Uncategorized

Cork or Catalyst?

I have been thinking a bit about clergy, I realise that we do have a privileged role of being “gate-keepers” where information and people seeking to do things locally often approach us as the first port of call for engaging with the wider Church community.

As I thought about it, we end up with two types of people, the catalyst, those people that enable and facilitate other things to happen, they see ministry as trying (with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit) to see the blue touch paper of peoples callings lit.

These people are catalysts, enabling other their congregation and individuals to engage in what happens to see the Kingdom of God advance.

At its heart is what former Archbishop Rowan Williams described as “finding out what God is doing and joining in” -or at least throwing your support behind it.

when people come to something late and say “we didn’t hear about it” I normally say “we did contact your Church!” -The issue is as clergy we do get a lot of things come to and through us, but as Bishop Lee says “don’t make the decision for people”.

I wonder how many opportunities, vocations and life transforming encounters are missed because the vicar doesn’t forward on an email, or gets “lost” in his out-tray. I’m not saying it’s wilful disobedience or intentional sin but do believe far too many Kingdom opportunities die in the waste-paper baskets of the Vicars study.

“Do you know how busy I am?” is often the response to this sort of stuff, but God never tells us to reach capacity and stop, but rather to constantly “seek first the Kingdom of God”. I am convinced too that the devil is very good at creating ‘cul de sacs’ that cause ‘maximum weariness for minimum fruitfulness’, and even doing good stuff can stop us doing the great stuff.

I know too that in our churches and our lives we often focus in on our thing and see what other people are doing as a distraction, and yet by our failure to engage, our absence from the discussion deprives the body of Christ. we forget the body of Christ is bigger than our own individual fellowship or congregation. In fact we know the very heart beat of God, the prayer from the garden of Gethsemane, is for Christians to be united together.

when I was in Poole there was a large and successful Church, but the leader never once in the 4 years I was there joined with the other ministers (who met monthly to pray for the city). They rarely joined in with the other things God was doing in area, yet had so many wonderful and great resources which could have seen so many lives and communities transformed.

whereas in Bristol, the largest and most successful Church, woodlands, sees itself as a resources Church, a minster, and seeks to be a catalyst, and I believe the extent of their Kingdom faithfulness brings joy to the heart of God, and fruitfulness beyond what we can imagine.

I know that there is fear of whether or resources can be stretched further, whether our people might work with other Christians and discover the “grass is greener” and leave us, or this will create extra work when we feel a bit stressed and burned out. -Mostly these are unfounded fears, but fears none the less.

It is fear that turns us into corks, a stopper.

It is faith that turns us into catalysts.

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Uncategorized

It takes two… (or three).

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labour:
10 
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
11 
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
12 
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

It’s a well known passage, maybe even too well known?

Often used at weddings (in fact we had this at our wedding among a few others!) yet I think this often misses the bigger point of the passage.

we live in a world that prizes independence and self reliance, the age of the cult of personality, in the time where individualism rules supreme. The boast of “I did it my way” seems to me to be the ultimate statement of the journey of the one, the solitary.

Yet as John Donne reminds us “no man is an island”.

God himself said “It is not good for man to be alone”.

we live in a world where human beings need one another, we are an interdependent species, even the most antisocial of us is still a relational being.

At the start of her (amazing) book about singleness Kate Wharton writes about the difficulty of flat-pack furniture on your own (being really untechnical and having tried to do this myself on my own, it did make me smile). we as human beings think we are self sufficient and in reality a trip to Ikea leaves us in need of assistance.

If you are like me, I am very willing to help other people, but I am much less good at being gracious enough to allow other people to serve me.

This passage is a reminder that everyone benefits when we as human beings let our walls down to one another, society works better when human beings collaborate, more is achieved by commonality in a task, in fact we often need one another just to survive.

Jesus knows our need of each other, he sent the 12 and the 72 out in pairs, just as Moses had sent out the spies into the promised land into pairs, and Barnabas and Paul, and Paul and Silas again were God sending out missional pairs in Ministry.

Out today with Dan my wonderful placement student giving out chocolates on the high street and I completely dried up, and he stepped into the conversation and took over for me.

Humanly speaking the Mission of God was never -and should never be- a one man (or woman) band.

Yet interestingly at a recent pioneer conference, at the last session all of us began to open up about just how lonely and isolated we have found this work of pioneering fresh expressions of Church. Often in Church leadership we are very alone.

