Job 14, Renewal, Resurrection, Revival, Risk and Change, the Holy Spirit

The Scent of Water… (Job 14)

The phrase Scent of the water ones from Job 14:7-9:

7 “At least there is hope for a tree:
If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail.
8 Its roots may grow old in the ground
and its stump die in the soil,
9 yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth shoots like a plant.

I heard this image shared at the Fellowship of Parish Evangelists conference, and the image stuck with me, this idea that just the tiniest bit, the smallest morsel, can be enough to cause lasting change and transformation.

From a dead tree, yet new life can sprout from the dead place, not from a flood or a puddle, but rather ‘the scent of water’.

As I thought of the idea of the scent of water my mind wandered to the images of living water within the scriptures:

“ Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn.4.13&14).

Water a picture of the Holy Spirit, able to satisfy that deepest desire at core of our being, that “deep cries out to deep” call towards God which we all crave and are thirsty for. God putting eternity with the hearts of humanity.

“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (Jn 7.38).

Just a taste of the real thing is what our heart craves.

Maybe this why scripture urges us not to “despise the day of small things”?

God’s mustard seed can flourish from seemingly nothing to becoming a great tree.

As I thought of the power of light and hope, often it is the smallest glimmer that helps spur us on. I was reminded by the faith of the woman with the issue of blood, who knew she could and would be healed by one touch of the hem of Jesus’ garment.

The tiniest touch of Christ can bring more change in a life than a man made flood of good intentions.

A recent poem had the line : “don’t give me the sky when I ask for the light?” (citation need).

Perhaps sometimes in our evangelistic strategies is “less is more”

Jesus left people to work stuff out rather than give people a neatly packaged “just add water” solution to life, the world and the universe.

Perhaps you are only called to be a small link in a chain of events which sees lives turned around, all God might be-calling you to is to be faithful in your small scene and role rather than the whole production.

Perhaps our keenness to drench people in theological flood had more to do with our desire for instant results and wanting to “give God a hand”.

I wonder whether Spirit Led Evangelism is saying what God wants us to say, no more, and no less.

Sometimes it takes a step of faith to trust the journeys of those we love, pray for, and with who we have sowed seeds, or nurtured green shoots, to the God who makes the seeds bud and the crops grown.

Standard
3 John

Two D’s.

When I was at college, I felt daunted by all the wise and learned folk all around me.
I remember once saying to one of my lecturers -a wonderful guy called John Kelly- what do I need to read? His reply was profound, “short books” he said.
Well, you can’t get much shorter than the third letter of John, it’s almost a post card…

The elder,

To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters,[a] even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honours God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. 10 So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.

11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.

13 I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. 14 I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.

Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

I love the fact he says “I have so much to write to you, but I do not want to do so will pen and ink, I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face”.
Just a thought as we start this look at 3 John, too often we send emails or texts rather than face to face contact, yet emails and texts often make things worse not better, better to have conversations in the real world rather than in a virtual world, a conversation face to face where we can see the eyes of the other.
In the third letter from John two leaders are highlighted, one is commended and the other is criticised.
One, Demetrius, is loyal to the apostles and their teaching, but more than that he lives it out, he practice what he preaches and because of his conduct being beyond reproach, making him a good ambassador of Christ.
Where as the other, Diotrephes, is disloyal, a person who refuses apostolic accountability, is mean spirited –not offering hospitality- and whose conduct brings the gospel into disrepute.
As I thought about both these characters two things came to mind, the first is accountability, we live in an individualistic age “you can’t tell me what to do” is the mantra of our generation that is zealously independent but also omni-sceptical about anyone in authority. In many ways this has its roots in discernment, not wanting to blindly follow anyone without first testing and weighing their claims, sheep-like.
Yet we all need one another to speak into our lives, because left to my own devices I won’t move forward or deeper in my faith, instead we plateau (the biggest danger for us all if we have been a Christian for a while).
We need to keep ourselves on track.
We ourselves are flawed and fallible, most sins and distractions don’t “kick the door in” but rather sidle up to us and divert us inch by inch, taking us off track one degree at a time when we look back we have drifted far from Christ and often we are the last to notice it (or at least the last to admit it).
We need to learn from one another, we need to allow people to challenge and question us to keep us on track not just for our sake but the spiritual health of those we lead. We need to share together, as biblically we all need one another, and no one pastor or leader has it all together, in fact when a Church leader thinks they are sorted that’s normally the best indication they haven’t (and sadly is a crash often follows)..
When joining a new Church a good question to ask a Pastor is who are you accountable too?
Who do you pray with?
Who speaks into your life?
“Iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another” but this isn’t always a comfortable experience. I used to be part of an accountability group in Poole when I was a youth worker and had an accountability relationship with a guy called Jon another youth worker, sometimes the questions and the challenges were biting and asking some highly uncomfortable questions. Yet when I was at college and in a challenging situation, the first person I rang was Jon as I knew he’d not give me the answer I wanted, but probably what I needed to hear.
The problem with this type of accountability is it is painful, it is costly, it takes discipline to maintain.
Also when I was at college, I met regularly with a prayer triplet, however since ordination one lives in Ireland and the other in Derby it costs me time and money to meet up with them, but it is actually money and time well spent.
I remember hearing someone tell a story about two wood cutters both had to cut down some trees, but the one who cut down most stopped after every tree to sharpen their axe.
Accountability is what keeps our axe sharp.
In the world of fitness we have instructors and coaches that push and challenge us to be all that we can be, who ask us tough questions about diet, alcohol or smoking, and yet if we want to get in shape we let them speak into our lives.
Here we see Diotrephes, rejecting the apostle John’s oversight, didn’t want to be in an accountable relationship, we are given in scripture little idea of what happened to him and the Churches he oversaw, but we see sadly too often in our media of Church leaders who fail financially, morally, end up peddling a distorted gospel or some other Catastrophe.
The author Gordon McDonald “Order in your Private World” said he ended up in adultery because he had no one who could look him in the eye and say “how goes it with your soul?”
The other guy Demetrius, who clearly takes accountability seriously, is commended not just for doing a good job, but being a good example.
What do you need to put in place to be that good example?
What do you need to put in place to stay as that good example?
Standard
Barnabas, Paul, Risk and Change

