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.

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.

brokenness, cost, Dreams, Evangelism, Gospel, Mission, Try?

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.


Jonah 2: The Prophet Discovers the Heart of God.

As we continue to explore the story of Jonah, we looked at this reluctant prophet who tried to block his ears from hearing and heeding God’s call, indeed he tried to ignore it and run in the opposite direction.

Perhaps, we need to be people who echo the prayer of Samuel and say “speak Lord for your servant is listening”? Yes, if we hear his voice we have a choice, do we try and ignore what God is saying and harden our hearts, or do we take that step of faith and say “yes”.

When we admit to hearing God’s voice then we have to face the challenge of our own internal desires whether or not to be disobedient and sinful or obedient and righteous. Too often I fear we try to be disobedient in practice whilst seeking to mask this with righteous rhetoric.

Jonah, inside the belly of the fish, re-commits his life to God, and is restored and trusted afresh with his original commission.

As I pictured this story it reminded me of a self-correcting SatNav where due to God’s faithfulness being more potent that humanities faithlessness, Jonah is returned back to the destination that he should have gone.

Jonah faithfully proclaims the message of repentance and the people respond and repent, turning to God in sack cloth and ashes and begging for mercy and forgiveness. These people whom Jonah had originally written off were in reality fertile soil for God’s message of mercy, grace and transformation.

With our human eyes we often look at people incorrectly, not seeing what God sees, often we find the people most open and fruitful are the people we are in danger of writing off. Indeed, Jonah had assumed that they would reject the message, and now is confronted by their obedience contrasted with his sin.

Yet this is not the end of the story.

The people are spared and saved, just as he himself is spared and saved, and Jonah is angry. He falls asleep under a tree, which withers and dies and Jonah is scorched by the sun, and again Jonah protests to God.

God talks to Jonah and challenges him, Jonah tries to justify his behavior (isn’t that something we all do, rather than confess our sin we seek to justify it, even at times when our actions are unjustifiable?). Jonah said “I knew this was what would happen, after all you are ‘slow to anger and abounding in mercy” (Jonah 4.2).

Often when we are wronged we want justice, but when we do something wrong we want mercy, we are fickle, we too often overlook our transgressions but seek to highlight the transgressions of those around us.

The story reminds me of Jesus’ parable about the man who is spared a great debt by the King and then meets someone who owes him a few pounds and forgets about the grace and mercy he received as he demands payment from his kinsman. Jesus says “judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1-3), reminding us that if we are to take the speck out of the eye of a brother or sisters’ eye we need to first take the log from our own eye (Matthew 7.5).

Yet, it is here that Jonah encounters God’s radical heart of compassion for the people of Ninivah –and for him personally-.

I wonder too often if sometimes we understand God’s instruction but maybe not his heart?

A modern worship song includes the line “Lord, what is on your heart, show me what to do, let me know your will and I will follow you”.

God does not want ‘robotic-servants’ but rather friends that carry his heart and seek to see his will happen, seeking to see in situations “mercy triumphing over judgement” (James 2:13).

Indeed another worship song we sing contains a dangerous prayer “break my heart for what breaks yours… living my life for your Kingdoms cause”.

1) Song “I want to serve the purpose of God in my generation Mark Altrogge.
2) Song. Hosanna (I see the King of Glory). Hillsong.


Jonah 1. The Prophet and the Prejudice.

I love the story of Jonah, and yet too often we have turned this amazing story into something we teach only at Sunday School and ignore for the rest of our Christian life.

Jonah is a prophet, yet he is a prophet with his own agenda and idea of what God should and shouldn’t be doing. Jonah is something of an ‘un-surrendered disciple’ he is prepared to follow God when obedience coincides with his own thoughts, plans and values.

So, when God calls Jonah to Ninivah to preach a message of repentance to the people there, he is very reluctant to do it.

Jonah protests and says “no” to God and proceeds to go in the opposite direction, Jonah tries to ‘out-run-God’. Often when we read this passage we often get very pharisaical and perhaps tutting in a smug Christian way, and yet

I believe that most of us at some-point in our lives have ‘done a Jonah’ and disobeyed God and gone our own way.

Jonah has realized the consequences of saying “yes” to God and he is frightened and deeply uncomfortable.

I wonder is our acceptance of the call of Christ is often a conditional acceptance? Whilst training at theological college there was a poster up in the common room that said “Lord, I will go where-ever you call me, provided it is Surrey!”

