Authenticity

Would You Trust a Skinny Chef?

You wouldn’t trust a skinny chef would you?

You want a chef to look like someone who enjoys food, who celebrates gastronomy!

We want people to be authentic, when we  are telling people Jesus is good news, people need to see the reality of the fact that he’s good news in our lives, yet  so often as Christians we say “Jesus is good news” with long gloomy faces, and wonder why people don’t believe and engage with us.

I want the reality of having Christ in my life to be visible, to be shining out like treasure in broken clay jars -gleaming from the cracks and knocks.

Christianity to be understood needs not just to be proclaimed with words, our world has an awful lot of words, but needs to be seen lived out, in a way the world can say “I can see the difference Christ makes in you life”.

I once said, as Christians we should be “smoking what we are selling” -okay an unfortunate and none to wise drug reference- but we need to be living it out ourselves, the gospel needs to be at work in our heart and lives, in the relationships of those around us.

The question I think many of us are afraid to admit, that although we believe the Gospel to be true, we don’t always see and feel different.

Sometimes we need to let the liberating and transforming truths of scripture do their liberation and transformation, we need to let God’s spirit fill us, and flow out through us, we need to allow his spirit to touch, challenge and change us.

What has God highlighted in your life? What are you working on?

Where is he bringing healing and new life?

What are you reading, how are you growing?

When was the last time you spent time together?

What was the last thing you heard him say, and how much time do we actually spend listening to him?

John Wimber had a great prayer which was “Lord, send revival, start with me”.

Help me to gasp the wonder of Christ afresh in my life today.

Help me see Jesus as the pearl of great price, and realise the consequences of that for my life and way of thinking.

I wonder, if the thing that would transform our effectiveness in mission and evangelism (apart from unity -see yesterdays blog) is our praise and our worship, not just singing familiar songs and enjoying a good sing song, but experiencing Christ, seeking him out, acknowledging his work in our lives, thank him for being him, proclaiming his truth in/to and over ourselves.

Let’s seek is presence, acknowledge him, and let him by his spirit shape us.

As we spend time with him, we will become more like him, his praise changes us, moulds us, renews our minds and refreshes our hearts.

So, let us not  be like Skinny Chef’s, lets discover anew the glory of the Lord, seek him and his presence.

Let us come afresh to realise he is good news and a life transforming God.

I

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United We Stand.

“How pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in Unity” says the Psalmist.

Unity matters.

It really, really matters.

Unity is the key for so much blessing.

To be united is Christ’s heart for his Church.

When we read in John’s Gospel it was what Jesus prayed for in the garden of Gethsemane. -Probably spurred on his prayers by the umpteen squabbles amongst the 12 disciples he’d seen? As Jesus thought about the birth of the Church,  rolled out across the world and through out time and history, I wonder if he asked himself “how will they get on together as a global movement when they can’t even get on as a cell group?”

The problem with unity is it needs to be rooted in the contest of real community and relationship, which sounds good in theory, but the truth is people sometimes just can’t get along.

Community is great in theory, and  sounds wonderful, but in reality is often hard and tough, it reveals our flaws and cracks, and we spot the flaws and cracks in each other too.

We are misunderstood and we misunderstand, and unity is fractured.

Our brokenness collides with another’s brokenness, and unity is fractured.

Our sin slips out, our someone else’ raises its head, and unity is fractured.

Community is a challenging and difficult thing to live within, perhaps that is why well mannered politeness and superficiality sometimes creep into our Churches, true there is little depth, but at least it isn’t doing any harm?

The problem is I believe that it is in the context of community that God often fashions and shapes us, moulds us and makes us, challenges and changes us, grows and deepens us.

Community is the crucible that refines the Gold.

The refining process is painful, but the end results are beautiful, wonderful and glorious.

Superficially and pseudo community robs us of the opportunity of encountering God in one another and to be refined by him.

We can’t have a deep relationship with God and just a superficial one with his bride the Church.

Unity matters.

