Learning the Lingo

Apr 302013

This is another thought I’ve had while sailing (the last one is here), but it probably actually applies to most activities or things which we learn. It’s about learning the right words.

Using the right words

When I first started to sail, the most helpful instructions would have sounded something like this: “When the big white thing at the front starts to move over when we turn, pull on that rope so it doesn’t flap around.” There is no technical language in that sentence at all – anyone could understand it, and anyone could follow the instruction.

But there’s only so long that can be useful. Having to explain everything in the most basic terms means we can never advance beyond a certain stage. It’s much more efficient to say, “When we tack and the jib moves over, pull on the sheet.” Only once we use that sort of language can we begin to do more complicated things and move on to more advanced aspects of sailing.

I’ve sailed in three consecutive years, and each year I’ve got better. I’ve also learned, and started using, more technical terms and language. The two things go together.

It’s probably true of anything. Football. Engineering. Dance. Politics. Literature. They all have their language associated with them. Even as we become engrossed in a book or a TV series, we start to learn the names of characters, places and events. As we become more familiar with a subject and it becomes part of our lives, we use more of the right words.

Speaking Christianese

I think the same is true of being Christians. There are lots of ‘churchy’ or ‘Christian’ phrases or words out there: ‘grace’, ‘atonement’, ‘mercy’, ‘justice’. Then there are ones which might be even more unfamiliar: ‘justification’, ‘sanctification’, ‘hermeneutics’. I don’t think we all need to know all of them. That’s not the point.

The point is that as we grow up in our faiths, we should also be growing in the language of that faith. Of course there’s all sorts of lingo floating round that is just weird and can be exclusive, making us part of the club and other people on the outside (). But that doesn’t excuse us, I think. We need to avoid being exclusive, but we also need to embrace growing up in our faith.

We all care about certain things. The things we care about, we want to find out about. The things we find out about, we become more knowledgeable about. And as we become more knowledgeable, the language comes along with it. How many of us know more technical terms in our fields of work or hobbies than in our faith? I probably do, in lots of ways. I could tell you in more detail the storylines of Lord of the Rings, Lost or The West Wing than I could most of the Bible. I probably need to ask myself some questions about why that is.

Not the whole picture

Of course just knowing the language isn’t enough. Knowing all the sailing lingo (or even theory) doesn’t make you a good sailor. But it is part of it. I may be wrong, but I have sensed a certain unwillingness among a lot of Christians to become familiar with the language of their faith, almost an anti-intellectualism. ‘We don’t need that fancy mumbo jumbo.’

I don’t think we would apply that sort of criticism to other areas we are passionate about. So why not try to learn a little bit more Christianese?

Any thoughts? Am I right? Please tell me if you think I’m not!

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You can’t go out that way

Apr 252013
I’ve never just blogged about a verse or passage that’s struck me before, but this time I am. Maybe I will again. Maybe I won’t. It’s anyone’s guess.

I’ve been reading Ezekiel recently. I’ll be honest with you – I find Ezekiel a bit hard… The declarations of judgment are long, the visions hard to picture, and the whole thing a little confusing. And then there’s chapters 40–46, which are visions of the restored temple and descriptions of what proper worship would look like. I found it tough going, I didn’t understand a lot of what I read. One verse, in particular perplexed me. It left me asking, “Why?”

“When the people of the land come before the LORD at the appointed festivals, whoever enters by the north gate to worship is to go out the south gate; and whoever enters by the south gate is to go out the north gate. No one is to return through the gate by which he entered, but each is to go out the opposite gate.” (Ezekiel 46:9)

There are two gates into the temple. One north. One south. Whichever you come in through, you have to go out through the other one. Again: why? Why would God give such an instruction?

One answer I came across was that it was to establish and maintain order in worship, keeping it calm and straightforward. But if we think about this practically, it would do anything but that! The way to have order would be to have everyone come in one door and go out the other so everyone’s moving the same way. Or everyone leaving the way they came which is presumably the door they are sitting or standing closest to. The system God gives means you have two huge groups of people (this is all of Israel!) all trying to barge past each other to get out. It’s a scrum!

