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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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More on the Ancient Art of Breathing.

I have written before on the idea of the ancient art of breathing.

We breath in when we receive from God, and we breath it out in the world.

It is a wonderful image as links the cycle of life and our dependence on Oxygen with our spiritual existence.

Indeed it resonates with that wonderful image in creation where human life itself is started by the breath of God animating humanity from the dust of the earth.

The name of God, too Holy to say in the Jewish culture was often spelled ‘YHWH’, an unpronounceable word, but best described as an exhalation of breath.

A staggering thought to think that God is known by the lungs of his creation breathing out. In fact one of the names by which the person of the Holy Spirit is known is as “the breath of God”, “O breath of God come breath within”.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit in the Greek is a continuous tense “go on be being filled” -keep on breathing. In a world where I feel deflated, reminding that the breath of God, his Spirit can reflate us.

An image I find fascinating within this imagery is that we cannot contain God within us by holding our breath (if we did we would simply pass out), I love this image of God’s proclamation refusing to be contained within the limitation of our lungs.

Indeed there is enough life in our breath to resuscitate someone back to life, and yet if we simply continued to breathing out we would soon be gasping for air and pass out.

Healthy breathing receives from God and gives it away.

My grandfather would speak of going forward at a Billy Graham crusade in 1952, yet didn’t seem to progress from there onwards. Too often we characterise Christianity as ‘praying the prayer’ -taking a saving breath- rather than living a life of ongoing and habitual “yes” to God.

I had a wonderful Student with me in Kingswood, Denise Adide, who talked about a spirituality of overflow, where what we have received from God spills out of us, and yet too often in my own spiritual life I feel as though I am scraping the barrel of a spiritual desert.

In a recent book Emotionally healthy leadership the author Pete talks of the problem of exhaustion of “doing more activity for God than their relationship can sustain… chronically over-extended”.

A challenge to stop and take a breath.

Indeed when I have become over anxious, excited or angry there are times when I have had to stop and take a breath -and the times I haven’t I have normally regretted later.

The problem is in the West we can fall victim to either a consumerist mentality where gorge ourselves on the vast array of spiritual opportunities, or we fall victim to the Martha -or even martyr- complex where we feel too busy to stop and breath. I would suggest -to totally mix my metaphors- that we need to see ourselves as tight-rope walkers, living in the tension between the pull of consumer Christianity and the pull of Martha martyrdom -you yourself will know which side you are most vulnerable too.

Interestingly when I shared this image at a Church weekend away the Rector talked about her husbands’ Fathers’ of being in a deep sea diving bell in Portsmouth where they are deeply submerged and have to reach the top of this bell by gradually swimming upwards releasing the air from their lungs. If someone was struggling they had to punch them in the stomach to help them breath out.

Perhaps God is saying we need a punch in the stomach to release the oxygen within us?

Or perhaps we need to gasp inwards more oxygen and let our breathing regulate and find a pattern that it was intended?

And lastly, another picture, when my wife was in hospital giving birth she was on gas and air, when we are in pain, sometimes we need to breath more deeply from God and yet often it becomes something we neglect. Perhaps there is pain in your life and you need to come to God and inhale deeply.

So, how is your breathing?

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Zephaniah 3:17

I’ve got a new job, I’m making miniature bible figures, so far I’ve made a minor prophet!

When I am in heaven and meet Zephaniah I am worried I have to say “Hi there Zeph, so sorry, I never read your book!”

Joking aside there are some amazing bits of the Bible we hardly ever read, want to share a great verse from Zephaniah.

“The Lord your God is with you!”

He is mighty to save.

He will quiet you with his love.

He will take great delight in you.

And rejoice over you with singing”.

The problem many of us have with God is that he feels remote and distant, that idea that God is sitting on a cloud looking down on us from on high, aloof and seperate -other- this maybe the God of Michaelsngelo, the one painted on the celling of the Sistine Chapel, but not the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus.

One of the most popular peoms of all time is that of the footprints, our lives mapped out before us, with our footprints and God’s foot prints side by side, and then we look a little closer and we see in the hardest and toughest parts of our lives with only one set of footprints, and we ask God “why did you abandon me when I needed you the most?” To which God replies that he would never leave us or forsake us, and the times we see one set if footptints was when he carried us.

