Commitment, Discipleship, obidience, Romans 12

The deliberate choice to be a LIVING Sacrifice for Christ…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12.1)

Living Sacrifice is a funny expression, as well sacrifices are normally dead!
The dead animal is placed on the altar and it stays there because it doesn’t have any choice about it.
Yet a living Sacrifice, by nature of being alive, is on the altar by choice, and it chooses to stay there.
In other words it is saying that it is about giving God our whole lives, everything, all the time, everyday, 24-7, 365 until we die or Jesus comes again.
There are daft ideas going around too many Christians sub conscious of a ‘spiritual / secular divide’ the idea that God is more interested in Churchy activities with our normal everyday lives, it’s rubbish a much more Hebraic understanding of life is about a holistic life, something the early Church too had a better understanding of “the glory of God is human being fully alive” said St. Irenius and Ignatious said something along the lines of “the greatest glory we can give God is that of a transformed life” -although ironically it is actually God himself who transforms our lives-.
Yet in western thinking our lives are compartmentalized, and sometimes dualised (living totally different lives in the different bits of our lives)… This flys in the face of Christ’s promise in John 10.10 to give us “life in all its fullness” -He is talking about whole life, all our life, not just a section carved out for Church attendance or home-group, but everything. LICC have talked alot about our life on the frontline (where we are and where God has placed us) which is great, but its not far enough, because Biblically its not just the frontline that matters, it’s who we are -before God- when no one else sees us to. The Roman/Jewish Audience reading this epistle would know that to be God’s Sacrifice was an all consuming undertaking.
This means that God is interested in our time off, our family struggles, our marriages, how we bring up our kids, what are we like as a friend/colleague/employer or employee; following Christ means that every area of our life should be infused by him, Christianity is your life, not your hobby!
This leads me on to work out, how to actually put this into practice. As many of you know I struggle with wanting to be both boundaried and consciencious, surely they are not opposites but rather the same side of the same coin?
We all know the truth in the quote “that often the fruit of the Kingdom leads on the otherside of being inconvenienced!” I worry about when I was off sick people saying things like “sometimes you need to be a little bit selfish” -I know what they mean, and there is -like a lot of things a truth in that -how can you care for others when you don’t care for yourself (there was a powerful army advert about water distribution in the early 90’s) but the language and some of the thinking behind this worries me; also I have been told “sometimes you need to be ruthless” -again, I get something of the truth behind this, even if the word makes me really uncomfortable… but yet when I look at Jesus I don’t see selfishness and ruthlessness displayed in his life, and his is the life I want to live.
There was a quote which I find really challenging “The bigger problem is not about not succeeding, but rather succeeding at the wrong things”.
As I think about my life, the starting point is “who am I?” -Primarily I am two things (and to define ourselves as one without the other I believe will lead to a distorted Christianity) “A beloved child of God” and “a follower of Jesus Christ”.
Then think about that call to follow Christ, I am called to be a man, husband, father, son, friend and I believe God has placed within me apostolicy/evangelisticy calling ‘Encouraging Missional DNA and help build good incubators’…
My calling to be a good husband, good father shouldn’t be at the expense of being a good minister, but rather it should be being faithful to Christ in every area of life.
The danger is we short change one calling at the expense of another, is God honoured by being a great preacher but a lousy friend? Or a shoddy Church leader but a good family man? A great dad but a poor son? A good husband but a horrible employer? A diligent worker but not a nice person? You get the picture…
Somehow, and I haven’t got the answer to this, it is about living our wholes before Christ with integrity… Is our priorities the same a Christ’s. Is there a danger of either using the ‘spiritual secular divide’ myth to justify behaviour that we shouldn’t fall into? Or the other myth of “God, family, ministry” which doesn’t sound wrong (and in one sense isn’t) but is often a spiritual sounding way of blurring the boundries between callings and actual ends up with God moving from first to third place in our lives.
I talked last time about sacrifice and discipline sometimes being an uncomfortable part of the Christian life (and lets face it being a sacrifice here is not a fluffy image!). What is God’s calling on my life? Am I being faithful to one calling at the expense of another, is this a whole life (and remember God has a high view both of family and of work) or one bit out of alignment?
A good question to ask is who do I serve and who am I responsible/accountable too, and would they see Christ shining through my life as a whole, even the bits that aren’t the primary interaction with you.
A cliche phrase is about “if Jesus isn’t Lord of all, he isn’t Lord at all”…
Maybe take a moment and ask God to help each of us be faithful to all his callings not just the ones we prioritize. Learning to say no to the things he hasn’t called us to, and yes to what he has. Are we driven beyond the call, or not picking up that which we have been called too.
Ask the Holy Spirit to come and show us our lives as whole people, not just illuminate the odd compartment of our existence.
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Badges, Denominations, Divisions, Labels, Unity

Church without badges and Christians without labels.

