this, of course, has been much harder to do. I have found myself become restless, frustrated and very tetchy and my sleep at times has been inconsistent. If we are aware that our own mental health has been challenged during these times, it can’t be too difficult to imagine the amount of mental strain there has been for others.

As we slowly come out of lockdown, I find myself wondering how the Church will be available to others in society to help them find their way out of this tough period. I’m fascinated that before COVID hit our shores the Wellbeing Cafe movement was well underway. My understanding is that during COVID a number of communities have begun virtual Wellbeing Cafes. Spaces for people to just be and to be listened to. Ruby Wax, the founder of Frazzled Cafe, once said, “Being heard, to me, has always been half the cure.”

I’m encouraged when I hear of churches that are beginning to consider how they might respond to this need through ‘Wellbeing Cafes’, listening services and support groups that will give people time and space to process what has happened but also rediscover their feet through new rhythms of health and wellbeing.

A Time to Grieve

One of the most difficult things during this time for many people has been the lack of opportunity to mourn and grieve the consequences of this pandemic. I am wondering whether there might be a wave of unexpressed grief both individually but also corporately. The vast majority of people will have known at least one person who has died of COVID or passed away during this time when a full and ‘proper’ process for giving thanks and the availability to comfort each other just hasn’t been allowed to take place. I fear that it would be very easy for this lack of formalised grief to be forgotten as we celebrate the easing of lockdown and restrictions. Churches could have a key role to play in giving people time and space to give thanks for those who have passed away and to grieve together in an appropriate and respectful manner.

We could also prepare ourselves to be available to pastorally support those who have lost loved ones during this period and who are still dealing with their own grief alongside the guilt of having a funeral process that fell below their expectations and needs. Churches again could be playing a key role here in revisiting those who are grieving and giving space and time to allow this extraordinary and unprecedented grief to be expressed and comforted.

A Time to Re-evaluate

The third wave that may be on the horizon is one of re-evaluating all that has happened and how that has impacted the things that we hold as being important. I can’t imagine that there are too many people who have not stopped during the past year and asked themselves some very deep and fundamental questions about their lives, values and beliefs.

I have been encouraged in recent months by a number of churches that have been hosting ‘Alpha’ type events online and found a good uptake of people wishing to engage. I have just heard from one of our pioneers of a number of people that have sought him out for conversations during this time of lockdown, wanting to find a person to reflect with and process their thoughts and emotions. This seems to me a real opportunity. Moments of disaster and crisis will always create a desire to question and to review.

I’m not sure how large this wave might be or how long it might last but I think it might be significant enough for those churches who dare to ride it to discover opportunities to share the story, values and beliefs of the Christian faith with people who are keen to re-evaluate.

Of course, I might be wrong about all these potential waves and there may be others that are heading toward the coastline but I do think all three are worth considering and possibly attempting to ride as we come out of this long period of lockdown.  The period of COVID that we have experienced has been unprecedented and challenging but the season that we are about to enter into may be one that brings waves of fresh and new opportunities. May the Spirit of God prepare his Church for such a time as this and lift us up onto each new wave, enabling the good news of Christ to be seen and shared with all that will hear.

 

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There’s A Manger Over There

This post by Rachael Warnock was originally published at Seventy Two

I was struck by an idea for advent, which a college friend had tried in her locality. It would include attaining a life size manger and placing it in locations around the local community to be seen by passers-by, to inspire a thought or a conversation. A picture of the manger would be taken in each location and posted on social media, including just enough of the surrounding area to help people to find it.

I was instantly taken with the project. Such a striking image to pass by in the neighbourhood, in the “safe” spaces and the broken places too. A symbol of Jesus coming into the locality, into the beauty and the mess. Jesus would come to brighten the dark streets and the forgotten spaces.

John 1:14

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

Jesus, the saviour of the world was born to a young poor mother from an insignificant place – looked down on and on the margins. Those in the south would prefer to forget Nazareth existed. Jesus was born in a simple manger amidst the mess and darkness of a stable and societal struggle, but he would become the light of the world. Jesus would be hope in the hope less spaces. He would live out much of his life in the margins of society, spending time with people from diverse backgrounds, particularly those just trying to make ends meet. Jesus met them where they were, including at the dodgy end of the neighbourhood.

