Who will replace Billy Graham?

What a legacy. So many people over decades owe it to this man that they found Christ and began their journey of faith. Scandal free over the length of his ministry he is an example for all, and an example of someone who lived out his convictions faithfully. To receive a ‘well done good and faithful servant’ surely is the highest accolade that any of us will ever receive. He stood as a symbol and a sign of the power of the Cross of Jesus to transform lives. His passing probably marks the close of an era… will he be replaced?

Thank God for the many faithful evangelists who in different ways seek to present clearly the path to the heart of the Father through the cross. However, could there be a new era breaking forth for us in these years… an era that might look a little different to the one that is passing?

I sat and watched as an evangelist asked some younger people ‘why God should let them into his heaven?’ (of course that is an interesting question, to say the least!!). One put up his hand and said – my hope is that I have sought to follow Christ. The answer was not good enough! The correct answer was that he was not worthy to enter, that his only plea was the blood of Christ. His answer was not only wrong but would mean that he would not be given permission to enter heaven. The evangelist then called for him and all others to come to the cross.

I have dialogued with another who explained very clearly that he had discovered that a certain person they had befriended was not ‘good soil’ and that he had wasted time with that person, the evidence being the person was not prepared to attend an Alpha course.

I lived near a town where an evangelist had come to it and in one weekend some 200 had responded to salvation. This in a town where the evangelical population was minimal. Had 200 responded – maybe at some level. Probably after the dust had settled 2 or 3 had come to a place of faith. That is wonderful, but to suggest 200?

The early church did not seem to have staggering growth. Of course growth is not linear, there are growth spurts for sure, but if we level it out then over the first 300 years we can pretty much see a growth rate that computes to 40% per decade. Start a church with a house group (say 10 people) and over the next 10 years another 4 come to faith. Not staggering but consistent, and in a way that deeply affected the deep structure of empire.

Paul planted a church in Corinth, among many other places. This was a wild place, the term ‘to act as a Corinthian’ being a way to insult someone and to suggest that they had no reasonable constraints on them. The city was around 250,000 so not a small place. The body of believers? Well apparently some 6 or so years after he left and was now writing his letters they could all fit in one house. He writes to the Roman church from Corinth sending greetings from:

Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you (Rom. 16: 23).

If we allow for a large house and we streeeeetch things a whole lot it seems the church in that city would not have been any larger than 200 people, and was probably smaller than that. In a hostile, temple infested, sexually lax city. This was not a city with a whole raft of mega churches within it. The city had one ekklesia in Christ, and at times not a great representation of that as we pick up from the two letters to the church in Corinth. In writing his second letter to them I think we get quite an insight into Paul’s perspective:

But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. (2 Cor. 10: 15, 16).

He did not have a great passion to continue to input there in person. He clearly had concerns for them but wanted to get the message of the gospel out within the Imperial lands. His hope for them was that their faith might increase – not that they would befriend those who were good soil so that x-numbers could respond! I am not for one minute suggesting that he did not desire others to come to (what we might term) personal saving faith, but I suspect he was thinking in ways that maybe did not deny that concept but centred elsewhere. The gospel claim he was making was in direct confrontation to the Imperial claims.

I know numerous people who came to faith through Billy Graham, I helped organise coaches to a ‘crusade’ in London. For his life, work and passion he has a unique place in the history of evangelical Christianity. And the ‘but’ that follows is not in any way a put down on the past, it is simply a looking forward. A new Billy Graham does not wait in the wings. Maybe many new evangelists will come through in these next years. But… my conviction is that God is not looking for the next Billy Graham, nor the next ‘big’ thing. The multiplicity of the small and the diversity of conviction is where we are headed.

Forty percent per decade, all fitting in a house in a hostile environment. Do we really want to recover the NT gospel?

I am not suggesting all aspects have to be replicated, but I do suggest that we have to have a re-examination of what the gospel entails, what the message focuses on, and as a result what the purpose of the body of Christ in any location is.

Paul seemed to have a conviction that small was enough, provided their faith increased. It was among those people that he claimed the signs and wonders had been performed with ‘great patience’. He could wait a generation, even a century or more, and I suggest even within the old geographic framework of the Gospel to the nations (Gentiles / ta ethne) and to the inhabited world (oikonomia) there are aspects where there still is a wait for the fulfilment. He longed to get to Spain… prayers, hopes in the soil still waiting. But waiting for what? For a new Billy Graham. I don’t think so. Certainly waiting for all counter claims to the Christ path to yield, and on that front we have some work to do!!