This reminded me of a sermon my dad preached about Zerubbabel -who was a pioneer builder who walked close to God in obedience in the Old Testament- that he was supported by Joshua the High Priest. His call was that you might not be called to be a Zerubbabel, but you can be a Joshua, you can find someone who is sticking their neck out for the Kingdom of God and support them.

Maybe you are a ‘can do’ type person that doesn’t think they need anyone else, if so, this passage is challenging you to come to a realisation of your own need of other human beings.

Then as you realise your need of other human beings, most of us can’t even manage a piece of flat pack furniture on our own, we then realise if this is how much I need other fallible human beings, how much more do I need God in my life.

If two is so much better than one, how much better is 3?

A verse Allana and I were given at our wedding was “Jesus himself drew close and walked with them, but they were kept from recognising him” (Luke 24.15).

Jesus is that one we often need, the one who silently carries us, the one who helps us often without us even noticing it, and yet the one we need most, for it is in him that we “live and move and have our being”.

So, a challenge, think of our need of God, think of our need of each other, as Christians we are called to see life prioritising both our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationship with one another.

when we think of following Jesus we realise that this is something we cannot do in our own strength, we need not only God’s help but the help of one another, but also called to help each other too.

To carry my cross I need the help of my God.

To carry my cross I need the help of m brothers and sisters in Christ.

For us to carry our crosses, can I help you and can you help me?

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Uncategorized

Posh Church?

Is it me or is Church a bit posh?

I know muesli eaters need Jesus as much as the rest of us!

we are very respectable gatherings normally in our Churches, and yet Jesus was constantly being criticised for hanging out with out-casts and sinners, it is in all the gospels.

Jesus talked of the “prostitutes and the tax collectors entering the Kingdom of heaven before you”, he said “those who are well do not need a Doctor but only those who are sick”.

Yet, I am aware that our Churches seem to have very few ‘sick people’ in them, or we are very cautious of letting people know about our ‘sickness’ or brokenness.

The adage that Church is not a show-room of saints but a hospital for sinners might be theologically true, but often not how it feels.

One of our Churches, All Souls (called that because everyone is welcome) does have a number of people who have problems, and I am very conscious of how unusual this is for a Church, when I think this should be normal.

Yet as I have reflected on this, their honesty and authenticity and refusal to ‘play the game’ and say that everything is fine whilst wearing their Sunday best, is actually a wonderful and refreshing gift, a blessing from God that teaches us so much.

As I have repeatedly blogged about, my greatest and most profound moment of understand what Church is/should be was whilst doing a placement in a Rehab centre, with people carrying one another’s burdens, serving and being served, the power of wounded healers sharing healing and their journey with others, a place of hope and transformation. I remember thinking “this is what Church should be like!” and yet not like any Church I have ever been in, but one I long to see break out.

The first of the beatitudes is “blessed are those who know their need of God”, Jesus mocks this “I’m sorted” mentality that the religious people had when he says “the angels rejoice over one sinner who repents than 99 who need no repentance”… later on in the same passage we realise that those who think they are sorted “the respectable” older brother, actually is MORE lost than the younger brother from the pig sty.

I worry that sometimes in our Churches people don’t really believe they are sinners, and so offer a sort of pseudo repentance which leads to an unleaded, graceless, legalistic and slightly superior-mind-set Christianity that flies in the face of the gospel of grace.

My friend Fane Conant says “we are all beggars, just one beggar tell another beggar where to find bread”.

I know Churches will reflect their neighbourhoods, and yet even in deprived and multi-cultural areas with a younger demographic still too often our Churches still look “white, middle class and older”. when a Church is properly indigenous it will look like the people it serves, because it has become a Church in, of, and for the community.

There is a famous saying that says “If you want revival plant your Church in the gutter”, yet when we lived in Poole (one of the most expensive areas in the country) everyone wanted to plant a Church in its nice leafy expensive centre (and I know there is an irony in us feeling called back to there).

Interestingly, when I was out on the Streets on Saturday the upwardly mobile seemed uninterested to stop and chat, and yet the first two people to pray a prayer of commitment with us were both homeless guys.

Neil Cole in his book organic Church challenges everyone to look for good soil around abortion centres, rehab clinics, young offender institutes, red-light districts and needle exchanges… in other words go where there is hurt and despair with the message of healing and hope. where people are at the end of themselves often the place they discover the grace of God.

