Acts of Service, Blessing, Jeremiah 29

Seek the Good of the City…

Jeremiah 29. This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin[a] and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.)3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:

4 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.

This passage is well know for the last bit, which is often used as a message of hope and a reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness…

So the people from Jerusalem are pretty depressed, they are in exile from the promised land and are really unhappy.

God’s message to them is one of hope, he WILL restore their nations and take them back home, but for now they are to stay put and wait.

Wait. If any of you have had a ‘wait’ message from God, it’s pretty tough, it’s only later (or maybe the other-side of eternity) that we understand why we didn’t get what we wanted when we wanted it.

Wait is a hard message, as we all are, by nature, a bit impatient -at least I know I am.

Yet what are they to do in the mean time? 

Kick their heels and do nothing? 

Play solitaire on the computer?

No, God tells them to put down roots, marry, build  homes, have kids…

Too often when we wait, we forget that the journey is also part of God’s call, people fix on the goal and not on the lessons God wants to teach us, shape us and mould us as we get there.

Sometimes, -and this is a bit shocking, but sadly I believe true- people do a ‘bargain’ with God where they say “you provide what I want, and then I’ll serve you”… forgetting who they are talking too… Our lives are not on hold until God fulfils his promise to us.

Mike Piliavachi talks about waiting for the call to ’employed church youth based work’ and said that it wasn’t until he began to realise the value of his job and the importance of the people he was working with that God answered his prayer and opened up a job at his local church.

I believe that God has called you where he has called you, on the various front-lines of your home, work, social spaces where-ever, and he’s saying to you to commit to the places he has called you, put down roots, roll your sleeves up and become part of these communities.

Too often I fear that Christians are in ‘bubbles’ where their home could be anywhere because they don’t know their neighbours, their work colleagues they get on all right with but its all a bit superficial really, and the only community they are part of it the Church community, which sadly often becomes and insular and inward looking group…

Jesus is saying get out there, take the risk of developing real relationships with those around you, which risks being hurt, rejected and maybe costly  -but also has the potential to be fruitful, life giving and blessed.

‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city’ (or community) -sometimes Christians can be too heavenly minded for any earthly use… and when you talk to some of them, it’s almost like their gospel is waiting to die, rather than being called to bring something of heaven to earth… I think we have tagged the wrong verse as the great commission, we think its Matthew 28 “go into all the world and make them my disciples”, but I think our great commission actually comes earlier in Jesus’ prayer “May your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, this is Christ’s mission statement, bringing in the Kingdom -which of course has making disciples as a core tenant of this, but actually is broader and bigger…

I was asked when I was interviewed for radio Bristol about meeting the spiritual or practical needs of the parishioners through street pastors… thinking about this later, I wished I’d rejected the premise of the question: people aren’t split into ‘spiritual’ and ‘secular’ bits, and since the incarnation (Jesus coming as a human) there is no longer a spiritual/not spiritual divide.

The Jewish idea of Salvation is the word Shalom -peace or wholeness- I remember doing some touring schools work with a Christian rock band (think a Christian-ish busted, but lovely guys) around the midland’s with a band called ‘My Spoon’… And they sung the Girls Aloud song “Whole again” -with an ironic nod towards Jesus… wholeness. To often we in Churches talk about getting people to ‘pray a prayer’ -which is good, don’t get me wrong- but actually that’s the START of the journey rather than the END! In fact when you are cold and hungry, are you able to concentrate on a salvation preach.

‘Faith without works is dead’… Christians aren’t called just to preach good news, but actually live it, BEING good news.

I heard a story of this nightmare Australian village, which the government pumped money into to try and turn it around, to not much success… what turned it around? Someone who planted a Church, and took discipleship seriously, saw the aboriginal guys get sober, walked with them enabling them to become whole in Christ…

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city, one of the biggest indictments I have against my theological college was it had all the missional rhetoric, but even though the local area had about 90 Christians living locally, the community didn’t feel any different.

We are called to be salt and light. We are called to be changers and transformer of community.

After-all when you sprinkle salt on your steak, you don’t say this salt tastes steaky, but rather  this steak tastes salty… we are called to be people that impact the community.

I long for the day the councils eyes light up every time a new Church is planted in their patch as they can see Christians bless their community, the more Christians here the more the community looks and feels like heaven… The more we are visible and obedient, the more of God’s Kingdom we will see break in on earth as it is in heaven, in Kingswood as it is in heaven.

