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Just Do it…

Just Do it…

It sounds easy, but the truth is we actually rarely just do it!

I come across so many people who live in the past, they’re stuck there unable to move on either from a ‘golden era’ that nostalgia has frozen -and the lenses through which we look at it have become ‘rose tinted’ so they stay lost in the past.

Others have had a bad experience in the past that keeps us rooted to the spot saying “I’m not doing that again” -or even thinking about it.

Sometimes repeated missed opportunities and regrets make us feel that ‘perhaps God wont trust us again’, but God is so so gracious and his mercies are “new every morning”.

So many of us are held back by a “back” break, our past holds us back from what God has for our future.

Or perhaps it is not the past that stops us from stepping into all God has for us.

Others maybe are caught by the “front” break, some of us can be dreamers for the future, everything is ahead of us, so much so we often miss out of the present. A head in the clouds, a head dreaming away, but are we prepared to wake up and see the dreams become reality.

I know a Church and they regularly say something like this “we love what you are doing Andy and loved to help tell people about Jesus in Kingswood but we just need to sort out…” -The problem is there is always a something to sort out and the “jam tomorrow” never happens.

We live in a world of ‘some-days’ yet these some days never actually happen, a belief that one day we’ll do it (whatever ‘it’ is) -possibly-.

Yet, the present is all we have, it is here and now that we build for the future.

I remember having a short conversation with an ex girlfriend called Sam when I was 19, saying I would like to put off accepting Christ as Saviour ‘until I was older and settled down to be boring’. Yet, she died suddenly from a Methadone related death.

The truth is the future as we envisage it may not happen, the past is done and gone, the question is what is God calling us to do today.

Scripture urges us that “today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts”.

I worry that so often we put the call of God on hold, thinking a better time will arrive to be obedient.

One of my friends once said about feeling God had a call on his life but he said that he had “kept the answerphone on”.

Perhaps we aren’t intentionally disobedient, but this faithful service of God never actually happens as it becomes a warm intention that is never actually realised, it’s an empty fantasy.

Or perhaps we realise that saying “yes” to God can be costly and challenging, and so we prevaricate, we employ delaying tactics -we do everything we can think of instead of or before doing that thing we know we ought to do.

Do it now! Don’t put it off.

Carpe Diem -seize the day.

Ultimately the question is dangerously simple are we people who are obedient or disobedient?

Here is what Selwyn Hughes says:

“The consequence of disobedience to the will of God is that the time will come when we will no longer be able to hear God speaking to us”.

So, whatever God is saying to you to, don’t let baggage from your past stop you, nor fears or fantasies from you future prevent you, seize the moment and don’t put it off.

And a final few thoughts from Matthew 21.

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

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Discipleship in circles or spirals?

I’ve just finished reading Paul Harcourt’s fab book “Discipleship in Circles”, really worth reading if you’ve not read it.

His idea is that our spiritual growth is rarely liner, starting on one line and moving in a straight-line towards Spiritual maturity, but rather our spiritual journeys -and our life journeys are more circular, encountering the same thing -or the same season- again and again.

Yet when I first saw the title I wondered if it was more about running around in circles, chasing your tail, getting caught in the same patterns again and again. The same struggles with same sins, people and problems.

Sometimes it has felt like my spiritual life is like a hamster on a wheel, not progressing in the freedom that I want to be in.

When I read Romans 7, where Paul himself talks about his internal battle between the old man and the new man in Christ, where the good he wants to do he fails to do, whilst the sin he really wants to avoid he ends up falling into.

This is Paul.

We all at times struggle, and find seasons catching us again and again where we ask ourselves “Why haven’t I learned this lesson?” or “why haven’t I cracked this problem?”

So often our Churches are full of pep talks and victorious living, and yet the reality in most of our lives it feels far from this.

Yet I do believe that Jesus breaks cycles of sin and struggle.

Paul continues in this vein over the next two chapters of Romans about how Christ rescues us, sets us free, gives us a new identity and fills is with his spirit.

Sometimes we have some form of supernatural deliverance, where we really feel Christ has stepped into our struggles and cut the rope or broke the chains.