Jesus prioritised the disenfranchised, ostracised and the marginalised and sent the rich young ruler away, and yet it seems as the Church in the UK has turned this on its head.

why in the Church of England will a Church in Southampton receive more responses to an advert for a new vicar than a Church in South-Shields?

where-ever you are based there will be pain and poverty of some sort, Mother Teresa used to talk about “finding your Calcutta”, so let’s not become a cosy clique for the sorted and respectable, but an opened hearted feast with room for all -including and maybe even especially- for unrespectable, the unremarkable, undesirable and the unwanted.

Let’s see the Church in this nation looking like the people of this nation, all ages, cultures, class, socio-economic standings, races, sizes and shapes.

Sadly the broken and the hurting run from our Churches because they feel their sin makes them feel unwelcome. Philip Yancey writes in the start of his Book “what’s so amazing about Grace” about a woman who messes up her life and when suggests she goes to Church, she says “Church? I feel bad enough already, they’ll make me feel worse”. Yet the gospel should cause them to run too Christ who brings healing, restoration, forgiveness and grace.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about two fellowships “the fellowship of the righteous” -where we are all very nice and respectable, and maybe even a tad Pharisee-like- or the “fellowship of sinners” where we are real and authentic and share deeply the reality of our life and struggles seeking to follow Jesus.

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brokenness, cost, Dreams, Evangelism, Gospel, Mission, Try?

word on the street 3.

Over Easter we had a mission across the city “The Turning” where we went out and talked with people on the street about Jesus(using a simple script).

Yet we now have the new challenge, rather than just putting a load of effort into a short term event, we are trying to be missional people doing this as a normal part of our usual, normal life together.

we are being ‘intentional’ about keeping on going out together regularly onto the streets to tell people about Jesus, this months there have been three Friday worship sessions followed by three Saturday mornings in different parts of the city.

At the beginning of the month a load of us met up and worshipped, soaked in God’s presence, as someone that is an activist normally with multiple diary clashes prioritising God’s presence was a wonderful thing to do, although I must admit that just turning up for the Saturday outreach did creep into my mind. So glad I didn’t.

Today however I just came to the outreach on the street, we were in South Bristol and I felt convicted if I wanted people to come and share their faith in Kingswood area, then I ought to be prepared to bless other parts of the city too.

Both times on the Street were very different, lots of busy people in a hurry that wouldn’t stop. Yet on both days some people did stop and listen and have conversations with us, on both days we got opportunities to pray for people, and this morning we saw three people pray a prayer of commitment.

All things that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gone out.

Today we prayed for a woman who said he life had been “ruined by God” as she suffered a stroke, but prayed for her and she prayed a prayer of commitment. Last time a lady we spoke to couldn’t pray that prayer of commitment as she was so angry with God for the way her mum had suffered before she had died.

Realise that in sharing our faith people are giving us privileged access to their hearts.

I wonder how many opportunities I miss by doing something “important” that actually from an eternal perspective might not have been that important at all!

Yet, I believe the Turning Mission is bigger than just the events with the label “The Turning” on it, just as “healing on the streets” and other initiatives should be bigger than just the teams going out, mission and evangelism should filter through to our Churches, our homes and work places.

The Turning has increased our expectancy for God to be at work, helped us see those potential Kingdom encounters. Recently an older gentleman shared about he was at Lidl and the lady at the front of the queue didn’t have enough money and was getting worried, he gently asked how much she was short by (32p) and paid the cashier. The lady asked him why he did this and he said “God loves you” and se began to well-up with tears.

Little things can make a big difference.

This last month, I have been reminded afresh of the pain of so many peoples’ lives.

This month of June I have had a student Dan with me, learning about being a Vicar. The first week he was here we wandered around the local shops giving out mini chocolates just as a gentle blessing from the local Church. The first shop we went into -a sweet shop- the woman declined the sweet but ended up talking about shutting her shop as it was loosing money. we were able to pray with and for her, and as we prayed she began to cry, just felt as though God had somehow touched her in that moment. Ironic as I toyed with the idea of not going into the sweet shop to give out some sweets as it seemed a bit cheeky. I am glad now we did.

Last Friday with the street pastors ended up spending a big chunk of the evening with a homeless couple, the girl of the couple just seemed really vulnerable.

