Church, Journey, Leadership, Ministry, vocation

A Decade on…

Today is the 10th anniversary of being ordained. I don’t think any amount of other ministry or theological college can prepare you for this unique role.

In many ways it is a privilege to do this role, to have so many wonderful opportunities to talk to people about Jesus is a fantastic thing.

I remain 10 years on as passionate about people coming to know Jesus, and growing in discipleship, but it has been really tough, and as I think back over the 10 years there have been some wonderful highs and blessing,  but a lot of it has been something of an uphill battle.

I remember I had to write to some emerging leaders with some advice, and my two bits of advice were to “keep the main thing the main thing” -and the main thing is Jesus; my second attribute needed wasn’t any great a glitzy gift like being able to preach like Spurgeon or have the faith of Smith Wigglesworth, but rather the perseverance of Nehemiah… just keeping on building despite the challenging’s, pain, difficulties, opposition and discouragements.

Two things I have come to learn (or at least tried to remember) is that first God is good and faithful even when we don’t understand his ways or his plan, and the second is that ultimately it isn’t about what people think of you and their opinion of you isn’t what defines you, actually it is what God thinks that matters most, live ultimately lived for that audience of one.

I spoke to a colleague of mine this morning, who shared at in one of his toughest and darkest points, he met an elderly clergyman in his 90’s, who said to him “keep on preaching Jesus”… echoing with my college motto, which was “woe to me if I do not preach the gospel”.

It is all about Jesus, and him crucified, the one who was faithful and obedient even to death on a cross.

It is ultimately not about anything else that being faithful to Jesus, who is faithful to us.

One of the theological colleges motto is “the one who calls you is faithful” -which today feels a good message to remember.

A poem I have found challenge, and one I have failed miserably at, but I want to close this blog with is this (it is written by Mother Teresa of Calcutta).

              People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

            If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

            If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

           If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

            What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

            If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

            The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

         Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

         In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

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Journey, Life styles, perspectives, Risk and Change, the Holy Spirit

Misty Eyed Nostalgia.

One of the things I think paralyses us in our Christian life is when we stop looking forward to what God is doing and start looking over our shoulder.

The problem is we start to think the greatest works of God are in our past rather that awaiting them expectantly for our future.
When our eyes are fixed over our shoulder, our progress forward is very slow if not more or less non existent.
Jesus said “anyone who puts their hand to the plough and keeps looking back cannot be my disciple” – strong words.
The past can trap us -an ironically it rarely was as good as we remember, we often look back and often limit our future by rose tinted glasses from the past.

It is nice to reminisce sometimes, a nostalgic moment can be pleasant, yet the truth although we can remember the past fondly, the past is not a location we can live in.

We are called to live in the present and to be architects of the future.

We are called to be people that follow where Christ is going, rather than settling where Christ has been.

I’d rather live where God IS working rather than where he HAS worked.

I want to be someone who relentlessly peruses Jesus, hungry to be where he is going, joining in where he is going.

The past, whether good or bad, can be used as a spur or launch pad into a different future, yet too often I feel that the past can imprison us and restrict us.

Nor do other peoples’ past experiences have to be millstones that we are forced to carry -how often is our predecessors’ memory is

used to beat us over the head? “The last vicar always….”

Yet God calls us to run our own race, without other people or the pasts debris clinging onto our coat-tails.

We are set free to move forward along the path that lies ahead and not that stretching out behind us.

When we think that past experiences cannot be bettered, that is debilitating, crushing potential and clipping the wings of future dreams.

Bad experiences have not laid the rail tracks for the rest of our life, although often this does feel to be true, for the Christian we know that “those who the Son sets free will be free indeed”, “forgetting what is past I press on towards to goal to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has called me” and that “in Christ we are new creations, the old has gone, the new has come”.

Our history (at the cross of Christ) does not have to dictate or lay the rail tracks for our future.

Let’s remember that God has not finished with any of us yet, whilst we have breath in our lungs we are available for his use.

C.S. Lewis once said “you are never too old to chase a new vision, or dream a new dream”.

So lets enjoy the past, but not let it hold us back, distract us from where God is calling us on to, or limit of vision and expectancy of the future.

I’ll close with some words in Habbakkuk… “Behold I am doing a new thing!” -lets pray we grasp this with open hands rather than leave our hands full of the baggage of yesterday.