Other times, we slowly over time realise that we are not actually in a circle, but a cycle, learning on each time around, and our cycles lift us slowly from our sin in spirals.

God works both supernaturally, and naturally.

God works both in the dramatic and the dreary.

We can trust him that he wants us to be free, he knows of what we are made, and his grace is enough for us.

If God doesn’t set us free instantly and dramatically, but rather allows us to go through a cycle again (and maybe again and again) we learn, grow and deepen our faith as we go through our spiritual journey with Christ.

Too often we think of Spiritual maturity as a destination, especially when we have a linear picture of discipleship, but rather it is allow God to shape us, mould us and develop us during the journey.

So, even when progress feels slow, sin feels entangling, run into the arms of Christ and go through each circle, however many times, with him holding your hand. As journey reveals our need of him and our brokenness we will discover afresh his faithfulness, love, grace and mercy.

The journey, not just the destination, matters to God.

Discipleship is not a certificate of maturity but a life long on going battle and struggle to become more and more like Jesus,

He goes through the circles, cycles and spirals with us.

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The Chocolate Palace.

Today I met up with some friends both of whom got recently baptised for a Bible study and a chat in a local Coffee shop.

I was working through the story from Matthew 7.24-29 about the story of the wise and foolish builder:

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

As Ky read this, he said it sounds like this scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW9Zvzhf_Rg.

A prince who has a Palace built of chocolate, a dream come true, all you’d want, and yet the sun came out, and melted the palace of chocolate (see clip).

In many ways I can see the parrel, it is like a house built on sand, it looks great, it is a dream come true, and the Prince thought life was going to be wonderful, and yet this dream drips away and evaporates, it’s not a dream of substance.

It made me think do the things we build our lives on melt when exposed to the sun?

Are we building our lives and our dreams on chocolate on a warm day?

Perhaps we dream of being rich, popular, famous, learned, successful or whatever it is for you?

Interestingly, the chocolate palace or the house built on the beach, might look vastly superior to the house built on the rock. Yet foundations are essential, but normally pretty invisible

Yet, all of these things might look good on the surface, might bring some momentary pleasure, but often leaves us in a sticky mess. Interestingly, most major lottery winners wish they hadn’t won. The experience about having everything you could dream of actually has become for many a nightmare.

Jim Carey once said “I wish everyone could become rich and famous so they could see how empty it is”.

Jesus, tells another story, not of a melting palace, but of a house that stands firm. A house that stands firm, firm on the rock, with deep and stable foundations.

A house that with-stands the strains and stresses of life. Remains steadfast in the face of the wind and the rain of troubles, difficulties and adversity. A house that does not fall with the floods and hurricanes of pain and disaster.

Jesus is described in the Bible as a firm foundation. The only unchangeable thing in a changeable world. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Always good.
Always faithful.
Always longing to forgive and to restore.
Always trustworthy.
Always true.
Always loving.
Always abounding in grace and in mercy.

A hymn-writer put it like this “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand”.

Jesus starts this story with the words “if anyone hears my word and puts them into practice, they are like a wise-person”…

As I thought about this, so often as Christians we hear Jesus’ words, we read Jesus’ words, we even highlight them in our Bibles, memorise them, even learn them in Greek (or Hebrew) but sadly too many of us fail to apply them to our lives.

Sometimes when the storms of life hit, I’ve realised that perhaps I’ve been living too much in the wrong house.

I’ve been getting too much of my self worth and value from the chocolate palace and am lost when it starts to melt. Rather than bedding down in the truth of the stability of the rock-solid place of security and safety that is dwelling within the truth of God’s living word.

Perhaps our home dwelling started off built on the rock solid foundation of Christ, but maybe we’ve added a sand-based conservatory… Or maybe a chocolatey guest room?

Perhaps there is some stuff that needs under pinning?

Perhaps even some stuff we need to move out of and return back to our rock solid home?

Interestingly too the sunny image melting the chocolate reminded me of a truth I discovered researching for my degree, people are just as likely to walk away from their relationship with Christ when things go well as when things fall apart.

Both success and failure can be used by the devil to derail our relationship with God.

The questions I want to leave us with is what are we building our lives on?

Does our life need some underpinning and work on the invisible -but vital- work of our foundations beneath the surface, the unseen part of us.