And then this brings us to the famous bit of the passage, we are called to be where God has placed us, and in many ways it will feel uncomfortable, as it is not our home, we are ‘alien ambassadors’ as our rightful home of best fit for us is heaven, and yet we are called to ‘carpe diem’ ‘seize the day’, waiting for Christ’s return and the break through of his Kingdom… but we have this promise that what we are doing is not pointless or waiting in vain, for God is faithful, he’s not dropped us in this situation as a kind of sick game. God is good, all the time. He loves us and he is a faithful God with whom there is always hope, a God who wants to be found by us in our waiting, in the struggles with living out Kingdom lives in a broken, fallen and occupied land he says to call on him and he will answer.

So I will conclude, by saying in many ways all of us are exiles awaiting the promised land, some of us feel more in exile than others as we wait for God to make good on a promise, or something that we desperately long for. Yet let us seek God in this journey, make the most of our waiting, serve him faithfully, put down roots where he has called us, build relationships and settle down where you have been called rather than have your eyes on to clock/door (when he wants to move you, he’ll let you know and will sort it out, you don’t need to stress). Remember  he is faithful, he is good, with him there is always hope, he longs to be found by you as you search and reach out to him… and remember that he is a God of rescue who loves us.

Repentance, Sorry

The hardest word…

One of the most challenging verses I find is “when you go to offer your gift at the altar and you know your brother or sister has something against you, first go and be reconciled before offering your gift”. These come from the lips of Jesus himself.

Do people have something against you? (Very different from you justifying your own conduct to yourself).  Is there someone, or a group of people, who maybe you need to offer out a hand of friendship and reconciliation to? Perhaps people are missing from our fellowships because of things we have said or done?  Is their hurt or damage that needs (as far as you are able) to be repaired and restored?   Maybe at Christmas write a note within a Christmas card to mend areas that have been broken? Perhaps too let’s go the extra mile offering a hug, or a present to show the sincerity of our apology and desire to see the family United.

The hardest word is to say the word sorry to one another, yet we confess together each Sunday in our liturgy, yet I do wonder sometimes whether deep down we actually believe we ourselves are sinful. Jesus wants his Church to seek first the Kingdom of God and to be “one as you and I are one” –unified- and this was the prayer of Christ, sweating blood at the Garden of Gethsemene.

Sometimes pain can leave us deadlocked, two people or groups have a blind spot unable to see the others point of view, maybe in that horrible and messy situation you need to be the bigger and better person and reach out? It’s a risky thing as although Christians should want to be reconciled with one another sadly the fallen-ness of this world and our on fractured humanity means it doesn’t always happen as it should.  Yet forgiveness is so important not just because it pleases God, but also because unforgiveness literally eats us up inside.

Scripture says “by this all people will know you are my disciples that you love one another”, as we think of Jesus the very embodiment and personification of love, love with skin on.

A challenge for 2017 is for us all to be more like Christ; to be that community that looks like him, that acts like him, that welcomes like him, that is generous like him, that speaks like him in love, truth and kindness, that goes the extra mile, and does so with a smile.

5 Fold Ministry -Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (Eph. 5), Humility, identity, Isaiah 6, Pioneer, Pride

Words, Language and Titles…

A week ago I was at a really thought provoking meeting at the Diocese thinking about pioneer ministry.

Yet the thing that struck me  is the language, words, names and labels we use actually acts can be really unhelpful.

Gideon was called by the angel as a “Mighty Warrior” and didn’t see himself as Israels military leader after-all “I am the least in my family and my family is the least in Manasah”… Yet Gideon was a Mighty Warrior as he step out in faith (after a fair bit of encouragement from God) he stepped into the Identity that God had called him to, the gifts, skills and talents that lay within him, unseen and unrecognised.

Some of us at times can be a little like Gideon struggle with self doubt, and doubting of our calling, or other times we have our own ideas and expectations of ourselves. A type of false humility can easily exist and we can mistakenly think as virtuous but actually keeps us from becoming all that God wants us to be.

I wonder how many pioneers -or perhaps apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets exist within our Church but would rule themselves out, or not be confident in embracing who they are before God?

I wonder too how many pioneers, -or perhaps apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets exist within our Churches  but the Church communities sadly often don’t realised, acknowledged and embrace these gifts… (I think those with a pastoral gift most churches are reasonable at recognising, but often sadly many are less good at recognising the other characteristics).