The Manger amidst the local community is a symbol of hope, pointing to the coming of our Saviour along with light, hope and justice. The manger says that God loves us so much that he comes to us where we are, even in the unkempt areas. He comes for all of us and certainly the poorest and those struggling the most. God’s grace and rule is present everywhere. We can find God on a simple street amidst the litter.

The manger travelled around Devonport and stories emerged from the journey. On Marlborough St it disappeared. I looked up and down, hoping I simply had not seen it. I spoke to apologetic shop keepers and hairdressers, disappointed it would not continue its community adventure. We asked for help on social media to #findthemissingmanger and the post was shared repeatedly. People cared and soon we received a message from a helpful shop worker – it was back on the street, having had a couple of nights inside another local shop. It was intact and ready to go!

The next destination was the local park. After a day or two I went to pick it up but no matter how much I searched, it was not there. Though something told me not to be despondent too quickly. The manger had already gone missing once and was found. I was sure God was making a way for it. I went in search of someone working on the land and happened to find the park warden who said they had placed it inside to keep it safe and that a youth group were planning to use it. So, again it had been valued, taken care of. The carpenter loved it. They said it was a conversation starter, a moment of excitement to find it. The manger was returned and a suggestion of where to re place it – in full view of everyone taking a walk along the path. We went again the next day and I was told by a passer-by that perhaps we should not move it, that it was being used to place plant pots in. So again, it was being minded and cared for, appreciated.

And onwards it travelled. It was placed outside the community centre and after a few days I went to pick it up, but it was not there. Perhaps it had gone this time, not to be found. But again, we asked for help to #findthemissingmanger and again the post was shared. We received a message – a concerned member of the community had popped it over the fence just in case it was “trashed.” Again, the manger was found. Valued and special.

It became clear to me that although we were aware that the manger could be taken and damaged at any point, it had not been harmed, but tended to. People may have barely known the Christmas story, but even so, just enough. Jesus was born there, and the world was waiting for Christmas day. Jesus was coming and they helped to take care, prepare and be ready. We encountered Kindness, thoughtfulness, warmth, hospitality, generosity, and care.

How can we continue the journey with Jesus among strangers in our community? How can we reflect Jesus’ generosity, hope and authenticity by actively joining in with Jesus, participating through the Holy Spirit with God’s renewal, healing, and flourishing?

Like Mary, it is important we are attentive to our interior life so we can be attentive to our communities and speak into them too. Let us remember Mary’s words of praise and all that God has done for us through Jesus including the marginalised, the cast out and the looked down on. Let us take time this new year to reflect on how we can be salt and light, reflecting God’s glory, generosity, and truth. Do we care? “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Luke 10:1-3.

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Have we forgotten the poor?

This post by Michael Shaw was originally published at Seventy Two

One of my former Deacons used to pray “break our hearts for what breaks yours”. I remember while prayer walking Devonport, where I minister, with him and seeing the poverty and knowing that it breaks the heart of God. A few days ago Carl Beech Tweeted “There are two conversions in the Christian life. Conversion to Christ and when God breaks your heart for the poor.”

Over the last few years the church (like much of society) has had a focus on gender and racial justice and issues on human sexuality, and quite rightly so, but in the process the issues of class have been forgotten. The working class have been forgotten by the church and not just the poorest. A point made eloquently by Canon Gary Jenkins in a recent blog post on the issue (https://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/where-are-the-working-class/)

It is my experience that the church is becoming increasingly middle class, to the point where the working class feel that they don’t see people like themselves, not just in the pulpit but also in the pews.

This plays out in church planting. Most new churches are clone churches in areas of similar socio-demographic areas or in “student” areas. With very little church planting into deprived or marginal communities (estates or inner-city). You see this in books, conferences or festivals where most of the speakers/writers are from “successful” suburban churches or para-church organisations, very few from small or inner city churches, very few indigenous non-tertiary educated speakers or writers get the same profile.

