Posted by: piersdy | April 21, 2015

Making It Sweet

A man walking toward a woman who appears to be a ghost.Time is a strange thing. We live on the fine moving line between the next moment and the last. I am an observer watching events pass me into the shadow land of memory, and it can feel quite melancholy as everything passes away (1 John 2.17). Is there anything that we can hold on to, that does not empty into the ocean of the silent fading past?

I was thinking about this the other day, and of course talking to God is above time. He does not pass away or change, and nothing I give to him is lost.
Then I was talking to people at work, at Goodness Foods Wholesale which is run by JFC people. In several short conversations I enjoyed the inspiration of thoughts on spiritual realities; we touched hearts and agreed on the goodness of grace. In one case a friend told me of some sadness stemming from past trauma and I prayed with him; at lunch time another old friend talked about a personal matter and we prayed together. Life flows in such ways.
At home we had a neighbour round for a meal and before she went we blessed her with a prayer.

In such ways a day is lifted from being sand through the fingers of time to the joy of moments touching the eternal and the divine. That is what makes life sweet.

Posted by: piersdy | April 21, 2015

Is Life Futile?

black and white close-up a hand with sand streaming through the fingers‘Vanity, all is vanity’, says the preacher of Ecclesiastes. The Hebrew is apparently ‘vapour’, so it might also be expressed as ‘fleeing’ or ‘futile’.

Do you ever wonder what your life amounts to? You work, struggle, enjoy the moment, and days pass by like the view from a train. What will I have to show for all that I’ve done? It’s been thought before.

So what will we really take with us, or send ahead, to the day of reckoning before God? The bible says we shall all give account (Romans 14.12), like stewards entrusted with resources and required to account for our use of them.

One thing that goes with us is our quality of character. God employs every circumstance to fashion our souls, and I guess that our capacity to love with God’s love will be the measure of our character growth (Colossians 1.28). God alone can assess that.
But I also think that the treasure we lay up in heaven (Luke 12.33) will be seen in everyone who is there and testifies that we (I, you) loved and helped them (1 Corinthians 3.12-15, Matthew 25.40).

We can produce something eternal in two other ways. If we cause anyone to comment that God is great because of what we do, that counts (Matthew 5.16).
And when we worship God in spirit and truth (John 4.23,24), loving him freely, then heaven enjoys it and our gold silver and precious stones are added to.

So is life futile? Without expressing the life of the Holy Spirit in love for others, or in glorifying God, yes it is.

Posted by: piersdy | October 30, 2013

A Light Touch

ImageHow does one reach down from holding a handful of galaxies into our solar system, past the planets and our moon, then down through the clouds of earth, past treetops and roofs, and locate a particular person – to reach in through their outer layers to the precise brain cells, and the mysterious mechanism of what we call the soul’s heart, and at the exact moment when a thought is in process, to whisper a clearly discernible word of grace that is just within earshot of consciousness without overwhelming the delicate system?
I ask you. 

Posted by: piersdy | October 15, 2013

Keeping your house in order

I used to lead a support group for people bereaved by suicide. That is one of life’s most painful experiences. Losing someone you love when they take their own life is a jagged edge in your heart and mind that takes years to come to terms with. In fact you never do reach full closure. But what you can reach is some semblance of order in the house of your soul, as you understand more about their state of mind, about forgiveness, and so on.

It seems to me that every person needs to have their inner house in order. These days it is called your worldview, your inner template or framework on which you hang every experience. Yes I can make sense of that because it fits in the corner over here, under ‘limited threat’, and that one goes there on the ‘friend in need’ shelf.’

But what about when it doesn’t fit? You have to work out the best place to fit it in, and make a suitable bit of furniture or space that is itself in harmony with everything else. If you can do that, home is still sweet and the world feels safe. If too many strange things arrive it can be very stressful until every item is suitably housed. Children must be very good at this, perhaps because parents make up most of the house. But if they don’t…?

