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Bond, Blair, Brosnan and the Bible…

Don’t worry this isn’t a majorly political rant!
I have been following the rise of new Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn with interest, a principled man, who has forced the Labour Party to ask the question: “Who are we? What are we about? Why are we here? Who do we represent?”
Tony Blairs biography is interesting as a Church leader as he first has to win the internal fights within the party in order to  reach out with this compelling vision to the nation. He created a new party, New Labour, where as Corbyn’s vision is to renew Labour returning it back to its roots and origins.
For some Tony Blair is  a hero, for some he sold out on what was authentically the Labour Party? Compromises to court popularity, especially in relation to the Murdoch Press.
Daniel Craig took over from a reasonably successful James Bond, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond had done pretty well at the Box-office and re-energized what had appeared to be a dying franchise at the end on the 90’s. The adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” seemed apt, and yet in, not settling for safe and secure and good, they re-imagined and went onto great.
The key to their success,  was going back to the heart of what the original vision was all
about, returning to the books of Ian Flemming’s James Bond.
Are we settling to be like Pierce Brosnon, looking to what has worked in the past, rather than re-imagining a new future?
I think the Church is a lot like the Labour party, have we forgotten why we exist?
-We exist for the advancement of the Kingdom God, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you”-
Yet are we prepared to have those tough conversations within ourselves, and with one another,  to work out what is the dust of a previous era? What is simply our preferences?
And what is the core unchanging and life transforming message of Jesus Christ?
Are we  in danger of costly compromise, offering people ‘gospel lite’?
Or have we gone back to the heart and source of the original vision of God revealed by the Spirit primarily through the pages of scripture?
Let us look at ourselves and think do we need a reinvention and make over? Or do we need to discover afresh who we were meant and designed to be?
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The Bride of Christ is not Sleeping Beauty…

The Bride of Christ is not sleeping beauty… This phrase resonated with  me.

We are Christs body, Christs hands and feet on earth, it is a call to action, it is a call to whole life discipleship, following Jesus with everything we have got.

I remember once saying “if you want a comfortable quiet life, then run away from Jesus Christ, because he never promised a quiet life of insignificance for his followers”…

He promised us life (Jn.10.10).

Life in all its fullness.

Life in technicolor.

Life that is a white knuckle ride.

Life Jesus promises certainly wont be dull or boring.

Yet it probably will involve being inconvenienced, it will involve sacrifice, it will involve lots of behind the scenes unglamourous slog…

I believe that God is calling his Church to rise from its slumber and roll up its sleeves, try I think the Church often just taps the snooze button…

Unkeen to kick off the duvet unless the serving coincides with what they want to do, or where they want to go.

Having been a Church leader for just under a decade, I’ve largely found people fall into shirkers or workers, which are we?

Do we today need to get up and not hit the spiritual snooze button?

Is bringing glory to Jesus a cause worth getting out of bed for?

God is calling his bride to be awake, alert, dressed and ready for action.

Are you in?

Are you up for it?

 

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Boiled lobster with 1/2/3 Chilli?

I have never eaten lobster, but I am told that to cook one, you have to put them in a pan of water and gradually increase the heat (poor lobster) until it is boiled (although must be a more humane way to cook it).

