Kingdom, Ministry, Mission

Equip the Saints…

Equip the Saints for works for service”…

The whole vicary thing is something I have been thinking about a lot recently, partly I guess as Sam is going through the same process as I went through about a decade ago (which makes me feel very old!)…

As you probably are aware I think that the role of a minister is to “equip the saints for works of service” as in other words it is you guys who are on the front line in your office, work, social, family environments, probably in a month meeting shed loads of people who don’t yet know Jesus… The question I think we need to ask is what can we (us weird vicary types) do to help and equip you to be more effective and fruitful in working out the ministry God has called you to within the place he has set you.  This isn’t a rhetorical question, we really want to know?

I read an interesting article from a friend of mine, Kevin, who said he was told to be the Vicar of the parish and not a chaplain to a small bunch of old people left in the building; it is an interesting paradox that those inside the Church can easily take up all your time, and they feel that as ‘their vicar’ you are somehow ‘their staff’ -true we do serve them, but there is something about the number of ministers/vicars/pastors who come with a passion to see the world come to know Christ and end up mediating between the crisis of the flower rota or some such triviality.  Bishop Nick was saying to Kevin, you’re job is to equip the saints for the works of service, but let us not forget that the Church actually is the only global institution which exists for its non members.

Perhaps this is another ‘tightrope’ we have to walk, where we need to be people who equip each other not just for ministry on a Sunday Morning, but a Monday morning too… (we’re all in full time Christian Ministry, I say that ‘your in full time Christian Ministry if you love Jesus and have a pulse!’)… I think too often our Churches have become places where people escape from the world, rather than places that equip us to impact and transform the world. Sometimes I think with some of these seminars and courses knocking around, that this actually keeps us from being out and about and sharing our lives with not yet believers.

Interesting stat is we in the west  spend 75% more on Church growth stuff (course/books/conferences etc) than the developing world and yet interestingly where is there substantial Kingdom growth, in the developing world.

I think some questions need to be asked about why?

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Revival

“It starts with a Wo/Man, it becomes a Movement but ends as a Monument”

“It starts with a Wo/Man, it becomes a Movement, and it ends as a monument” -A phrase I heard at a prayer meeting I heard on Saturday Morning.

I was thinking about this, and it is true, most great moves of God start with someone, a person who prays, who seeks God, who is willing to used by God, someone willing to sacrifice and serve. The Evangelist D.L Moody said ““The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man” Wesley, another great revivalist said “set yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to see you burn”.

We often say on the Alpha Course how God is a ‘complete gentleman’ and doesn’t force himself on us, but waits to be invited, when we see the willingness of God’s people matching the heartbeat of God we see a move of God.

Yet so often these moves of God end in stone monuments, Kingswood (where I serve) has lots of empty Churches up its high street, that show where God has moved, yet so all that is left of this wonderful movements is stone monuments, empty Church buildings, marble statues, plaques on the wall. Yet the greatest monument to a work of the Spirit of God is a vibrant worshipping community bringing glory to God.  Monuments not of stone but of human-beings fully alive in their Saviour, Lord and Friend!

Yet I thought what if the work of the Church was about tending the fire of the move of God rather than erecting marble statues to the heroes of the faith?

In the Temple the job of the Priest was to tend the fire on the altar, so that the fire would never go out, yet so often movements and revivals die because we don’t continue to tend the fire, we let the fire gradually burn out and fade away.

So a challenge to us all, will we be willing people who lay hold of the willingness of God?

Will we echo the prayer of John Wimber “Lord, send Revival, start with me!”

Will we be willing to ‘surf’ the movement of God, so often we pray and seek a move of God, but when God actually starts to move we head for the hills, I am passionate about praying for revival but I also think “be careful what you wish for” as I have said before in my blogs “If you ask God to move a mountain, don’t be surprised if he hands you a spade!”.

And if God is moving, are we prepared to tend the fire, often unglamorous and messy work, with lots of soot and cinders, and we might even burn our fingers, as we add fuel to the fire, as we poke the embers?

It is easy (but tiring) to build a fire just using kindling.

In fact it takes faith to build a fire.

We can keep a hearth fire burning fairly easily, but perhaps God doesn’t just want a nice warming hearth fire but rather a great and wonderful bonfire.

To build this kind of fire, requires us to move from small, dry sticks, to great big logs, sometimes these logs look as though they might swamp the fire, and yet the fire will grow and grow the more it is given.