Back to bereavement. Suicide just doesn’t fit anywhere. Nor does abuse or torture or PTSD or any of the things that deeply damage the psyche. The memory is bad enough, but also the house can never feel safe again; there is something in there that is always out of place, always in danger of falling on your head, or it is a hole in the floor that you can fall down at any time.

This extreme picture shows something more general I think – that we all need to be able to order our house. Otherwise we will be dis-eased, anxious, restless, and possibly not understand why. Too much change overloads our internal geometry-repair system.

Paul told the Corinthian Christians to do ‘all things decently and in order’ (1 Cor.14.40). This was about church meetings, but it sounds like a more general principle. Disorder outwardly can generate inner disorder, and we are constructed to need order in our personal houses.

I suppose it is obvious, maybe just homespun psychology: chaos is scarey, full of unknown dangers. Order is safe and predictable (though some order is scarey too, like a prison), so we have a deep instinct to look for order and to need our world to make sense. Check yourself.

Posted by: piersdy | May 29, 2013

Tomorrow’s Goo – A Review

As an old out-of-touch rocker, I enjoy rock music reviews – so here’s a spoof that is making a point about ‘us and them’ situations, which happen in many walks of life.

 The latest album by the Guardians of Orthodoxy is disappointing. The band, known affectionately by their fans (and less affectionately by their critics) as the Goo, released the album on vinyl, with no downloads. Is this deliberately retro, or just verrry out of touch?

They were a cutting edge crew and well heavy in their day. Fans would go wild, and reviewers were awed. The Goo played like their lives depended on it, and they influenced many wannabes from coast to coast. However these days their sound is clearly dated, as they have refused to adapt to changing tastes or even technology (viz the ridiculous vinyl). Die-hard followers, with their greying manes and faded headbands, love it that way, but the band can come across as a a tad arrogant – like they look down on newer upstarts on the scene. Their ironic name ironically caught up with them.

Their front man wrote off another well known band, Buck The System, for instance, as ‘kids that don’t know what music is all about’. The Goo can still rock the place and yell out some challenging themes, but maybe some risky change would do them good. Come on guys, get a life.

BTS (not as catchy as Goo; sounds like a sandwich filling) have also been touring for a few years, unlike the Goo who stay safely in studios. Some of their hits (downloads of course) include Move Over, Cross The Line, Had Your Day, We Know Better, and Have a Swim Baby (an affectionate rip-take of Goo’s Don’t Throw Out My Baby With The Bathwater). Their lead singer said ‘Actually we really respect the Goo for their foundational influence, and their input to bands like us when we needed big brother to help us through our teething troubles. But they do come across as old bores sometimes and moan about the fact that we don’t do what they think is right. But they are living in the past. You have to break new ground, even if some sacred cows get cooked in the process.’

BTS are definitely progressive, though sometimes their great new ideas are just rehashed stuff that bands like the Goo tried ages ago. Sometimes they are really original and mould-breaking. ‘You never know until you try’, as they say. Well I hope they keep trying; we need it, or we’ll all end up stuck with yesterday’s tunes.

The Guardians, as they renamed themselves, unwisely sounding like a newspaper, are still the Goo to aficianados of course. Are they stuck (sorry about the pun), or a valuable icon and benchmark with their reliable style and output? BTS may never match their amazing staying power and consistency. Goo numbers like Hold The Line, Dance To Our Tune, Always Been Our Policy and In Control still get everyone’s head banging – or teeth grinding. It’s hard to be neutral.

I think BTS can be a bunch of whingers sometimes. They go on about not being understood (viz their mawkish number ‘Misunderstood’), they criticise old stagers like the Goo for being out of touch, but they just don’t always deliver. Frankly some of their so called cutting edge stuff has been a disaster, and it has taken ‘old stagers’ that have had to bail them out when they’ve made fools of themselves. They can also be too arrogant to listen to those who have been there. So much for ‘Do It Anyway’. But I do think their anthemic ‘Gimme Space’ sums up a generati0n’s heart cry which we all need to hear, and especially the Goo.

