Failure opens doors - Jesus Army Life

 Some of us had a great discussion the other night about... failure. 

The really interesting thing about failing is how it actually opens up opportunities. At the very least it teaches us lessons and allowing for failure encourages grass roots creativity. But, too often, we fear to fail and miss the opportunity to do something new. Worst of all, we never get to see who we really could be if we'd just taken that chance.

Success obsessed people don't like to accept difficulties. Consider how badly organisations deal with scandal and how often they try to conceal it.

And, as individuals we're often not keen to welcome troublesome situations either. While we're busy thinking of a thousand reasons why we shouldn't face the challenge, we forget that in reality we're training ourselves to avoid risk and can often miss an opportunity to truly help someone in need.

Worse still, for Christians, when things go wrong, we often blame our practices and, when we've exhausted that, we blame God. It strikes me that sometimes the reason God could choose not to answer prayer is because he wants to shake our spiritual self-importance.

While churches can seem almost like a corporation, counting conversions and boasting about growth, God may be more concerned with how much we're expressing his grace and favour to people.

Dare we even consider how Jesus may have failed? (There are certainly examples of it: not being able to heal many, losing disciples, withdrawing from political heat, weeping over Jerusalem.) He didn't go around driven by success and feeding his ego. And he didn't try to fit people into neat spiritual boxes. Instead, in brokenness, grief and frustration he accepted people in their mess, coped with God's paradoxes and faced up to the call of self sacrifice.

 Jesus was very human, he knew failure, pressed on and opened the door to help us realise that God truly cares.

Other examples are plentiful... Isaiah was promised that people would not listen to him. Paul considered himself the worst apostle alive! So the question I must ask myself is this: Why am I not so willing to take the risks that could open new doors?...

I'm not so sure that my ego wants me to find out.


Never lose hope - Jesus Army Life

I drafted this blog a while back when times were tough. Now that we're coming through, it's a timely reminder...

Making the most of life. Photo by Ritesh Man Tamrakar on Flickr.com
There's a big question for our church at the moment:
What next?
Not everyone's verbally asking the question but I think everyone feels it - some more than others.
Some are feeling it badly, getting shaky, questioning vision, needing encouragement.
Some are dreaming dreams, grasping at straws, complaining to God.
But I don't know anyone who's handling things particularly well...

What I do know is that God is still with us, bringing us new people, offering his spirit. We should be able to trust Him.
Personally, I've been wondering how we can grow stronger and more confident in God, especially in such seemingly dry times?
I think I see an answer in not just counting, but investing in, God's blessing. Tough times can lead us to lean on God: 'Will God help us?' But good times can also teach us to trust if we ask: 'How can I make the most of God's blessing?'
In richer societies, where its easy to put our confidence in other things, we need to capitalise on God's provision and see him coming through even more - that way our confidence can grow.
And, deliberately celebrating God's goodness will also prepare us to endure through darker times, knowing that it's worth putting our trust in the living God.
Let us never lose the confidence we have gained.


Budding Out - Jesus Army Life

by James Gaither from Flickr.com

I found this picture of a horse chestnut the other day: A dry tree amidst a world of green.

At the time I felt it perfectly described my life.

My little church group which, at times, has seen so much success has come to an end. We're spreading out to strengthen other local groups, and admittedly it's sad for us.


If you look carefully, the tree, though seemingly dry, is putting forward new buds.

(My last blog had a similar picture.)

I hope this represents the promise of the future. I have no doubt that God is still with us, even if we've known much failure of late. And I'm also able to believe this because of the very accurate prophetic words and dreams we've had lately - it speaks peace to my grieving heart.


Healing - The Jesus Army Life

It's good when the people around you are positive.

There's been times lately I've been in church and the worship has just soared.

It's been great.

And you know what? More of my friends have seen healing at work in their lives too.

I don't think we're out of the woods yet, there are battles to come, but I have to be glad because there's a lot more life around.

And me personally? Yeah, it's good there too. I've really struggled to continue with God at times, but in spite of all the tough stuff, I/we can't escape his goodness.

