Crazy Thinking?

In the words of a colleague of Jude’s the other day, “Covid is a bit rubbish isn’t it?” He may have used a stronger word……

And it is! Isn’t it? It’s turned many aspects of our lives upside down and then jumbled them around a lot more. For a number of reasons it hasnt been easy to contiue with life as normal. From shopping to being a little nervy meeting friends, many things that we once took for granted have become more difficult. Uncertainty is a killer isn’t it? Yesterday I spent a whole day sorting out flights to Zambia, maybe different airlines were sinply not going to fly despite their schedules. It is in God’s hands what happens there, literally!

What makes all of this worse is crazy thinking! One story I saw yesterday was about the church in South Korea who defied government quarantine orders and decided to meet anyway.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/coronavirus-south-korea-church-seoul-sarang-jeil-kdcd-latest-a9673866.html

Or how about Grace Community Church in Florida https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/511784-california-megachurch-draws-thousands-at-in-person-services-defying

Let’s remember that many outbreaks of Covid have stemmed from christian gatherings. Another example from Germany https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-germany/germany-tries-to-trace-people-who-attended-church-service-at-which-covid-19-spread-idUSKBN2300KK

There are lots of other examples too! Another leader bemoaned on facebook the other day, “Isn’t it time that churches were allowed to fully reopen” Despite the fact, that in the UK presently, churches are allowed to open albeit with restrictions. You can’t sing and you need to wear a mask whilst giving people distance amongst other rules. For some that is simply not acceptable.

The issue I suspect is not the ‘re-opening’ of the church and meeting together, it is more that we can’t gather in the way we normally do or our understanding of what church is way too static.

I remember a friend of mine Trevor Hutton (you can read his blog ‘Musings Over a Mug here’) emphasing that people’s behaviour and what they get upset about in different situations reflects their inner beliefs about God, the church, people in the wider world and what the wider ‘end’ story is. (Theology, Ecclesiology, Anthropology and Eschatology to coin a few ‘ologies’ there!)

So what is going on here? Why on earth would these leaders sacrifice the safety of people at the altar of simply meeting together in a large group? To help us think about this I’ve tried to categorise different mindsets that different people hold very dear:

The Big ‘Sunday or bust’ mindset This is exactly what it says on the tin! It’s go big on a sunday or go bust. If we are restricted from meeting on a sunday or from doing what we normally do, then somehow we cannot be church. The problem with this, is that biblically whilst yes church is a gathering of people, both biblically and historially there are many different ways of this happening. The Big Sunday or bust mindet, is simply what we are used to at present. As for singing, is that really the only form of worship that exists in the christian church? Absolutely not! It never has been and never will be. This mindset is simply an inflexble church masquearding as a ‘correct’ church. There is nothing to stop multiple much smaller ‘bubble’ gatherings of people. You can have the best of both worlds, online, bubbles and together working in tandem! I’ve only thought about it for 2 mins and I can see a way! However if your theology can’t handle it then you simply won’t do it! Some Christians have been doing great things in the pandemic, lots of people and some churches are really taking the bull by the horns. They have not closed for one second. People are getting the message that they are the church where they are. Those that are inflexible tend to not do this. For goodness sake it’s a pandemic where a virus is spread by close proximity from one to another. Can we really not flex around that and be inventive? Are you dangerously addicted to a large gathering?

Then there is the Devil’s Ploy mindset In this mindset everything that is happening at the moment is to somehow silence the church. If you stop us meeting together then evil grows in the world! Maybe some people are dying and there is a health risk, but this is greatly exxagerated by the authorities that the devil controls. It’s all a big conspiracy man!

The actual issue is an incorrect ecclesiology combined with poor understading of both the Supremacy and Victory of God. If we spent more time being the people of God where we are placed at the present time than we did ‘over-thinking’, seeing demons everywhere then maybe we would actually ‘be’ the church, be the presence of Jesus right where we are and overcome the devils schemes? I’m not understimating the work of the devil and evil, but he doesn’t have the same hang ups about church meetings that we do. He simply wants to neutralise the people of God wherever they are! He wants to ensure people suffer in every way and die of a virus needlessly.

I bring to mind the persecution of the early church and the way the Gospel spread throught the ‘world’ in the book of Acts. When the devil really was trying to kill the church, it simply spread everywhere! Let’s have some faith, get on with the job and stop seeing conspiracy everywhere.

The God will Protect Me mindset. Again, this is exactly what it says. No matter what we do God will protect us. So we will meet and we won’t get sick because the Spirit will heal us. It brings to mind the text in Mark 16:17 “they will take snakes in their hands, they will drink poison and not be hurt, they will lay hands on the sick and make them well.” Except that in this case, snakes are replaced by Covid or some other ailment. The problem with this is that it kind of ignores other passages in the bible about putting God to the test. Do you remember when Jesus was tempted by the devil?

