Well what a strange, challenging and difficult year this has been – I know many people have found it really hard to ‘navigate’ their way forward during the past 10 months. I hope and pray that all of us linked to the Romans 15:8 network have found the support we have needed to enable us to lead well and to carry out our callings with diligence.
As this is the final blog of the year, I want to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy Christmas and a blessed New Year. I look forward to ‘travelling with you’ in 2021 and discovering more of the plans and purposes of the LORD.
Ministry News Update
This month I will ‘flag up’ 3 ministry events. Firstly, my colleague Jane Moxon hosted our annual CMJ UK Reps Conference. Over 40 gathered via zoom and we had good teaching input from 3 CMJ colleagues from Israel - David Pileggi, Benjamin Pileggi and Daryl Fenton. We looked at key issues around effective Jewish evangelism, advocacy within the Church and engaging well with social media.
Secondly, I had the privilege of preaching on the second Sunday in advent, via zoom at St Nicolas and St Barnabas Church in Weston-super Mare. The Church is led by Mark Madeley. Some of you will know work via his excellent work on behalf of Shoresh tours.
Thirdly, I completed a teaching series ‘7 in 7’ based on 7 parables from Luke’s Gospel. The plan is to record this teaching and to make it available online for Churches to download and use during zoom services etc. Each teaching is 7 minutes in length, hence the title 7 in 7.
I am continuing with some studies into the world of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. I recommend the book Degrees of Separation by Schneur Zalman Newfield (Temple University Press, 2020). This well researched book is based upon careful interviews with 39 Lubavitchers, 24 Satmars and 11 from other (Hungarian) Hasidic communities who left (or who are in the process of leaving) their communities. Newfield in general prefers to talk of people ‘exiting’ rather than ‘having exited’ as this recognises on-going connections.
The book explores the stories of these leavers and provides detailed insights into reasons for leaving and the ‘identity struggles’ that result. Newfield combines academic objectivity along with pastoral insight (he was raised within the Lubavitch) as he explores the ‘closed worlds’ of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism and complex issues around identity formation.
This is not an easy book to read, but it is rewarding. I found myself saddened at times, yet also privileged to gain access into and insights from this area of Jewish life. This book raises many questions and challenges for those of us wanting to share the Gospel within the Hasidic context. I was glad the book made it on to my ministry reading list.
Monthly Memory Verse
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a ruler who will shepherd My people Israel. (Matthew 2:6)
Teaching reflection of the month
A few weeks ago I was asked by the editor of the ‘Evangelicals Now’ monthly Newspaper to feature in their Ten Questions profile. The word limit to answering the ten set questions is 600 words so one needs to be somewhat limited in what you share. I wanted to share my answers with you and to invite you to submit me your answers (with the same word count). I will then share your answers either via this blog, or via other CMJ media channels.
Hopefully in engaging with these questions we can learn a bit more about each other and how the LORD has worked and is working in our lives.
- How did you become a Christian?
I was brought up in a ‘sort of Christian home’ and was welcomed into the life of a Church community from an early age. However, I drifted away but as a teenager I heard the Gospel in a way I found compelling, challenging and affirming. I made a commitment at this point and have been seeking to follow up this commitment and to deepen my faith over the past 45+ years.
- What lessons have you learnt that you would want to pass on to a younger Christian version of yourself?
You can learn lots of good stuff from people you don’t necessary agree with. You don’t need to win arguments if it risks losing relationships. Never regret time and money invested in study, travelling and ‘falling in love’.
- How would you describe your prayer life?
Some structured stuff mixed with spontaneous Holy Spirit inspired moments. Often a bit routine but occasionally a new reality opens up.
- What two or three Christian books apart from the Bible have most influenced your faith?
A huge range of books would make the longlist - but probably go with Bonhoeffer – True Patriot by Mary Bosanquet, How Much more shall your Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him by Robert Gordon and The Seven story Mountain by Thomas Merton.
- Who or what has been your biggest Christian influences?
In terms of people I know firsthand I would want to affirm my youth workers from my home church in Crowborough back in the 1970’s, a range of ordination students I trained for Christian ministry with in Manchester in the early 1980’s, and my wife. In terms of people I do not know firsthand I would want to affirm Larry Norman, Bob Dylan and a range of gifted preachers over the years.
In terms of ‘what’ I think I would affirm the period of ‘charismatic renewal’ in the 1970’s - 1980’s and opportunities to travel widely, especially times of travel (study tours/pilgrimages) in Israel and opportunities to engage with other Christians in many different contexts.
- What are the main challenges you believe Christians face today?
There are numerous challenges which will impact at different times in different ways, however the main two are the insidious pressure from a mainly secular world (and sometimes from part of the Church) to turn the Kingdom of God into a private, personal religious space, and engaging with a militant Islamic agenda.
- What encourages and what discourages you?
In terms of encouragement seeing and hearing of many people becoming Christians - especially in the context of my ministry with CMJ meeting Jewish people who become Jewish Believers in Jesus. In terms of discouragement I think the lack of empathy I see in myself and in others.
- What makes you laugh?
I fear I maybe one of those blokes to quote Billy Bragg ‘who laughs at his own jokes’. Plus a good dose of Father Ted.
- What would you want to say to the wider evangelical world?
Two things - first hold strong to the LORD, and secondly affirm that if Jesus is LORD, He must also be the Messiah of Israel. This truth has huge implications for ecclesiology, mission, theology and discipleship.
- Which Biblical person do you most look forward to meeting in Glory and why?
I think Jude (Judah) or James (Jacob) – it must have been incredible to know Jesus as a brother as well as coming to know Him as LORD and to serve Him in the early Church community.