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)...


A foretaste of heaven - Jesus Army Life

Sometimes community life can be just pure bliss. Today was one of those days.

So many friends relaxing together. Laughter. Sharing hearts. Good food and music. An evening whiled away under the stars.

Worship and hope for the future.

So so good.


Beauty in the hamster wheel - Jesus Army Life

For the first time in a while I recognised that liberating sensation. It flowed through me like a breeze of fresh air. I could savour the moment. There was a sense of possibility, foetal hope. Love could bloom here. But it wasn't anything directly supernatural. Neither was it the taste of a cold beer on a warm summer's evening (soon, I hope). No, it was closer to home and more profound than that.

Open arms Originally uploaded by Kenny Teo
It was as if, within my soul, a creative space had opened up, the precious utility of freedom within.

I'm sure you've known something of the opposite experience. I think I’ve had my fill of it: being rushed off your feet, a million things at once, with no reserve left to deal with mounting demands. You wake up thinking of jobs that need to be done and, as soon as one task is completed, you are executing plans for the next one. Mundanity seems like a break. And if you slow down, your mind still can't stop racing. Complete relaxation feels like a luxury.

Perhaps I take myself too seriously but that’s what it feels like... Someone tell me I'm not the only one to have been there?

But then, with a little effort, something can change. You're on top again, life is manageable, prayer is no longer so desperate, it's beginning to make sense. You have time to assess how you're responding to people, you can take a breath and enjoy life, cracking a joke doesn't feel so ironic, it's just beautiful, in the moment.

You can give your best to people with confidence. You feel like you could almost write poetry (I'll save you the torture...)

That's creative space, and you can know it within your soul, especially when you've been missing out for a while.

Creative space is vital – it’s the ability to objectively respond to the happenings around you, to grasp the significance of them and volunteer your own talents to the effort. It is fresh, almost naive energy for the task at hand, whether offering a smile to a friend or taking up a challenging project. Without it, you can only react to every situation around you, with it you could build a Kingdom.

Why do I mention this on a blog about community? There’s something about the communal life, if it is lived with a purpose, which demands the best from you so much of the time (at least it does of me!) Sharing with others can mean you get into a continuous mode of giving (the door is never closed), but sharing life together must also be about receiving from one another. And that takes a conscious decision to welcome others in. At any one time there are a dozen other lives going on around you and you have to make room for these in your heart, not with a sense of responsibility, but with a sense of love. (Admittedly, this is where I often get things wrong.)

In community there are beautiful moments aplenty, but if you can't feast on these with full celebration, there is also a danger. That danger is that while you may have escaped the world's rat race, you can still create your own little hamster wheel, and personally, rather than spinning around in circles, I'd like to be enjoying people and writing bad poetry.

I recently related to a friend how challenging everything seemed to be, and he responded with a question, “Are you saying God’s grace is not enough?”

Take my advice: make space for God and receive His grace, get back to the basics, at least reading the Bible deliberately and often, even if you don’t like it much; make space for God and He will make creative space for you.


She said no - Jesus Army Life

How counter culture could you go?
Mont Saint Michel Revisited Originally uploaded by Ben Heine
I was challenged to write this ok?

So I'm making it up as I go along.

And it's my fault. A friend asked me what she should blog about and I tried to think of the most challenging thing possible.

So I said, 'write about celibacy'. And she said, 'only if you do too!'

It should be easy for me. I mean I live with several people who have decided that they are never going to marry. Why? Because they love God so much they want to live entirely for him (together with their friends).

But that sentence is enough to send most minds spinning. Mine too sometimes...

And yet I've seen it in action and it works, not always, but mostly; and it's a beautiful thing...

It's great to be around single people who just want to live life to the full, but not in a way that serves their own interests, but others'. There's a family who live in the house too and they bring lots of life - in fact the simple humour and pleasure of sharing their lives is truly humbling - but it's different. Being with celibates is inspiring, not because they are individually anything amazing (though they are) but because their direction in life causes you to look upwards to greater things. To things like living for God.

And there's an even edgier reality to all this. I spoke to a man yesterday who knows a family with 13 children - 13! There's no selfishness in that kind of life is there? Plenty of joy I imagine, but not much spare cash or time. They didn't do it because they wanted to live-the-good-life. They made a strong choice not to live according to the common assumptions about how to be happy but in a way that fully celebrates life and yet is counter cultural.

In its own way, but in the other direction, celibacy is a full-on way of life too. Indeed it goes further in not choosing the world's standards but a different way. I have friends, male and female who've said no to marriage for an adventure full of sacrifice and experience. A life filled with the choice to give yourself to other people and to God. In effect they've said no to the love of one friend above all others in exchange for a yes to the freedom to love as many friends as possible as much as possible. Famous Christian celibates like John Stott, Mike Pillavachi and Jackie Pullinger Corrie Ten Boom have always done that.