Sometimes we needed to be remind that God is with us, Immanuel-a name for Jesus- means God with us. The God of all comfort invisibly carrying us, scripture reminds us that underneath it all is God’s everlasting arms of love. Our God never slumber of sleeps, his ear is not deaf to our call or his arm too short to save. The Psalmidt writes “where can I go from your presence if I go to the furthest end of the earth you are there, and if I make my bed in the depths you are there”.

Maybe there is a situation that we need to remind ourselves that God the light of the world is present within?

Yet too often we think of God as impotent and powerless, nice but harmless, and we need to remind ourselves that God is not weak nor powerless but able to intervene and transform people, circumstances and situations.

God does not lack power, when we pray there is no problem to great for God nor too small for him.

God is able to save.

Too often we place our faith or assurance of salvation not in the completed work of God in Christ, but in our own abilities to sin.

I used to have a wonderful boss, Danny Brown, who used to say “there is nothing stronger or more trust worthy than the blood of Jesus” -A challenge not to put our faith in our sin but in the trustworthiness of Christ.

In the back of my ordination stole there is a verse and a dedication to a friend, Samantha Wood, – the Churchwardens Daughter- who died tragically young after quite a while and colourful life, but the night before she died she prayed with her mum, despite the mess and junk, God is able to save. The verse I have embroidered in my stole comes from John 10.27 “No one shall snatch them out of my hand, for they are in my hand and my hand is in the Fathers”. It’s a big of s double whammy, our hand is in Jesus’ and his hand us in the Fathers. It is an image I think of most mornings when I walk my Daughter Hope to school, her tiny hand can’t hold on to mine, I can easily pull away, but her tiny hand inside mine is safe and secure and not going anywhere.

God is mighty to save, and is bigger than anything may face.

Quieting with love is a funny expression, Mike Pilivachi talks of how a friend’s baby started to scream with a truly vile smelling nappy and understood this verse when the Mother scooped up the smelly baby and cuddled it until it have up crying and it’s baby tantrum and be calm calm and went to sleep… despite maybe we feel as if our lives have gone a bit like that babies nappy, perhaps we can let God just hold us until our tears and rage subside, scripture calls him the God of all comfort and he can cope with our anger, pain and frustrations, sometimes when we are hurting and upset we need to let it out and let God quiten us with his love, holding us to him until the rage subsides and peace breaks through. Something of this we see when we read the book or see the film “the shack”. A God who quitens us with his love.

A God who takes great delight in us.

I remember the first time I held my baby daughter in my arms, at that point she had done nothing to earn my love, but I loved her anyway, and would do anything for her. I understood at that moment something new and profound about the unconditional love of God. Looking at her, I understood how God delights in his creation. He looks at us and loves us.

As I delighted in my daughter, at all her facial movements and expressions, I realised that although she will probably do things I don’t like, I can’t ever imagine not loving her.

Let’s just think about that awesome truth of a God who delights in you and me.

According to Mike Pilivachi, the phrase “takes great delight in you” means to spins around like a top whooping with excitement.

It is a crazy picture of extravagant enjoyment of us and our company. It is probably a poor image but when I was courting my wife I would text and then wait and wait (and wait) by the phone for her to text back… and that excitement or rejoicing when she replied I think gives a snapshot of God’s passionate love for us.

The God of heaven actually wants to spend time with you, to be with you, and you with him. God’s heart rejoices over you. He loves you, really loves you. God doesn’t just love the world, no, he SO loved the world, and the world includes you personally.

For my dad, whose been a Vicar since 1984, had this realisation for him, when he heard a sermon preached and he realised that God’s love for the world included and reached out to him and demanded a personal response.

And lastly, God will rejoice over you with singing.

We are so used to thinking of God through the lenses of Victorian respectability that we fail to see a God who is crazy about his creation. In fact the depth, fire and extent of his love for us is seen displayed through the Cross of Christ. God’s love for us is neither calm, cold or tame.

I never understood this verse, it just sounded a bit naff like one of those weird musicals where people burst into song in a way that if you did that in real life you’d be sectioned!

Yet one day I went to a football match and heard the roar of the crowd, the crowd got behind a player and believed in him “there’s only one….” and he scored a goal.

