Category Archives: Story

When our heroes have become too small

Every culture, organisation and church has a prevailing myth that tells the story of who we are and what we value.  And every myth is held up and carried along by its heroes.  These are the human vessels that carry our ideals, our dreams, our aspirations.  These are the men and women who put flesh onto our values.  They are the ones who have succeeded in living the ideals and the dreams we hold to in some significant way.

What is the prevailing myth in your church?  Who are the prevailing heroes in your church? Meditate on this for a while.  The question is not what should be the prevailing myth in your church or who should be the heroes in your church.  The question is; what IS the myth and who ARE the heroes?

We say mission drives our church but yet we spend most of our energy and time on maintaining our existing structures and programmes.  We say we want to see our community reached for Christ but yet we employ numerous staff members whose primary responsibility is to care for us and our needs through teaching, youth work or kids programmes.  We say we serve Jesus and not money and yet we create an elaborate system of church which requires a large amount of money to keep it going.  We create a system that actually hinders us from mission rather than propels us forward into mission.  We speak about what we think ought to be the prevailing myth but yet so often our lives are driven by a darker, less obvious shadow myth.

Who are the heroes in our church communities?  The dashing youth leader?  The talented musician?  The eloquent preacher?  The brilliant exegete? The successful business man? Any defining myth we create is carried forward by its heroes.  If you truly want to know what the defining myth of your community is then ask yourself who are your heroes?

The bible teacher as hero betrays the myth that knowledge about God is our functional salvation story.  Bible college is seen as the ultimate experience for young Christians.   The worship leader as hero betrays the myth that the high that shared experiences bring is our functional Saviour.  The successful business man as hero betrays the myth that we will find happiness or significance through money and success.  The family man or stay at home mom or home-school parent as hero betrays the myth that family is the most important thing in the world.  All these heroes and myths contains some truth but as is the case with all great lies, the object of truth has been stretched to breaking point, beyond it’s ability to hold the disproportionate value we have placed upon it.

What if the myth that defined our church really was the gospel.  The gospel of Him who left all the security, the pleasure and the comfort of heaven to lay down His rights, his preferences, His desires in order to serve us.  To become one of us.  To die for us.  What if the myth that defined our values, dreams and aspirations was this gospel story?  What if our goal was sacrifice and not comfort?  Risk and not security? Service and not pleasure?

What if our lives were defined not by our rights or our pleasures but instead were marked as those who joined their story with the great Story, who laid down their lives for the True Myth, who become heroes in the Ultimate Adventure and who risked it all for a share in the Kingdom of our Great King.  What if we really were known as the friend of sinners, the defender of the vulnerable, the light in the darkness, the peacemakers, the kind and the just?

What if we really did believe that a man’s life did not consist in the abundance of his possessions?  What if we really did believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive?  What if we really did believe that our Father in heaven will clothe and feed us as he does the flowers of the field and the birds of the air?  What if we really did believe that our God is a good God and that his Kingdom is better than all the pleasures and joys the kingdom of this world has to offer? What if we really did believe that the gospel is true?

I am not reaching for some utopian ideal of church.  I know that anything we touch this side of Jesus’ return will be marked by our brokenness and sin.  What we need though is honesty, an honesty robust enough to admit that our defining myths are too small.  We have shrunk the kingdom vision into easily containable chunks that we can use to control our lives.  Our heroes have become too small and our dreams are too reasonable.

We have shrunk the Kingdom to a coke lite, kid friendly version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.  We need an honesty that leads us not to self-inflicted lynchings of guilt but an honesty that admits that we have been living for the wrong myth and inspired by the wrong heroes.  Our myth is sadly most often the coke-lite version of the world, without the sex, drugs and swearing.