I guess there is logic here, if you tried putting a lobster into hot water it would just jump back out this way the boiling water sneaks up on him.
I have been thinking a lot about Mission and how we reach out to people… And I’m not advocating putting them into boiling water, but I am advocating gently and carefully increasing the heat.
I have been caught with two equal and opposing dangers, I brought a mate along to an event, the Canon and Ball Gospel show, which was so heavy that my friend Lee looked like a Rabbit stuck in the headlights and asked to go at the interval.
For Lee it was a bit like he was the lobster and this was the boiling water, and he couldn’t get out of it fast enough.
Yet that evening another mate of mine Jason made a commit to follow Christ, which is is still doing (and sadly as far as I know Lee still isn’t yet a Christian, but I haven’t seen him for years, so I might be wrong).
Yet I realised that evening that there is both the Damascus Road (that blinding moment of realisation) and the Emmaus Road, that granule journey of realisation of who Christ is and what he has done for us.
I remember my vicar in York shared that he got so exasperated with his Christian friends NOT talking and answering his questions about Jesus and faith, that he threatened to punch them unless they told him!
Sometimes in Churches we love getting a crowd to things, we love bums of seats, but we run the risk of becoming so nice and fluffy that no one ever hears a gospel challenge of the life transforming message of Christ.
It is like putting the lobster in a pot if cold water but not putting it anywhere near the flames and so it will never cook.
This can be true both of Church corporate or us as individual Christians.
We can either leap in either  with “zeal without wisdom” as we “scalp” those around us or we are people who never mention or refer to Christ
A quote I love is  “too much salt just makes you sick whereas a little salt makes you thirsty”, therefore we need to “let our conversation be seasoned with salt” (as Paul says in Colosians).
Rico Tice, the evangelist from All Souls Langham Place, talks about in mission gently pushing the pain barrier, a challenge slightly further than we might nomally be comfortable with.
The Mission Shaped Ministry Course talked about faith being a journey, or a stream, a scale, where where people move at different speeds along a journey towards faith in Christ and following him (Engle famously did a scale talking about this, which is helpful, but a little over simplistic).
The MSM talk about gaining a crowd, but then having steps along the way with progressively more Christian content and Kingdom Challenge, often with the numbers of people wanting to explore this decreasing to a small number of committed people (a bit like a picture of a funnel).
My friend,  Paul Hinkley, a local vicar, says that at his Church they talk of events being ‘one chilli, two chilli and three chilli type events’… Where on the journey are people at and which is the best thing to invite them along too?
One Chilli -an event where people meet up together and any Christian content or gospel challenge is quite low key… And  there might be people who are happy in this Korma eating existance for  long time, possibly always.
Two Chilli -a bit more spice, people going that bit deeper, a little more challenge, maybe the event is too a little bit more explicitly Christian?
Three Chilli -Maybe a vindaloo!! Its something which is unashamedly and overtly Christian where people have the opportunity to clearly hear and engage with the Christian message and be able to respond to it.
 Also, talking about being Christians who have ‘one chilli, two chilli, three chilli’ conversations too…
One Chilli, being able to get alongside people, make conversion, mention faith but not intrusive, natural, normal conversation.
Two Chilli, where there is some depth, some discussion, some sharing and warmth in the conversation.
Three Chilli, those conversations which are real heart to heart conversations, being real and honest about faith and what it means, with opportunity to make a response.
Sometimes we can meet a stranger on the bus and the conversation becomes a like a shared vindaloo in minutes, three chilli’s straight off.
Other times maybe a friend at work which is mainly around a Korma and occasionally moves a little bit more spicy every now and again.
People like curries are not all the same, and you need to be wise how you handle your chilli!
The apostle Paul talks of being a “moving from milk to meat”, as we seek to fulfil the great commission of making disciples, we need to be in step with the spirit as we ask how can we journey with people and help the to make the next step.
Lets learn to boil our lobster carefully making sure we adjust the heat.
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James Bond, Succession and Redundancy.

God’s been speaking to me a lot recently about redundancy, something I have never experienced but sadly a reality for many people who I live and serve amongst.

We often live as though its all about us, as if we are irreplaceable, and we will live/serve for ever… Yet my verse for today challenges that…

“For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24.

I went to see the new Bond film recently, and made me realize they wouldn’t have been able to do a film like this if it wasn’t for those who have gone before, and rumours are circulating about a Bond actor taking over from Daniel Craig, it is a series.

Jonathan Ross called Daniel Craig, the “custodian of the role of Bond”, a phase I liked, he doesn’t “own” Bond, but a dual responsibility both to safeguard the role and a responsibility to carry the franchise to the next generation, and yet someone else will take the series on after him maybe even to places as yet undiscovered, and unrealised.

The series was financially lucrative under Pierce Brosnan, and could have carried on in the same vein, many were sorry he left the role and for some he will always be ‘their’ bond, and yet if he hadn’t have left the series wouldn’t have had its reboot and wouldn’t have had its two biggest and most successful movies (and the less said about the dreadful Quantum of Solace the better).

Okay, we may never be offered the role of playing Bond, James Bond but we are God’s people here as his Church for this generation, and like Bond there is a call to safeguard that which has been entrusted to us the good and unchanging news of Christ, yet we have to do more than just safeguard the role, we need to bring the good news of the Kingdom to a new generation.

In the Anglican Ordination Service talks of ‘proclaiming afresh’, rather than just (as we sometime do) just ‘proclaiming again’.

We might have to ditch things we like but become barriers to a new culture, or do things in ways we may find uncomfortable or alien to us… We may have to let go of the okay and the good, risking it all, for the best and the greater…

We need to see ourselves not as indispensable parts of the picture but simply custodians, links in a bigger chain of the picture of God’s call in this place… yet the question is will we leave the place better than when we found it?

I believe the call to pass on the batton is a continual call, we should always be looking for people to encourage, to hold things loosely knowing that they belong not to us but to Christ and not to cling on in an unhelpful way, in fact this clinging often leaves cracks and bruises where hands that should no longer have been holding it have hung on longer than they should.

