Discipleship, Kingdom, Luke 13.6-9., Ministry, Spiritual Health

Fruity or Leafy???

Luke.13.6 Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig-tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”

‘“Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig round it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’

Okay, that’s a bit of a challenging parable!

Lets have a bit of explanation, the people hearing this would have seen this as a picture of them, a religiously pious people, and a picture I think can transfer in todays context to the Church.

Fig Trees are proud trees, standing tall, they also produce lots of green leaves… this tree probably looked fab, but just one problem it didn’t actually produce fruit.

I think this can sound a lot like the Church. We can look the part with our great buildings, we can sound the part with our music and our conversation… but the question has got to be are we actually producing fruit?

So what is fruit? I believe it is lives transformed by Christ.

In our Churches that will be people coming to faith, growing in faith, being changed by Christ to become more like Christ.

It might be slow, it might be gradual, it might be two steps forward and one back, but if the Spirit of God is at work in his Church there will be fruit.

True with our own personal lives, it is easy to cultivate leaves, learn how to talk Christian-eaze or ‘a verse for every occasion’, or to hang out in and around churchiness… but much harder to (with the Holy Spirit at work in us) cultivate fruit of transformation, showing “love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness and self control”.

I was wondering about leaves in Churches… Sometimes we think somewhere is really fruitful because it has a really high standard of musical excellence, or we think somewhere is really happening because it has a nice modern building and serves great coffee, or a Church has a fab website, or the congregation is large these are all things (and not bad things) that we sometimes look at to measure the ‘health’ of a Church rather than the only question that matters is “how like Jesus are its members becoming?”

How did Jesus say we could tell who were his disciples? His answer is simple “by this will all people know that you are my disciples, because you love one another”.

So lets be people who are more concerned with fruit than leaves.

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justice, Kingdom, Mission, Protest

Protest & Mission.

People often talk about Mission Statements.

Often people have used Matthew 28 as the Churches Mission Statement: “Go into all the World and make them my disciples”, there is good reason for this, after-all in Matthews Gospel they are some of the last recorded words of Jesus. It is an interesting verse, firstly it is active, ‘Go’, interesting we have changed it to a more passive ‘you can come to us if you want too’ -interestingly most evangelism involves inviting people onto our turf, rarely us going to them… Its a world wide call, its a call beyond the familiarity of our comfort zones (an old proverb says “you will never know what you may encounter until you have the bravery to loose sight of the shore”). It is a call to go beyond ‘getting a scalp’ or getting someone to ‘pray a prayer’ -make disciples is a very different term from making a convert, discipleship is ‘in it for the long haul’ seeing lives transformed to become more Christ-like whilst also becoming a discipler of others.

Instead, I think that Jesus’ Mission Statement for himself and his disciples (which includes us as well) comes from the Lords Prayer, when it says “May your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.

When we unpack this, Kingdom coming is about the King being on the throne and reigning, in other words it not only an acknowledgement of Christ, but a surrendering to him whilst following him in obedience. When we think of what is grown or present in heaven, we realise it is very different from the world we have become used too. A good question to ask about most things is ‘will it be in heaven?’, if God doesn’t allow it in heaven, what’s my reaction to it here on earth? Jealousy, conflict, squabbles, pride and vanity wont be there but it is amazing how much this insecurity stuff drives much of what happens here on earth but has no place in an eternal Kingdom, just as the latest stuff may really matter to our world now but has little or no eternal value… Yet we are called to be ambassadors of this new Kingdom which we are called to usher in, to live as people of that Kingdom, as aliens in a foreign culture in this world…

It is a calling to shout to the world a protest that is shouldn’t be this way, and it doesn’t have to be.

Christians are to be the protest voice that points to a new and better way, a way that existed from the beginning, the way we were created to be… Walking in the light, walking God’s way.

Living generously in a stingy world.
Being compassionate in a hard-hearted world.
praying in healing in a broken world.
Speaking Truth is a dishonest world.
Being just in an unjust world.
Living as lights in a dark world.

Lord Jesus, let your Kingdom come on earth, in Kingswood, as it is in heaven.
Amen.

