Anyone who is willing to raise their head above the parapet and be subjected to intense public scrutiny is worthy of respect. Yet, as our nation finds itself facing one crisis after another, it is genuinely concerning to observe how febrile the political culture has become. This creates a growing sense of marginalisation where any alternative viewpoint is derided with scorn – and a road ahead which presents some very real challenges for democracy.
An unhealthy political system is what lies at the heart of the problem, not democracy itself. It is egotistical, self indulgent, self righteous and antagonistic. Take a look at social media and you can often see this up close and personal. Hate filled put downs are what are increasingly passing for political discourse. Gracious discussion and measured reasoning are becoming less and less common, giving way to the spectacle of wild hysteria and yobbish behaviour. It seems that it is easier to smear an opponent’s character than engage in civil conversation. As Eleanor Roosevelt once observed, ‘Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.‘
It is difficult to recall ever having witnessed such incendiary politics in our nation. Any attempt to silence those who might hold a different point of view will concern everyone who cares about freedom and democracy. By all means should ideas be robustly challenged and alternatives presented. But Voltaire was right when he said ‘I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it‘.
Our nation is the poorer because of a political system that has moved from adversarial to antagonistic. Politicians would be wise to think very carefully when they condemn hate speech – as hatred has become the language of their own profession. Those in power set the tone and people ultimately follow. Moral authority is earned through what is modelled more than maligned. That is why the vibe of political discourse desperately needs to change, and this begins with those in leadership taking responsibility and demonstrating a better way.
Meanwhile, in the midst of the political turmoil, it is always helpful to keep a healthy perspective of God. Proverbs 14:34 says ‘Doing what is right exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.’ We would do well to pray that God will help our nation. How we need his grace.
Have you ever met a really interesting person? So what was it about them that provoked your fascination? Often, it’s the people who at first appear least enchanting who actually prove most intriguing. An unexpected fact or facet about a person’s life can stir the mind to curiosity. I remember meeting a man whose humble and ordinary lifestyle gave nothing away of his formidable accomplishments (which I accidentally found out about). He rarely talked of them and in a strange way, this made him all the more compelling.
Becoming a more interesting person has nothing to do with projecting an image which tries to make us appear more gripping than we actually are. This is a common 21st century misconception which is one of the downsides of the social media age. It’s too easy to filterize shallowness, lack of substance & dearth of genuine conviction. When seen for what it is, the exposure of such tedious self obsession ultimately leads to indifference from others. Whatever you do, don’t be THAT person!
Genuinely interesting people have genuine interests. Those interests go far beyond themselves.
Here are 5 ways to be more interesting:
1) Read Widely
It’s important to read widely. It stretches your thinking. This is always healthy. It’s good to read devotional books which inspire your faith. But it’s also good to read books which provoke thought and challenge your preconceived ideas. The latter requires profound security and depth of character.
2) Think Deeply
Everyone needs thinking time. This is all the more important in our fast paced world which affords little room for thought & reflection. Social media illustrates this powerfully. While there are so many great things about social media, too often people use it thoughtlessly, laying bear their raw emotions and writing the first thing which comes into their head (much of it based on ignorance). This is extremely unhealthy. The more thoughtful our minds are, the more measured our words will be. It’s good to think deeply about life. In the Psalms, this is often referred to as ‘Selah’, a word which conveys the idea of stillness, quietness and thoughtfulness.
3) Enquire incessantly
People who are truly knowledgable are more than aware that what they do know pales in comparison to what they don’t know. That’s why truly knowledgable people are rarely arrogant ‘know it all’s’. Decide in your mind that you will be a life long learner. There’s ALWAYS something new to learn. It’s good to maintain a teachable spirit no-matter how old we are. Remember, remaining interested will keep you interesting.
4) Avoid pettiness
Don’t be dismissive of other perspective’s which are different to your own. Be strong enough to stay true to your convictions whilst being open enough to listen to other opinions too. Relish conversations that stretch your thinking. Be sure not to take every disagreement as a personal attack. This kind of pettiness is never helpful.
5) Embrace challenge
Be open to new experiences which don’t compromise the principles by which you live. Never take yourself too seriously in the process. Oscar Wilde once said ‘Life is too important to be taken too seriously’. Interesting people just get ‘stuck in’ and embrace the challenge of new experiences. It’s this kind of healthy curiosity which keeps us riveting and engaged.
After Leicester City’s incredible premiership victory which filled fans with pride & euphoria, the England national team could not have left their supporters feeling any more despondent. To say their Euro 2016 performance was less than satisfactory is a huge understatement.
Since I’ve lived here for most of my life, I have always supported England when they play international football (apart from when it’s against any of the Irish teams!!). So when England played Iceland in the knock out stage of Euro 2016, I was totally rooting for England and expected them to win as a formality over this tiny nation. Ohhhh boy.
