Easter, Resurrection

Some thoughts on Death and Resurrection.

A massive Easter theme as the whole story is about death and resurrection, but I was thinking about this as phase and pattern of life too.

We need death, sometimes things that were once full of life become redundant and need to die, so something new and beautiful can take its place, the classic example of this is of course the caterpillar which goes into its Chrysalis and comes out a butterfly (although some of us might argue that is only pseudo death).

I think sometimes we as Christians do play with pseudo death, we’ve not really died, we’ve just laid down for 30 seconds and held our breath, but the problem is when we do this we rob ourselves of very real resurrection.

Resurrection is so much more than re-branding and re-energizing a corpse.

Resurrection should never be mistaken for Resuscitation.

Resurrection can only follow death, real death.

Death has a sting, perhaps to admit something that has worked no longer works feels like failure?

Perhaps we have become so familiar with the status quo that we cannot imagine life without it?

Perhaps our very identity has become tied up with what has died/is dying.

Death feels final.

It is a laying down of visions and dreams, requiring us to trust in a resurrection that as yet cannot be seen.

We try to avoid death where possible, it is the last taboo in our society.

To be the one that administers death feels a massive responsibility, and yet somethings need to die, as it in kinder and more loving to elevate suffering that prolonging the agony.

Often everyone knows something has died, yet no one wants to admit that death has occurred, or is occurring, being the one who acknowledges the elephant in the room is a brave thing to do (often a bit like the child in the story of the Emperors’ new clothes, who noticed “the Emperor is in the nude!”) -Could God be calling you to be the Elephant spotter or the Child?

And yet without death we cannot have the glory of resurrection.

We have to pass through the sharpness of a Good Friday pain, the nothingness of Easter Saturday in order to witness resurrection on Sunday Morning.

We live in the moment, and we avoid the pain of Good Friday and the emptiness of Easter Saturday but leave us robbed of the glory of Easter day, resurrection day.

Jesus said that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground AND DIES it remains a single grain of wheat, but when it dies it yields a harvest of 10, 20 or 100fold!”

Too often as Church and as individuals we want to stay as one grain of wheat, rather than experience death and come out the other-side with a hundred fold harvest.

It is about laying down what’s in your hand to be ready to pick up something new.

Leaving behind something in order to move forward into something else.

In the scariness of the uncertainty, sacrifice, loss and emptiness we discover the miracle of new life, greater life and a new harvest.

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love

The “L” Word…

God is love, and those who live in God live in love and God lives in them…

These words from 1 John open the wedding service, and later on most couples choose the same reading from Corinthians that asks “What is love?” -it describes love as “patient and kind, not rude, proud or boastful, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, always trusts, always hopes, always keeps going… Faith, Hope and Love and the greatest of these is love”.
So why is love the greatest? Well, I believe love is who God is and therefore is eternal, when all of creation is redeemed, restored and made new faith and hope will have been realised and be needed no more whereas love will continue on forever.
We love because we are made in Gods image, we love because “God first loved us and gave his  Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins”… We often preach John 3:16 about the salvation message but we over look one key word “For God SO loved the world”, he is passionate and loves all he has made.
Sociologists tell us that although we need food, warmth and water to survive, we also need love without love babies don’t put on weight nor their brains develop properly. We were made for love.
Shane Claiborne was asked about celibacy once and said this amazingly profound thing, he said “human beings can live without sex, but no human being can live without love”.
I believe we were created by God to be loved, to be loved by him, and (to love and) be loved by one another. I believe God literally intended love to make the world go around… And it does.
This unexplained force, love, unexplainable by scientists can’t explain (in fact is a contradiction to the theories of a selfish gene) and universally acknowledged and believed in.
Yet for me as a Christian, I see love through the lense of Christ, who calls me to love one another as Christ has loved me, he calls me too to love my wife as Christ loved the Church (ouch!).
A U2 song talks about one man coming in the name of Love and is talking about Jesus.
Jesus, love with skin on.
Jesus, the very embodiment of love.
Jesus, the very personification of Love.
So how does Christ love us, and show his love for us? I believe it is primarily seen through his death upon the cross. Jesus said (again in defiance of the theory of the survival of the fittest) “no greater love has anyone than they lay down their life for their friends”… amazing that he calls us his friends… “You are my friends if you keep my commandments… I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know the masters buisness, instead I call you friends”.
So, let us think of the greatest love seen through Jesus laying down his life for those he loves. What do we learn from this? I think we see love defined and characterised by two things, 100% commitment that didn’t quit even when it cost him his life. 100% sacrifice that gave up everything dying naked on a cross his worldly goods being gambled for by his executioners.
What of us? Is our love defined by commitment?
What of us? Is our love defined by sacrifice?
When we love are we patient and kind, not boastful or proud, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs?
Do we love like Christ?
By this do all the world know we are his disciples by loving one another?
You know I can’t do this, I can’t love like this, I need Gods supernatual power to help and enable me to love like this, I can’t without Christs help, strength and power love my enemies (let alone my friends).
So today, we are reminded that we are love, and are called to love, we know that on our own and in ourselves we have not the resources to do this, but these awesome resources come from Christ who longs to pour out his love into us, so that we can pour it out into his world.
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Humility, Palm Sunday