And I'm grateful that people like this, counter cultural people, married and celibate people, have always blessed me as I learn to follow Jesus, who is the ultimate in counter culture - because, of course, he wasn't married either was he?


Metaphysically fixing - Jesus Army Life

I arrived home planning to spend the evening in the park. It was a hot day and the evening was free. So I fixed myself dinner but then soon found myself fixing something else.

One of my friends came to report that a pipe was leaking. I'd known the pipe had been dodgy for the last week but she told me water was coming through the ceiling, which made things a little more urgent...

Photo originally uploaded by Terekhova
So much for an evening in the park.

After about an hour of prodding and lifting floor boards, shouting down two floors and reaching into impossible places, we got the problem sorted.

And I'm glad we got the pipe fixed together. It was good working with the sister, she's a very practical sort of person and a friend I cherish. But occasionally it can be difficult to reach past that practical side of her nature.

It's not only this friend in particular, it can be all friendships in a community life which struggle to get past this obstacle. Community is a very practical thing in some ways. We deliberately share our possessions, our money, our space, our transport so that we can share our lives. But community isn't only sharing things on a practical level - it has to go beyond that - it's sharing the smallest of joys, a greeting on the stairs, a frustration over a problem, a silent moment.

If life together is only shared practically then community does not exist, but if in each moment you can savour the privilege of working together (a thank-you for the lift or the meal, an invitation to share in an activity together, through every small encouragement) then you will be able to fix a lot more than broken piping, you can also fix broken hearts.
Encourage one another every day
Hebrews 3

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another
Hebrews 10


Pit stop - Jesus Army Life

I got home tired but happy, we'd used the evening to support a church group 50 miles away, and then I found the door had been broken...

Peugeot 504 Coupe Originally uploaded by 96dpi

Something inside me flipped. Why would people do that to our home? Don't they care at all? It turned out it was an accident but I was fuming. Then, the friend I'd pointedly asked about the door turned on me - I wasn't willing to see any good in our visitors, I was just blaming people - he had a point. We argued and we finally calmed down.

Except I wasn't calm, I was still furious. It was a long time before I went to sleep that night.

Why had I become so angry?

A couple of nights later another friend and I popped in on some old mates of mine. I used to hang out with them, they used to get up to all sorts (they still do), but my friend was able to see that there was something good in these lads - a spark of God, if only it could be ignited.

I felt the same, but still part of me was jaded. What could Jesus do in these guys that he hadn't already done? A battle churned inside me as I struggled between a longing for God to impact these men's lives and the thought that it could never happen; there was too much in the way: so much drugs, women, life-drudgery.

But, this is not a story of how Jesus has turned lives around (though I know the cause of Jesus is so much more exciting than any of those things could be) it's a story of God shaping me.

Coming away from that moment, I reflected how I love to be in the place where I'm meeting people, being a connection for them to church, to hope, to the possibility of life-change and of love, to a brighter future. And I also felt how worn out I was by trying to achieve this in too many places.

The unexplained anger is still there, it boils inside of me. Is it that I can't be that channel of life I once was? Am I too stretched? Am I angry with my God? And yet, until God says different, this is how it's got to be - I can't turn back from starting something where there's an open door to build, I have to continue.

And I haven't reached the end of the story yet. I don't know if this story will have an ending. But I sense I'm being reminded of the need to see the Jesus-seed in every person: the possibility that their life can flourish with hope (that I definitely shouldn't blame them) and that this is more important than how tired I might be feeling, and that this might also be the source of the calm I need.


Holiness ablaze - Jesus Army Life

Which is more holy?

A gang of more than 20 guys chatting and singing round the fire, sharing in the love and life of Christian fellowship?

Or two local lads who've clearly smoked too much weed, satisfying their 'munchies' with egg on toast in our home kitchen, looked after by and laughing with the resident saints?

Obvious isn't it?

It's both.

Holiness is all about where heaven touches earth. It's that simple moment when Jesus is found in those everyday activities - made special because, consciously or unconsciously, God is truly welcome. Really, it doesn't matter so much how right or wrong the situation is - most times things are never completely good and often the bad isn't completely bad either. What really matters is that these moments express the deepest truth, that God has stepped into our experience, in the historical figure of Jesus, and is bringing something eternally good out of the mess.


Life Flow - Jesus Army Life

One of the questions I've got at the moment is how can I take control of my life?

I guess you need to know the context. It's my fault, I joined this church out of a desire to "pour out my life for God" - all my energy, all my purpose, all my achievement I wanted it to be God-wards. And I think, to some extent, that has come true, though there's massive room for improvement.

Occcasionally I do things like go to see my extended family, take a couple of days away, go out with friends, but in spite of these things I still sometimes feel like a Christian-machine when it comes to church life. I suppose it's just because most of my evenings are filled with churchy things.

