“Corinth: Division”

We kickstarted our series on 1 Corinthians yesterday morning at Metro Christian Centre, Bury.

I spent some time giving some important background on how a cultural obsession with status was behind the divisions within the church at Corinth, and on why Paul emphasised that the church needed to reflect the cruciform nature of Christ.

If you follow the link below, it will take you to our YouTube channel, where you can check out the message:

https://youtu.be/IqQT4zGqKEY

Feel free to Subscribe to keep posted on further episodes in the series, and please check out our other series.

Ciao for now!

Tristan

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Songs For The Road: Psalm 129, The Confidence Of The Oppressed

As I shared on my social media accounts recently, at Metro Christian Centre we’re journeying through the Psalms of Ascent. Last Sunday (20/5/18), I covered Psalm 129, which you can listen to on our YouTube podcast.

Sadly though, a few minutes were clipped from the beginning of the recording, so below are my notes for those who are interested. Please be aware that I’ve not done a thorough edit of these, and there were some sentiments shared on Sunday morning that are not noted below (so the YouTube clip is still worth listening to).

________

“From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me. Let all Israel repeat this: From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me, but they have never defeated me.

My back is covered with cuts, as if a farmer had plowed long furrows. But the Lord is good; he has cut me free from the ropes of the ungodly.

May all who hate Jerusalem be turned back in shameful defeat.

May they be as useless as grass on a rooftop, turning yellow when only half grown, ignored by the harvester, despised by the binder.

And may those who pass by refuse to give them this blessing: “The Lord bless you; we bless you in the Lord’s name.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭129 (‭NLT‬‬)

SONGS OF THE OPPRESSED

I sometimes pray the psalms in my devotional times, but there’s some that I struggle to pray—for various reasons.

Some of them are Psalms exactly like Psalm 129. And I struggle to pray words like these because it feels wrong of me to import into these words my current issues in life. I’ll be honest—and hopefully I’m not just speaking for myself—but for me to read/pray the words of this psalm as my own seems almost sacrilegious, or like I’m taking it in vain, because I feel that I am disrespecting and trivialising the history, emotions and gravity of the author’s experience of suffering.

So when I come to Psalms like this, I try to silence and stop myself from importing my self into this song. And instead I need to approach the Psalm as someone who is listening to the heart’s cry and pain of the others who are praying through these words.

[NB: It reminds me of our prayer night for Congo, at the start of this year—I struggled to pray that night. Not because of a lack of language, or concern. But as I was praying, I became aware that I was praying alongside people who had experienced the injustice we were praying about first hand. So there came a point during the night, when I felt the Spirit prompting me shut up and start listening—to listen firstly to the cries of those around me, and to secondly also hear their confidence in God as they prayed. It’s not that I began to spectate—but that my participation moved from me attempting to vocalise a suffering I’ve never encountered, and instead became about hearing and being formed by the hearts of others as they express themselves to God]

I’m saying all this because I’ve wrestled with this Psalm this week—or, maybe the real truth of it is that this Psalm has wrestled with me. And the reason for this personal discomfort is this; there is an experience captured within these words that I cannot relate to—it’s an experience that is foreign to me.

This is a song about oppression. Or to say that another way; this is a Song of the Oppressed.

And with the exception of a few us, most of us have no idea what oppression feels like. Yes, we go through hard times—we do experience pain, heartache, and suffering. But for most of us, because we are a part of the dominate culture in our society (and in the world), even when we do experience those things, we still retain many of our freedoms and a sense of dignity, along with having access to support and help.

However, for a good number of people around the globe, they find themselves in a perpetual state of being trampled over and being left in a powerless place—with no freedoms or assistance or dignity…

This is their voice coming through this Psalm—not ours.

To be even clearer—the imagery in this Psalm is not describing having a bad day, or about us personally going through a rough patch. It can often be easy for us, especially as individuals in the Western-hemisphere, to come to this Psalm after having a rough day and to reduce the weight of it to being about our private, personal issues; because, understandably, they are what’s on our mind when we pray.

But having a “bad day”, or even encountering difficulty, does not, and can never compare to the language this Psalm uses to describe the nature of being dehumanised, oppressed and enslaved! The car failing to start, or the boiler breaking-down, or that person not saying something nice to me today, or the pressure of work, or the noisy neighbour, or the amount of homework we’ve got to do etc.—none of that can be described as being akin to having a back full of deep gouges that have been ploughed into it through oppression.

We cannot, and should not, trivialise this song.

The truth is, many of us will come to this Psalm as an outsider, of sorts, and so we need to listen and to learn from it, instead of appropriating its language and making it about our private, “first-world” problems.

That’s not to say that there isn’t any comfort to be had from this Psalm for those of us who face problems—there is comfort here! However, there’s also challenge, because of the example of faith that is presented here.

TWO STRANDS IN FOUR (First Half of the Psalm)

If we look at the first four verses, we’ll notice that there are two melodies of thought that weave together within them;

One melody is that there’s a sorrowful acknowledgment of the injustice that has or is being experienced. The psalmist talks of being persecuted and uses this vivid imagery of being trodden over and having deep troughs cut into their back like they were a field being ploughed. These are metaphors of slavery; of being whipped/scourged and bound. And this isn’t just as a one-time occurrence—but there has been a repetitive cycle of oppression throughout their lifetime. As the Psalmist writes at the opening of this song, “From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me—Let Israel now say—from my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me”.

