Self loathing - Jesus Army Life, Day 199

Sometimes your selfishness comes up and smacks you in the face. It would be nice to pretend that living in community, sharing all you have, giving yourself for others would cure you of the disease of selfishness - far from it, only the saving work of Jesus does this. But community does help shine an arclight on the whole situation from time to time.

The pressures of community of course drive you to rely more on yourself at first: you look to your natural strengths to get through, you learn how to work with other people, you learn how not to rub people up the wrong way (sometimes), you learn effectively to put yourself last; but this can still be so much about you and not very much about Jesus. It can be all you doing the work, all you suffering the pressure, all you doing the organising and caring, rather than remembering that your job is to die and allow Christ to live through you.

So this has hit me lately. I think I had grown to become so self-involved (even though I thought a lot of my time was given to others) and I forgot those most important to me, those who are quietly loving and loyal and deserve to be cherished. I'd noticed I was becoming bitterly rude but hadn't appreciated why - I just thought I was cutting through so much superficiality. I am resolving to learn a lesson: if more than 50% of my thoughts are consumed with myself, or anything else I guess, rather than Christ then I'm living wrongly. How I truly quantify this isn't really the point, it's just a way of estimating how I'm doing. I never ever want to be so focused on my self that I effectively deny Christ again.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
John 12:24-26


Battlestations - Jesus Army Life, Day 198

We talk about 'battle' in the church sometimes. This can be over-glamourised as some kind of heroic warfare with the dark forces of Satan. But really it's all about overcoming in the evil day, and yes there may well be demons involved too.

At White Stone, we've been knowing some battle lately. Take together various illnesses, car crashes, impurity, arguments at work, violence, anxiety over young disciples, isolation and increased pressure and you have battle. It only takes a few of the core people to be spiritually knocked off course and there begins to be a little too much flak for everyone else to handle. Maintaining strength is an important issue among us. Not that individually we have to be strong (vulnerability and 'weakness' can actually be vital to the Christian walk) but we have to maintain strength as a team. As we stand strong in love and hope and faith God's grace looks after the rest.

So yesterday, at house family breakfast, we got together to review the battle of the last fortnight. We prayed for each other and the day went well.

We need to keep standing together, there is so much to accomplish, and too much of the future to allow to slip away. And we need those who are able, though hesitant, to step up to the front line too (the place of sacrifice and pressure). We fight together and win the evil day.


The clothing store - Jesus Army Life, Day 196

The other day I cleared my room out, it's amazing how much stuff you can accumulate, especially considering I'm trying to live as simply as I can. I had loads of papers I no longer needed and I had too many clothes too. I tend not to buy clothes but pick them up from the 'clothing store' instead. The clothing store is organised by our community to receive unwanted clothes and provide them for those who need them, so I go there every so often, in particular because I've needed some casual trousers and tops. However, all I seemed to be picking up were T-shirts I liked, the type of trousers I wanted were never there.

Anyway, I cleared out all my stuff, and realised I only had one good pair of trousers left. Resolving I was going to have to buy some new clothes I prayed that God might somehow provide some. You'll have to forgive me, I'm not stingy (at least, I don't think so) I've just got into the habit of liking the fact I don't have to buy stuff if I don't need to. It's gratifying to feel that you're circumventing the great capitlist system I suppose.

To cut a long story short, last night, a well-dressed friend of mine told me that he had some clothes he was throwing out because he had lost weight... (lol - oh the jealousy). So, it seems like the prayer was answered... another happy ending.


Social action - Jesus Army Life, Day 195

Today I'm on a day release from work to do voluntary work at our local Jesus Centre. It's one of the advantages of working for a business owned by the church community - as well as creating money in order to fund the work of the gospel and helping the poor, the businesses are now releasing manpower.

I guess that's fairly boring information but it's pretty good for me. It's always challenging to work with people whose lives are on the edge. It's good to remind yourself of the realities some people face and not be proud in the riches you have - whatever they might be. Poverty comes in all shapes and sizes, and there's always someone worse off than yourself. I think we dare to ignore it at our peril.

