What Would Jesus Do? [Thoughts behind creation of a #foodisfree garden]

WWJDSo… What WOULD Jesus do?

It was at the height of the Occupy Movement… the demonstrations outside St Paul’s Cathedral from late 2011 to 2012 when the age-old question was asked both in media narratives and documented in banners during the protests… ‘What would Jesus do?’.

WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?

Home-made placards pinned to safety fencing and tent canvas drew from the Biblical quotations, “He that oppresses the poor to increase his riches shall surely come to want.” (Proverbs 21:16); “I was hungered and you fed me not; naked and you clothed me not.” (Matthew 25:42)

Jesus as the revolutionary. What an inspiration! And none of this peaceful camping and banner holding. NO! Jesus freaking out, and turning over the tables of the money changers and dove sellers. Jesus preventing people from carrying merchandise through the temple courts. Jesus driving out those who were buying and selling there… with a whip. (John 2:15) “My House is a House of Prayer, but you have made it a Den of Thieves.” (Mark 11:17)

Wow!

…No wonder they began to look for a way to kill him. (Mark 11:18)

I must admit that I didn’t ask myself ‘WWJD’ in so many words (or catchy letters) when I felt moved to create our #foodisfree front vegetable garden to share produce with our neighbours; but I certainly was motivated by the same injustice and human crisis that the protesters from the Occupy Movement to UK uncut were stirred to act on when they asked, ‘What would Jesus do?

I grew up and was churched in a patriarchal, post-colonial society that put great emphasis on ‘women’ submitting; and ‘slaves’ obeying their ‘masters’ to the point of the weaker more vulnerable parties always being the ones to ‘turn the other cheek’ because…

“What would Jesus do?” -we asked ourselves.

It was only at the point of belatedly starting to challenge the coercion, intimidation and bullying that came within this belief system that I found myself asking “What would Jesus do?” in relation to MY expectation of OTHERS towards myself and other vulnerable people. What Jesus would do was the only thing that kept me sitting in those church pews as I reflected on His treatment of the weak, the poor, and the vulnerable. (John 8:1-11; John 4:7-29; Matthew 19:13-15)

“What would Jesus do?” helped me respond with generosity and grace when faced with some of the coercion, intimidation and bullying I received working on this project during the past year whilst not tolerating that treatment to myself and others longer than said good grace permitted. (No, -not everyone involved in the process was nice.)

Having said that, “What would Jesus do?” helped me to ask much of people in my community too when I needed to step outside of my comfort zone and get help. There are, I can assure you, many, many more wonderful, open hearted human beings in the world than not. *insert smile and heart emoji here*

The lessons I learnt whilst undertaking the creation of our garden and the filming of the process are lessons I’ve had taught to me before, which I guess stood me in good stead when I essentially asked, “What would Jesus do?” of not just myself but of others as I rallied people in my community together to make our project what it is today.

Aletheia3

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Aletheia Mashiri

Click here to watch the BBC Episode of ‘Big Dreams Small Spaces’ Aletheia’s garden was featured in.

A Vast Majority: Part 3

 

I have been reflected on the premise contained in Stuart Murray’s book “A Vast Minority” that Christians in the UK are a vast minority. This hasn’t changed in a long time; we have always been a vast minority but previously within a context of “nominal” or “cultural” Christianity. We are now surrounded not by nominal or cultural Christians but people of different faiths or of no faith.

In this blog I want to reflect on the implications this has for discipleship, something that many are rightly raising as a major issue for today.

In the context where we were a vast minority in the context of cultural Christianity there was less of a gap between church and culture. An hour of worship and preaching on a Sunday seemed adequate to resource churchgoers for the rest of the week, especially when discipleship was understood as being compliant citizens and conforming to cultural norms.

We are now in a very different context, and many Christians have little knowledge of the teaching of the Bible and feel ill-equipped for life in the world outside of the church. Such equipping has to be a priority. We have to be equipped to participate in God’s mission within our families, neighbourhoods, workplaces and spheres of service.

We have to reflect on what a Christian lifestyle looks like in today’s context, sometimes it seems as if there is little difference between the lifestyles and priorities of those who claim to be Christians and those who do not. In doing so we need to avoid just laying down rules!