We need an honesty that inspires us to join our story with the Great Story, to give up our small ambitions and our small dreams.  We need heroes that inspire us not to greater church attendance but who lead us to far wilder, less safe and more beautiful places where only our faith and our hope in the Great King can ever hope to sustain us.  For it there that we will win glory for His Name and find the life we so desperately crave.  “ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

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Telling the story of the King with the local voices of the street

I am increasingly aware that many people in our area are non-literate people.  Not illiterate, but non-literate.  They can read, but they do not read.  They primarily get their information and ideas from non-literate sources.  Music is one of these key non-literate sources.  Music and literature are two totally different types of source materials.  As a result the way they are taken up and inform the cultural stories told in our neighbourhoods are vastly different.

While never replacing the Bible as a source document I think we need to recover some of these other forms of communication so that people might hear the gospel in their own language and cultural form.  Just as Bible translation (hearing the Bible in their own language) is a key component of mission work everywhere, so perhaps we need to reconsider supplementary modes of communicating that truth.   Hearing the gospel in their own cultural forms of communication.  Cultures throughout history have shaped their culture and understanding of the world through story-telling, music, artwork and drama.  As evangelicals we have often been too shy to seriously and robustly engage in other, non-literate, modes of communication lest we downplay the centrality and significance of the Scriptures. We must resist the temptation to reduce this to an either-or shoot out between faithfulness to Scripture and appropriating new cultural forms.  The reality I suspect is a far more dynamic and integrated process.

One surprising mode of alternative communication that is gaining ground in reformed circles is hip-hop and spoken word.  As a young man this was (and I still is in many ways) my meat and drink.  I resonated deeply with the rhythms, the lyrics, the substance and the edginess of hip-hop and more particularly of late spoken word.

“In the early 1970s a musical genre was born in the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of the South Bronx. Gifted teenagers with plenty of imagination but little cash began to forge a new style from spare parts. Hip-hop, as it was then known, was a product of pure streetwise ingenuity; extracting rhythms and melodies from existing records and mixing them up with searing poetry chronicling life in the ‘hood.” (Kurtis Blow: The History of Rap)

Hip-hop became the  voice of a generation that refused to be silenced by urban poverty, injustice or lack of access to the resources of the music industry.  Instead it became the voice of the streets.  Young black men and women who had no voice for their social and political concerns in a society still ravaged by racism and injustice, created their own voice.

Hip-hop became the voice of the disenfranchised streets.  Using complex wordplay and socio-political commentary it spoke to the fears, the anger and the world of the marginalised youth.  It gave young people a voice, a sound that belonged to them and began a movement that spoke to their harsh, edgy and yet hopeful, world.  While most of the history of rap and hip-hop will reference the DJ’s, the clubs and the records produced, perhaps the true impact was in the thousands of crews that grew up all over neighbourhoods of New York (and then spreading to other cities and countries), finding their voice and forging local communities gathered to celebrate the sharing of their stories through their unique mode of communication.  A mode of communication that  embodied their language, their joy, their pain… their story.

While the world has moved on… dramatically so.  The internet for one has dramatically changed how we receive, tell and hear the stories of our world.  But for all the good of globalisation I wonder if we have lost something significant when we lose our local stories and our local story-tellers.  Hip-hop as a vehicle for our stories and our hopes and our frustrations has not died in my neighbourhood, despite what the superstars have done to it. But too often we no longer tell our local stories, we no longer have our local MC’s, our local crews or B-boys that tell our stories.  Its far too easy to plug in your iPod and download other stories, slick, well-produced and mostly insipid stories.  But what if we dreamed of our local stories again?  What if we dreamed of finding ways to tell our local stories  again?  What if we rediscovered these modes of telling our stories and infused them not only with our small stories but the greater bigger and altogether more glorious gospel story?

What if among other cultural forms hip-hop and spoken word could become a powerful tool to reclaim place as a powerful component of our stories?  And what if we recovered place as a powerful component of telling the gospel story?  Not merely the gospel as some esoteric disembodied set of principles but as the true gospel, the good news for these people in this place.  The God of all the earth wishes to bring good news to this people in this place through his “new-life people” as they tell his story through all available means, making sense of the one true and great story, by translating it into the language and communication modes of this people in this place.