Matthew 4:5-7
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Having a blind belief in the Soverieignty of God which says “I’ll do whatever I want and no harm will come” is really putting God to the test. It’s wrong and uses God like a good luck charm (they call that witchcraft in Africa!) You don’t see too many church goers dancing down the fast lane of a motorway do you?? God surely would protect them? God gave you common sense for a reason. Is using it really against the sovereignty of God?

This brings me to the last mindet, which affects all humans everywhere and what is really casuing us so many problems. It’s called the Selfish mindet. The bottom line is that we cannot do what we want to do. Our lives have become about what we want to do, how we want to do it and when we want do it. At the heart of it, that’s why there are churches that flout rules, people have illegal raves and there are protests against mask wearing. It’s the “I’ll do what I want and I’ll fight for the right” mentality.

Contrast this with the song by Graham Kendrick about Jesus

From heaven you came, helpless babe,
Entered our world, your glory veiled; 
Not to be served but to serve,
And give your life that we might live.
This is our God, the Servant King,
He calls us now to follow him,
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to the Servant King.

Are we giving our life, our church, our time, wherever we are found so that others may live in every sense of the word?

Three of the most precious traits that God has given us are love, creativity and flexibility. At this time, can we overcome our selfishness and stop holding onto mindsets that don’t help us?

Let’s ditch the crazy thinking

An Upside to Fear?

It was driving home from what I now affectionately called ‘Armageddon Asda’ that it hit me. I think the sight of empty shelves, more akin to what I have seen occasoinally in some African countries had unsettled me. Listening to the news and debate about Coronavirus on late night Radio 4, a sense of deep disquiet and foreboding slowly crept up on me. A sense of events happening that were far bigger than myself or my abiity to control. Surely, I was listening to the plot of a movie, not real news and life. As I drove on, troubling thoughts gnawed at my Spirit.

  • “All of my plans are going to need to change….”
  • “What on earth are we going to do about this…..?”
  • “Will we be OK…. Will Jude and the kids be OK….?”
  • “How bad is this going to get….?”

Situational anxiety creeps up on you. Questions are your attempt to decode, understand and adapt. The emotional response, fear, adrenalin and whirling thoughts around your head are the process of this adaption.

There is a realisation of our own mortaility.

Maybe just maybe your place and plans in this world are not as assured as you previously thought. These thoughts reveal what really drives us, what really makes us tick.

I’m a problem solver. I cope by finding solutions. Give me something difficult to sort and I’ll thrive. Given the right situation, a threat against myself or my family, I revert to type. “Where can I get supplies from?”, “2/3 of my business is under threat. How can I mitigate that?”, “What if the power goes out”. You get the idea! Others cope differently, they literally ‘bury their head in the sand”. It’s too difficult to engage with the situation. “This simply isn’t happening”, despite evidence before their very eyes. Others adopt a ‘laissez-faire’ attitude and think “It’ll never happen to me.” Admirable in some ways but pretty self centred.

Fear in all of its’ guises is the trait that connects all of this behaviour. If you can recognise yourself then it’s because you quite rightly are ‘fearful’ of the situation. One of the traits I see in online posts everywhere is that somehow it is wrong to be fearful or to feel anxiety. That’s absolute rubbish! Fear is simply a natural response to a dangerous situation. I know from personal experience that if someone threatens you with a firearm, fear is a perfectly natural response. That sinking feeling, the elevated heartbeat, the whirring, it’s all a way of your body telling you to take action, run or fight. It’s easy to say ‘it’s wrong to fear’ from an armchair!

So what does Jesus mean when he says “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

John 14:27 The Bible

There are two components of fear. One is the actual feeling, the response of your ‘being’ to a danger. The other is your reponse to that feeling. Having to deal with anxiety over the years has taught me to separate the two.

When you see people panic buying, jostling for toilet roll, fighting, just not caring or caring too much, you are observing a response to the feeling of fear and uncertainty. The bottom line is that many of us have nowhere to look but ourselves for help, solace and provision. If we are not careful that can send our behaviour into selfish self preserving overdrive.

We can react differently. The ‘peace’ that Jesus speaks of is practical not some ethereal floating feeling. We need reassurance that our life is held by another higher power. In Europe, the military pact NATO (North Atlantic treaty Organisation) was formed between stronger and weaker powers. The idea being that in the face of soviet aggession during the cold war, an attack upon one country was an attack upon everyone. It gave reassurance to ‘weaker’ nations. In the Ancient World, the same thing happened. Weaker nations made pacts with stronger nations for protection. That’s why in the Old Testament of the Bible, God forbids his people from making such a treaty. In the same way that God wanted to be the protector of a nation, he also wants to protect us.