Human sexuality is an important aspect of discipleship for the Christian community, and especially for a minority in a culture that is experiencing rapid changes in its approach to sexual ethics. And if ‘the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’, finding freedom in this area of life might help us to live freely in many other areas. Yet this cannot be simply tithe and do whatever you want with the rest of your money.

What if we invited others to join a revolutionary movement, a band of pilgrims, a community with quite different values and priorities than the rest of society? Discipleship only truly makes sense in such a context. Of course, this would mean at least aspiring to be such a community.

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

A Vast Majority: Part 2

 

In my previous blog I started some reflections based on Stuart Murrays book a Vast Minority. In this blog I ask some more questions inspired by that book. I find the questions so much easier than answers!

If our goal is a society that allows numerous minority groups to all live together without any one minority imposing their views on the rest, then…….

How do we speak out prophetically against injustice in society rather than just stand up for our own rights and preferences? My previous blog, I’m alright Jack also relates to this question.

In a diverse society made up of many subcultures what does it means to be counter-cultural? Where does the Christian community position itself among the many minority communities that in different ways are counter-cultural in relation to whatever is perceived to be the dominant culture?

I honestly do not know the answers to these questions, but know that these are the questions that we do need to find an answer to together as a Christian community.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

A Vast Majority

I recently read a book by Stuart Murray with the above title which I found helpful and challenging. It made me ask lots of questions which I don’t know if I have the answers to, but are important to ask.

The initial premise of the book is that Christians in the UK are a vast minority. We are a minority, yes, but we are not a small insignificant minority, we are a vast minority. He goes on to suggest that this hasn’t really changed in a long time, we have always been a vast minority but previously within a context of “nominal” or “cultural” Christianity. We are now surrounded not by nominal or cultural Christians but people of different faiths or of no faith. We therefore need to learn to function differently, rather than just long for things to be as they were in the past.

Accepting this it raises all sorts of questions and issues. One that I have been pondering is this.

The complaint that was directed at Christians from previous generations was that as a minority they imposed their view on everyone. I think there is some truth in the complaint. There is now also the complaint that in this generation some Muslims have a secret (or not so secret) agenda to impose their views on everyone else. Let us all agree that it is wrong for any minority to just impose their view on the majority. However, the very people making the complaint against previous generations of Christians and against Muslims today are doing the same themselves now!

It is claimed we are now a Western secular society, however secularists themselves are a minority in our country. The majority of people are people of faith, but no longer belonging to just one faith group. Yet secularists are seeking to impose their views on the rest of us.

The question is therefore what sort of society are we looking to create that allows numerous minority groups to all live together without any one minority imposing their views on the rest? I don’t know if secular society is ready to allow people of faith to enter that debate as equals. I think that people of faith need to challenge the imposition of minority secular views on the rest of.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

When God Doesn’t Feel Like A Rock

carmel_splash_183780

I mentioned previously that God is a rock, in this blog I want to acknowledge that he doesn’t always feel like one!

The important word being “feel”, feelings can be difficult to control and often take over. Outward crisis result in inward crisis and we feel overwhelmed. God may be a rock, but he doesn’t feel like one.

The scriptures are not silent on this and can help for us when we feel overwhelmed. In Psalm 42 and 43 the Psalmist talks about his experience of being overwhelmed. The Psalms are the hymn book of Israel; this song is made up of 3 verses with a chorus after each verse!

Look at the verses first, which describes feelings of being overwhelmed.

The Psalmist uses a picture of waves overwhelming us. He declares God is our rock, but he seems to have forgotten us. My bones cry out Where is your God?” why have you forgotten me?

He uses imagery of being parched. He describes extreme feelings of dryness. The cry is the same – where is your God?

The third verse, Psalm 43, describes feelings of being totally misjudged.

Such feelings are best expressed, better than kept in. Such feelings do not stop us praying!

However, the point is – we do experience such feelings. God is a rock, God is our stronghold but we feel rejected, we still feel overwhelmed.

The second part of each of the verses reflect on these feelings.

He feels overwhelmed but remembers corporate worship in the past 42v4, he brings to mind other feelings, of shouts of joy and praise, feelings of joy and praise in corporate worship.

He brings to mind personal experience of God’s grace 42v8.

He looks forward to worshiping in the future 43v3-4

So the verses of the song –

Describe feeling dry, overwhelmed and attacked.