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

 

-Okay it’s a joke, but it does capture something in the mentality of the human condition that does think those people who don’t agree with us entirely are bad!

I also remember reading somewhere someone saying “if your God hates the same people you hate, then you’ve created God in YOUR image”.

The truth is the opposite, in Christ the normal things that divide and separate us from one another are overcome by the greater unity which we share by being followers of Christ Jesus. “For in Christ there is no more slave or free, Jew or Gentile, Male or Female, because all are one in Christ Jesus”.

 

We use labels to define who we are, and who we aren’t.

Yet our identity is not actually defined in the labels of style, theology, denomination or even which translation of the Bible you use… but rather who we are in Christ. Christ is the beginning and end of our identity as individuals, I am a beloved child of God, I have been freed from the slavery of sin by the precious blood of Christ, I am filled with the Holy Spirit of the living God… That is who we are.
End of.
Full stop.
You might be saying, “ah yes, that’s okay for individuals but we need something more defining when we are together?” -I’m not sure we do actually, forgiven sinners saved by grace is enough to for me, everything else we can work out in love and grace and honest inquiry.
True all of us as groups together will have our quirks, hobby horses and doctrine issues, and yes these surface from time to time, but let’s lay these disagreements before Christs cross knowing that he defines us.
As a passionate labour supporter, I am dismayed at the way the Labour Party is tearing itself apart over their internal differences when child poverty rises,  living standards are decreasing and homelessness increases… We need a Labour government I think everytime someone comes into the Foodbank, yet we aren’t likely to get one whilst they fight amongst themselves rather that fight for the causes they were founded to fight for. Whatever your political persuasion the picture is true, as the writer of proverbs puts it so neatly “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.
The murdered MP Jo Cox said “What unites us is greater than what divides us” although shes talking about communities, her words still resonate with those of us who have pledged ourselves to following Christ.
We don’t agree totally with one another, there is a dying world out there needing it’s saviour, needing good news, needing the gospel, needing hope, Grace and lots of love.
In fact jesus doesn’t say that by our uniformity all people will know that you are my disciples but rather “by this will all prople know you are my disciples that you love knew another”.
The Christian Community is massively diverse, but yet within diversity there is also unity based  not on us, but on who Christ is and what he has done.
If we find this a struggle to believe look no further than Jesus’ own 12 disciples which included a zealot (Simon) and a tax collector (Matthew), he also included Simon who kept on getting the wrong end of the wrong stick, and James and John who were called sons of thunder because of their argumentative nature… Yet Jesus got these guys to be his disciples and to launch his Church.
So lets loose all labels except those given to us by Christ (beloved, free, forgiven, filled etc) both for us individually and also when we come together, and let us not be people who pin labels on other Christians or Churches, but rather accept the great challenge to learn to see the face of Christ in the other.
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1 Corinthians 3., faithfulness, Fruit and fruitfulness

Echoes in Eternity…

Well done good and faithful servant”…
“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames”.
-Okay, let’s start with a bit of basic theology, we are saved by grace through faith.
Yet we are saved the Bible says FOR good works not by them.
 
So sometimes we forget that we are called to be different, to live out our faith, to build with Gold, silver and costly  stones, to see God’s Kingdom advance on our frontlines, where God has placed us.
 
As the film Gladiator says “what we do in life echoes in eternity”… I love John Wimber and he once said: “My plan is to run the race  and take as many people with me as I possibly can”.
 
He lived a life honouring Christ, and many millions of people found faith, our had their exisiting faith renewed and re-inspired by the spirit of God through the Vineyard movement which Wimber founded (not to mention the  legacies of St.Andrew’s Chorleywood (where new wine started), Holy Trinity Brompton (where Alpha started) and St. Michael le belfrey (where riding lights theatre group was founded).
 
Yet too often I meet Christians who have  a real faith but keep it a real secret when they are out and about (is this building with gold and costly stones or wood/hey and straw -a life that from eternities perspective isn’t investing in what really matters)
 
… Or Christians that have the ‘right’ rhetoric but behaviour is simply not loving and Christ-like, Ghandi said “I like your Christ, I don’t like you Christians” -Sadly as a Vicar and growing up in a Vicarage, I’ve seen people who have the right words but have been some of the most spiteful people I know… this should not be so after all “by this will all people know that you are my disciples that you love one another”.
 