I guess that's the nature of healing.


Waning - Jesus Army Life

My heart for community is waning. I want nothing else, but struggles and distanced relationships are making it hard to dream.

What do I do?

What if circumstances beyond my control steal my dreams?

Then how do I learn to dream again?

Spring is coming at last and with it a call to new adventures.

I don't want to lose my dreams, but I'm scared that maybe my dreams are losing me.

no shapes sail on the dark deep lakes by zato on flickr


A melody of love - Jesus Army Life

I don't go for liturgy very much.

I don't like the thought of someone else deciding what I should pray.

Even though it's likely to be something far better than I could ever hash together.

But I have to admit there's something very useful in coming to God with words you've used before, and doing it as a community too.

Recently my church group has been exploring Compline which I understand to be a set of closing prayers for the day, allowing you to go over the events of the day with God.

And I haven't enjoyed them very much, even though others have.

However, it has got me thinking about the usefulness of a daily rhythm in a person's life. It's incredibly valuable to have a structure to the day. It actually allows me to be more deliberate about what I do with my time when I know there's a pattern to it.

Community living carries a rhythm no matter how unstructured it seems to be. Perhaps it's simply the heartbeat of common society. Togetherness naturally makes a melody, marking time by shared experience.

And as community creates moments I find I can exist in the gaps. My life defined by the peaks and troughs of a loving environment.

I need that rhythm. Even though I am trusting my independence to others, I feel I am nothing without it.


Borne for a purpose - Jesus Army Life

And who knows if you were not brought to the kingdom for such a time as this?
     The Book of Esther
(Please forgive the pun in the title. I like to play poetry with my words sometimes.)

indonesia bali cattlemen
There's value in a people's story.
One of my many ponderings this week has been whether it's possible for a small society of people to perform a role that serves the rest of humanity?

Of course it is.

I think of villages of fishermen, or warrior clans, or tribes of priests, and I realise that communities of people in the past were used to specialising in specific services far more than they are today.

But it raises further questions for me... What makes a local community choose one specialism over another? What causes a people to become priests rather than warriors? How are these communities shaped? And then, how is our community being shaped? What effect does our journey have on our character?

You know, it occurs to me that the calling of a people is perhaps more important than the calling of individuals.

Well, we've known a number of similar ailments among us lately. So much so that we're slowly becoming experts in helping one another to find a way through them. More than that, we've attended courses, consulted professionals, read reams of books and manuals between us and, of course, known first hand experience of certain maladies. We've even known some healings along the way.

And so, I find myself asking, 'Just what is God preparing us for?'

What is the work God has for us to do?

I believe that as a small community and as a larger church, we will not only survive but thrive in the future, but what skills will we have learned as a community? What character will we have? And how will it serve the society of God's people and our neighbours?

With these thoughts in mind an so many questions about the present, there's a line of a famous hymn comes to me:
Christ of my own heart, whatever befall - still be my vision, thou ruler of all.


Something within - Jesus Army Life

Truly God is good to Israel,  to those who are pure in heart.  But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
Psalms 73

I'm inspired but I'm not sure why...

Recently, I've felt bashed about, emotionally overloaded and 'can't be bothered to talk to you right now God, thank you very much'.

I don't think I'm the best candidate for God's man of the moment, and yet I sense God calling me. He won't let go.

I've been gong through a cleansing of sorts, a realignment of my soul - it's difficult to describe: before there was richness in the brotherhood life I shared, now there's only... God.

Life is multifaceted, there's a lot going on, but spiritually it's just God.

It's not a bad situation. I'm learning about the faithfulness of God, this friend and companion, who won't let me go. I don't think he lets any of us go...

And because of that I'm grateful. Because of this pursuant love I'm filled with faith, even though in me there's nothing in me personally... As I said, I'm being realigned.

He's calling me to listen. I don't want to, but I can't escape his love. It's all too difficult to explain. I'm being turned inside out and finding, in spite of myself, that there's something more precious within.


Oneness - Jesus Army Life

I'm trying to get my head around oneness.