On Thursday I had to help out for a couple of hours in the young peoples secure unit, seeing these young people who look both incredibly vulnerable and incredibly hard at the same time, one can only imagine what they have been through even though they are so young.

Recently as we do our weekly Pints of View (Church in a pub) I have seen us as a team becoming gradually more emboldened, one guy asking if he could pray for Annie (a regular) with her knees, next week she came in and said they were healed, and then began to complain about ankles. we prayed for her ankles, when I saw her a couple of days ago she said “you wont believe it but since you prayed they are ever so much better!”

One guy Jason, the week before heard one guy share most of his life story, but every now and then chipped in something really wise and Godly. People want to share their stories and want to hear what Christians have to say, we have fallen for the lie that people aren’t interested.

Also in our prayer time, we have been joined by a couple of guests, neither sure about what they believe, but both wanted to be there and came back next week, and we made the choice to carry on praying and worshipping in exactly the same way as we did when it was just Christians

Last week too tough lads smirking almost squared up to me and asked me if I could do “one of them gay weddings right there in the pub”… One of those things they didn’t teach me at theological college! It had the potential to be interesting (and by “interesting” I mean I could get punched in the face!). Yet with a bit of chatting and warmth the ice-melted and they admitted they both had girlfriends but thought it’d be funny to see how I reacted! From that my friend Harry began asking one of them if he had a faith, and ended up praying for him that he’d come to know Jesus -I thought Harry was pushing his luck and again expected him to be told to “**** off!” but instead the guy seemed genuinely moved shaking Harry’s and my hands warmly and thumping his chest in a “love you guys kinda way”.

It would be easy to read these stories and feel like we are sorted, but we are not, far from it, I still find even after the umpteenth time going out on the street that I feel nervous, and often wandering away I think of “what I should have said” -not what I did say!, but I believe we are gradually learning what it means to be a missional people living their lives everyday.

I know I and my friends still are far from sorted, but I know too that God is helping us be bolder and riskier in sharing him and seeing people respond.

I remember the line the overseer of The Turning Pastor Yinka says “the fields are white to the harvest and the workers are YOU” -what can we do?

Then we realise that God has gone before us and prepared the way ahead, opened doors and been tapping on lives already.

what an awesome privilege to partner this fantastic God.

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Experience, Reason, Theological Method, Tradition, understanding

…It’s not sexy (A blog about Theological Method).

when you talk about theological method, you can hear the yawns break out across the room, but actually it is vitally important about how think and make decisions theologically, and yet no one talks about it, because they think it’s boring.

Hopefully this blog will prove them wrong.

It is a vital problem. I have sat in groups where people have called “discipleship” and yet scripture is misquoted and passages are thrown around and tagged onto issues like misplaced jigsaw puzzles.

Or have heard people saying “God told me to do this” only to discover God has done a “U-turn” and said the opposite a couple of days later. I believe in a God that speaks, but I also believe that prophesy needs to be tested and weighed.

Or maybe you’ve had a Catholic friend (for an example) that talks about purgatory, praying to Mary or some other traditional Catholic doctrines and you’re left asking “where is that is the Bible?”

Or perhaps you have been in a Church meeting where a carefully thought out vision is presented, with mountains of statics and graphs and it all makes a lot of sense, but you have a question nagging at the back of your head and that is “it seems sensible, but is this what God is saying?”

Some might have noticed that Wesley’s quadrant has crept in here, that we make our spiritual decisions on the basis of “Scripture”, “experience”, “tradition” and “reason”… and yet as you probably have noticed our fallen humanity can creep into all of these and distort our view of Christ and what it means to follow him.

So, not only is the process of theological method complicated, it is made more complicated by other factors.

Culture. we take our cultural lenses and baggage into our walk with God often we notice the failures, flaws and foibles with other cultures that we don’t see in our own, in the Southern states of the USA at the turn of the last century many Christians considered themselves being very holy, whilst treating black people like second class citizens, probably justifying their behaviour because that what everyone did and it was “normal”.

Ourselves and our stories. we also bring our own baggage and issues to scripture because we as human-beings don’t come at anything from a neutral position.

Others. I worry sometimes that Pastors create clones, rather than people with the tools to think and discern stuff for themselves. Hearing what “Pastor ZYZ says” is interesting, but regurgitating someone else’s sermon doesn’t make it right, interestingly as human beings we normally believe what we first hear and accept and are very cynical after that.

