Great piece by Matt Gemmell:

Writers are haunted creatures.

Everyone is a writer, of course. You invent stories every day. Your flights of fancy, your daydreams, your alternate scenarios, your fears.

But if you make things up explicitly, all the time, it changes you. You exist in the eye of a hurricane. Everything around is in flux.

How do you get your ideas?

That’s the classic question. The corresponding answer is usually something like “they just come to me”, but it’s a half-truth. We all know that, deep down. The reality is more prosaic: your outlook alters, such that everything is an idea. In the same way that a former spy can never fully switch off their vigilance, a writer’s imagination just becomes perpetually active.

Reading is what makes it possible – you have to read in order to be able to write – but you have to write to actually activate this shift in perspective. It happens fast: within days. The problem isn’t ever finding ideas; it’s filtering them.

When I listen to music, it’s a soundtrack to a scene – or usually ten different scenes. People I meet or see are characters. Places are settings. Idle points of interest are window-dressing, for added colour. Anecdotes from others become my own memories, in a dozen permutations.

Once it starts happening, you can’t stop it.

Writers aren’t figurative deities, playing with their characters’ lives; we’re more like avid spectators, powerless to look away.

He wouldn’t thank me for it, but there are so many ways in which this description of change in mindset is helpful in thinking about the ways in which this reflects the Bible Apps most bookmarked, highlighted and shared verse in 2014:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

As we meditate on the word and prayerfully seek renewal by the power of the Spirit, our whole outlook on the world around us changes so that we think differently. Every experience and every moment an opportunity for worship, service and conformity to His good, pleasing and perfect will.

Politics and the English Language

George Orwell:

What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning.

I must do this more.

Our experience of the Spirit

Matthew Hosier has written a helpful article reflecting on the 1994 Toronto Blessing / PMOTS (‘present move of the Spirit’). He explores the extent to which our experiences of the Holy Spirit are culturally mediated, and goes on to relate this to current UK movements that identify 1994 in their roots:

The danger in my pointing this out is that I will be accused of claiming these experiences are ‘merely cultural’. Not at all. Rather, that we need to be wise in distinguishing what is from God, what is deception, what is imperative, what indicative, and what is our culturally mediated response.

Twenty years on, I’m not sure I have an adequate answer to the question ‘1994 – What was that all about?’ I believe God was in it, but that there were excesses, and that the form PMOTS took reflected other cultural trends evident in western society at the time.

I don’t think the point here is to question the degree to which our experience of the Spirit is ‘genuine’, but to recognise that the way we experience the Spirit’s work in our lives is not done in a cultural vacuum. I’d be interested to know the degree to which moves of the Spirit break down aspects of (often church) culture that are blockers to the work of the Spirit in our lives.

Rev: so good it’s dangerous

James Mumford on the BBC comedy Rev:

But when asked why Rev is so good, the usual answer cites “an insider viewpoint” on an inner-city vicar. Which is precisely what it’s not. Rev is an outsider’s imaginative construction of an insider viewpoint – a secular take on the sacred…

Which is all well and good. Yet it remains an outsider’s perspective. An insider view of the church would, by contrast, revolve around the reality of shared faith. From the outset, Rev’s operating assumption is that faith is individual. The Rev Smallbone’s prayer monologues are purely personal. Faith is not something held in common. Nor is it transformative. Which is, rightly or wrongly, what people of faith think it is. Perhaps the show’s most wonderful character, the drug addict Colin, is a parishioner Adam is genuinely friends with. But there’s never a question of faith freeing him from addiction.

I’ve really enjoyed this series of Rev. It is, at times, profound and touches on brilliance, and at others is deeply disappointing. Somehow Adam Smallbone struggles through temptation and personal doubt to do the right thing. Yet James’ points are right on. Its take on the church is deeply undermining, of corporate faith that is shared between believers skin deep. The supernatural is entirely absent.

Denying the insider view denies the rich diversity of the church in England. This is both a lack of creativity and a failure of representation.

The Ad Man’s Gospel

Alastair Roberts on Rob Bell:

The ad man doesn’t persuade his customer by making a carefully reasoned and developed argument, but by subtly deflecting objections, evoking feelings and impressions, and directing those feelings and harnessing those impressions in a way that serves his interests. Where the lawyer argues, the ad man massages.

Rob Bell’s theology seldom approaches you head on. It typically comes at you couched in a question, insinuated in an anecdote, embedded in a quotation from one of his friends, or smuggled in a metaphor. Its non-confrontational and conversational tone invites ready agreement. Even if you don’t agree, Bell hasn’t pinned himself down. He’s only asked a question, quoted an acquaintance, or related an anecdote, and could easily distance himself from any of them.

This seems like a fair assessment to me. Much of the criticism of Bell I’ve seen – leaving the theology aside – fails to take account of the highly creative and persuasive elements of his style, that are so often missed or grate with linear thinkers.