Real community can challenge and be really uncomfortable, especially (like a new car) the gloss comes of, its no longer squeaky and new, the kids grind mud into the carpet and everything feels a bit shabby and lived in.

It is easy to just ‘jump ship’ and find a newer, shinier community, but it won’t be too long before the gloss fades there too and it is no longer squeaky and new. Some people do their whole Christian lives trying to find the perfect Church. There is however a saying, if you find a perfect Church, don’t join it because it wouldn’t be perfect any more. We bring our pain, hurts and baggage and discover that other people have the same too.

In many ways the image of Church and the image of marriage feels appropriate, marriage is a wonderful symbol of unity, a good marriage will bring out the best in each other, can forge an amazing team and a powerful family unit.  Yet a good marriage takes work. Sometimes we feel like walking away, sometimes their stuff and our stuff clash and smash, yet it is in working this through that the marriage is actually made stronger, better and more beautiful.

Yet it requires effort, it is costly, it is difficult and there are no easy short cuts… So, why do we think the Church of Jesus Christ should be any different?

Although we do have the promise of the Holy Spirit that he will build his Church, we also know our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour…

The battle that destroys Churches is often internal rather than external.

It requires all of us to submit and surrender to the Spirit of God at work in us, to allow him to shaped and mould us, often he needs to reveal a wound in order for us to see it to let him minister to it.

Bristol Diocese had a vision when I first arrived here, about Church being “communities of wholeness with Christ at the centre”, yet to become a community of wholeness we need to first deal with our junk.

Sports people talk of pushing through the pain barrier before going on to reach their goal, yet too often in Christian community we wont push through past the pain barrier (and I realise that for all of this it does require the other person to respond too) but lets go on to glory, with relationships refined in the fire, and become more precious than Gold.

I’ll close with a couple of quotes I saw this week on facebook….

“How can you receive God’s blessing for today when your hands are still full of yesterdays junk?”

“Why do we write our blessing in sand and our hurts in marble” Spurgeon.

Let’s deal with the junk.

Let’s  come to the healer for our hearts.

Lets work out how we can become that community of wholeness.

Let’s take the brave step to push through the pain barrier and dealing with what needs to be dealt with in us and ourselves.

Let’s take the planks out of our own eyes, before highlighting the specks in others.

Let’s not  rob ourselves or one another with pseudo community and superficial politeness when real Christian Community is on offer, and is beautiful, but it is costly, but it is worth working for.

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A Flat Tyre…

They say a bad attitude is a bit like a flat tyre, impossible to move forward until you fix it.

Actually the more you drive on a flat tyre the more damage we do to the car, the more we live with bad attitudes the more damage we do to ourselves and those around us.

Our attitude is something that effects everything we do.

Have you ever been in a meeting where someone has got a bad attitude, it can feel like the Dementors from Harry Potter sucking all the life and positivity out of the room. The fruit of a bad attitude isn’t great but it can spread across a room in seconds, and affect and infect vast numbers of people really easily.

Our attitude is a small thing that can effect so much.

James warns us about the tongue and the damage that this can cause, but sometimes even if our lips don’t move our body language, posture, eye contact (or lack of it) general stuff can effect everything. Interestingly sociologist reckon that our actual words matter less than the way we say them. We can make our feelings known without saying a word.

A withering look, or a dismissive roll of the eyes -or whatever- can cut as deep as any barbed comment or put down.

I know for me personally, there are times when I can bite my lip and not say stuff, but I wonder whether my body language is shouting into the room?

The Psalmist says “Search me O God and know my heart” -a challenging prayer- going on to say “an see if there is any offensive way in me”, in other words asking God ‘is my behaviour righteous in your sight?’

In my experience it is the Holy Spirit who, gently and in love, convicts us when our attitude isn’t right, when we see the problem and asked for forgiveness, we need to ask for the Holy Spirit’s help to enable and empower us to live differently, and nudge us with his gentle conviction when we slip back into our old bad ways.