Don’t let success or failure cause you to build your life on anything other than the rock that is Christ Jesus.

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The Contemplative Pioneer Evangelist.

At a recent meeting I was at, I was hearing about how we need more “risk takers” and in some degree I agree that as the Church of Jesus Christ we can sometimes be risk adverse. Again the conversation progressed with we need more entrepreneurs too, and again we do need people with ideas and creativity and the ‘can do’ attitude to make things happen.

Yet the thing that I found was missing was the question of where is God in all of this? Surely the key to all mission is stepping out in faith with what God is calling us to do.

Surely a good pioneer has to be someone who is prayerful and is actively seeking what is God’s will for this place at this time with these people.

I know many risk takers, and I admire their courage, but risk in itself is neither positive or negative, the question is whether or not it is the right thing to do, the thing you are called to do.

I remember in “Only Fools and Horses” Rodney saying of Del, that he’s read a book where a modern man makes bold and entrepreneurial decisions “which is why we have half a dozen Russian Betamax Video recorders and a whole load of horse riding helmets painted red” -In other words he’d bought a right load of old tosh!

Scripture reminds us that “Zeal without wisdom is folly”.

In the world of Pioneer Ministry there is much talk of leading, but surely the key is being led by the Holy Spirit.

In my context of Kingswood, there are a million worthwhile ventures that I could be doing -filling the diary up has never been the problem- but rather what is God calling us to do? What is God’s plan and purpose of the people I serve?

My friend Mark Rich talks about “the devil seeking to cause us maximum weariness for minimum fruitfulness” -after all the most dangerous thing is not failure but succeeding in things that don’t matter. Scripture talks of building with “Gold, Silver and costly stones” -imperishable- rather that “wood, straw and costly stones” -perishable-, our own ideas might sound impressive but it is only the ideas that stem from the heart of God that have lasting eternal fruitfulness.

To discover God’s plan and purposes I believe can only be discovered by being a good listener, listening to God in the quiet place -seeking his Kingdom on our knees- and listening to the community.

Often people come to me with a great idea, and they really try to sell me their idea, and often there has been some brilliant and wonderful creative thinking, yet the question I want to know is “do you believe you have heard from God on this? Is God calling us to this?”

For “if the worker does not build the house then the labourers labour in vein” and what is more even Jesus said “I only do what I see my Father doing” -we need reminding that “Mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in” (as former Archbishop Rowan Williams said).

Whilst I was at college one of our lecturers described the best ministers as ‘reflective practioners’.

We need people to be practioners as so often we can ‘navel gaze’ being so reflective that never get around to being productive! Yet we can be so activist in being ‘practioners’ that we never prayerfully reflect or evaluate anything and thus miss out on the fruit that God wants to give us.

We need to seek God for the right way forward and build it. Yet as we build something new, we need to be self aware, critical in our thinking and with open hearts and minds to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly a wise and Godly friend gave me this advice on starting in Kingwood which was “pray, pray and pray some more… Spend the first year just praying” -advice I wish I had heeded more.

Yet, although it is great to “hit the ground kneeling” and begin embedded in prayer, we also need to continue on in this vein. Not just birthing a vision in prayer, but nurturing it prayerfully, sustaining it prayerfully and continually evaluating it prayerfully too.

So, let’s learn afresh to be people who live deeply with Christ, whose rhythm of life is “the ancient art of breathing” -receiving from Christ (breathing in) and sharing it with the world around us (breathing out).

To conclude, for me the most important gift with any Kingdom work is the ability “to hear and discern God’s voice and the courage and obedience to put it into practice”.

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The Contemplative Pioneer Evangelist…

At a recent meeting I was at, I was hearing about how we need more “risk takers” and in some degree I agree that as the Church of Jesus Christ we can sometimes be risk adverse. Again the conversation progressed with we need more entrepreneurs too, and again we do need people with ideas and creativity and the ‘can do’ attitude to make things happen.

Yet the thing that I found was missing was the question of where is God in all of this? Surely the key to all mission is stepping out in faith with what God is calling us to do.

Surely a good pioneer has to be someone who is prayerful and is actively seeking what is God’s will for this place at this time with these people.