Good and faithful servant. Surely the affirmation that has been spoken over Billy Graham. Now that accolade needs to be spoken over the many small people who in their incredible diversity will discover that their life lived out faithfully might make a small contribution to the ‘forty percent per decade’ but that together the Imperial lie will be confronted. The Imperial lie that to all who comply great benefits will flow, while hiding the truth that a few are at the centre and the benefits are flowing to the centre. The gospel confronts that. ‘All of you, eat and drink’ was the invitation at the Last Supper. A few days later Jesus ascended, and at the same time a dispersal movement began. Whoever ate and drank carried the Spirit of the One who gave the invitation.

Billy Graham and many others have given the invitation to come to the front and surrender their lives to Jesus. I think there is now a call to those who are surrendering to him to go, to be, and in their disappearance to make their contribution alongside the multiplicity of other unknown people. A new era is beckoning, marked by the multiplicity of the small and the diversity of conviction.


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Are we to blame?

There are some crazy things that take place in society and more-then-crazy things proposed in response. I seek to hesitate to comment on anything in the USA as I it is not a geography that I have been asked to take responsibility for, but Gayle and I are over here a few days, and the gun debate is of course in focus. Arming teachers? Once one starts with the good people can (and must) have control we are on a slippery slope. I can (almost) handle the kind of response to issues when it is phrased with ‘regrettably for now the best way forward is, but we want to be clear, this is only because at this stage we are unable to make a better response…’

Responses that involve an escalation of power never seem to bring a solution, and ironically of course reflect the view that many have of God’s government! Making a healthy response at a legislative level is never an easy one, but those who do that have to at least have one eye firmly fixed on the future, in the sense of where will this take us in 5 / 10 years time.

I wonder how we are to measure the health of the church in any given area? We could of course consider look internally and consider how the body is nourished, what level of care is shown one to another. However, if the church is to take responsibility for the health of the wider society we would also need to look at the what is taking place in wider society. I am sure that there is a principle laid out in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus moved from murder in society to the issue of anger among the disciples. There seems to be a correlation. Seeds in the body and fruit in society.

The terminology of the NT is highly political, the word ‘ekklesia’ being a common word already in use. The Hebrew background of ‘qahal’ is important, but the immediate context of the NT is of the city government. Paul did not, in one sense, plant an ekklesia in the cities he worked in, he planted ekklesias ‘in Christ’. The city already had an ekklesia, he planted a ‘Jesus’ version. I suggest the use of the word indicates, that just as the city ekklesia was there for the future of the city, so also the ekklesia in Christ.

We cannot control the outcome within a society, there are choices that are there to be made, and freedom indicates that the wrong choice can be made. However, I believe we can shift (bind = limit) powers that control. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but we have a battle.

If the church measures its health only by what is happening within the four walls we are going to miss it. We have to let the issues within society reflect back. We are not to blame for what happens, and if the church is marginalised in a setting survival might be the main focus… but where it is established we really have to step up to the plate.

Back home we take this seriously. We now have political prisoners (from Catalonia), none of whom have been involved in violence. We have corruption (named as the most corrupt government in Europe), control of the media and so on. Are we to blame? No. But we have to live in a different way and outwork our faith so that in 5 or 10 years time there is a change.

Any temporary responses that give more power to the ‘good'(!!!) people have to give way to shifts that are visibly reflected in society along the lines of care for the marginalised, co-habiting of space, peace and well-being.

We are not to blame, we cannot dictate the outcomes… but we need to take responsibility now to open up possibilities that look different in the future.


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Move that money…

We can make too much of an event, and certainly we can claim too much, particularly if we are of the evang-elastic persuasion. (Count all the claims for salvation made in some places and the entire population has been ‘saved’ a number of times over!) But I think we can also miss the moments on the way when we do not note possible shifts.

I had not planned on writing about Mammon and about the stewarding of finances other than it has bugged me for a while, and after the previous two posts along came two emails to my inbox yesterday. I don’t write this to make great claims simply… come on let’s shift some money that is locked up by Mammon and see a few valleys raised up.

