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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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In/Out of Ministry?

I was at a friend’s ordination service and someone asked me (as I’ve stepped away from Vicaring about 9 months ago) how it felt being “out of ministry”.

I thought about this curious phrase “in ministry” and then thought of my coming week with three school assemblies talking to hundreds of young people about Jesus.

Out of Ministry?

Or helping out with the Town Pastors blessing the vulnerable, homeless, lonely and in need…

Out of Ministry?

Too often we think of being in ministry as doing Churchy stuff in a churchy building.

Yet since taking a break I do think there is a world of difference between religious activity and Kingdom fruitfulness.

We get confused between Christ’s call and propping up an institution.

I wonder if that which we think is ministry might not be, and that which we don’t think is might actually be God ordained ministry which cause the angels to rejoice in heaven.

Indeed as my wise friend Alan Jenner said when I left Kingswood “Andy’s leaving the Church of England to tell people about Jesus!”

Perhaps we need to rethink what it means to be a Vicar/pastor/Church leader, where making disciples and advancing the Kingdom is prioritised over buildings, fundraising, committees and endless rotas… (and lots of moving chairs!)

Out of Ministry? Was what was called ministry always ministry? If it wasn’t then I’m glad to be out of it.

My friend Mark Rich talks of the Spirit wanting “maximum fruitfulness for minimum weariness but Satan wants maximum weariness for minimum fruitfulness”. –

Perhaps all of us – irrespective of whether we are Vicary or not- need to seek afresh the call of God afresh?

Are we doing what we should be?

Are we doing what we shouldn’t be?

I believe that every Christian who knows, loves and wants to follow Jesus is in full time ministry. Or to put it another way if you love Jesus and have a pulse you are in full time Christian ministry!

Are we too blinkered and selective in the small minority of things we celebrate? When God’s glory is spilling out all over the place, but often unnoticed by us within the Church.

As I stood there at the ordination service in my robes, waiting as bling covered Bishops and Deans processed down the aisle, I thought there was something deeply uncomfortable about the “them and us-ness” of this division of clergy and laity, as though we really think that proper calling involves a ring of plastic around your neck.

Yet the world is full of great Kingdom opportunities, different roles in the body of Christ -indeed Corinthians says if all bits of the body functioned the same then the body would be depleted instead it is our difference that bring its strengths.

Too often we forget that rather than those of us working in an obviously churchy role are (I believe) to equip, empower and enable the cross cultural missionaries we have in workplaces, homes, streets, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and prisons in every village, town or city in our country and across the world… the people we serve are our key assets, we as clergy are just the team coach an often invisible role of glorifying Jesus through equipping the saints, the boots on the ground, the people at the coalface, living out their faith on their front line. I believe as clergy our role was the largely invisible one of team coach enabling blessing to be released through the people I serve in their contexts.

Mother Teresa talked of “finding you calcutta” – the place God is calling each one of us to serve him-. The missionary God has gone before each one of us preparing for us all opportunity upon opportunity to bless, to be salt and light, to hold out the word that gives life, to be agents and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.

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We Are Family .

So we see in Genesis the rise of a dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. Perhaps a family that’s a bit (or very) dysfunctional is one we can relate too, as all of our families have some baggage within them? Yet despite this, we can see within God’s original plan, before the fall, the glory and beauty of what family life was meant to be -and at times can be-. Indeed although a broken picture, family is the image used to describe the community of Christ – his Church.

Yet although we have to be pragmatic enough to realise family is tainted by sin, but we can be idealistic enough to see the creators intentions gleaming through in glory.

One of the most profound images I had of family was in a queue in a post office in Derby. A grandma was there with her grandson, she was a bit posh, and asked the child what he wanted for lunch. He said “McDonald’s”. Grandma said “don’t you want to go somewhere nice?” To which the grandson replied “that is nice”. – As I pondered this picture, I felt sure that Granny would go to ‘Maccy Ds’ and the grandchild probably would have some posh family meals too. They would both compromise for the other out of love.

Family, a community of committed and self sacrificing love, intergenerational and including diversity but yet still (often), manages to hold together in unity and mutual support. Yet family is not a sealed unit or impenetrable bubble, if it were the family would die out and no longer exist, each generation falls in love and invites someone new into the family – and different families are joined together- and from this new family life can flourish and so the cycle continues.