I know many risk takers, and I admire their courage, but risk in itself is neither positive or negative, the question is whether or not it is the right thing to do, the thing you are called to do.

I remember in “Only Fools and Horses” Rodney saying of Del, that he’s read a book where a modern man makes bold and entrepreneurial decisions “which is why we have half a dozen Russian Betamax Video recorders and a whole load of horse riding helmets painted red” -In other words he’d bought a right load of old tosh!

Scripture reminds us that “Zeal without wisdom is folly”.

In the world of Pioneer Ministry there is much talk of leading, but surely the key is being led by the Holy Spirit.

In my context of Kingswood, there are a million worthwhile ventures that I could be doing -filling the diary up has never been the problem- but rather what is God calling us to do? What is God’s plan and purpose of the people I serve?

My friend Mark Rich talks about “the devil seeking to cause us maximum weariness for minimum fruitfulness” -after all the most dangerous thing is not failure but succeeding in things that don’t matter. Scripture talks of building with “Gold, Silver and costly stones” -imperishable- rather that “wood, straw and costly stones” -perishable-, our own ideas might sound impressive but it is only the ideas that stem from the heart of God that have lasting eternal fruitfulness.

To discover God’s plan and purposes I believe can only be discovered by being a good listener, listening to God in the quiet place -seeking his Kingdom on our knees- and listening to the community.

Often people come to me with a great idea, and they really try to sell me their idea, and often there has been some brilliant and wonderful creative thinking, yet the question I want to know is “do you believe you have heard from God on this? Is God calling us to this?”

For “if the worker does not build the house then the labourers labour in vein” and what is more even Jesus said “I only do what I see my Father doing” -we need reminding that “Mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in” (as former Archbishop Rowan Williams said).

Whilst I was at college one of our lecturers described the best ministers as ‘reflective practioners’.

We need people to be practioners as so often we can ‘navel gaze’ being so reflective that never get around to being productive! Yet we can be so activist in being ‘practioners’ that we never prayerfully reflect or evaluate anything and thus miss out on the fruit that God wants to give us.

We need to seek God for the right way forward and build it. Yet as we build something new, we need to be self aware, critical in our thinking and with open hearts and minds to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly a wise and Godly friend gave me this advice on starting in Kingwood which was “pray, pray and pray some more… Spend the first year just praying” -advice I wish I had heeded more.

Yet, although it is great to “hit the ground kneeling” and begin embedded in prayer, we also need to continue on in this vein. Not just birthing a vision in prayer, but nurturing it prayerfully, sustaining it prayerfully and continually evaluating it prayerfully too.

So, let’s learn afresh to be people who live deeply with Christ, whose rhythm of life is “the ancient art of breathing” -receiving from Christ (breathing in) and sharing it with the world around us (breathing out).

To conclude, for me the most important gift with any Kingdom work is the ability “to hear and discern God’s voice and the courage and obedience to put it into practice”.

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Don’t rip up your L plates.

When we are learning to drive we put L plates on our cars to warn other motorists that we are learning, and then when we pass our test we rip up the L plates and can drive normally.

Yet I think we learn most about driving safely when we are actually driving, and so often the worst crashes are caused by people who think they know it all and sadly discover with dreadful consequences that they don’t know it all.

Too often I think we have this idea that learning is only a temporary thing until we pass a test, or master a technique or skill, or gain a certificate.

Too often we are too eager to tear up our L plates, all of us long to feel competent, knowledgeable and learned.

Yet, I would suggest that it is folly to believe we ever fully reach this destination, it is a sign of immaturity and pride to think we know it all.

Instead, let’s be Christians still with our L plates on, people that are life-long learners, going through life humbly seeking to find God and to grow through the circumstances we find in life.

A great question to ask in all we go through is to say “Holy Spirit, what is it you want to teach me in this situation?” Looking and seeking God’s voice in the chaotic and crazy world around us.

Let is never thinking we are experts and have nothing left to know, as not only does this puff us up with pride, it is folly to think we can ever put God and his creation in a box.

“My ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts” says the Lord is Is.55

Part of our humanity is knowing that we are not, and never will be, all knowing but we surrender to a God who knows all things, is loving and can be trusted.