It’s worth pointing out the obvious here, btw—the composer of this song is not writing about themselves personally. This is a communal and generational song. What I mean by that is that within a few verses the writer has condensed the entire Old Testament story of people of Israel; a story full of slavery, captivity, exile and oppression under Empire’s like Egypt or Babylon, or even under their own repressive leadership. Their story has been full of hostility.

And yet, along with this first melody, there’s also a second melody of thought; there is this proclamation of God’s faithfulness. After each line of hardship, the Psalmist inserts a huge but:

“They’ve oppressed us since we were conceived… BUT they’ve never finished us off! They’ve cut long furrows down our backs—they’ve trampled on us, and abused us, and enslaved us, and dehumanised us—BUT God is good! He has cut the cords that the oppressors bound us with.”

This strikes me as odd—crazy almost—because you’d naturally think that these two melodies of thought cannot harmonise; you would think that these ideas would be at odds. Suffering as slaves doesn’t sound like God is being faithful, does it?

I know the Psalm speaks of chains/cords being cut and there being freedom—but Israel’s story is full of being liberated, and then being put in bondage again. The pilgrims that are singing this song also know that, as a people, they’ve had to endure prolonged, repetitive experiences of enslavement. Their history is not full of quick answers, or speedy escapes—or even long durations of peace and tranquillity.

And yet there arises this extra-ordinary confidence in the commitment and compassion of God.

I believe there’s two reasons for this confidence . . .

Firstly: They know that God’s plans and purposes are bigger than their own individual lives and their own generation.

I’m saying that because it’s crucial to understand that when the psalmist writes that “they’ve never been able to finish me off”—the me isn’t personal. It’s corporate—it’s an “us”, but it isn’t just about “us” now, either. Within the Bible’s story plenty of “mes” in Israel’s history were finished off, quite literally. People did die in wars and invasion, slavery and captivity—and in horrible ways.

So there’s a bigger identity here that the people singing this are including themselves within; they are the people that God has chosen to be vehicle of God’s blessing to the world.

And through their suffering as part of that larger identity—not just a personal “I”—they’ve seen that the promises of God outlast all oppressors; they’re confident that nothing and no one can stop God from achieving the Divine dream for the world! Nothing can separate God from his love.

Secondly: (the second reason for this confidence is this…)

As they’ve experienced oppression, they have learnt that God doesn’t leave them, but that God remains with them (in the suffering) and that God identifies with them in it.

In other words, they are still God’s people—God hasn’t swapped sides and is now with the oppressors. And as God’s people, when they are oppressed, God somehow also shares in that oppression—God’s not behind it, or the cause of it—but God goes through it with them; God allows himself to also be enslaved. (I do explain this a little more on the podcast).

Despite the oppression—or rather, as a direct consequence of their prolonged exposure to oppression—they have encountered a God who suffers with them and who can be trusted. Their faith in God then, is not a product of some blind-leap, or wishful thinking on their behalf, or even as a result their own determination and will-power to be faithful. On the contrary; their stick-ability to the things of God—their perseverance, their continual trust in God—is the result of God’s own faithfulness towards God’s purpose and towards those who are called to be an expression of that purpose. (the Apostle Paul writes something similar in Romans 8)

THE “GODS” HAVE ABANDONED US

From the first half of this Psalm, I find this example of faith extremely challenging!

I think I have faith; I act like I know what it means to persevere—and to persevere with putting my trust in God, and displaying that trust through my allegiance to God’s way—but the truth is, I haven’t got a clue.

Because in the reality of my non-oppressed life, my confidence in God often does hinge on such little, trivial things! And often, instead of considering myself as part of an identity larger than my “self” and my time—I’m often too consumed with my own little world.

My faith can be the very opposite of what this Psalm portrays. It centres around myself, it’s more interested in comfort than in God’s purposes, and it’s very short-sighted.

So when my little world doesn’t work out—I struggle to persevere with God just as a result of “first world” issues. There’s something about God’s character that my faith has to glean from those who have experienced oppression.

I’ll be honest; I don’t find myself singing a Song of the Oppressed—a song which continues to speak of a strong confidence in God, even in the midst of a prolonged powerless state. Often, I find myself whining along to the “Complaints Of the Uncomfortable”; where I moan at God because life isn’t running as smoothly as I would want it to be. So when I feel that life is uncomfortable, I wrongly assume that God isn’t faithful, and I excuse my own lack of commitment by choosing to believe that God abandoned me first.

That said, maybe there is some truth that we need to recognise in this sense of abandonment?

Maybe this sense of being forsaken is valid and real, because we have been forsaken—but not by God, but by the false god’s, or false images of God, that we have really put are confidence in?

Maybe, we need do need to hit rock bottom, so that the idols we have worshipped are exposed and shown to be useless?

The god of appetites, the god of our materialism and consumption. The god’s of our fame and self-inflated importance. The god of “self”; the god’s that tell us that our own strength, will-power, autonomy and talent can get us through—maybe when we suffer, it’s these “gods” that are shown to be worthless.