Intestestingly both Isaiah (Is.6) and Jeremiah (Jer.1), both prophets who really needed Gods help to find their voice, Isaiah even has a vision of a cereph touching his lips with a burning coal… I wonder how many of us need Gods help to find our voice, especially our prophetic voice? Often the prophetic feels scary, we say things that other people don’t alwyas “get” or “understand”, sometimes to give a prophetic word takes a lot of courage of bravery.

Yet sometimes labels aren’t always helpful, one of my friends who was  evangelist, was told he was a good evangelist and for a few weeks went tactlessly crashing into conversations bible bashing in the most to-curling way imaginable, a million miles away from the normal  conversations he had been having. Sometimes Gods call on our lives can get limited when our egoes get over-inflated “pride coming before a fall”.

I don’t think these gifts, calling and ministries were meant to be given so that we can strut around like peacocks, and I’ve blogged before at how uncomfortable I am when perhaps there is too little walking deeply with the spirit and too much ego and testosterone flying around. The Growing Leaders Course sas “Charisma and Competence without Character creates Catastraphy”. A verse that don’t quote often enough but occurs repeatedly in scripture is “God opposes the proud but lifts up the humble”.

Humility I believe can be best be described as “coming into agreement with God about ourselves”, Paul’s epistle to the Church in Rome urges us “not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought” in fact Paul urges “to think of the needs of others”, God doesn’t give gifts to massage our egos but rather to build up the body of Christ.

To move in the call that God has placed on us we need to come to a place of maturity, not just letting God work through us, but more painfully and more challenging is letting God work in us.

Often too, God gifts us but we have to get ourselves prepared to be used by God, we won’t be effective as a Bible teacher unless we delve deeply into Gods word, nor will we ever move in the prophetic unless we pray and become used to listening to Gods voice, and we never be trusted with leadership of Gods people unless we learn how to serve and follow faithfully.

Too often I fear too many Chritians stay too much in the shallow end of their faith, nor are prepared to invest in the walk with Christ to really know what the potential God has placed within them, like the tragic  tale that Jesus told of the foolish man  who buried his talent in the ground. Potentially great evangelists  who never really talk about their faith, teachers who haven onthing to pass on, prophets who haven’t attuned their ear to the voice of God, apostolic leaders who’ve never learned that the first come last and a biblical model for leadership involves a towel and a bucket washing crap of the foot of disciples who may dessert you, and may betray you.

So, let’s think about how we can be the culture in the soil of discipleship whereby people can be empowered, grow and thrive in their faith, where the people of God are built up and Gods Kingdom grows and flourishes… Counting ourselves in to Gods plan and purpose for his plan in our lives in his world.


Recognising the Kingdom when it comes…

I love it when people reply and give me feedback, I don’t mind when people disagree with me, for me the most important thing is that people wrestle with what it means and how it looks in reality of everyday living to be a follower of Christ.

I posted a message about the research that shows that rather than trying to grow bigger trees a more fruitful way to see people come to faith and fullness is by planting small shrubs, and talked about people mistake growth through transfer as people coming to faith.

I got a comment reminding me of the verse which says “seek first the Kingdom of God” and maybe God is calling some people to pastor mega churches (and some mega churches are replanting in areas of deprivation where historically often the church has fled to the suburbs and now are returning which I believe must bring joy to the heart of God).

Yet as I thought about this more I began to think I wonder how much of this is to do with our own ideas of what it means for the Kingdom to come?

When Jesus came the first time the people were expecting a bit of a cross between Arnold Swatzeneggar and Tony Blair (A warrior and a politician rolled into one much like King David was) and yet he was born in poverty, “had no where to lay his head” and died upon the cross for our sins. Many people missed what God was doing throug Christ because of their beliefs of what that coming  of the Messiah would look like.

When we pray Lord the your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven often God’s answer to that prayer doesn’t look like we think it does.

I read a great quote from Pete Greig who says “God doesn’t really do nostalgia” in other words God rarely does the same thing in the same way twice.

Sometimes we expect what God to do to look like we have always seen it before, Kingdom coming means large building and a fab sound system… When it might be the call to do a service in a nursing home bringing elderly and often forgotten people to know and re-connect with Christ’s love for them.