Take a chance on me…

I’ve not managed to post this since Wednesday, although I am a pretty rubbish Anglican, but when I was writing this I discovered today that today is a day when the Church celebrates St. Paul’s day, the great missionary to the gentiles.

I think he is a great example of a missionary (interestingly potentially a rubbish speaker) but he was fruitful in his personal evangelism, but more than that he raised up ordinary Christians to do extraordinary things, a strategic mission released many, many ordinary Christian people to do evangelism and mission.

Yet Paul the great enabler of mission and missionaries, the one who empowered people in the Kingdom cause, did so because he was empowered and equipped by Barnabas, who took a risk on him and invested in him, and gently pulled back. Interestingly how scripture records the exploits of “Barnabas and Saul” initially and then later “Saul and Barnabas”.

Paul was a challenger of the status quo.

Paul challenged the Christians to be changed, and to change what they did, how they did things and how they behaved.

We live in a change resistant culture, especially in the Church, -the joke about the Anglican Church whose moto is “change, what’s change?” Theory of change, but doing it, is often a different a thing. Change is not doing more of the same, or simply doing the same thing louder and on steroids.

“Keep your head in all situations… do the work of an evangelist…and dutifully fulfil all your duties”. 2 Timothy 4 verse 5

Missionary Doctor had to teach other people to do medical things, as when they ‘the Doctor’ weren’t there people died.

For people to survive the Doctors need to do themselves out of a job.

This actual is difficult for us, we love to be needed, often our self-worth is wrapped up in our achievements and our productivity, and stepping back can be painful and costly even if ultimately worth it.

Delegating is wonderful but really hard if they don’t do as good job as you would do.

Delegating is wonderful but really hard if they do a better job than you would do.

I have had both scenarios and both have left me profoundly challenged.

The people might never have the same level of expertise as the Doctor, but they were equipped to be able to save lives.

I have previously blogged about success being redundancy. 

Reaching the stage where I am no longer needed to lead the people in evangelism and mission because they are equipped and confident to do it without me (in fact my heart is that they do it better than me!).

We don’t do mission, we are mission. A better word is about the community being missional.

Mission is not an event but rather a collective way of life.

A picture a lady had at the Fellowship of Parish Evangelists was of the Nile river disturbed by a Motor boat caused water to spray all over the banks of the river- it looked impressive and dramatic- it caused short term watering, of dry land, even looked mildly fruitful for a short term, but long term it wasn’t very fruitful, as it was a big splash not a habitual, regular watering and nurturing.

Hit and run evangelism, will not have a lasting impact without the full support of the local, indigenous body of believers.

Christian Aid has recently popularised the phrase “Give a person a fish you’ll feed them for a day, teach them to fish and they’ll feed themselves for the life-time”.