So areas like Devonport are not just “de-churched” they have become unchurched, while there are 5,000 people here, there are only two small churches, one with under 10 regulars; if you found that in any other part of the world, you would call the people of Devonport an unreached people group. And yet we exist in the United Kingdom.

The wonderful poem in Philippians 2, which Paul uses to explain who Jesus was (so we could be like him), includes the wonderful phrase “When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!” (MSG). As Red Letter Christians we focus on the words of Jesus, but sadly we don’t get many words of his in the Nativity account, but actions speak louder than words we are told! So what does the incarnation of Jesus teach us?

As we begin preparation for Jesus coming at Christmas, it is good to look at his first coming. Before he is even born he is an outcast, rejected by his own family and the people who do visit are not royal dignitaries, as befits a King, but dirty, smelly shepherds! They were considered not just working class, but an underclass, they were irreligious people who worked hard, broke the Sabbath and ate what they could (for a full explanation of the scandal of the Manger read David Instone-Brewer’s recent article in Christianity Magazine – http://www.biblecontexts.com/2020/11/the-first-christmasfamily-argument.html)

I wonder what would happen if some dirty, smelly shepherds turned up in most churches on a Sunday morning, how would they be treated?

The problem is most Christians have not been converted twice, just the once, they have not understood that when Jesus said he came to preach Good News to the poor, that he meant it, and that as followers we were meant to do the same. We have not understood that to reach the poorest, we can’t do that at arms-length, because Jesus didn’t do mission in that way, instead he incarnated the Gospel.

So what do we need? We need Christians to live, work and worship in marginal communities. Not for a few years but for decades. Incarnating the Gospel, being salt and light, living out the Kingdom of God among the poorest in our nation.

 

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Seventy Two 2020-10-12 07:11:09

This post by Alex Drew was originally published at Seventy Two

Following their recent announcement that Table Talk for Wellbeing is now available to preorder, The Ugly Duckling Company‘s Sharon Lanfear recently asked Renew Wellbeing’s Ruth Rice a few questions about wellbeing.

Ruth Rice is the founder of Renew Wellbeing, and one of the co-writers of Table Talk for Wellbeing. We asked her a few questions about the background of this game and how it fits in with her work.

What are the ‘5 Ways to Wellbeing?

The 5 ways to wellbeing are widely used by a variety of services and community groups. Developed by The New Economics foundation with the Government’s Foresight report in 2008 it was found that Connecting, Keeping learning, Getting Active, Taking Notice and Giving were all good ways to attend to your wellbeing. This gives us all a shared language across care systems and faith and community groups to talk about wellbeing which is a really positive way to engage in discussion about our mental and emotional health. We all need to be looking after our wellbeing and finding ways to share good habits with one another.

What is Renew Wellbeing, and how does this game fit in with it?

Renew Wellbeing is a charity helping churches to set up quiet shared spaces where its ‘OK not to be OK’. These are simple community spaces where anyone can attend, bring a hobby/ share a hobby, and join in simple prayer rhythms if they choose to. They are spaces for people of any faith and none, run by local churches in partnership with mental health professionals. Table Talk for Wellbeing would be a great resource for any renew centre helping good discussions emerge around the table in a natural way.

For those not able to set up a Renew space the Table Talk cards could be a wonderful resource to help us have meaningful discussions in online forums and in small gatherings . This resource could be a great way to connect church and community as we navigate these difficult days and find shared language around our mental and emotional wellbeing. With smaller groups allowed there would be an opportunity to play table talk in homes, cafes, pubs and churches as we help each other reconnect.

Why is there a picture round?

The picture round in this pack focusses on emotions, and is an extra to the great questions that those who are familiar with Table Talk will have learned to love. The pictures give a chance for a more open-ended discussion, for us to form our own questions, talk about emotions or keep it light hearted. The questions and pictures are designed to promote good chat about wellbeing and the picture pack will make sure this is available to anyone of any ability.

Table Talk is fun to play as well as encouraging good honest chat — every church needs this pack. Probably every home does too, certainly we would love to see every Renew centre playing Table Talk for Wellbeing!