At this point people normally hold their heads in their hands and think, I’ll give up now shall I?

Yet theology is nothing to fear, in fact God wants us to know him and know him better, Theo -Latin for God- logos -word- the idea of studying God. My former principal Christina Baxter used to talk about Theology was “thinking God’s thoughts after him” -which I think is pretty exciting.

Rowan Williams said “theology was trying to say the least silly thing we can about God”.

Both of these thoughts actually lead me to want to worship, which I think is a good litmus test of whether theology is true or heretical.

As an evangelical, I look first through the primacy of scripture:

-But, if we are seeking God in scripture, we need to read our Bibles, and reading them with prayerful expectation, but also reading them in context, what comes before, what comes after, who is it written too, why was it written. Also, think translation is an issue, now thing the gizmos on our phone we can check out challenging passages from different translations, and even the original Greek, and look it up in a Biblical Greek dictionary all at a touch of a button whilst drinking your latte! Another what does the Bible actually say, rather than what we think it says!

As a charismatic, I do take our experience of God seriously.

Experience is good, Peter changed his viewpoint on the Gentiles because of a vision, and the other disciples changed their viewpoint on seeing the Holy Spirit poured out. Experiences and encounters are really important, but we need to remember that we as people are fickle and God calls us to test and weigh guidance, this is not lacking in faith, but rather it is in prayerfully weighing stuff that we allow our faith to flourish and grow.

The Catholics and Anglo Catholics often take our Christian heritage much more seriously than we in the evangelical camp, but as I have travelled onwards I have discovered that there is much wisdom and blessing within our Christian heritage..

Tradition, is so much to say than just because “we’ve always done it this way” when tradition is at its best we are standing on the shoulders of giants of amazing people of God whose journeys can bring so much blessing and benefit to us, and yet sometimes we are caught up in someone else’s baggage. whatever we are facing, probably somewhere throughout the world and history another follower of Jesus has faced it, and shared their experiences. what most of us think of as “normal” Christianity, has been wrestled out by faithful people (many who gave their lives).

The liberals get a bad press, but reason is important, asking hard questions and not being fobbed off with clichés or pat answers is important.

Reason. God has given us a brain of our own to use, discernment is a spiritual gift, and I believe God wants us to think and pray and use our minds in our faith. One of my key phrases I use when taking Alpha is “Christianity is not a faith which asks your to leave your brain at the door”, yet our reason will never be fully sufficient because “A God I can fully understand probably isn’t God”.

So, a good question to ask ourselves is “why do I think what I think?” and to be open to God challenging our thinking, a great phrase used at a theological college I looked at was “roots down walls down” -if we have our roots down deeply into God we have nothing to fear from other people with different ideas, as the spirit of all truth protects and guides us, if we let him.

I’ll close with two bits of testimony.

A friend of mine was at a theological college and someone spoke of their fear of loosing their faith (they actually meant not being a proper evangelical any more). My friend said something interesting, he said “ultimately I am interested in truth, and if it’s not true I don’t want to believe it”. So often we want to stay ‘safe’ in our theology and opinions, but actually the Spirit of all truth is both wonderful and dangerous.

when I was in my early 20’s I began to think about ordination, and one of the questions was about women vicars and Bishops, and lots of people tried telling me that it was all cultural, or about an experience they’d had (experience and reason) but for me my heart was saying “yeah but is the Bible okay with it” -I think it is- but what I wanted was someone to sit down and read the Bible with me and help me make sense of some difficult bits.

So, as we journey on, lets keep on chasing after God, hungry to hear from him, but doing so with prayerful wisdom and discernment in the context of community, and see where he leads us, it’s an adventure.

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call, cost, Deep, Discipleship, Discipline, faithfulness, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, obidience, priorities

“There is nothing remotely sissy about the women’s auxiliary balloon corps”.

A quote from Blackadder from Captain Darling, both trying to work out ways of avoiding death in the first world war by trying to escape the trenches, yet neither of the two men wants to admit that actually they are afraid of fighting and dying.

Captain Darling, manages to get a safe job behind a desk, and Blackadder tries (and fails) to be posted elsewhere.

This picture reminds me of uncomfortable (and maybe uncharitable) thoughts and conversations I have had with Christians about mission and evangelism.

The truth seems to be they’d rather be doing something nice and pleasantly Christian rather than the costly and sacrificial following of Jesus.