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comparisons, obidience, vision, vocation

Eyes On The Road…

Where your eyes go the rest of the body follows, that is why people put blinkers on horses to stop them being distracted from what is all around them and keeps their eyes focused on the road ahead of them.
I wondered how often we get distracted by looking to the left or the right of where we are being called that pulls us off track and even a few degrees can end up on the long term pulling us miles of course.
In the Bible at the end of John’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus “what about John?” jesus told him to mind his own buisness and worry about his own calling and journey. The problem is we compare our calling and race with those around us, the problem is when we focus of the other runners we end up running in the wrong lane, comparisons are the theif of joy.
James Laurence (an author, evangelist and leadership guru) said that the problems with comparisons   is we run other people’s edited highlights we our blooper reel, it’s a false comparison which normally only causes us ourselves harm.
So, keep your eyes on what you are being called to, keep your eyes focused towards the prize, don’t get distracted, don’t look at those around you the wrong way.
Yet I am calling and challenging us to have a wider view, playing our part, but seeing the breadth of what God is doing around us, where do we fit in the wider picture of Gods Kingdom, have the wide view, see and seek what God is doing in the city.
Too often Christians are focused on their little bit, but have no concept of how their little bit works with the other little bits of those around us, which actually creates a disunited team, we all want to hit the goal but not everyone is called to be a striker.
When I first arrived in Kingswood, I put on a course about sharing our faith, as did the Church next door as did the Salvation Army up the road, yet none of us were currently doing Alpha… Crazily by our own blinkered vision we doubled up the work load and could have freed us up to something else.
I often wonder that we fill our time with good things, but because our diary is full of good things, we miss the great and the extraordinary. It annoys, angers and hurts me to see how often churches put so much time effort and resources it to Competing against each other when we should be complimenting each other. Jesus calls us to seek first the Kingdom of God, to see is all thrive together, together is always better than fracture, factions and disunity. In the Psalms we are reminded that God promises “where there is unity God commands a blessing”.
We often misread the passage in Corinthians to think it is simply about our own fellowship of congregation, however, I think it is actually refering to the body of Christ -the Church- in the city.
Sometimes we are too close and need to step back and see the big picture of the call of Christ missing by being too blinkered. I am reminded of the story of a great conductor conducting a wonderful orchestrar, during their rehearsal he stopped them and said “where is the picalo” the vision of the Church is like that orchestrar where everyone should be contributing to the beautiful and wonderful harmony of the music, each part, no matter how small, adding melody and beauty. Yet narrow-mindedness, sinful competitiveness, and just thoughtless disobedience just creates discord, jarring and ruins the beauty of the harmony that God seeks.
Tommorrow we will think a little bit more about the dangers of looking back rather than having our eyes focused on the prize ahead.
My message for today, is to play your part, but see yourself as part of the wider part of the local team of God, let’s compliment not compete, playing the part we are called to play not the part we think we should play, after all a skilled violinist probably isn’t so good on the tuba, when they do what they are called to they shine and everyone benefits.
Where your eyes go the rest of the body follows, that is why people put blinkers on horses to stop them being distracted from what is all around them and keeps their eyes focused on the road ahead of them.
I wondered how often we get distracted by looking to the left or the right of where we are being called that pulls us off track and even a few degrees can end up on the long term pulling us miles of course.
In the Bible at the end of John’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus “what about John?” jesus told him to mind his own buisness and worry about his own calling and journey. The problem is we compare our calling and race with those around us, the problem is when we focus of the other runners we end up running in the wrong lane, comparisons are the theif of joy.
James Laurence (an author, evangelist and leadership guru) said that the problems with comparisons   is we run other people’s edited highlights we our blooper reel, it’s a false comparison which normally only causes us ourselves harm.
So, keep your eyes on what you are being called to, keep your eyes focused towards the prize, don’t get distracted, don’t look at those around you the wrong way.
Yet I am calling and challenging us to have a wider view, playing our part, but seeing the breadth of what God is doing around us, where do we fit in the wider picture of Gods Kingdom, have the wide view, see and seek what God is doing in the city.
Too often Christians are focused on their little bit, but have no concept of how their little bit works with the other little bits of those around us, which actually creates a disunited team, we all want to hit the goal but not everyone is called to be a striker.
When I first arrived in Kingswood, I put on a course about sharing our faith, as did the Church next door as did the Salvation Army up the road, yet none of us were currently doing Alpha… Crazily by our own blinkered vision we doubled up the work load and could have freed us up to something else.
I often wonder that we fill our time with good things, but because our diary is full of good things, we miss the great and the extraordinary. It annoys, angers and hurts me to see how often churches put so much time effort and resources it to Competing against each other when we should be complimenting each other. Jesus calls us to seek first the Kingdom of God, to see is all thrive together, together is always better than fracture, factions and disunity. In the Psalms we are reminded that God promises “where there is unity God commands a blessing”.
We often misread the passage in Corinthians to think it is simply about our own fellowship of congregation, however, I think it is actually refering to the body of Christ -the Church- in the city.
Sometimes we are too close and need to step back and see the big picture of the call of Christ missing by being too blinkered. I am reminded of the story of a great conductor conducting a wonderful orchestrar, during their rehearsal he stopped them and said “where is the picalo” the vision of the Church is like that orchestrar where everyone should be contributing to the beautiful and wonderful harmony of the music, each part, no matter how small, adding melody and beauty. Yet narrow-mindedness, sinful competitiveness, and just thoughtless disobedience just creates discord, jarring and ruins the beauty of the harmony that God seeks.
Tommorrow we will think a little bit more about the dangers of looking back rather than having our eyes focused on the prize ahead.
My message for today, is to play your part, but see yourself as part of the wider part of the local team of God, let’s compliment not compete, playing the part we are called to play not the part we think we should play, after all a skilled violinist probably isn’t so good on the tuba, when they do what they are called to they shine and everyone benefits.
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Uncategorized