One of the greatest challenges in scripture is in Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he quotes what we think was a popular worship song at that time in the Church when he says “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

That’s the call and the standard, a Christ-like attitude, this attitude has its roots in humility, “he who was in his nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped…but humbled himself…being found in human likeness… became obedient unto death, even death on a cross”

Our pride spoils our attitude, our pride normally rests on our identity, fuelled by our insecurities, encouraged by the pain of injustices,  yet Jesus had a good attitude because he knew who he was in relationship to his father which drove away those insecurities (note the devil attacks his identity, “IF you are Gods Son”), Jesus attitude remained Holy even when suffering the greatest injustice human beings have ever inflicted on anyone -the crucifixion of the sinless God- even amid that strain Christ’s attitude was awesomely Godly “Father, Forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing” -I suspect my attitude would be a million miles away from this!

So, a challenge for us all, is to say to Christ “Help me to have the same attitude as you, even when it is tough, especially when it’s tough”.

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Humility, Leadership, Servanthood., teachability

Followership…

In the world of business people often say “there are leaders and followers”, but I’m not sure that it is true.

Many people think ‘leadership’ is something you are born with, like blue eyes or freckles, but again I’m not sure this is true either.

When we obsess about leadership, we are only thinking of one side of the coin, for leaders to exist people need to be followers.

Actually I believe everyone actually is following something or someone, -I think we often ask the wrong question in our culture, for example I believe everyone worships it’s a human instinct, so the question isn’t will you worship but WHO/WHAT will you worship?

The same question is not, will you follow anyone/anything but WHAT/WHO will we follow?

However, I think what differs for Christians is the issue of self awareness, when we end up worshipping the wrong things, do we realise we are worshipping?

Or when we follow the wrong thing, do we realise that we are following it?

I believe that often we don’t realise what we worship, nor truly see who we follow? -We don’t always know or realise our what our drivers are? -what pulls our strings? -what pushes our buttons?

Certainly us as Christians we know we are supposed to worship and follow Christ.

Yet, do we actually really know what this really looks like in our normal every day lives?

I would suggest that if you are following Christ you will notice three things:

The question maybe we need to ask ourselves, how do I know if I am following Christ, or am I doing my own thing with a bit of a Christian veneer?

1) There will be movement, if you are following anything you wont be staying in the same place, you’ll noticing changes, challenges, growth (although sometimes we don’t always realise we are moving because we are always with ourselves so we can’t see the changes. Also, sometimes when we are on a stationary train and another zooms past it gives the illusion of movement, don’t think because people are moving around you that you are necessarily moving yourself!)

2) Fruit, if you are following Christ, you will be becoming more like him!

3) Opposition, if you are following Christ you are going to feel some friction, because you aren’t going the same way as everyone else.

Yet the problem with following Christ is that there seem to be too many middle men called leaders, and how do we follow Christ, moving forward with others, together in an area without any human leadership.

Without leaders and followers, we will never do anything together, and certainly won’t move forward… somehow, what ever we think of it, leadership and followership is part of the human DNA, and I would suggest that we both operate in both areas at different times and at different occasions.

We are all followers, and yet there is a calling for us to lead, but this is more of a case of “follow me whilst I follow Christ”, it is about a journey with Christ in the company of others.

And, then when we start thinking about leadership we realise we can’t be a leader of Christ’s people unless we are a follower of Christ himself, you can lead people where you haven’t been, or aren’t prepared to go yourself.

The leaders of the Bible -with possible exception of Samson, who is a bit of a muppet anyway- are largely not Oxford Educated, chino wearing Alpha males, but rather limping nobodies from backwaters.

I think we sometimes get confused between gifting and anointing, character and calling.

Do you think God is saying something, then share it, if other people rally around the vision and you seek to make it happen you are a leader.

Sometimes you will be the one who hears something and calls people to step out so you step out and lead, sometimes you are the one who hears something from someone else and the spirit quickens within you and you feel called to step out and follow.