I loved this image of God’s passion for us breaking out into joyous encouragement, reminiscent of Hebrews 11 “surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses”, where heaven itself is cheering us on as we seek to bring glory to Christ.

I just think when I read this verse “wow” so much wonderful encouraging truth, hidden away in the Bible that probably many of us have missed it:

“The Lord your God is with you.
he is mighty to save,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will take great delight in you and rejoice over you with singing”.

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Us, Us together and Them.

At a recent Church weekend away which I spoke at, I got everyone to look at their thumbs -then their thumb print, the swirls, loops and lines that make up our unique finger-pint, then got people to look into each others ears, and then one another’s eyes.

It is an awesome fact of our humanity that our personality, fingerprints, eyes, ears are completely unique, there will never be anyone like you again in the world, nor has there ever been anyone like you.

The Bible talks about being ‘knitted together in our mothers wombs’ and ‘being fearfully and wonderfully made’.

The Bible tells us that we are “precious and honoured in God’s sight, and he loves us”.

It might be a bit of a cliche but I remember hearing someone ask how much does God love us and indicating with one hand a small amount as an answer (God loves us a little bit) where-as the truth is this is how much he loves us (opens their arms to the widest they can stretch) as Anglican Liturgy proclaims: “he opened wide his arms of love for us by dying on the cross”.

How much does God love us? He thinks we are worth dying for.

Yet to often we take a message like this, and we applying to ourselves, reminding us of the truth of God loving us, which fits with the individualistic world view that our society has.

Yet “God loves the world so much that that he gave his one and only son”, that means that God loves you -true- but he also loves all that he has made, he loves that person that annoys you, that person you can’t see eye to eye with, that person who manages to “push your buttons”.

Do we see ‘the other’ as a person beloved by God, our brothers and sisters in Christ. And what about those who are outside the Church?

My recent essay on the Shepherding Metaphor shows an awesome love for those who don’t yet know him, and those who have wandered from him.

God’s love for broken and sinful people is so extreme that “Angels rejoice in heaven over a sinner who repents”, Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost” and the Father runs to meet his child whilst they were still a long way off. Distinguished gentleman in middle-eastern cultures do not run it is shameful, and here the Dad runs to meet his son and hugs him. In that culture the son could have been stoned by the villagers for dishonouring his dad (Deut 21:15), and yet in running to him and embracing him the dad takes on the shame in his loving embrace saying “if you stone my son, you will be stoning me too”, a beautiful picture of love and ‘mercy triumphing over judgement’.

It seems to me that we forget how much we are loved by God, we forget how much others are loved by God, how desperate God is to restore the broken relationship with all people, a God who longs for us/them.

I challenged the people of St. James’ at their weekend away and St. Michael’s to think:

-> “What does it mean to be someone transformed by the good news of Christ Crucified and resurrected?”

-> “What does it mean to be part of a community transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ?”

Exploring this theme further, we looked at the character of God whose heart is for “none to perish”, a God of mission wanting creation to respond to him and his love for them.

The Missiologist David Bosche reminds us “Mission is not an activity of the Church but an attribute of God”. James Laurence talks about God’s heart beat and yearning is for those who don’t yet know him, and when we reach out beyond the bubbles of most of our Church existence we discover truly what it means when Jesus says “to come and follow me”.

It’s not a call to a comfortable walk in the park that Christianity within the pleasant bubble of Churchianity can be, but the call to “pick up our cross and follow Jesus!” -To hear and heed the call of sacrificial obedience, it’s worship of the most beautiful kind to see Christ glorified by people coming to know and love him.

As we seek to understand our identity (both as individuals and corporately as the body of Christ) in who Christ is and what he has done for us -and offers to his world- let’s pledge ourselves to the Kingdom cause.

I’ll close with 2 lines from 2 great hymns:

“Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee”

“Where the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering for too small, Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul my life my all”.

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Silent Night.

A famous and beautiful carol.

Yet as I thought about this, I realised that Christmas was the ending of a silent night, or rather 200 years of silent nights.

The inter-testimental period, was a time a spiritual wilderness for the people who followed the living God. And the silence was broken by the sound of a baby crying.

It was another 30 something years later before the word of God was heard from John preaching “prepare the way for the Lord”, “repent and be baptised” “repent for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand!”…

And then 33 years after Jesus birth we hear the voice of God saying “This is my own dear son, listen to him!” -and then that is followed by Jesus going for 40 days into the desert.