The Donkey, The Small and The Starfish…

After Palm Sunday the donkey went back home and was saying to his Donkey mates about how everyone was cheering him when he came into the city, how people laid their coats on the floor for him to walk on, and were waving palm branches… The Donkey was strutting about, until his mum, a wise old donkey, gently spoke to him, and said “my son, they weren’t cheering you, they were cheering the one you carried”.

This was a little story told on Saturday night by Shane Claiborne in Woodlands.

We are often a little like the Donkey, we think it is all about us rather than about Jesus, yet when we think it is about us and we forget it’s about Jesus, and that’s normally a recipe for disaster, as actually our pride gets in the way of humbly walking in step with the spirit.

It is not the “us” in “us” the Hope of Glory, but rather it is “Christ in us, the hope of Glory”.

Let us be people who carries Christ where-ever they go, into every situation, into every place, and especially into areas where he is needed the most, and normally and tragically, his Church is least visible.

I believe that we as Christians need to take seriously the promise that “He that is in us (Christ) in us is greater than he (Satan) that is in the world”.

We alter the Spiritual DNA of a place just by being Spirit-filled people there.

I spoke on Sunday about not being Canoeists (doing it in our own strength) or Lilo loungers (waiting for God to do it all) but instead being people who are wind surfers (or ordinary surfers) who catch the wave/wind of Gods spirit and ride it to the shore, living to catch the breeze of the spirit and watching for the wave.

The big challenge of the Bible has never been can God use his people, but rather will we let God use us?

One of the big themes from the Shane Claiborne Evening was ‘normal life’ but still lived radically. Mother Teresa said about lifting people out of poverty, well I started with one, and I started with the one nearest me.

I remember her being somewhat confused about people travelling across Oceans to visit place to receive a blessing (Toronto or Pensecola) rather than cross the street to be a blessing.

Mother Teresa wasn’t into sensational headlines, glitz and bling and said “we can’t do great things, but we can do small things with great love” which I think transforms the mundane into greatness.

On Sunday we read in Zechariah about “not despising the day of small things”, I love the quote that sits nicely with this passage which says “if you think you are too small to make a difference try spending a night with a mosquito”.

Little things matter.

Kind or unkind words and actions may stay with us our whole lives.

There is power in the small.

Jesus says “to those who are faithful with little more will be given”.

Let us do the ordinary but let us do it with great love.

Let us carry Christ and let us never miss an opportunity to bless those God has put in our path, let us look for the ordinary moments which can be redeemed and transformed into the extra-ordinary.

I’ll close with one of my favorite stories…. It is called StarFish…

 

 

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Risk and Change

Everything changes but you…

Catherine Booth the co-founder of the Salvation Army once said “to change the future you must disturb the present” which is often painful and costly.
Most of us want a better future, but often we are too scared to change out present.
Yet if you always do what you have done you will get what you have always had.

All of us have what the Bishop of Bristol calls the “status quo bias” which means how ever painful and dysfunctional it is, we are used to it be like this, and so change is something we would rather not do.