Maybe we think Christ’s coming in our lives might end up with us as a pastor of a church, when perhaps God is calling us to the vital roles of kids or teenage ministry, or perhaps the soup run or Foodbank?

Perhaps a prayer we can pray today is, “Lord, I want to seek first your Kingdom, and Lord help me recognise it when we see it begin to break in so that I can have the privildge and joy of being a part of what you are doing”.



Listening to the voice of God…

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’ Hebrew 4:7.

How can we follow God if we can’t hear his voice?

A few thoughts, firstly the Bible makes it clear that God speaks, and as he speaks we should take what he says really, really seriously.

“Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” 5:20-22.

But we’re human, we sometimes get it wrong, we need to test it was God not our own wishful thinking, or confusion, or whatever…

Yet God says “My sheep know my voice” and “If you turn to the right or the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, this is the way walk in it”…

He speaks, and he wants us to hear him, and he wants us to know him, and discover his voice.

Perhaps we need to echo the prayer of Samuel and say to God “speak Lord, your servant is listening” and wait on the Lord, Seek him…

Yet God does not always speak in a dramatic way, not always fireworks but sometimes a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12)…

I think we often miss the whisper of God in the hustle and bustle of life.

Sometimes we don’t want to hear what he’s got to say, as that might mean changing our lifestyles and that’s uncomfortable and challenging… A friend said, “I knew God was calling me but I put the answer-phone on and carried on as I was”… Give God space and time to hear his voice, check it out with the Bible, with other Christians and also with your guts… does it feel right?

Sometimes God guides with our feelings, particularly peace, have you ever heard someone say “I just didn’t have a peace about X?” Often our head is saying, it all looks good, but something in our hearts isn’t quite right…

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…” Phil 4:7

Just have a go, have a listen, give God space and time, pray to him to speak to you, listen to what he says, check it out with the Bible, is in line with his character and his word? Maybe check it out with other Christians…

And finally, God loves you and so is it honouring, up building, holy, righteous, truthful, beautiful, gracious, merciful and just the type of thing a good God who loves us would be saying to you…

He might be giving a message of repentance but he always does it in the context of love, for “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1

Pioneer, Risk and Change

100 Pioneers…

Dave Male –a writer and researcher with the fresh expressions movement within the Church of England- was guest of Bristol Diocese last week who was at a meeting I went to last week, and he said: “I believe you could radically change this diocese with 100 pioneers”

This made my (rather small) mind spin off for a moment, firstly I thought about what pioneers are? They are people who see things as one writer put it “not as they are but as they could be”or another definition I liked is “people who see what needs doing and does it”. I was reminded of a saying “if you do what you always have, you’ll get what you have always had”, we need people who will do something different.

Then I thought about the greatest pioneer of all time and that is Christ, the original Church planter (of sorts!) and I think Acts 2 & 4 is the ultimate fresh expression! Then thinking of Christ’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, giving us his pioneering DNA.

I liked this thought of Christ at the heart of what it means to pioneer, the Holy Spirit constantly pioneering work in peoples lives to bring them both to relationship with Christ and maturity in him.

Not just humans with a good idea, nor Christians running off on their own whims and creativity but rather to “pioneer with Christ”.

Christ the ultimate pioneer, his ways often defy our conventional thinking and yet God promises that “his word does not return to him void, but accomplishes that for which it was intended”.

The aim of every Christian is to “see where God is at work and join in” but sometimes spotting where God is at work or opening a door require looking with the eyes of faith, is the call for the pioneer to see what other people don’t see.

This isn’t just dreaming dreams, I know so many people in churches who are full of great ideas, but you remain a dreamer unless you wake up and turn dreams into reality. Too often some the greatest dreams God has birthed in us, remain locked in heads and hearts rather birthed. I believe God is calling us not just to dream, but to birth dreams from heads into transformed communities.

Pioneers and entrepreneurs are very much the words of the business school when perhaps the rich mine of scripture and tradition would use the word “apostolic”, I did wonder if the word should have been “evangelist”, but actually it is about linking the opportunity with evangelists.

And the I thought about the number, on one level a hundred people seems an awful lot, especially when they are currently only three of us employed by the diocese, yet not every pioneer has to be a vicar -in fact in some cases being a vicar could a real disadvantage!-.

There are lots of pioneers who are doing radical things probably under the radar of many Churches.