Interestingly, we were doing an outreach on Easter Saturday, and the Church was full of people doing flowers, but only one person came out onto the streets to do outreach with us.

I remember once we were desperately short of people to help with out teenagers and one person emailed to say she couldn’t do it because she was the only singer who could sing soprano (or something like that) in the choir.

The problem is this is it is majoring on the minor.

Prioritising the trivial over the transformative.

Our will being done, not Christ’s will be done.

Discipleship cannot be conditional discipleship, following Jesus only when we happen to be going in the same direction.

Christianity lite.
Decaf Christianity with extra milk foam.

when I was at college there was a cartoon that said “God I will go anywhere you call me too” and underneath it said “provided it is in Surrey”.

It made me think, is the problem with discipleship in the west that it is discipleship on our terms?

A phrase that often challenges me is “If Christ is not Lord of all, is he Lord at all?”

I think all of us find it easier to serve God when it is fun and rewarding, it is harder when it is seemingly making little progress.

Rather than being a backseat driver I fear when the call looks costly, or it is hard-work and a slog, we wrench the steering wheel out of God’s hand or pull up the handbrake and rush for the nearest cushy and consumerist gathering and end up seeking out roles of maximum kudos for minimum cost, the safest option.

The truth is following Jesus is either about obedience and faithfulness or disobedience and sin, the problem is that too often we try and give sin and disobedience a sugar coating of religiosity and respectability.

Blackadder sought glory but not the danger, wants recognition without risk, medals without cost, honour without achievement, and reward without sacrifice.

Yet Christianity has never been safe.

Jesus talks of picking up our cross and following him.

Following Christ will cost us everything we have, it is an “everything or nothing choice”.

As I thought about this blog, I wondered about getting David Beckham to make the squash at football matches. It is a job he could do, but it is substantially short of what he is capable of, and leaves the wider body deprived and should short.

Too many are full of potential that they leave deliberately untapped, because -as a proverb says- “many opportunities are missed because they come in overalls and look like work”.

Lets not give God the fag butts of our time, energy, gifting and resources rather than our first fruits.

So, let’s not be like Captains Darling and Blackader trying to slope off the battle-field, but instead bravely give all that we have, our best efforts and richest resources in the service of King Jesus.

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Father God, Fear, Luke 15

wait ’til your Father gets home.

I don’t know if that was something you have ever been threatened with, the idea is that Dad is someone scary who you don’t want to be on the wrong side of.

Most of us at sometime in our lives have ended up stood outside the head-teachers office, that fearsome character who you want not to see at all costs.

Sometimes we have this idea of God.

On Sunday we had this demonstrated to us by getting a family to act out the reading of the prodigal son (actually acted out with a daughter)and when the story said about the Father ran too meet her, the girl screamed and ran in the opposite direction. She expected that the Father was angry and wanting to punish her.

This demonstrates the biggest problem humanity has, we run from God rather than running too him.

Our image of God is the angry parent or the scary head-teacher, yet Jesus paints God as the Running Father, that rushes to meet his Son. Jesus -full of grace and truth- says “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, in other words God is like Jesus.

Jesus had authority and was pure and Holy and yet the unrighteous felt that they could come to him and be changed, Jesus brought hope and love, not fear and rejected.

The idea of God as a scary headteacher is a really unhelpful one, yes, we need to remember that God is God, he is mighty and powerful, but he is also “slow to anger and abounding in great love”.

Christians aren’t people who are scared by God, fear creates submission, no, instead it is “the love of Christ compels us”. God says his “perfect love drives out all fear”.

In fact the book of Hebrews reminds us we can approach the throne of grace with boldness by the blood of Jesus.

we don’t have to approach God on trembling knee because our sins have been covered over by Jesus and “see how the Father has lavished his love upon us that we might be called children of God”.

I remember reading a story of JFK junior coming into the Oval office at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis and climbing on his dad’s lap, he had no qualifications or mandate to be there, simply he was a child of the president.

So, let’s draw back and see God not as the angry thunderbolt lobbing Victor Meldrew type, but rather let us discover afresh how John describes God in just three words “God -is- Love”.

Love that as George Herbert says “bids us welcome”, the “love of Christ compels us” and love that makes an end of all our sin. A love that draws us close not pushes us away.

So, let’s not hide behind the sofa from God, but instead run into his open arms of love.

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Person of Peace, Pioneers, Scouts

Spiritual Scouts…

I want to think about “Scouts”, so often we think of Pioneers coming in and starting something new and breaking new ground.