Someone once said: @if you qant a quiet and comfortable life the person you want to most avoid is Jesus Christ!” –Saying “yes” to Jesus is the greatest thing you can do, but to quote Shane Claiborne “also really messes you up!” –His wayus are not our ways, nor our thoughts are not his thoughts!
I had a friend who talked about God having a call on his life but he admitted that he knew he had left the answerphone on, to say “yes” was too costly, frightening and challenging.

Jonah, didn’t care about the people on Ninivah, he thought they were a bad lot, he thought they deserved God’s wrath and punishment, yet responding to God’s call called him to respond to his judgmental attitudes, his cold heart and his deep personal prejudices. God’s call often calls us to confront our bigotry and baggage as Jonah discovered that God’s call on his life was not just to work through him, but also in his, in his heart, in his attitudes and outlook.

Anyway I digress, Jonah tried running away from God, interestingly there was a boat going to Joppa (the opposite direction) that Jonah could board. I remember J.John saying once “if you are trying to run from God the Devil can be trusted to provide transport!”

The Devil wants to keep us from being fruitful in following God, and I wonder if one of his most profitable tactics is keeping us from setting off on the path of obedience in the first place. I have written before about the danger of golden handcuffs when life is too comfortable and secure to risk taking a step of faith, and the opportunity (or dare I say opportunities) remain untaken.
We then come to the bit we major on when we are telling the story, the storm and the big fish (the Bible never actually calls the fish a whale!). As a storm breaks out Jonah confesses that he is running from God and (after a bit of persuasion) the people throw him into the sea!

To me, this is a profound picture of Jonah’s confession and surrender to God’s mercy. He gave up running away and put his life into God’s hands

Yet here we discover something of God’s grace. He could have punished Jonah with drowning and called another prophet, a less reluctant prophet with a more obedient heart and less racial stereotypes in operation. Yet, God did not give up on Jonah.

In the place of despair and hopelessness (inside the fishes belly) Jonah is confronted with himself, his disobedience and also God’s great mercy and grace. Sometimes when we reach the end of ourselves, and see ourselves as we are, not as we would like to believe ourselves to be, we become ‘soft’ enough for God to mold, shape and transform us.

Also, he came to a place of surrender, a place where he said “yes” to God. Inside the whale it feels like a place that reminds me of Jesus’ Gethsemene prayer “not my will but yours”.

Have we got to that place of surrender?


Alpha in a Nightclub…

I had been in my parish of Kingswood for two years and wanted to do an Alpha course, and the people in the Church were very reluctant to let me use their building for it –who would pay for the heating and lighting etc? There was even a suggestion that they could ‘dock a hire charge’ from my tiny budget for outreach.

It was so tragically sad, sometimes in ministry you can sense God’s heartbreak at the attitude of people who profess to belong to him and follow him, and I just felt something of God’s pain as I really wanted the congregations to have God’s heart of hospitality, generosity and welcome –values of Christ’s Kingdom.

We had recently launched the Street Pastors project and were having lots of conversations with ordinary people outside the Church and it was fantastic at ‘getting me out of the Churchy bubble’. I remember chatting to my friend Matt who ran the local nightclub, he had recently taken it over and with the had a really bad reputation. Somehow we got talking and a Holy Spirit nudge happened and I said “I don’t suppose you hire out the club do you?”

Matt was amazing. He not only let us have the club for the full Alpha course (which is about 12 weeks) he laid on tea and coffee, and a staff member to look after us and check we were okay. He really, really blessed us. –Actually with Street Pastors we got given a sizable grant from the council and offered him some money which he refused to take and said to donate the money to “help the Heroes!”

It struck me that this was Jesus’ parable of the banquet lived out before my eyes, the ‘respectable people’ making excuses and missing out, and the people that could be called ‘outsiders’ responding to the call.

Luke 14:15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

What of us? Are we people like Matt over-flowing with hospitality and generosity? Or full of poor excuses to respond to the Kings’ invitation?


Hezekiah 2: A call to return to the Lord.

Hezekiah is an interesting character as we get some stories of his reign from 2 Kings and some more stories in Chronicles as well.
Our first introduction to Hezekiah in 2 Kings sees him removing the idols from the land and placing his faith and trust in God to deliver him and the land of Judea as they are rescued by God from the Assyrians who are camped on their doorstep and about to invade (the story is repeated in 2Chron.32.1-22).