I believe God is calling me, and us all, to look for redundancy, to lift other leaders up to take our place, to constantly be trying to do ourselves out of a job, so that we can pick up the next thing that God has for us, and then to do the same again.

I often wonder whether God has had amazing things for all of us, which we never get near picking up as we have never put down the first thing he gave us?

A journey where all things become new, cycles of fresh and new, where people are constantly being led on to new and deeper, the body of Christ is being strengthened and built up, as people (in Christ) end up doing (through him) more than they could ever believe possible.

Redundancy sounds scary, and it is, but in passing on battons our hands are free for the next thing God gives us.

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Unmentionables: (Religion & Politics).

As many of you know I am quite political…

So just thought I’d do a short message about politics and faith.

Christians seem reluctant to enter this sphere, and yet it is vital that we have Christians acting with ‘salt and light’ integrity within politics, journalism, the arts all places of influence. For too long we have only been talking with those who agree with us often hidden away in our Church buildings.

I think that people fall foul of three heresies.

1) Firstly the Victorian myth that ‘Religion is a private matter’ something diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus who talked about his Kingdom spreading like wild mustard plants (like Japanese Knot weed) faith is not something that exists purely between us and God like a private hobby, but an all consuming life transforming life of its own.

2) The second is a misunderstand of spirituality, we fall into the trap of believing in the existence of a spiritual secular divide, God is interested in our whole lives, not just our religious or churchy bits. The incarnation (God becoming human) makes this heresy an affront to Christianity. The Temple Curtain was torn in two, ripping up this way of thinking.

3) The third its a myth that the Bible has nothing to say about current issues such as 0 hour contracts (a worker deserves their pay), about refugees (“Remember you were aliens in a foreign land”) about hunger, homelessness and deprivation (“What you did to the least of these you did to me” -Jesus. Or as Mother Teresa said “in the poor we see Jesus in his most distressing disguises”)…

I remember one of the most challenging sermons I ever heard was at Soul Survivor and Dave Westlake (from Tearfund) threw a bible of the floor which had all the verses about Justice cut out, the Bible was in ribbons, tons and tons of writing in scripture is about how we treat each other… How we treat each other is political.

The Greatest Commandment is a massively political… “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, in other words your highest loyalty, a loyalty beyond state or nation, Emperor or President is to Jesus Christ.

Bonhoeffer refused to do the infamous Nazi Salute as ‘Heil Hitter’ was heresy to him, Hittler was not Lord but Jesus was.  Bonhoeffer would acknowledge no King above Christ, this ultimately cost him his life.

The second half of the greatest commandment is equally political “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

Who is my neighbour? -In response to this Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.

So, who is my neighbour?  We could take from this passage either its everyone, or it is the broken, marginalised, disenfranchised and hurting. Its political.

Love is political.

Transformation is political.

Hope is political.

Everything ultimately is political.

…and everything actually is Spiritual too….

Ultimately they are the two things that underpin everything that matters as to how we live our lives.

So, how are we to live our lives?

We are called not just to verbally “preach the gospel” but to pray and live out the words of Jesus when he prayed: “let your Kingdom come on earth as in heaven”

Moltmann talked about a theology of hope, we believe in a God of transformation, we believe in redemption, we believe in healing all of which need to be heard, and lived out (or as I just mistyped “loved out”!).

Yet, the danger I fall into is becoming party political rather than just political active, we should be protesting about injustice irrespective of the ‘colour’ of the party our MP belongs too.

I know too, we can attack people, I struggle with people like David Cameron, Ian Duncan Smith et el… but biblically they are real people who I am called to love…We have no mandate to hate them, even when we disagree with them.

I long for Christians to lead the way in good disagreement conducted with grace, love and respect (and passion/compassion too).

So a challenge, today get political and love your neighbour as yourself.

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Personal Jesus…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTg7NcucINc

I quite like this old Jonny Cash song (and the depeche mode version)…

The idea of a personal relationship with God is something central to much preaching in the Western Church, but I want to tonight look for some of the biblical basis for behind this idea of a personal relationship with Jesus.

So lets look at the whole topic of relationship with Christ…

It is an amazing claim of Scripture that we mere human beings, can not just know ABOUT God but actually KNOW him.

Lets think about this for a minute, just try and get our heads around who God is, I AM WHO I AM…

How can we approach God? Surely he’s too big and powerful for us to cope with him “and all his glory” (as Joan Osbourne observed in her song, what if God was one of us)… And yet this mighty God stoops his ear through out the Old and the New Testament to his people (just listen to God and Abra(h)am wrestle over the destruction of Sodam).