You know, when I'm driving through Wales I feel 'at one' with the land of my forefathers.

And, taking the example of a family, they can be one even though they're tearing each other's hair out!

But oneness seems to be more than this...

In community-living we like to think we're one because we share everything together.

However, having recently visited another church known for their oneness even though they don't share things as practically as we do, I'm left asking where does oneness really come from?

There is partly something in having a shared history together, but that can breed indifference as much as oneness.

Perhaps the added ingredient of mutual affection tips the balance to achieve blessed unity? I'm not sure.

But if that is the case... What makes Christian unity so special? Perhaps it's not? But actually I think it is.

The ability to join soul to soul and heart to heart with others is not unique to the Christian faith. But what is peculiar, I think, is the sense of a common destiny, a single hope, wrapped up in a spiritual love so powerful it captures the very being of every person who puts their trust in it (or should I say Him?)

He prayed for  such oneness. It paralyses our independence, but leaves us with our individuality. It wreaks havoc with our human ties but calls us to something purer. And, if we let it conquer us practically, divorces us from every chain designed on earth to bind us from one another.

I should say I believe such oneness can be achieved without living together, but when it's doing so much why avoid the inevitable?


When I read poetry - Jesus Army Life

When I read poetry, a stillness comes over me, like I was always meant to be in this place.

When I share my life with other people, it happens the same way, a kind of calmness that helps me know this is where I'm meant to be.

Living together is not perfect, it's organic, it grows just as a tree does, jumbled but majestic, just as poetry describes life with words that are at the same time confused but serene.


The price of friendship - Jesus Army Life

Tomorrow I am the nominated leader for an evening gathering of several esteemed saints.

We've been focusing a lot on friendship lately so it seems right to follow suit. The trouble is I'm not sure what friendship is any more?

Call it ridiculous if you like, but has it ever struck you how many forms of friendship there are?

A friend sat with me the other day and quietly listened to me as I expressed my fears and troubles. They were being a real friend; yet at other times the same friend has been distant and difficult to connect with and I've despaired of finding a way to come along side them.

Friendship is a complex thing.

I am convinced of one truth in all this: our grasp of true friendship is directly related to our ability to be vulnerable. And not everyone wants to go there...

Laughter makes us vulnerable in a good way, but tears bring vulnerability too. We are fascinated by new experiences, but we long to be comfortable. Our self protective instinct can stop us truly experiencing what it is that makes us most human - the company of loving friendship.

Someone wise once said, 'I like being happy so I want to make other people happy too.' I think they'd realised in a simple way that vulnerability is the price of friendship, and that without it we will always wonder what true friendship really looks like.


Me and Jesus - Jesus Army Life

So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

I've been thinking about these words and how much I want to be a disciple of Jesus.

I don't know about other people, but normally Jesus becomes all consuming to me after I've heard a inspiring sermon or read an encouraging spiritual book or when I feel the fire of sharing the gospel message with someone new.

At those points nothing could be more important than Jesus...

But other times? I guess It's possible for my sight of Jesus to dim. Not entirely, but it's definitely not as fiery as it can be.

Maybe that's one of the reasons I joined a Christian communal movement - because I wanted to be all out, all the time, for the one who'd captured my soul with his love.

It was something I could 'do' 24-7. I'd live my life in service of him just as he'd given his life for me... The words of Jesus (quoted at the start) would take on a new reality. I'd give everything I had, nothing would get in the way of me and Jesus.

Except now, maybe, community life (and all its joys) has become something I've owned too? Perhaps, like a possession, I've held onto the ideal too tightly and it has also become something that stops me seeing Jesus entirely?

In many ways sharing my life with others has drawn me closer to God. Undoubtedly. But I wonder if it has obscured my view of him too? I want to keep seeing all these people in my life and, somehow, keep seeing Jesus too...


Letting go - Jesus Army Life

My experience of community life has changed drastically in the last few months.

Where before there was brotherhood now there is solace. Where before I knew a richness within, now there is only yearning. Before I lived in the centre of love, now I feel rationed.

