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Straight talking Christanity Vs Polite Church.

Sometimes as Church we are all to neat and tidy, polite and ve don’t mention anything controversial, messy, offensive and are perfectly well mannered and inoffensive.

Church if it were a colour would be baige, and if it were a biscuit would be rich tea!

I worry that Church as institution makes “not rocking the boat” a vitue (although my spell check suggest virtue should be replaced by virus!) as is this idea of “keeping the show on the road”, again seen as a virtue -rather than asking “Is this ‘show’ roadworthy?”

Recently I read of a brave follower of Christ and church leader challenging his congregations sinful and unchristlike behaviour and is now on a forced sabbatical.

Yet do think that on occasions Churches need a rebuke and a challenge, one of the roles of a Church leader is a custodian of the culture and to call the Church to act as they should. This is clearly modelled by Jesus who rebuked his “right hand man” with “Get behind me Satan”, who called the monarch (Herod) a fox, and the powerful religious elite a “nest of vipers” and “white washed tombs” and drove the traders from the temple with force.

Paul’s “Pastoral Epistles’ are straight talking, uncomfortable reading and deeply challenging, and if sent out now would probably get some traditional church goers and odd bishop rather hot under the (dog) collar.

Yet, it might not be popular but the call and the footsteps of Christ has not been a call to ‘people please’, but to be a radically different community, a Church that should be a foretaste and outpost of heaven, but sometimes tragically resembles the other place!

I see nothing Christ-like in condoning and colluding with the bad behaviour that sadly exists within some Churches.

What our Churches, and as Christians, do/behave really matters.

We as Christians and the Church gathered locally are the shop window to the community around us. We are Christs ambassadors, he makes his appeal through us.

How we live can bring glory or shame to the name of Christ.

This brave man of God showed a more “light and salty” path, he could have turned a blind eye, not rocked the boat and gone through ministry motions, but no, he called behaviour that was “off side” off side (which sadly happens too often across too many Churches, and probably is responsible for repelling many seekers from Christ).

He should be commended not punished.

I have tragically seen and know many people who know and love Christ but because of their Church experience are no long in active fellowship.

I’m not advcating bullying or abusive behaviour, but I don’t thing there is anything Christlike about biting our tongue when we should be speaking up.

A wise friend who had been battered by some toxic church politics and stood up to them also said that he didn’t want sink to their level.

Sadly in the complex nature of human interaction hurt people end up hurting people, sin can and does become cyclical, cycles which need to be broken and new ways of living, loving and serving together needs to be found.

I had difficult parish in Kingswood, and some challenging relationships to manage. I am not naturally a lover of conflict, in fact I actively dislike conflict. Nor am I saying I always handled it as well as I could have. Yet in the words of Catherine Booth “to change the future you have to disturb the present”.

As Desmond Tutu said that “if you remain silent in the face of sin and justice, then you have sided with the oppressor”.

Jesus never sided with the oppressor, nor turned a blind eye to wrong doing and sinful behaviour.

Light drives back darkness and salt -killing bacteria- can sting, but we are called to be salt and light in our communities, a call to live different, being that “City without walls blazing with the glory of God” a “City on a hill that cannot be hidden”, being the hands a feet of Christ.

On one occasion dealing with one of our more difficult congregational members I was told “leave him he’s not worth it!” and that “people like him wont chsnge”.

Yet Jesus never said anyone wasnt worth it, even washing Judas feet.

The gospel says that even the most unlikely people seeped in sin can change, whether that is the sinfulness of spiteful and toxic church politics or rampant debuchary!

Sadly in one of our Churches in Kingswood my wife and little girl stopped going to one of the 5 Churches because it became the kind of environment we didn’t want our little girl exposed too.

Our Church leaders talk a lot about growth, but surely we need instead to talk about health, being a Christ like community.

Healthy things grow, unhealthy things die, we need to nurture communities that reflect and are full of the Holy Spirit embodying and replicatimg the DNA of Jesus.

A call to follow Jesus and turn from our sin is at the heart of gospel. If the people of our congregations, refuse to listen and respond to the call of Christ to be changed and transformed, then perhaps we need to knock the dust from our feet? Something painful, but actually biblical.

To deal openly, honestly and courageously to see us all become transformed into the likeness of Christ is at the heart of being a Christian. Iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another. Carrying one anothers burdens. Spuring one another on towards love and good deeds.