What of us?

Do we still think of Mission as an Event rather than a way of life?

Are we faithfully watering and nurturing or running around expecting a dramatic ‘motor-boat big fix, which might make us feel good, but isn’t lastingly fruitful?

Standard
Church, inter-dependance, Leadership, Unity

Team God

In the world of football, Bill Shankly -former Liverpool Manager-, used to win the league and each year, each year he would bring a in new people and retire successful ones, seems like crazy strategy yet his justification was “if I don’t do this we won’t win the league”.

Investing in people results in investing in the future.

Alex Ferguson’s genius was he was able to spot and nurture young talent and people of potential and bring them into the team. Without his eye for young talent the world might not have come to hear of David Beckham.

This should be a great picture of the Churches Ministry, continually investing in the next generation coming up, taking risks on young people and giving them opportunities in the squad and on the pitch.

Too often our human natures settle for what we have, rather than what we could have. We forget that so often when we stop pushing forward we end up drifting into reverse.

Leicester City, won league, but this was a bit of a blip as they now face relegation.

Although it is true they have lost a key player in their team.

I remember in the late 90’s when millions of pounds of expensive players were put in the Chelsea squad but although they had great and expensive players it took a while before they became a great team.

A team is not just a collection of gifted individuals, but rather the contribution of everyone produces something greater than just the individual components.

Some research was done into relay races, rarely is it the fastest group of individuals who win the race, but rather it is how well they manage the transition of the baton that causes them to win or to lose.

Church is God’s team for the world.

You and I are the Church, how do we work together to bring the best out of each other for the good and glory of Christ’s Kingdom being made manifest in his world.

Sadly, too often the Church in the west often we behave like a random collection of individuals, all doing our own thing, oblivious to each other. Often when a key person moves on, they Church really struggles, and things begin to grind to a halt.

I wonder with Church do we hang on too tightly to people and not let them move on from us to the next thing we have in store, although often we feel brutally pruned, for them and the Kingdom it could be the right move? Causing those in their shadow to emerge and flourish.

I wonder too as Church do we let people who have gifts that aren’t fully developed to can bud and to flourish, often these will only grow when due to God’s pruning they feel needed.

Do we work as a team to grow people in their gifts and enable them to flourish and thrive?

I have been struck with our Street Pastors teams that often people have been worried about talking about their faith on the streets and yet have seen as they have been part of a team, they have grown in confidence and flourished, some now who were nervous at the beginning are now leading the teams and encouraging other new recruits to ‘find their voice; in mission and evangelism.

As Church leaders, we want solid and constant growth and advance, but growth and life ebbs and flows often is season, sometimes we feel reduced, struggling and uncomfortable, which precipitates growth and Kingdom advance.

As I think of the whole pruning image, is a helpful image, as although short term the tree will keep going, eventually it becomes overgrown and unable to produce the fruit the tree is capable of.

As I read that uncomfortable passage in John’s Gospel, which talks of the branches which do not produce fruit being cut off, and those which do produce fruit are pruned. Pruning is inescapable.

The Gooseberry bush thrives best when literally its ‘heart’ is cut out, pruned back in such a way it looks as though it looks like it is fatal -and sometimes that is how it feels- but in doing so the bush buds again with a bumper crop.

This is a wonderful organic image, that is not about ‘keeping the show on the road’ but rather about investing in the future, a step of faith constantly leaving our comfort zones to invest in the (yet unseen) future.

Standard
Holocaust, Pain, Remembering, sin, Suffering.

Holocaust Memorial Day.

Today is holocaust Memorial Day, more than 70 years since the liberation by the soviets of Auschwitz extermination camp.

Today we remember those murdered in the Nazi Genocide, Jews, Gypsies, the disabled, gays and anyone not fitting the Aryan ideal.

for me this is something I feel something of a connection with as my Grandfather, George Mason, guarded the prisoners at the Nuremburg trials, and must have heard and seen evidence that must have been truly horrific.

Often, we think of this type of evil as very distant from ourselves, we are civilised and educated, we think “it could never happen here”, but the holocaust reminds us that Germany a ‘civilised’ nation of ‘educated’ people right on our doorstep, people just like you and me, did horrific things. Evil on our doorstep. Evil with a face like ours.

The truth is, that it could happen here, it could happen again.

Although many have said: “never again” many of us, especially those of us with kids, fear that “history could repeat itself”.

President John F. Kennedy said “those who forget the past are deemed to relive it”.

