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Yesterday was a funny old day 2.

A second blog looking at the rest of our mission with Fane Conant.

Whilst Fane and Harry went off to the town centre to chat and share their faith, I was busy taking a wedding service.

Unusually it was a Christian wedding with the couple regular members of Bristol Vineyard Church. The wedding was a wonderful celebration where through the worship, sermon, prayers and the conversation the Christians there were unashamed of their faith and thought how attractive it looked, as they chatted to old friends and made new ones over tea and cake.

The couple had asked if we could help them by serving the tea, which just required a couple of volunteers to help us, to make people welcome… and yet to get people to help required me to have to beg on facebook.

Yet if we are to welcome people as we should, it will require sacrifice, and will be more costly that staying in our churchy cliques and bubbles, but in being this open and welcoming community we are “treating other people as we want to be treated” and we are forgetting that “a stranger is a friend we haven’t met yet!”.

It made me think for a moment about how much welcome and hospitality is such key part of mission and evangelism, making people feel wanted, appreciated and valued all resonate with the heart-beat of God himself, the God who runs to meet his wayward child with an embrace and a party.

As we came back I heard a great story of Fane and Harry and heard of a guy I know a little bit, who drops in occasionally to our very formal evening service. Harry told me (in his own unique style) to “make sure he gets followed up well!”

I wonder how much follow up fails because Churches aren’t as welcoming as they should be.

Interestingly a friend once said “I don’t want a “friendly” Church but rather a Church I can make friends in”.

The next day Fane was speaking at three Churchy services.

It made me think that how often do people wander into our Churches and yet not ever hear the gospel presented clearly? I remembered several instances where people who were yet to make a commitment (or had drifted away) came with me to Church and sadly it was a missed opportunity (and on some occasions a bit of an own goal).

Yet here three services got a clear gospel presentation, it made think that we talk so much of getting people “in Church”, but we forget that being “in Church” is not the same as being “in Christ”.

People who had been in Church for years took one of Fane’s books and seemed really interested in what he had to say, hungry for more of us talking straight about the cross, and the message that matters the most.

It made me think, do I preach the cross and the good news often enough? Am I clear enough?

If we want our Churches to grow and flourish, are we seeking the lost and welcoming them in? And maybe that welcome is wider than just a Church service? when was the last time you had someone around for a meal or invited someone for a coffee or to the pub?

As I thought further I realised that both of these components need to work together in becoming fruitful and effective for the Kingdom of God…

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Some reflections on evangelism.

Many years ago I was given a picture by a lady called Brenda Thompson of being a person banging away at the wall of a great big damn with a toffee hammer and feeling frustrated that I was making little progress, and then she said “but in reality the hammer is really a sledge-hammer” and the hole in the wall will result in breakthrough.

It is a picture I often remember, as often over the last decade of parish ministry I have felt like a little guy swinging a toffee hammer and feeling frustrated and disappointed at the progress.

The more I have pondered on this picture the more I have thought of the calling of God which is to simply “be faithful”.

This weekend we had a mission with a great guy called Fane Conant, and have been thinking about all that had happened, and more than that, about the importance of evangelism and evangelists.

Firstly I think this weekend helped “demystify” evangelism -as Fane was very humble he didn’t ‘big himself up’, rather he ‘bigged up Christ’ as he simply told his story and how he had met Jesus.

His phrase “just one beggar telling another beggar to find bread” is a good principal to have.

He wasn’t scared of speaking overtly about Christ, in a clear and unashamed way, too often as Christians we beat around the bush, sometimes even struggling to say the name Jesus often instead referring to him/the Father as “the big man” or “him upstairs”.

He explained it clearly without making people feel stupid, he owned his struggles -“and although I became a Christian it took me a while to be free of my gambling addiction” and shared some of his post-conversion struggles life with Christ is wonderful but it isn’t always a bed of roses. I think often we are afraid of being real, thinking it will put people often, when in fact honesty and authenticity actually increase rather than decrease its appeal.

I was reminded on Sunday Morning by our readings about God calling us to be “witnesses”, -giving testimony-, sharing our story and then began to think “we over-came by the blood of the lamb (Jesus’ death) and the word of our testimony. Interestingly our testimony is what connects what happened 2000 years ago on a hill 2000 miles away with the here and the now, good news for our time and our context.

As we chatted one of my friends shared a little more of his story, one I’ve not heard him share before, but one which would be great if he would.

For me, I used to think my testimony was a bit dull, largely despite my best efforts of being a bit of a wally I owe my faith primarily to amazingly Godly and prayerful parents and a colleague at work who had the bottle to consistently keep inviting me along to her Church (and of course to the relentless loving pursuit of the wonderful Holy Spirit of God). -I didn’t used to share my story because I didn’t think it was much of a story, until I was doing schools work and my boss Danny, Danny Brown helped me see that every story of God at work in us is worth-telling, but also will connect with other peoples stories too.