In many ways this community of love that invites the outsider to join with us reminds me of God, by which I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a perfect community of love but one that welcomes others in, indeed actively seeks us out.

Family should bring out the best in us, a community that enables us all to thrive, a place of belonging, safety and security. Family, where we are known most fully, seen at times at our worst and yet still loved. – isn’t this a picture of a Christian community you want to be a part of.

Family is a team, and team is an acrostic for Together Everyone Achieves More, we a better and more fruitful in loyalty and unity with our skills combined together than divided factions and lone individuals. Our life experiences and journeys compliment each other where youthful energy and aged wisdom bring us the best of human endeavour (not that everyone aged is wise nor youthful is energetic) but the truth is it is in our diversity and difference that our strength is found rather than in mirroring our similarities back to one another.

Families too are defined by their history and stories, shared down through the generations. What of us? What does it mean for us to be individuals and a community shaped and defined by the story of God, of creation, fall, cross, resurrection, ascension and pentecost?

How can be together the family of God, living our lives together open -reaching out and welcoming in-, seeing one another excel as we acts like Iron sharpening iron blessing, encouraging and challenging one another (as we ourselves are blessed, encouraged and challenged)?

Being truly evermore ourselves living the transformed life together as a community whose DNA takes it being from the Godheads perfect community of love?

Yet, how do live this out, putting real flesh and a human face (our face) on this theology becoming every life and normal practice for our life together.

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Don’t Look Back

Don’t look back! That’s the command God gives Lot and his family. Yet not looking back is really difficult. Lot’s wife can’t resist the temptation and becomes a pillar of salt. The problem with obeying God’s rescue plan is we often want to look out (or look back) for a safety net or a plan B. Jesus issued equally stark warnings when he said “no one who puts his hand to the plough and keeps looking back is worthy to be my disciple. If a farmer was trying to plough a field and not looking where they are going the furrows would not be in a straight line and the harvest would suffer. Looking back at Sodom was not a good thing for Lot and his family to do, because for them God was moving them on from there, they had been rescued and they don’t belong there any more, it was a door God had shut. Are our minds living where our body is dwelling or are we somewhere else in our head and heart? A bit like trying to drive a car forward and whilst in reverse, it can’t be done! It is very difficult to move forward in the right direction when our eyes are set behind us. I remember seeing some friends on a bus who I was trying to attract their attention as I walked into lamp post because I wasn’t looking where I was going! Are we looking where we are going properly in our walk with Jesus? How can we follow Jesus if we are not attentive to wear he is leading us? If our eyes aren’t on him can we see where he leading us, might we miss the turning or even our destination? Yet the past behind us can he ‘sticky’ we get imprisoned by it, whether its captured in the nostalgic and ‘rose tinted’ view of an I blissful era in your life that can never be bettered. Yet God does not call us to freeze framed moments but rather an ongoing relationship in step with him through every season of life. Churches get stuck in glorious past hay days that paralyses them from believing that with God their best days are ahead of them. Nostalgia can rob us of the gift God has for us in the present. Following Jesus means going with him where he is going rather than worshipping where he has been. Loving what the spirit has done rather than what he is doing. A spirituality with a museum mentality, religion of relics, yesterday’s mouldy manna, rather than the flesh fruit of today. Yet pain can trap us too, and cause us to live looking backwards at our regrets and disappointments. These things behind us captivate our eyes -like the burning Sodam and Gomorrah- pain pulls us from the present to look back at the past. To be like Lot and not look back takes a lot of faith and self discipline. To fight that battle of mind and will is a challenging struggle. Many of us need to ask God to free us from our pasts and help us move forward into the present. Later the author of the letter to the Hebrews urges us as Christians to “run the race ahead of us” and to “fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith”. So, let’s keep moving forward, in step with the spirit, following Jesus and not turning back or having our head turned over our shoulder.

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What does success look like?