The call is to love, even to love those who persecute us, and sometimes it can really feel like persecution, and although love forgives and turns the other cheek, it calls us to the tougher and braver path, not of looking the other way or shrugging our shoulders and saying “that’s just how some people are” but bravely try and build a different community that acts different and is a beacon of hope both to those in the Church -another way is possible- and to those who don’t yet belong, to show them what a Christian community should be.

A Christian community reflecting Christ will need to be defended, Satan will attack it, but let’s not give up trying like Nehemiah in the face of the onslaught from Sabbalats and Tobiahs continuing to build (and rebuild) or the glory of God.

Yes, we will rebuke out of love, as we seek to see God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

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Audacious, call, Deep, relationship with God

Deep and Audacious

Just got back from an awesome evening on Hanham Mount, which is where John Wesley preached his first open air sermon to the Kingswood Miners, 16’000 of them, and they cried white tears of repentance as they heard the message of the cross.

My fab friend Andy Biddlecombe spoke and his message was really simple, but also really profound.

Firstly it was about encountering God in the hidden place, on our own, just us and God, to learn to hear his voice and drink deep from him. Most of us function on near exhaustion and sometimes we are scraping the barrel of our spiritual lives to share anything of value or worth. Yet I believe that God wants us to find our rest, refreshment, renewing in him and in his presence as we learn to seek his face and hear his voice.

Too often we don’t let our roots go deep down into God, too busy rushing around to really take time to seek God and to sacrifice that most precious commodity -our time-.

Yet, actually its not sacrificing our time on God, but rather it is investing it wisely.

A great verse I love “they knew they were ordinary and unskilled men who had been with Jesus”, when we spent time in Jesus’ presence we not just reflect him, but radiate him.

A challenge for us all to take time to go deeper with God, to be ‘fully charged up’ -rather than almost out of juice.

Yet that wasn’t the end of the message, Bidds shared about “being bold and audacious for the Kingdom of God”.

I was reminded, standing where we are on Hanham Mount, that Wesley nearly didn’t do field preaching thinking it was “vile” and “unseemly” to not preach in a Church, but yet he was obedient and stepped out of his insecurities and pre-conceptions and preached Christ unashamedly to those who had come to hear him.

That brave moment in a conversation could be the turning point for someone’s life.

That offer to pray for someone could be that moment of healing and transformation, Bidds spoke about his hero “Smith Wigglesworth” -an illiterate plumber- who bravely challenged us to be expectant and step out in faith, take the Holy Spirit inspired risk.

Too often in our conversations we talk about nothing, when maybe we should speak about something!

Let’s be bold!

Let’s seize the moment.

Let’s be a Church that seeks God deeply in prayer, and a Church that is audacious in proclaiming Jesus.

Remembering we are the people who hold out the word that gives life.

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word on the street 3.

Over Easter we had a mission across the city “The Turning” where we went out and talked with people on the street about Jesus(using a simple script).

Yet we now have the new challenge, rather than just putting a load of effort into a short term event, we are trying to be missional people doing this as a normal part of our usual, normal life together.

we are being ‘intentional’ about keeping on going out together regularly onto the streets to tell people about Jesus, this months there have been three Friday worship sessions followed by three Saturday mornings in different parts of the city.

At the beginning of the month a load of us met up and worshipped, soaked in God’s presence, as someone that is an activist normally with multiple diary clashes prioritising God’s presence was a wonderful thing to do, although I must admit that just turning up for the Saturday outreach did creep into my mind. So glad I didn’t.

Today however I just came to the outreach on the street, we were in South Bristol and I felt convicted if I wanted people to come and share their faith in Kingswood area, then I ought to be prepared to bless other parts of the city too.

Both times on the Street were very different, lots of busy people in a hurry that wouldn’t stop. Yet on both days some people did stop and listen and have conversations with us, on both days we got opportunities to pray for people, and this morning we saw three people pray a prayer of commitment.

All things that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gone out.

Today we prayed for a woman who said he life had been “ruined by God” as she suffered a stroke, but prayed for her and she prayed a prayer of commitment. Last time a lady we spoke to couldn’t pray that prayer of commitment as she was so angry with God for the way her mum had suffered before she had died.

Realise that in sharing our faith people are giving us privileged access to their hearts.

I wonder how many opportunities I miss by doing something “important” that actually from an eternal perspective might not have been that important at all!

Yet, I believe the Turning Mission is bigger than just the events with the label “The Turning” on it, just as “healing on the streets” and other initiatives should be bigger than just the teams going out, mission and evangelism should filter through to our Churches, our homes and work places.