Our falls, our struggles, and our sufferings can provide us with a moment of clarity, and if we concede to the fall—if we stop spitting our dummy out because our other gods haven’t come into rescue us—then maybe we’ll recognise that the real God is still present. If we choose to be mature in those times of crisis, God might be able to make use of those moments and show us that it’s our idols that are deaf, blind and dumb—and that in those moments we can also realise that God is with us, suffering alongside us, in a way that won’t necessarily bring escape, but that will bring us through.

The challenge of this Psalm is to develop a more mature response and perspective on our experiences, and to stop acting like God has no sense of commitment. It’s “I” that has no sense of commitment.

BLESSING & CURSES (THE SECOND HALF)

But it’s not the only challenge here; the second half of this Psalm also challenges me.

The Psalmist is understandably angry at the injustice they’ve experienced—their anger is valid! Just because they know God is with them, doesn’t mean that they have to be happy about the pain they’ve endured.

And so, in this second part, the Psalmist vents that anger towards those who have tried to oppress them. Their prayer is that they will become fruitless and their schemes will be put to shame.

In other words, they, like most of us, do not want to see oppression prosper; they want it to end.

What humbles me here is that they don’t desire revenge; they don’t seek for their oppressors to be destroyed or to come to a violent end. And yet, sadly, they don’t seek to see them blessed either.

Their anger is justifiable—and, again it’s admirable that they don’t wish to see their oppressors killed—but they still, even as victims of oppression, don’t go far enough to put oppression to an end.

They’re taking a step in the right direction, but they haven’t finished the journey yet. They still desire to see their oppressors being despised, and ignored, and treated as worthless. But that’s oppression, too.

If we really want to see God’s plans and purposes come to pass, if we are seeking to be a part of the expression of that, if we desire to see all oppression cease, then this Psalm doesn’t take us far enough … because despising others and viewing others as worthless will just repeat the cycle of oppression, and those dehumanising attitudes towards others are normally the foundations of the bigger atrocity’s, like slavery and genocide, that follow after.

As a follower of Jesus, I believe that Jesus takes us further than this Psalm. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke), we’re instructed to love our enemies. We’re told to not return their curses with our curses, and we are also instructed to not withhold blessing.

Jesus tells us bless those who curse us; we are, to use the words of verse 8 of this Psalm, to say “we bless you in the name of the Lord”.

This is also a challenge to my faith—often, I want pay back.

Again, anger is justified. But if we want justice, then it’s not about returning tit for tat. God’s Justice is about putting things right. God’s dream, as commissioned through Abraham and realised in Christ, is to see all the nations blessed.

God wants to rescue those who are oppressed, but God also wants to save all the oppressors.

And I don’t know about you, but it takes a lot of faith to believe that. I have to be committed to something much larger than just me and my own tribe. My own identity has to be baptised and taken up into the purposes of God to be able to persevere in an endeavour like that.

This Sunday is the celebration of Pentecost; when we remember God’s Spirit marrying itself to human flesh. Jesus had promised his disciples that the Spirit would imbue them with the power to live out God’s vision.

As Pentecostal’s we can often reduce this power to just being about healing or gifts, but it is so much more. This is about being empowered to love as God loves; being empowered to love our enemies; to bless them and not dehumanise them. We need this power if we are ever to see oppression cease.

Prayer:

May all our false gods—the other things we put our hopes in—be shown to be worthless and useless.

May we realise that they are as useless as the grass on a rooftop—grass that the harvesters ignore and that even the animals don’t eat.

May we, in midst of it all, come to an understanding that it is you, O God, who remains faithful, Who never forsakes us, And who’s love can never be separated from us.

May our commitment to you grow from a revelation of your faithfulness to us.

But May we also recognise your unswerving commitment to others—even our enemies. And may we realise that you also desire to save them from the malign ideas and drives that have possessed them.

May we seek to be a blessing to this world around us; a blessing that speaks of your love for all.

My Favourite Reads of 2017, Writing Update and Scribe

It’s been a hectic twelve months, and the forthcoming year looks to be as full.

During 2017 I’ve spent much of my non-working hours grafting away on the first draft of my second book, Living The Dream? By the beginning of December that draft was in the proverbial bag, and it’s currently with some of my compatriots for preliminary review/endorsement. My hope for Living The Dream? is to seek out a literary agent and pursue a more traditional publishing route. So there’s still a long, long road ahead. But hopefully, by the close of this year, it’s material form won’t be too far away.

Surprisingly though, the beginning of this year finds me working on my Opus one again (Love: Expressed). At the back end of 2017 I was blessed to receive an unexpected invitation to contribute to an excellent online Biblical Studies/Discipleship resource called Scribe. So for the next few weeks I’ll have my hands full with breaking Love: Expressed’s chapters down into bite-sized chunks for some video modules that will be filmed in February.

Scribe itself will be launching it’s platform this summer, and will provide a wide range of free, online courses which will bring robust training to the church in an accessible form that aims to deepen one’s understanding of faith and enhance the journey of discipleship. It’s ecumenical in its approach, hosting a range of voices and traditions. And it’s video format will be perfect for personal study and also for group use in Church house groups etc. As soon as it launches, I’ll let you know.

So watch this space, as 2018 seems to be full of new and unexpected roads for me!