There is a famous picture and quote that says “it didn’t start with the gas chambers”, gradually unchallenged hate and vile lies slowly took hold of a nation inch by inch causing unimaginable human suffering and pain.

Scripture calls us to be aware of the times, that’s not talking about simply ‘end of the world’ stuff but rather understanding the what is happening in the world and how to respond in a Christ-like way, seeking his Kingdoms advance.

 “For evil to triumph it takes good people to do nothing” Edmund Berk reminded us, watching question-time last night I was scared by the rhetoric which kept saying that Teresa May should not mention Trumps desire to “ban all Muslims from coming into the USA” or “continuing the torture of waterboarding” so as not to jeopardise the trade deal.

I have heard people saying they don’t vote because “it doesn’t change anything”, however, today reminds us that for the marginalised and disenfranchised it matters very much. A chilling poster has a picture of SS officers standing in front of Extermination Camp victims with the words “just because you are not interested in politics does not mean that politics might be interested in you”.

I have been reading the book of Esther recently, realising that anti-Semitism tragically is not a new phenomenon, Mordecai was aware of the times and went to Esther who in turn went to the King. A picture of engaging with the people of peace who can speak and be heard by the people of power.

Listening to the immigration debate the unsaid message that must come across to minority groups is that they must feel as though the nation is saying “there are too many of you here” -frightening rhetoric when we think of today.

Although many know my political persuasions are somewhat left wing, my challenge is to think what a Kingdom world view looks like, listen to the call for justice and compassion, listen to the marginalised and disenfranchised and say “Lord what would you have me do”. It may lead you to a different place to me, but my question is “is it spirit led?” as sadly I fear that too many of us keep our faith and our politics separate and I believe Christ is asking us to make him Lord of both.

I’ll end with a poem which has massively challenged me over the years:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Martin Niemoller.

 

Today, on Holocaust Memorial Day, it is a reminder to be people of the light, walking in the light, people who drive back darkness, “salty people” who combat the decay in the world.

People who “Do justice, Love Mercy and Walk humbly before our God”.

People who pray “Lord, let your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” and live in line with that awesome prayer.

And what we do for the least of these, especially the persecuted minorities, we do for Christ the Jewish rabbi, the political prisoner, the child refugee, the homeless preacher without anywhere to lay his head.

Standard
1 Peter 3.15., Mission, Unity

Scrubbers for Jesus…

Today I have been at the Fellowship of Parish Evangelists, my first time here.

This morning we had a guy, Richard Scott who said things I have blogged about many times before that we need to not just ‘do evangelism’ but release, encourage, inspire and equip every Christian to “tell their story”, “to be good news”, “live out their faith”, “do the work of an evangelist” to “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have, but do so with gentleness and respect”.

The word he brought to us was “SCRUB” Strategic Collaboration Reaching Unreached Britain… I smirked as I thought of the title for this blog “Scrubbers for Jesus!”

It made me think too about the joke J.John tells, when he became a Christian his mum was worried he’d been brain washed to which he replied “Mum, if you knew what was in my brain, you’d think it needed a wash!”

So what is he saying.

Strategy:

To often we’ve tried to be great evangelists rather than motivate the whole people of God in evangelism.

Yet this isn’t news, in 1944 the report “Towards the conversion of England” said “unless every Christian shares their faith the Church will die”.

In fact a recent report “Talking Jesus” from the Evangelical Alliance say that only about 1% of the population can be reached by “professionals” which does leave the other 99% up to the rest of the Church! The best use of clergy time is not running around trying to push the figure to 2% but rather, to help, encourage and equip our Churches members in sharing their faith with their friends.

That is a better strategy, let’s help one another become match fit, able to speak in a normal way about our faith “with gentleness and respect” but in a way that works that’s real and authentic with people. J.John again says “there are two reasons why people don’t become Christians 1) they don’t know any Christians and 2) they know a Christian”.

Interestingly they reckon that approximately about 1 in 5 people are interested in finding out more about Jesus, so real potential opportunities here, more over the research shows that about 3/4 of people who aren’t Christians know a practicing Christian, however when asked about a conversation with a Christian about faith 30% said “it hadn’t gone well”. Sadly not a surprise, as I think most Christians feel ill equipped to share their faith with their family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.

I was talking with a lovely older Vicar -who now leads a Church in France- and says that he and his wife joined a choir, made friends, and invites people over for nice meals with wine and just chats with people, eventually there is often a normal and natural opportunity where people end up chatting about faith.