Often our thinking of pioneering and settling comes from a slightly romanticised idea of American wild west.

In reality the people didn’t just arrive and plant and pioneer a new random community, they did something key before hand, they sent in scouts.

Scouts would go out in pairs, and see how the land lay, they would see if the natives were friendly (normally if they killed one of you that was a sign that they might be a bit hostile).

Actually Scouts are visible in our Christian scriptures too.

Scouts were sent out in pairs to see what the city of Jericho was like, Jesus sent out the 12 and then the 72 in pairs, to seek out “friendly natives” or as Christ called them “people of peace” -‘If a person of peace lives there stay with him and eat whatever is put in front of you, but if a town does not welcome you, leave that place and knock the dust from your feet’.

Too often in Christian Mission our “scouts” get left on their own, or the people have become too comfortable to move from where they are to the promised land.

we have neglected the ministry of scouts, because Church is not seen as something on the move. we have settled, and become enshrined in brick and concrete. Often our Church buildings are unsuitable for what we want to do, and in awkward and out of the way locations that are impossible to find, whilst massive new estates spring up without Churches on them.

I believe we need to re-discover spiritual scouts, people who go out and spot the potential for new and better life, more fruitful and meaningful places to settle.

Perhaps we need to think less about erecting stone-temples and more about transportable tabernacles?

Once a community has settled there is no need for the scout, and so they go out and scout again.

In many ways the scouts are often the prophetic or apostolic types that see the Kingdom possibilities that fail to flourish in a settled Church that has put its feet up. Moving on is tiresome, it is hassle and we like to cling on to what is familiar and resist change -it is human nature.

Yet without scouts the nomadic people would die out, and unless we release more Kingdom scouts, then the Church in the UK is in danger.

Are you called to be a Scout?

Are you called to be a faithful supporter of a Scout?

Have you become too comfortable where you are and used up its resources, and need to move on for survival?

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Resigned, Step of faith, trust

I’ve resigned…

I’ve resigned.

I’ve written to the Bishop.

I’ve signed some legal paper work and made the announcements to the Churches.

It was really tough.

Yet, I do feel it is the right choice.

Yet like many right choices it’s often the harder path.

I don’t have another job to go to, although with some inheritance we might be able to get a home of our own (which is both scary and exciting but in a different way).

This has been something I have really prayed over, probably one of (if not the hardest) choices I’ve made in my Christian life.

A picture I have had as I have prayed into this is that the coach and the manager often have a better view of the game than the players, and although I do want to play the full 90 minutes, often it has been that choice to swap players in the final minutes of the game that has transformed the game itself. As a Man U supporter when Fergie (the manager) pulled off some great player (can’t remember who) and brought Solscar on the pitch as fresh legs that changed the whole game. Sometimes, trusting that the coach knows both the game and you better than you, is a tough lesson to learn, but victories are won by trusting the coach/manager. In fact here locally, George whitefield was doing a great job with the Kingswood Miners -no one else in the country was as good at reaching miners that whitefield- and yet he felt God call him to the America’s and that is when God called John Wesley and the nation was changed and transformed. The greatest fruit comes from obedience, if whitefield had stayed the Christian world would have been so much poorer.

Yet, ultimately it is a step of faith knowing that the one who calls us is faithful. This faithfulness is not just to the place and people we serve, but too us personally as his children. I have recently been so challenged to see my identity not just as his servant, a worker for God, but as his child, his son, beloved by my Father.

Scary too, to re-discover the disciple beneath the dog collar.

Realise afresh the vital calling of being a good husband, good dad, good son, good friend all role and callings I have at times sacrificed on the altar of ministry. Ironic as a bitter old vicars kid, I swore I’d never do that, but amazing how easily we can fall into the old familiar traps!

I am very worried about leaving people in Church the lurch -especially people I have come to love- and I hate letting them down, I think for some of us as Christians ‘guilt’ and ‘duty’ can be a real driver, and although it is good to be conscientious, sometimes this can over-swing.

Yet trusting that actually the mission of God is his mission and not ours. Someone once said that “it’s not the Church that has the mission of God, but rather the missionary God who has a Church”, ultimately the people in our care are his too and “he will be there shepherd”.