A lot of silent nights.

A lot of waiting to hear what God has to say.

…and then he -Jesus- says something they already know -Isaiah had already said it hundreds of years before.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

because the Lord has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,

to proclaim freedom for the captives

and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”.

 

All this waiting for this? Not what they were expecting.

Yet Jesus was a Messiah unlike what they were expecting.

The answer to the question they weren’t asking.

Their assumptions and baggage prevented them from hearing Gods voice.

 

A friend told me about seeking God over an issue, he prayed through the night on a beach, and I’m the early hours of the morning he felt God say “What does the Lord require of you O human, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly”…  It was definitely an answer, but it didn’t feel like the answer to the question he was asking.

Often I wonder in my Christian life, am I asking God the right question, am I tuned into his answer?

Often God’s answers don’t always make sense to us, at least at first, and maybe not even this side of eternity.

 

Sometimes it does appear as though we are having a silent night, in your Christian life there might be times of waiting (and waiting can be frustrating and painful) and heaven feeling silent and God feeling like he is on mute is a normal part of our Christian life.

Wilderness and deserts have been part of God’s refining and transforming plan.

Experiencing silence and feelings of abandonment have been part of the Christian tradition, St. John of the Cross writes of the dark night of the soul, where the night is darkest before the dawn, but the light does come.

Sometimes faith, is holding on in the dark knowing that though it may be dark, the light will rise.

 

God is not in a rush, often he slows his pace to 3 miles an hour (human walking pace) and sometimes he makes us stop, and pause, taking his time to work deeply. The problem is I want a microwaveable spiritual maturity, instant discipleship just add water. The problem is I care about the destination and God cares not just about the destination but the journey as well. God cares about who we are as we travel there.

Recently I have been doing a fair bit of cookery and one technique I have come across is the marinade, rather than just ‘throwing things in the pan’ the best flavours come from allowing the flavours of sauce and spice to absorb and permeate the entire piece of meat over time to let them sink in and transform the meal.

When I was at college one of our lecturers shared a little about leading “Charismatic” worship, and he said to pause for moments to wait on God and to wait that little bit longer than we are comfortable, as often that pressing out from comfort to discomfort is often when we gain revelation.

It is normal to have times of silence within our relationship with God.

I remember seeing a billboard which said “If God feels distant -who moved?” and I thought that condemning those who feel far from God was really unhelpful. Yet I do think that when the silence comes, we have a choice do push into God and in the silence hold onto him and keep the faith, run to him -or do we run from him?

So, as think of the song silent night, whatever is happening within our relationship with God, remember silence will at times come, and yet God is good, it will end, and he will be faithful.

From the position of 2 minutes to dawn, the silence might be deafening and his faithfulness and goodness seems hard to see, yet faith is being “sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not yet see”.

Lord, what do you want to teach me in this time of silence.

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No Room at the Inn.

I’ve often talked of there being no room at the Inn as a Christmas message, one year I handed out “No Vacancy signs” to all the congregation who held them up as Mary and Joseph came up the Aisle looking for a place to stay. It was a powerful and shocking image, an image that actually caused me to well up!

This year we have been working with the homeless in Bournemouth with the Occupy movement, which has again been a fresh reminder about homelessness.

Yet I want to talk about something else, other than homelessness today.

No room at the Inn. I think can be another way of saying “there is no place for me”.

Some of you will know that awful feeling when you are lined up against a wall and two people pick teams and you are the last, or near the last one to be picked. It is a horrible feeling of being unwanted and unvalued.

Some of us (for whatever reasons) feel like misfits at times -if not all the time! We feel like we don’t belong. We feel like we don’t really fit in. Tolerated rather than celebrated.

Over the last couple of years I had a few job ‘knock-backs’ and I have been amazed at how our inner-voice attacks us and tells us we’re rubbish.

I think Mary and Joseph probably were travelling and saw all these people feasting, laughing and celebrating whilst they are trudging around in the cold.

Sometimes life seems to say “there is plenty of room at the Inn -just not for you!”

Have you ever felt really lonely, I mean desperately lonely, in a room full of people? -It is truly one of the worst kind of loneliness, a soul eating loneliness.