I am also positive about the emails as resources have come from city coffers to those with a kingdom vision – one of the key signs of a city moving to her destiny is that sign. Money always being a biblical sign of a shift. First disturbance, then re-balancing moving to a healthier distribution.

In June 2004 I was led to declare this to a community of believers:

“That incredible favour is on you in this city not just in answers to prayer but in buildings.” Then declared” You are going to see finance flow into you from this city, And I am declaring that whole projects, not part projects, will be paid for out of this city.”

The email was lengthy in content but the highlights in relation to that declaration:

  • Our former site valued at one million pound site was swopped for land valued at three million, plus 5.9 million pounds to rebuild and agreed to cover all our expenses (£1.5m)!! Only God could do this. It makes no sense by anybody else`s maths except the Father’s.
  • The new site has given us reach into one of the poorest areas of the city and into two adjacent schools as well as people of other faiths. We have hosted conferences particularly run by the NHS and The Police and we estimate that in the region of 15,000 people have been at a conference in 20 months!!
  • We are inundated with comments about the different attitude and atmosphere that people meet in the new building and have had many opportunities to share Christ.
  • Then in the past days the city has committed to put another 0.5 million to renovate the top floor of our building in order to accommodate more than 170 Roma Children for whom they have no other space!!

It is hard to work out the significance of all this in the BIG picture of stewarding of finances, but given that we have thought about what part can anyone play when Mammon has such a loud voice… at least let’s keep pushing… and laughing!


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That is a LOUD voice!

It is always very interesting to be reading through the Bible. I focus much more on the Old Testament earlier on in the year when I do this, and in some of those readings there are so many challenges. Patriarchy is not only taken for granted but it seems to be endorsed as a good order. Genocide in the name of God… all there. Challenging to one’s view of inspiration and of what we mean by the canon of Scripture. I would happily see some parts within the collection of 66 books be sidelined and to be excised! One book I would not be happy to see sidelined though would be the book of Revelation (the Apocalypse). Strange as that one does not make it into a number of the church canons, and even Luther who believed it should be included in the NT list of books also suggested it be segregated with other controversial books in a “disputed” section, of ‘antilegomena’.

I did not grow up reading novels, and until recently did not enjoy many films (neither of those categories being ‘real life’! As if I know what real life is….) However, employing genre so removed from real life, and written in a way that gives the likes of me few clues as to how to read it, I have loved the book of Revelation. (And definitely a much better read when the likes of Scofield, Darby, Lindsay, Left Behind are all kept way beyond arm’s length.)

Imagery using such terms as beasts was not a new term for ancient readers. Babylon was not a new idea for Jewish believers. And Revelation really goes to town with such imagery and historical allusions. The (sea) beast of Revelation 13 was ‘given a mouth’ to speak, speaking for 42 months. 42 months is not a short time, and feels like forever. It is certainly much longer than some 15,000 days, it represents the time of conflict, being one of those ‘rectangular’ numbers in Revelation where it is the result of one number multiplied by one bigger than the first (here 6×7). Those numbers represent the times of conflict, so they are not referring to a specific length of time. Hence the voice can be louder at times than at others.

I have been very exercised in these days about the mouth that Mammon has, the voice that in Revelation will declare ‘you cannot buy and sell’. We have heard that voice, we know many friends who have been spoken to by that intimidating voice, intimidating as there seems no way past it. The voice seems to speak and control a highway, that highway at times literally being the trade routes. I am also provoked as yesterday I had a Skype call with someone who engages with those who deal with money and can make huge differences to peoples’ lives with the stroke of a pen. This person has a vision for societal transformation, and in engaging with companies his pitch is for their involvement in communities, with a twofold outcome: they will pour something back in for the betterment of others, and yet it will not mean they ‘lose’ out financially. The central focus though is the community issue. Over and over again they get excited by the vision, they are on board… until they work out that their bottom line just might be affected. Already making more than they need, they must make yet more, so again and again the vision my friend has is turned down. Sounds like a discouraging voice… but it is more than that, it is the voice of Mammon.

The 42 month period, the time when there is a loud voice speaking.