I know it is not local but I love the work these guys are doing in using appropriate cultural modes in order to retell God’s story.  Perhaps this can inspire some of us to dream about what it could look like to tell our story of His Story here in the East City…

Great Stories Have Great Endings 4

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This is part 4 of our series in Revelation 21-22.  You may also like to read parts one, two or three.

4) It is a Place of Rest:

When you read these chapters there is a real sense of safety and security.  It is a picture of a world at peace and at rest.  In the first creation account, the goal of creation was rest. Not a sleeping type of rest, per se, but a rich, beautiful enjoyment of God’s creation. At the end of the story we see the rest which was lost restored.  We are set free to once again enjoy and marvel in the beauty and splendour of the Creator and of his creation.

In 21v1 John notes that there is no longer any sea.  Firstly, before all the surfers faint, remember this is all picture language.  These images are not meant (in large) to show us what the new creation will look like.  The intention of the picture language is to show us what the new creation will BE like.

So in this instance, for the people, of the ancient world the sea commonly represent a place of fear, of uncertainty and of chaos.  In the new creation it is not necessarily the sea that will be absent but fear, uncertainty and chaos certainly will be absent.  It will be a world of peace, of safety, of rest and of order.  It will be a return to the character of Eden.

Central to these chapters are the image of the New Jerusalem, the city of God, the bride of Christ as a massive secure city with giant walls and huge gates (21 v 15-21).  The imagery itself is beautiful but when we remember that this was written in a day where invading armies, vengeance killings and marauding bandits were still very much a reality, then the idea of this huge, impenetrable city was a beautiful, comforting image.  The new creation will be a place of safety and refuge, no longer will there be any danger of invasion, of plunder, of slavery, of rape, of vengeance, or of wanton destruction.  No longer will there be a need to anxiously guard your property or your family, to hide from evil-doers or to fear the unknown.

But it gets better, the gates of this huge city will never be shut!  City gates were shut at night!  Night time, even in our days of electricity, is a time of danger, of fear and of uncertainty.  The gates of the New Jerusalem will never be shut because there will be no more night.  The new creation will not be a place of fear, of violence, of danger.

All these will be gone and those who practice those things will not be welcome in the city (21 v 27).  It is a beautiful and paradoxical picture of this imposing, massive city- impenetrable.  But yet its gates stand wide open…  As if to give a powerful visual aid to Jesus’ words “To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.” (21 v 6)

Photo Credit: Olivander

Great Stories Have Great Endings 3

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This is part 23of the series looking at Revelation 21-22

You may also want to read Part One and Part Two.

3) The New Creation is both physical and spiritual

There exists a massive assumption in Western Christianity that the purpose of being a Christian is simply to “go to heaven when you die.” That is, that we are in some sense, “souls in transit” waiting to be free of this earth.  This earth is at best an irrelevance, at worst a dark, gloomy, evil place.

This spiritual-physical dualism is simply not biblical.  The world God made and declared good was a physical world.  The fall was physical – eating fruit, realisation of nakedness, attempting to make clothes etc.  The story of redemption through the people of Israel is very much physical.  Jesus’ incarnation and his atoning death was physical.  His resurrection was physical.

God’s plan is not to rescue us from this prison of the physical. His plan was always that the spiritual and the physical would be two parts of a whole. Much like heaven and earth, which we see being finally joined together into one new creation in these chapters.  The sweep of the Bible story is not how God is doing away with this earth but how he is restoring all things to their original intention, which was both PHYSICAL and SPIRITUAL.

Most of this imagery found in this chapter is physical imagery – eating , drinking, a city, a river, a throne, the city coming down to earth, wiping away tears, a city that can be measured, the tree, roads, walls, gates. Even the things that are not there are physical – no sea, no darkness, no tears, no temple, no lamps.  It may be argued that most of these images must be understood in Old Testament picture language, with which I agree.  But still the pictures that are used are of the redeeming or perfection of physical images rather than some sort of escape from the physical.