The Turning has increased our expectancy for God to be at work, helped us see those potential Kingdom encounters. Recently an older gentleman shared about he was at Lidl and the lady at the front of the queue didn’t have enough money and was getting worried, he gently asked how much she was short by (32p) and paid the cashier. The lady asked him why he did this and he said “God loves you” and se began to well-up with tears.

Little things can make a big difference.

This last month, I have been reminded afresh of the pain of so many peoples’ lives.

This month of June I have had a student Dan with me, learning about being a Vicar. The first week he was here we wandered around the local shops giving out mini chocolates just as a gentle blessing from the local Church. The first shop we went into -a sweet shop- the woman declined the sweet but ended up talking about shutting her shop as it was loosing money. we were able to pray with and for her, and as we prayed she began to cry, just felt as though God had somehow touched her in that moment. Ironic as I toyed with the idea of not going into the sweet shop to give out some sweets as it seemed a bit cheeky. I am glad now we did.

Last Friday with the street pastors ended up spending a big chunk of the evening with a homeless couple, the girl of the couple just seemed really vulnerable.

On Thursday I had to help out for a couple of hours in the young peoples secure unit, seeing these young people who look both incredibly vulnerable and incredibly hard at the same time, one can only imagine what they have been through even though they are so young.

Recently as we do our weekly Pints of View (Church in a pub) I have seen us as a team becoming gradually more emboldened, one guy asking if he could pray for Annie (a regular) with her knees, next week she came in and said they were healed, and then began to complain about ankles. we prayed for her ankles, when I saw her a couple of days ago she said “you wont believe it but since you prayed they are ever so much better!”

One guy Jason, the week before heard one guy share most of his life story, but every now and then chipped in something really wise and Godly. People want to share their stories and want to hear what Christians have to say, we have fallen for the lie that people aren’t interested.

Also in our prayer time, we have been joined by a couple of guests, neither sure about what they believe, but both wanted to be there and came back next week, and we made the choice to carry on praying and worshipping in exactly the same way as we did when it was just Christians

Last week too tough lads smirking almost squared up to me and asked me if I could do “one of them gay weddings right there in the pub”… One of those things they didn’t teach me at theological college! It had the potential to be interesting (and by “interesting” I mean I could get punched in the face!). Yet with a bit of chatting and warmth the ice-melted and they admitted they both had girlfriends but thought it’d be funny to see how I reacted! From that my friend Harry began asking one of them if he had a faith, and ended up praying for him that he’d come to know Jesus -I thought Harry was pushing his luck and again expected him to be told to “**** off!” but instead the guy seemed genuinely moved shaking Harry’s and my hands warmly and thumping his chest in a “love you guys kinda way”.

It would be easy to read these stories and feel like we are sorted, but we are not, far from it, I still find even after the umpteenth time going out on the street that I feel nervous, and often wandering away I think of “what I should have said” -not what I did say!, but I believe we are gradually learning what it means to be a missional people living their lives everyday.

I know I and my friends still are far from sorted, but I know too that God is helping us be bolder and riskier in sharing him and seeing people respond.

I remember the line the overseer of The Turning Pastor Yinka says “the fields are white to the harvest and the workers are YOU” -what can we do?

Then we realise that God has gone before us and prepared the way ahead, opened doors and been tapping on lives already.

what an awesome privilege to partner this fantastic God.

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Going East?

There was yet another knock at the monastery door and the monk went to answer it, yet again, and discovered more hippy young people asking if this was the Buddhist temple. They had been disturbed all day with this. Again, it was a young guy asking where to find the Meditation centre, but this time the monk ended up chatting to him and discovered that he was wanting to go to the meditation centre because he had a deep yearning in his soul for something deep, real and authentic, filled with questions about life, God, truth and simply about how to make life work, to ‘be happy’ and to ‘be a good person’. He and the monk talked long into the night, and the young guys discovered that the Christianity he thought he had rejected was something of a caricature, that what he thought/sought from Buddhism provided was available in the Christian faith, and the practices he felt he needed were there in abundance in the Christian tradition.