There are many pioneers frustrated wearing ‘Sauls Armour’ straight jacketed into ‘normal church’ and dying inside whilst doing it.

There are too many pioneer that just haven’t been “discovered”, released or empowered to be themselves in the call and service of Christ.

We as Church in the west have become staid and sensible, yet the Church of the acts of the apostles was one of danger, risk and stepping out in faith.

Let’s learn to encourage people to be dangerous in their discipleship, be risk takers and and faith filled followers.

Faith that makes us gulp rather than yawn.

“Keep people dangerous” was a phrase I jotted down at the meeting, following Christ is meant to make us more wild rather than tame us down!

But then I thought maybe 100 people actually isn’t many, when you think of the size the city, and then I remembered a phrase from John Wesley who said something to the effect of “rather having five people sold out and on fire for Christ than five hundred apathetic spectators”.

I love the West Wing and one of my favourite quotes (actually comes from Margaret Mead) which says “never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, because it is all that ever has”.

Often we think about mobilising hundreds, managing the crowds rather than mentoring individuals.

Again another great quote reminds us to “invest in the few for the sake of the many” –we find security in numbers, but yet I believe Jesus is calling us to step out out the boat, and now we are a picture of Gideon’s army, a small group of people who have the choice between living superficially and saying the right things, or stepping into the radical and dangerous discipleship.

A call I believe to raise up apostles, people who see and believe that “the fields of our nation our white to harvest” filled with potential that needs unlocking, seeing the need and stepping into the gap, not just talking a good game, not just dreaming vague possibilities, but going out where there is no path and finding and making a way through.

Maybe only a few, but let’s wake up our dreamers, let’s see the world –our world and our front-line- with the eyes of Christ and partner with the Holy Spirit, God the pioneer calling us to step into the unknown future with the known God.

Church, Mission, Mission Shaped Church

Don’t grow huge trees plant small bushes…

Two men running away from a bear, one guy said to the other “we will never out run it” the other replied “I’m not trying to out run it, I’m trying to out run you!”

It made me think of sometime how we compete with each other when we are called to compliment each other.

Interestingly some research from George Lings of the Church Army research unit showed that building bigger churches as in increasing and growing larger congregations actually does very little in bringing people who are not yet Christians to faith, all that happens is growth through transfer, actually often hampering local mission in communities, as people drive out of their communities to join with the largest trendiest, loudest show of Christendom in town.

Yet growth through transfer has actually warped our thinking on Missional congregations, interestingly research shows “it is better to plant lots of small shrubs that try and grow a big tree”. Small indigenous fellowships serving their communities can reach more not yet believers and see them come to faith than the large but impersonal mega church.

Yet interestingly I know of very few vicars that actually want to grow multiple small fruitful missional communities but I know hundreds that want to build something large and grand. I think just as with the story of the Bears we compete with each other in an unhelpful and unhealthy way, often our desires for growth come from our own desire to be successful but although it is good to succeed we are primarily called to be faithful, and sometimes our ego means we might want to build something very different from what God is actually calling us to build.

The idea that big or great is better than small and weak is actually quite a worldly perspective as it is in weakness that Christ is strong. This false thinking spreads across everything, when listening of reading economics the idea that if we create more rich people some how that will help the poor called ‘trickle down economics’ but as the Pope reminded us, rather than help trickling down to the poorest and most marginalised but instead the glass appears to get bigger.
We often talk about how many bums on seats rather than the depth or quality of discipleship, the christ-likeness in the followers. Attracting a crowd might feel good but unless people’s lives are radically changed, then what is the point.

It made me think about growth, and I realised that I ultimately want to primarily grow through evangelism, I want more than anything else in the world to see ordinary people becoming Christians and thriving in their faith, I don’t want a church of 1000 people if it is just entertaining Christians by being the best local hug in Christendom.

One thing I notice about Jesus, is his ministry was based around small but fruitful groups, although he spoke to the crowds he never “pastored a mega church” and his fruitfulness I believe came from his fruitful investment in a few people that ended up kick starting a movement whose momentum has not stopped 2000 years later.
So let’s not compete with each other.

Let’s plant small shrubs in faith.

Christmas, Giving/Generousity.

Ebenezer Scrooge…

One of my favourite Christmas stories is that of a Christmas Carol, where the hero (if that is the right word) Ebenezer Scrooge is confronted with himself, what he is really like, how his behaviour has hurt other people and the emptiness and shallowness of his idolatrous God, and he is changed, his life is permanently transformed, saved from himself.

