Several people have asked if I'd blog on my thoughts on the UK riots. I don't know how to do it briefly, so this is going to be quite a long post, but please persevere as I think you'll find this helpful. Also to say that much of this has been shaped by Tom Wright's book Surprised by Hope, which I'm reading at the moment, and is one of the most thought provoking books I've read in a long time.
So here are my thoughts.
1. We shouldn't be surprised
There is a prevailing world view which says that the world is inevitably progressing to be a better and better place. This was characterised by the enlightenment in the 19th century, fuelled by the ideas of Darwinian evolution and is propped up by every politician who tells us "vote for me and I'll fix it all". The idea is that the combination of education, scientific advance and the right political systems will lead us to a place where we can eradicate every problem in the world. The problem with that world view is that it can't explain, and has no solution to, the problem of evil in the world today. If we're on this curve of progress then why is there so much evil going on.
You only have to open a newspaper today to see that things aren't getting better. Riots on the streets of the UK; chaos on the world stock markets; civil war in Libya, Afghanistan and Syria; famine in Somalia; the list just goes on.
So let's not be surprised when we read about evil things going on. And lets be clear that what we are seeing on the streets of the UK is evil. Whatever the initial catalyst might have been, the violence, theft and destruction we have seen isn't rooted in any sort of protest movement or reaction to what is happening in the country, at it's root it is evil. Jesus told us that the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy, so don't be shocked when what we see on our streets is people stealing, killing and destroying. Some commentators will tell us there are all sorts of socio-economic explanations for the riots (some of which may be true), but behind it all there is evil, and as people living in a fallen world we mustn't be surprised, shocked or confused when evil things happen.
2. But we should have hope
The opposite to the 'progress' world view is one which says that this world is doomed and as Christians we should just be sitting it out waiting for heaven, where everything will be fixed. We need to realise that Jesus didn't just die on the cross so that we could go to heaven when we die, but so that we could be a force for redemption in the world to day.
We need to remember that when Jesus was raised from the dead, He wasn't resurrected into heaven but onto earth with a physical body, as a sign that what He had won on the cross wasn't just for some future heaven but is for right here, right now. That's what is so powerful about Jesus teaching us to pray "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven". The promise of Jesus is for some of heaven now.
So as we see the riots on the streets, we mustn't just give up and retreat into our Christian huddle, hoping somehow we'll survive and make it to heaven. No, Jesus has called us to be salt and light, to be a force for transformation in the world we live in.
And let's not make the mistake of getting down on all young people. For every young person smashing a window there are thousands who aren't. I look at our own Kerith youngsters who in the last twelve months have raised over £15,000 for the girls dormitory in Serenje. I look at many of the youngsters we have reached over the last 2 years, who have come from challenging family backgrounds but with God's help are really turning their lives around. Young people who are working hard training to be lawyers, teachers, scientists, plumbers, mechanics and many other things so that they can make a positive difference in the world they live in.
3. We have the solution
I'm currently in Chicago attending the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. I know that over the next few days I will hear Bill Hybels say "The church is the hope of the world". And I believe it. As the church we have this only message in the world today which can change a human heart. That Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead so that we could be reconciled to God, and then could become his hands and his feet in the world we live in. No political ideology, no educational system, no social action programme can do that. They can change the outside, but only the gospel can take hearts of stone and turn them to hearts of flesh.
So let's be confident in the gospel. As you see those pictures of young people rioting on the streets, know that it's a life changing encounter with a God who loves them more than they will ever know that they need. To give them hope, to give them purpose, to give them the sense of belonging many of them will have never known, to begin to rebuild their messed up broken lives, to give them a moral framework to live their lives by, to begin to break free from the control of the devil.
4. Let's pray
Here's my challenge for this week. Every time you see or read about news of the riots, stop and pray. If we spent as much time praying as we've spent hearing about and talking about the rioting it would make a huge difference - God the God who answers prayer. So let's be praying for the police as they try and restore law and order to our streets. Be praying for the fire-fighters, doctors, nurses and others dealing with the fall out from the riots. Let's be praying for our politicians, even though they don't have the ultimate solution that they will make good decisions and have Godly wisdo. Let's be praying for all those affected by the riots, people who have lost homes, businesses, possessions, are in hospital or have lost family members or friends. Let's be praying for the rioters, that God would speak to them and get hold of them, convicting them of how wrong what they're doing is and changing them. And let's be praying for all the churches in the affected areas. For the leaders in those churches to rise up in their communities, to lead the way in speaking hope into those situations. For the people in those churches as they speak to their neighbours and speak hope into situations which for many must seem hopeless.
And let's be asking God for revival in our nation. For such a move of God that we would truly see social transformation on a national scale, as has happened in the past and can happen again.
5. And let's act
But prayer alone is not enough, we must also act. It's prayer and action in unison which brings God's breakthrough in a situation - if we really believe the church is the hope of the world that means us actually doing stuff. There will be much debate over the next few months on the cause of the riots and how to stop them happening again - I believe that the church, truly being the church as the body of Christ in the world today, is the most powerful possible catalyst for change in those communities.
Now the reality is that already the churches in the communities affected by the riots will already be rising up and making a huge difference on the ground. It probably won't ever make it onto the TV screens or into the newspapers, but we know that across London it will be churches which are at the forefront of dealing with the human fallout of all that has gone on. And that it is the churches that will continue to be there, long after the politicians and political commentators have moved on to the 'next thing'. If you know someone in a church in one of the affected areas why not give them a ring, see how they are doing and if there is anything practical you could do to help them.
But there is clearly much more for the church to do if it is truly to make the impact Jesus intended it to make. I can only speak for Kerith where we need to continue to invest heavily in the young people in our community. Running events like LIFE on a Friday night which reach out to all young people, not just those from a Christian background. Resourcing the youth team, headed up by Liam Parker, in all our work with schools and the police, and all the discipleship and mentoring programmes they run. Expanding the reach of the Kerith Academy as a training resource. Parenting courses to help parents navigate the complexity of bringing up children. Increasing what we do nationally by taking LIFE to other locations, and resourcing youth workers in other churches. And internationally continuing to support things such as the youth camps in Albania, 1,700 children being supported through school in Serenje and getting the girls dormitory out there finished. If you are part of Kerith then please get behind these initiatives and look to get practically involved with them.
So let's not be surprised, let's not give up hope, but let's realise that Jesus is the answer. And let that drive us to pray and to act, that we truly might see some of heaven on earth, which is what our world so desperately needs.