Our first introduction to Hezekiah in Chronicles talks of him opening the doors of the temple, this is a prophetic image, it is symbolically welcoming God to come and take his rightful place in the temple at the heart of the nation and it is also inviting people to come and return to the Lord.
This image reminds me of the crucifixion image of the Temple curtain being ripped in two showing the way to God is open, open to everyone who will come.

A theme of the Old Testament, many Kings and Prophets have called the people to ‘return to the Lord’ and sought to see a spiritual awakening in the land of Judea, with the call to re-consecrate themselves to God.

A theme we see with King Josiah rediscovering the book of the law and calling for it to be read to the people, challenging them to get themselves right afresh with God. In the very next book of the Bible we will read of Ezra again reading the law to the people calling them afresh to come back to God and leave behind their sinful ways. It is a call throughout the Old Testament right up to John the Baptist and Jesus sending out the 12 and the 72 where they proclaim ‘repent for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand’ –repent and receive.

In 2 Kings there is a strong sense of turning away from sin, tearing down the idols that have usurped God’s place, ditching the baggage.

In Chronicles it is about returning to God and becoming reconnected with him.
The two stories actually work helpfully complement each other, for in order to consecrate ourselves we have to turn away from the idols we have in our lives that seek to take God’s rightful place, and surrender afresh to him, the King of Kings.

Too often we want God’s blessing and presence but without acknowledging him as Lord.

I have become frustrated with people who preach a gospel purely about turning from sin but don’t major on the necessity to be filled with the Holy Spirit to enable us to live our lives Christ’s way; just as I have become equally frustrated with some Gospel messages that talk about needed to be filled with the Spirit but do not talk about our need for repentance, instead we need both!

As Hezekiah called people to come and connect with God he discovered that people responded to his invitation, indeed people came who were outsiders and technically speaking probably shouldn’t have been there. Yet Hezekiah gambled on the grace of God, his love and goodness and grace and welcomed them to join them.

“Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone 19 who sets their heart on seeking God—the LORD, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” 20 And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (2 Chronicles 30.18-20).

I feel that too often we have turned our collective worship into ala carte dining where everyone has a place (and a pew) but a more biblical idea is of a feast with long benches and tables where we can say ‘budge up there is room for another one!’. We glimpse the radical inclusion of the heart of God which is revealed fully after the feast of Pentecost in Acts 2, a God who welcomes even –and indeed especially- those who are far from him, those who society has written off.

When I did my curacy I worked in a Church that had had a famous Parson, George Herbert who wrote an amazing poem called “Love bade me welcome but I drew back guilty of sin and shame… and the poem ends with God inviting the reader to “sit and eat” –echoes of the wonderful verse in Revelation where the risen Christ says “behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with them” (Rev. 3:20).

The idea of eating with someone is a wonderful symbol of friendship, fellowship and intimacy the image shows us of a God who longs to be with us, dwell with us and share with us not just as our Lord but as a friend as Jesus said: “I no longer call you servants…instead I call you friends” –as Christ knocks will we open the door of our lives to him just as Hezekiah opened the doors of the temple?

Are we going to be like Hezekiah as someone who calls people to repentance and to turn away from sin?

Are we going to be like Hezekiah as someone that urges the people, all people, to come and seek the Lord and allow him to come and take his rightful place within our lives.



“Hello Rev’d Mason, this is BBC radio Bristol here, we wonder if you’d mind being interviewed…”

Sometimes I regret picking up the ‘phone…

“…Er, no, Er happy to do anything I can to help” I foolishly said.

“We would like to interview you about doubt…” the caller continued.

I could still back out, but something in felt I should respond positively… We had recently had a visit in Bristol from Archbishop Welby and he had spoken honestly on the Friday night about the fact that he does sometimes have to wrestle with confusing questions and doubts. He had cited the Psalms were the writer is wrestling with faith, and admitted that he could identify with these feelings.

I had a moment of panic, what would I say, as I silently prayed for inspiration, whilst gulping my coffee, spilling a load down my front –glad this was radio!

My mind raced to doubting Thomas first of all (John 20.24-28).

I think Thomas gets a raw deal in scripture and Church tradition labelled for all time as ‘Doubting Thomas’.

Yet, wouldn’t most of us have had doubts and questions if a friend had been brutally executed and suddenly a few days later some of our mates were saying that they had seen him alive and had met with him.

It seems too incredible to believe! He has questions and doubts and that is understandable; wouldn’t you have doubts and questions if you were in Thomas’ position?