They then reflect on the memory of previous experiences of joy and praise in worship, of the personal grace of God and then looking forward with assurance of getting to the place of praise again.

Most good songs have a chorus, a refrain. So does this song.

11 Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Saviour and my God.

He speaks to himself, challenges himself to move beyond feelings. Overwhelmed. Dry. Ridiculed. By remembering truth, he seeks to take control.

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Feelings are so uncontrollable, so unreliable, yet so real.

The important thing is that truth is not dependant on our feelings. Moses, David, myself, and many others, can look back beyond their feelings and declare God is our rock. There will be times when you may not feel like that, the important thing is what you then do. Best is to do what the psalmist did.

  1. Acknowledge those feelings. Acknowledge them to yourself, to God, to others.
  2. Reflect on past experiences of blessing and look forward to future experiences of blessing.
  3. Speak to yourself, remind yourself what God has done for you, why you can be certain he is a rock even if you don’t feel it.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

– based on his sermon from 21st February 2016 – Click here to listen to it

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Love Can Be Risky

The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 

Luke 10 v 35

 

Recently, I heard of a man who saw a younger person stranded on a motorway after a breakdown. He saw the danger and ran in to the motorway to catch the person and bring them to the hard shoulder and to safety. Unfortunately, a vehicle didn’t see him and struck him. He died. The person the man rescued survived without injury. Love is instinctive and risky.

Familiar parables have a high profile in church and sometimes in the world. The phrase “prodigal son” would be an example used widely in the media.

We are familiar with the general theme of the Good Samaritan. The least likely, least “religious” person comes to the aid of the man described as “half dead” on the road whilst the religious people walk on by as they have a prayer meeting to attend. They are too busy to get their hands dirty.

I was pondering this parable recently and noticed something afresh.

The Samaritan not only provided the two denarii but also put himself at financial risk. He says that he will “pick up the bill for any extra expense”.

Now let’s ponder. The Samaritan knows nothing of the character of the injured man. Supposing after he is left to rest he decides on a week at the inn. The inn becomes “the Holiday Inn”.

Supposing he is feeling better and raids the mini-bar in his room for spirits. He goes for rump steak on the menu. He then asks for a set of new clothes. He reassures the innkeeper that his guarantor will pay the final bill in full. The text doesn’t tell us that he took advantage but that isnt the focus. The focus is the lavish love of the Samaritan.

The Good Samaritan will see the bill. He gets the call and is committed to paying up. He puts himself at a degree of risk for a stranger.

A few years ago I was working in the US. A company director heard that a fellow director was very drunk and was in a hotel bedroom full of empty wine bottles. Knowing he was depressed, he responded to the call from the hotel staff (who found his business card) and organised an emergency trip to the Hospital where he was re-hydrated. His life was saved. When the man was sober, rather than being full of gratitude he noted a chance to sue the Director who saved him ! Using a privacy disclosure law in the US he threatened to take action. Bizzarely, it is cheaper to settle the money out of court rather than defend. I was horrified. One man takes responsibility, risks loving and is threatened with being sued for saving a life !

But real love is risky.

In the case of the Director, the motorway rescue and the Samaritan decisions had to be made instantly. The “love values” stored in the heart over the years resulted in instant action.

Reasoned advanced planning was not possible.

So too with Jesus Christ. He chose to remain on the cross when he could have called it off. Sacrificing himself to defeat sin and make a way possible for redemption. His instant response was to stay there seeing the multitude of human souls trapped on a spiritual  motorway.

Risky love is not usually seen by others but only by God. I guess that’s authenticity.

Let’s keep loving though it may be risky.

 

Jon

Jon Gledhill is a member of Hope Church Luton
Jon Gledhill is a member of Hope Church Luton

 

 

God Is Our Rock

carmel_splash_183780Most people believe in God, the issue is what is the God you believe in like. For example, Britain First recently visited Luton claiming to speak on behalf of God. They said of church leaders in Luton, “these so-called “Christians” are gormless, trendy, politically correct, tree-hugging, sandal wearing hippies who only care about “multiculturalism”, appeasing Islam and publicising themselves.”

Their actions did not in any way represent the God that I believe in!

We need ways to describe and understand God. The Bible is full of different names and metaphors, pictures for God. Some come from God himself, others by men describing the God they have experienced. Rock is the most common term used to describe people’s experience of God.