One of the on-going questions we have been looking at is “what does success look like?” As we have journeyed through Genesis we have seen many examples of people trying to get their own way. Sometimes they get what they want like Lot’s daughters were “successful” in getting pregnant by getting their dad drunk and having incest with him. Yet long term the descendants of Lot’s Daughters were the Moabites and the Amanites, warring tribes with Israel, a history of conflict and bloodshed (Joshua 3:29 and 2 Samuel 8.2). Jacob conned his dad into receiving his brothers blessing, but ended up all alone and on the run with his brother trying to kill him. He may have won in his ongoing rivalry with his brother, Esau, but it cost him everything. It was a hollow and empty victory. Laban ended up successful in getting both of his daughters married off, but ends up all alone, separated from his children and his grandchildren and without his livilhood -his flocks. His daughter Rachel steals his idols, a picture of without family, without money and without God/faith. We will all change the world, we will all make history, but the question is are we changing things for the better or worse? Do our actions coincide with the plan and call of God? Too often we fall foul of the belief that we know better than God of how things work out. We believe we know better than God of how success looks. Yet obedience to God’s purposes is ultimately best for us and for everyone else too, in some circumstances it takes trust to believe that when the Kingdom of God advances everyone benefits. The consequences of our sin is that although some people may benefit short term, often other people end up suffering from the result of our sinful choices, sometimes these are tragically far-reaching, with perpetual negative cycles going on for generations upon generations. We need to ask ourselves what are the consequences on other people of us getting our own way? Who pays the cost for our success? Our choices have consequences -whether we see them or not. For example: In our world we can be successful by getting lots of cheap stuff, but the real price is paid by the workers exploited in sweatshops. Are we walking in step with God whose plans and purposes are loving, good and gracious… or going our own way sowing seeds of wilfulness, rebellion and disobedience to his plan of love? We all have legacies -but are they marked by making the world a better or worse place? Will we hear the words “well done good and faithful servant” or “why do you call me Lord, Lord, and yet do not do what I say?” We might get our own way and seem successful, we may appear to have everything and yet in fact have nothing. Let’s choose a different type of success that has nothing to do with getting our own way but instead is the fruitfulness of obedience with the consequences of the fruit of the Kingdom.

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Speckled sheep and changing the future.

As our story continues we see the ever wiley Jacob making a deal with his uncle Laban, Jacob would keep all the animals that were sent speckled and Laban could keep the rest.

Yet, Jacob, ensures that it is only the speckled animals that mate causing in a short time for the whole flock to be speckled.

As I thought about Jacob playing with the flocks gene pool I began to think of what we do now in the present changes the future. In the words of the great Christian pioneer Catherine Booth: “to change the future you must interrupt the present”.

Yet changing the present is not always easy and takes bravery to intervene -and without intervention history repeats itself, the status quo is maintained, a damaging cycles repeat themselves like a broken record.

There is an adage that says “if you always do what you always have, you will always get what you have already got”.

What of us? Are we history makers? Are we people of transformation? Bringers of positive change for Christ?

Are we partnering with the Holy Spirit to make the world a better place, which means change.

Yet for many change -and being a bringer of change- is a scary and uncomfortable place, nor is unfamiliarity an easy place to be, it takes bravery and courage to intervene and bring in lasting change, to hold our nerve and to see a new and different life emerge.

Whilst struggling in parish life I came across this meme: “concentrate on building the new rather than fighting the old” -in our case led to planting three expressions of Church, one on an estate, one in a back room of a pub and one in a local youth centre. Changing the DNA through new birth and life.

Perhaps a challenge for us all to look if we are fighting unwinnable fights rather than seeing the hand of God birthing new opportunities?

One of my heroes is Robert Riekes who started the Sunday School Movement, who was working in prison reform and felt his work was futile in changing lives and transforming society, he prayed and looked out of the window and saw a child, and realised that to change a society you need to start with its young people.

Perhaps there was a young person you could mentor and bless?

Another story came into my mind as I was writing this was some pictures a fellow pastor saw when he went to do a mission in a church in a former communist country,they were still allowed to meet but to do mission or youth work and every year the congregation dwindled and aged, and their photos showed this, but now they are prioritising the right things and their church is growing numerically and becoming younger.

I believing that God is seeking to bring to birth a new thing in our time, are we going to partner with him to be agents of change to see the spiritual DNA of our world changed as we see the Kingdom of God break in here in our place and time as I. Heaven.

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Working for Rachel.

We thought yesterday of Leah, the sister of Rachel, who was swapped or substituted for her beneath the veil and married off to Jacob.

We thought of Leah’s pain of feeling unwanted and second best, and reminded us that in God’s eyes we are always his first choice: “loved with an everlasting love” and “precious and honoured in his sight” -”see how the Father has lavished his love upon us that we maybe called children of God, because that beloved is who we are!”

