Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Blue Christmas 2011

This year, alongside the usual Nativity plays and candlelit carol services we are again offering something different. For those who have experienced bereavement, redundancy or loss there is the opportunity to join with others at a “Blue Christmas” church service. Using seasonal music, prayers, reflection and stillness there will be a chance to seek comfort and hope together. There will also be a time to light candles as we remember loved ones, or difficult situations that have caused pain over this last year.  For many people 2011 has been a tough year, and 2012 is looking hard too. We wanted to give people a chance to be honest about how they are feeling this Christmas, and also to reach out for hope and comfort. And we also want to remember that the Christmas story is not just a happy one, it’s about a child being born in difficult circumstances, and into a family that had to flee persecution. It’s a story that has something to say to those of us struggling with difficulty today

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Machine Gun Preacher, my review

An Anthem to the Myth of Redemptive Violence

Gerard Butler stars in (and perhaps equally importantly Exec. Produces) the movie based upon the real life story of Pastor Sam Childers, a drug-addicted biker who finds sobriety and hope by putting his faith in Jesus. Childers, after a mission trip to Uganda where he witnesses some of the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army, becomes involved in fighting for the freedom and safety of orphans and freed child soldiers.

Sam Childers is a real man, but the comments I make here are about the Sam Childers portrayed in the film. I know very little of the story of the real Sam, and so I want to be clear that my response is to the movie, not the man or his ministry. If, however, the real and the realised Sams are one and the same, then, as we say here, if the cap fits...

So, a story about a terrible sinner who has a wonderful conversion, and who then develops a heart for church planting and mission, what’s not to like? Well, quite a lot. You see the gospel that Sam has grasped, that he preaches, and that he models, is no gospel at all. Yes, new life begins with Jesus, as he says, but it is clear that it continues with us alone. With our actions, our best ideas, our violence, yes violence, and lots of it. How does Sam save kids? By killing the bad guys, and the film makes it fairly clear that that’s a good thing. The one character in the film who challenges the notion of redemptive violence is portrayed later as being saved by it – not very subtle. The idea that the gospel might challenge the violence in Sam’s past seems totally absent, as is any sense of how the New Testament has shaped his thinking or action as a believer, a pastor, a missionary. This is a gospel of works, and one where we get to decide what’s best, no matter whose blood gets spilled.

There are positives. The cinematography is wonderful, the soundtrack spot on, and several performances - including Butler’s - are tremendous. There are several well-crafted, truly poignant scenes where the horrific realities of drug addiction, or life for a child in conflict-ridden parts of Africa are presented with a powerful emotional force. But on the whole the film lacks nuance, it lacks a questioning, and the few times that appears, the answers are soulless, and violent, instead of loving and life-affirming. And whereas there may have been some love and concern at the start of his mission, towards the end of this portrayal it has become about something else, about him, his mission, his ability, his guns, his willingness to kill.

I took a friend along with me to see this, who is also a pastor. We talked on the journey home about the lack of accountability, about the easy way Sam began the work on his own, and continued in a solitary way, of how the mission became more important that his own soul, or the children he had set out to help.

In his own words, at the very end of the film Sam asks “if a madman broke into your home and took your kids, and I told you I could get them back, would you really care how I did it?” I’d like to think I would care.  And so, what could have been the movie equivalent of a song of praise for the great acts of God, or a deeply moving outpouring of worship for the love of God that extends our concern beyond the borders of our own family, people and nation ultimately became an anthem, one dedicated to the myth that violence is the way to win peace. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

London Baptist Association announce new Regional Minister (Team Leader)

For a couple of years I was part of LBA, and appreciated immensely the wisdom and leadership of the then team leader of the regional ministry team, Pat Took. She is an outstanding lady, and an amazing ambassador for Jesus, and for Baptist Christians. Her skills, talents and giftings fitted well the needs of the Baptist family in our capital city.

Her retirement created a special opening in the life of our union of churches, and I guess many of who had any kind of interest had been watching to see who might be asked to fill those shoes.

Today the LBA website is announcing the news that Geoffrey Andrews from Perry Rise Baptist Church will be the name brought for consideration at a special assembly of the association early next month.

God who calls and equips,
who leads and inspires
may your Spirit rest on Geoffrey, the LBA
and your people in that great city, Amen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gungor "God is not a white Man"

Loving this video, surreal, trippy, joyful, and a wonderful counter to the dour folks who seem convinced that God hates us!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Your cross is too small

Ok, sorry, I need to get this off my chest.