Maybe we’re all a bit like that. One generation knows better than the last, while the last lot disapprove of the upstarts who do it all wrong. I’ve heard that BTS may just give up touring and settle for a studio.

If you ask me, today’s BTS could be tomorrow’s Goo.

Posted by: piersdy | May 7, 2013

A Visit to Cwmbran

Victory Church in Cwmbran, South Wales, is getting known for The Welsh Outpouring. See http://www.victorychurch.co.uk

On April 10th at their normal midweek healing meeting a man who had been in a wheelchair for ten years was healed and carried his chair round the hall – strong men struggled to do the same since. Faith zoomed and they have held meetings every night (bar Fridays) since then.

Friends of mine have been over and given good reports like ‘my best experience of God for years’ and ‘you could feel the presence of God’. They also appreciated the down-to-earth-ness of it all, the fact that the leaders are unpaid, and the numbers of people getting converted from hard backgrounds.
Victory ChurchPastor Richard Taylor (picture) himself was in prison; reference his book To Catch a Thief. He was a leader at Renewal Christian Centre, Solihull (and a friend of mine knew him there). Victory Church Cwmbran was planted, apparently out of the work of four Victory Outreach drug rehabs in the area. I say apparently because I haven’t researched it all thoroughly. The church grew from a few to 500 in the last three years, and had many conversions of drug users etc. It doesn’t seem to be a middle class church.

It all sounded authentic so I took the opportunity to chug down there myself yesterday. I needed to hear from God so I had real hopes.

I got to Pontypool near Cwmbran at lunch time, so I walked up a hill just north of there and looked over to the Bristol channel, with Sugarloaf at Abergavenny behind me and part of the Brecons and all of the Malverns also in sight. Beautiful. No words from God, but he was around.

I’d asked God for somewhere to park up a small road below the hill and found one. On returning to the car there was a note saying don’t park there as I could block horses and farmer’s buggies. Oh dear, but I was still grateful for the spot. 

Cwmbran 5.5.13 1I got to Victory Church by 4pm and the car park was empty. A sign said the cafe would open at 5pm and the outpouring meeting would begin at 7pm. The building is a converted warehouse on the edge of a trading estate.
Soon another car pulled in and I met a guy from Tonbridge (Wells?). We talked for some time and prayed for each other; that was really good. I met a few other people from various places too, and my impression was that the gathering crowd was mainly charismatic Christians from other places.

At 7pm the doors opened and we were guided to seats. The hall was dark and windowless. It filled up fast to 500 or more in three blocks. The band played songs and people got into it straight away. In fact the band, or part of it, didn’t stop playing right through until 10pm. Several musicians, and of the team of staff and leaders, looked like they could be night club bouncers. This to me was a plus (+). Various things didn’t appeal to me personally, such as the speaker’s slightly o.t.t. pentecostal style, or gushy women among the crowd, but I decided not to be prejudiced.

After a few songs the leader got on stage. It wasn’t Richard Taylor, who presumably needed a break, and I don’t know which of their leaders it was. He told us news of the outpouring and read about ten testimonies and messages received. They included a few impressive stories of solid encounters with God, healing and conversion etc. He also remarked that they didn’t plan the events and if they started to think that they knew what was going on it would be finished. That was a definite +, as I recall a similar awareness with the group I was with in 1976.

Soon he invited people forward for healing, and perhaps 100 responded, including me (for a couple of minor but real problems). He then went round commanding healing for some time; he didn’t reach me, but never mind; I’m not that receptive to healing, though it has happened. I did think that it would have helped if the team had joined in the ministry, to save time and take away emphasis on him. But the team, who all had red lanyards on, were busy putting cloths over women’s legs if they fell over (+), and catching people as they fell. Later it was emphasised that only the trained team should minister to people (+).