…Or rather than pray would rather do jigsaw puzzles, rather attack people doing mission than get off the sofa and help, won’t stop and acknowledge as a human being the busker, begger or big issue seller when they head off to buy their daily mail (just a thought, should Christians read the daily mail, I think not, but that might just be me!) “…by your fruits you will know them”. 
 
“The Greatest Cause of Atheism in this country, is Christians who confess Christ with their lips but deny him with their lifestyles, that is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable” DC Talk.
 
So a challenge today, let’s be ‘salt and light’, in other words, living it out in such a way that people notice the difference, be salty in such a way that people around become thirsty for the Christ in us the hope of glory. Bright and shiny lives that radiate Christ, was speaking to a lady yesterday who is unwell, and I was thinking she is someone who whenever I drop her off, she always leaves me smiling as she’s such a ‘Christ-like person’. 
 
You might be thinking, thanks Andy, just what I need on a Wednesday morning, a guilt trip with a side order of condemnation…
 
But the truth is, how we all have been at times doesn’t mean we have to stay that way, I love the story of Scrooge, just because he’d been a slave to money didn’t mean he had to stay that way… in fact where we’ve slipped up can become those cracks through which Christ can shine out most brightly as people notice the change from what we were to what we have become… I think this is what Paul was getting at with his verses about treasure in jars of clay…
 
“What if I stumble, what if I fall, will the love continue when the walk becomes a crawl?” (DC Talk).
YES IT DOES!
 
The great news of the gospel is that Christ not only forgives us our past, -and his mercies are new every morning- but fills us with his Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, to live  for him.
 
My prayer is that when we meet Christ face to face we are greeted with the words well done good and faithful servant.
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"Good person?", "Good works?", Life styles, Salvation

Don’t walk like an Egyptian…

The Egyptians had an idea about salvation, where you had to meet the boat keeper and if your good deeds out weighed our bad deeds you were okay and could cross into paradise.
This thinking seems prevalent today, I can call myself good if my good deeds probably, on a good day out way my bad deeds. The scales sort of balance up (ish/kinda/most of the time…)
I can call myself good if I’ve not done anything  really bad, like murder or something.
I can call myself a good person, if I compare myself with a really bad person (-look their scales are really tipping the wrong way, mine are only out by a little bit!)
Mark and I chatted and prayed with a guy a fortnight ago who said “I’m not religious but I have been a good person”.
The ‘Good person’ thing seems so prevalent, a lady I have lots of facebook discussions keeps on telling me what a good person she is and what she does for other people, which is nice, but I was thinking, being nice is nice, but Christianity isn’t just another word for being a nice bloke.
I even heard the phrase used so and so is  “a true Christian”, which was basically just meaning someone who was nicer than the average Joe in the street.
I’m sure Ghandi was a nice bloke but if you said to him (a hindu) “you’re a Christian man”, he’d set you straight.
Even Jesus, -the only truly GOOD PERSON- said: “why do you call me good, only God alone is good” (although I think the context of this passage was to point to Jesus Christology, i.e. Jesus is God!).
I think we have got confused, we know we are saved FOR good works NOT BY them.
Christianity is actually about those of us who are aware that we’re not always nice, we do mess us, we make mistakes, we are sinful.
The Christian’s are people who know that when we stand before Jesus (not a boat keeper, but the host on  the door of the party welcoming his guests to come and dwell in his home) we know that if it worked on scales, we know they could well go the wrong way.
The Bible puts it very uncomfortably when it says “even our good works are like filthy rags” -a  verse which always challenges me when I get a bit smug and up myself
I told someone at Church I thought their behaviour was sinful (because it was) he was pretty prickly about it and I thought although he’d  say he was saved by grace, he clearly thought he was a good person and sinners were otherpeople.
I think the ‘older brother syndrome’ creeps back into Churches sometimes.
It made me wonder isn’t there a Pharisee in all of us… we might know hypothetically that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”… but I’m pretty good really and God must be impressed with me…
Yet as a more modern hymn says : “Lord if you marked our transgressions who could stand?”
John Wells (who used to play Dennis Thatcher) said “I had low standards which I failed to meet” -I know I fail my own standards and I’m pretty good at self justifying and not listening to my conscience, so if even I know I’m not all that I want to be, if I can’t keep my own standards how can I keep God’s standards, as if he is any God at all his standards must be pretty high!
He (God) is holy, and I know I’m not.
I know I can’t reach him by my on human efforts and trying to butter him up makes God appear a bit shallow, anyway, what can I barter with before God who has everything and doesn’t need anything…
It is interesting being religious (horrible word) is  about people reaching up to God and trying to reach God and impress him… whereas Christianity is good news because it is God reaching down to us.
Undeserved.
Unearned.
Yet done out of love.
I know I’m a sinner, but I also know I am a beloved son.
I don’t have to earn my heavenly Fathers love, just as Hope my daughter doesn’t have to earn mine.
The prayer book nails it for me, when it talks about “not weighing our merits but pardoning our offences”…
God loves me, despite my sin, he knows the worst of me, and yet he still loves me.
It was whilst we were still sinners that Christ died for us.
A God who loves us, and GAVE himself for us.
A God who died for us.
When I first held Hope in my arms, I knew that I would willingly give this little bundle, any organ anything, because I loved her, would I rather die than her, of course.
If this is the reaction of a sinful human being towards a little bundle of flesh that had just come from the womb, how much greater is this from Almighty God who knows us even before we were born and knows every hair on ourr head.
Going back to the boat analogy is we can’t pay, we fail the test, and are stuck… but God in his great mercy paid the price, by dying for us on the cross, “he who had no sin  (Jesus) became sin for us so we might have the righteousness of God”.
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Brexit, Disappointment, hope, Politica