Jaw Jaw?

“The time for talking is now over”.
These words came from my friend Michael Eden who was the Salvation Army Captain in Kingswood, and I think most of us realized he was speaking prophetically.
We were launching that evening Kingswood Street Pastors, a team of us who would go out into the community on a Friday night from 12:00 midnight until 4:00 am, and share our faith, pray for people, bless, listen, care for and help them.

What he meant was that for too long we as Church have talked, and talked and talked and not actually done anything. Talking in no substitute for action. I was at a leadership team meeting when someone once said in a defensive protest “we have talked about this a lot” and I felt like saying “true, but you haven’t DONE anything”.
In the House of Commons there is a disgusting practice called “fillabuster” where a ‘wind-bag MP’ talks out a debate so that time runs out and the motion can’t be passed. Yet sometimes it feels like the Church can be “fillabusting with their lives”.
I am so frustrated at times with Churches, and other ministers, and I realize I am possibly being judgmental, but it feels like everyone talks a good game of mission, and yet barely anyone actually appears to be doing very much.
People used to joke that those who talk about sex most probably are the ones having it the least, I wonder if the same is true for mission and outreach, whether people talk about mission a lot but the question is ‘are you actually doing it?’
We’ve talked a good game, let’s put out money where our mouths are.

Are we all mouth and no trousers!
The world has stopped listened to us because we might be great at talking the talk, but sadly there has been too little walking the walk.
The excuses come easily, but reveal the disconnect that often exists between rhetoric and our real ‘cold light of day’ priorities.
There is an old adage which says “You will be judged by what you do, not what you say you will do”.
Following Jesus is not saying the right things, words are cheap, but actions speak louder.
Interestingly, we had the Pastor from Reading come down to speak to us ABOUT mission we had 95 Church leaders show up and yet when we came to DO mission just 6 of us showed up.
Churchill talked about “Jaw Jaw -diplomacy- (being better than) War, War” but I think the opposite is true for the Church too much “Jaw, Jaw and not enough fighting those spiritual battles and doing that which we are supposed to do”.
So, let us stop just talking, lets back up our words with action.
Let’s end the conversation among ourselves and leap into what God has called you too.

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Discipleship, faith, Risk and Change, Spiritual Health, Uncategorized

Dangerous Discipleship.

I’ve written a lot about the John Wimber quote that “faith is spelled R -I -S -K” and there is a lot of truth in that if it is comfortable, safe and easily to accomplish then it probably was neither faith stretching or faith strengthening.

We are called to “walk by faith and not by sight”, and all through the Bible we see amazing men and women hanging on to God’s promise and faithfulness in the midst of challenging and difficult times.

In the Narnia books, Aslan (the Christ figure in the narrative), is depicted as a Lion, and the question is asked “is he safe?” the reply was “of course he’s not safe, but he is good”.

Following Jesus is not safe.