Then the leader read a scripture and preached the gospel from it, including to the livestream audience around the world. The exposition was flakey, the delivery a bit repetitive and long (which always scores low with me), but solid enough. I didn’t look for how many responded but it seemed not many. I suspect that the vast majority of people there were visiting Christians, and probably most of the normal congregation had taken the bank holiday off. A friend said that a block of guys from the rehabs had been conspicuous when he went, but I didn’t see them at all.

After giving time for response he moved quickly to an invitation to come forward to receive a fresh filling with the Holy Spirit. Many chairs had been stacked up by now – I stood for at least two hours, and he started going round again commanding a filling of the Spirit. After a while the team joined in; all men. There were fallings, shaking, swaying, jerking (I jerk a times), shouting etc. A younger guy came to me and I asked him for a word from God, so he prayed with his fingertips on my forehead (no pushing, +), and then said Sorry I’ve got nothing; keep loving Jesus and perhaps ask someone else. Good honesty (+). I asked another man the same. He used the same method and prayed about me seeking God, said he’d been reading about Israel winning battles when they sought God and losing when they didn’t, and I’d find God’s word and vision as I sought him. Again, nice one for not conjuring anything exotic up (+).

At ten the leader said That’s it but stick around if you want, and celebration continued in the thinning crowd. I went home.

Reflections: It was quite possibly not a typical night, with Richard Taylor away, and due to the bank holiday, a different audience with less members and more Christian visitors. The leader said the presence of God was heavy, but I felt zilch throughout. I do know God’s presence and it can make me cry, but I also accept that others may feel it when I don’t.
There were very few young men, lots of young women, some emotional types. Adrian Plass would have described it well. We in the JA have our quota of people who always get excited and manifest stuff in big events. Where does group behaviour end and the anointing start, and does it matter? I heard it said that John Arnott of the Toronto Vineyard church was asked how much of the manifestations going on in the ‘Toronto Blessing’ was genuinely God’s work, and he said About twenty per cent. I like that realism. It also covers that fact that if you get 100 people coming forward for healing or to receive the Spirit, some of them will receive from God, whoever prays for them.

So from my limited experience I could not call it an outpouring, and certainly not revival, but snowballing faith yes. If you see an irrefutable miracle (the wheelchair guy) and keep ministering the gospel and healing and Holy Spirit power, then people will keep coming and some will find real power, and it can snowball. This should apply to any church.
An Iranian guy came to our congregation last week. He had been a serious moslem but had a painful back problem for seven years. He went to Germany in about March and an Afghan Christian came to his house and prayed for him, and he was fully healed. His wife turned to the Lord, and also his Iranian friend back in the UK. That friend came to us too and was receiving the Holy Spirit’s work in him this Sunday, and he wants baptism. Business as usual in the kingdom.

The Victory Church team could get over tired; they could get swamped by charismatic seekers. God bless them.

Posted by: piersdy | May 2, 2013

Happy on the Edge

Female rock climber rappelling.It is said that people are happiest when they are concentrating.

Why do people do extreme sports? Partly because they have the leisure to do so and life is too safe, so they want the excitement of being on the edge; but also because all their faculties are at full stretch and the stakes are high (or feel so) – giving a heightened sense of being alive.

Employing all your faculties and being in control in a demanding situation is exhilarating. You are awake, aware, engaged, on top, focused – happy.

Learning a skill involves mastering the basics first, which can seem out of reach for a while. But eventually, when you have built up a good set of routines, you can start to modulate them.

A good pianist has a full set of skills to play any given chord sequence without thinking much about it, so the main focus is on orchestrating those routines into something of quality as a whole. That too is an experience at the edge if the piece demands everything of them.

Similarly in driving you first have to get the hang of accelerator, brake and clutch plus signalling, mirror, dashboard, steering – so as to no longer need to consciously work each move out. Then you can start to be aware of road signs, other traffic, conditions etc. Beyond that you can even talk to someone at the same time or anticipate hazards, and driving becomes pleasant because you know you are in control, managing the orchestra of your body.