For any of us who have been involved in mission and outreach for a while have noticed something of a transition, we live in an age of greater spirituality but less engagement with traditional types of established religion. For the postmodern generation their spiritual hunger and hunting has led them to explore Eastern theology, philosophy and practice such as Buddhism and meditation.
Understanding spiritual maturity and openness is a complex matter, where we have thought that having someone in Church but thinking about fishing was better than having someone fishing and thinking about God (which is a caricature of the difference between the modern generation -in church thinking of fishing- and the post-modern generation -fishing thinking about God)! Each generation has to learn afresh how to communicate the unchanging truths of Jesus, and what is certain that what we have done in the past might need to be re-looked at to see if it still works for the mission in the 21st century, and perhaps the things we have previously thrown out might need to be picked up afresh to reach a new generation?

An image I refer to often in my mind as I think of God showing us a new way into the future is of David being given Saul’s armour to fight Goliath, it being too big and cumbersome and David fought Goliath another way, which worked, and David won the battle! Too many of us are trying to fight Goliath in the clunky armour of a previous generation.

Yet, I am excited by this generation, and believe that God has gone ahead of us -for such a time as this- preparing the way, opening doors and preparing hearts and minds to meet with God.

The conversation around spirituality has gone East, are we prepared to go onto unfamiliar territory for the sake of the Kingdom of God, to learn new things, new ways of talking and being, to reach the people we find there, and as we wander we discover that Jesus has got there before us, has gone ahead of us and will be there long after we have left. When Paul left the comfortable Jewish world and began to speak in Athens (Acts 17) he learned a new way of preaching the same unchanging message to a new audience (compare the message with Peter in Acts 2 it sounds very different, but yet was the same message inspired by the same missionary Holy Spirit).

Those of us who are Anglican clergy, have to promise that we will ‘proclaim the Gospel afresh to each generation’, yet too often I think we simply proclaim it ‘again to every generation’, often answering questions they’re not asking and missing the keys that God has put within the culture (and every culture) to draw people to himself and his arms of love.

The Monks in their monastery soon had a group of travellers exploring faith with them, discovering the rich treasures of Christianity, realising that the Christian faith was not about wearing Sunday best, minding your P’s and Q’s and reading the Daily Mail… Discovering the dynamic and depth of a real Christianity living the way of Jesus.

What of us, are we prepared to re-think how we do Church and Mission to discover both the spiritual seekers but also the work of the missional God active within every culture and wanting to draw everyone into a real relationship with himself.

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Contemplation.

We are gathering together a community called “Poole Neo Monastics” and exploring ideas around rules/rhythms of life, hospitality and communitas (if you want to know what Communitas see a previous blog!), social action (helping being who are having a tough time) and social justice (protesting at injustice), reciprocity (sometimes the right thing is to receive someone else’s generosity/hospitality), activism (not just talking about stuff but actually doing it) and contemplation.

Contemplation really matters. Church in its own way can end up making us feel like a hamster on a wheel, which gets us running fasting and faster (but often less and less productive but more and more exhausted, giving our time to an insatiable that is never satisfied and only ever cries, “more” and “faster”). Indeed, often these Hamster wheels are distractions from the real work of mission and ministry, a friend says: “Jesus wants us to have maximum fruitfulness for minimum weariness, the devil wants us to have minimum fruitfulness for maximum weariness!”

Athletes have time following their events called ‘intentional recovery time’ it makes sense we need a Godly rhythm to maintain fruitfulness and to stay the course for the long-term.

I heard a story of two lumber-jacks who were in a competition to see who could fell the most trees, one did not stop and chopped from morning to night, exhausted he sat down thinking he must have won, and yet he discovered he had chopped much less than the other lumberjack, who looked much less red-faced than he did. “How did you manage that?” he asked, “after every-tree I felled I re-sharpened my axe” he replied.

Often, we are hacking away with a blunt axe and exhausted arms. Jesus says: “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and you will find rest for you souls”, we where made for life not exhaustion, fulfilment not burn-out.

I have often reflected on the story of Mary and Martha (and if I’m honest often sympathised with Martha) and yet I forgot the wider biblical narrative, from Mary’s place of intimacy sat at Jesus’ feet we see her (from John’s Gospel) anointing Jesus, being their as he is crucified and being the first witness of the resurrection where Martha disappears in the narrative. From her investment of her life in Jesus enabled her to be there when it really mattered. A former Vicar I worked with talked about “investing in your secret history with God” a similar idea to Soul Survivor when he talks of “living for the audience of one!”

Yet, for me the narrative of contemplation is corrupted by Christians, too often (as with the rest of life) we get the ‘shirkers’ and the ‘workers’, my theory is that sadly too often the ‘shirkers’ have used the language of reflection and contemplation as religious rhetoric to cover their sinfulness and laziness: “I’m just waiting on God” -which means to actively seek- sometimes is misused to indulge in disobedience. Sometimes I think we con ourselves and appease our consciences with this talk.

