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Labour Pains 3: Talking To Ourselves.

As I have said before as a lover of the Labour Party, I feel so so sad to see it struggling, but think it’s current struggles have much to say to us as the Church.

I spoke about the dilemma the Labour Party have in a popular leader of integrity, yet one whose integrity will cost them votes and seats, and the debate about “selling out” to be popular, and selling out to be in power.
I spoke too, about the way people who are “have more in common than that which divides us” just seem unable to put asisde their difference for the sake of the big cause and greater vision, which is currently true of both the Labour Party and also true for us in the Church.
Today, I’m thinking about the danger of talking to ourselves, which -so I’m told- is a sign of madness, but the whole point of politics is not just to talk to the core supporters, they will vote for you anyway, what you need is to be talking to the people who aren’t yet going to give you their vote, the undiscided, or those who may change their allegiance from another political party.
Yet it is so easy to end up simply talking to ourselves, but this a fake world and an unreal bubble, and the more we talk to ourselves the less we become able to talk to those from outside the bubble effectively.
One of the phrases we often hear on question time is politicians talk about talking to people on the doorstep…
How often -if ever- does the Church talk to real people on their door step?
Are we interested in what people who don’t know Christ really think, or are we more worried about not upsetting the more vocal and prickly Church stalwarts.
In Churches we only ever seem to speak to ourselves, our meetings full of already believers, our social events become Christian Cliques. I think days -possibly even weeks- might go by without a Pastor of a Church actually talking to a person who isn’t already a Christian!
In fact the whole Pastoral model of ministry has left people under the illusion that the Pastors job is tea and sympathy for those inside the Church, their own personal chaplain to come running when they get the sniffles… And ignoring that there are other roles within the five fold ministries, Apostle, Prophets, Evangelists and Teachers…
I think Churches embrace the idea of Pastor and reject or try to ignore the other of the five fold ministries because it is the only inward looking ministry and people like to be looked after.
This idea of just simply keeping the faithful happy has never been a model that has worked either in the world of Politics or the Church, as however hard you work neither are happy in fact they just get more and more grumpy and more and more demanding, and underneath it all is the inescapable feeling that we aren’t doing what we should be.
When we look at Jesus’ Ministry, he was always sending people out, equipping people, learning  about mission by being missional. I wonder whether his model for ministry could be found in Luke 15, the parable of the lost sheep. Where the Good Shepherd doesn’t just hang out with the sheep drinking coffee and eating digestives but goes and seeks out the lost, leaving the 99 to fend for themselves.
We were never meant to be Holy Huddles being spoon-fed by a Pastor, instead we are meant to be a missionary movement with people with different to come alongside us to enable us to be more fruitful.
Bishop David Pytches said “the Meeting Place (the Church) is the training place for the Market Place”.
A reminder that what really matters about Church is its fruitfulness in the world, someone else said “the mark of a successful Church is not how many people sit in its pews but  how differently people live in the world as a result of being part of the local Church”.
It’s time to burst the bubble.
It’s time to get up out of the Holy huddle open the door and get out on the streets, the tea break is over.
I believe the Holy Spirit is calling his Church to stop navel gazing and look out to the world we are supposed to transform.
Let’s stop talking to ourselves, and start engaging with people who are literally dying to hear about Jesus.
Whose coming with me?
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Labour Pains 2: A House Divided Cannot Stand.

