Thursday, 17 November 2011

Losing your life - and loving the simple

I stumbled across an old song the other day. It was sung to me by a friend eleven years ago and I was so struck by it that I asked him for a photocopy.


I'm here Lord, your disciple,
Denying my self-life, accepting all pain.
I'm here Lord, your disciple;
Daily I'll follow you and never complain.
Ready to serve whatever the price,
I'm here Lord, building your church in sacrifice.
I'm here Lord, your disciple,
Losing my life once more to gain it anew.

Very simple and yet very challenging to sing - to sing and really mean, anyway. It gets to the very nub of what it means to follow Jesus.

So does this:
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?   (Luke 9:23-25)
I like the simple things. I like the fact that Jesus said very simple things, but that those things challenge us to the very core of our being.

I like the fact that the New Testament is simple. It steps past all our intellectual reasoning with its unexpected, earth-shattering, heart-exposing simplicity.

Like this:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.   (John 3:16)
And this:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.   (1 John 3:16)
And it elicits a response and causes us to look deeply at ourselves and to choose between our own meagre existence and a rich, fulfilled, ever-expanding - yet utterly challenging - life.

And it inspires songs. Like the one above.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Christian community - is it worth it?

Should I continue to live in Christian community, sharing my money and possessions with my friends? Sharing my living space, my bathroom, my car, my kitchen, my meals - my life? Is it possible to live this kind of lifestyle long-term? Does it work? Is there a better way to live out my faith in Jesus? What are the other options? Am I cut out for it?

Is it me?

Is it what God wants for me?

These are some of the questions facing a friend of mine who is living in Christian community with us.

(For those who don't know, I live with thirteen other people in a big house. Fellow Christians aiming to live out the teachings of Jesus in daily life together. Part of a much bigger UK-wide Christian community. See here for a bit more info.)

Anyway, my friend. He's coming to the end of his temporary stay in community (two years in his case, but for some only one year, for others maybe longer) and he's thinking through whether he wants to commit to living like this longer-term.

I recently sent him the questions below, for him to ponder, to help him work out where he stands and what he wants to do.

Are there any other community aspirants out there? How would you answer these yourself? You might find these questions helpful pondering material, whether you're new to community living or been living it for decades. Or even if you're just considering whether you should give it a go (come and stay with us if you want).

Feel free to pick a question and answer it in the comments for this post. 

  • What made you want to live in community?
  • If you had to liken your time so far in community to a certain type of food, what would it be, and why?
  • In what ways have you grown during your time in community?
  • How do you think you have contributed to the life of the community since you have been here?
  • What have been the best bits and what have been the challenges along the way?
  • If you had to liken your current experience of life in community to a certain type of car, what would it be, and why?
  • What are you enjoying about living in community at the moment? What are you finding tough?
  • If you had to advise a someone of roughly your age, who was in the same position as you (stayed two years, considering longer etc), what would be your advice?
  • If you had absolute power, what would you change about our community, and why? What would you keep the same?
  • If you had to liken your future in community to a certain ripeness of banana, how ripe would it be, and why? [Actually, forget that one, it ain't working... ;-)]
  • Do you see yourself continuing to live in community over the next year? 3 years? 10 years?
  • What do you fear about community and the future? What inspires you about it?
  • What is your vision for your household? For our community? For our church as a whole?
  • Why do you want to continue living in community?
  • What has God said to you about community?
  • If you had to convince someone that you were ready to commit yourself to community longer-term, what would you say?
More information on community: for keen readers, follow these links:
New Creation Christian Community (the lowdown - incl. a few books on the subject)
Living Radical (a blog on community living)
Man with the mop (another blog on community, from a different angle)
Reasons for living in community (a very good blog post on the subject)
Flame Leaflet (Jesus Fellowship leaflet on community)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Falling in love - the celibate way

What happens when an avowed celibate falls in love?

What happens if you've made a choice to live single for the rest of your life but everything inside you is screaming to have intimacy with a certain person?

I know a few people who've experienced this. I've been there myself, too, once or twice.

The process, in simple terms, runs something like this: feelings, longing, conflict, turmoil, pain, honesty, conviction, resolve, embracing the cross, restoration, relief, joy. Throw in a few other emotions and make this process repeat itself, not necessarily in the same order each time, and you have a good approximation of what it's like.

Tough, unbearable, madness at times, but an immensely deepening process. With God and your friends involved, it can bring a celibate great refining and, ultimately, a stronger resolve and a much deeper love for God.

Falling in love, having feelings for someone, developing a crush - however you want to phrase it -  is just part of life. It's normal. It's healthy. It's human.

It's what you do, or don't do, about it that counts.

Having feelings for someone doesn't have to take away from your celibacy; it can add to it. Obviously, that statement needs to be interpreted carefully, and obviously it makes things much easier to keep yourself guarded and to avoid the pitfalls where possible (it usually is possible). But if your guard has been low and you find yourself struggling in this area, it can be one of the most deepening experiences a celibate can have.

Celibacy, first and foremost, is about choosing love for God above others - and what better a way to live this out than to actually have to do it!

Incidentally, married people can develop feelings for someone other than their spouse, if they're not careful. Perhaps a similar thing could be said of marriage. What better a way to live out the "forsaking of all others" than to actually have to forsake someone in favour of your spouse. Surely that is part of the working out, the nitty-gritty, of love.

If a celibate renounces their love for a person, in favour of God, however much turmoil that may or may not cause them in the short term, then they are moving in the power of their celibate gifting. The gift of celibacy finds life and joy and the blessing of God through such experiences of renunciation. It could even be argued that this kind of experience is necessary in order for the gift to be fully experienced, for the vow to be truly ratified. Having promised to do, or not do, something, you're bound to have to either do, or not do, it eventually!

But there is a deeper point I need to make.

The natural, normal way of things, at least in our western society, is that when you have feelings for someone, you freely pursue those feelings until they are brought to a final conclusion: either a relationship, or finding that the other person is not interested. Either way, in the normal run of things, your feelings have dictated how you dealt with the situation. But when you have an 'absolute' which is at liberty to tell you that your feelings are not right and need to be dropped, when you have a commitment that you've made which is in opposition to your feelings - lifelong celibacy is one example of this, but so is marriage, or a specific commitment to, say, a year of singleness; there are other examples too - then you are in quite a different boat.

In this case, your conscience, your spirit, your will to do what is right come into play, and there is a choice to be made as to whether to be wilfully led by your spirit or swept along by your emotions. And if your spirit, not your emotions, dictates how you deal with the situation, and ultimately governs the outcome (despite the conflict in your emotions and the painful process of working it out) then you have taken a step further along the path of emotional - and, yes, spiritual - maturity.