An athlete needs recovery to maintain their performance, but a sluggard that does not engage in faithful obedience will just become less and less match-fit.
What we need, I believe, is the discernment to know and understand the difference between laziness and contemplation/rest/reflection and restoration.

For me the command to “be still and know that I am God” is not an indulgent thing, but a costly discipline which is difficult. “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength” is not only a faithful promise of God but also requires a step of faith and obedience from us.

Contemplation, prayerful reflection and Biblical meditation is not often easy (sometimes when we are parched and dry coming into God’s presence can be like jumping into a cool stream on a hot day) However, often seeking God and being renewed can feel like the lumberjack sharpening the axe whilst his colleague stormed ahead.

Being on our own with God is often a challenge place to be, being still is not easy, being with ourselves before God often means we face the stuff we don’t want to face -too often busyness is a form of avoidance from dealing with the things that need dealing with!

So, to be contemplatives, to be people who walk deeply with God, to be renewed, healed, restored and transformed is something beautiful, but requires us to surrender to God, to allow him to speak to us, and to listen to his voice. To hear the voice of God is wonderful, but also uncomfortable, it is the voice of loving affirmation and the voice of challenge, God often puts his finger on the bits of our lives we would rather ignore. Yet, in hearing and heeding the voice of God we are submitting ourselves to the refiners’ fire who purifies the gold within us.

We need to be people of contemplation, with a relationship with God that has those deep reservoirs of divine faithfulness, that can enable us to be like Mary who was faithful when it mattered.

The final image I want to leave us with is that of a bow and arrow, this retreats back, but to advance forward, to retreat back in and of itself is not the point (and actually is tiring on the arms!) but it is the withdrawal that propels us forward.

So, let us in our walk with God, take that moment to go deeper, to reflect and be restored, the discipline is not easy and is counter-intuitive, but it is worth it in being fruitful obedient servants that finish the race well.

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Do not touch!

David again brought together all the able young men of Israel—thirty thousand. 2 He and all his men went to Baalah[a] in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name,[b] the name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark.3 They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart 4 with the ark of God on it,[c] and Ahio was walking in front of it. 5 David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the LORD, with castanets,[d] harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.
6 When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God.
8 Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah.[e]

This is a shocking and uncomfortable story, Uzzah’s motives seem honourable in so much that he was trying to stop the Ark of the Covanant from falling out of the cart and smashing onto the floor, and yet he is struck dead for touching the Ark. I wonder what we can learn from this rather tough story?
Firstly, the Ark was never intended to travel in a cart, it was meant to be carried on poles, which made me think about what we carry within us, Christ himself, the DNA of the Kingdom of God, are we trying to carry that which God has given us in a vehicle that God never intended to travel in. I wonder whether much of what we think of as “Church” -denominations, services, buildings and committees and councils feels like it might be like Uzziah trying to ‘carry the work of God’ in an unsuitable vehicle. I don’t believe that God’s intention for us and his Church was to be shoe-horned and reduced into simply a Sunday morning spectator service, nor do I believe God intended his Church to be run-ragged trying to maintain Victorian buildings. Another image Jesus uses for trying carry the things of God in an unsuitable vehicle is when Jesus talks of Old Wine-skins bursting when new wine is poured into them. Are we trying to contain the things of God in a wine-skin that needs to be thrown out and a new one bought in its place?

Secondly, Uzzah’s actions were in some way faithless, he was ‘trying to give God a hand’ -something we try to do sometimes as though God cannot be trusted to look after his glory himself. One of my friends used to have a saying which used to make me feel desperately uncomfortable “God’s not doing it, so could you do it Vicar?!” -it stems from this idea that we know better than God, and if he does things our way then it will be all alright, yet the truth is the reverse of this, we are at our most fruitful when we surrender our desire to control God, when keep our hands off from the wheel (or the Ark). Reminding me of Abra(h)am sleeping with Hagar because God had not (in Abrahams mind) fulfilled his promise quickly enough with Sara(h) becoming pregnant (and to be fair to him, he did have to wait a long time!)