So. Why?

This changes everything

I chatted about this with one of my colleagues at work. One thought we had (which I was pleased a couple of commentators also suggested) was that this is part of the symbolism of Israel’s worship. An encounter with God – and revelation of who He is – mustn’t leave you unchanged.

It would be wrong for the whole nation to come together for one of the few annual festivals to worship God and leave the same way they arrived. They have been reminded of God’s grace and provision, the redemption they received from Him. How can they go out the same way?

Even the directions for coming and going point to that. You don’t turn around and go back out the same way. No. There is forward motion, moving onwards and leaving a different way than you came in. This may seem farfetched, but the instructions for Israel’s worship was SO full of symbolism that I find it easy to believe there was a spiritual intent to this very practical command.

Worship – or an encounter with God – should not leave us unchanged. We need to be ready to leave in a different state than we entered.

The journey home

But there might be more. Maybe the walk home is impacted. Let me explain. The temple was HUGE, and people lived all around it  in their tribes (at least this is the ideal given by God). The natural thing to do when going to the temple would be to go to the gate nearest where you live. So if you leave through the other gate, you are being forced to take the long way home.

Perhaps there is an intent that people do not just get back home and into the routine of things so quickly, but have time for what they have seen and heard to impact them. If they have been changed – as they should – then this needs time to sink in. It would do a disservice to God simply to get home, put the kettle on and carry on. Those were my thoughts, and I thought they made sense.

My colleague, though, took it one step further. For a society so clearly divided into different tribes, all living in their tribal region and with no reason to venture out, this walk home would be quite significant. It would force them not just to walk for longer, but through parts of the city they would never otherwise see. It’s like deciding to drive home from a church service by going through the neighbourhood on the other side of town, the one you never go to because you don’t live, shop, or go to work there.

He suggested this would unite the whole community and increase their love of neighbour. I think he might be onto something with that.

Should we care?

So, my question may not be “Why?” anymore. Instead, if any of what I’ve just suggested is true, should it affect us? Should we be doing anything differently to encourage ourselves to be changed, to invest in that change and to increase our awareness of the community around us?

Any thoughts? Please comment below if you do – I’d love to get your take on all this.

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Apr 222013

As part of my internship, I am taking part in a course called ‘Growing Leaders’, which is all about equipping and enabling people to lead, whether that’s in a church context or any other context. It has been a really useful course, and I have certainly grown as a result.

On Saturday, we had a morning at the course entitled ‘Embracing Cost as a Christian Leader’. It was a very good session. Essentially, the message was this: leadership is hard, so expect it to be hard, but God is good and remember to place your identity in Him.

I have some thoughts about this as a leader, which I will probably blog about sometime soon. But I also have some thoughts as a follower, and for all who follow someone.

Leadership aint easy

Why is being a (Christian) leader hard? We discussed many reasons on Saturday. Criticism, loneliness, spiritual attack, hard work, lack of privacy, pressure, wrong expectations, unreasonable people, sacrifice. And many others. Of course some of these are true for people who are not leaders, but a lot of them are heightened once you are in the position of leadership.

The problem is this. Once a group of people get to a certain size, they need to appoint leaders. The idea that ‘we can all lead each other’ doesn’t work. Those leaders then have to lead the people. But those people are people, with their own ideas and thoughts. And everyone has an opinion on the leaders, and on everything the leaders do and say and believe. The leader has taken the huge risk of stepping out to lead a group of people, and then often comes under attack from the people they are leading who ‘wouldn’t do it that way’ or ‘could do it better’ themselves.

It’s tough. It’s a situation (humanly speaking) where you can’t win.

Add to that the inherent pressures of leadership in terms of increased visibility, lots of hard work, the need to split your focus a dozen different ways, costs in relationships and time with loved ones. It isn’t an easy gig. There are of course great blessings and it is a privilege, but it is not easy. It’s why the burnout rate among pastors and church leaders is so high.