NT Wright says“Heaven and earth… are not after all poles apart, needing to be separated for ever… No, they are different radically different; but they are made for each other in the same way as male and female. And when they finally come together, it will be cause for rejoicing in the same way that a wedding is a creational sign that God’s project is going forwards; that opposite poles within creation are made for union; not competition…”

Photo Credit: Olivander

Great Stories Have Great Endings 2

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This is part 2 of the series looking at Revelation 21-22

You can read Part One here

2) Evil and Pain will not triumph

Jesus is said in 21v4 to “wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  This is  some not positivistic thinking, that denies the reality of pain.  Or promises “your best life now” when you come to Christ.  John is writing to the church in Rome, a  church that has been persecuted, marginalised, ridiculed, seen martyrdom, had property confiscated, lost family, been alienated from society and business, had their name and reputation slandered, been falsely accused and even exiled from Rome.  In the end there is no denial of pain, the pain is acknowledged, the presence of tears shows the reality of pain, but now, says Jesus it is over.

It is an intimate image of our King Jesus, reaching up his hand and gently wiping away the tears.  “I know my child, I know.”  “I saw.  It is over. I am with you.  I am making everything new.” The context specifically has in mind here those who suffer for following Christ (v7 “he who overcomes”).   What ever it costs you to follow Christ in this world, God has seen and God is seeing right now and He is doing something about it.  There is a day that is coming…

While we may experience pain, marginalisation, ridicule or worse now, for those who overcome there awaits the new heaven and the new earth on that day there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (v4).  For these things belong to the old order and now that is no more.  The curse is gone (22v3).  God is now making everything new and we are given to drink from the water of LIFE (v5-6)!

I love the way G.K. Chesterton describes the life of God, it is the only way I think to describe how life might be like in the new heavens and the new earth:

“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-ups people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

We are so easily bored with life. We are weary with sin-induced futility. But God is never bored with life. He is life. His joy and life are so gigantic that he never tires of sunrises and daisies, of beauty and life and joy. Now we are old and tried and cynical. But then we will be young again, forever young, forever delighting in God. (Porterbrook: Gospel Living Module: p26)

Finally there is a terrible warning.  Not all will know this life (21v8, 27).  Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life may enter.  For those who will not know the Lamb who was slain for us, who disdain his sacrifice and his mercy, they will meet Jesus not as the Lamb but as the terrifying King of Kings, riding on a white horse, with a sword coming from his mouth, coming not in salvation but in judgement.

photo credit:  Olivander

It seems like a lifetime ago… part two

In hindsight I am not sure why we started doing The Story at all… I had seen and read about story-telling a number of times before and always been intrigued by it.  So when we saw it how it was done in Loughborough I remember thinking… “This could actually work.”

 As a result when we came home we decided to give it a go.  Looking back I am not altogether sure who we thought would come or why?  But we got a few people who committed to coming along, at least for a couple of weeks…

16 stories later, we have had about 26 different people (including children) come to at least one evening, a core group of about 15, at least 5 different languages and 4 different nationalities, and an age range from 4 to 51.  We have had old friends come visit, spiritual seekers, people who have lost their way, people who are learning to find their way again, people who love Jesus and people who do not, homeless people, recovering addicts, cynics and saints.  We have shared food, strong coffee and something of our lives.

We have sung prayers, said prayers and listened to prayers.  We have questioned, challenged, rejoiced, got angry, got frustrated, laughed, and on more than one occasion simply sat in awed silence.  We have learnt how good and gracious God is, how rebellious we are.  We have contemplated the fruit of our ways and the fruit of His ways.  We have seen a God who despite the mess we make is simply not finished with us.  We have seen hope, we have seen grace, we have seen the good life and we have yearned for it.  We have been stunned by our inability to grasp it and left wondering what is God up to in this the greatest story ever told..