When I worked in my last parish of Kingswood I studied the history of the place where the Wesleyian revival, the Great Awakening, began with thousands of miners responded the message of Christ with repentance and faith, and yet over-time human hands got hold of this move of God and all the way up Kingswood High Street there are Churches that fell out with each other and built an impressive building, yet now despite lots of Church buildings very few people in Kingswood actually know the resurrected Jesus, and the Methodist movement which began so excitingly upon Hanham Mount now is a Church in rapid decline. God moved and people couldn’t keep their hands off and the movement abated.

So, what of us, are we trying to carry what God has given us in an unsuitable vehicle, what does God say about transporting what he has given you?

Are we trying to give God a hand, do we need to trust him with his glory and surrender our desire for control? Do we need to not put our hands on that which is holy, are we interfering unhelpfully with the things of God?

So, let’s not carry the Ark of the Covenant on a cart but rather transporting that which is God in the way he wants it carried, and trusting and surrendering to him to be faithful, believe he is good and sees the wider picture.

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Communitas

Over the course of my studies and reading I came across this word ‘Communitas’ which I assumed was just people being pretentious when they meant community!
Yet yesterday reading the fantastic book by Alan Hirsch I came across this phrase “Communitas, not to be confused with community” and he had a helpful glossary of terms in the back of the book, so I looked up this word, and its definition got my heart beating a little faster!
Hirsch talks about our desire for community as “huddle and cuddle” the idea that community is a place of belonging, sanctuary, comfort most of all safe. This community image is particularly visible over the Christmas season where we gather together with our nearest and dearest and then pull up the draw bridge and eat our own body weight in chocolate!

Yet communitas is not this word at all, rather is stems from the idea of young African tribesmen’s transition from childhood to warrior. The idea in more akin to a regiment in the army, a sports team or support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous -it’s a transformative community, transitioning us from sinful to fruitful and Christ-like. It is a community where ‘iron sharpens irons just as one person sharpens another”.

Yet communitas is also about context, friendships fostered together by necessity and survival, often our Church based relationships are superficial because we do not really need one another for our survival, we have largely removed all elements of risk or danger from our spiritual walks, and as such our relationships are not purified in the crucible of conflict and adversity. The Church of Jesus Christ is not meant to be somewhere safe and cossetted away from the world, but rather to engage in spiritual warfare, shaking the very “gates of hell” which Christ tells us “will not prevail against us” (Matthew 16.17).

Indeed, someone once said “if you want a quiet life the person you must steer away from is Jesus Christ!” -too often we try and sell Christianity as a pleasure cruise when in reality it is a battleship, and yet I believe that many of us long for more than just comfort and stability and a yearning for an adventure of faith, believing that the Christian life is so, so, much more than we have experienced and tasted and that God has more for us (so much more!).

Christians saying in the face of danger, risk and discomfort -bring it on!- as we stand shoulder with one another, us being vulnerable, needing other people and inviting them into be close to us and them doing likewise with us, a coming together for the same of the Kingdom -the greatest cause in human existence, advancing in our neighbourhood.

So, let’s learn to move from communities that are just safe and comfortable, to be communities of adventure, drawing out the Kingdom potential in one another, iron sharpening iron as we all more like Christ, and the world sees more of his glory, even if it is during times of pain and suffering.

So, let us learn to be communitas, rather than just community, in our dangerous adventure of faith.

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Do I miss the Angel because I am beating the Donkey?

Then the Israelites travelled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan opposite Jericho.

2 Now Balak son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, 3 and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.

4 The Moabites said to the elders of Midian, ‘This horde is going to lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.’

So Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time, 5 sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor, who was at Pethor, near the River Euphrates, in his native land. Balak said:

‘A people has come out of Egypt; they cover the face of the land and have settled next to me. 6 Now come and put a curse on these people, because they are too powerful for me. Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.’

7 The elders of Moab and Midian left, taking with them the fee for divination. When they came to Balaam, they told him what Balak had said.

8 ‘Spend the night here,’ Balaam said to them, ‘and I will report back to you with the answer the Lord gives me.’ So the Moabite officials stayed with him.

9 God came to Balaam and asked, ‘Who are these men with you?’

10 Balaam said to God, ‘Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, sent me this message: 11 “A people that has come out of Egypt covers the face of the land. Now come and put a curse on them for me. Perhaps then I will be able to fight them and drive them away.”’

12 But God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed.’

13 The next morning Balaam got up and said to Balak’s officials, ‘Go back to your own country, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.’

14 So the Moabite officials returned to Balak and said, ‘Balaam refused to come with us.’

15 Then Balak sent other officials, more numerous and more distinguished than the first. 16 They came to Balaam and said:

‘This is what Balak son of Zippor says: do not let anything keep you from coming to me, 17 because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.’