The Morning after…

This morning I’m trying to work out what I feel this morning is a strange feeling.

It is a step into the unknown, it is a time of change.
Some might feel worried, others jubilant, possible others a mixture of the two.
Actually at the moment, I’m slightly stunned by the result…
Reminded a little of ’92 when my generation realised the power of the vote to change things, when most of us who were too young to remember any other government, saw the Tories out of office… that felt like a new era of hope, but this feels very different.
Today I just feel a bit sombre.
As I reflect back on the campaign, it was one filled with scaremongering from both sides, misrepresenting other peoples’ points of view, some shameful scapegoating and I think it has shown just how polarised our society is, particularly it has made us more aware of how disenfranchised many people feel in our society. (At least whatever your political views I think people have been reminded that voting actually really matters, and for many this was the first time many people who feel very disenfranchised engaged in the democratic process).
I think the question is not now whether we leave or remain, -after all the vote has happened- but how best we can build/rebuild this nation to be better than it is now… The debate now is how does this look? How do we do we do it?
It may meaning enter into conversations with people whose view point we struggle with and finding common ground with ‘the other’?
To me the big two questions we face as Christians is how can we see the most disenfranchised, normally seen as labour voters who clearly feel that no one speaks for them be heard and seek to bless, love and proclaim authentic hope (not just warm sloppy platitudes) and build real relationship s in these communities (often when the Church seems to too often struggle).
Alongside the question, how can we be people who oppose the horrific scapegoating of the refugees, asylum seeker and migrants. How we can genuinely see community cohesion rather than trying to pretend that there aren’t problems here? How can we be real about struggles without resulting to knee jerk reactions and scapegoating of minorities.
How do we move forward with a vote that needs to be respected, but half the population wished hadn’t happened.
As Christians, the gospel of Christ is  a bigger and greater story of hope, of love, of unity and embracing rather than rejection, a message so transformational that has the power to silence the deeply disturbing voice of the right and far right with a vision of humanity coming together in loving community seeking the best for our neighbours? This big story is the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of heaven as it is sometimes called. The Lord’s Prayer urges us to seek Gods Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, the call that is in no way altered by results of referendum, in fact let this result and living in changing times be the spur to go deeper to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before our God”.
And as we think of this challenge within the UK, we realise this is a challenge for us to work out what it means afresh to be loving neighbours advocating justice, compassion and hope to not just those within Europe but actually want it means afresh to be a global citizen.
As we talk about now about trade, I hope too that we also talk about trade ethics, do we continue to hold fast to the rights for workers that was advanced and influenced by the EU for workers in the UK? But do we ask the more thorny issue of universal workers rights for everyone we trade we, as surely a Indian or Chinese life is worth as much as that of a European, as I believe there is only one race, the human race, all made in the image of God. As we try to put the parable of the Good Samaritan into practice as we seek to be good world neighbours acting with compassion for the weak and fighting for justice against the powerful and exploitative.
You might read this and think, I can do anything to support this as I’m not a politician or a leader in big business… Yet we fall for the lie that as people we can’t make a difference, we believe that we can only play it small.
In the West Wing President Bartlett quotes Margaret Mead saying “never doubt that a small group of dedicated people can change the world, for, in truth it is all that ever have”, and although this is undoubtedly true, we have a greater truth of “he (Christ) that is within us is greater than he that is in the world”… “The same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (is active in you and your life)”…  The power of the global Church, filled with the Spirit of God, has option to stop fighting amongst itself and look out and transform the world for the glory of Christ and the salvation and good of its inhabitants.
Yesterday at our third outing of school pastors Jackie shared the call to “be bold” in speaking of Christ (she had led a number of people to Christ recently) but believe her words are larger than just the context of evangelism but rather true for the mission of God in his world…
At times of transition we need to be Christians that step up to the plate and echo the words of Isaiah “here I am send me”.
Irrespective of how we voted, the challenge to build a better world for Christ’s glory and for the sake of our children and grandchildren remains, for some the mountain may feel it has got higher, yet lets not the size of the task daunt us, let us remember the size of the God we serve and his saving and equipping power.
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Audience of One, History, legacy, priorities, vocation

