Most people seem to think that the Christian church was born on Pentecost day in Jerusalem, as described in the book of Acts. Ten days after Jesus had risen to Heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out on over a hundred disciples and they started to speak new languages (Acts 2:1-4). After Peter had powerfully preached the Gospel, 3,000 were saved and baptised and suddenly there was a church in Jerusalem, in which everyone had everything in common, miracles abounded and people were converted daily (Acts 2:42-47).
The Arctic is alarmingly warm this year, in fact, 20 degrees hotter than usual. What scientists have been warning us against for decades is becoming reality. If nothing is done, we might see an enormous climate catastrophe that would kill and displace hundreds of millions.
WHEN Jesus was on the cross he cried out: “It is finished” (John 19:30)
The work that the Father had sent him to do, he had done. And this work was to show us how to live, to show us the kingdom of God, to show us how to live in right relationship with our Father and each other, to show us the beauty of living to serve, to show us the power and glory and healing of the reign of God.
I was grabbed recently by something in a piece of literature put through my front door. Unusual, I know. It was a prayer diary for the Middle East. In it I found a prayer for government officials to return to displaced peoples equality, dignity and responsibility. Lack of these things, or violent suppression thereof, in many countries is the very reason many refugees are fleeing in their droves. And it really got me thinking.
Since the 70s we’ve been called Jesus Fellowship. On April 7th 1987 we took on Jesus Army as our second, parallel identity, a public brand under which we’d reach out to the UK for Jesus. This post is all about names.
Why do names matter? Names shape culture and values, they help form first impressions. Choosing a good name for a church is no quick fix to changing a culture, but what organisations choose to call themselves carries weight both in gathering members around a vision and communicating to outsiders.
It is an exciting time for the church, new people are coming and finding Jesus and the promise of Isaiah is once again fulfilled in our age:
“Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, and your daughters will be carried in the arms.”
One thing that I’ve always loved with this church is the bold proclamation of Jesus and how we make that clearly and publicly visible. ‘Jesus Army’ is written on vehicles, on flags; some of us wear red crosses or even colourful Jesus jackets; our social centres are called Jesus Centres where the cross is the first thing you see. As someone told me some years ago: “We’re loud and proud!”
And we should be.
The comedy troupe Monty Python once performed a sketch called The Four Yorkshiremen. Four old rich gents sit on a fancy veranda, puffing cigars. One after another they start telling stories about how difficult their upbringings were, each story more ludicrous than the last. Finally, the fourth Yorkie finishes his story with the crowning phrase “And you try and tell the young people of today that, they won’t believe you!”
It’s fair to say that we live in a cynical age. Everything is questioned, picked apart and doubted. But it’s no wonder. This past week or so has seen the nation and the government divided, leading to a bubbling over of hate and prejudice, with accusations flying from both sides.
It’s been said that the longest journey is the distance from head to heart. Actually I think this is wrong, it’s quite a short distance; but the road only goes one way and it’s in the other direction. Christianity, our faith, is an exploration of the heart not the head. God is love, so how could it be anything else. The head can understand what the heart finds, and it can guide the search, but you just can’t make your heart believe what the mind thinks unless you really find it.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (James 1:22-24)
Here we can see how closely doing, hearing and identity are linked. Sometimes we just need to be taken back to the basics – let’s hear what God’s saying and let’s do it.
A sure way to get an idea of what is really special to God, is to look at how much energy Satan puts into tearing things apart. For example: look at communities, cities. God loves cities – they are places where people of all nationalities come together. So they are under attack – any city in the world you’re going to find full of all kinds of evil and corruption. Another example of something that’s close to God’s heart is listening. Listening is so important to God. We live in the information age and our capacity to listen is under attack. Listening requires so much discipline.
At school, we would often hold debates in class, where some people would be assigned to argue “for” the topic, and others “against”. After each side had voiced their opinions, we were asked to switch sides and argue from the opposite point of view.
I remember finding this quite difficult, as sometimes it meant I was holding forth about something I didn’t really agree with, but thinking back on it now, I think it does teach something valuable. When you have to look at both sides of an argument, it gives you a bit of balance and helps you understand where the other person is coming from, even if you still don’t agree with them.