Although I hope none of us are visited by Dickensian Ghosts on Christmas Eve(!) yet I would like us all this Advent, Christmas and New Year to be a time of reflection, insight and of changed and transformed lives.

Scrooge is a great picture of repentance, not just mumbling a half-hearted ‘sorry’ to God but actually turning his life around 180 degrees, a complete turn-around going in the opposite direction (did you know the Romans would shout “Repent” to mean “about Turn”).  More-over Scrooge’s transformation is not a few good intentions before returning to his old ways –like a Dog returning to its vomit or a sow going back to wallow again in the mud! (to use a great image from Jesus!).

No, The Story of Scrooge is a story of a leopard changing its spots.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us we are leopards who through Christ can change our spots. The cross, the resurrection and Pentecost proclaims that “how we were, how we have been, does not dictate our future of how we shall remain”.

As we approach the penitential season of Advent, a time to prayerfully look at ourselves and seek -with the Holy Spirits discerning but loving gaze- how we can become more Christ-like? What does it look like in our everyday lives to ‘pick up our cross and follow him?”

Traditionally Advent has been a season that gives us a chance to put ourselves right with God.

Traditionally Advent has been a season that gives us a chance to put ourselves right with one another.

Advent for the Christian can and should be a little like Christmas Eve for Ebenezer Scrooge, a time of looking at our lives and seeking transformation and change in the person we want to be.

A colleague of mine once talked about the “irresistible pull of a transformed life” which underpins the gospel message, the message of Christmas, a message made personal, a message worked out in the daily realities of our lives.


Keep going until I tell you to stop…

Keep going until I tell you to stop…

Most of us have heard that on our driving test, where we have our foot hovering over the break ready to do an emergency stop.
Many of us seem to think this is how our Christian lives work, with one foot hoovering over the break ready to stop the car and do something else more interesting.
…often waiting to serve God with the ‘real’ stuff, not realising that the real stuff is actually hear and now.
Often too, we can need to hear the call and get umpteen confirmations before we get up off our butt and do something, but we give it up much easier.
When the going gets tough what do we do, is this an opportunity to continue to serve onwards faithfully, like Nehemiah who continued to build the walls of the city in the face of ridicule and persecution.
Bill Wilson, the leader of the worlds largest Sunday School in Brooklyn New York, says ‘Christians often quit before the miracles kick in’…
So where has God placed you, the people around you are important, the context you are in is unique to you, you have openings and opportunities that no one else can minister into quite like you.
And even if God is calling you from somewhere to somewhere else, the past experience isn’t wasted… One of my favourite verses is “all things work for the good of those who love him” this doesn’t mean (I believe) that God sends bad stuff, rather he hijacks the bad stuff and even what was (to quote the story of Joseph) meant for harm God turned around for good.
So, in the words of Robin Williams from Dead Poets Society, sieze the day ‘Carpe Diem’ don’t wait for God’s calling to start, it probably is already here, be faithful with what he has given you now, and as you prove trustworthy in small things he will entrust you with more (as Jesus said in the parable of the talents).

My son, do not forget my teaching,
    but keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years
    and bring you peace and prosperity.

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
    bind them around your neck,
    write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
    in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
    and nourishment to your bones.

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
    and your vats will brim over with new wine.

11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in.

2 Kings 22.1-13., Bible, Youth and Children's Work


2 Kings 22.1-13.

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.

In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the Lord. He said: “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.”
Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. 12 He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 13 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

I have a heart for the unsung heroes off scripture, often some great characters we don’t hear about much in Church either, but perhaps we should do!

I am looking at King Josiah, a young guy who becomes King of Judah (Israel and Judah have split into separate Kingdoms by this point) when he is just eight years old, a very young age to have such great responsibility thrust upon him. Interestingly we say at how young footballers are to have wealth and fame thrust upon them and they can’t cope, here we have a young guy who could have let the title of King go to his head, he could have let his teenage hormones get a bit carried away, after-all it does seem to be a family weakness both David and Solomon (his ancestors) could control their lusts, rather their lusts controlled them. 

Anyway, this lad becomes King at an early age, yet is one of the few Kings of Judah who do the right thing in the eyes of the Lord.