For obvious reasons then, I’ve not really had the chance to do much blogging this year. To be honest, if I do get the chance to write, I’d rather be writing a book than a blog.

Sorry 😦

But I’ve still been determined as ever to read and study as much as I can. And my reading this year has taken me to some fascinating and sobering territories.

Which makes this specific post all the more difficult, because I’ve read many great books this year – many that I’ve given 5* reviews and shouted about on my social media platforms.

Trying to to select a few favourites from a host of favourites has been a headache, to say the least. So I feel it necessary to say a BIG THANK YOU to all the authors whose works I have immersed myself in over the past twelve months. And for the sake of those books that haven’t made it on here, please check out my Goodreads.com account! (Also, if you’re on Goodreads, feel free to send me a friend request).

In no particular order then, here’s my favourite reads of 2017 (but if you’re after a favourite, it would certainly be Claudia Rankine!);

[Please note, instead of putting my own thoughts here (which can be found in the review sections of Amazon and Goodreads etc.), I’ve provided the books own synopsis/endorsement.]

Enjoy and explore!

Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, by Jonathan Sacks.

Despite predictions of continuing secularisation, the twenty-first century has witnessed a surge of religious extremism and violence in the name of God.

In this powerful and timely book, Jonathan Sacks explores the roots of violence and its relationship to religion, focusing on the historic tensions between the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Drawing on arguments from evolutionary psychology, game theory, history, philosophy, ethics and theology, Sacks shows how a tendency to violence can subvert even the most compassionate of religions. Through a close reading of key biblical texts at the heart of the Abrahamic faiths, Sacks then challenges those who claim that religion is intrinsically a cause of violence, and argues that theology must become part of the solution if it is not to remain at the heart of the problem.

This book is a rebuke to all those who kill in the name of the God of life, wage war in the name of the God of peace, hate in the name of the God of love, and practise cruelty in the name of the God of compassion.

For the sake of humanity and the free world, the time has come for people of all faiths and none to stand together and declare: Not In God’s Name.

The War on Women: And the Brave Ones who Fight Back, by Sue Lloyd-Roberts

In 1973, Sue Lloyd-Roberts joined ITN as a news trainee and went on to be one of the UK’s first video-journalists to report from the bleak outposts of the Soviet Union. Travelling as a tourist, she also gained access to some of the world’s most impenetrable places like China, Tibet and Burma. During her 40-year-long career she witnessed the worst atrocities inflicted on women across the world. But in observing first-hand the war on the female race she also documented their incredible determination to fight back.

The War on Women brings to life the inconceivable and dangerous life Sue led. It tells the story of orphan Mary Merritt who, age sixteen, instead of being released from the care of nuns was interned by them in a Magdalen Laundry and forced to work twelve hours a day six days a week, without pay, for over a decade. She gives voice to Maimouna, the woman responsible for taking over her mother’s role as the village female circumciser in The Gambia and provides a platform for the 11-year-old Manemma, who was married off in Jaipur at the age of six. From the gender pay gap in Britain to forced marriage in Kashmir and from rape as a weapon of war to honour killings, Sue has examined humankind’s history and takes us on a journey to analyse the state of women’s lives today. Most importantly she acts as a mouthpiece for the brave ones; the ones who challenge wrongdoing; the ones who show courage no matter how afraid they are; the ones who are combatting violence across the globe; the ones who are fighting back.

Sue sadly died in 2015, shortly after writing this book, today she is widely recognised as one of the most acclaimed television journalists of her generation. This book is the small tribute to the full and incredible life she lived and through it these women’s voices are still being heard.

Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine

In this moving, critical and fiercely intelligent collection of prose poems, Claudia Rankine examines the experience of race and racism in Western society through sharp vignettes of everyday discrimination and prejudice, and longer meditations on the violence – whether linguistic or physical – which has impacted the lives of Serena Williams, Zinedine Zidane, Mark Duggan and others.

Citizen weaves essays, images and poetry together to form a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in an ostensibly ‘post-race’ society.

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News, by Brian Zahnd

God s attitude toward you is one of unwavering affection. You have nothing to fear from God. Rather than constantly being disappointed by our failures and mistakes, God looks with unconditional love upon all his sons and daughters. Even the prodigals.

“Brian Zahnd walks boldly into the violent propensity of so much Christian theology and preaching that has wounded so many people, a propensity in which he himself has participated. He not only shows what bad, irresponsible theology this is, pervasive as it continues to be; he exposes the ‘hackneyed trope of dispensationalism’ that feeds so much worldly violence and that authorizes so much wounding. But more than that, in his poetic mode, Zahnd invites to an alternative that is grounded not in ‘Biblicism’ but in the reality of Jesus who embodies the inexplicable love of God that passes all human understanding. Zahnd writes as one emancipated to evangelical joy. He invites his readers to walk with him into such a God-given vocation that honors the God of love and that loves the neighbor.”

–Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus (Penguin Classics Edition), by Mary Shelly

A terrifying vision of scientific progress without moral limits, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein leads the reader on an unsettling journey from the sublime beauty of the Swiss alps to the desolate waste of the arctic circle. This Penguin Classics edition is edited with an introduction and notes by Maurice Hindle.