It was never meant to last this long but somehow the stories have pulled us in and we have stopped being in a rush to finish the whole story in 8 weeks.  Will we continue with this forever? Not sure… probably not.  Sunday night will morph and change and take on a new life and a new direction.  Possibly once we have finished the whole Bible story we will revert to a twice a year 8 week story set (Spring and Summer possibly)?  Maybe get an outside venue this? Maybe an Acts story set or a Luke story set or even more ambitious an Ecclesiastes reading (I’m thinking like a poetry reading) set.

I don’t know where it will end up but I rejoice that I no longer feel like I must have all the answers… as a community together we can determine where it is that God is leading us, as we grow in him and as we engage with our community on mission.

You can read part one here

Four31: Values

In a few previous posts I have been posting bits and pieces that begin to explain the thinking and the history behind why we have founded a new “simple church” network.  You can read something about why we feel the need for something new here.  Or something about the back-story here.  If you want to understand the name Four31 you can find that here.

In this post you can read about the values that we hope will shape us as individual Christian communities and as a network.

1. We are becoming a people shaped by the Story of God. Our lives, both individually and communally must be shaped by the Bible story. We call each other to live lives of sacrifice, service, submission and risk-taking for the sake of the gospel. We listen to God’s Word as the reliable, authoritative and sufficient word of God.

2. We are becoming a dependant people, completely reliant on God to give fruit to our efforts. We cannot plan the shape and direction of mission ahead of time it is the supernatural work of God and cannot be planned, organised or controlled. We are committed to prayer as both a regular communal rhythm and a spontaneous response to needs and opportunities. Our role is to plant the gospel seed, to respond to opportunities and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide the shape and direction of our ministry.

3. We are becoming a missional people. Our primary identity is as God’s sent people and we seek to shape ourselves, our lifestyles and our structures around this primary identity. We want people to experience church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a building you enter. We are committed to mission and not our traditions, comfort or preferences as the organising principle for our life together.

4. We are becoming a restored people. The Christian community is a foretaste of God’s future restoration of all things and we seek to reflect God’s coming, yet now broken-in, Kingdom as a community of justice, mercy, peace, reconciliation, beauty, creativity and love. We experience this restoration now imperfectly, in hiddenness and weakness, but one day in fullness and in glory.

5. We are becoming a communal people. We have not been saved for a life of individualistic spirituality but to be a part of a people, God’s new community. We are thus committed to sharing our lives together as extended family. This will impact how we make decisions, how we use our time, how we regard our possessions, where we choose to live and how we deal with conflict.

6. We are becoming an inclusive people, a community of peace in our busy and divided world. We, who in Christ have found rest, peace and wholeness, must now embody that in a community of grace for others, both believers and unbelievers, and not one based on performance.

7. We are becoming a diverse people; restored to one another through the gospel. We will not favour any one culture, education level or socio-economic status over another. All cultures are simultaneously redeemed and judged by the gospel. This diversity must be reflected in the make-up of our community and leadership and in the rhythms and shape of our life together.

8. We are becoming a local people. We wish to see truly contextual gospel communities planted that whilst maintaining robust gospel faithfulness are also truly recognisable expressions of that culture or locality. We are committed to stripping away all the non-essentials to church life and allowing the gospel to reinvent church in every subculture and local community. We are committed to living, listening to and sharing in the life of our local community.

9. We are becoming an ordinary people; sharing life together with gospel intentionality. The context for mission, community, discipleship, pastoral care and training, is ordinary life. We value people over programmes. When we run programmes they must be relational, timely and if necessary dispensable.

10. We are becoming a growing people. We are committed to a simple model of church that is small, decentralized and easily reproducible. We believe that home is the primary location of church and the location for all or most of church life. Church planting must not be dependant on financial resources, buildings, formal education or paid leadership. Leaders must be disciple-makers who create a culture of permission giving for mission and innovation.

11. We are becoming a global people.  We recognise and celebrate that we are only a small part of God’s global mission among all peoples and cultures. We are committed to praying for, blessing and celebrating global mission. We are committed to sending people and finances to bless other communities, cities and nations outside of our immediate focus.