Moses and David, in the midst of their difficulties found God to be a rock. Moses at end of his life, looking back on his life. David when he had become King, following 20 years of civil war being hunted by Saul.

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. Deuteronomy 32v4

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18v2

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Savior! Psalm 18 v46

The realisation of God being a rock came out of their experiences of turmoil, as the waves of life crashed around them, God was their rock.

Turmoil.

God as our rock is always relevant – there is always turmoil, waves in life. Life is challenging. As seen by the Britain First conflict – Luton is at the heart of many challenges.

Turmoil comes personally and globally. Global turmoil produces personal turmoil.

Global events become real when they come close, when we meet refugees, when terrorist attacks impact those we know and love. They bring home the fragility of life, its uncertainty. When the financial crisis causes us to lose our jobs, for our savings to be halved, we experience turmoil.

Personal turmoil. You know it can happen, but that doesn’t prepare you for it. Feelings rise up that you can’t do anything about.

It is then that we need to know God as our rock.

How is God a rock to us?

In Mark chapter 4 we have a story of Jesus stilling the storm, following which he says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

God is our rock by stilling storms in our lives.

However, this is not the full extent of him being our rock. He is also our rock by being with us in the midst of our storms, not as wishful thinking, not as an imaginary friend we rely on when things get tough. But as a real support and comfort.

God is with us in our storms as the risen Lord Jesus. All global forces did their worse, the Roman Empire, religious authorities combined to put him to death; he faced the worse personal forces can do, including his friends deserting him. He overcame, defeated them all. Even the last enemy, death, being defeated. Jesus is with us, as he was with the disciples in the boat.

I didn’t make God up – he revealed himself to me and to all his creation. He revealed himself to Moses and David!

Jesus can say “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

We can have faith in God, our rock.

Such an important truth in the midst of storms and turmoil.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

– based on his sermon from 7th February 2016 – Click here to listen to it

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Balance as a Church

IMAGE Whats On 3 legged stool

I have blogged previously about the importance of balance in our relationships as a Christian. Balance in our relationship with God; with fellow believers – building community; and with the hurting world around us. This follows the model of Jesus.

I now want to explore what this mean for us as a church.

  1. Easier said than done!

It is so much easier to focus on 2 rather than 3. How do we even know whether we are balanced?

Two people can look at the same church and conclude it is unbalanced, but disagree about what the imbalance is!

We need to hear from God and each other! Individuals can have different perspectives, depending on their personality, history and maybe even prejudice.

I am increasingly convinced of the importance of seeking to be balanced focused on God; building authentic, loving, caring community, together being Christ on earth; focusing on the world around us, seeking God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

But how! Here are some thoughts on how we can seek to check our balance in an objective way.

  1. Prayer life of the church.

If you look at Paul’s prayers, as recorded in his letters, you find a significant emphasis on thanking God – 40% of his prayers. He thanks God for the churches, what is happening outside the church and even for God himself.

There are other prayers just praising God, others praying for the church and still others for God’s impact of the world.

Overall what hits me is that Paul’s prayers are “balanced” including

  • adoration and worship;
  • prayer for ourselves;
  • prayer for others.

A way to check on the balance of any church is to look at their prayer life. How balanced is it?

  1. Prophecy.

We believe that God speaks today. The gifts of the Spirit, including prophecy, did not cease with the coming of the NT but continue today.

Over time you would expect to have prophecies that give us insights into the character of God, insights into what God is doing within Hope Church and within individuals within Hope Church, and what God is doing outside the church – in Luton, nation, nations.

I come to this conclusion through reading the writings of the prophets included in my Bible, they had these 3 focuses.

Paul encourages us to eagerly desire the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. We need to do so, we also need to eagerly desire the rounded, full gift of prophecy. We need to contemplate God, in all his richness and fullness. What characteristic does he want emphasised today?

The Bible is full of prophecies of what God is doing in the nations, to encourage prayer but also because he is God of the whole earth, not just Israel, not just the church. People believed in regional gods. We can get into same trap, thinking God is only interested in our church! Prophecy should challenge this.

Additionally, we obviously need to hear what God is saying to the church and individuals within it.

Prophecy is therefore another way of checking for balance.

  1. Other areas?

We need to preach about God – who he is; what he has done. Preach about his church, his glorious bride, what He wants us to be individually and corporately. Preach about the world – what he is doing, what he wants us to do.