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Church, community of grace, Mission, Mission Shaped Church

Decoding Mission…

I’m passionate about Jesus and want everyone to know him, and hear his good news in a way people can understand.
However, one thing I have come to realize how much jargon exists around mission?
-Are you a Mission Shaped?
-Are you being fruitful on your frontline? -Where is your frontline?
-Are you in an Intentional Community?
-Are you part of an inherited model of Church or you a Fresh Expression of Church?
-Is it indigenous or culturally sensitive?
-A few years ago we used to ask “is it Seeker Sensitive?” but we seem to have stopped asking that question which seemed quite an important one to ask?
-Isn’t it about BEING Church rather than GOING to Church anyway?
Is this New Wine bursting from an Old Wine Skin? (Okay, that’s a Biblical image I can’t moan about that!) Or is it new wine in a new wine skin? Perhaps it is a transitional wine skin?
-Is it Mission or is it Evangelism? If so where does Disciple-making fit into this?
-Is it WHOLE LIFE Discipleship?
-Are we intentional about Mission?
-Is Mission and Discipleship Organic as we ‘share life together’…
-Are we growing leaders?
The problem is there whole language around mission and evangelism, and although people have got good at speaking about it well, I’m not sure we have got that much better at doing it.
I wonder if spoke less about Mission and actually did it whether are language would be come clearer?
I wonder if sometimes we over complicate it? Is it sometimes a case of just talking about Jesus and walking with people as they ask questions and explore who he is, and as we walk with them we love them irrespective of if they ever do, or don’t come to know Christ.
Here is an attempt at some decoding…
 
Mission Shaped: Mission means a sent people, Mission is often used to describe a task we are given, what is the Christians great task? I think it is summed up in Jesus’ teaching on Prayer, the Lords Prayer, “Let your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”… Or Jesus great Commission “to go into all the world and make them my disciples”. So being ‘Mission Shaped’ is allowing what we are called to do,to shape who we are (both individually and corporately).
 
Fruitfulness on the Frontline,  the idea is where has God placed you, where do you spend most of your time? Where do you hang out? Where are you friends and family? We interact with literally thousands of people, these are our frontlines, are we impact the lives of these people with something of the Kingdom of God. Are we seeing fruit (lives influenced and changed for the Kingdom).
 
Intentional Community, is where we choose to be a community (maybe even living together) and as our life together based around shared values we can become together than we are on our own.
 
Inherited Church: The Church we have received.
A fresh expression of church is a new gathering or network that engages mainly with people who have never been to church. There is no single model, but the emphasis is on starting something which is appropriate to its context, rather than cloning something that works elsewhere.
Indigenous: Does it come from the community you are trying to reach?
Culturally sensitive: Does it work and is it appropriate for the people you are reaching?
 
Evangelism: Comes from the word “Evangel” which means “Good news”,its about proclaiming something through words, through deeds and more recently we’ve rediscovered God’s supernatural power in evangelism.
Discipleship: Its not just about getting people to ‘pray the prayer’ or start coming to Church, but actually to follow Christ and become like him.
 
Whole Life Discipleship: Not just being able to fit into a Churchy culture and language but in everything we do, and in who we are, we reflect Christ to the world.
 
Growing Leaders: Someone once said ‘success isn’t success without a successor’ we need to see people raised up, equipped and empowered, to pass the batton onto, so that the next generation can hear the message of Jesus in a way they can understand. At the heart of all of this is a very simple cycle. Disciples making Disciples and that has been happening since the Holy Spirit broke out onto the streets of Jerusalem.

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Giving/Generousity., Mark 12:41-43, Money

Celebrity Cheques and Widows Mites

Mark 12:41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.’

I was at a Deanery Synod last night (feel sorry for me!) and people were talking about money, basically the diocese doesn’t have enough cash to do all it wants/needs too, and being anglicans, we all pay money into a central pot so that we all help each other out, especially meaning we can support Churches in areas which might not have a Church otherwise (which is why you rarely see more congregational Churches in deprived areas!).

As I looked at all these numbers, I suddenly realised how impressed I was by the big successful Churches large pledges of money, and didn’t pay so much attention to the small Churches little pledges, and then suddenly realised as someone said about even though they were a tiny congregation they  were giving sacrificially, and I began to think about this story, and quietly repented in my head for my materialistic thinking.