18 But Balaam answered them, ‘Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God. 19 Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the Lord will tell me.’

20 That night God came to Balaam and said, ‘Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.’

Balaam’s donkey

21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lordstood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. 23 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.

24 Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path through the vineyards, with walls on both sides. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So he beat the donkey again.

26 Then the angel of the Lord moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?’

29 Balaam answered the donkey, ‘You have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you here and now.’

30 The donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?’

‘No,’ he said.

31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lordstanding in the road with his sword drawn. So he bowed low and fell face down.

32 The angel of the Lord asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.[a] 33 The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared it.’

34 Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, ‘I have sinned. I did not realise you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.’

35 The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.’ So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.


The story of Baalam in numbers 22 is a fab story, not just because if you read an old fashioned version of the bible it calls it Balaams Ass, it is the only animal ever to speak in Scripture, Denis Adide spoke at All Souls on this passage, do check it out on our web page, worth a listen.

He said two things that made me think, first of all about the fact that we should take stock in being used by God instead our value is being loved by God.

Our worth does not come from what we do, but who we are, loved by God.

Yet the other thing that struck me, was that from Balaams perspective he was beating the Donkey because he couldn’t see what God was doing.

It made me wonder, am I often frustrated because I miss what God is doing too?

Do I miss the Angel because I’m too busy beating the donkey?

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Praying for Sandbanks.

Recently there has been a real renewed emphasis on prayer in parts of the Church in Poole, one such group is the fantastic interdenominational group that meets and prays fortnightly in Turlin Moor, which is one of the areas which historically has been one of the more deprived areas of Poole. It is great to pray there, and brilliant to that the wider Church has grasped something of God’s heart for those who maybe marginalised by sections of society, yet I have become increasingly worried about how we equate wealth with our need of God. True there are statistics available in most disenfranchised communities that can be pulled of the web which as Christians should rightly challenge our hearts and prompt us to pray. Yet everyone needs Jesus. Christ is good news for both rich and poor alike and all need saving!

Perhaps even the rich are harder to reach than the poor?

There is no glamour in serving the rich as scrubbing the toilets of the soup kitchen has a certain feeling of servitude and sacrifice, whereas drinking excellent coffee in a lovely sitting room doesn’t feel like frontline spiritual warfare (although I believe it very well could be!)

Jesus himself said that “it is harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (i.e. impossible!)
For many years Christianity has flourished amongst those who have the least but now in our day Christianity has become very respectable and middle class with expensive cars in the Church car park!

Perhaps in our mission to the affluent and middle class has floundered because Christendom, middle-class morality and daily mail reading bigotry has confused us and left us failing to embody a Kingdom distinctiveness amongst our peers?

What does it look like to be ‘within’ and ‘in-with’ an wealthy culture (or any culture) and still follow the carpenter from Nazareth who had no where to lay his head.

Jesus sent the rich young ruler away with the challenge to “sell all he had and to give the money to the poor” -the rich man went away sad for he was very wealthy- but I wonder would we do the same thing as Jesus, or would we be buttering him up with pound-signs in our eyeballs wondering what we could do with his cash if he started to tithe to our congregation?

How do we reach the rich without selling out?

What does discipleship look like amongst the privileged, do we too often ignore the elephant in the room and making the gospel very spiritual and not grounded into the challenge Christ makes to our wallets (often the last part of us to get converted!).

Indeed, with great wealth and privilege comes great responsibility and challenge. John Wesley said ““[When I die] if I leave behind me ten pounds … you and all mankind [may] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.” Before we feel to smug a recent statistic says that if we have a fridge freezer we are in the 10% of the worlds’ wealthiest and if we have the internet in our home we are in the top 3%.

So, working out how to live an authentic faith following Jesus in the midst of wealth is a challenge for us personally, and complex to work out within a Christ centred community too and difficult to share the message of Christ with those who think they have everything but actually have nothing.

’The Parable of the rich fool’, ‘the parable of the rich man and Lazarus’ and Ezekiel’s image of the dry bones that came together to form perfect looking bodies but without the breath of God within them were still spiritually dead all show that need for something that we all have that only God can satisfy. After-all “what does it profit a person who gains the whole world but loses their soul?”

Wealth, affluence and privilege may be an obstacle to people coming to know Jesus but it is not an obstacle that is insurmountable to the missionary Spirit of the Living God who long for all to know him. Rich and poor, privileged or marginalised, affluent or destitute no one is beyond the reach of the love of God.