Perhaps we have kept the fire safe and cosy by feeding it exhausting numbers of dry sticks, where God is calling us to put logs and bigger branches onto it, to extend the grate and allow it to become something radically different.

I wonder if too many of us are tending fires a little faithlessly, just feeding them the odd bit of dry kindling, rather than risking it all on burning logs and bigger branches?

Recently I was helping my daughter with her homework of the great fire of London, and a city was set ablaze by one defective oven.

I have also seen fires burn out, because no one has kept the fire alive and fed it anymore wood, in fact controlled fires are the best way killing a wildfire.

As we think of the missionary God, finding his willing people -his kindling if you like- and his wildfire movement begins and the fire burns and grows, and yet the call is not just to see a spectacular burn, or even to see a fire grow, but to see a fire remain, a burn that continues on and on and on.

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Matthew 17.1-9.

Taking a fresh look at Jesus.

This morning we had the reading of the Transfiguration at the first Church meeting I went too.

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

These guys had been living with Jesus for three years and hanging out with him, and although they have had a gradual realisation of who he really is, they haven’t fully seen him in his glory. They have moments of realisation, such as Peter saying “you are the Christ the Son of the Living God, but this is an experience of seeing something of the Glory of God, in this theophany where Jesus is glorified, revealed as the Christ -or Messiah- the fulfilment of the law and the prophets, standing with Moses and Elijah.

This encounter, although only momentary, gave those awe-struck disciples a fresh revelation of who Jesus was.

Perhaps we need to have a fresh revelation of Jesus?

Maybe our understanding of Jesus and our relationship with him needs a bit of a shake up to see him with new and fresh eyes. In every human relationships we need continued moments of transformative revelation, it needs to undergo changes, grows and develop, a relationship that doesn’t move is static and stagnant.

As Christians we want our relationship and revelation of Jesus to be changing, growing, developing and moving to keep it from becoming stagnant.

I wonder if sometimes we need to be reminded of Christ’s awesome power, might, majesty, that he flung stars into space, God Almighty.

Or perhaps we see Christ as mighty and powerful, but somewhat unattainable, perhaps we need to encounter something of Christ’s humanity.

Perhaps God Almighty has become God All-matey?

Have we become too over familiar with the story of Christ?

Do we need to capture afresh the wow factor of the Gospel of Christ?

Jesus described himself as the ‘Pearl of Great Price’ -the story of a merchant who shopped for amazing pearls, and when he saw one of such beauty he sold everything in order to possess the pearl. The merchant saw something unique, beautiful and the great purity of the pearl.

Do we need to recognise again the purity of the pearl?

I think that often our view of Jesus is too safe and comfortable, too often we fall for the idea of “gently Jesus meek and mild” forgetting that in three years of preaching he transformed the world forever and was so controversial that the religious authorities conspired to have him murdered. In addition to this the ‘meek, mild Jesus’ idea is ridiculous when we think of him single-handedly throwing our the temple traders. If you want a quiet life, the one person you need to steer clear of is Jesus Christ.

Shane Claiborne says that often people tell of how their life was messed up and then they met Jesus and everything God sorted out, but Claiborne’s experiences was the reverse, saying “he more I hang out with Jesus the more trouble I get into”.

So, let’s encounter afresh the Jesus of Scripture, let’s get to know more of him, more of his heart, more of his character, and as we discover more of who Jesus is, my prayer is at the beginning of lent is that we fall more and more in love with him.

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Acts 2:42-47., Church, Worship

Hopelessly Devoted…

42 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.

This morning we read through this passage again at our Blokes Breakfast… I asked people to see what word or phrase God ‘highlighted’ and interestingly the word ‘Devoted’ was the winner.

Conversation moved to talk about the number of Churches that say they want to be an Acts 2 Church, which normally means a desire to see signs and wonders, and God growing his Church (Acts 43 & 47).

Yet to be an Acts 2 Church isn’t simply about desiring the signs, wonders or even growth, these are symptoms of something much more important, they stem from our devotion to Christ and to the things of his heart.

We explored the word devotion, a word not used much today, it means both unwavering commitment and the ultimate of dedication but coming from a place of sacrificial love.

Seeking an Acts 2 Church is not like pursuing some Holy Grail, where we have to ‘tick the boxes’ of things listed in this passage (good things though they are) but primarily about (as my friend Paddy says) “Our hearts, touching his heart”. Unless these things stems from our love relationship with the Father, then they simply become good works, without love they are simple “a ringing cymbal or a clanging gong).