For my friend with the more dramatic testimony I’ve heard him say “I’m not that person anymore” and often the devil hides some wonderful redemptive stories of salvation beneath a blanket of shame. Don’t let our embarrassment of past failures rob Christ of a wonderful trophy of grace that can bring hope to other people.

People are interested in other people, people are often much more interested in spiritual things than we think they are. Too often we think “they wouldn’t be interested”, but as Bishop Lee Rayfield says “give them the opportunity to make their choice of whether they hear or not, don’t make the choice for them”.

Evangelism creates a culture of expectancy, and a culture of intentionality, we expect God to be at work with the preaching of his word, and we are intentionally do all we can to share this message with as many people as we can.

Evangelism ought to be about partnership, very rarely does someone come to Christ purely by the work of one person, the colleague at work who shared a little of their faith, a Neighbour who invited them along to something, a family member praying faithfully. For a person to come to faith I believe often requires multiple Christians to be acting in obedience.

When we see these Billy Graham style crusades everyone says how amazing he is at speaking (and he is), but yet rarely does any credit go to the army of faithful anonymous saints that have got the person to the stadium in the first place.

Evangelism is like worship insomuch as it reminds and realigns our priorities, if we are focusing on “ordinary people meeting the extraordinary Jesus” then some of the squabbles we have cease to have the same weight or importance.

Reminding us that Jesus is the pearl of great price, wonderful and good news to share. Evangelism challenges us to explore our own faith and to see it as something worth sharing.

Lack of evangelism I believe leads to Churches becoming inward-looking and dying. We need to hear those stories that remind us that God has not abandoned his world, he is at work in us and through us, and is drawing people to himself. Again testimony of God at works keeps us expectant for him to be moving amongst us, and this gives us courage and boldness to take those golden Kingdom opportunities the Lord lovingly scatters in our path.

In Fane’s testimony he talked about Christians having something he didn’t, our lives speak louder than our words, our lives should make people thirsty for Christ. Yet too often we seek to blend in with everyone else. In order for people to realise their thirst for Christ his followers need to be “salty” perhaps when evangelism is a tough struggle it is call for us all collectively and as individuals personally to “increase the salt”.

This weekend we saw a young guy pray a prayer of commitment, Harry -one of my friends- warned me not to just let him flounder in a Church that doesn’t take discipleship seriously, we are called to make more than converts but disciples, not just getting people to pray the prayer but to live for Christ for the rest of our lives. I remember hearing at the Mission Shaped Ministry course a lady say she’d been converted about 20 years, and had just started to realise that Christ’s calling on her life was more than being on the tea rota at Church.

Seeing people move from “milk to meat” is at the heart of the Kingdom of God, and this is the other thing I learned from our weekend with Fane, it was great to talk to someone who had been doing evangelism for a lot longer than me.

I have learned what little I know mainly by picking stuff up along the way, in the field of mission and evangelism there seem to be few mentors, and maybe to we who have a heart for mission often are so keen to investigate the new things that we don’t sit with the older and more experienced and learn from them.

I long to have a school of mission where we have plenty of mentors to nurture and invest in young evangelists, and equip Churches to be bold, intentional and faithful in obedience to the missional and evangelistic heart-beat of God.

So, at the end of a mission as I curl up on the sofa, despite any progress made the fields are white to the harvest but the workers are few (or to quote Pastor Yinka) “…the workers are YOU”, the question is about getting up tomorrow as we continue the partnership with Christ in his glorious mission to his world.

A job that is never done, but remains the most wonderful privilege we can have.

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Yesterday was a funny old day…

We have been doing a mission this weekend.

An evangelist friend of my Dad’s, Fane Conant, had come up to help us, following a brief chat I had at a evangelism/evangelist conference.

We started the mission with a small group of us gathered together on Hanham Mount -where John Wesley had preached to the Kingswood Miners-. The Kingswood Miners were considered to be the toughest and roughest of people, normally people fled from them, yet here we see a small group of Christians choosing to make them the priority. Following the actions of Christ that prioritised the marginalised, disenfranchised and ostracised. Yet here had been an incredible harvest that transformed not only Kingswood but also our nation, and the world.

“Lord we have heard of your fame, we stand in awe of your deeds renew them in our day” (Hab.3.) We prayed bold and audacious prayers nervously and worshipped, there were only 12 of us, and the city looked vast on the horizon as we sung in faith “greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city”.