England’s defeat to Iceland marks the lowest point for the national team since the 1950’s when they lost to the USA (who at that point were barely even interested in “soccer”).
To put the defeat to Iceland into some kind of perspective, Iceland has a population the size of Leicester. Their football manager is also a part-time dentist. Contrast this with the English team who had the wealthiest players in the tournament, managed by the highest paid coach. Yet England lost. Huh? So why, with England’s vast resources and the greatest premier football league in the world, could the national team have lost in such a humiliating way?
The pundits will no doubt spend weeks and months pondering over what went wrong – tactics, team quality, dressing room issues and the rest. However I think the real challenge is far more profound than any of these things. The REAL reason why England lost is because it’s leadership didn’t think they could win. This was clearly reflected in the negative way the team played. In a sense, the reason why Iceland won is because they didn’t think they had anything to lose. So the Icelanders had a cheek and audacity that was as inspiring as it was admirable. You see…winning and losing is all in the mind.
It was very telling that the England manager read out his resignation statement in the immediate moments after his team’s defeat. Hang on…when did he prepare this statement? Was he writing it during the match? Truth is, he EXPECTED his team to lose and he had totally prepared for it, hence the pre-written statement. This negative & defeatist vibe had no doubt been unwittingly created among the players too. This undoubtedly reflects a wider cultural flaw in the FA leadership, the default setting of which would need to be reset. No-matter how much resource there is, culture means everything. Culture is ultimately created by what we REALLY believe.
You couldn’t but feel sorry for the now ex-manager during the press interview the following day. He really did look a defeated man whose one relief was that it was finally all over.
How we think totally matters. The car manufacturer Henry Ford once said ‘Think you can or think you can’t, either way you’re right’. He was right. As Christians, the bible encourages us not to be conformed to defeatist cultural patterns but to be ‘transformed by the renewing of our minds’. In other words, God does not want our thinking to be shaped by the negatives of this world but by the positives of HIS word.
Winning starts in the mind. As Christians, this should be our default mindset. Our faith begins in the knowledge that Jesus has won. This started on a mountain called Calvary and culminated with THE most incredible event in history…the resurrection.
When we develop a winning mindset, it puts life in perspective, even the complexities. Our words will ultimately reflect what our mind believes, especially in moments of pressure. So be sure to think like a winner. You have nothing to lose.
Have you ever experienced fear in your life? Well I’d like to debunk the myth of fear. Here is the truth. Are you ready? Fear is not your problem. How you handle fear is the real challenge.
Fear is actually perfectly normal. It’s something that everyone experiences. So many characters in the bible knew what fear was all about. We could talk about Moses, David, Ruth, Noah, Gideon, Samuel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Esther…the list could go on and on. They all felt fear at some point. Their vulnerability and humanity is not hidden from us. So if you’ve ever experienced fear, you’re not alone. Plenty of great people have encountered it.
Fear can often be perceived as a negative emotion which is to be avoided. However to hide from fear is to be afraid of fear, which itself is a manifestation of…fear! This is simply unhealthy. It’s never the kind of culture we’d want to develop at the Junction Church Leicester and Loughborough.
Let’s be clear. It’s not wrong to feel fear. So stop trying to avoid it. No-where in the bible does it tell us to flee away from it. Fear can actually be healthy in that it makes us aware of risk. This is good. The bible strongly encourages us to develop a healthy fear that keeps us moving forward. Proverbs 9:10 says ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. Interestingly, ‘fear’ in this context is a positive word, not a negative one. It’s a reverence and respect for God. It urges us to believe that God is FOR us – and to dare to believe in his ultimate goodness rather than the verdict of life’s challenges. This ‘fear’ helps us live with God’s perspective. It’s good, really good.
Fear only becomes a hindrance when we allow it to feed our insecurities and hinder us from moving forward. This is never helpful. Many people make the mistake of crowning ‘fear’ as their God instead of submitting to God who reigns over their fears. It’s not wrong to experience this kind of fear. However it is never good to surrender to it. Wise people always submit to God, not fear.
2 Timothy 1:7 says ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear’. A ‘spirit of fear’ is what develops when we allow our lives to be governed by that which we are afraid of. Fear then becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy. When this happens, our behaviour lines up with our negative expectations and we tend to live in a way that invites fear to rule over us. This then has a debilitating affect on our lives, preventing us from trusting and serving God because we are always afraid of what will go wrong. But God has NOT given us this kind of spirit. No way. He gives us a spirit of ‘power, love and a sound mind’. This is a promise which is to be taken very seriously.