Make History.

Today, whatever happens will make history.

Yet we are so often under the impression that it is only the big things that make history, but I think everything we do has an effect, and often I believe history is made, history is changed, by the small actions each of us for each day.

The question isn’t whether or not we will make a difference, but whether the difference we make will be for good or bad.

I was at my daughters sports day and it made me think about those people who are individualists and those who are team players, even though she’s only 5 it is really evident.

Are we people consumed with our own journey, our are we concerned about encouraging others on their journey to do well and achieve?

I heard a recent assembly talking about the difference between who wants to be a millionaire and the weakest link. One, who wants to be a millionaire, is about other people helping us to achieve (ask the audience &, phone a friend) the other (weakest link) is about treading on people to get what we want.

The head asked the question do we think of life in terms of “I” or “we” -not bad idea when we vote today?- yet for the Christian our lives aren’t about ourselves our even those around us, but ultimately our lives are about primarily Christ, others and ourselves third, an upside down view of the world, which actually is the right way up!

I was at a funeral yesterday and it made me think about how we are remembered, a good husband, Father, grandfather, friend and it made me think afresh about what legacy we leave behind.

What we will be remembered for?

There is a quote I came across which said, people will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

In fact often our arguments are over minor things, often the issue passes but the hurt remains…

Are we building or are we tearing down?

If we are building, what are we building?

Are we building things that will last, or things that are transitory

The Bible talks of building with Gold, Silver and Costly Stones, things that last forever, as opposed to hay and straw, perishable things that are burned up.

The idea of building something that lasts for eternity.

Advancing the Kingdom.

Changing lives by love and hope, redemption, salvation and transformation…

Partnering with God, living lives that bless and shine out the Kingdom in word action and Gods intervening miracles.

History is Gods story, which he chooses to be written by the saints who follow him…

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expectations, Fear, hope, Hopes and Dreams, Neighbour, Politica, Risk and Change

Project Fear? Message of Hope.

On the eve of the referendum in have been thinking about risk, about fear, about the familiar and the security of the status quo, even if the status quo isn’t always great, often people want to stick with it just because it is familiar.

Most people fear change.
Risk is something most of us deep down are a little adverse too.
Yet we forget that actually everything changes, and the phrase “remain’ sounds like something unmoving, yet actually Europe is also an evolving movement, the truth is that both are a risk as none of us know what the future holds.
We cannot avoid risk, change of the unknown actually by voting either way in the referendum as both staying or going are not static places.
Sadly too, there has been scaremongering happening about ethnic minorities, asylum and immigration, which has caused us to fear one another, our neighbours and our friends.
The debate has also frightened people with institutions like the NHS and its provision, causes us to fear for our future.
The debate on both sides has got so nasty that it has been dubbed project fear.
Tony Benn talked about “Hope is the fuel of progress and fear is the prison we put ourselves in”
Yet I would say whatever your views don’t let fear take you prisoner, or push you around.
The greatest prisons aren’t places with bars and gates, but actually are in hearts and minds, fear paralyses us, fear reduces our expectations, inhibits our vision and hampers our judgement.
Whatever your views let’s vote from a place of hope for a better and brighter tomorrow.
Knowing that it’s not just a better Europe we are working towards but actually an advance of Christ’s Kingdom on earth we are seeking to live out and usher in.
Remembering that our citizenship is not of Europe or the UK, but of heaven, an inheritance which won’t spoil, fade or spoil.
Yet I was struck by the truth that the Bible says 365 times “Do Not Be Afraid”, one for every day… We are reminded too that “Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear”, and the one who loves perfectly is Christ himself.
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