I enjoy squash which combines, in one time frame, anticipation, coordinated physical movement, and calculation. I am still picking up basic skills into a proper set, but the more I get there the better the experience of ‘sitting on top’ and orchestrating it all.

Think about times in your life when you were happiest and-or most alive. One I recall was final exams at university. It didn’t seem exactly enjoyable at the time, but the concentration on revision and the intensity of the exams themselves, with a measure of confidence in knowing my stuff, made it an experience in high relief. Even hard times are etched on the memory as special because you were more alive than in normal safe periods.

My last example is speaking from the front in church. Early on it seems impossible to combine thinking about your message with being aware of your spirit and of the audience – not to mention just standing up!  But when confidence grows through practise it becomes another of life’s rich experiences. On the edge, yes – will I deliver what matters and do it effectively; what unforeseen events might crop up and what might God  intervene with? It goes with the sense of doing what  you were made for, your real purpose. I don;t know about the other examples, but this one ticks that box alright.

Of course it’s nice to relax in a peaceful place and reflect as well.

Posted by: piersdy | April 22, 2013

The Jewel We Have

I was talking to someone who hadHedge gap been away from this church for some time and was making their way back. She told me that she had been attending a church that was welcoming and inclusive, but she still missed our church. I asked what is it about this church that she missed, and what she said it amounted to: brotherhood.
The other church seems to have had the usual complement of middle class people, which conjures up to me – hedges.  Hedges are to keep people out, off the lawn, out of the house, out of my hair, out of my heart. The people can be welcoming, but only so far.
If that sounds judgmental, it is only meant to be an attempt at a description of a lifestyle. You have the resources to hedge yourself and your family in against the intrusions of others – fair enough. But the downside is that others often cannot easily reach you as a person.

So what do I mean by brotherhood? That can conjure up biker gangs, foxhole comrades, and sinister Ku Klux Klan groups or terrorist cells. Well at least all those are in some way locked closely together in mutual dependence. So our use of the word includes commitment to each other. That in turn means loss of independence, and the vulnerability of being tied to others, and even, ‘worse’ still, accountable to each other. My brother has permission to walk through the hedge into my heart with his muddy feet and move the furniture; never mind leaving imprints on the lawn. That just isn’t middle class.
I reckon that brotherhood is the central jewel of our church, Jesus Fellowship aka Jesus Army. It was born (again) in the charismatic renewal of the 60’s and 70’s and became a vibrant body-life church which then discovered community, set up kingdom businesses, gained the JA identity to evangelise, set up Jesus Centres and initiated the Multiply network. And more.
So is charismatic life the key to all that? Not really – it is brotherhood (in the Spirit) that is the common denominator, and genius, or ingredient X.
Community is all about brotherhood in practise, living together instead of just inviting each other round.
Our businesses run like any other business to make profit, but we run them as brethren in brotherhood, so the atmosphere is different.
Our evangelism conveys the gospel of course, but what makes it distinctive is the brotherhood-friendship that reaches other hearts.
Jesus Centres provide services to help many people, from the homeless to mums and toddlers – just like many Christian centres; but what people appreciate the most is the brotherhood they find.
And churches, abroad and in the UK that are involved with Multiply, value brotherhood as much as anything else from us.

Brotherhood is the business. I rest my case.

Posted by: piersdy | April 17, 2013

Boiling Down

I once worked for a few weeks in a shoe shop, and a colleague I got tboiling downo know was called John Smith – or was it Brown? – it was 1971.

We used to talk about meaningful stuff and one day he asked me ‘Do you think that life is complicated and we make it simple, or basically simple and we make it complicated?’ I said I thought the latter, and that view had followed me down the years.

I got in to Oxford university by some fluke and enjoyed the education. It taught me to think in certain ways, including a reductionist approach – what does that boil down to? That has also followed me for decades, and sometimes I observe my thinking and wonder if it is always helpful.

Why did he behave like that? Why am I reductionist? Does it boil down to my education, or am I also conditioned by western thinking, that every problem has a simple answer (if we have the technology, or the money…)?