Obsessed with the idea of creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material with which to fashion a new being, shocking his creation to life with electricity. But this botched creature, rejected by its creator and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy Frankenstein and all that he holds dear. Mary Shelley’s chilling gothic tale was conceived when she was only eighteen, living with her lover Percy Shelley near Lord Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. It would become the world’s most famous work of Gothic horror, and Frankenstein’s monster an instantly-recognisable symbol of the limits of human creativity.

Based on the third edition of 1831, this volume contains all the revisions Mary Shelley made to her story, as well as her 1831 introduction and Percy Shelley’s preface to the first edition. This revised edition includes as appendices a select collation of the texts of 1818 and 1831 together with ‘A Fragment’ by Lord Byron and Dr John Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre: A Tale’.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within us and a Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong

Your body is teeming with tens of trillions of microbes. It’s an entire world, a colony full of life.

In other words, you contain multitudes.

They sculpt our organs, protect us from diseases, guide our behaviour, and bombard us with their genes. They also hold the key to understanding all life on earth.

In I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong opens our eyes and invites us to marvel at ourselves and other animals in a new light, less as individuals and more as thriving ecosystems.

You’ll never think about your mind, body or preferences in the same way again.

Some brief thoughts on being Spirit-filled (Part 2);

The Holy Spirit is not merely a conduit of gifts, like a postman delivering parcels.

The Spirit is the source of divine life within us, enabling us to be the vehicle of God’s expression into the world. And the emphasis of that vehicle is not about abilities or spectacle, but about being more human; I.e image bearers of the divine.

That’s not to say that the gifts aren’t important, but they are not primary.

Loving as Christ loved, being transformed into his likeness, bearing his humanity; this is the primary evidence.

This evidence isn’t an individual, private movement and manifestation either. It’s corporate and corporeal. It’s body, and can only ever be. It’s shown in a love for one another; our neighbour and our enemies.

The Gifts of the Spirit aren’t given for spectacle, but for the building up and the movement of the body of Christ.

If we’re are not moving towards loving neighbour and enemy, as Christ did, but we’re full of spectacle, then maybe we’ve took a wrong turn.

Maybe, the one who is truly “Baptised in the Spirit” is the one who is willing to pour out their life for other, not the one who can speak in tongues?

Further to that, maybe the gifts only ever function fully as we pour ourselves out for others?

The Spiritual Gifts are always about other, not me.

They’re about Christ’s body, not personal progression.

They’re about healing humanity.

They are ‘Charis-mata’; grace gifts. They are not God’s endorsement of individuals or congregations, nor trophies, nor medals of honour

The gifts of the Spirit were given to aid us in the praxis of the Spirit’s fruit. But the gifts aren’t the only or primary means of praxis.

There is also serving, visiting, comforting, listening, speaking for the voiceless, meeting needs, forgiving, justice…and so much more.

It’s not about being “gifted” in the Spirit, but living in the Spirit of Christ.

So when individuals complain that the gifts are not exercised enough in a church meeting, I wonder. Because the reality is that it isn’t about whether we exercise the gifts, but about us excercising the life of Christ amongst us.

Even as Pentecostals, shouldn’t we worry more about justice and mercy etc. than tongues etc?

Surely the absence of human flourishing is more of a marker for the absence of the Spirit’s work in our churches, over gifts?

I.e. Is the church Christ-like internally and externally?

Great, we speak in tongues, but do we love one another? What are we like with the marginalised? Do we play at empire building, or are we an example of Kingdom ethics?

To paraphrase Paul, “Great, so you can speak in tongues! But without love, we’re still a nuisance to humanity and not a blessing” (1 Cor 13:1)

Maybe, when someone says the Spirit doesn’t “operate” here anymore, I should reply, “have we stopped learning to love as God loves?”

Our division (and biased) for one movements of the Spirit over another is therefore unbalanced, and maybe unhealthy, as we can end up looking for spectacle instead of seeking to be Christ-like.

We always want a supernatural community, when we should equally be desiring a natural one.

Some brief thoughts on being Spirit-filled (Part 1)

As a Pentecostal, I was taught that being Spirit-filled was about tongues, words of knowledge, prophecy etc.

However, I’ve learnt this isn’t the case at all.

I’m not a cessationist, but Spirit-filled is more evident in loving others, walking humbly & living prophetically.

Being Spirit-filled is about learning from and exhibiting the life of Christ in our communities, not being able to say “Kassandar” et al.

It’s possible to speak in tongues, as the Apostle Paul tells us, and still be a menace to society.

It’s possible to make prophetic sounds but still be resistant to the prophetic orchestrations of the Spirit’s movement towards other.

In short, I couldn’t care less about the gifts you excercise or excel in.

If you’re racist, sexist, supremacist, xenophobic etc. you’re not Spirit-filled.

If you’re moved by Prejudice, Hate, Greed, Ignorance and a desire for control, you’re not Spirit-filled.

If you’re moved by compassion, mercy and humility out of your inward-looking perspective and toward other, now we’re getting somewhere.

I’m speaking to myself here, too.

I long for the Spirit to move. But I long for the Spirit to move us towards the marginalised, the oppressed, and the broken, not just to a greater number of people speaking in tongues.