Another politically inspired blog…

As a Labour supporter this whole botched coup is heartbreaking, every piece of negative campaigning makes the prospect of a Labour Government look less and less likely… Giving the Tories open goals and making them easy to attack.
Watching a Party I love and believe in tearing themselves apart is painful, but more than this, it is painful for the marginalised and disenfranchized who need a Labour Governnment to fit for them, but unfortunately they are fighting against each other.
Yet as I thought more about this, I realise I see both the Church globally as well as locall, and within my own context, doing exactly the same thing, ripping ourselves part whilst ignoring whilst people all around us know little about Jesus.
 I once had to write a letter to some emerging leaders and I thought what is the most important thing I can say to them? My advice was simple “Keep the main thing (Jesus) the main thing”, when loose sight of the captivating vision that is who Christ is and what he does then we focus on other things, some of them good and worthy, yet if this distract us from what we should be doing, then why are doing them? Often these things are things which divide us, and cause friction amongst us.
The murdered MP Jo Cox said “what unites us is greater than what divides us” which is true of us within the Church.
As I began to think about this more, I began to think about the coalition government (something I wasn’t a big fan of TBH) but they did manage to overcome there big differences and form a workable government.
Jesus’ followers included a former Zealot and a former Tax Collector (think Arthur Scargill and Maggie Thatcher in terms of difference on the world view) and I expect they probably had to work stuff through.
The early Church had massive cultural barriers to climb over and yet despite vast differences they were able to see the bigger prize and the better call, if they hadn’t you might not be sitting down and reading this blog.
So, a challenge to us all, let’s focus our eyes back onto what is really important, Christ himself and let us learn to work and walk together, in the call and commission to not just make disciples but rather to see “his Kingdom come here in our locality as it is in heaven”.
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Labour Pains 1: An Honest Politician.

 

As many of you know my faith is political, actually the Kingdom of God is massively political.

For me, the party which I feel most embodies these Kingdom values is the Green/Labour Party which I passionately support, more recently we have seen much press stuff about a Jeremy Corbyn, politics, loyalty, electoral success, principal and pragmatism…
I think the events of the last few months have much we in the Christian Community can learn from, my prayer with this blog that whatever your political opinions you maybe able to see past these to the points that we can learn from as Christians.
I’m thinking primarily what is the appeal of Corbyn?
In Portsmouth there is a pub called “The Honest Politican”, the name is amusing and memorable because ‘U Turns’ happen all the time, manifesto pledges are broken, lies are good and called ‘spin’… Politicians aren’t always known for their honesty.
In fact we have had decades of politics that been spun, twisted, sexed up and manipulated in do many ways from Blair with his army of spin doctors, or former PR Man Cameron, we have become used to style over substance and presentation over policy.
Everything had been sugar coated for so long, that people have become sick of the sugar and spin…
After all this we see politicians are treated suspicion and mistrusted, and do many people don’t vote, and the biggest looser in all this is democracy.
So many people , are disengaged to the point of saying “they are all the same” and believe that “nothing ever changes”.
With Jeremy Corbyn we see that not everyone IS the same and things can change and are worth fighting for.
In Corbyn many of us have  seen someone of conviction, someone who believes what they say, someone who historically put principal above promotion.
The problem is this reputation for integrity and principal was earned for over 25 years in more or less obscurity, seemingly unnoticed.
A good test of character is what are people like when times are good?
Grainy photos exist of Corbyn bring arrested in a protest against apartheid when it seemed like a lost cause. His protests against the war in Iraq must have felt like failure when the commons voted over-whelmingly to go to war.
Yet now his uncompromising integrity swept him from the obscurity of the back benches to the leadership of his party.
In many ways the story of Corbyn reminds me a little of the story of Joseph, whose preparation for prime minister was slavery with Potiphar and a Prison cell.
What if us, do we have integrity when no one is looking, do we fight for justice when it appears that no one else cares or is bothered?
The problem is that very few people can take Corbyn on because many are tainted with bad votes, broken promises and compromised principals. Our lives when no one appears you’ve paying attention really matter.
We live in a world desperate for authenticity and integrity, the problem is that sadly it is far too rare.
The world is full of people aspiring to be more than they are, a world longing to be principled and not jaded, a world wa
It is so easy to go back on a promise when no one appears to notice, to go along with the crowd (or the government or opposition whip), it is hard to speak truth to power, for example Claire Shorts career ended when she opposed Blairs War on Iraq.
Yet even though speaking the truth to power is costly, it remains worth it.
A good person in a corrupt world makes everyone else look bad, and they will hate you for it. I remember at a funeral of a guy called Paul who because of his Christian Faith refused to skive work like his colleagues did… They used to tell him “You working makes us look bad” -In many ways it is a picture of Christ, the light of the world, walking amongst the darkness of humanity, and caused sinful humanity to crucify Jesus. As John says “the light has come, but people preferred darkness for their deeds were evil”.
Doing the right thing even though it is unpopular isn’t a wise thing in politics, principals cost votes because if you nail your colours to a mast there will be people who disagree. Speech writers work hard in their speeches to not actually say anything other than empty platitudes.
If we say what we believe, will we be elected? The problem is that it is easy to sell our integrity and compromise our convictions to gain power, but the problem with convictions and integrity as once it has been sold off it is hard to recapture, compromise gets easier and easier the more you do it.
The argument is that if you sell out your principals you get power and are able to do something with it, and in one sense it is true, but this is not the way of God, not the way of the Kingdom, I believe that to  do the right thing in the right way there is always a way if we look hard enough, often the wrong way is so often the easiest and most obvious way.
Yet the question should be, can we see governments form that are based on their principals rather than simply the quest to say whatever needs saying to get into power?
What about us as people, are our lives marked by brave integrity, principled courage as we speak unpopular truth irrespective of whether we are going with the tide or against it.
Two quotes to end with “Only dead fish swim with the tide” and “Kites fly against the wind”.
The challenge for us all is to be people who:

Do the right thing, both when it is visible but also when it isn’t.

Doing the right thing when it is popular and also when it isn’t.
To realise that who we are matters more than what we say.
The followers of Christ often look like we have learned a lot from the school of spin and not enough time in the school of authenticity…
Perhaps lives would be more impacted if as Churches (the people of God) if we were less glossy and more real?
Jesus called us to pick up our cross and follow him, a call of integrity and call against the prevailing culture on the narrow and rocky path.
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A Priest, An Angel and a few lessons for us.

I have been thinking about Zachariah, the dad of John the Baptist recently. The Bible tells us that he was in the privileged position to go and offer the incense for the prayers of the people to God.

It was a real and massive honour.
He is in the temple, possibly even the Holy of Holies, the place where the presence of God was meant to reside.
…and yet when he met an angel here he doubted Gods ability to do the miraculous, to see his elderly and infertile wife, Elizabeth, become pregnant.
As I thought about this story it made me ask some questions, firstly, how often do we pray, or do religious or spiritual things but faithlessly we have no expectation of meeting with God, of encountering him, of him answering our prayers and our deepest longings.
I wondered whether we do allow ourselves to be expectant, especially in areas which maybe have been incredibly painful, perhaps past pain and disappointments have stopped us praying and seeking God over some things?
Perhaps too we have downsized our expectations and reduced our expectancy from God?
One of the things I find interesting is Zachariah meets an angel, AN ANGEL, pretty big stuff, would blow your mind a bit meeting one, I think angels must be pretty scary as (apart from with Mary) the first thing they say is “do not be afraid” (with Mary it is the second thing they say!)…
So Angel turns up where Gods presence dwells and even so Zachariah’s mind won’t be changed.
What of us?
Do our minds get too fixed sometimes?
Do we believe that some problems are bigger than God?
-Something’s he just can’t shift?
-Some situations that can’t be changed?
Even though we encountered Gods power, might and capacity, are there some “no go” areas in our minds? Are their areas of stubbornness in our thinking?
As we think of the rigidity in Zachariah’s thinking lets contrast his response with that of an ordinary uneducated teenage girl some miles away, who was not in a religious building or engaged in some spiritual activity, no obvious reason why she should be expectant of God to work in her and through her… And yet she meets an Angel, and her response was a surrender, and openness to God however it looks and however unlikely it might seem.
The challenge is are we more like Zachariah, look religious but lack expectancy with rigid thinking,  or perhaps like Mary, that bows and says to God “have your way Lord”
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Just Do It