Listen, you, quit nagging me. You keep telling me to preach The Cross, and that would be great, except when you say that what you really mean is that I should preach your own, quite limited understanding of it.

You see, the problem is this:  your cross is too small.

If you look at the world and see only nameless souls that need to repent, your cross is too small.

If you see people trapped in destructive patterns of behaviour, and think that if they’d only try harder they’d be free, your cross is too small.

If you think it is human activity that impresses the perfectly holy God, your cross is too small.

If you think the life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus can be summed up into a message that says “Come to Jesus or burn in hell”, your cross is too small.

If you look at social exclusion, and think all would be well if only they would repent, but otherwise it’s none of your business, your cross is too small.

If you look at enmity between people groups who are divided by ethnicity, age, access to resources, class, colour or creed and have no idea that the Gospel of Jesus speaks to this directly, your cross is too small.

If your preaching tells women or children that they are second class citizens in the kingdom of God, your cross is too small.

If you consider the broken relationships in your life, and the lives of those around you and merely look forward to the day that you’re in heaven and all will be well, your cross is too small.

If you see spiritual oppression and darkness and wish there was more the church could do, your cross is too small.

If you think freedom and increasing holiness are mere wishful thinking, your cross is too small.

If you think you have to live with that curse, your cross is too small.

If death seems like the end, your cross is too small.

If serving the kingdom, and placing your time and resources at God’s disposal seems like too much bother, your cross is too small.

If you think it’s great to be a servant of God, but there’s no way you could be His child, your cross is too small.

If you think that that societal change and individual repentance are mutually exclusive, or even competing agendas, your cross is too small.

If you think you have no choice but to live with that anxiety, that habit, that awful secret, then your cross is too small.

And if you think that other believers in Jesus who hold a view different from your own narrow one are somehow weaker, less intelligent, less godly or are spiritually poorer than you, your cross is way way too small.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Out of Darkness Cometh Light

That’s the motto of the City of Wolverhampton, and we caught a glimpse of the reality of that today as people responded to last night’s riots.

I have long believed that people of the light overcome darkness by living in the opposite spirit. So, even though I can understand why, I struggle with those who resort to anger, violence, prejudice as a reaction to what we’ve seen in our streets, neighbourhoods, cities, nation.

So, how to live in the opposite spirit? Well, if riots are about violence, we live in a way that brings healing. If looting is about theft and destruction then we live in generosity and set about rebuilding. If the anger and violence is anything at all to do with anguish and a lack of meaning and purpose, then we live as those who have hope in our hearts, and work towards seeing our vision of a better society become a reality.

About 2,500 years ago a wise man, a prophet even, said “seek the peace and prosperity of the city...because if it prospers, you too will prosper”. That's what we did this morning as around 100 people, including our elected representatives and council officials, gathered in solidarity, and in practical action to help shop owners affected by last nights disturbances.

500 years later Jesus taught about living in the opposite spirit. He talked about a kind of godly defiance. “if someone hits your right cheek offer them the left, if they take your outer garments, give them your underwear too, if they make you carry a pack one mile, walk two”. It’s not weakness, it’s a sign of strength, a surge of the free spirit that turns the act of darkness on its head, and provides a space for light to shine.

Last night, a group of people showed their disdain of our city with hammers and kicks, with destruction and theft. This morning a group of people showed their love with brooms and gloves, with healing, generosity and love.

Out of darkness cometh light? Hell yeah! LoveWolves.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Baptist Union of Great Britain President calls for prayers for London and our cities

Pray for the peace of the city, may peace be within your homes and security on your streets. 

Will you join me please in praying for the peace of our cities, and especially for the people of Tottenham. 
Pray for the family and friends of Mark Duggan as they absorb the shock of his violent and premature death- pray that the circumstances of his death may become clear for everyone to see and that those who loved him will have confidence that justice has been done. 

Pray for everyone who has been traumatised by the events of the weekend- the policemen who have been injured, and their families- those who have lost homes and businesses- those who have lost their sense of living in a friendly and safe place. 

Pray for our police, that there will be among them exceptional men and women, able to understand the hopes and fears of all the different individuals and groups they deal with, able to uphold the law with wisdom, integrity and discretion, able to step over prejudice, their own and other people's. 

Pray for entrepreneurs and business people with drive and energy to create sustainable, worthwhile jobs for folk living in Tottenham, and across our country... 