If you have a lot of money it is easy to appear generous without taking much of a hit, whereas when you are generous with the little you have to survive on that shows greater love and commitment to the cause.

In our world the celebrity cheque is greeted by the flash of flashbulbs and cheesy grins and yet probably cost the giver very little, whereas the poor family moved to give out of a tight budget might not be greeted by the glare of publicity but is actually showing greater love and compassion.

The same is true of other giving too, often we praise those who are always at Church doing things, often the retired who enjoy coming along to stuff, but can overlook the mum who just helps out every Friday with the youth group, when for her this is possibly a bigger and more costly sacrifice giving up her one free evening to serve.

So, lets pray we are generous people, pray we see generosity of the heart not seduced by the amount, care more about the heart that has given than the zeros on the cheque.

People might be getting stressed at me by this point, because there is also another interpretation to this passage, it is a classic Mark Sandwhich, where the first and third paragraph is counterbalanced by the middle story… The other two stories are talking about money, materialism and exploitation, raising the question is Jesus attacking the wealth of the religious establishment and attacking it for squeezing poor widows of their last penny? -Yet I think both interpretations work together and think Jesus is actually saying both.

He is highlighting the money grabbing nature of the religious establishment that heartlessly takes all that a poor widow has as well as acknowledging the purity of the sacrificial worship of the elderly widow.

A challenge to us, are we people who give sacrificially?

Are we people who are seduced by wealth, or see the sacrifice of the heart?

Are we people who challenge exploitative systems that rob the poor?

Lets live radical lives of generosity, sacrifice and fighting for justice.

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Acts 8:26-40., Church, Mission, Salvation

Leaving the Stadium for the Scout Hut.

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralysed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.
 

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.

31 ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
    Who can speak of his descendants?
    For his life was taken from the earth.’

34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?’ [c]38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him.

Many of these posts have been partly me trying to get my head around trying to be faithful to God in a world and (a) role(s) which sometimes are a very struggle.

Often people talk about strategy which definitely is important, I think God is into people being intentional and visionary (after-all if where there is no vision the people perish, the reverse must be true, when we have God’s vision people are saved and made whole!). 

Yet I worry sometimes that when we talk of strategy, God can be put in a box, as he’s pretty unpredictable and likes to keep us on our toes!

Strategically, Jesus chatting to the woman at the well (John 4) was a pretty poor strategy, she had no real influence, was shunned by her community… There was 1000 good reasons why Jesus SHOULDN’T have talked to her, but she becomes an amazing ambassador telling everyone about Jesus (in fact their conversation is interesting as its the first time in John he directly identifies himself as the Messiah, contrast this with Nicodemus in the previous chapter).

Strategically, Philip should have stayed in Samaria. It’s working well there, people are being saved and signs and wonders are happening. Its a key hub for the area. It certainly makes more strategic sense than standing in the middle of the desert.

But it wasn’t just standing in the desert, it was standing in the desert at the hottest point of the day, most of the time being obedient isn’t easy, its the tougher choice… It is often a calling out of your comfort zone.

And presumably Philip hung around there for a while, I am convinced as Christians too often we quit too early, I was challenged early on in my Christian life by Bill Wilson (of Metro-Ministries, the worlds largest Sunday School in Brooklyn New York) who said: “Christians often quit before the miracles kick it”.

Philip must have wondered why he left the ‘fruitful place’ for the ‘barren place’, in todays’ imagery why he left the stadium for the scout hut, the crowd for one individual… 

Like the Woman at the Well there were a 1000 reasons why he SHOULDN’T speak to him… He was a gentile, he was ‘defiled’ as he was a Eunuch and good Jewish young men don’t talk to defiled gentiles. Philip probably had identity issues as it is thought he is the Philip who is one of the deacons rather than the one of the 12 (a second generation disciple). 

In fact God was asking him to spark up a conversation with someone in a carriage so probably meant running a bit, breaking a sweat, a bit of a challenge… But then by his obedience, God opens the door, the Eunuch is reading Isaiah, a bit like coming across someone on the train reading a ‘Why Jesus’ and saying to you “can you help me with this”…

The Eunuch clearly was a person of peace, have spoken about this before in missional posts, people to look out for who are open to the Kingdom and welcome you and often are gatekeepers to wider networks. Christian tradition teaches us that from the Eunuch’s encounter with Philip, Ethiopia and the continent of Africa, heard about Jesus.