The next day we had a Men’s breakfast, sadly a few of the not yet Christian days didn’t show up, and 3 out of my 5 Churches weren’t represented, there was about 13 of us, and we’d reserved 30 places, so Fane’s presentation happened to rows of empty seats, although lots of people in the pub must have over heard the presentation too.

The next event was meant to be a coffee morning, but as I arrived no one else was there, not a single person had turned up. I felt bitterly disappointed. There were some guys in the hall painting. These guys were on Community Payback (the new name for probation).

Then an idea hit me, although God had probably been shouting it for a while, why didn’t I get Fane to talk to the Community Payback guys?

Swallowing hard and trying to appear chilled, I asked if Fane might be allowed to speak to the guys, talking about how his life had been turned around, message of hope and inspiration and I carried on in this vein.

The supervisor said “yeah, I’ll bring them all in”.

Fane (being wise) stopped him and said “you do realise I’ll be explicitly Christian?” (At this point I was expecting the guy to change his mind, and had already in a faithless way prepared my “well at least we tried” speech). The guy grinned and said “I don’t mind, I’m a Sikh by the way”.

So, here we were 8 guys sat around listening to Fane speaking about how Jesus turned around his life.

The last two talks Fane had done had been amazing, but here there was an even greater sense of God’s anointing, as Fane preached the Gospel in a wonderful and faithful way.

At the end Fane prayed a prayer and asked others to say it in their hearts, and then wandered around chatting to the guys, it turned out that two lads prayed the prayer giving their lives to Christ and are keen to be followed up.

Others were asking really deep, real hungry questions to Fane, Paddy and myself, the conversation fizzles and crack with God’s hand upon it.

As I left to take a wedding and Fane and a guy Harry from our Church went to chat to people on the High Street (and saw another guy come to faith)…

I smiled as I thought God is on the move, he is turning up in unexpected places, but he’s drawing people to himself, and what a privilege to join in with that.

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That’s not what a Parachute is for…

I had a coffee with my friend Rich Rycroft, and he shared an interesting modern parable.

A man accepted a parachute as he heard his friend talking about how wonderful they were, how this would transform his air travel, how much more comfortable his life would be with a parachute, an how life with a parachute is so much better.

Well, he arrived on the plane with his parachute, some people laughed at him, he couldn’t get comfy in his seat, he found it restricting too, and so he eventually took the parachute off.

When the plane crashed he died.

Another man heard of the dangers of plane crashes and how wearing a parachute will save you, although not the most comfortable thing to wear, it does save lives.

He wore his parachute and was saved.

This parable made me think.

Do we proclaim a gospel that Jesus makes everything nice, fluffy and wonderful, but never talk about salvation and eternal life.

I worry sometimes that we proclaim a gospel which is “a ticket to heaven when you die” rather than the Kingdom of God breaking out in our lives right here and right now.

Yet perhaps we have ‘over-swung’?

Perhaps we have stopped talking as much as we should about eternity?

A message of eternal life, salvation and the sure and certain hope of resurrection beyond the grave…

Yes, life with Jesus is wonderful, life in all its fullnesss does start now… but life with Jesus can be costly and calls for sacrifice.

Perhaps sometimes we have been mis-selling parachutes?

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Acts 2:42-47., Church

Spot the difference…

Occasionally they spent some time listening to the apostles’ teaching and, when they could, they met together for fellowship, for the breaking of bread and for prayer.

Awe came upon some of them. But there were no signs and wonders. All who believed were separated into groups and kept themselves apart in all they did; they would hoard their possessions and goods and show indifference to those in need.

Day by day, they went about their lives as individuals, only meeting weekly or fortnightly in the temple. They broke bread at home alone and ate their food with cold and empty hearts, giving token thanks to God. They were held in contempt by all the people. And day by day their numbers dwindled and it seemed that few were being saved.

or perhaps…

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.

Sadly we know which one is in the Bible, and we know which one we habitually see lived out in our Church communities.

Yet the question is how do we get from there to here? And what are you going to do about it.

This type of Church is not going to happen by a Church leader spelling out a vision, but by everyone learning how to BE Church in the way they live, serve and share together in radical corporate discipleship.

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Book of Hebrews., Cleansing, forgiveness, Zechariah (minor prophet).

Rags to Robes…

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan[a] standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

5 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

6 The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: 7 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.

8 “‘Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. 9 See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes[b] on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.
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I’d written this the other evening and then my computer lost the lot…

So, hopefully this will bless you.

It is another strange passage at first glance, but let us look at the big story.

Here we have the High Priest, ritually unclean and defiled, it is a shocking image for the Jewish listeners with their purity laws.

More-over the Priestly image is one of being someone who stands between the people and God and as mediator and advocate.