True he doubts the resurrection, but he wasn’t there when the resurrected Christ appeared to them in the upper room.

Yet, when he met with the risen Christ and spoke with him, his doubts gave way to a realization of who Jesus was “My Lord and my God” (John 20.28) -a statement of faith, as great, arguable greater, than Simon Peter’s “you are the Christ the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16.16).

sometimes our questions and our wrestling actually can bring us to greater depth and spiritual maturity, God is big enough to cope with us and our complexities.

Yet I think Christianity is a faith strong enough for us to ask our questions of it and wrestle with it.

Christianity has been under attack for 2000 years and despite the best efforts of many it has remained standing in the face of an on-going attack.

When-ever I take an Alpha course, I talk about Christianity not being a religious where we have to turn our brains off and leave them by the door.

It is okay to ask questions, it is okay to feel full of faith on some occasions and other days struggle a bit, a God who never asks us to pretend or fake it, but a God who knows us and loves us and we can real and authentic with.

Too often I believe we confuse faith with certainty, as I believe they go together, can you imagine the butterflies going around Peter’s stomach when he stepped out of the boat on the water and began to walk towards Jesus?

One of my friends was talking about faith which she described as “do it scared” which meant allowing your faith to rise above your fear. It didn’t mean that doubts and questions are not in our heads and hearts but rather we are choosing to place our confidence, our life, our everything in the place of faith rather than putting our trust in our doubts that debilitate us and hold us back.

Steps of faith are scary, and we often can feel our knees knocking together, yet “God knows of what we are made” he understands our humanity, our hearts.
One of the most profound statements comes in a healing miracle of a man who says “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:23).

Faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin, but we choose how we spend it, are we going to invest in being people of faith or people of doubt.

I believe that faith, like doubt, is a bit like a muscle, the more we use either the more we develop resilience and what Sports Scientists call “muscle memory” where certain behaviors become more habitual they come more naturally too us.

Another picture I find helpful is of the image of two dogs, one called ‘Doubt’ or ‘Fear’ and the other called “Faith”, which one wins – the one you feed the most!

The more we let either rule in our lives- the stronger one becomes and the weaker the other becomes.

Let’s learn afresh what it means to live by faith.


Hezekiah 1: Trust under temptation.

I had just stared working for a Church called St. Mike’s in York, and myself and my colleague Iesah were given the passwords for our computers, mine was “Brother” (easy enough to remember) and my friends was Hezekiah, which meant for the first 6 months we permanently had a Bible open at 2 Kings 18 so that we could spell the password correctly!

Hezekiah was a young leader, just 25 when he took the Throne, he succeeded his Father Ahaz, one of the worst Kings Judah had had, who had turned the nation from worshipping the one true God to idols.

He inherited a mess, a broken Kingdom, and a troubled land and a people far from God and entrenched in worshipping pagan Gods.

The scale of the task upon his shoulders was huge, and yet that did not deter him.

Indeed as Socrates would later say: “the secret of change is not to spend your time fighting the old but on building the new”.

Interestingly scripture credits Hezekiah as being ‘a Son of David’ (a King who God called ‘A Man after my own heart’) and just ignores Ahaz his biological Father and enemy of the Yahweh.

Hezekiah hit the ‘reset’ button, he destroyed the idols erected to other God’s, he cleared the temple and called the people back to worship the living God. He took drastic action, he didn’t try and flirt, compromise or do deals with the sinful practices of his time, but banished them.

Too often we become prisoners of the past when need to break free from it, to start again, to draw a line in the sand and say “No more. It stops here. We no longer worship Idols but the one true and living God”.

“Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook”

I think when we read passages like this we forget how deeply entrenched the peoples mindsets were, they feared that the ‘gods’ would be angry with them for knocking down their altars and their idols their superstitions would run riot. It took a lot of bravery of King Hezekiah to with-stand the pressure from the people to keep their beloved idols.

Indeed it was in during his Fathers’ reign that the prophet Elijah said “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21) A fickle people, in the past easily swayed by the temptation to return to the worship of false God.

Whilst he was busy tearing down idols Hezekiah saw Judah’s sister nation –Israel- fall to the Assyrian super-power because of their disobedience to Yahweh. Then the Assyrians invade the fortified parts of Judea and Jerusalem, and Sennacherib an official of the Assyrian King tries to encourage God’s people to give in and surrender and do a deal with them.