We should expect small groups to have a balance, staffing and finances generally to have a balance.

  1. Some final thoughts on a focus on the hurting world around us!

It should be wider than just evangelism. If our focus is only on evangelism it can actually be a subtle way of just focusing on ourselves, we just want to grow our church! It doesn’t counter act the tendency to think that it is all about us.

Authentic focus on the hurting world around us is being interested in things outside our own church. Seeking to bring change to our town, our nation, the nations.

We are trying to do this as a church. Working with other churches around the world, praying for world events, seeking the good of our nation and town as well as being involved in helping people discover the truth about Jesus.

However, I finish where I started. It is one thing to have a desire to be balanced, it is another to achieve it. That is the journey we are on.

Tony Thompson

– based on his sermon from 31st January 2016

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Balance in the Christian life, as individuals

IMAGE Whats On 3 legged stool

In a previous blog I spoke of the balance that Jesus had in his life, growing relationships with his Father, with his disciples, and with the hurting world around him.

This blog seeks to be very practical, exploring how we can grow these 3 different types of relationships.

Everything starts with God, and our relationship with him. We have access to the Father through the Son, entered into by repentance and faith. Having gained access our relationship is meant to grow.

This growing relationship with God should impacts every part of our lives. As a teenager I liked the idea of having a girlfriend, however when I got one it started to impact other parts of my life. She wanted to talk to me at lunch times when I wanted to do other things. The relationship didn’t last long. When met and married Anne, I happily allowed the relationship to influence all of my life. This should be even more so with God. He is Lord of everything.

It is vitally importance that we intentionally grow in our relationship with him. All different, no standard means, however unless we work at it, it will not happen. Find a way that works for you.

Regular time – a little every day, every week rather than binging.

I spend time with God most mornings – I read scripture; journal – go through previous day with God, what happened, what did I learn; read devotional book; pray. Listen. It can take from 30 to 45 minutes.

I also run most days – some of them with others, mostly alone. Whilst running I listen to podcasts, often sermons and I chew things over with God.

I have privilege of being released to do this, hence I can give longer to building my relationship with God than most people.

I know of people who use their commute to pray, listen to worship music, sermons, listen to or read Bible. My wife listens to a daily Bible reading podcast on her commute.

Some recommend setting aside 15 minutes to be alone with God and the Bible every day.

Other things.

Tune into God at other times – seek to hear from him. Ask his blessing. Join with others in prayer. On journeys, pray in tongues for extended periods, doesn’t work well on train journeys!

Importance of Psalms, especially if struggling. Gives words to our anguish, questioning.

Everything starts with God, but moves into relationships with other believers.

Unique to Christianity is the trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God himself is community, relationships, and family.

We are made in the image of God, hence relational. He puts us into families. Despite what some people may say, we are not meant to be sustained by our relationship with God alone.

Loneliness is epidemic in our society – people can even be lonely in a relationship, in a family. We have to model something different.

Here are a few thoughts to helps us.

Recognise the different levels of community.

Jesus had relationships with the crowd, 72, 12 and with the 3. There are different emphasis and character in different types of relationships that can easily be misunderstood. This can cause problems.

Relationships are formed by joint experiences; they deepen over time. You cannot rush relationships.

There is richness from learning from people from different backgrounds and different experiences. However, it is harder than relationships with people the same as you.

Iron sharpens iron. We must deal with conflict positively.

Questions to help and challenge you.

What relationships are you building, developing with fellow Christians? How much time are you investing in the crowd, 72, 12 ,3?

Take the initiative. Be active rather than passive. Invest time.

With God we should decide how much time to invest daily. With relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ it should be weekly.

Also involves relationships beyond fellow believers.

Witness in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria to the very ends of the earth. Acts 1v8

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Jeremiah 29v7

It involves personal witness to Jesus –giving a reason of the faith we hold. But also modelling Godly character, doing good work, ministering in grace and love, moulding culture, speaking truth and justice.

Most of us are doing it, we can’t help it. It is about whether we are aware of it or not.

With relationships with those who are not believers it is about recognising the importance of being focused, purposeful.

In conclusion, we should allocate time daily for our relationship with God; allocate time weekly for relationships to build Christian community; most of us have plenty of time with those outside the church – it is about how we utilise that time.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.