The Builder’s High

Michael Lopp on using our time and attention to build things of meaning and value:

Look around. If you’re in a group of people, count how many are lost in their digital devices as they sit there with a friend. If you’re in your office, count how many well-intentioned distractions are within arm’s reach and asking for your attention. I wonder how many of you will read this piece in one sitting – it’s only 844 words long…

This is not a reminder to over-analyze each moment and make them count. This is a reminder not to let a digital world full of others’ moments deceive you into devaluing your own. Their moments are infinite – yours are finite, too,  and precious – and this New Year I’m wondering how much we want to create versus consume.

Changed lives change cities

A great post by Alan Scott that looks at the temptation to break discipleship down into something that is manageable rather than missional. He urges the reader to move away from thinking of discipleship being primarily about personal piety and personal spiritual discipline to something that is expressed and learned through living an outward life of faith that changes the city in which you live. Individual discipleship through 1:1 discussions in coffee shops is “too low a goal”, with real discipleship taking place through the sharing of life and mission.

This is a really helpful distinction that highlights the continual need to orientate church communities around the task of reproducing the life of Jesus. Our vision for seeing our communities changed by the love of Jesus should be expansive and not reductionist. Time and time again we see the Apostle Paul involving people in mission.

[He] didn’t disciple people by staying with them, but rather by taking them with him. Together they engaged with the improbable possibility that whole communities and cities might respond openly and wholeheartedly to the message of the kingdom.

Alan issues a challenge here for leaders to

measure the level of discipleship in the church by the level of transformation in the city.

If discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you, I’m pretty sure that he would be changing cities. As we see our own lives becoming more and more like Jesus, we will also see our cities changed.

Where did all the Bible study go?

Keeping on the theme of making the Bible your native tongue, Dave Miller reflects on the tendency to go to commentators on the Bible before we go to the Bible itself:

Read the text, observe it – before you check other peoples’ opinions and insights. Let the Spirit be your first teacher. After you have studied, after you have labored over the text and figured it out, then you consult the wisdom of the wise (often to see where you went astray).

I know that it is my own experience to ‘rush in’ to what others say about a passage rather than do the hard work of working through what insights I can discern first. I would like to consult the author of scripture before I read what the commentators have got to say.

Often, a commentary may very well correct or clarify my own reflections – but I need to keep bringing myself back to going to scripture first, and then, and only then, to the thoughts of others.

Make the Bible your native tongue

I distinctly remember there being times at school when I spent more time reading the ‘Cliff Notes’ guide to a book in my English Literature class than I spent reading the book in question itself. Not that I do things last minute or anything, but I remember watching Richard Brannagh’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ the night before an exam, as a quick way of getting a basic understanding of the plot. It never occurred to me to read the play through for myself!

The point is that we can all too easily rely upon the helpful, but secondary, sources for comment and understanding rather than go to that which is the subject of the commentary.

When we have questions of faith and practice, do we go first to google, our favourite celebrity pastor or twitter to find answers when we should be putting in the hard work of going to the Word of God ourselves? Listening in on what God is saying to others through his Word is no replacement for developing our own listening ears for what The Lord is saying and sitting under the authority of his written Word.

Tim Kimmel on reading the Bible as a second language:

With tweets, blog posts, predigested podcasts, and fingertip access each week to downloads of some of the most engaging Bible teachers in the world, it’s tempting to develop an on-going input of the Bible at the hands of others that overshadows, or even eclipses, input from personal time spent pouring over it on our own.

The drive-by options we have to phenomenal biblical insights can easily meet our need for spiritual satisfaction. Forget the possibility that much of it may be the equivalent of spiritual junk food — great insights and observations that feel good being consumed but can’t possibly provide a well-balanced biblical diet. Throw in some white noise from our preferred theological hot buttons, and the evangelical celebrity status of our favorite Bible teachers, and we shouldn’t be surprised that our primary connection to God becomes one or more steps removed from God himself.

There are some fantastic tools for Bible study and interpretation out there today, but they should compliment and not replace a vibrant personal commitment to hearing God speak daily and personally to us through his Word.

The biblical narrative should be our native tongue, not a second language. I want to know and be familiar with the cadence of scripture – to let it shape my life not sit on the shelf referred to but unread.

Healthy is messy

Sam Rainer on healthy churches necessarily being messy churches:

If you’re a church leader and you’re constantly dealing with how to disciple messy, new believers, then it probably means you’re doing something right. Conversely, if everyone in your church is spiritually mature, then something is terribly wrong. In fact, a church full of “mature” believers is quite immature because it means no one is reaching outward.

Healthy churches are messy. It’s easy to look in from the outside and claim, “Half that church is immature!” But such disdain could be misguided. While a state of perpetual immaturity is a recipe for disaster, a constant movement of many immature people being discipled is exactly what Jesus commanded us to do.

“The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47) – “continuous outreach into the community seeking to bring people into Christ and his community.”

Healthy churches grow – but growing churches can look ‘unhealthy’ if spiritual maturity is the only metric used.