First their King, Sennacherib seeks to undermine the peoples faith in God’s ability to protect and look after them, suggesting that they should have trusted the God’s that Hezekiah had had torn down. Tempting them to doubt their decision to trust God rather than their idols.

‘On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have the counsel and the might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me?…If you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”—isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem”?… Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria…“Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me’.

It is divisive, sowing the seeds of mistrust for Hezekiah and causing the people to doubt the power of their God.

Humanly speaking it would have made sense to surrender to the Assyrians, they make the prospect sound quite appealing: “Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 32 until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death!”

Yet these promises are lies, almost certainly exile would have been a place of slavery and forced labour, not new wine and feasts of grain. Sadly however, when we are tempted often we believe wrongly that the consequences of going our own way, going away from God, will be more pleasurable than holding close to Gods plan for our lives.

Indeed we can understand the peoples very real fear, this military super-power was literally camped in their backyard, defeat looked certain and inevitable and faith looked foolish and impossible.

Then they are threatened with the advance of a super-power that threatens to over-take his nation and blasphemes the power of his God.

Hezekiah goes away and prays, and wow what a prayer.

“When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord” (2 Kings 19.1) the Lord sent Isaiah the prophet to encourage Hezekiah who prayed: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

God affirms his promise by a prophetic word from Isaiah “therefore this is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria:

“‘He will not enter this city
or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
or build a siege ramp against it.
By the way that he came he will return;
he will not enter this city,
declares the Lord.
I will defend this city and save it,
for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.’” (2 Kings 19:32-34).

And God sent his Angel and killed one hundred and eighty five thousand, and King Sennacharib fled and was assassinated his his sons in the temple of the god he worship, a god that was unable to save him.

When I felt really got at in ministry as I sought to plant a Church in the most deprived area of my parish I came under attack from vociferous individuals and the Lord gave me this verse “the Lord himself will fight for you, you only have to be still!” (Exodus 14.14)

We forget that even in the face of a great army, “one person plus God is always in the majority” (John Knox).

It reminded me that God that honours his name, scripture tells us that “God honours those who honour him” (1 Samuel 2.30) which is what we see Hezekiah has done, and the Lord brings him vindication.

True. God’s vindication was very last minute with the enemy camped close by, but yet he kept his promise and his word was fulfilled.

As I read this passage I am reminded too of another verse: “’not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zech.4:6).

A call to be faithful and to put our trust in God’s character of utter trustworthiness and faithfulness in all of his ways.

A challenge to not let anyone or anything undermine the foundations that we have in Christ.


“Did you laugh?”

God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’

17 Abraham fell face down; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’

Genesis 18:

Where is your wife Sarah?’ they asked him.

‘There, in the tent,’ he said.

10 Then one of them said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.’

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him.11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?” 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.’

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’

But he said, ‘Yes, you did laugh.’

Genesis 21

Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac[a] to the son Sarah bore him.

Get your head around the craziness of this story!

Imagine standing behind a very, very, old lady in the queue getting a pregnancy test?

You can see why they struggled to believe God would and could do such an amazing thing…

You can see why they laughed. In fact that’s what Isaac means.

But lets go back to the key verse in this text, “is anything too hard for God?” -Clearly the answer is “no” and yet clearly the theologically correct answer and the answer we truly believe can be different answers.

When we re-read the end of Job we see how mighty God is and how small in comparison we are as humans, God asks the friends of job the pompous theologians and smug superior spiritual types “were you there when I laid the earths foundations?”

The truth of God’s mightiness and great power -bigger than any situation we find ourselves in- is echoed through out scripture.

“I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” -asks the prophet Jeremiah 32.27.

“Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”” (Matthew 19.26).

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ~ Philippians” 4:13

Paul reminds us in his letter to the Church at Ephesus that “(God) can do more than we can ask or imagine!” (Eph.3.20)

God bringing life from a barren place, God moving in a situation that seemed impossible.

What of us?

Have we made our God too small?

Do we believe he can and does do miracles?

Are prepared for God to blow our minds? -or is our God safe and in a little comfortable and secure box?

Do we give up hoping?

Do we quit dreaming?

I’ll close, by suggesting lets not be like Abraham and Sarah, lets expect the unexpected, let us have a bigger and more crazy view of who God is and what he does?

Let us bring those huge problems and barren situations, those seemingly unclimbable obstacles, unreachable goals… and let us remember that God is powerful, mighty and miraculous!

Let us not be people who laugh and scoff at the power of the most high God