I still belong to the community where I've lived for 10 years, we still share our money and time together, but now, mainly due to ill health, my wife and I live 10 minutes walk down the road. And I miss the life.

Perhaps it is good for me, for us. I'm sure I am learning lessons about resting more,  finding grace to let things go, standing more on my own, and giving myself solely to my wife. However, it feels like nothing compared to being joined heart and soul in word and deed to other Christians.

Nonetheless, 3 times I've felt the Lord say, 'let go'. I must obey, even if it is for a short time. For how can I move into His future if I do not let go of my past?


Seasons Part 2 - Jesus Army Life

At the turning of the year we had a time of prophesying into the future.

How do you do that? I can hear some people ask. Well, its simple really, you er... um... okay, it's difficult to explain but the Bible says:
You can all prophesy
1 Corinthians 14:31

And we kinda work on that basis.

Anyway, one of my friends spoke about how she felt we'd experienced a time of things dying as a community together, a shaking of our roots, (see Seasons Part 1) and that this had been followed by a year of Winter. 2012, she proposed, would be a time of Spring.

Perhaps it's too early to say, but I believe she was spot on. It seems as if new life is springing up everywhere: in old relationships, in new friendships, in new determination to get things done, even in the miraculous. There's a sense of adventure in the air as we feel our purpose returning.

I heard someone else say that enemies of the church would like to see her 'parked'. In other words not moving anywhere, just staying as she is. But you can't stop the momentum of God, yes, things can slow down and even die, but the life we celebrate together has something of the eternal about it. We just need to have the courage to keep pushing forwards.

Here's a little something which describes the purpose and heart of this blog so powerfully. It's called Seasons (See if you can spot me and my wonderful new wife in it...)


Waiting - Jesus Army Life

We just had a weekend where we invited lots of friends to stay. It was a great celebration of community life.

The house was full of people and there were various activities including curry night, games, household chores, sharing in a common purse, an afternoon walk, an time of teaching and fellowship, pancakes and Sunday church. (Believe it or not these are the kind of things we normally get up to on a weekend.)

And this was happening in our community houses up and down the country.

There was so much life buzzing around our house I began to wonder if community-life is the answer to our church's much-sought-for rejuvenation? Even though we are a youngish church, full of young people, our heart's desire is to once more move forward with the power of God.

Could regaining a 'community' focus be the obvious solution? Our church began through being together and sharing together out of love for Jesus. So why shouldn't it happen again?

But after 40 years how do you keep that kind of momentum going?

Last night, as friends and saints met in houses around the UK, to break bread together and share in our covenant with Jesus, we asked the question:

How does God teach an 'activist' people to trust more in what He alone can do?

After four decades of community-living and 25 years as a 'Jesus Army' we are somehow still all waiting for the answer with baited breath.


What is truth?

"What is truth?" Asked Pilate.

I believe that I'm beginning to understand his question a bit more.

In a world where truth is held highly there should be no hypocrisy, but actually the opposite seems to be true. Whether it be politics or religion, or perhaps even justice, truth can be a slippery thing.

You realise there are shades of truth or as the politician, Sir Robert Armstrong, put it, it's possible to be "economical with the truth."

It doesn't necessarily mean that you're lying, it's just that you realise that truth has the power to build or to destroy and you have to become cautious in how you use it. Isn't that what we employ diplomats for?

A friend, and he is a friend for he told me the truth, sent me a message last night:

"Thought you spoke very well this evening. You can rattle on a bit ;) but tonight the message was clear."

It's amazing how negative parts of truth stick with you. (That's one reason to be economical.) All day I've wondered why people never tell me that "I rattle on a bit"? But then I remember that he's not the first, several friends have told me the same thing in similar ways, but other friends haven't.

And in focusing on just one element of his message, I've almost missed the greater and more encouraging truth which my friend wrote to me - that I spoke well.

And, of course, it occurs to me that we can make the same mistake when considering other truths too, especially God.

Anyway I rattle on.