Does anyone remember the old Nike slogan “just do it”…

It is actually quite profound as too much of life we waste by dithering, procrastinating, indecisiveness or simply laziness or fear…
It is always easier to find an excuse not to do something than to actually do it.
All human beings have something of a status quo bias, change is scary, and seizing the moment often is not without sacrifice.
One thing I find frustrating with Church is we claim to be a missionary organisation and we do have the greatest message to share, and yet we do everything at a snails pace…the truth is I believe that actually Churches don’t really want to reach out, and so much Missional stuff is done begrudgingly out of duty.
Is this why so many events are planned, turning mission into a ‘one off’ rather than a habitual way of life, and why these events are quite frankly over planned, now I’m not decrying planning but do wonder if Churches are more comfortable in meetings than mission.
It is easier to talk about mission than to actually do it!
“it’s not that we are against what you do but…” is something I have heard a lot, normally it is from people who think their age, their lack of confidence, lack of biblical knowledge, perceived lack of time some how mean that the great commission applies to all other Christians apart from them.
Also, and here I am getting controversial, we seem to be very good at turning up to Praise and Worship events and asking God to intervene missionally in his world… Yet we walk out of these meetings and we don’t do our bit ourselves.
One of my favourite, and most challenging quotes from Shane Claiborne is, “why doesn’t God do something about XYZ and God says ‘I did, I made you'”.
We are a called people.
The Gospel has an urgency about it -tomorrow might be too late.
We are a post Pentecost Church, and yet we seem to have a Pre-Pentecost mentality rather being locked away in an upper room for fear of the world, than being driven by the Holy Spirit onto the Streets of the city.
Recently, we had a wonderful speaker Pastor Yenka who has seen massive numbers of people come to faith in Reading, come and talk about mission, everyone was suitably enthusiastic, but since then it has gone a bit quiet…
My challenge to us all, myself included, what are we waiting for? Let’s go.
Let’s not just tell other peoples stories of revival, let us find our own stories of God at work where we are through you and me.
“Lord have heard of your fame, we stand in awe of your deeds, renew them in our day”.
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The 3 R’s of Bristol Diocese.

RE: Invigorating Discipleship.

RE:Imagining Leadership.

REaching the Under 40’s.

These are the three priorities the Diocese of Bristol has set out for its vision, tomorrow we are going to be looking at them at 10:00-2:00 at United Church Longwell Green… All welcome.

I think that each are incredibly wise things to aim at…
To reinvigorate discipleship is key, to have disciples out and about seeing the kingdom of God breaking in where they live, work and play is exciting… To see Christians not only praying that we see God’s Kingdom come we seek to steward it in. We see people loved and their lives transformed to become holy people, free from life controlling habits. A church that looks like Jesus, with disciples who look and live like him, all day, everyday, where ever they go. Too often discipleship is something we don’t really think about and often it’s more about attending Zchurch and plugging into the churchy programme.
To reimagine leadership, how can we enable people to be missional? How can we help one another to live more like Jesus? What Church needs to look like if we see to grow Christ like disciples and reach people who the Church does not normally contact let alone reach. To be the Church God needs us to be, he needs leadership to look different, much more about releasing people, empowering disciples, and seeing people reached and hearing about Jesus in a way they can understand and be supported in their journey as authentic disciples of Christ.
To reach the under 40s, there are so many generations missing from our Churches, in fact the under 60s are largely missing, how do we reach a new generation, so that our children and our grandchildren will have a faithful Christ like Church to be part of.
Yet we need to realise that the Church of the future, needs for people to be members of the Church of today. Surely our greatest need is to disciples and mentor the next generation…
Yet my worry is that many people won’t engage with this debate, will continue to fight about trivialities around the conservation of the building and styles of services…
Wonder how many people will come along tomorrow morning?
I recently ran a year long course, Mission Shaped Ministry, asking the questions that we as Church need to address and ask…
The worry is I think that we don’t want to ask or listen to the questions or wrestle with the answers.
My prayer is that whatever congregation we are apart of, we want to see Christ build the Church that he wants that is in tune with heartbeat of God.
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love, Opportunity, Risk and Change

Lessons from Love…

I must admit I’m a bit shy and awkward at times.