But the work we're doing here at the Jesus Centre, which doubles as our church hall on Sundays, continues to go further. We're not just providing food and clean space for people who spend most of their lives isolated and on the streets, we've set up schemes to help people find money to get into accommodation. There are classes to help people with basic education, skills and health care too. We're trying to work with other agencies and working with other people in need such as refugees and providing a usable space for the wider community as well.

In all this, we've been adamant that we can't turn away from the priority of the work of the gospel. While it's a wise choice not to preach at people we saw a dozen or so baptisms last year which were connected with this social action work.

So there you go, it's amazing to think how a day off a fortnight can help...


Women at large - Jesus Army Life, Day 194

Okay, I've done it. I've set my mobile phone's alarm to go off at 11pm every night... And this renewed effort to get me to bed on time seems to be working. Bizarre though. Only in community would someone need to set themselves an alarm to go to bed rather than to wake up in the morning!

Things at White Stone are pretty mellow at the moment. At least that's mellow in a sort of manic but manic at a steady pace sort of way: This weekend, we must have had six people stop over and I can think of about seven women who came round who aren't regular members of our community. The sisters had a lot on their hands but it's good to have a growing flock of women adding to the life we experience here.

Tonight there are several 'cell groups' taking place (I'm not sure if the womans' cell group has kicked off yet but it should be doing so soon). People are getting together at the university, down the cafe, evangelising on the streets all in the name of building a Kingdom for Jesus. Before that happens however, the elders and trainee elders are having a meal together, which, according to our tradition, leaves one poor lad covering a grace time with several older women in attendance. He he, should be good training for him...


It's all kicking off - Jesus Army Life, Day 192

I'm currently racing through a year's backlog of data entry for a deadline tomorrow so I haven't got much time to write today...

Suffice to say: drama, drama. Who needs to watch soap operas when you've got all the activity going on in your own front room?

And where teenagers are involved this stuff can easily be elevated to melodrama. But there's been some serious stuff kicking off too.

Perhaps some time I'll write more. It's good to reflect though that we live in a church where emotions are raw and unrepressed. I'd rather be in a church where people expressed what was going on inside than hiding away from it all in the false security of the world.


Catching up - Jesus Army Life, Day 191

Okay, if you were worried about me, life's better - everyone has occasional bouts of melancholy. Life's better... but it feels all over the place. Any new year's resolutions (and I'm not admitting I had any) are firmly out of the window. So, we pick ourselves up and start again...

Actually, in truth, life feels pretty good again. The other night I was present at the baptism of a loyal friend of mine. It is a victory that has been a long time coming. We baptised her in the old coach hall of Cornhill, one of the oldest and biggest community houses in the church. She had a lot of spiritual words given to her which is a testimony of how much she is valued. Meanwhile, in the other room, there was a youth gathering on sex and relationships which by all accounts was pretty good stuff...

On a personal note, I remembered recently that I joined the Jesus Army because I wanted a church whose people were serious about God, serious enough to commit together in every way to be a new society of Jesus people. In my experience that is pretty rare among churches though not exclusive to us. I know churches full of committed individuals, I've been part of them, but I truly love being part of a church where people are committed together.


Weary of the good - Jesus Army Life, Day 188

I woke up yesterday morning thinking I'd had enough. Last week had been amazingly busy with the evangelistic work in London, I'd developed a cold probably as a result, one of the young teenagers who I am very close to had just been arrested for some amazingly stupid incident, I'd gone to bed late again, alone again (empty community bedroom), romantic interests were down the drain, I was casting off doubts about my capacity as a church leader and now I'd woken up early. I was weary.

I tossed and turned in bed then got up thinking at least I could gear myself into prayer. I washed and dressed, made myself a coffee, but one thing led to another and the prayer never happened.

You'd think I was heading for a bad day. But I was rescued by the kind ears of a friend who, after many car journeys, has learnt to listen to my moans and whines, my gripes about life and my fears over the challenges that come in this church, week by week.

I completed a hard day's graft, picked up the community's shopping, and drove carload of friends home. There were phone calls to make, I had to see how my young disciple was and organise events for that evening. But the day was already on the up. A young lad had asked to come to dinner so I wasn't alone among the sisters that evening (the elders were eating together and the other brother was out). We all chatted and laughed for a long time. The teenager taught me some basic guitar skills, I showed him some stuff from the bible. My friend had made the flapjacks and we shared those. Everyone was involved in some activity or other. A friend phoned to tell me she was getting baptised and, later that evening, another friend used her engineering knowhow to help me fix an old lamp.