Or perhaps you used to fit, but now you feel like you don’t fit anymore.

Yet it is here in this place of ‘unfittingness’, for us, that the Son of God came.

The one whose first choice was normally the worlds last choice. To the kid dying inside at being the last one picked by their peers -Jesus says “I choose you!”

To the person in the crowded party feeling all alone he says “I am coming to your house for tea” (as he did to Zacchaeus).

When we are feeling broken and hopeless Jesus comes to us. We don’t have a God who only works when we are on top of the world, but a God who draws ever closer when the bottom has dropped out of our world. The God of all Hope, hope that does not disappoint us, draws close, and although his presence does not necessarily change the external factors, he does help and carry us through.

Often when I take a funeral I talk of the footsteps poem (not actually in the Bible) and talk of those moments when we feel like there is no room for us at the inn, we discover that we are being carried by Christ.

There is a wonderful verse that says “underneath it all are the ever lasting arms of love”.

Sadly at times our Churches can be cliquey and difficult, but at the essence and core of our DNA as followers of Jesus we ought to be welcoming everyone, and saying “you are welcome here!”

Isaiah says “Come all who are hungry and thirsty, come eat bread and drink wine without cost”.

A wonderful image I was given at theological college by one of our lecturers, John Kelly, who said “too often communion is like a la carte fine dining with everything set out beautifully… but lets start thinking of it as a feast with long tables and benches and we say ‘budge up there is room for another one'”.

In my curacy parish one of our Churches had had as Rector a guy called George Herbert who wrote a poem “love bade me welcome” about Christ welcoming us and inviting him to join us as we feast.

My prayer is for all of us who feel like misfits, who don’t fit -or no longer fit- that we will experience a fresh encounter and revelation of the one who matters most; who chooses and calls us by name into his arms of love.

And my challenge is to be people that break the cycle for others, be Christians with open arms and walls removed, and let the welcome of Christ touch all who we meet this Christmas as an touch and taste of heaven.

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They Killed Baby Jesus.

In one of Billy Connolly’s stand up comedy shows he talks about talking to his tiny grandson about Christmas and then somehow get on to Easter and his young grandchild cried “THEY KILLED BABY JESUS!”.

It got a laugh, and I thought, perhaps the laugh is on us as Christians for how we’ve divorced Christmas and Easter, how we re-read and re-tell the same chapter and yet never tell the whole narrative.

We live in a world where many people don’t know even the basics of what Christians believe, or the story of Jesus (and I am shocked by how little people who have attended Church for donkeys years don’t know of their faith).

Yet I wonder what Billy Connolly’s grandchild would have said if he’d realised that in killing Jesus humanity was actually murdering God.

The creator, through him all things were made, allowed himself to be killed by his creation.

Graham Kendrick wrote “Hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered!”

Yet, perhaps we can go further with an even more audacious claim, for we believe that Christ died for us, died to clear away everything that separates us from God. Died in our place.

Stuart Townsend wrote “it was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished” -which in one way is a misrepresentation as our sin didn’t compel Jesus to die but rather in his love he chose to die for us, taking ‘our sin upon his shoulders’.

As Kendrick also wrote “Amazing Love, O what Sacrifice, the Son of God given for me, my death he died so that I might live”.

So, the challenging truth that shouts out is not just that they killed baby Jesus, nor even that we as humanity killed the divine, but that Christ Jesus loved us enough to die for us.

That because of the cross and resurrection we can receive forgiveness, we can have a restored relationship with God and the free gift of eternal life.

So, perhaps the shout out of Christmas is that because of Jesus “Death has been defeated” -Death where is thy sting!

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Coming Home…

Today I went back to the Church where I did my curacy to preach and it was a real blessing, seeing so many friends and people I care about (and great to meet some lovely new faces too!).

A fortnight ago I went to St. James’ weekend away to speak, St. James’ is the Church where I got married and worked for for a little while and my dad was Vicar there for about 12 years. Again it was so great to come back and feel something of the love and welcome of the Christian Community.

Many of these people are different ages to me, different backgrounds and life experiences, and it reminded me afresh of that wonderful -and incredibly counter cultural- way the Church is inter-racial, intergenerational, inter-class.