Please don’t make it harder

Why have I said all this? Well, the chances are you follow someone. Someone leads you. In fact there are probably loads of people who do. I stopped counting when I got to 10 people who lead me. You may think your leaders are amazing. You may not.

My plea is that we try our very hardest not to make it harder. Maybe in addition to a course on growing as a leader, we need to run courses on how to be good followers. I have never been led by someone and agreed with 100% of the things they say or do. I doubt you have either. I’m certainly not saying we follow people blindly and agree with everything just because they’re our leaders. I’m calling for support, for gratitude that they have undertaken a task that is hard for our sake.

I believe we need to give our leaders our support, love, dedication and submission. Instead of just our moaning, grumbling, judgments and criticism.

For their sake, because they are doing a very hard job. But also for our sake, because we all need people to lead us, and if we constantly exercise negativity toward our leaders, we aren’t going to be able to follow very well.

The people who lead me have taken on a huge burden so I don’t have to bear it. I don’t want to make that burden any heavier than it has to be.

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Christlike: the bare essentials

Apr 182013

The last few posts on being Christlike have been quite long and wordy. I want to take this forward a little, but to do so I think I need to summarise. I shall allow myself only six bullet points.

If being Christlike is all about embodying the overarching story of Jesus – His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, then that means the following:

Being Incarnate

  • HUMILITY. Not clinging to any power or authority we may have, but rather being willing to lay it aside in service of God and others, pointing away from ourselves and towards God.
  • ENTERING. Not staying separate from the people we seek to serve, but coming alongside, entering in and taking part in their situations for ourselves, not in condescension but in solidarity.

Being Crucified

  • HOLINESS. Being ruthless in shunning sin, rejecting anything which is unworthy of God, and rooting out all sources of impurity in our lives.
  • FOOLISHNESS. Dying to all the ways the world thinks and refusing to adopt purposes, methods and attitudes that are not God’s, even though that is foolishness in the world’s eyes.

Being Resurrected

  • EMBRACE. Choosing to embrace and adopt God’s worldview, seeking to see things in new ways through His lens not our own, and so living in new, exciting and counter-cultural ways.
  • POWER. Seeing things change and happen instead of embracing the status quo, because the power of the empty tomb is alive in us and great power lies within.

In the next few weeks, I’m going to try to apply those characteristics to various activities and areas of Jesus’ life, to see if I might be onto something, and then apply them to some areas of life now to see how we might be able to embody Jesus more fully ourselves.

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Christlike: Being Resurrected

Apr 112013

If being ‘Christlike’ is about embodying the big story of Jesus, in his incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, what does the last part mean? How can we embody the resurrection?

The easy answer is that we can’t now but one day will. Jesus’ resurrection assures us death will not hold us, and we too will be resurrected when Jesus comes to complete His work (see 1 Corinthians 15). But that’s a cop-out! We cannot become flesh in the same way as Jesus (we already are flesh), nor are we all called to literal crucifixion. I’ve still argued we must embody both.

So, how about resurrection then?


I feel in good company. If I’m honest, this is the part of the big picture of Jesus’ life which feels least concrete in its application for us. But like I said, I’m in good company. Paul wrote:

‘I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection of the dead.’ (Philippians 3:10-11)

Paul seems pretty clear on the whole death thing, and he writes a lot in a number of places about being buried with Christ, our old lives being gone (as I discussed in the post about being crucified). I love that Paul, when talking about participating in the resurrection, can only be as specific as ‘somehow’! It’s a bit of a mystery.

But it’s a mystery we must live in. The truth is that we have been buried with Christ, but that’s not the whole story. Whenever Paul talks about it, he goes on to say we have been raised with Him too. Not will be raised, have been raised. It is true not just that the old has gone, but also that the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

There is a new life to be lived, and to be resurrected means living it.

The essence of being resurrected

So what does this new life look like? I think there are a few answers. First, it doesn’t look like the old life! For example, if Jesus’ death calls us to reject old concepts of power, empire and authority (which it does!), then living the resurrection means an embrace of humility, submission and – yes – weakness.