If we truly believe that we have a God who is our strength in weakness why in so much of the Christian life is everyone fighting to be top dog?

And why is it all the time

Too often we talk of growing leaders, which is great, but actually in our self sufficient, egocentric, consumerist culture, learning how to be a follower is sometimes a bigger and a tougher lesson than being a leader.

We live in a world which says “you can’t tell me what to do”, but instead we are choosing to sacrifice something of our own independence for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and his value of interdependence.

Following is tough because it means humbly not getting our own way all the time, and we all like that, everyone wants to be agreed with!

Following is sacrificial, Simon and Andrew, John and James left their livelihood to come and follow Christ, Matthew/Levi walked out of his paid employment to follow Jesus. Jesus talked of his followers “picking up their crosses” -being a follower is a challenging call.

Leaders too can sometimes be frustrating, I know I am at times, and probably people could say with justification say “I could do better than that” but for whatever reason I’m called to a certain role at a certain time, and maybe God is teaching me stuff? Or maybe teaching you stuff? Which ever it is, we need to lay our frustrations at the foot of the cross, we as Church are called to be a community of grace, where our worth is not in our performance. Sometimes it is in leading and sometimes in following, we discover the grace of God that is unearned and given simply for being us, God’s beloved.

The challenge of grace is how easily do we slip into competitiveness, and not doing it?

The challenge of grace is how easily we slip into comparisons, and not doing it?

The challenge of grace is how easily we slip into complaining, and not doing it -the car park after a meeting or over Sunday lunch are often places where some leader or others ears probably burn!

How can we be a community of grace?

How can we lead and follow together well?

Graham Kendrick talks of “each others needs to prefer”

The world often talks about one person, normally a man, telling everyone else what to do, yet the Christian model of leadership is more about seeking God’s will prayerfully in community, it’s about shared conversations together. Often it is others in the community who refine and shape the vision, honing it to make it more in-line with the voice, will and heart of God, the body ministry each playing its part.

Interestingly here we often see two types of people, the ‘controller’ and the ‘submissive’, the person who fights for their corner and the person who caves in, and interestingly we all need to learn from both of these.

Are their times when Christ is calling us to contend for what he has said?

Are their times when we need to bow and submit to someone else’s judgement call?

Working out which is which can be hard and challenging too, my suggestion is it is often the one we find tougher to do, which often is where God is calling us.

Christian Leadership is about bravely following Christ together as community, the call is often -if not always- on the narrow and rocky pathway, it’s not an easy route, some will bail out because it is too hard and costly, some will bail out because a nice and more comfortable vision comes into view, some will bail out because they don’t see the vision, some will bail about because of our failures of leadership -which is really hard for us.

A wise Elder once said to me “the only thing we are called to be is faithful”.

The God we serve loves us and sees our heart, and all that is within them.

Ultimately it is him we are doing all this for, we lead because we are following his call to “come and follow him”… As we follow we know he sees our hearts.

Search me and know me O God and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

So, lets embrace grace, lets be faithful, let him see our heart, and let us move forward with him together with one another, a rickety caravan of a community, but as we edge forward every step toward Christ is a team effort which receives a cheer from the one who says “well done good and faithful servant”.

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It’s a Dogs Life.

We have a little puppy Teddy, and he has separation anxiety if anyone in his pack disappears from his sight he gets really agitated and starts barking.

This gets a little annoying as he will follow you to the toilet, and even wants to come in the bath with you.

Being young and full of energy he also is desperate not to miss anything fun, alert watching for someone to do something he can join in with, like putting on your soaks, which he loves nicking the other soak and running around the house with (not fun when you are in a hurry to get out the door).

Interestingly, Teddy our puppy, has taught me a lot about me and my relationship with God.

First thing he taught me was about seeking God’s presence, how often in the busyness of life do I allow God to slip from my sight and vision without even noticing. Am I as hungry for God’s presence in my life as Teddy is hungry for ours?