Following Jesus is not the comfortable or cushy option.

I often say on Alpha, Jesus was accused of many things, but never being boring!

What a disservice we have done Christ by making this world transforming movement into something boring, what a shocking misrepresentation.

If Christians are going to be like Christ, then they won’t be dull following the only person in the world who never bottled it, who never wimped out, and never played it safe.

I’m not sure anyone wants their epitaph to read “s/he always played it safe”, if you want comfort and safety you don’t want to be following someone who asks of you “to pick up your cross and follow him”, and the promise of “life in all its fullness” is actually a promise not of a safe passage a comfortable journey from the cradle to the grave, but rather a “white knuckle adventure of faith”.

I was wondering that too often we make the discipleship bar very low, we’ve cushioned our Churches with lovely leather sofas, served wonderful coffee, and in being seeker friendly let people consume worship and sermons without ever challenging people to make a response, to put this radical life into practice.

Being a Christian has always meant more than polling along to Church once a week and occasionally listening to a worship Album at home.

Its more than just being an attendee.

I was in the queue in a funky little coffee shop the other day and someone asked for a drink that was “decaf”, “fat free”, “skinny” with two shots of something sweet, and I wondered if that is what we have turned Christianity into? Warm -but not hot- unleaded with no risks to health or comfort and sickly sweet…

Yet Biblical Christianity had the founder turned the millionaire away telling him to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor whilst hanging out with the most insignificant people he could find.

Biblical Christianity saw the sick healed, the lame dance, demons cast out and the dead raised.

Biblical Christianity struck King Herod dead, and brought people back to life.

Biblical Christianity scared governments, terrified religious leaders and seeing nobodies become somebodies as they shared a message that was so controversial that many lost their lives for their faith.

I believe we have a generation who want something to live, a reason, a purpose and yet all they see is this comfortable risk adverse Christianity that is sickly sweet. We need to show that following Jesus is that rolla-costa life, building something that will last for all eternity. Partnering with the living God. Experiencing the indwelling spirit of the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the grave.

Christianity is dangerous.

Following Jesus is massively counter-cultural, and he’s not into settle-down, his plans for you may be different from any chocolate box idealized future you may have dreamed for yourself, yet going Jesus’ way isn’t a waste of a life, it is doing the good works that were prepared for you before the creation of the world, how cool is that?

Let’s show the world a Christianity which looks more like Jesus which (to quote the 24-7 story) “makes children laugh and adults angry”.

Lets show the world a dangerous Christianity, that isn’t tepid, sickly sweet without a kick or cost, but is fully caffeinated, full fat and lived in full.

A life where our non believing friends look at us and say “I want what they’ve got, it looks exciting”.

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Humility, Pride, Samson, Temptation

Samson

Samson is one of those stories we often over-look, it is a bit of an uncomfortable read to the 21st Century audience (actually the whole of the book of judges has some challenging bit in it (Judges 13.1 – 16:30).

Samson, is a guy whose birth is foretold (like Samuel, John the Baptist and Jesus)

He is a man of great gifting and anointing, filled with the holy Spirit from birth, a person of charisma and with clear leadership skill.

He is successful as a warrior leader, scaring off the enemies of the people of Israel (at least for the first part of the story at least).

I think Samson probably set out like most of us with good intentions of being a good judge, but we seem him drift through out the story.

Interestingly when I did my discertation into ‘backsliding’ for my degree, very few made a conscious choice to make a ‘reversal in Christian Commitment’ but just drifted away from God inch by inch, degree by degree until they realized just how far they had got.

Often it was these small sin holds that didn’t seem too bad, after all everyone struggles with stuff right? The flaws in our character, often end up being our Achilles heel, that let us down and shipwreck us, yet we can gloss over these with our gifting.

Yet Samson shows us that gifting and character are two different things.

Samson takes his anointing from God for granted, and is reckless with the gifts God has entrusted too him.

A while ago people used to wear those WWJD bracelets –what would Jesus do? (Or We Want Jam Donuts!) Yet later their became a bracelet with the words “FROG” on them, which stood for Fully Reliant On God, you see actually Samson fell for the lie that he was an independent individual, where as actually all of us are totally dependent on God, in fact every breath we take is actually a gift from him.

Samson’s problem is that his ego, Edged God Out, he didn’t realize the depth of his reliance on God, and we see no evidence of Samson being grateful to God for his gracious provision bailing him out time and time again.