It had been in fact very good to look at the bible with that young friend. We talked about his future and what the bible had to say about it. I was able to show him how the bible stated God had a purpose for his life and was calling him specifically. It was good to remember the bible's life-giving words. I went to bed that night much happier and these words of scripture were with me specifically:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9


Gospel works - Jesus Army Life, Day 186

Last night was beautiful. It is so rare that the people in the house get to spend time to be just together (there's usually someone else visiting or one of us will be out on church business somewhere). It is important that we take a little time to look after one another as well as others who come round.

An example of our busy-ness is last week, when I and five other members of the household were in Leicester Square, London, meeting people, feeding them and praying for them. It was evangelism work and we found many opportunities to share the gospel.

Someone said recently that whenever the gospel is being shared successfully there will always be trouble. And true to form we did see some of that, with objections from the authorities and two disturbances on the streets. Nonetheless, the majority of the time there was peace and I'm looking forward to hearing news from the local church of new people going along to their meetings.

PS. A special mention to a trusted friend and sister who has promised to institute a church tradition of making flapjacks for Wednesday nights, now that there are four 'servant groups' in the running.


Talking about women - Jesus Army Life, Day 179

This morning, on the way in to work, I was chatting with my friend about women. We often talk about women on the way into work... But our concern is the church and how women reach their godly potential in a church led by men.

Notably in the news, Norway has created a law requiring all their top companies to have a board of directors that is at least 40% female. Their government is leading the way with 50% of women in positions of power. While I question the validity of quotas I think this is to applauded. Defendants of the policy argue that the right women of caliber are there to be found and I believe it.

But we were talking about the church, not about business. Business and government is subject to the influence of society, and the equality they institute is a matter of civil rights. In contrast, in the church no one really has any rights, we are all subject to God and indebted to love one another. It is the principle of love which demands justice for women, not civil rights. In the church equality exists because we are all to be the least, we believe in being servants, slaves even, to each other as followers of Jesus. We are called to 'live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: to love the brotherhood of believers, to fear God, to honor the king' (the government) (1 Peter 2:17).

Fundamentally, the church is organic in nature, because it is based upon a spiritual people: a people who will operate from their instinctive, godly make-up. It relies upon and produces that multidimensional network of relationships mankind seems automatically wired up to create. Church is, or should be, God-inspired society. People act more as they would in a family than in a business. In family there is no equality at all, but rather a sense of teamwork. So church is manmade but not designed to be efficient, streamlined, calculating, ruthless, critical, it cannot obey quotas on a male/female divide, it works according to the design of God. And of course, that is the truth of the matter: everyone is different, we can't be categorised by law or society or ultimately even by gender, we all have our own abilities and potential in Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

Anyway, back to the central issue. In church we don't dominate each other, we sacrifice for each other. We don't subject one another to our command, we win one another's hearts for the cause of Jesus.

"Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all - he is the greatest."

Luke 9:48

However, we also have to follow the biblical principle that men carry authority: neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. (1 Corinthians 11:9-11)

This is difficult stuff. We did reach some tentative conclusions however and so I will try to conclude here: If you look at some of the leading women of the New Testament church: Priscilla, Lydia, Tabitha, Junias, Mary, these are all women who achieved a great deal and reached into their potential for God. Lydia ran her own business and seems to have brought her circle of friends and family to Christ through sheer weight of character alone. Priscilla seems to have worked tirelessly for the gospel, using her influence and intellect to increase the church. Tabitha, a different character, was again hard working, loving and influential. Junias and Mary we know less of but we know their position carried weight. All of these women were submissive (as are all leading men, see Luke 7:8-9), their characters seem to be mostly unassuming, there is gentility but strength too, and hard work also seems to be a common trait.