Do I actively seek out God’s presence, or do I just assume he’s there, do I try and ‘keep sight’ of him all the time in my daily life? Even, maybe even especially, in the mundane, the ordinary and the boring. The monk Brother Laurence talks of ‘practicing the presence of God’ -seeking him out- in everything, and he writes of discovering God’s presence as he worships him when he is peeling potatoes, cleaning toilets or washing up.

Too often in our Christian life, we talk of ‘waiting on God’ as something very Holy, but I suggest that if we use the image of the puppy, then I would suggest that ‘seeking God’ is a better course of action, one is very passive waiting the other is actively searching him out, again the sniffer dog on the hunt for a scent is not a bad image, relentlessly looking following the trial.

We have the promise of Christ who tells us that when we seek we will find him, the book of Isaiah also tells us that “whether you turn to the right or to the left you will hear a voice behind you saying this is the way walk in it”.

Moses says to God “if you don’t go with us, what will distinguish us from all the other peoples of the earth” -being people who are in God’s presence is noticeable. Moses when he came down the mountain had a face that shone. People could see something of God on Moses.

In the book of Acts’ it talks of Peter and John and says “they saw they were ordinary unskilled men who had been with Jesus” -being with Jesus was visible in their lives.

Yet the puppy sometimes reminds me that although they are great at seeking presence they are not always so good at obeying instructions, which sadly sounds like us all at times.

A challenge not just to seek Gods presence, but to do what he says.

I wonder maybe we should run obedience classes for Christians, I know that the £60 we paid for Teddy was a bit of a waste of cash as he doesn’t listen, perhaps God sometimes thinks the same thing about us. Seek me, listen to me and then do what I say.

The problem I have, and probably lots of us have, is in trying to do the right thing we can often get the wrong idea, a bit like Teddy nicking my soaks. He thinks he’s helping me! Yet so often we run off with a sock ‘a part of the picture’ rather than seeking the full and whole picture.

When we go for a walk he often runs on ahead of us, and then has to wait for us to catch up, I wonder do I sometimes run ahead of God. Instead well trained dogs ‘walk to heel’ in other words walk close to their master, just slightly behind them to follow them, listening out for their masters voice.

To use to dog picture, this is how I want to be, not running off in the middle of the field holding a sock with a confused look on my face.

 

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The Big, The Loud and the Crowd…

I know I’m a bit of a workaholic.