Sometimes we have to learn the lesson that we are not indispensable and actually much of discipleship is actually about surrendering. Yet we are surrendering to the lover of our souls, the God who loves us and cares for us, the God who has our best interests at heart. In surrender we find freedom and fulfilment, it is tough, surrender is not easy, but in doing so we trust God to be God, and his faithfulness.

To often when we take a step of faith, we want to know the end from the beginning and to see the safety net clearly. Yet in my experience God’s faithfulness often kicks in, after and not before we take that step.

Reminded of Noah who we reckon might have been in the boat for about 7 days, or the widow sharing her bread with Elijah (using it all up and finding it didn’t run out) or Peter stepping out of the boat to walk on water. Faith came first and God’s faithfulness followed.

As we take that step of faith, I am reminded by some of the stuff the Bible says about 3rd days. It was the third days happen loads in the Bible, 3rd day the wine ran out, 3rd day Lazarus was raised and obviously 3rd day Jesus rose from the dead. As I thought about this, often we make the choice, we have that terrible “Holy Saturday” moment of pain and anxiety before we have the Easter Sunday time of God coming through, sometimes these Holy Saturdays last a while and others are relatively short, yet no matter what God is faithful (even when it doesn’t always look like we think it should).

Sometimes the reason why faith is faith is because it doesn’t always make logical sense to us, but I believe that one day from the perspective of eternity everything will make sense, and God’s plan is the plan that makes perfect sense.

Our last day (and last Sunday) is 1st October, the day after the 10th anniversary of my ‘priesting’ (or more accurately “ordination as a presbyter” -but that’s a whole different blog about why “priest” isn’t the right name for Vicars!)

It has been a journey both with some wonderful highs and some huge lows, sorrows and joys.

I have been honest in other blog about having depression and going to counselling, and now in stepping down, and my hope is that other people will know afresh that God copes with our brokenness and is faithful, and obedience in laying things down is okay because we are loved and he is good, gracious and kind, we don’t have to prove anything to God just keep listening for the coach, the coach that knows us and the game better and we can trust him.

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call, cost, priorities, values, vision

More than just keeping the show on the road?

I remember the Vicar who is leading one of the Churches my dad used to lead, telling a story of his previous parish in the leafy Sussex Countryside which went something like this, :

“Treasurer:- Unless we sought out our giving this Church will shut!
Vicar:- Unless we sought out our evangelism, mission and outreach people will go to a lost eternity”.

We often get obsessed about keeping the lights on in our Church building, rather than our calling of “seeking God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven” as we fulfil the great commission and “make disciples of all nations”.

Jesus never promised to keep open our particular building, but he did say “I will build my Church and even the gates of hell won’t prevail against it”. Jesus told us to “seek first the Kingdom of God”.

Too often we neglect the “seeking first the Kingdom of God” to worry and stress about our building, our constitutions, our processes and 101 trivialities, which from an eternal perspective are cul de sac’s, diversions from our main focus.

Paradoxically, I have seen on many occasions, when we focus on the Kingdom of God the things we so often stress about are resolved -unexpected legacies come in, or people with needed gifting come out of the woodwork.

When we put Jesus first, he sorts out the rest, in fact that is what he promises “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”.

You see it is not the Church that has the mission of God, rather it is the missionary God who has the Church. We collaborate and partner with the ‘Missio Deo -the mission of God’, yet too often we become curators of dusty buildings.

As I thought more about this tragic picture I remembered the story of Mary and Martha, Martha was busy making Jesus a sandwich he didn’t want (in fact the one who fed the 5000 probably wasn’t that worried about missing lunch!), how often are our Churches stressing and wasting our time stressing on things that God himself will sort.

Ironically too, the best way of ‘keeping your building open’ is by keeping in step -living in obedience- with the Holy Spirit of the Living God.

The often stated phrase of “keeping the show on the road” is only a laudable aim when the show is orchestrated and choreographed by the Holy Spirit of the Living God, otherwise it is simply re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We forget the warning in scripture that reminds us that “unless the Lord builds the workers labour in vain”.

Often people are very keen on keeping their buildings open, but the question has to be asked, is there anything in this building that is worth preserving? Are we being a Matthew 25 Church? Are we being an Acts 2 Church? Are lives being transformed by Christ?

To me, it seems like much of the Church in the UK has the telescope the wrong way around distancing us from what should be close at hand, a false perspective -a distortion- that brings complacency.

So, let’s ask God to transform our vision to coincide with his vision.

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