This seems to agree with some of the standards set out by Peter, himself a married man (1 Peter 2-3):
  • Willingness to suffer
  • Beauty that comes from the inner self
  • A sense of self worth in God's eyes
  • Purity
  • Reverence
  • A hope placed in God
  • A gentle spirit
  • A quiet spirit
  • Persistence
  • Submission and obedience to men in authority
  • Doing what is right
  • Not giving way to fear

Please feel free to comment.


what's your wood worth?: Being his presence does not mean fixing everything

Woodworth's latest entry touches to the core of what it means to throw of everything that hinders and pursue Jesus... right into the pits of society: what's your wood worth?: Being his presence does not mean fixing everything (Can't agree that Jesus didn't heal many, but it's still inspiring and it's the reality I live for...)

Living for Jesus - Jesus Army Life, Day 178

A beautiful weekend. The highlight of which was having about 40 people packed into our lounge to celebrate a couple of baptisms. It's great that our community can be available to serve others in that way.

The baptisms were very special because both individuals are fiery in their desire for God. The event spoke of new life and a determination to fight for the entry of the Kingdom of God into this dark world. Your Kingdom come...

They were special too because it was a triumph for a family that has experienced some tragedy. The father, who by all accounts seems to have been a very special man, died of cancer a few years ago, leaving behind four children and his wife. Baptism is supposed to be about death: death of the old life and birth into a life of new creation. Certainly, the father sounds as if he was brimming with life, and even in his death he seems to have purchased souls for Christ. I think these two have done their father proud. (I know I felt very proud of them.) Their lives are testimonies to their parents' faith, but it is no longer second-hand, it is real for them as individuals. The two have become warriors in their own right.


When you pray... - Jesus Army Life, Day 175

'Our Father'.

We're taught to pray Our Father. Does that strike you as strange? No? Perhaps when you pray that you're aware of your kinship with Christians everywhere... Or perhaps not... I dare to say that the reality of these simple words is that they have have lost their original meaning and become absurdly sentimental. "Destroyed by years of repetitive indoctrination through school assemblies" is how my friend put it (...okay, he might not have used the word "indoctrination").

"Give us this day our daily bread..."

I can believe people pray this with others in mind, the starving perhaps, or even for every person in the world, but...

"Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."

This most necessary, most intimate of requests... the spotlight shines on all our selfishness. Do we really think about others when we say these lines? Perhaps the second half of the sentence is there to force us to think of them. As you speak these words do you plead for the souls of others you know? Jesus could well have taught us to use the words "me" and "my", but he didn't; this prayer is about "us". We will pray for those we love.

What I'm getting at is that if you don't live in close community with others, if the love you have for people is not so personal as to mean that you live for them, how can anyone pray this prayer with honesty? It strikes me that you can only really pray such a prayer with full effect if you are conscious of your brotherhood with other Christians. Conscious enough for it to hurt, for it to mean that you want to make a difference, rather than conscious of brethren in a vague way.

Living in community does not mean I'm better than others. There are millions who live lives that would put me to shame, but it has woken me up to the fact that if I'm going to love and follow Jesus then this prayer has to mean something: I'm not alone, there are others with me. Oh, how ridiculous to have your own house, your own possessions, your own plot of land, your own income and expenditure, your 'own' friendships, and to pray, "Our Father..."

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.


Promising friendships and the flesh - Jesus Army Life, Day 174

Last night I phoned four different men I'm in touch with. Wednesdays evenings are normally a good time to get together with friends living outside the community but my usual partner in these things had an important meeting so I took the opportunity to have some good chats on the phone instead.

It does feel like a time when various folk are stepping forward and wanting more of God and his church. There are many new and cherished relationships where God is at the centre, and I'm looking forward to seeing some of these people tonight or in the next few days or so. Long may it continue.

One man I spoke to sounded pretty bored at home, and for the second time that day I shied away from the opportunity to meet up with him. A decision I regret. Quality times with anyone who's keen on the Kingdom of God are invaluable, but I was tired and needed to rest. The truth is that I'm only tired because I'm going to bed too late at night, filling my waning hours with trivial things. The cold truth I'm going to need to be more disciplined if I'm going to be a man for God's Kingdom.


Decapitation strategy! - Jesus Army Life, Day 173

It's 2006 and I've lots to write about but little immediate opportunity. Blame it on a languishing holiday period ended by a huge bump: 7 meetings in 3 days! I'm still here, I haven't cracked up yet, but I just need to find my head...