Are we people like David who was a man after Gods own heart?

Perhaps we need to grasp Augustine’s idea of “Love God and do whatever you please”? this isn’t a licence for any behaviour we fancy, but rather when we truly love our God, our will becomes entwined with his, and we love and long for his Kingdom.

Unless we seek God for himself, seek his face not just the works of his hands, we never fully know what it means to be the Church as God intended us to be.

Is perhaps the struggle the Western Church stems ultimately not from its lack of resources, but actually its lack of devotion.

Perhaps like the Church of Ephesus we have forsaken our first love?

Perhaps like the Church of Laodicea we are not as devoted to our Saviour as we should be an have “become neither hot nor cold”?

So, when we let God have our heart, we will long for his word -the apostles teaching, the words from the mouth of our Saviour, when we love God we love his people too, when we love God we remember his good news and his sacrifice made for us all, when we love God we come to him in prayer.

This isn’t a new commandment, earlier in Scripture we read “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.

Jesus instructed his disciples to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” -which means to first seek the King and his Kingdom, treasure him before all else.

Too often we seek the treasure (as in the gifts) but we neglect that pearl of great price (Christ himself).

If we truly want to be an Acts 2 Church, it starts within us, in our hearts, with our devotion…

It starts with “Loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and strength” and from that overflow enables us to “Love our Neighbour as ourselves”,

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Kingdom, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, paradigm shift, perspectives, vocation

Unique people working our a unique call in a unique context.

We started our short Mission Shaped Intro Course yesterday, and we ended up speaking about our own uniqueness.

We all are made differently, I have often looked at other Church leaders and other evangelists and thought “I wish I was more like them!”, often too we have looked at different areas and opportunities and thought “I wish God had placed me somewhere different”.

Yet the “one who calls us is faithful, and he will do it”.

We are called to live by faith and not by sight.

The question in the Christian life has never been “what is everyone else doing?” but rather “what is God calling me to do?”

Taking a step of faith is very different from jumping on the bandwagon.

As human beings we are great ‘cherry pickers’, we see an idea that works somewhere else, or a methodology we like the sound of, and try and ‘shoe-horn’ it into our context. As though what works else-where can simply be transposed somewhere else and have the same results. Yet, I believe, God isn’t into formulas like this =otherwise I think Paul’s letters would read very differently- the question is not “how has this worked elsewhere” but rather “what is God calling us to do here” and are we being faithful to that call.

What is the Spirit saying to us as a collection of Church Congregations seeking the advancement of the Kingdom of God here locally must be the biggest and most important question we can ask.

“If the Lord does not build the house then the Labourers labour in vain”, we see that Jesus (who “only did what he saw his Father doing?”) doing ministry differently from how he was in Samaria to how he was in Jerusalem to what he did in Nazareth. Jesus didn’t think ‘one size fits all’ -so why do we? -Interestingly, contrast the missional technique between Peter and Paul when they spoke evangelistically (Peter in Acts 2, Paul in Acts 15).

Just imagine if Paul -a former Pharisee- tried to mimic Peter -a former fisherman- it wouldn’t work because God was calling them as them to minister into the context to which God had called them.

I think as human beings we are often scared and fearful, we dislike uncertainty and want the promise of “sure-fire” results, God’s ways might sound more risky and more of a step of faith than down-loading the latest resource from a mega0church, but yet it is only through obedience to God that we will see the full fruitfulness of that which we long too see.

The problem is we often think that “so and so” would probably do a much better job if they were here than I have.  The problem (says James Lawrence) “is that we compare our blooper reel with someone else’s highlight reel”, our comparisons are often negative towards ourselves, often when we feel weak and ill-equipped often that means we aren’t relying on our own giftedness rather relying on Gods empowering faithfulness.

Comparisons, can be debilitating.

It takes faith to come to realise that actually God has called me to be me, and my unique blend of skills, passions and principals is called, God doesn’t need another clone of anyone, he needs us to be us, and we flourish best when we are being truly and authentically us.

I remember seeing someone engaging in interactive debate, and this really worked for their more ‘in your face’ personality. I have seen others listen carefully and prayerfully and this has really worked for their personality. If we were all a debaters or all listeners we would be a less effective body of Christ, yet perhaps the reason he is sending you in to the situation you find yourself in, in that you are the right person, God’s person, for that particular situation, everyone is different, and everyone responds differently, even if we don’t see it at first!.