When I was younger and dating, or rather trying to date(!), I used to find this whole asking someone out, to dance, for a coffee etc a bit uncomfortable.
It was so much easier to stay huddled in the corner of your school disco with your mates than take the walk of fear accross the dance floor to ask the girl to dance. Yet if you walk across the floor, you maybe changing your life forever, I’ve taken funerals of people who have had wonderful 50ish year marriage, which all started by that step from the comfort zone.
I remember hearing how often girls sat in their huddle really wanting the boy to walk accross the hall, and yet guys used to think “they’d never be interested in me” so they never moved…
Or perhaps we have seen, or been, people who have thought that it is so much easier to ‘just stay as friends’, just stay in a safe zone of pleasantness rather than risk exchanging a good friendship for a great relationship, settling for ‘being liked’ rather than ‘being loved’ (and vice versa).
Yet for millions, probably even billions, we have had to move through that awkwardness or pain barrier in order to have that life changing relationship.
I remember having a conversation with Allana once in the early days where I was, so nervous, insecure, that I remember dancing around the subject of really liking her for about half an hour.
Again, many guys reading this will remember the heart in your mouth moment when you propose and ask your girl friend to marry you…
It’s a scary moment risking asking your girl friend to be your wife, offering someone else an exclusive and a rest of your life commitment…
Interestingly too we all know people (mainly women) who are desperate for their boyfriend to propose.
Others appear to have it all sorted, constantly flirting, and as a teenager seem to only be single for a few minutes before appearing with some new “love of their life”..,
Does any of this sound familiar?
In many ways I think the world of dating can teach us a lot about the world of evangelism and mission.
Firstly it does often require us to take a step out of the comfort zone of familiar safety into a new and hitherto unknown territory…
We need to see the vision of people coming into relationship with Christ, the Angels dancing in celebration, as and empowering and compelling reason to leave the comfort, familiarity and safe security of the Holy Huddle, a prize that is worth so much more than the cost.
Too often we make the decision for people, mistakenly often thinking “they wouldn’t be interested” when in actually fact they are willing you to allow them the opportunity to hear about Jesus.
Too often we are scared that our friendships by be jepodized through evangelism, and so we never risk the possibility of offence or friction, but in doing so miss out on them and us sharing in awesome blessing of them coming know Christ and us having the pleasure and privildge of leading them to him.
Often in those conversations we a fearful to ‘seize the day’ for a moment to talk about our faith, often not realising that the person themselves was hinting at knowing more and going deeper?
The fear of rejection so often debilitates us from talking about Jesus… yet we often forget that we are loved and expressing an opinion on a faith matter is not going to be the social suicide we think it will be.
Often the hang ups and paranoia are actually to do with us, and our projections that to do with the people we are talking too.
This often results in us dancing around the gospel, just as the dating guy needs sometimes to say the words, sometimes we need to “push through the pain barrier” and actually say it, and like many things in life it is actually not as bad as we first thought. Nerves and fear often cause us to pull back from saying the truths of the gospel to people, and yet often the fear was either misplaced or blown out of all preportion.
Also we often compare ourselves unfavourably with everyone else who appears to be doing so much better at evangelism than us knocking our confidence still further.
As we think about the flirts, it made me think of those people who gently push boundaries, and wonder if we can do that with evangelism, gently pushing and challenging people to think a bit more about faith, moving preconcieved ideas out of the way of Christ.
So let’s be people prepared to see the worthwhile nature of sharing our faith, prepared to take the risk on Christ in our relationships.
I feel as CHristians we need to be emboldened, but we also need to remain wise, respectful and gentle.
I am keen for people to be courageous and seize the moment, but that is not a green light for recklessness or tactlessness.
Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi tells us we hold out the word that gives life, Paul urges the Church in Rome not to be ashamed of the gospel, and the (often tactless) Peter tells us to “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have but to do so with gentleness and respect”.
So, let’s leave our mates in the corner of the school disco and talk the walk to the unknown with courage.
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