I long for the Spirit to move us toward creating community; that the Spirit will guide us in becoming Christ-like. That we’ll learn to be fathers to the fatherless, and how to gather, as a family, around the lonely.

Come Holy Spirit, come.

The Clock is Ticking…

Well, that went quick!

Two years ago today I published my first book, Love: Expressed with WestBow Press (A Division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan).

Which means, scarily, that there’s only ONE YEAR left of the book’s three year publication contract with WestBow. I’ll be honest, I’m not too certain of what to do with it after that. Especially as it’s self-published and self-funded, and I’ll have to make any decisions about it in view of my other writing projects. In other words, if you planned on getting the book in either paper or e-reader versions, the clock is now ticking; T – 12 months to go!

Whatever happens, I’m still blessed with the feedback I’ve had over the past two years—Thank you! Also, huge thanks again for the endorsement given by my bishop from across the pond, Brian Zahnd. And I’m still extremely grateful for the beautiful gift of a foreword from my brother Jonathan Martin.

Your support and encouragement has meant a lot to me!

For those few who might be wondering, the first draft of the second book will be complete before the year’s out. It’s working title is: Living The Dream?: The Problem With Escapist, Exhibitionist, Empire Building Christianity. (It’s also the reason why I haven’t blogged in a while).

My hope is that before 2018 is over, it’ll be in a fit state for publication (maybe with a traditional publishing route). I’ll keep you posted.

Tristan

Ps. If you’d be tentatively interested in reviewing the second book with the mind to provide an endorsement, please get in touch! And I’ll put your name on the list for an electronic proof-copy after the first set of edits. Thanks.

“Burn them! Burn them all!” – A Pentecost Reflection

“Burn them! Burn them all!” –King Aerys II Targaryen, (aka, “the Mad King”). From George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice saga.

I’ve been writing a lot recently, trying to birth the next book from grey-matter into ink on page.

There’s one particular New Testament story that has been in focus over the past two-three weeks of this process. A story which features prayer, discipleship and, of course, Jesus.

But it’s not a nice story.

Far from it.

It’s a story which takes place in Luke’s gospel (Chapter 9: 46-56), whilst Jesus is on his final journey towards Jerusalem.

For the sake of brevity, and to avoid repeating what I’m writing elsewhere, I’ll skip to the most sinister aspect of the scene.

Jesus has just been refused hospitality by a Samaritan village, and two of the disciples–The brothers James and John (aka, The Sons of Thunder)–bring a horrible, disturbing and genocidal prayer request to Jesus.

They ask permission to call down fire from heaven with the purpose to engulf the entire village–including it’s residents of women, men and children–in a death bringing furnace of divine retribution and vengeance.

Shocking! And that’s from two of Jesus’ followers. Which should surprise us, but these ideas have a nasty way of repeating themselves.

This, John and James believe, is what God is about and how God’s Kingdom comes; through destroying those who stand in their way.

Thankfully, Jesus rebukes them both. (Btw, this a great example of unanswered prayer).

Jesus turns to them and says (to paraphrase), ‘You have no idea of how malignant and dark the desires of your hearts are! God isn’t about dealing out death, but about curating life!’

These guys had missed it. By a long way. Their theology is skewed. Their picture of God’s power, God’s Spirit, God’s authority is perverted and tainted by their nationalism, xenophobia and twisted idea of how power is exercised.

That said, they are not alone. Their request has found its way on to many lips over the rolling centuries; as our intercession and prayers (as well as our open conversations, Facebook posts etc.) about those we see as threats to us and ours, testify.

Especially in recent days.

The idea of a God who heals a fractured and broken world by smiting all those who seek to break it through their terrorising methods, is really appealing. And in my own anger, shock and despair, I find James and John’s sentiments wishing to climb out of my mouth.

But death is incapable of bearing life. Violence will never breed peace. Hate, to quote the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, can never drive out hate.

Now fast-forward a couple of months after this event. And we find James and John getting their request; although, it’s in a very remixed fashion (thankfully).

It’s the feast of Pentecost, and the Sons of Thunder find themselves with the other disciples praying and waiting upon God. When all of a sudden, to use the words of Acts 2 (Acts being the continuation of Luke’s first letter, his Gospel);

‘ …there came a sound from the sky like the roar of a violent wind, which filled the entire house. Then [the disciples] saw what looked like tongues of fire, which separated and came to rest on each of them’

But this *Fire from Heaven* doesn’t reduce them to charred ashes, nor does it brandish them with the power to maim their enemies. This fire falls in order to empower them to preach and to practice the Good News; a message of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, grace and love.

God’s fire falls, but it doesn’t come to destroy life, but to ignite divine life within humanity. The disciples are like tapers–enflamed to touch the world with love and light. All the world; not just the bits they like.

It’s this commissioning experience that would lead John to later write, ‘Let us love one another; because love is from God; and everyone who lives has God as his father and knows God’ (1 John 4:7, CJB).

The same John who once prayed for the horrifying death of others, now encourages us to be led by the Spirit towards love for others. This same John would also write the most loving of all the Gospels; a gospel which continually presents us with a God of love. A love which at its pinnacle is displayed through laying itself down for others.

It’s apparent that the heat of the Holy Spirit had melted the hard places of John’s violent nature.