The anti-dote to a spirit of fear is a spirit of faith. Faith doesn’t deny fear’s existence. However it denies fear of it’s negative influence over our lives. Faith knows the risks, but chooses to trust God anyway. This is REAL faith. This is what God really wants from you and me.
On June 23rd, the UK will engage in the most important referendum vote in recent British history. The result will shape our country for generations to come. The issue at stake is whether Britain should remain as part of the European Union or whether we should exit.
This short blog is not about offering an argument one way or the other. That decision is for each individual to make. I’d simply like to encourage us to be knowledgable and intentionally aware about the issue concerned – and to be sure we all exercise our vote on the day. Voting is a right we enjoy because millions of people lost their lives so we could have it. So let’s use it wisely.
It’s not unreasonable to say that the referendum debate has thus far been poorly conducted. The scare tactics used by both sides have contributed little or nothing to the substance of the real issue up for discussion. Those involved in speaking for the ‘remain’ and ‘exit’ sides would be wise to measure their words carefully, be sure to speak factually and refrain from personal attacks on those of the opposite persuasion. Such divisiveness does nothing for our nation or for the reputation of politics. They would also do well to offer positive reasons FOR their argument as opposed to negative attacks AGAINST their opponents.
I’d like to offer two simple pieces of advice for all of us to think carefully about before June 23rd.
1) Do your own research
Don’t just listen to the spin of either side. Research the pros and cons of both arguments. Take it seriously. Try to get hold of the facts regarding the implications of this vote. Find out as much as you can about how it will impact our economy, our democracy & our future. Do not wallow in ignorance. It is no friend. A mere emotional decision is not a luxury any of us can afford either. Forget personality and focus on principle. What are the facts? Then base your decision on that. I highly recommend an excellent article posted by Audacious Church in Manchester which provides a whole range of links (balancing both arguments) to relevant information on the referendum debate. You can read it HERE.
2) Pray about it
Why not? As Christians, we believe in the power of prayer…right? So a large dose of wisdom would certainly not go amiss in this debate! But in our praying, let’s also pray wider than just the referendum vote. Pray for our country – that God will help us. Pray for a greater sense of unity – that divisions will be healed. Pray for our friends in Europe – that we will be kind and compassionate neighbours whatever the outcome of the vote. Pray for peace – that God will protect us from those who seek to disrupt our way of life. Finally, pray for a great spiritual awakening across the UK and Europe – that millions more people will experience the reality of God’s presence in their lives.
The Junction Church in Leicester is more than a service – it’s a community where you can grow! Leicester is an incredible city. The decision to plant a Sunday night campus in Leicester began around 3 years ago. Lydia & I had to travel into Leicester one hot summer’s day because we had a few things to get. While we were there, we felt this overwhelming love for the city. We were taken aback by this. It was as if God had drawn us there to speak to us. We prayed much about it and visited the city a few more times (doing the obligatory tour of coffee houses in the process!). As we kept praying about it, we kept getting this very clear sense in our hearts that God wanted us to plant a Junction Church Leicester campus.
So at our annual vision day in October 2015, I announced what we’d be starting a second campus church in Leicester in autumn 2016. To be honest, I was a little nervous before the announcement because I wasn’t sure what the response would be. The Junction Church Loughborough was really growing and thriving. We’d just experienced a period of very significant growth. So I wondered if perhaps people might hate the idea of pioneering yet another campus? But nothing could have been further from the truth. After the announcement, we were absolutely inundated with emails and texts from people saying how much they loved the vision of another campus – and loads of encouragement and prayer too. It’s so encouraging that people ‘get’ the heart and vision of our church.
Within a month or so of mentioning this, we put together our Junction Church Leicester campus team (which has since grown to a core of around 20 people – plus many others who want to support on Sunday nights too). I have to say…this is the dream team. The quality & commitment of this team is absolutely amazing. They are true culture carriers. As well as serving at the Junction Church Loughborough every Sunday morning, the Leicester campus team make the journey to Leicester every Sunday night to play their part in pioneering and building a new church in Leicester that carries the heart, soul, values and culture of the Junction Church Loughborough.
Frazer Botham is going to be leading the Junction Church Leicester campus team. Anyone who has ever met Frazer will know what a brilliant guy he is. His passion and enthusiasm are totally infectious. He’s also a man of outstanding character. Behind the scenes, Frazer has been working and praying hard on the ground, praying around the city and connecting with lots of people.
We are SO excited about the Junction Church Leicester. We are ONE church in TWO locations – and we are going to celebrate everything that God does in both in Loughborough and Leicester. In the end, our heart is to bring glory to the one for whom this is all about – our amazing God who deserves nothing other than our very best. We love you church and we believe God is with us. Let’s do this and let’s create some stories for the next generation…
For more details about the Junction Church Leicester, click HERE