Table Talk for Wellbeing can now be preordered here.

 

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Love God, Love each other and Love Weston-Super-Mare

This post by Nicky Harper was originally published at Seventy Two

Since starting Re:Imagine, we have met regularly as a leadership team to discuss and pray about where God is leading us.

The word “simplify” has been mentioned many times. We have been challenged to look at areas of church life which do not serve the purpose of bringing people to faith and are therefore not necessary.

Alongside Re:Imagine, we have been reading the book “Simple Church” by Thom S Rainer and Eric Geiger and as a result of this, we have developed a simple statement which is becoming the foundation of everything we do and are about, as a church of people at Milton Baptist Church:

“Love God, Love each other and Love Weston-Super-Mare”

Love God is the ‘up’ i.e. our worship to God through Sunday services. These are currently on YouTube!

Love each other is the ‘in’, through small house groups. These have become increasingly important through lockdown.

Love Weston is the ‘out’, where we seek to serve our local community and reach out to those in need.

We have begun to recognise the huge impact that COVID 19 is having on people’s mental health and this has spurred us on to follow our dream of opening up a Renew Wellbeing Space in our local area. We had previously discussed the possibility, but nothing had fallen into place until just over a month ago and we’re now in the process of securing a shop on a local high street!

This will be opened up, hopefully working alongside existing businesses (a mental health charity shop one side and a café on the other) and will be a place where people can come and just ‘be’. They can take part in activities which promote good mental health e.g. colouring, art, crafts, chats etc. There will prayer times throughout the day where people can join in if they feel they want to and volunteers will be trained to be able to come alongside people who enter the building.

We also recognise the need to provide something for young people, to support their wellbeing in these difficult times. With this in mind, one evening a week will be set aside for this age group.

We are very excited about the future of this venture and through the Re:Imagine process, we have a clearer picture of who we are/who we want to be as a church and where God is leading us to be effective in our local town of Weston-Super-Mare.

Milton BC are on of the churches working through the Re:Imagine process together. For more information on Re:Imagine, click here.

 

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Live, Work and Worship

This post by Michael Shaw was originally published at Seventy Two

In his book on American Politics, Jim Wallis says when he asks about Poverty, the key verse Christians quote is John 12:8 “The poor you will always have with you.”, he says that the church has accepted poverty as inevitable and unchangeable. But Wallis goes on to talk about how the verse is not about acceptance of poverty by proximity of the church, and Christians to people who are poor. A better translation is “you shall always be among the poor”.

We often make excuses for not doing anything about Poverty, so we will quote Blessed are the poor in Sprit from Matthew’s Gospel, ignoring the fact that Luke’s Gospel does not say that. And while we have made a whole theology of conversion of Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus in John 4, making it universal for us to be “born again”, we say the conversation with Jesus and the Rich Young Man in the Synoptic Gospels, where the man is told to sell everything, give it away and receive from God in order to follow Jesus, is specific to that individual.

While many in the church are involved in alleviating the causes of poverty through food banks, soup runs or debt relief counselling, the reality is that these are often niche groups within the church, and more and more staffed by volunteers not from churches.

Sadly, the church in our inner cities, in sink estates and especially in “traditional” post-industrial white working-class areas is either dying or dead. More and more churches are focusing on big “centres”, either in student, suburban areas of cities or in market towns. This has left poorer urban and rural areas devoid of churches, and where there are churches, they are often small and elderly, with very little ability to reach out to the people around.

The current Covid crisis is going to make this worse.

Christians who were called to be among the poor are now among the middles class, often doing disembodied outreach programmes or giving financially, but not doing anything to be among the poor on a day to day basis.

If you look at many of the great Revivals, they often begin in the margins, among the poor. It is where John Wesley preached, it is where the Welsh and Azusa street revivals began. If we want to see God truly move in our nation, we need to inspire Christians to live, work and worship among the poor. This may mean giving up our comforts, not living in our “dream” home, or taking that “dream” job or going to the latest “cool” church, and it might mean living in a Downwardly Mobile way, living counter to our culture (Romans 12:1-2).