Nicky Gumbel talks in the Alpha course about a Church Warden who had been in post for 20+ years and he said to him “You must have seen some changes?” to which the warden replied “Yes, and I opposed all of them!!”
There was a jokey cartoon about an article for a new Vicar which said they want him/her to do lots of new things to bring lots of new people in but to keep everything exactly as it was!!”
Sometimes we need to realize not only the prospect of a brighter future but the short coming of the present situation.
The choice is often not don’t change and have no pain, but rather the choice not too change will not only be painful but often fatal.
Whereas the choice to change, requires bravery but is the road that leads to life.
The problem is we often blind ourselves to the need of change, a little like the story of the emperors new clothes, when he didn’t actually have anything on, but no one had the bravery to tell him, until a child said “the Emperor has no clothes!”
Sometimes we need to see things with God’s eyes, let him take the scales off our eyes, wake up and smell the coffee as there are often so many things that we need to change, but for whatever reason we’ve managed to delude ourselves that this bit of broken dysfunctionality is okay to stay broken and dysfunctional, and yet the risen Saviour says “behold I am making all things new”.
We heard at All Souls last week in the book of Haggai about the people living in flashy houses saying (after 14 years) “the time has not yet come for the house of the Lord to be built” -trying to put a spiritual gloss on their sinful behaviour.
The time has not yet come? -In the book of Esther God says “Now is the day of Salvation”.
Paul talks in the book of Timothy about ‘passing on the baton’ part of being a good steward is to pass something on in a better state than we received it in.
So, let us be people that embrace the changes we need to make both in our lives as individuals and together corporately as Churches, and let us build together a new future following where God leads, not staying where we are but to quote St. Paul “pushing on to win the goal, to reach the prize, that God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.

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Authenticity, Pain, Spirituality, Suffering., Youth and Children's Work

Sugar Coated Christianity…

Today I had a whole load of preschoolers in Church to hear the Easter story, which was great, yet I was faced with the challenge, how to speak truthfully about Jesus dying for us on the cross in a way that wasn’t too heavy or upsetting for 3 and 4 year olds.
Of course we need to be wise and careful how we teach our kids, but I wondered too do we try and shield them from the real world?
Do we try and sugar coat the gospel for kids and new converts?
Yet we need a world view big enough and robust enough to cope with the reality of the complexities of life where good and evil, joy and suffering exist, the already and not yet of Kingdom.
Sometimes simple answers about real and difficult questions about suffering are needed for us all, and too often we don’t talk about suffering, brokenness and struggle enough in our Churches and in our families, and allow Christ into those situations.
There is nothing (i believe) Godly in simply putting on a brave face and pretending everything is fine, pseudo happiness isn’t something Jesus ever asks of us, rather he urges us to carry each others burdens, and to cast our anxieties onto him because he cares for us… He even says “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world!”
I remember a spoof kids song written by my friend Marc Catley (from theological college) it went something like this:
This is the day,
this is the day,
After yesterday after yesterday,
We will be happy, we will be happy.
We will be happy all the way.
 
This is the day, 
this is the day,
When my rabbit died,
when my rabbit died,
we will be happy….
 
This is the day,
when dad lost his job etc etc.
 
This is the day,
when the bailiffs came etc etc.
 
Perhaps, we need to be real more as Church about our pains, struggles and difficulties, I feel that even if we can’t understand or articulate everything, lets love one another, let us walk alongside each other, and lets be constantly inviting Christ into the midst of the difficult circumstances, knowing he loves and he is powerful and can overcome difficulty and adversity as well as giving us the strength to walk through the valley of death.
Let us as Church seek afresh to not to sugar coat everything with a fake smile, but instead be a real and authentic community sharing brokenness but also partaking is resurrection strength and power and the presence of Christ.
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Leadership

Leadership Lessons: “The Upper Room or the Boardroom?”

 

“Mase, you need to embrace your inner-bastard!” -someone once told me regarding leadership (forgive the language!).

It was meant kindly, the sentiment was that in leadership sometimes you need a mean edge. Yet something within this didn’t sit right with me, I can’t imagine Jesus doing this, or encouraging anyone else too either?

I have long said that I worry too much that often Church leadership looks more like Alan Sugar in his boardroom, that Jesus washing feet in the upper room.

I did a course where the strap-line was “to be led more by Jesus, lead more like Jesus and lead more to Jesus”, something that most of us subscribe too, yet do we have an accurate idea of what Jesus’ leadership style looked like?

Remember the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bracelets which said “WWJD? Remember that flipping our and throwing chairs and tables around is an option!” -Sometimes we are called to protest and to challenge the status quo!


Or on the opposite image we get is of Jesus stem from films and paintings where Jesus hangs around looking ethereal and otherworldly and the Victorian Phrase “Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild” comes into place.

Jesus was the greatest and most loyal follower this world has ever known, he said once that “I only do what I see my Father doing”.

Jesus was “led by his Father, Jesus led like his Father and led people too his Father”.

Jesus once said: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” -When involved in any kind of ‘ministry’ to me the ideal is to be invisible, getting out of the way of people meeting with God, God healed me rather than “XXX prayed for me and I was healed”, or ‘God really spoke to me’ rather than “YYY did a fab sermon” or ‘I really met God in worship’ rather than “ZZZ  is such a great musician”… The highest call is that God can be seen through us.

