the faith of fear

This quote from a guy who studied church planting in order to apply it to the Chinese context made me giggle. But also, wow, imagine if when we preached people scared that they might be converted…

“The air of expectation pervades all the accounts of St Paul’s preaching. Everywhere we are made to recognise, not only that St Paul expected to make converts, but that others expected it also. This accounts for the opposition which his preaching created. People were afraid of his preaching, and fear is a form of expectation: it is a form of faith. St Paul himself was inspired with the faith of hope: he inspired others with the faith of fear. Everywhere he was surrounded by an atmosphere of faith.”
— Roland Allen, Missionary Methods

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poverty

Ladies and gentlemen, I am in Asia! Landed in Singapore today; heading to Hong Kong to hang out with some exciting church planters tomorrow, whom my church in Coventry sent out last summer. (As their ex-international student worker I take complete responsibility for all of their wonderful skunk works and dabblings 😉 I’m really looking forward to spending time with those great guys again, embracing some divine appointments with other people, getting insights into Hong Kong culture, eating amazing food, and generally reconnecting with this part of the world which is also a part of me, having spent two-and-a-bit years of my childhood there.

Singapore is hot stuff; this place is buzzing. The malls are shiny and the eateries never sleep. Every time I return, the ladies look skinnier and better groomed. (The men, well, it’s still hard to get them to care — phew — but they have an ever-increasing plethora of personal grooming products too.) Your next door neighbour, nephew in school, and pet rabbit all have iPhones. And iPads. And iPad minis. (And they will beat you at every game you can find to play on them…) Most everyone that I can see out on the street has cash to spare and a nice big car. And a mental list of things that they want to next spend on. A good friend of mine, who worked in government here before I met her, once said that the overall economic policy direction of Singapore for the next decade or so was approximately to turn the country into a “playground for the rich”.

I took a vow of simplicity back in July 2011, which is a 21st-century update on the monastic vow of poverty. Not out of some sadistic ascetic desire to hurt myself, but because I believe there is something about the simple life that cuts through the noise of the world and lets the still, small voice of the Spirit sing through. And in this crazy busy spinning world, in this life, I know that I need that to anchor me. I need You.

“Poverty is indeed the strenuous life, — without brass bands or uniforms or hysteric popular applause or lies or circumlocutions; and when one sees the way in which wealth-getting enters as an ideal into the very bone and marrow of our generation, one wonders whether the revival of the belief that poverty is a worthy religious vocation may not be the transformation of military courage, and the spiritual reform which our time stands most in need of. Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient realisation of poverty could have meant; the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying our way by what we are and not by what we have, the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly, — the more athletic trim, in short, the fighting shape.”
— William James, first read in Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
— Jesus, in Mark 8.35-36

Wondering if this is a kind of watchword to my generation in Singapore and if so, what God is telling me to do about it. I feel a change coming on…

How about you? What does living a life of simplicity look like for you?

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running to God instead of from Him

One of the key revelations that helps me to keep on coming back to God when I have failed is that He still loves me even in my weakness and my mess. Even more, that He is deeply moved by my pathetic, diluted little movements of love toward Him, full of mixed motives and distractions. I may feel ashamed, but He is not going to shame me. I may feel fearful, but He is not going to hurt me. I may feel guilty, but He is not going to punish me.

“Our natural tendency is, when we fail, to retreat and to run from Him. But the revelation of His heart gives us confidence to run to Him with an open spirit, an open heart. It causes us to have confidence in our heart that we can stand in the love of God. That God receives us with open arms and He doesn’t see us as a hypocrite. That He actually receives our love as genuine even when it is weak. Many sincere believers seek the Lord […] they love Him, but they seek Him and worship Him guarded in a closed heart, with a heart of condemnation. In the background of their worship, their prayer and ministry, there is an ongoing dialogue: “Lord, please! If You’ll forgive me one more time, if You’ll give me one more chance!” And actually, they are pursuing the Lord with a guarded heart in many ways. The message of the Song of Solomon, the message from Genesis to Revelation, causes us to open up, to run to Him instead of from Him, and to have confidence to stand before God in love — confidence that He loves us and that He takes our love seriously.”
— Mike Bickle, Song of Songs series Part 3

“…while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him…”
— Luke 15.20

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
— Hebrews 4.16

I know all this now at a head level, but the thing is, I still find it surprisingly hard to hear. You would think that surely a message of such grace and love would be eagerly drunk in, but somehow my heart still clings to its old ideas — that I deserve to be punished, that I haven’t measured up, that I need to earn. Some days (like today), it takes nearly the whole day to sit my ‘earning-ness’ down enough to hear the voice of my Father as a voice of love. But He’s very determined and little by little, His love is getting through.

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risky business

Here’s a thought for your week: where, in your life right now, are you living in such a way that if God doesn’t show up, you will fall flat on your face? Where is the risk in your life that opens the way for the divine to manifest – so that, when the impossible has happened, you will know it was Jesus?

An older English lady I know used to say to her children, “only boring people are bored”. If I feel not very stirred or motivated by my life, is it just possible that this is because I’ve gotten too cosy with a low-risk existence? Have I just gotten better at taking risks so that the ones I once considered exciting are now just another mundane part of my routine?

Or, more invitingly, what am I going to lay on the line yet again, but in a higher-stakes way than I have ever before done, so that God can be real to me — my money? My time? My reputation with people I respect? What is the reality of encountering God coming through for me worth?

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buying our way out of failure

“The ‘American gospel’ of achievement, affluence, and success is so dominant and universally acknowledged that even in Europe a large portion of the population of lifelong churchgoers have a value system in no way significantly different from this. On the contrary, this attitude is carried over into the spiritual domain. Religion is increasingly becoming a sort of spiritual consumer product. The cross, a symbol of failure, no longer plays any role, because there is no way to turn ‘the word of the cross’ into a success story. The cross means that Christ tasted the defeat of death to the full and drank the bitter cup to the dregs. The cup does not pass Christ by. He has to taste it. A society bent on success can’t comprehend this. Middle-class culture avoids failure and defeat. We are probably the first generation in world history that has bought our way out of the experience of failure with the help of prosperity and is now doing everything to maintain its financial status.”

— Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective

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I prefer

“‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind.’ This is the first Commandment.

The problem is, how to love God? We are only too conscious of the hardness of our hearts, and in spite of all that religious writers tell us about feeling not being necessary, we do want to feel and so know that we love God.

‘Thou wouldst not seek Him if thou hadst not already found Him,” Pascal says, and it is true too that you love God if you want to love Him. One of the disconcerting facts about the spiritual life is that God takes you at your word. Sooner or later one is given a chance to prove his love. The very word ‘diligo’, the Latin word used for ‘love’, means ‘I prefer’. It was all very well to love God in His works, in the beauty of His creation which was crowned for me by the birth of my child. Forster had made the physical world come alive for me and had awakened in my heart a flood of gratitude. The final object of this love and gratitude was God. No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”

— Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

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motivating people

“Expending energy trying to motivate people is largely a waste of time […] if you have the right people on the bus, they will be self-motivated. The real question then becomes: how do you manage in such a way as not to de-motivate people?”
— Jim Collins, Good to Great

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