I need the truth in order to grow, but I also need real friends who will love me enough to help me understand it. Without truth and friendship I'm lost.


Living - Jesus Army Life

  1. I want to live.
  2. I want to know what it is to live for something good.
  3. I want to look back and know that the choices I've made have not been selfish.
  4. I want to know that I've given my energy to something worthwhile.
  5. I want the relationships I've made to have been productive, to have produced joy and goodness.
  6. I want to savour the small detail of life. I want to know what it is to be thankful.
  7. I want to inspire others to savour life too, to think, to feel, to taste the beauty. And I want their beauty to be different to the beauty I know. I want us to share together in the immense gladness there is existing on this planet.
  8. I want to pay attention to the misery experienced by others. I want to be courageous enough to allow myself to feel it keenly - so that I am motivated to live and act on behalf of others.
  9. I want to speak, and for my words to cause a rhythm which ripples through the lives of others.
  10. I never want to die without living.
  11. Summer time in Pigtown
    Summer time in Pigtown
    by Bukutgirl, on Flickr


One heart and soul - Jesus Army Life

What was it that motivated the first Christians to share everything?

I don't think it was an idealistic vision to be one, neither do I feel that there was some utilitarian economic mission. When I read about the first Christians it strikes me that it was simply something they had to do, as if nothing else would be satisfactory.

Imagine it. The Holy Spirit fills you and your friends with God's powerful life. Wouldn't you want to keep meeting together as much as possible?

If God gave you a sense of his love for mankind - his desire to be close to them - the nearness of his heart. Wouldn't that make you want to love others as fully as you could?

Bird Houses / 20071230.10D.46705 / SML
"...and the birds perched in its branches"
(Bird houses by See-ming Lee)
Yes, there were practical reasons: not everyone was from Jerusalem and, if they were going to stick around, they'd need a bed. There was vision: Jesus had been with them everyday, sharing in the same common purse. But the temptation, even after Jesus had overcome death itself, was to give up - Peter returned to his day job. And, while there were 500 witnesses to Jesus' resurrection, only 120 were gathering at the prayer meetings. I get the sense that no one knew what to do next.

It was the compelling power of the Holy Spirit that caused the first Christians to come together as a church everyday, eating together in awe of God, sacrificially contributing so that the church could continue its current lifestyle.And it was successful, the numbers involved in sharing increased, so much so that they had to appoint seven men to look after the food distribution (one for every day of the week?)

But what now? I don't get the sense that Christians felt it was mandatory to live together. The idea seemed to tail off outside Jerusalem, though there was still a notable desire for believers to live under the same roof and not keep money selfishly to themselves.

Yet surely today, community still needs to be under the compulsion of the Holy Spirit? The drive to share needs to come from within. It needs to be something that God does.

I'm mindful of how the Bible tells us that the first people on earth desired to build a place which would help them always be one (Genesis 11). God saw it and knew that there could be no right oneness on earth without him - he confused their language and scattered them. But when God eventually gave a spiritual tongue that all men could speak (Acts 2:8), they were drawn together, their heart was for him and not for themselves.

I think that always needs to be the foundation for community - a desire for God that unites many individuals in his one life. Without it, I'd be reluctant to try.


An observation or two - Jesus Army Life

I'm sure I've written about my journey to work before. Simply put, it's a west to east, east to west journey, which means that I get to enjoy a little sunrise and sunset each day.

If not full strokes of coloured clouds then there is, at least, a different intensity of light to that of the full blown day. The hues of the rural landscape are more distinct, clouds tend to forming or drifting apart, and the sense of anticipation, of fulfilment or relief at these times easily drowns out the mundanity of just another day.

That is, when I take the time to notice.

Sunrise over a field
Sunrise over a field
by Kimberly Gauthier
At one point in the journey there is a long enough gap in the line of trees to reveal a stretch of valley leading towards my journey's destination. Whenever I gaze over it, it reminds me of a scene from The Shire of Hobbit lore: a patchwork of colour, undulating hills, a hazy distant light. It's inspiring.