I reckon that I can only hold a few ideas in my head at once , so if I want to know how to be a better Christian, it helps to try and focus on something simple, such as ‘check your spirit’ or ‘pray about it’, or ‘slow down’.

Of course it risks over-simplification of situations or explanations, but it can help me to see the wood for the trees.

Let’s try it: Was Margaret Thatcher ‘a good thing’? Ah, my reductionism produces the answer ‘Very few things in politics are black and white, so there isn’t a clear answer to that’.

Or: What makes Christian community work well? It has to be love, but that needs defining (or unpacking as they say). Does love boil down to unselfishness in practise? OK but I then reflect that the way that community is set up is also vital, and that depends on a bit more than love alone (though maybe all systems would be ideal if created by people full of love). So I’ve really said that community works best if at least two ingredients are right – love and the set-up.

So I like to start with a premise of one root explanation and then if that does not seem enough add more. 1+1 is easier than 13×2.6.

One more: Have we mucked up the climate on earth by our activity?
I just did a little research, including the Watts up with that site (sceptic), wikipedia, and http://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/how-we-know-global-warming-is-real/?gclid=COmJzpTk0bYCFZLKtAodgW8A1w
And http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20130402230457AALKgvN
On balance yes we have. I boiled down CO2 charts and global temperature charts from multiple sources. For all the debates about factors and analysis, the trend looks pretty clear. Some things are easier to boil down than others; best not to opine if homework is needed first.

Oh and is life basically simple and we make it complicated? Or is life simple and we add a lot of noise and conclude that you can’t boil it down? I still think the first is true. We work, eat, have children, run societies, screw up. We fell out with God and he gave his Son to make a way back, if we believe it.
Simple enough.

Posted by: piersdy | April 8, 2013

Extra is Required

DoMoreFasterHave you ever felt that being a Christian amounts to feeling that you should always be doing more?

The nature of teaching is to stir you to action in some way, such as personal witness, service or prayer.
This means that at any one time there is a short-list of things that you should be doing to be up to the mark.
On top of that, the things that you are persuaded to try and do are often things that you do not feel confident about.

So you carry a nagging sense that extra is required of you which you do not feel equipped for.

Of course faith and God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s help all enable us to do what we could not do otherwise, so maybe there is no limit to what we can add to our repertoire. We can always do extra…?

I was dutifully out for evangelism on Friday night. I met some homeless guys and enjoyed talking to them and praying with them. A brother said to me ‘You’re anointed in that’. I said ‘I’ve worked with them for ten years so it comes naturally’.
In fact in that time I have been stretched, stressed, worn out, burnt out, inspired, encouraged and eventually felt very comfortable with that involvement; faith has grown, and confidence and scope to bring God to people. Plus I always wanted to do that. So there are ways into ‘more’, in God’s training.

On three Sunday mornings recently I have taken a seat and then a new visitor has sat next to me and I have enjoyed welcoming them and talking to them. I can do that, and it seemed that God put them there. No sweat.

The net of all that is to say that for most of the time we are already doing what we are supposed to do and God uses us there. We should (must, ought to, need to – all that stuff) exercise faith to be used by God in our normal course of life to bless others, along the line of what we are confident in. But think twice about trying to take on something extra.

Sometimes we experience changes – job, home, etc, that take us into new areas and require some kind of extra, and that stretches us even to breaking point. If the change was right we can grow through this into new confidence and greater capacity; fair enough.

Often too, we realise that we have slipped back from, or are resisting obedience in, something God has already given us – hence the need for exhortation. A lot of the new testament is about realising who we are, and correcting errors or backsliding. The exhortations are often to be wholehearted in what we are already doing – ‘love and good works’ – and not much about ‘you ought to be doing something extra’.

So I don’t think we are meant to be always burdened with a sense of obligation to try and do something extra on top of what we are already engaged in.  Correct me if I’m wrong.

Just be alive in what you are.

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