Also, the Priest was the one who administered the sacrifices, who killed pure, blameless and undefiled animals-mainly lambs, goats and doves- to ‘take the punishment for us, the sins transferred to them’ – which is where we get the phrase scapegoat from.

It was only the High Priest who would be allowed into the Holy of Holies, the most holy place in the temple, separated from everyone by a great curtain stretched from the top to the bottom of the temple (and around three foot thick).

If the High Priest was defiled, impure, with spot or blemish, then the High Priest would be struck dead and pulled out as he went into the holiest place tied on a rope.

Here the High Priest’s defiled state the people would expect to see the High Priest struck dead, judged by God and condemned to death.

Yet the name of the High Priest is a sign, a clue, of hope. The High Priest’s name was Joshua, which can also be translated as Jesus, which means “Our God Saves”.

Then we see the great transaction, the defiled cleansed, the impure becomes pure, sanctification happens, as the sullied and soiled clothes are removed and replaced with fresh white robes.

Echoes of the song which talks of “in royal robes I don’t deserve, I live to serve, your majesty”.

As I thought around this picture, I thought about how we can try and justify and pretend that we are ‘alright’ with our lives when in reality we know we have sinned and need Gods forgiving love and grace… In Isaiah we hear that our good works are but “stinking rags” to God, our best efforts won’t be good enough for God’s Holy and perfect standards, we need the clothes he freely gives us in exchange for our foul rags.

As I thought of this picture in Zechariah I was reminded of the verse which talks of Jesus, the only

pure and holy one, “he who knew no sin, became sin for us, so we might have the righteousness of God”.

When we come to Christ our great High Priest encrusted in our sin, he forgives us, cleanses us, and clothes us in fresh robes, a visual picture of salvation, rescue “a branch snatched from the fire”.

Yet this visual picture also has a narrative too.

“The Lord says “NO” to you Satan”.
God reigns and is sovereign, and Satan is answerable to God, and not the other way around.
Sin, shame, stain and stench do not get the last word.
Instead, we have a prophetic word pointing towards that “the Lord will remove the sin from the land in one day” fulfilled with Christ’s final words upon the cross was“It is finished”.

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Revelation 5, The Lamb that was slain., The Lion of Judah

The Lion of Judah and the lamb that was slain.

Rev.5. Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne”

So often we ignore looking at books such as the book of Revelation because we think its all a bit weird with its apocalyptic imagery (which it does), but even so I think sometimes we throw the baby out with the bath water.

So lets look at this passage, starting with no one being worthy to open the seals of the scroll, no one was worthy.

Too often we forget the unworthiness of humanity, we are all sinful and have fallen short of God’s glory, no one can claim to meet God’s Holy and perfect standards.

All other religions are about impressing God by our holy actions reaching him by our noble efforts, but Christianity realises that this is folly because God is unattainable by good efforts, beyond our reach and our grasp.

No one is worthy.

Humanity is separated from God by our unworthiness.

Humanity has no hope in and of itself, guilty without defence, and must face the consequences of our unworthiness.

The only one who is worthy is God himself.

God is the most worthy one, the only one who is worthy to open the scroll and herald in his just and righteous judgement on the earth.

Yet God is not only worthy but he is loving, supremely and sacrificially loving and does what we could not have done, and opens the scroll.

This is God’s long ago promised rescue plan that he would save his people from their sins -their unworthiness-.

Jesus, the one and only human being that was sinless, pure and able to meet the perfect standards of holiness and righteousness of God. The light of the world that stepped into darkness.

Of Jesus Tim Hughes sang “You opened the way to the Father where before we could never have gone, Jesus count us as yours now forever as we sing this Salvation song”.

The almighty and all powerful creator that allowed himself to be crucified by his creation. Jesus is both the Lion of Judah and the lamb that was slain.

A God bold and brave, full of courage and able to face down evil, sin and death and yet a God who humbles himself “taking on the nature of a servant and becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross”… And this humbling brave sacrifice from God himself has allowed himself to be the one who is worthy to open the scroll to usher in the end of time when God returns as judge because he has been before as Saviour.

Jesus the “Lion of Judah” is used. The Lion -the King of the Jungle- is a picture of power, majesty, might, glory -a fearsome warrior image. Yet this Lion of Judah is “the lamb that was slain”. A slaughtered baby sheep. The image of sacrifice, vulnerability and death. In Jesus we see both.

A God who is worthy of our praise.
In fact the word worship comes from the idea of our “worth-ship”, we worship when he see what he is worth.

Jesus’ worth is beyond anything we can imagine or repay, the pearl of great price, paid the price of the sin that you and I have committed. Death has lost its sting.

“He (Jesus) that knew no sin, became sin for us that we might have the righteousness of God”.

So lets echo this great hymn of praise.

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!”

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