Pray for mothers and fathers to stand steady and faithful at the heart of their families, and offer the disciplines of love, truth and example. May they model how to seek justice without violence. 

Pray for the young, that they will listen to the voices calling them to live courageously and freely, and will turn away from those influences calling them to alienation and victimhood. 

Pray for the churches of Tottenham, and especially our church in the High Road and its minister, Peter George - may they be communities of hope and reconciliation, outposts of God's Kingdom that is coming.
Pray for the future when resources may be scarce, jobs and homes hard to come by, May we be those who demonstrate a genuine concern for our neighbours, the salt that resists the tendency to care only for ourselves, the light that reveals all the many dimensions of well being that do not depend on affluence. 

For the sake of my family and my friends I will say, "peace be within you". Amen 

Pat Took, President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain 
These prayers were written before last night's violence. They will also appear in this week's The Baptist Times

Please pray these prayers for the city of Wolverhampton too. Last night the police station near our church building was attacked and vandalised, and one of the officers cars smashed up. Locally there are many precautions being taken, and rumours about about possible upset later. Please pray for peace in our cities. - JS

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

March of Hope

Here's some footage of the March of Hope in Wolverhampton last weekend.

Approximately 800 (300 more than last year) people gathered and marched from West Park, through the city centre and into St Peter's Square.

There was an atmosphere of exuberance, joy, love and unity.

In this clip you'll see the march arriving into St Peter's Square. The video is nearly 5 mins long because that's how long it took for the marchers to make their way in!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

World Book Night, One million Book Giveaway

So, it's the first World Book Night tonight, and the organisation aims to give away one million books. There are 25 titles being given away, and folks wanted to be part of the process were invited to make contact a few months ago, indicating which book they'd like to give away and why.

I applied, and asked to distribute the book "One Day" by David Nicholls. I'd picked up a copy whilst on holiday a couple of months ago, a friend had suggested it, and said there would be a particular reason I'd like it.

It's a book that is set on July 15th, St Swithin's Day, my birthday, and follows the relationship of two very different kind of people. It wasn't the usual kind of book I'd read, but I found it terrifically moving, very funny, and quite insightful about human relationships, life, and slowly growing older. Here's the blurb from the World Book Night site:

I can imagine you at forty,’ she said, a hint of malice in her voice. ‘I can picture it right now.’ 
He smiled without opening his eyes. ‘Go on then.’ 
15 July 1988. On their last day at Edinburgh University, Emma Morley wakes up next to Dexter Mayhew. She prides herself on her social commitment. He prides himself on his ability to extricate himself from one-night stands. 
This time, however, things get more complicated. They decide to spend the day together. They are completely mismatched. The timing is all wrong. They’re better off as friends. But from that one day grows a complicated friendship; a strange and tangled love story that weaves their disparate lives together.
So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? 
Every year on 15 July we spend a day with Emma and Dexter. From these snapshots we build up a collage of two flawed people, struggling to find their place in the world and working out what they mean to each other. 
One Day is a funny/sad love story spanning twenty years, a book about growing up – how we change, how we stay the same…

Well, I have collected my books, and have 48 to give away. A few folks got wind of this earlier and have bagged a copy, but that means I have at least 45 copies to give away. If you want one then comment on this blog, and include an email address if you don't think I'll have yours. Preference will be given to folks local to Wolverhampton, or those I'll see in the immanent future.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Shahbaz bhatti, the murdered Pakistani minister for minorities issues ex...

Today the terrifically sad news came through that Mr Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Minister for Minorities, a passionate advocate of reform of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, and the only Christian in the cabinet of Pakistan's government has been assassinated.

The video here was recorded recently, and was sent to the BBC to be released in the event of his death.

Tertullian may well have taught that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, and I pray it's true, however I find myself thinking of the voices of those slain for proclaiming their faith mentioned in Revelation 6 as they cry "How long, O Lord.."

Here's a hero of the Church, I ask you to join me in praying for his family, his church and his nation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Big Response in Wolverhampton

I've been posting this information almost everywhere, and have missed my own blog! Ooops...

Please do pray for us tomorrow as more than 70 leaders from across the city and region gather to think of how we might respond to the Big Society agenda.

Leaving aside the politics - and how I feel about the cuts - whatever happens, churches are uniquely placed and may end up picking up the pieces, and caring for the marginalised folks who'll slip through the gaps.