You see, this is the thing with the Holy Spirit; it consumes our hatred, our bitterness, our desire for vengeance. The Spirit falls, and I find that it is my prejudices, preferences, stereotypes, and my twisted sense of justice which God seeks to annihilate.

I need this right now. I need a baptism in God’s agenda. I need empowerment from above to practice God’s Kingdom ethic, because it’s certainly not going to come from within me.

So to God I pray, ‘Burn them! Burn them all!’

Burn up my hate, my blood lust, my paranoia, my ability to demonise and scapegoat. Burn up anything that leads me away from love; any impulse that leads me to seek to destroy other instead of loving other.

As Spirit-filled people, we are called to unite what is broken and heal what is hurting. We’re to cultivate sacred gardens in barren wastelands; to bring life, and stem the flow of death.

So as we celebrate Pentecost, especially at such times, let us remember that Pentecost has a this-world agenda, not an escapist one. It’s focus is not on sensationalism, but on generating authentic, loving human community; A Spirit-soaked, earthy Humanity which bears the hallmarks of the self-emptying, benevolent God.

Holy Spirit, come.

—Tristan Sherwin, author of *Love: Expressed*.

O Death, Where Is Your Sting

It’s Resurrection Sunday! As such, here’s some beautiful ancient prose to read on this day; An excerpt of John Chryostom’s Paschal Homily;

“He has destroyed death by undergoing death.

He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.

He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he cried:

Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face below;

​filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing;

​filled with bitterness; for it was mocked;

​filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown;

​filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains.

Hell received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven.

O death, where is your sting?

O hell, where is you victory?

Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!

Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!

Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen! And life is liberated!

Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;

for Christ having risen from the dead,

is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power, now and forerver, and from all ages to all ages. Amen!”
He has risen! 

—————

Header image is entitled ‘Resurrection‘, by Melissia Elisa

Good Friday Reflection; Of Dice And Men

I know, it’s been a very long time since my last blog post. But, in my defence, I’ve been very busy writing the next book. Therefore, as a reflection for Good Friday, and a teaser of what’s to come, what follows is an unedited extract;

——
Of all the scenes in the bible, there’s one that strikes me as the most poignant and telling.

Jesus has just been stripped naked and nailed to a cross, condemned to die under the torturous process of Roman crucifixion. His beaten and scourged body now finds itself under tremendous pressure as it hangs suspended by its upper limbs, making each and every breath agonising and difficult.

It’s an excruciating way to die—a word which derives its meaning from crucifixion—and it can’t have been at all pleasant to watch. And yet, Jesus’ crucifixion has gathered a crowd of spectators. There’s a mixed assembly of friend and foe, mourners and trolls, gathering about the suffering saviour of Golgotha. The execution’s atmosphere is saturated by a cacophony of tears and jeers, as the sound of genuine lament finds itself discordantly enmeshed with the scoffing and insulting voices of those who wish to get in a last word whilst the Teacher struggles to grab what little breath he can.

However, it’s not just the activities of human weeping and cheering that find themselves being expressed at the cross. Even here, at the place of torture and death, profiteering (mining) flourishes.

The gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all mention the story of the soldiers who crucified Jesus casting lots for his clothes. Jesus’ garments find themselves being distributed equally between the four of them in some silent, mutual compromise until they finally come to his robe. The robe presents them with a problem. The mantle of Jesus somehow disturbs this faux equality; an equality which is reliant on a scapegoat. You see, this is a robe of quality, woven in one seamless piece; far too good to be torn in pieces and shared, or so the accounts tell us.

Which makes me think, if the robe was too good to be torn does that mean the other garments of Jesus were shared by tearing, slashing or ripping them apart into equal portions of scrap material? If so, this division wasn’t about acquiring some new additions to the centurion wardrobe, it was just about depriving someone else of clothing; ‘better we have rags to clean our weapons with, or to wipe ourselves with, then someone else have clothes’.

However, the robe of Christ adds a prophetic tension into the corruption-steeped, amicable division of the spoils of war and colonialism. The robe’s worth keeping, such quality shouldn’t be subjected to violence. So, as a means of keeping the peace—ironically, in the blood-stained shadow of Rome’s symbol of peace—the soldiers decide to cast lots, to throw dice.

To us, this seems to be nice, nonviolent solution to the problem; a fair means of selection. Just like us tossing a coin, or drawing the short-straw? But not everything is what it appears to be on the surface. There’s something subtle being suggested in this act.

When we throw dice today, we understand that it’s a game of statistics; the outcome is strictly chance. If you role a pair of dice one hundred times, eventually percentages should play out and you’ll role a double six. Or maybe not. It’s likely, but never certain. For us, dice is a game of probability. No one controls the outcome, ergo, it’s fair (unless someone plays with loaded dice).

But not in the ancient mindset of the first century citizen. To them, casting lots or throwing dice aren’t just the means of making a decision, but the means of invoking a god’s decision. Superstition highly nuances this game. What results isn’t chance or luck, but divine ordination. God controls the outcome, ergo, what transpires is more than fair, it’s decreed.

