Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mother-tongue Scriptures Change Hearts and Lives



Borrowed from the Kouya Chronicle and Wycliffe Bible Translators - shows simply how spiritually important it is to get the Bible in to people's own heart languages.

So much of how Christianity has been presented in the last two or three centuries has been about the white man and the Westerner as the epitome of the Christian faith - forgetting that Jesus and the Apostles were neither white nor Western. It is the quote "God speaks my language" that got me -you don't have to speak any other language let alone a Western European language (especially English!) to read the scriptures and to grow in faith.

God's language is the language of our hearts and souls, not a borrowed second or third tounge.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fast for Zimbabwe

There is now a growing movement in Southern Africa and around the world saying "enough is enough" in Zimbabwe – and one expression is the weekly fast started by Desmond Tutu, that AIMS to get over 100,000 people to fast for Zimbabwe until the following six demands are met::

  • South African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU) and major political parties in the region to end their policy of "quiet diplomacy" on the issue of Zimbabwe.
  • An urgent response by the United Nations and the international community to Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis.
  • An immediate end to the "abductions, torture and other sinister forms of intimidation against civil society and political activists."
  • For the SADC to grant refugee status to Zimbabweans fleeing their own country,
  • For Zimbabwe to lift restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly.
  • For the transitional authority to be installed if a power-sharing deal can't be reached in Zimbabwe by the end of February.

Whether one has a religious faith or just a belief in humanity, I would urge anyone reading this to join with a growing number to fast every Friday, and make this known as widely as possible. There is no website, although if you are on Twitter do follow http://twitter.com/ZimbabweFast & there are several Facebook Groups – but above all else, the people of Zimbabwe need real change.

As a Christian, I see this fast as an outworking of Isaiah 58 – true fasting and worship bring justice.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Well, here we are at last, Obama is about to become a historic 44th US President. Whatever he does he has made history. His choice to use the words of the protest song "A Change is Gonna Come" at his acceptance speech back in November was inspired –harking back to the Civil Rights Movement and the changes the very fact of his election represented in American Society. It also suggests someone looking towards the future, knowing that change is ongoing and never complete. It was certainly a more inspired choice of song than New Labour's use of the twee "Things Can Only Get Better" after the 1997 UK General Election that overthrew 13 years of Tory rule, and promised a bright new future. And we are seeing what has happened to that future right now!

Bright new futures of course are the stuff of fairy tales. The good times don't last (especially if they are spun out of the fairy dust that was the debt fuelled boom of the last decade). And as Enoch Powell once said, "all political careers end in failure". Nevertheless, while not swept along by the general euphoria that comes with the beginning Obama's presidency (and which may be as much to do with the end of Bush's eight disastrous years of power), I am still praying for the man whose choices will affect so much of the world that had no say in his election. He has the chance to make a difference – maybe not as much as so many hope, maybe not as little as the cynics are saying. He is but a man, but a man with power, and whose choices can lead to good or ill. My prayer is that, at least for the next four or eight years we see a President over the Pond who chooses good.

Time will judge how God answers that prayer

The Questions No-One is Asking

So, once again we have to bail out our banks as tax payers. And we probably have no choice, because if the banks go under, so do our savings and pensions, let alone all the businesses that will no longer be able to transact their day-to-day business properly.

But it struck me yesterday as I read from the book of Proverbs that we are laying up a mass of trouble for ourselves and our children.

Proverb 6:1-5 is a warning about standing surety for another's debts:

Dear friend, if you've gone into hock with your neighbour or locked yourself into a deal with a stranger,
If you've impulsively promised the shirt off your back
and now find yourself shivering out in the cold,
Friend, don't waste a minute, get yourself out of that mess.
You're in that man's clutches!
Go, put on a long face; act desperate.
Don't procrastinate—
there's no time to lose.
Run like a deer from the hunter,
fly like a bird from the trapper!

The Message

Interesting that the next five verses go on to encourage us to learn from how the ant thrives through long hard work and saving in times of plenty ready for times of austerity. The exact inverse of what we have done as a nation in the UK and indeed a lot of the Western world! So much so that the question is now being raised of the UK becoming insolvent!