Also, as the wonderful “Meet Anne” video shows, we have networks and relationships which are unique to us, no-one else has quite the same set of relationships that we do, being us -and fully us- fully and authentically where God has placed us can enable us to be used by God in a way that’s unique to us.

Also, God uses all sorts of creative ways to advance his Kingdom, my friend Rich Rycroft used his love of football to advance the Kingdom in Hillfield, my friend Charles Sugdan from Frenchay uses his awesome gifts at classical music to enable people to encounter Christ, yet neither of which I would be able to do, but it takes faith to believe that my gifts and skills, passions and pleasures can be used by Christ too (just check out the vlog bellow)…

So, let’s celebrate God’s call on our lives to be free to be us.

So, let’s celebrate God’s call to discover his call to us where he has placed us.

So, let’s celebrate that we don’t have to do what everyone else does, instead even our most random quirks of character can become Kingdom advancing facets.

I discovered the word ‘bespoke’ -you are a ‘bespoke’ ambassador of Christ, made unique for the glory of Christ.

You have a totally unique context, to a unique mix of people and network of relationships, and you have been ‘head hunted’ by the God of all creation to reveal him to his people.

The Spirit of God has a bespoke plan for our areas and context, its not just another course, or another project, but a unique plan that will work for us, taylor-made evangelism made to measure for individuals in a unique context.

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Church, Discipleship, mentoring, Ministry

Growing Younger

Growing younger seems to be the aim of everyone.

As Church this is actually our aim, it’s an aim which goes back to the very roots of our faith in Judaism, which talks on “one generation will tell another of the glories of the Lord”, and themes such as ‘passing on the baton’ resonate with what we see in Scripture.

The Book of Acts (in fact most of the Epistles too) speak of Jesus handing us his baton, passing his authority to each of us, who in turn passes it on to the next generation.

A business adage says “Success isn’t success without a successor”… Barnabas’ ministry was successful because S/Paul picked up the baton and ran with it, Paul did the same for Luke and Timothy… Over the centuries various people have done this right up until now, to the time when the baton has been handed on to us.

So, the question is are we handing this on to our children, and grandchildren.

I heard one person saying about Church “well, it’ll see me out!”, which is not the attitude of the Spirit of God, reaching out to every generation in turn so that they can know the wonders of God.

In our culture we have lost what it means to be mentored, and in turn to mentor.

Often, we worry about our jobs and roles which maybe we hold onto a little to tightly? It is easy to blame another generation for not wanting to do things our way. Yet I am often brought back to Saul trying to place on the young David his Armour and yet David and a new way for a new time.

The Ordinal talks about “Proclaiming Afresh for every generation” but in fact what we so often do is simple “proclaim again” for every generation.

Maybe we need to look at what is the dust of a by-gone age, and what are timeless spirit inspired truths that transcend generations.

So, today, what can we do to help “grow Christ’s Church younger?”

 

 

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Church

Outstanding Service to Tesco Express.

I was hearing today of a Church who wanted to get a youth worker, but in the end they gave up on this idea because of the work needed to be done on repairing their local (ancient) Church building.

To me this seems like madness, unless we can reach the next generation with the good news of Christ, patching up our Churches is simply saving a job for Tesco Express -or whoever comes to take over the site once the last elderly congregant left and has turned out the lights.

The primary purpose I believe of Church is to share our faith not just with those around us, but to equip, empower and enable the next generation to follow us.

We are only here today because of the faithfulness of those who have gone before us.

Did you know that over 75% of people make a commitment to follow Christ before the age of 25, and yet nothing like 75% of our budgets are spent on our work with children, teenagers and young adults.

The great commission mentions nothing about maintaining buildings and although we are called to be good stewards of our resources, sometimes it feels like the tail wags the dog!

The Church in the book of Acts is not the building but the people, the people of God in the Old Testament were largely tabernacle people who moved around freely able to make their home where-ever God directed, it wasn’t until the reign of King Solomon that a immoveable stone building was constructed.

Yet I believe that sometimes our building have become our identity, and this has become something of an idol.

Sometimes our building speak of where our hearts are at, they talk about ‘preserving our past’ rather than of ‘seeking God for our future’.

Our work on a building, can feel ‘good and churchy’ whilst not actually building what matters, the Kingdom of God.

We may preserve a building, but if there is not a healthy, spirit-filled community reaching the next generation with the Good News of Jesus, are simply saving the share-holders of Tesco from putting their hands in their pockets, we’ve been building with what is temporary rather than with what is eternal.

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