Jesus was often found among the crowd (ochlos), the rabble, the unwashed. He had no home or possessions, relying on the charity of others. He died the death of a thief and was buried in a borrowed tomb. He became one of the poor. Paul writes in Philippians 2 that he became a slave. If we want to truly follow Jesus, then why do we think that we are allowed to live differently from him?

 

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‘Normal’?

This post by Ross Maynard was originally published at Seventy Two

‘I can’t wait to get back to normal’, is a sentence I’ve heard so much lately. It fills me with two very strong emotions. The first emotion is a deep sense of longing. This emotion agrees whole heartedly with this statement. I long to be back to normal. I long to have more freedom. I long to meet and hug friends and family. I long to go to pubs and restaurants. I long to walk to work. I long for my old daily routines.

This longing, this desire to go back to normal is quickly followed by a deep feeling of unease. My longing for normal is a longing for comfort and a romanticised view of the past because of some of the challenges of the present.

  • Our ‘normal’ utterly ruins the environment and the beauty of our natural world.
  • Our ‘normal’ destroys family and community, with a work obsessed individualism.
  • Our ‘normal’ fosters an economy centred on consumerism, rather than fairness and the collective needs of all.
  • Our ‘normal’ is violent. Violence in the home and violence between nations, communities and neighbours.
  • Our ‘normal’ is creating an environment in which mental illness is thrives.
  • Our ‘normal’ sees the Western church lost in the whirlpool of a quickly changing world.

Our ‘normal’ is not good enough. I don’t want to go back to ‘normal’! We have been gifted an incredible opportunity to imagine, question and act.

We can IMAGINE a new normal: God’s normal. Imagine if we could honour those who lost their lives during this horrific pandemic by creating a better world? A world more like the kingdom of God.

Imagine if our world now, in the present, was more like the future, like heaven. NT Wright puts it better than me:

‘[Jesus’ kingdom vision] … is a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future; because that future has arrived in the present in Jesus of Nazareth. It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up. Try it and see.’

Can we imagine our present ‘normal’ as if it were the future ‘normal’: God’s normal? Can we imagine our present ‘normal’ incorporating the great visions of the Kingdom of God painted beautifully in Isaiah and Revelation?

‘He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.’

(Isaiah 2:4)

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

(Revelation 21:3-4)

Until our normal looks like the Kingdom of God, as embodied in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we’ve got work to do. Until heaven and earth become one and the brokenness of our world is fully restored to God’s original intention, we’ve got work to do.

As we imagine what God’s normal would look like on our earth, we can begin to QUESTION our own. We can ask the ‘why’s’, the ‘what’s’ and the ‘how’s’.

  • Why are we investing so much time in Sunday services? Is church become all about Sunday’s? What could church look like when we can meet again?
  • How are we going to continue to use technology and social media positively? Could we keep doing some meetings on Zoom? Could we continue to invest in our social media presence to influence change?
  • Why do people believe the Christian faith is irrelevant? Why is this normal? How can we change this?
  • How do we respond to racial inequality and discrimination, once again highlighted by the murder of George Floyd?
  • How do we make sure that all the homeless who were given accommodation during the pandemic, have shelter after this is all over?
  • How do we make sure that the cleaner air and water that we’re seeing across our damaged earth, because of lockdown, continues after this is all over?

None of this imagining and questioning is anything if done alone and if it doesn’t lead us all to ACT.

  • Could we gather groups of people to ask these questions in regard to our churches, but also in regard to the broader issues facing us as a country?
  • Could we join Tearfund in their Reboot campaign. They have loads of resources available to help with the very things we’ve been exploring.

Finally, of course, all of this imagining, questioning and action will come to nothing if not absolutely saturated in prayer.

Father forgive us for accepting what is considered ‘normal’
Guide us
Enliven us
Be with us
May we be your tools to carve out a new normal

‘I can’t wait to get back to normal’, but not the normal we have now. I want a new normal. Our God calls us to his normal. ‘It may seem upside down, but we are called to believe, with great daring, that it is in fact the right way up. Try it and see.’

 

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