Yet today I want to think of Jacob, he thinks he is marrying the love of his life, only to discover he’s been tricked (a case of reaping what you sow?!) he has married the other sister and must work for his uncle for a further seven years in order to win her hand.

Have you ever felt like you were making good progress towards goal only to feel back at square one? Like in life’s game of snakes and ladders you’ve got almost to the end and now you’ve slid down a snake and are back at square one? What do you do? How do you feel?

Disappointment can kill something inside of us, or wound us very deeply. For some disappointment can stop us trying again and settling for what we have rather than what we want, downsizing our dreams, limiting our expectations, crushing our hopes. Jacob could have stormed off and made a life with Leah, spending the rest of his days in a pub moaning about the ‘one that got away’.

Yet, even though he was devastated and disappointed he did not give up. He endured and persevered and worked for a further seven years for Rachel (in those days people had more than one wife but is never something condoned by scripture!).

Jacob refused to give in and be a victim of his uncle/father in law’s schemes, nor let victimhood define him and his identity.

Yet imagine just how tough it must have been to get up and go back to work for another seven years, and the courage it took to keep going.

Also, although things have not turned out as Jacob had wanted he still did the right thing in his culture and was a good husband to Leah and saved her from shame treating her as his wife, even after he married Rachel (what an ethical dilemma). I think we see our true character in how we treat those around us when things go wrong. It’s easy to be nice when things are going well, and everyone agrees with us, but who we are under pressure, adversity and disappointment says a lot about us.

We often want a life of mountain-top joys but often our greatest and most significant growth can happen in the valleys. The rosebud gains its fragrance from it’s time squeezed and compressed in the dark and pressure of bud before it blossoms.

Yet just as Jacob discovered with disappointment there is a choice in our response, do we allow challenges to make us better or just bitter. Is the discouragement a spur to try again or is does it floor us and take us out the game!

So what challenges, disappointments and discouragements are you facing? Are you allowing your loving God to work to heal and use this internal rubble to build afresh within you? Allow God to stand you afresh in your feet, lift your head, and cause you to run again the race set before you following him.

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The Other Daughter of Laban.

Whenever I take a wedding rehearsal I have to tell the bride that legally she had to remove her veil so that we can see it really is her. Clearly no such rule in the culture where Jacob lived.

Genesis 29, shows Jacob had worked for his uncle Laban for seven years so he could marry his younger daughter Rachel. Yet Laban has swapped his daughters and put his older daughter Leah under the veil and Jacob marries the wrong sister. I feel so sorry for Leah in this story. She’s overlooked probably living her life in the shadow of her sister Rachel (Rachel clearly known as the pretty one, whereas Leah is written off as having “weak eyes”).

Have you ever had to live in someone else’s shadow? It is a horrible place of negative comparisons, it is devaluing and dehumanising.

Leah is then betrayed by her dad.

Imagine how she must have felt when Jacob pulled back the veil and saw her but wanted her sister?

Have you ever felt like you were second choice? Maybe you didn’t get that job, were passed over for promotion, a partner chooses to go off with someone else other than you? It can be a heartbreaking blow that knocks our self confidence.

The Bible calls us his Church, the bride of Christ, and yet I worry that most of us feel a bit like Leah and when the veil is pulled back by her new husband, we feel like a disappointment, we know what we are not, our flaws and our failures, and perhaps we wish we were a bit more like somebody else.

Yet, unlike Jacob, God sees us all as we truly are -even seeing at our worst- and knowing all we would want to hide, and yet does not reject us, but loves and accepts us. Indeed this is what the cross is all about, taking all that is unholy and sinful in us, and because of Jesus beauty and purity transferred to us by his death and resurrection we have nothing to fear from the gaze of God, looking at us like a bridegroom before his bride -looking at us utterly adored, desired, wanted and valuable.

Yet too often many of us probably feel like Leah, interior and unwanted, and although the truth of God’s awesome love for us we probably heard many times, we need to allow our restoring, renewing and repairing God to heal our hearts and minds from the negative experiences that have left us with real scars.

One of the great promises of scripture I cling onto (in fact this verse lived in my wallet during a really tough time in a previous parish) which talks of God “restoring the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25).

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