We must embrace the values of the kingdom of which we are now citizens. We were not raised to belong to this world, but because we belong to Christ. We must constantly be striving to live in His resurrection, living for all the things His victory achieved. If this sounds similar to the stuff about crucifixion, it’s because they’re two sides of the same coin. Being crucified is a rejection of all that is wrong. Being resurrected is dwelling in all that is right.

Second, being resurrected has to be exciting! Shane Claiborne quips that Christians are well known for believing in life after death, but you’d be forgiven for wondering if we believe in life before death! We have been raised in a way that means we will never die. Jesus’ resurrection shows that God desires life to be lived, not cut short or curtailed. So let’s really live! Jesus meant what He said:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Finally, our lives should be marked by power. Not power in the sense of dominance or position. Nor in the sense that we don’t need to work ourselves. Power in the sense that there is power in the name of Jesus. The power that defeated death lives in us. We will never be defeated, even if these bodies are taken from us. In the book of Acts, the case is made that if the church has power from God, they will be unstoppable (Acts 5:34-39). Well, we do. And we are!

We can certainly expect setbacks, but we can also expect to see things, exciting things, in our lives and our churches and our efforts to further God’s kingdom here on earth. It is the resurrection that marks God’s greatest display of victory and paves the way for new life, and it is through embracing that new life and living in that victory that we too can be a display of God’s great power.

To embody the resurrection is to embrace the new life we have, in all its vibrancy and all its power.

What might that look like?

As before, some non-comprehensive ideas about what this could look like in real life:

  • A commitment to embrace only those values which embody the kingdom of God.
  • Accordingly, a life that is countercultural, confounding and confusing worldly expectations.
  • An excitement and vibrancy in life.
  • Amazing things happening and breakthroughs in our lives and communities in the power of God and in ways that are not natural or down to us.
  • Holding onto things here lightly, because we know we are citizens of a different kingdom.
  • A lack of fear over death, because we know it is not the end of this life, but a continuation of the life we are already living.

Any other ideas? Please, I’d love your thoughts as I try to flesh this out.

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It’s the little things…

Apr 102013

For a quarter of a year now, I have been filming one second of video footage each day to create a video that is about 1.5 minutes long. I’ve been doing it using an app on my phone called “1 Second Everyday” which a friend pointed me to. More information can be found at here.

I have loved this experience. The product (a video, below) is cool enough, but the process is why I’ve loved it. Each day – except the two I missed – I have had to ask the question, ‘What about today would I like to remember?’ And it’s made me realise how many small moments, seemingly insignificant interactions and tiny events there are in life. There are things that happened two months ago I would probably have forgotten about if it weren’t for making this video. There are things I have appreciated doing more because I’ve been doing them with the attitude of ‘this is worth remembering’.

It’s cool!

The little things matter

I’ve also been reading Acts recently. It has some pretty massive events in it. Jesus’ ascension. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. Healing. Miracles. Teaching. Community. Martyrdom. Paul’s conversion. Huge decisions. Journeys. Arguments. Shipwrecks. Paul being hauled up before important men and women. Big moments. Big events. Important times.

We mustn’t forget all of those moments, of course. But as I was reading today, as Paul is under guard waiting for his fate to be determined, this verse jumped out:

‘When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favour to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.’ (Acts 24:27)

When TWO YEARS had passed?! I thought Acts was meant to be this roller-coaster ride of non-stop action. And lots of it is. But it happened over a long period of time, and God was at work during those two years of nothing (followed by a decision to leave Paul exactly where he was) just as much as He was when 3,000 were added to the church after just one sermon (Acts 2:41).

Paul knew that, and he didn’t just sit there during that time. He made use of his involuntary hiatus.

I often think too much about the big things. The events in the life of a church (or my life) that change everything all at once. But in between those epoch-making moments come a million other moments which matter just as much. I need to learn to relish them, to use them, to trust God with them, to really live in them instead of just waiting for the next big thing to happen.

It’s not the big things that make life big. It’s the little things.

And I’m grateful to ‘1 Second Everyday’ for helping me to do remember that.