The first questions that is not being asked is how we have let this mess happen in the first place? How could unsustainable borrowing be allowed to have got so out of hand? In other words, why did we think increasingly levels of unsecured debt would lead to long term prosperity? The second question that is being dodged is how much criminal activity by the banks or their employees has been going on, and how much has that stoked up this crisis? They are beginning to ask these questions in the US, but the British government and regulatory authorities seem unwilling to address this. The elephant in the room is quite simply that an economy based on debt, get rich quick schemes and out and out fraud, rather than genuine wealth creation, saving and mutuality, will always eventually collapse – and the higher the tower of cards is, the greater the collateral damage for ordinary people. But it seems that we are setting out to increase the level of unsustainable debt to try and dig our way out of the recession. It feels dangerously like trying to dig your way our of a hole only to find oneself further buried and unable to escape.

We need a change of heart as a nation, and we need our government to hear that we are not happy with propping up this situation. Unless there is massive institutional reform, history will just recapitulate. But the change has to start with us as citizens – unless we give up our debt fuelled lifestyles, and regain the values of the ant, individually and collectively, then maybe we are doomed to see the cycle repeat itself endlessly.

You lazy fool, look at an ant.
Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two.
Nobody has to tell it what to do.
All summer it stores up food;
at harvest it stockpiles provisions.
So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing?
How long before you get out of bed?
A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?
Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,
poverty your permanent houseguest!

Proverbs 6:6-11 The Message

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kindness

Following on from my musings on the Hebrew word chesed [חסד] in my last post, here is an excellent posting on the meaning and practice of kindness (and its absence in modern Western culture and much institutional Christianity) from This Fragile Tent

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A New Year Epiphany

And so starts another year.

One of the few New Year Resolutions that I have ever kept is to make no New Year Resolutions - on the simple basis that I never managed to keep up with anything I started with good intent. Well, I do have one this year, and that is to get my Romanian up to conversational level by the end of the year – it's a long story and I'll bore you with it another day.

But towards the end of 2008 two, familiar passages from the Bible jumped up and hit me – Matthew 25:31ff and Isaiah 58. Both speak powerfully that the true outworking of faith is in justice and compassion. They are familiar to me, as I have many times taught on them, and been challenged by them to live out my own faith with these values at the centre.

Today is the feast of Epiphany – remembering when the Magi visited Jesus. Epiphany means a showing forth – it has also come to mean a sudden realisation or revelation. I have been on a prayer retreat in a remote South Wales village for three days with a group of Christian health professionals from all over Europe. Today was a day of silent, solitary prayer and fasting, and as I find sitting around in a room to pray almost impossible for any length of time (I have a butterfly mind and fly from one distraction to another all to easily), went for a walk early in the morning before the sun came over the Brecon Hills. Well, it was bitterly cold, and after resting in the local parish church to pray, I decided I needed to keep moving, on through the woods and fields and beside the frozen lake. As I walked and prayed another very familiar passage came to me – Micah 6:8 – "what does the Lord require of you, oh Son of Adam, but to act justly, love kindness and walk humbly with you God". That brief passage summed up the two previous passages that had been playing on my mind, and summed up what I needed to hear.

To walk humbly with someone means to let them take the lead, set the pace and choose the path. You walk alongside, but at their bidding – and it was a challenge to me to let my own daily walk with God be set at His pace and His direction, not mine. I am often so busy doing stuff for God that I forget to listen to what He is actually saying.

But the verse also make it clear that true faith is outworked in practice – in doing what is right and just and fair. But justice can be cold, and it needs to be tempered by kindness, or mercy in some translations. The Hebrew is chesed [חסד] meaning "loving kindness" – often used as an expression of how God feels about His people, it suggests not only tenderness but forbearance and even indulgence – giving favour when it is not necessarily deserved. Mercy in short. True faith is born out of a close, obedient walk with God, worked out in showing practical kindness to strangers and working for justice for the poor and oppressed. Sounds straightforward, but as the passages in Isaiah and Matthew also show us, this takes work. But, as James 2:14-26 warns us, faith without works is meaningless – a head knowledge of God, or even a warm fuzzy feeling about God count for precisely nothing (I Corinthians 13:1-4 also reminds us of this), if they are not also practically worked out in love, compassion and justice.

So maybe less a New Year's Resolution and more a New Year Epiphany. For 2009, my greatest challenge is to once again work out how I live this in practice. I expect to fail many times, but as someone once said, success is buried in the garden of failures.