I know that I lean towards activity, towards busyness, crowds, noise and bigness.
Yet I have come to discover that often God is found in the place of stillness, jesus himself left the crowds and sought time with his father.
Jesus never “put on an event” nor did he ever seem to do the competitive thing of trying to constantly be bigger and better (although the disciples were playing the comparison game with John the Baptist in John 4).
It is easy to be seduced by bright lights or big names… but behind the glitz and glamour often what we find are people, places, things that are actually very ordinary just like you and me, and doing much the same things as us, just maybe a bit louder and noiser.
As I recently blogged about working in a big trendy church with a huge reputation which actually wasn’t great, whereas the previous unfamous church I worked in I saw God do wonderful and amazing things.
I used to run an under 18s Nightclub in Poole, The AREA, it was noisy with smoke machines and a massive PA system, flashing lights and hundreds of kids having a great time, and a large team of helpers… Yet a few years on, it didn’t see the revival we were hoping and praying for… But felt successful and people in the Christian scene said nice things about it. Whereas a few years before this I ran a group for the 7-11s group called the “Really Small Theatre Company” in Wakefield, with a handful of kids who didn’t always behave that well, I used to feel a bit like a rubbish kids worker some evenings afterwards, yet umpteen years on a number of those young people are still walking with God.
I wonder what I thought was successful from the vantage point of heaven might not have been as great as I thought it was, whereas things I felt weren’t that successful and were hard work might from heavens perspective been much more beautiful and blessed than perhaps I thought.
I remember on one occasion I preached my heart out to a fairly unresponsive congregation only to have a 2 minute conversation in the car park which really blessed me, perhaps I was meant to go to that Church not to be a blessing (although I hope I was) but to recieve a blessing, it wasn’t about the service and the stuff around it but the two minutes in the car park afterwards.
Scripture reminds us not to despise the day of small things.
Often things are written of as failures and the plug is pulled, when I wonder if you are simply looking at them with too much of a worldly point of view. Do we measure things with a false criteria and not the viewpoint of heaven.
Are we more worried about being successful or faithful?
Do we perhaps loose the exciting “golden seem of grace” in the busyness where we miss what God is doing amongst the multitude ofdistractions.
Too busy actually to do what really matters?
Too distracted by the urgent that we miss the important?
Diary too full with that which is transistory to invest in the invisable future of what is eternal?
Do we live for recognition and applause of our peers or the affirmation of God, the audience of one, when he says “well done good and faithful servant”.
In the midst of it all, the noise and the crowds, the frentic pace of life, and the ever growing stack of emails and dairy demands, do we hear that still small voice directing our path, saying “this is the way walk in it” or are we tossed about from one event to a crisis to the next appointment?
So, let’s look at the way we order our lives with the eyes of faith, seeking for the voice of God, and not just looking for him in the expected places of noise and activity but also in the quiet places of humble and faithful service, not being distracted by the new and the shiny but in the revolutionary conspiracy of the ordinary and mundane.
A prayer…
Where are you calling me Lord?  What are you calling me to do?
Don’t let me waste my time doing the good when you are calling me to the better and eternally greater?
Let’s me hear your voice above the noise.
Don’t let me be pulled along by the crowd but only go where you ordain my steps.
Don’t let me waste my time of glitzy glamourous distractions but give me the grace to faithfully accept the hidden (for now) Kingdom steam of possible earthly obscurity but breaks out a smile of the face of the Saviour. Amen.
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The Extra Mile with a Smile…

Going the extra mile with a smile?

Going the extra mile with gritted teeth, trying to sound nice about it, is about the best I normally manage!

The problem is that I believe we miss much of what God wants to do in us and through us is because it wears overalls and looks too much like work!

Often the greatest moments of fruitfulness in our lives come from being inconvienced.

Also, our acts of service, show us where our heart is, I don’t really mind going the extra mile for my wife, or for my daughter because I love them.

Does my reluctance to go that extra mile actually show where my heart is, the lack of love that I have, if I loved more would I be prepared to go the extra mile more?

If I cared more about blessing people and less about my own comfort perhaps I’d do the right thing with more of a cheer?

I find the verses in the Bible which says “freely you have recieved, so freely give” or “those who have been forgiven much love much and those who have been forgiven little love little” immensely challenging as I know I’ve been forgiven much but sadly don’t always love much.

I know God has been incredibly generous to me, the cross is so much much more than the extra mile, and although I don’t think he did it with a smile, the Book of Hebrews talks about “for the Joy that was set before him he endured the cross”, what was this motivating joy that spurred Christ on to do this amazing act of sacrificial love? I believe it was you and I coming to know him, and recieving the forgiveness of our sins, friendship with God and eternal life.

When we encounter people as Christians they form a picture of What God is like from the way we encounter them, I want people to know Gods generous extravagent love, yet I have to fight the temptation to be a bit mean spirited.

I know too just how patient God has been with me (and still is) and yet I get impatient and irritated with people.

Yet I have seen and heard wonderful examples of saints who have really “gone the extra mile with a smile” and want to be like them, but when the phone rings in the early hours of the morning my first thoughts aren’t always very Christian, especially if I have a differnt view on whether,or not, it is a real emergency.

The more I thought about this, the more I beat myself up about it, which never actually helps us lead a more Godly life, just makes us feel horribly condemned.

I wondered whether going the extra mile was a bit like something I learned when thinking about mission when I feel afraid about talking and stepping out, the answer is even though you feel the fearful still do it!

Even when you don’t feel like it, go the extra mile.

Often once you’ve done it, you’ll be glad you did, it might even make you smile!

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