Yet our God is Holy, our all seeing God knows us at our worst, seen the bits of our character we try to shield from the world, and yet still loves us… but how can we approach this God?After all, he lives in unapproachable light, his Holiness is so pure that it can’t be compromised or contaminated surely?

Yet we are able to approach his throne of grace with boldness?

Why?

Because this awesome, and almighty God, left his throne in heaven and came to earth, pitched his tent amongst us, lived, suffered, died but rose again from dead, and opened the way to the Father.

We have a God who knows what is means to be human.

We couldn’t approach God, but praise God, he approached us.

We couldn’t become Holy, so he became sin -taking all its backbreaking hideousness upon his pure shoulders- even though he had done nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong, he took our punishment, so we could get his reward.

We can have a personal relationship with our creator, because our creator choose to have a personal relationship with his creation.

Relationship is at the heart of who God, he lives in trinity, he exists in community, perfect and fully sufficient community, yet out of his overflow of love he wanted relationship with a people he could call his own.

We as human beings were created for a relationship with God.

We as human beings were redeemed for a relationship with God.

We as human beings have been given the Holy Spirit (or he’s on offer to all people) so we can have a relationship with God.

At the end of the Bible in the book of Revelation the image used is of a wedding feast, the idea of a perfect loving union being celebrated, the ultimate relationship is the wedding of Christ and his Church, the Bride and the lamb.

The image used in Revelation is the Risen Christ saying “Behold I stand at the door and knock if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him” -the idea of table fellowship is the highest form of human interaction and welcome in the Jewish culture, to share and break bread with someone was sacred and sacramental.

This relationship, is a real relationship, after all we have a God who know what it is like to be human, he’s not remote or distant and we don’t have to be either, flick through books of the Bible like Psalms or perhaps even Song of Song and realize that God does not want a polite functional, stand offish relationship with us, but a full, loving relationship with us where we share our entire lives with him.

I remember once re-writing the Parable of the Lost Son, where he came back and refused to come into the house of his father, instead  he lived in the shed and ate compost, whilst night after night his Father begged him to come into the family home…

Tonight, lets re-think what it means for us, personally, to have a relationship with God… And ask the question, are  we settling for the relationship he wants to have with each one of us.

I’ll leave us with Paul’s prayer for the Church in Ephesus.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come… 

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen”.

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Message in a (milk) Bottle…

Tonight I got treble booked.

I could either go and give a presentation to give to a bunch of lay ministers.

Or the Church would have liked me to have gone to their District Council meeting.

Or we are also trying to create a regular presence in Weatherspoons (a local Pub) every Wednesday night.

Which one to do?

All of them have good reasons to go and all of them also have the potential not to be that fruitful either, which to go for?

Also, I think we have all done something we think is really important and have been let down by someone with an excuse we think is pretty poor, which can be annoying too.

How do we make those good choices?

What are our priorities?

What are our motives?

It is easy to jump to conclusions and maybe even use the “SIN” world but, perhaps other people just seeing the world a different way to you, and acting out their faith differently?

Do we choose things from a Kingdom perspective or one of personal preference?

At yesterdays book club we spoke about Jesus “only doing what he saw the Father doing” and the passage about our works being tested by fire (either being burned up or being purified in the fire).

Do we let God speak into even the smaller choices like diary options? -I’d suggest involve him in everything, but sometimes he seems remarkably silent, perhaps there are some occasions where he will bless either option and is leaving the ball in your court?

As I thought about this I was reminded of a story of two people at Church, one was very into green issues and would talk  about stewardship of the planet, another lady was very much into the local community, preserving jobs and very into buying local from local traders. They had a robust discussion (these kind of ladies don’t have barnies!) about getting their milk. The one who was into the local community economy had it delivered each day as it provided jobs and wasn’t being bought in Tesco, the other lady was horrified at the carbon footprint the milkman made delivering milk each day.

Both were lovely Christian people, and both wanted their faith to impact their choices, yet their world view was very different and so their priorities were different, I don’t think either was wrong, I think both was honoring to Jesus because ultimately their heart was to bless and make a positive difference.

Tonight I went to the lay readers training, as a couple of guys were going to JD Weatherspoons (a pub) tonight and the Church meeting had a good number of people who could be trusted to ensure that things are done to advance the Kingdom and treat people with love… Did I make the right choice, I think so, and even if I got it wrong, I believe God sees the heart and knows I wanted to be in the most fruitful place, and I believe that that in itself blesses God.

I’ll close with Paul’s Prayer in Philippians.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God. Amen.

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