As ultimately it is not about us, but by his grace, he chooses to work through us.

If you live like Jesus, you will be a leader for him… As in this world people are lost, confused and to quote Jesus “like sheep without a shepherd” and looking out and yearning for a better a better way to live, and better people to follow.

We maybe leaders by nature of Christ in us, but in many ways we are simple “beggars telling other beggars where to buy bread”.

Jesus knew his Identity, but didn’t give him an unhealthy ego “Even though he was God, he didn’t consider equality with God something to be exploited, but humbled himself and made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant and being found in human-likeness”… “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many”.

For Jesus leadership is about serving people in the advance of the Kingdom, lives transformed… “I have come to give recovery of sight to the blind, bind up the broken hearted, freedom for the prisoners and declaring the year of the favor of our God”.

Jesus saw in people what no one else saw, most of his revolution stemmed from the uneducated, broken, marginalized or disenfranchised who Christ raised up.

He bravely challenged both the authorities and those in power as well as his friends, his friends and his foes (much tougher to speak challenging truth to a friend).

Let us think what it means to be a follower of Christ, going where he leads, and live out our lives his way, pointing people to  him…

To lead in world world transformation, we first must be transformed ourselves.

Its a call to radical non conformity. A different way of living.

Lets explore deeply who Jesus was and how he lived and let our lives look mirror his rather than distorted world around us.

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Mary Magdalene

A Muddle of Mary

Jeffery Archer says no author of fiction ever gives characters the same name, which authenticates some of the biblical narrative, as it is confusing we have James the brother of John and James the brother of Jesus are two different guys both called James.

Or we have Philip the disciple, who is a different fella from Philip the Deacon in the early Church (who goes on to see the Ethiopian Eunuch converted)…
And then not only do we have Mary Jesus’ Mum, but also  Mary Magdalene… In fact we have  few a few stories featuring a ‘Mary’ and I think an interesting question is, is it the same person? Also, in art, movies and literature Mary Magdalene features heavily, but its worth asking what is biblical and what is artistic licence?
So, lets do a bit of digging into scripture and see what we can find out?
And (more importantly) what we can learn from all this?
So, let’s look at the woman caught in the act of adultery, who was about to be stoned, and Jesus saved her with the challenge “let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” (Jn.8.9) -often in this story this is Jesus’ first meeting with Mary Magdalene, but in scripture this women isn’t given a name. Yet we do know that Mary Magdalene did come from a troubled background (Mark 16. v9) talks of Jesus freeing her from 7 demons.
Early we see Jesus go to Lazarus’ house (Luke 10), where a girl called Mary sat at his feet and hung on his every word, whilst her sister Martha, busied herself in preparing a meal for him and the other guests. The girls are bickering like teenagers, and maybe they are? Perhaps living with their older brother as their guardian?
Martha wants Mary to stop listening to Jesus and help with the hospitality and preparations, yet Jesus sticks up for her and says, that Mary has chosen the better thing.
Our next encounter we see Lazarus dying (Jn 11) , and Martha rebuking Jesus going out to him saying (I think is an accusing way) “If you were here my brother would not have died” where Mary stayed at home where Jesus met with her and wept with her, before raising her brother from the grave. A contrast in attitude when the bottom drops out of your world?
According to John it is this Mary who anoints Jesus at his meal with expensive perfume, filling the whole house with its fragrance (a whole sermon is here about the fragrance of Christ that lingers long after our departure). Again we see Jesus sticking up for her, “she has done a beautiful public thing”-anointing Jesus- rather than a horrid unseen thing -Judas stealing from the disciples purse.
Interestingly a very similar story is told in the other gospel accounts which talk about ‘a sinful woman’ anoints him, “if he was a prophet, he (Jesus) would now what kind of woman was touching him” and Jesus rebukes him with the line “those  who have been forgiven little love little but those who have been forgiven much love much”…
Perhaps she did have something of a past, perhaps the prodigal sons return home was a prodigal sister accepted back into the heart of the family by a loving brother?
If this is the same Mary, its worth pointing out that it is her standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross, weeping by his tomb and witnessing first hand the resurrected Christ. Martha is no where to be seen when the time really matters.
Mary heard Jesus speak her name and recognized his voice.
A challenge are we people who sit at Jesus feet?
Are we people who trust him when things go wrong?
Are we are people like Mary who unashamed of Christ, and worship him was an extravagance…
Do we fill homes with the fragrance of  our worship?
Are we there where and when it matters, encountering Christ both crucified and resurrected?
Have we heard Christ call our name?
Do we recognize his voice?

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