People that normally would never meet can come together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

It was funny for me to feel so ‘at home’ or like ‘coming home’ to both of these congregations, neither are particularly trendy or glamourous, but just ordinary Christians loving Christ, loving each other and seeking to follow Jesus.

Recently my Church experience has been one where I used to dread Sundays normally for the way people who’d call themselves Christians would sadly often behave.

Yet today and last weekend was a wonderful reminder of what Church, can, should and ought to be like.

As I thought about this idea of Church like coming home, I explored the idea further, often in a tough world which lives vastly differently from the way I want to do joining with the Church family should feel like that relief “at last a place where people get me, understand and what I am seeking to live for”.

In an increasingly lonely world, the community of Christian provides a place of belonging, a refuge and sanctuary, in a world that knocks us down so much a place where we can be loved and love is actually a very special place.

I did wonder if I was just having a nostalgic moment, but then I thought of when my parents moved house and I visited them in their new house, and realise at the heart of a home and belonging isn’t just about ‘knowing where stuff is’ but rather it is about the quality of relationships we find there.

Jesus talked about “by this will all people know you are my disciples that you love one another” -and when we see Churches living this out with skin on it is a truly beautiful thing. When we see Churches falling short of this it is painful as we know it can and should be so much more (and tragically our broken, fractured humanity sometimes leads us to get ‘being Church wrong’ and whenever that happens and real people get hurt that truly is a tragedy that must break the heart of God).

We yearn places to belong, places where we can just be, to feel part of something greater than ourselves with other people travelling the same path but with a variety of wisdom and experiences that they can share along the way.

As I began to think about the feeling of coming home, of being a valued and needed part of the family and knowing my need snd value of others in the family, I thought this wonderful picture of interdependence based around love.

As listening to the news of these bits of the Church family, there have been stories of wonderful joy -births, healings and successes- and also stories of bereavements, pain and suffering=.

Being part of a family is about sharing in both the joys and the sorrows.

Yet in our very british culture we ‘keep ourselves to ourselves’ and a stiff upper lip and tell everyone we are fine (when normally we’re not!) and I thought of the risks of vulnerability and allowing ourselves to be known being costly, but worth it.

The call to be community is often banded around very freely in some circles, but to actually be committed to making this happen and living it out in reality in our daily lives is a hard and difficult call.

As I thought more about this idea of Church feeling like coming home, I was reminded of one of my favourite theologians -Dietrich Bonhoeffer- (who wrote about community in his wonderful book “Life Together”) who radically rediscovered what it meant to BE Church (rather than just ‘go to’ Church) in the 2nd World War. His Church was banned and meeting together could result in being murdered, imprisoned, beaten up by the SS -and yet they still met through out the war. This wasn’t just going through the motions of religious meetings, but rather they discovered afresh what it meant to share lives together authentically and deeply. Bonhoeffer wrote of the two fellowships “the fellowship of the righteous” and the “fellowship of sinners”.

The fellowship of the righteous is where we are polite and guarded with each other, no one is real about brokenness, the pain and mess of real life, the doubts and the despair.

Yet the fellowship of sinners, is where we discover what it meant to carry one another’s burdens, to serve and be served, to love and be loved, to be ‘iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another’.

I discovered something deeply beautiful and profound about Church whilst at the Priory Clinic on placement when at theological college, here were a group of broken people, their leader was an addict himself in recovery -what Henri Nowen would call a wounded healer-. They were an inter-generational group, there was a business man crying with a guy who’d been on the streets comforting him, they were all ages and walks of life, they were sharing deeply and loving, encouraging, challenging, inspiring and blessing one another. I thought this looks and feels like family, this looks and feels like Church -and yet I’ve never been in a Church that has quite felt like the community at the Priory Clinic, but I believe that Church, can and should look like this.

The world -lost, hurting and broken- longs and needs the Church to be the Church, extending a welcome and a sense of belonging to all we meet.

A church that extends the welcome we see of Christ, the welcome of the Father who ran to meet his Son and embraced him.

A story to close with, my friend Mark had been away from Church for a long time, he came to pick up his daughter from Sunday School and was spotted by Teresa -the associate minister- at the point in the service where the peace is exchanged, she spotted Mark whom she had known as a young man, ran down the aisle and hugged him, and this brought him not just back to Church but helped restore his relationship too with God.

…His words for this was “it felt like coming home!”

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