And, if you're lucky, as you pass by the canal, there will be just the right mix of fog and sun to create a golden glow, narrowboats look sleeping monsters as you fly by. On the return route you might just spy a lake with the sun glistening in its reflection. Something within beckons to another world far away from the daily commute when I see these things.

But, normally, I'm too lost in my own thoughts to see.

It seems to me that blogging can be a bit like these scenes on my journey. Sure enough there are less interesting things to see as well, but surely everything is worthy of note, if I take the time to see it.

Sometimes life whizzes by at such a pace you forget to notice. It's too easy not to pause and appreciate all those glorious details of life. Sometimes writing is like looking up and out of the window, just to take in the view, before life flies by again.

This year I got married, twice, to the same person. And it's all happened so fast I've barely had a chance to appreciate the amazing things that have happened. But, as I take a moment to take it all in, I'm bedazzled by what God has done in my life, the woman God has given me and the journey we've travelled for us to be together. But, perhaps, if there's time, and you and I both pause long enough, I could share with you some of the delights of this story we're living, and together we can breathe in how sacred life actually is.


Seasons - Jesus Army Life

Following a prophesied time of "shaking" the community where I live is finding its feet again.

There are a few things over the past couple of months I would highlight as significant.

We had a couple of days of decorating and fixing up the house. The days were themed as a time of 'work and worship'. Interestingly, it was around this time that loved sons and daughters began to reappear, some only briefly, some choosing to stay around. We have felt very blessed by this. Also, a new family began to 'find family' among us - they are very loved and welcome.

Our 'homemaking team' was rearranged and reinforced, which provided necessary respite for some and a good challenge for others. It has brought a subtle permeative vitality to home-life. One of our most professional folk joined the team part time and discovered that she "absolutely loved domestic work". It's not directly connected but, the health of some residents has been improving too. I note that here because it all signifies new strength among us.

A group from a different community house came to visit us, and we felt overwhelmed by the love and life they brought with them. We went for an Autumn walk together, enjoyed a curry, worshiped, laughed and spoke the word of God to one another. It almost feels like the banner has been raised over White Stone house, that love and the strength of the church wins over all.

Lastly, my preferred test of the buoyancy of spiritual life here at White Stone - our open-house friendship meal on Thursday nights: After experiencing several quiet weeks, these are once again filling up with people.

Ironic perhaps that as we enjoy the flame like colours of Autumn it feels like Spring is returning to this Christian house. But I recently learned that the buds of promise we rejoice over when Winter departs are actually produced before the weather turns cold. They silently wait for the first true signs of warmth before they burst into life. Perhaps it will be the same for us.

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.
Romans 13

In Jesus' name, we say 'Yes!'


Birthdays, the celebration of muchness - Jesus Army Life

Birthdays. Wonderful times. The milestones of life. But they become just much of a muchness after a while, don't they?

The years add up and become indistinct from one another.

Heaven forbid if your birthday is associated with something bad - some people just don't want to go there.

But there is much to celebrate - whoever you are.

Reflecting on my own birthday yesterday, it seems that the best thing about a birthday is having the friends to celebrate it with. It's an opportunity for life's companions, the people who love you, to remind you how much they do just that: just - love - you.

It's not really about the milestones is it? They soon stack up.

Birthdays? It's not so much all about me, but realising how much I am loved by others.

It's not only about celebrating another year. It's about basking in the understanding that your world is not really just 'little old you', but all the other special people who are in it too, one of which just happens to be you.

It's not about the gifts. It's about knowing that it's the other people in your life who give you the power to be who you are (without them, you wouldn't be you, you'd be... someone else). And that all the God-given talent you have only manifests itself in your relationship with others.

And it's not about the number of friends you have. It's about knowing that life can't always be like this. Times change. Sometimes a birthday might appear to be the loneliest event on earth...

...But keep looking, friends can be there, particularly in Christian community, to help you know you never need be lonely for long.

And if you know it's someone's birthday, make sure they know how much you love them, perhaps a bit like Tony did below (one of the best stories ever)...