Sometimes I think we are unduly harsh on young people, we forget that Jesus called us to have a child-like faith, and we seem to think with regards to stuff like teaching and ministry that there is a junior version of the Holy Spirit, yet clearly their isn’t!

Cris Rogers (vicary scholarly dude who runs one of the HTB Church plants) reckons that the disciples might have actually been teenagers, we know Mary may well have been 14 or 15, Jeremiah told God he was too young to be used as a prophet, which suggests he was young, Samuel first heard the audible voice of God in the temple when he was a child, Timothy was told not to let anyone look down on him because he was young and I think that the brave and Godly defiance of Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigeo to the King makes me think these guys were idealists, “The God we serve is able to save us and if he doesn’t we’re still not going to bow down to your poxy statue, so go on then throw us into their firey Furness grandad” -okay that’s not an exact quote from the book of Daniel, but I think it makes the point that the Church I believe sometimes forgets that young people are just as much (maybe more so) Godly ambassadors for Christ on a tough front-line and often serve him with great courage, authenticity and integrity… and yet they too often are ignored in our Churches.

 Anyway, he is left a terrible legacy, people are worship idols, the temple is getting dilapidated, and sound biblical teaching had dried up, so much so that the book of the law (the Torah, the most holy scripture for the Jewish people) had been lost.

Imagine going into a Church and there not being a single bible, nor anyone who really knew what it said, it would be shocking.

Yet this is what happened here in this time in Judah… 

In fact I fear it is happening again, Biblical knowledge is pretty poor in many of our Churches… even shockingly in some of our theological collges there are scarily few Biblical modules on the sylabus.

Yet before we start eye rollings and finger pointing, I wonder if we lost our Bible how quickly we would notice it was missing?!

Anyway, the book of the law is found and brought to King Josiah, who hears God’s standards for life lived God’s way, and he is deeply challenged and convicted (and bear in mind this is a good King) so much so that he rips his robes. (A deep symbol of repentance and mourning), this wasn’t a slightly sheepish embarrassed grin when he was caught having fallen short of God’s Holy standard, this was a heart wrenching devastation and a deep cry of repentance and a begging for forgiveness. 

What do we do when we realise our lives don’t match God’s standards, are we bothered? Or do we, like King Josiah come back to God desperate for forgiveness, deeply sorry for the hurt we have cause God (and possibly those around us).

You, might be saying, hey Andy, this is Old Testament, you are forgetting about grace, God’s all fluffy and nice now (and there is truth in this as our God is incredibly merciful, overwhelmingly loving, beautifully tender, phenomenally compassionate and forgiveness is guaranteed because of Christ’s all sufficient sacrifice) but we forget that God is a Holy God, and sometimes I fear as western Christians we can sometimes engage in what I call cheep grace, and pseudo-repentance, we forget that the Anglican absolution says “Almighty God who forgives all those who TRULY repent”, and the word repent literally means a full 180 degree turn, literally meaning ‘turn your life around’.

So, a challenge to us to be people of the word, getting stuck into our Bibles, not being ignorant of what God’s word says to us, let him speak to our souls. And when we feel the convicting touch of the Lord through the reading of his word, let’s be people of action, that keep on chasing after Christ, living life his way.

The problem is too often in our culture rather than changing ourselves, we try to change the Bible to make it fit our world view… To often as adults we get too clever by half, and manage to neatly talk ourselves out of those awkward bits when scripture challenges us and comes too close into those areas where change might become a bit uncomfortable.

Normally when someone talks about King Josiah finding the book of the law in the temple, someone reminds us of the words of Jesus about having God’s law written not on tablets of stone, but on our hearts… and so this is true, God’s Spirit is within us, and the new testament image of temple is ourselves, our bodies… So a question could be asked, have we ‘lost God’ in our lives? 

Scripture warns us (repeatedly actually): “Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts”.

Are we living our lives listening out to the spirits voice? His guiding and directing? Or have we let other things shout louder, other “wisdom” confuse us, different things that distract us…

A challenge, to hear the voice of God today in our lives, to hear his voice and to respond with obedience -like King Josiah- repenting of what shouldn’t have been, and living a new life God’s way.

So when we think of Josiah, a young King who could have gone off the rails but didn’t, a King who found the book of the law because of his love for the temple, who read it and was challenged by it, who repented and called the nation to return to God and his ways. A real unsung hero of scripture… But the challenge is for us to be like him.