Another lady just bakes some cakes and invites her neighbours to pop in if they’d like for an ‘open house’ and gets to know people and this has led to some wonderful real conversations.

I wonder if perhaps we make it all too complicated? We try these courses, and invest in clever sermons and great gimmicks, and really the spirit of God is calling us to love people, spend time with them, be real and share our lives, and be patient but expectant for a natural opportunity to talk about faith to come up in a way that’s not contrived or freaky but loving, real, natural and unforced.

Perhaps the strategy is to be less strategic and more relational, loving people and giving them your time, space, your listening ear and waiting until God opens a door for his message?

Standard
cost, Self Care, shepherd

Safety and the Shepherd.

I have been at a safeguarding training day all day, and it made me think a lot about the whole idea of safety, of power, of loyalty and Kingdom.

As I thought of the role of being a pastor, my mind wandered to the word Pastor which can also be translated as shepherd.

I asked myself “what does a shepherd do?”

A shepherd not just tends and cares for the sheep, but also defends his sheep from attack, from predators and wolves.

I think we all wish that real life was like the old Hollywood movies where the good guys and the bad guys were always clearly distinguishable, yet in real life this sadly doesn’t happen.

It made me realise afresh that people who may appear lovely, warm, kind and friendly but may not be what they seem.

I remember on one occasion a former contempory was found guilty of some horrific stuff, every one of us was shocked, no one would have believed it. 

We by nature want to believe the best of people, and yet we also live in a fallen world, we know that people who we know and share our lives with, can behind closed doors lead a very different life.

The Bible calls us to be as “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves”, we are called to be in the world but not of the world’. 

We need to realise and be aware of the real possible and potential dangers that exist within people we might least expect.

We need to do the right thing, however costly, however painful, however uncomfortable and as shepherds.

For the shepherd doing the right thing could be costly; fighting a lion, bear or wolf, it could cost them the ultimate sacrifice, their life.

The Bible say “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” -Doing the right thing, especially within this context of child protection, is something that may call for us to sacrifice our closest friendships in the cause of justice and safety for the people we serve.

Nelson Mandela says “If you are neutral in issues of justice, you have chosen to side with the oppressor”.

If we fail to act, we may permit great evil, pain and suffering to continue. Reminded of Edmund Burkes quote “for evil to prosper all it takes is for good people to do nothing”.

Sometimes we are presented with just a bit of a hunch, a uneasy feeling, a nagging doubt, often feelings I have tried to brush away as me being judgemental, but I do wonder that sometimes these spiritual hunches could actually be Spiritual Discernment.

Maybe, gently and in love, if you get those nudges share them appropriately and wisely?

Imagine, if we’d had an inkling and then discovered someone had been abused and we might have been able to stop it happening.

I’ve had some occasions when I have gone with my gut instinct and later been so glad that I have, on other occasions (although fortunately never in a child protection context) where I have dismissed my gut reaction and later really regretted it.

As I thought about the call of a shepherd, I thought about my responsibility before God to the sheep, a responsibility to be wise and not fooled, to challenge behaviour even when it is costly -even when it is a person you have come to love-, to fight to be a custodian of a culture where people are not exploited.

Often, we think of abuse as in physical or sexual, forgetting that emotional, financial, psychological are all forms of abuse, people can be exploited in many ways, power can be misused and people can be hurt.

Yet surely this should not be happening within the bride of Christ? 

The Church should be a place where everyone is welcome, but some behaviours are not.

The Church should be a place that shows its love for its members by going that extra mile to try and be as safer community as possible.

I believe safeguarding can be a beautiful act of worship, as protect the child and the vulnerable matches the very heartbeat of God.

God is a God of love and compassion, who cares for all he has made.

God is not blind to exploitation and injustice in any form..

“By this will you know that all people are my disciples that you love one another”; the greatest act of love is to “look out for” to keep them safe and protect them.

We also thought of self-abuse, and I thought about loving one another might been not just protecting them from the predatory, but also protecting them from themselves.

So, some challenges about being a custodian of the culture of our Church communities, ensuring transparency and wisdom in all we do, ensuring all behaviour is beyond reproach, that we are wise in all we do, that concerning behaviour is challenged and not ignored.

So, lets seek to say that everyone matters, let us discover afresh to carry one another’s burdens and to keep ourselves safe from harm. Let us not just rely on one shepherd to do this work, but let us all exercise a pastoral ministry doing our utmost to keep one another safe.

A family who looks out for each other.

Standard