My Last Three Months:

And now, my video. Enjoy!

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An open email about poverty

Apr 082013
A few weeks ago I wrote some blog posts about a document produced to combat the myths use about poverty in our country (here and here). I am delighted that this document is now part of a campaign by the charity ‘Church Action on Poverty‘.

I have used their website to send an email to my MP, Cheryl Gillan, and would like to urge you to consider doing the same. When I had sent the email, I was asked to pass on this email to ‘a few email contacts in my address book’. I thought posting it here might be better:


Dear friend

Would you take a few moments to ask your MP to read an important report about truth, lies and poverty?

Four major Christian denominations have produced a report The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty. They have sent a copy to every MP in the UK.

This report is important because it shows that common myths about poverty are demonstrably untrue – yet they underpin much thinking about poverty in the UK.  These myths have allowed vulnerable families to be blamed for their poverty, and they pollute the debate around poverty and welfare.

I believe that the issues of poverty and welfare are too important to allow myths and half-truths to influence the political debate. So I emailed my MP to ask them to make sure they read the report, and respond to its contents. 

Could you email your MP too? It only takes a couple of minutes, using . 



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What boat are you in?

Apr 082013

I’ve sailed a number of times now, and each time I’ve been struck by how good an illustration sailing is for all kinds of aspects of the Christian life. So this will be the first of a bunch of posts about sailing!

(I need to admit the ideas behind this first one aren’t my own – I heard them from my pastor.)

You’re a Christian. You’ve committed to living your life for God, serving Him and going His ways instead of your own. You want to be used by Him and get where He wants you to get. But what sort of boat are you traveling in?

Are you in a motorboat?

Maybe you’re in a motorboat. You’ve signed up, you’ve been filled by the Spirit and you can sit back and let God provide the power and momentum so you can do all those things you want to do for Him.

He’s in control – He is God after all – so you can sit back on deck and enjoy the ride, not trying very hard yourself. You can eat cake and let the divine Motor power you on through life. Easy. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you, right? (Philippians 4:13)

Maybe you’ve tried this. Maybe you haven’t. It doesn’t work. We aren’t passengers in the Christian life. We don’t get to sit back and see what God will do. It’s far more exciting than that…

Are you in a rowboat?

So, maybe you need to put the effort in. Maybe you need to provide the strength and energy yourself. God’s not going to do it for you so it’s time to pick up an oar and do it yourself. You’re in a rowboat. As soon as you stop rowing, you stop moving. It’s all down to you.

After all, Paul seemed to be trying pretty hard when he wrote, “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Maybe it’s meant to be hard work. Maybe we’re meant to put in the effort.

It’s certainly true that we have to work at this whole Christian thing, but I’m convinced it’s not all down to us. In fact I think there’s truth in both boats so far. God does provide the power AND we need to work at it. Which is why I think…

You’re in a sailboat!

The Christian life is like sailing (hurray!). There’s huge power out there in the wind, all the energy and power we need to get where we are going. We don’t need to put any extra power in ourselves because it’s all there for us. That’s God. That’s the Spirit dwelling and working in us.

But if we don’t do anything, we won’t get anywhere. We need to hoist the sail. We need to get the sail in the right position. We need to steer things. We need to be aware of all the things that are slowing us down and make major or minor adjustments accordingly. We need to recognise there is a mighty Power available to us and set the conditions properly to harness it.

If a sailor is working against the wind, they will quickly find themselves in trouble. But if they are working with the wind, they can get where they are going fast. When the wind fills the sail, you can feel the whole boat perk up, pick up speed power on through the water. It’s exciting!

That is what we should be aiming at in our walks with God. Not for Him to do all the work for us. Not for us to do all the work for Him. But for us to catch the power and vision of what He’s doing and for that to drive us on.

So, if the five essentials of sailing are balance, trim, sail setting, centreboard and course made good (for non-sailors, these are the five things to get right to ensure the most efficient passage through the water), what might the essentials of our lives as Christians be?

How do we set the conditions to be driven on by God to get where He is leading us? Any thoughts?

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