And I want it that way too, honestly. I love this life! I want to be flowing in God's joy and purpose (if that's not too weird a thing to say), I want to be loving and serving his church and reaching out to those who seek him and those who want to know him, and even those who don't want to know him if I can help them. But what I don't want is to lose myself in things which aren't of value to God. I don't want to give myself over to insubstantial things. So, yes, I do a lot of church stuff, because I believe it's achieving something for some people.

Yet, at the same time, if you do too much you run out of the energy and the inspiration to do more, and perhaps that's what's happened to me. Sometimes I can feel like I don't need the hassle. Hence my desire to take control of life - a kind of compromise.

Something struck me when I was singing the other day:

"May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight O Lord"
(Psalm 19)

It's got me thinking, all this trying to do the right thing or trying to avoid the wrong thing is not worth a fig really, it's not really what this God-following-life is all about - it's just trying to enjoy the relationship with the one you love as much as possible that counts. The rest of life flows out of that.


The one who walks beside - Jesus Army Life

I'm trying to work out what I need to express. One of the emblems of our church is a swirl of colours, reds, yellows, greens and purples combined into a river of life.

The original wisdom behind this is a picture of many coloured candles which melted into one, fusing their lights into one beacon of hope - a sign of the unity God's love brings to his people.

This church is a people of life. You can feel it every time we get together. It's not about a set of individuals gathering with their small personal agendas, it's a positivity, a sense of relaxed togetherness. Sometimes you might think of people singing together around a camp fire, there's a beauty there, but that's not what I'm talking about - this is different, a renewed family, the ties here are strong, even though they might get stretched, even torn. It's about a pattern of life which doesn't just last for a moment, a sense that whoever we are, we all belong to the same organic root, we all drink of the same spirit-life and it has covenanted us together.

I write this because it's been a hard week and, as I sit at the church's music-cafe night, it's good to remember we are a beautiful people, for all our faults and ups and downs. I like the fact that we can stand by each other, even though life can seem like it's been ripped down the middle.

Things are never easy, we people certainly aren't simple. Somehow in all the craziness and complications God reaches through and comforts.


Tribal odyssey - Jesus Army Life

Photo by adebⓞnd of flickr.comThis weekend we were together for a 'big meeting'. Big meeting is my personal terminology for a gathering which involves our entire church. They are usually exciting, often inspiring and always significant.

What was special about this one? You'd have to ask a few different people to get a full picture, and of course, you'd get several different answers. Someone today said it was the exploratory worship - a whole church breaking out of routine songs into breathtaking spiritual life. Another commented that it was the moment when so many valued friends walked out of the meeting - about a fifth of the people there - they all departed to show how desperate we would be without the many individuals who have devoted everything to God and his church (but they came back, it was only a demonstration). For me it was seeing so many many people having a great time together, relaxed, loving each other, positive about God and willing to face the future as one.

And we are one. We'll be back together in under thirty days to explore the journey together a little bit more, and then together again the month after that and the month after that. That's what it means to be part of a committed people and that's why the times together are always significant whether we're succeeding or failing. Ultimately this is a tribal odyssey and vibrant or desperate, we're going through it all as a people who have learnt to laugh together and to cry together.

Photo by adebⓞnd of flickr.com


Jesus Army - Frozen life

They say a picture can speak a thousand words, but a word may also paint a thousand pictures. I wonder what images the following epithets conjure up for you.

God. Jesus.
Holy fire. A people.
Humble friendship. Synergy.

It's a spiritual haiku of sorts, a condensed expression on the blessing of a Christian's life.

Often however, it's just too hard to sum things up. There are thoughts I've never spoken, essays I've never published, things I feel can't be understood unless you come real close, intimate enough to stare deeply.

But who takes the time to stop and stare?

Time passes while we remain ignorant to the myriad of beautiful things which grace our lives. We would witness treasures which could transform our souls if only we knew how to drink them in, not least the insurmountable value we should find in the lives of one another. I recently read that the reason God does not let us see each other the way He sees us is that, if we did, we would fall down and worship one another.

As a child I used to pretend to be asleep sometimes (don't we all?) But occasionally I did it because I wanted people to have a chance to see the real me. When we are at peace it gives others a chance to observe how amazing we all are, and I thought maybe other people might be able to experience that about me - a strange thought I know. But unless everything is still just for an instant, unless everything in the world around us is frozen, we rarely get the chance to see how incredibly wonderful and deeply inspiring it all is.

Kirkegaard commented that, "Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it."

I have found that it is often our nearest, dearest companions, who are the key to helping us pause and perceive how sacred life is. We don't need to be voyeurs to become enchanted, we just need to have the ability to stop and listen to their words.