John 14 seeks to reassure us of two things. In the first half of the chapter Jesus talks about going to heaven to prepare a place for his disciples. In the second half he promises to send the Holy Spirit to help us in the here and now. Jesus takes care of death. For those that know Jesus, we have no reason to seek to preserve our life in the face of danger. Death is a gateway to another better place. Jesus also sends us help in the here and now. We can know the direct help of God in our lives. He can provide for us, give us wisdom and teach us.

Spouting on about ‘it’s wrong to have fear’ is missing the point. Having peace in God is not about pretence, it is about trust. Knowing the truth of God so that your response to fear is trust, is another matter entirely. Trust leads us to not panic buy, not jostle, not fight. Trust leads us to help people in the presence of fear. Trust leads us to use fear appropriately, taking the proper precautions whilst taking necessary action with courage.

Fear, stress and pressure reveal what is at your heart. The right questions to ask are, what does your fear teach you and where does your fear lead you? Driving home that night my heart was overwhelmed for a while. Through many situations I am learning to use fear to drive myself to trust. In doing so, I overcome and conquer that fear but I don’t stop feeling it. I simply get up and keep walking on.

Nelson Madela, a man far better with words than myself said this:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Neslon Mandela from A Long Walk to Freedom

Worth It?

Deep in my spirit there has been in recent times a question knawing at me. “Is it all Worth It?”. Sometimes in times gone by I haven’t even been able to articulate the question conciously. It’s simply been a dull ache somewhere in my heart, mind and motivation. It colours your approach to things, your decisions and dicates your get up and go.

I’ve been leading Dignity, an innovative people driven movement for around 12 years. The premise of the movement is simple. The church is a ‘grass roots’ and ‘bottom up’ movement of people. We help people to know the everyday truth of Jesus combined with learning, friendship and action in community. It’s literally a vision of how truth, love and community change the world.

Over the years I’ve seen groups of people spring up in hundreds of locations all over Southern Africa. Thousands of people have applied and learned the truth of Jesus for themselves. Many communites have experienced real change because of the people within them. Whilst I wouldn’t take credit for the thousands of people who have embraced this truth and their thousands of loving ‘actions’, somewhere along the line it was something to do with me and decisions I made. So was it all worth it?

There is a cost personally to doing anything of worth. It’s important to remember that. Simply, because that cost is very real. I’ve had great experiences, made great friends and seen some really amazing things over the years. At the same time I’ve known discouragement, opposition and personal attacks. On and off I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, questioning whether I really ‘did’ make a difference. Throughtout all of this my children and wife have seen the best and worst of me. My faith has been tested more than a few times. I’ve even questioned that faith sometimes. Whatever you do, that cost is there. I do believe it is part of the journey.

I’m in North Wales at the moment and I spent some time today walking along Black Rock Sands near Porthmadog. I then followed it up by having a welcome pot of tea in Borth-Y-Gest, a lovely little harbour up the coast. Rather than ignoring the question of ‘is it all worth it?’ I decided to engage with the question, think about it and stretch it. Whilst walking I can do that. I can sift what I believe my faith in Jesus tells me about it and also just enjoy the scenery.

The question of worth depends upon what and who you value. If I value myself and my family only, then personally I can feel sometimes a sense of ‘missed opportunity and loss’ at what my family has had to do and embrace. That’s real there is no getting away from it.

If however, I measure the lives and stories of people whom I have met over the years. If I see what they have done, what they achieve, then maybe it is worth it all! There is a paradox here. It’s only worth it if you can see a legacy in the lives of others. If it is all about you, then no, maybe it isn’t all worth the effort?

Another question sprang to mind this morning, “Is He worth it?”. Another phrase for cost or sacrifice is worship. If I accept that my life is at least in part a life of worship to God then this question is very important. Irrespective of results, cost, sacrifice or whatever else, is He worth it? Following Jesus is not principally about what you achieve, but principaly about what or whom you live your life for. It’s about what you worship.

2 Corinthians 4:8-12 says this

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

This was the Apostle Paul asking the same question, “is it all worth it?” I’m sure he encountered much harder situations than I do. I think verse 11 is really important here. We are given over to death so that the life of Jesus may be revealed. That’s the paradox I talked about earlier, our embracing hardship, sacrifice in the pursuit of following God’s way of love to people, reveals the very nature and life of God in our world. Death brings life.

You may be wondering how I answered the question, “Is it all worth it?”

I think I thought ‘Yes!’. Maybe a bit of an ‘alright! go on then with a wry smile’ type of yes, but a ‘yes!’ nonetheless. Maybe that’s the best we can do sometimes, but if it keeps you going that’s a good thing isn’t it?

Dancing with the Trinity

I know that I haven’t posted for ages and then it’s simply to upload an old essay of mine!