In fact we see him flirting with danger, getting closer and closer to revealing his secret to his wife Delilah, until eventually the inevitable happens (Judges 16.17).

I think one of the big dangers the Church has is we flirt too often with secularism, we try and be just like the world, and then wonder why we fall in and end up loosing the power of our Christian distinctiveness.

There are lesson here about wisdom, about good and wise council, but mainly about wisdom… but primarily I think this story teaches us not to put ourselves in the way of temptation.

A guy I know well was struggling with keeping his mind pure, especially on his own in his flat on an evening with the internet beckoning him towards the gutter… So, he and disconnected his internet.

Pride comes before a fall, yet wisdom puts in safeguards.

We need to acknowledge before God our weakness and ask his help.

Believing we are invulnerable and invincible is foolish, but we can fool for it easily when we forget our dependence on our God.

There are many in the Bible who ‘come to their senses’; Jonah sees sense from the Whales belly and the prodigal son ‘has a light bulb moment in the pigs field’  and Samson when he is a blind slave and a prisoner of his enemies, realizes his need of God and the call on his life which he seems to have largely ignored.

And in his last moments, with his hair somewhat re-grown, he pushes down the pillars of the temple and destroys the enemies of the Lord and his people.

When he is at his lowest, he is used most. His death achieved more than his life.

I don’t think it is heresy to think Samson as a life largely of squandered potential, somebody who had gifts, talents, anointing and talents but (like the story Jesus told) didn’t use them.

What of us? God has equipped us, given us by his spirit unlimited potential for transformation, we have the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead active in our lives, yet so many in our Churches are spirit filled, yet squander their God-given potential and their gifting is never fully utilized for the purpose God intended, God is calling but they are (like Samson) pursuing other agendas, dreams and visions.

Where are we in this story?

Are we the young idealist that needs to sort our baggage out? Bringing things into the gracious and loving light of Christ.

Perhaps we got confused gifting with character?

Do we realize the gifts and anointing God has given us? Are we grateful to him? Are we using them for his glory, or our own?

Do we realize his potential in us?

If so are we using our potential, or squandering it?

How seriously do we take our obedience to God?

Do we think it is all about us? Or do we realize it is all about God?

Do we think we are invincible and immune to the devil getting a foothold in our life

Do we flee sin (as Paul urges Timothy to do) or do we flirt with it

Do we think of ourselves as self made and independent? Or do we realize we are Fully Reliant On God?

And what happens when it all comes crashing down, do we roll over and give up, or do we like (Samson) seize the moment, even in the 11th hour, and seek to bring glory to God.

Amazingly despite a life of messing it up and getting it wrong, Samson’s name is proudly listen amongst the other heroes of faith in Hebews 11.

He stumbled and fell along the race, but he finished well.

What of us, how will we finish the race?

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Uncategorized

What is Church… Some thoughts…

I spoke at the Mission Shaped Ministry Course about “What is Church?”

we looked at who Christ is and who we are in relationship to him, he’s the vine we are the branches, he is the potter we are the clay, he is the good shepherd we are the sheep.
We are because he is, our identity is found in who Christ is.

What is Church? -I’d say Church is the plural of disciple.

Rowan Williams talks of an “intentional gathering around the person of Christ”.

Here is the Bible’s idea, not of what Church is, but what it does…

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”. 

Before that we look at Jesus calling the Apostles to himself and sending them out.

The Church is primarily about being a sent people.

As I thought more about being a ‘SENT’ people, I  explored another wonderful picture here that the ancient Celtic Christians called “The Ancient Art of Breathing”.

The idea about receiving from Jesus (being with him) and then being sent out, breathing in (receive) breathing out (give) and being conscious is about breathing right, not a burned out breath or self indulgently gulping air into over inflated lungs rather than breathing out and sharing the blessing.

We thought of the shape of Church.

Up being directed towards worshipping God, sometimes Church are so much about the work of the Kingdom that we forget to worship the King!

Out, Church to a hurting and broken world.

In, to growth, teaching and transformation, and together in interdependence of the body of Christ.

I’ll end with three quotes:

“Be the Church where there is no Church!” WEC.

(And from John Piper, whom I’m not a massive fan of but like this quote) “Mission exists because Worship doesn’t”.

“The chief aim of man is to worship God and enjoy him for ever” Westminster Catechism.

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