Apparently, in this ancient game—which carries ideas which are still prevalent today—it’s God who decides who rises and falls, who succeeds and fails. God is seen on the side of the winner, not the loser. In a roundabout way, it’s God who draws the lines between “us” and “them”; it’s God who blesses and sponsors the competitive instinctive for material progress. God, in this thinking, personally elects the world’s champions; they’re the ones who’ll receive the material award. The divine intervenes and, in this scenario, the victor will walk away with a seamless robe.

What a contrast.

As four roman militia roll dice, invoking the divine to act on their behalf and choose who should be the worthy owner of a fine robe, God hangs bleeding and choking for breath on a cross mere feet away from them. In the shadow of the cross, all this so-called “divine ordination” is exposed for what it really is, and what it has always been; men using god as a scapegoat to their schemes and dreams.

The cross unveils the truth. God is not the one blessing and legitimizing the human activity of tearing and ripping and gambling over his garment. God is not the one advocating a “winner takes all” philosphy, or defining “us” from “them”, or prospering his favourites by giving them what they desire. God is not the one deciding who has, and who has not. God’s hands are pierced, and he hangs naked, unclothed before the world, giving himself for the healing of the nations.

At the cross, the tree of life for all humanity, mankind is revealed to be grasping for the power to coerce and control, and invoking the heavenly powers to perform to their will.

At the cross, four individuals, undeterred by the surrounding sound of lamenting and grieving, raucous and jeering voices, toss dice over divine property using a twisted concept of divine privilege.

And yet over this act, through what must have been a weakening and spluttering voice, piercing the atmosphere of dissonance, Jesus cries out with what little breath he has remaining, ‘Father, forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing’.

Just like the creation story, God speaks his loving and liberating oration into a world caught in the oppressive grip of chaos and darkness.

But I wonder, how many in the swarm about him gave any credence to these words?

It’s a powerful scene. A moment of history which highlights the difference between God and men.

It’s sobering to consider this contrast between human and divine acts; this distinction between what we think God wants and does, and what God actually wants and does.

———

The above is an extract of Living The Dream? (Writing in progress).

Tristan Sherwin is the author of Love: Expressed (available now)


My Top Seven Books of 2016

Well, another year has passed by. Some of it slipped through my fingers, but I think I may have caught most of it in some way or another.

At least I’ve read some great books this year, and so below is a list of my top seven of the year.

“Why Seven?”, you ask?

Why Ten, or Five or Three?

Whatever the quantity, these are books I’d love you to check out.

I’ve not reviewed every book I’ve read this year. But where I have, I’ve provided a link to my blog review. And where I haven’t, I’ve just added a sample of my thoughts.

Enjoy!


1. Scars Across Humanity, by Elaine Storkey.


Blog review – click here

2. Out Of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey


Blog review – click here

3. A More Christlike God, by Brad Jersak


Blog review – click here

4. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande


Blog review – click here

5. The Son of Laughter, by Frederick Buechner


Frederick Buechner has done a beautiful job of grafting flesh onto the biblical story of Jacob.

As a master storyteller, Buechner’s prose provides an immersive experience into the sights, sounds, and smells of ancient nomadic culture. It’s raw, gritty, sweaty and brimming with the harsh realities and beauties of life.

Buechner’s biographical portrayal cuts no corners. His words capture both the dark and the light of the human and divine dance; giving voice to ancient perspective and passion. Yes, sometimes the language is explicit (this is no children’s tale, afterall), but this narrative perfectly captures the emotion, the fatigue, and the grain of the long and winding road that the family of Jacob find themselves travelling.

This is the story of one who wrestles with both God and men — a reality we all share. So read this story expecting to meet our very human selves, as we too find ourselves trying to make sense of this journey we’re on.

The Son of Laughter is one story you shouldn’t miss.
6. Silence, by Shusaku Endo


Set in 17th Century Japan, Silence traces the journey of Fr Sebastian Rodrigues as he seeks for his mentor who has apparently apostatised in the face of the intense persecution of the Christian faith. Not believing his devoted mentor would have done such a thing, Rodrigues goes in search of the truth, not knowing that his own faith will be tested in the process — especially his understanding of apostasy.

This is a very powerful novel. I didn’t want to put it down. It’s profound, captivating and beautiful.

Also, it’s coming to the cinemas in the new year, under the direction of Martin Scorsese (who writes the introduction to this Picador Classic edition), and starring Liam Neesan, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver. Let’s hope he does a good job, but I’d still strongly recommend reading the book.

7. The People of Paper, by Salvador  Plascenia.


I can’t begin to describe this novel. But it’s certainly got to be the most bizarre novel I have ever read. And yet, it’s intriguing, beautiful and extremely well crafted. It is a work of art; a Paper-maché masterpiece formed of soul, soil and sweat which baptises the imagination.

The way it’s laid out, the way it’s written – all of it is the not the “usual” way of telling a story. But out of everything I’ve read this year, this story consistently comes back to my mind.


So that’s it; my top seven.

However, for those who like round numbers and multiples of five, here’s another three I’d highly recommend;

How To Survive A Shipwreck, by Jonathan Martin.

War in the Hebrew Bible, by Susan Niditch.

What We Cannot Know, by Marcus du Sautoy.


Merry Christmas, and I hope you have a great new year.

T.


Tristan Sherwin is author of Love: Expressed

Love Expressed Book Board3