I wrote this a very long time ago as part of my MA in Theology. Of course, becasue of that it’s a little bit academic in places and not all of it is general as I was answering a specific question. However if you’ve listened to a talk of mine where I talk about “perichoresis” or simply just “dancing with God in community” then maybe some ideas here will make some sense.

The bottom line is this, God exists in community, his entire existence is a dance of life and love and we are invited into that dance!

Trinity and Mission

It’s amazing looking back at how some of this thought has percolated around in my heart and mind and eventually found expression in the movement that Jude and I founded called Dignity.

Anyway, enjoy! (I think!)

Essay, form and original thought is © Jon Paul Witt, 2019.

Breakout – Session 2

Breakout…. a short two session exploration of how we can push the boundaries of our church community. As part of our thinking, we investigate what it means to be ‘built upon the rock’ and declare Jesus in Authenticity, Community, Tradition, Proximity and Motivation.

We examine how ‘Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers’ can help us push out in all of these areas and help mould our church community to be the community it really should be. Thanks to Alan Hirsch for his thoughts and teaching upon this subject.

This is session 2, where we think about how Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers can help us to break free from our harmful traditions, become close to people and make decision to truly live for others.

You can listen to the session here:

You can also download the Powerpoint notes for the sssion here:

Breakout Session 2 – Public Version

Please feel free to download The Away Kit from Dignity here:

www.dignityonline.org.uk/awaykit

This session was recorded at South Church, Mkushi, Zambia.

Breakout

Breakout…. a short two session exploration of how we can push the boundaries of our church community. As part of our thinking, we investigate what it means to be ‘built upon the rock’ and declare Jesus in Authenticity, Community, Tradition, Proximity and Motivation.

We examine how ‘Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds and Teachers’ can help us push out in all of these areas and help mould our church community to be the community it really should be. Thanks to Alan Hirsch for his thoughts and teaching upon this subject.

This is session 1, where we think about Jesus building his church upon the rock and what this means for our Authenticity and Community.

You can listen to the session here:

You can also download the Powerpoint notes for the sssion here:

Breakout Session 1 – Public Version

This session was recorded at South Church, Mkushi, Zambia.

The Spirit Gives Life

The Spirit Gives Life is a session built upon our new discipleship material, “Foundations for Life”. I’m currently writing a few chapters for my organisation Dignity. We have multiple authors from multiple backgrounds all callaborating to make a fantastic resource. As you can tell from the recording it’s really informal and the session would normally be done as a small group study in a village.

I’ve intentionally left the banter and interpretation in so you can get a feel for what speaking in Africa is like. This session is being translated into Bemba as I speak.

Also note, the importance of ‘story’ in speaking within Africa. The story of Faith and her sail in the Okavango Delta is designed to be memorable and a modern day parable of how the Spirit works in our lives.

Have a listen and visit another world!

Recorded at Dignity EQUIP Camp September 2016, Mkushi, Zambia.

© Jon Paul Witt and Dignity 2016.

© Image Copyright. Spyderonlines.com

Religious and Indifferent in Sardis

In this talk we look at the Letter to the Church in Sardis, Revelation 3:1-6. There doesn’t seem to be much good said about the church in this once thriving city. We examine what it means to be truly alive and truly a follower of Jesus. Even thought this message is hard, it contains some fantastic encouragement. We can walk with God into eternity proud of what we have achieved here. For those of us who struggling, maybe even dying spiritually, we can be turned around so that we can live. No-one is ever beyond hope.

Click below to listen to the talk audio

Download the Powerpoint Notes for the talk below

light-in-a-dark-world-the-letter-to-the-church-in-sardis

This podcast was recorded at South Church, Mkushi, Zambia 4th September 2016.

© Copyright, Jon Paul Witt, 2016

© Image Copyright “Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland.” Jon Paul Witt 2016.

The 10×10 Challenge

A few weeks ago Ethan and myself travelled down to Bernard’s village to make a video for Dignity. Ethan did the filming, I did some scripting and then Bernard and myself took an inordinate amount of time getting it right!

We need to fund a huge expansion in the village work of Digntiy in Zambia. To do this, we need your help!

Please, please watch the video below and share it. We need 100 people to do the 10×10 challenge. Maybe you and your friends could be some of the 100?

Enduring in Smyrna

This is a guest appearence by my wife Judith Witt.

In this talk we look at the Letter to the persecuted chruch in Smyrna, Revelation 2:8-11. Endurance and overcoming fear are key messages to the church in Smyrna, that was not only poor but also persecuted. We can learn important lessons from their example today.

This podcast was recorded at South Church, Mkushi, Zambia 14th August 2016

© Copyright, Jon Paul Witt and Judith Karen Witt, 2016