So, let’s respond to this challenge and let us pray for the people of sandbanks with the same passion, zeal and fervour that we pray for the people of Turlin Moor!

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Wimber: The Man who just wanted to do the stuff!

In America there was a rock and roll musician In America there was a rock and roll musician called John Wimber, who played with the Righteous Brothers amongst other bands.

He was an Atheist who ended up meeting powerfully with God, surrendered his life to Chirst and started going along to Church.

After a few weeks hearing and reading stories from the Bible about people being healed, raised from the dead, miraculous signs and the gospel being proclaimed and people becoming Christians Wimber asked a fantastic question “When are we going to start doing the stuff?”

“Doing the Stuff” meant for Wimber meant putting into practice what he had read in the Bible, that we are called to do, the stuff that Jesus instructed us to do, interestingly this was not just the signs and wonders, it included the social justice work of feeding the hungry and also of sharing the good news about Jesus with anyone and everyone. His honest question did not get a proper answer, and it was that question that birthed the movement of the Vineyard Church, to take Christ at his word and to do the things in the Bible.

It was this question which lead Wimber into conflict with the cessationists. These are people who believed that the Apostolic age ended with death of the first apostles and spiritual gifts are not for today. It is a ridiculous heresy with no biblical basis -ironically championed by people who call themselves evangelicals, people of the word! I remember having a real epiphany moment reading the story of Sarah laughing about God enabling her to have a baby in her old age and God rebuked her saying “is anything to hard for God to do?” -the answer is of course no! Wimber challenged the Church to become expectant of God and to pray with boldness and dream big, he once famously described “faith as spelled R I S K” and spoke meaningfully of following Jesus being an adventure.

Wimber caused the Church to grow not with transferring middle class church hoppers but with broken and disenfranchised people finding Jesus, he was an evangelist and as a former musician related easily with the people Jesus hung out with rather than the religious types. He spoke once of an angry elderly lady who had been part of the Church he was pastoring crying and saying he was ruining the Church by bringing all these undesirables in, his response (so much more gracious that mine has been) he simply hugged the lady and loved her. Sometimes loving the found is so much tougher than loving the lost.

Wimber actually did not talk much about the Church but rather he spoke about the bigger vision, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that Jesus taught us to pray would come on “earth as in heaven” a theology that was not purely rooted in eschatology (it’ll be alright when we die) but rather about the fullness of life which Jesus promised now (Jn.10.10). The rediscovery of Kingdom theology is one that is hope filled and hope infused challenging us to be expectant and ambitious for the Kingdom and glory of God, rediscovering that God is indeed at work powerfully and mightily within his creation, within his world, within his Church and within the lives of believers and also in not yet believers drawing them to Jesus.

For many the Holy Spirit is the oft ignored and most misunderstood member of the Trinity, Wimber helped us as Church (especially in the West) explore the riches of who he is and what he does, enabling our Trinitarian theology to become more whole and less lopsided!

Wimber spoke about teaching that prayer works and people can be healed, and they kept on praying for people, yet for nine months they did not see anyone healed and yet he kept on praying and encouraging others to pray for healing and miracles. Gradually they saw more and more prayers answered and their faith rose along with boldness and expectation encouraging others to do the same.

He founded the Vineyard movement which was a radical missional movement connecting people who were dissatisfied with traditional religion, especially with young people, yet Wimber -like Wesley and Booth before him- never intended to start his own denomination but rather the institutional Church resembling the old wine skin could not cope with the new thing God was doing and it became an entity in its own right.

Wimber was great investor in other people, he mentored several young men who ended up making an incredible difference to the spiritual DNA of England with John Collins being the forerunner of Sandy Miller and the work that Holy Trinity Brompton has done both with Alpha and resource Churches; David Watson who lead many missions around the Universities of the UK leading many people to Christ and David Pytches who founded the New Wine movement and helped birth the youth festival Soul Survivor. Who we raise, mentor, encourage and invest in can bear fruit for the Kingdom we might never see but will cause angels to rejoice in heaven. Indeed these great men invested in others who in turn have seen lives changed and the ripples continue to the glory of Christ.

Yet despite Wimber (and his protégé David Watson) both being advocates of praying for God to heal people both men sadly passed away from cancer, their lives cut short despite being held in many peoples prayers, the mystery and the pain of the unexplained and complex nature of why some people do not get healed and prayers not get answered the way we want them to.

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