 

We often see things with our own eyes and our own strategies in our head, often we are task-focused too, and so often we forget the importance of the one person, the individual.

The old youth work joke is “in your Sunday school class you may well have the next Archbishop of Canterbury so make sure you are nice to her”.

Sometimes our work can feel hard, and low numbers can be discouraging, but we don’t always know what God is doing behind the scenes, the seeds that germinate later on in peoples lives, the throw away comment that says so much more than we could ever think.

That smile when the day was tough, the hand on the arm when you needed some comfort… The Bible says “Do not despise the day of small things”.

As people we often want to be broad, wide and superficial… yet God is often localized and deep, doing unobtrusive work often where we least expect it.

Often it is in the challenge and pain of obedience that later on we realize the fruitful work of the spirit which at the time often seemed strategically crazy but divinely right.

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Acts of Service, Church, welcome

JFK, clean toilets and sparkling toilets.

John F Kennedy once asked “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country”.

A great quote that challenged the consumerist mindset. A mindset which sadly has crept into Christ’s  Church.
We as Christians are meant to follow Christ who “came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”… Our leaders demonstration of leadership was to take off his robe and wash the camel crap of the feet of Judas Iscariot who was to bring about his death in the most horrific means imaginable.
The problem is we sometimes let who creep in, a sense of entitlement, or just simply oblivious to the work that needs doing that surrounds us.
Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy once joked that they hid a spaceship behind an invisibility cloak of “someone else’s problem”.
You see no one wants to do the grotty jobs, a Vicar friend of a ‘large successful’ Church once said “it is easier to find someone to preach from the Pulpit than to clean it”.
Another friend, had a habit of cleaning the toilets as the last job he did of an evening in the Church hall after he spoke at the youth events, because he said he “needed to do it” in order to stop pride going to his head.
I wonder is we work so hard at making people feel welcome in our churches that people feel like guests rather than part of the family…
When I was a teenager my parents would complain that “you treat this place like a hotel” spiritually we sometimes need to feel not like spiritual consumers but as contributors.
I’ll end was a quote I thought was thought provoking…
“They say there is no I in team, but there is three in responsibility…”
We have a responsibility to live a life of service to see Christ glorified as we bless those around us, living those bright and salty lives, it’s not about us.
I believe we are called to live for Christ in the service of others.
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grace, James, works

Straw, Faith and Works…

Martin Luther called the book of James ‘the epistle of straw’ as he couldn’t reconcile James’ “Faith without works is dead” with Paul’s “it is by grace you have been saved through faith and not by works so no one can boast”.

How do these two verses hang together?

Simply a mental assent or a belief in sound doctrine is not the same as jumping into the arms of Christ, putting our trust in him.

I think this is such a key verse which we need to wrestle with today, as we often are so into people “praying the prayer” but seem less keen on the whole living the life stuff.

My daughters’ Godfather, Adam, tells of thinking he was a Christian because he had a vague belief in God/Jesus, but hearing someone say “even the devil believes in God and has sound theology, but that doesn’t make him a Christian”… For Adam this was something life transforming (ended up becoming a Vicar).

Becoming a Christian is an all consuming thing, it effects everything, our choices, relationships, matters big and small, public and private life… “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live but Christ lives in me, the life I now live I live by faith in the son of God who died for me”.

This changes everything.

 

I don’t believe people can repent of their sins, be filled with Gods Spirit and put their trust/faith in Christ and remain unchanged, their lives must produce fruit….

Real faith has to be more than a vague theology test, some christian rhetoric, all the gear no idea Christianity.

Shane Claiborne talks of the difference between “believers” and “followers”.

We are not saved BY our good works but rather FOR good works, prepared for us in advance.

Christ has done it all upon the cross we can’t earn our salvation but we should be changed by that encounter and that should reflect in our lives.

There is a dangerous myth that thinks we can accept Christ and out our use in him and not be changed… Yet being transformed to being more like Christ is not an optional extra for the swots, but the ultimate plan of God the longing of our true selves.

Let’s live out our faith.

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