Money is a strange thing… I am not even sure what it is. The instability in the stock market yet again shows this – huge gains and losses. Maybe it is simply a measure of confidence that some exhibit. That ‘some’ being a minority of the population. If money was simply a mark of the confidence that some exhibit and that was all it was that might be OK, but it goes beyond that. It controls the destiny of people, and at a daily level who can buy and sell. We watched last night a program on the homelessness in Spain since 2008. A good number of whom were university graduates, and employed in 2008, meanwhile in the same country 40billion of public money can be unaccounted for in one year (2017). Money, a real entity? A measure of confidence? Or something standing behind it all?

Juan Mata, Spanish footballer, has his feet on the ground. Earning as these ‘stars’ do a huge sum of money he is provoking his fellow soccer players to donate 1% of their income into a foundation that can help channel that money positively. 1% of huge salaries is a large sum of money and I applaud him for this. That 1% is way more than a 10% of other money. Those actions are to be applauded. But…

The system remains.

What if Revelation was holding out the tantalising hope that we are here to see the system change? What if the Gospel is the announcement that mountains will be made low and valleys raised up? What if the body of Christ is truly ‘elect in him’ to the pulling down of strongholds and releasing a new way of being?

42 months. Patience marking the new apostolic. Applauding where 1% is placed in a foundation. But with a long term vision. A beast without a voice is intimidating, but a beast with a voice, that is at a different level all together.

In 2009 as clear as an audible voice I heard a challenge from heaven, that if those with significant financial resources were not stewarding their finances how was I going to do that? I am still on the journey toward that – I have certainly not made it through 42 months, not even sure I have made 24 hours into that journey, but I cam off the Skype yesterday with a small piece of the puzzle in my hand. I said to Gayle, we start relationaly. We connect. Not to the rich and famous, but to the ones and twos who dream of societal change, some of whom are not afraid of money nor success but neither of those commodities are the bottom line for them. The journey ahead is, of course, a corporate one. There needs to be eyes, hands and feet. The eyes cannot say… the feet cannot say… The beast is not confronted by a yet stronger beast. 42 months… and as always there has to be a human ‘lamb’, a people who find each other where no one takes the spot light, no one becomes the new controller of the resources, as if replacing the bad with the ‘good person’ would ever be the way to bring about change. An old centre is not to be replaced by a new, but good one, but as is evidenced in the breaking of bread and in Pentecost, a huge dispersal marks the shift.

Patience. Long term. Should not be surprising that is needed. This journey did not begin a few years ago with 1994 being such a turning point for many. It did not begin with a new perspective on Paul and his gospel… It certainly had major starting point in Jerusalem when the hegemony of religion (and ‘good’ religion at that) was broken. Those 42 months seem to stretch back a long way. What a diversity of voices have spoken in those ‘months’ and at times the voice of the beast has seemed the loudest. However, I don’t think that s/he with the loudest voice wins!


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You’ve got to laugh!!

Mammon with a voice!! A loud voice at that. Gayle and I had to make some choices this past week, the exact nature of which is inappropriate to put here, but having heard the voice of Mammon shouting loudly, ‘Not enough!!’, we then had a choice to make which if we followed it would involve making us less capable of confronting Mammon on its terms. Choices though, when possible, need to follow convictions. So we went ahead and made the choice.

Having acted on it as we drove back home, we reflected on Jesus and his radicality.

1) Take the money and knowingly give it to a thief to look after.
2) Send out the disciples instructing them to take nothing. You won’t eat unless they feed you. And to compound things, because there are wolves out there I will send you as their food (lambs).

You just got to laugh!! Not a strategy to win the popular vote. Maybe we could write him off – after all what does a 30 year old know about such issues? The idealist will grow out of it.

In that context though… heal the sick, cast out demons, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead. Proclaim the kingdom of God has come near.

You just have to laugh. The whole situation is crazy. Yet maybe we got to laugh at ourselves when we realise how little of the Jesus message we have understood.

Although I will post this a day after the post on Mammon’s loud voice, I wrote them at the same time. If a part of the puzzle is relational, another part has to be laughter. A good healthy dose of laughing at ourselves, of the madness of taking ourselves too seriously, as if we could change the world! A healthy dose of laughter at the teachings of Jesus, so that we are a little more vulnerable to them gaining an entrance to our hearts.

‘He who sits in the heavens laughs.’


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