It is knowing that we as humanity aren’t at the centre of the universe that gives us wisdom… Perhaps that is why it is written “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”?

Paul urges the Christians in Rome to “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you”.

Yet, knowing the limitations of our humanity is not a reason to give up even trying to be a life long learner.

Bill Hybels says “Armed with enough humility leaders can learn from anyone”.

I would add that armed with enough prayerful discernment every circumstance can teach and shape us in our discipleship, sanctification and our walk with Christ.

James says “if anyone lacks wisdom they should ask God who gives generously”.

The question is not “are there opportunities to learn and grow?” The truth is these are all around us, but rather do we have a teachable spirit, a humility to learn, a desire for growth and discipleship?

Our discipleship depends on our openness to hear God’s voice with soft rather than a hard heart.

The humility to hear God’s voice sometimes in places that we ordinarily might choose to avoid, to seek God in the places of discomfort, and to be real and honest in hearing truths we might prefer to remain ignorant of.

In the Bond film Casino Royale M (the boss) says to Bond “Arrogance and self awareness rarely go together”.

I believe that self awareness is at the heart of discipleship, knowing what we are actually and really like rather than some self delusional view-point.

As the Psalmist urges us:
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting”.

So, let’s keep the L plates on, and be open to all that God wants to teach us.

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The search for perfection…

We live in a consumeristic world.

We live in a virtual world, where every image we see is air-brushed, lit and positioned to look as attractive as possible…

Those who say the camera never lies have clearly never heard of photo-shop!

I was thinking that in our culture we as so influenced by the media and advertising agencies that we are always in search for the perfect, but it is an illusive search. The world and all that is in it is fallen, somehow we can live our lives chasing a fantasy of the perfect life, the perfect job, the perfect partner, the perfect holiday and the children… and yet we forget that we’re not perfect either.

Our consumerist desire for ‘bespoke’ and our airbrushed unreality leaves people feeling dissatisfied.

Beauty is not about cutting ourselves off from reality in some pseudo-bubble-world for as long as we can keep the illusion going (the more money we have the more we can keep ourselves in a deluded state, but even then we know deep down its not real but actually incredibly empty).

Islam recognises this issue in its philosophy of beauty, which understands that only God is perfect and to try and achieve perfection is in their view idolatrous, that is why art from this culture sometimes has a deliberate mistake in it as a testimony to God’s perfection and human-fallen-ness.

Yet traditionally the Christian understanding of beauty is very different from Islam, where we believe we can see beauty in brokenness. Despite the fall God’s indelible goodness can still shine out of that which is broken.

In fact Jesus often calls us out of what feels beautiful and comfortable to discover a new beauty in a more broken area.

When I was at New Wine I went to a session with Gareth Robinson, a Church planter, and he described about how he and his wife had wonderful Christian gatherings in their conservatory with nice Christians friend on his planting team. Yet then they planted in the estate they felt called to be in, and it went messy with local kids running around and causing havoc and it all went messy. The seminar was called ‘birthing Church-plants’ and his opening remarks were that often birth is messy and costly. Yet many years on have seen many local kids become Christians and have seen Christ impact the estate.

I have worked in youth work and Church leadership for about 20 years and on occasions I have had to pray “Jesus let me see these people/community/group with your eyes and give me your love for them”.

Even gold looks unattractive when it is mined out the rock, but in the purification process its true beauty and value becomes more and more apparent.

Yet when we think of God at work in our own lives, sometimes people have noticed the gifting and potential in us -often deeply buried- within us and yet God and his people have had the wonderful privilege or drawing it out and enjoying and being blessed by us, and us being blessed by being a blessing.

The exciting privilege of partnering with God in his redemptive and sanctifying work in us and in the lives of the people we have come to love.

In fact the harder we look with the eyes of Christ the more we see of God in the most unlikely places, the smudged finger-print of the Spirit of God in the least likely places and the most unlikely people.

Our world tries to sell us counterfeit beauty but yet the beauty really end up appreciating is that which we have invested it, which is so much greater and deeper than superficial beauty that the world has tempted us by.

Often we settle for nice -like the lovely pleasant time Gareth had in his conservatory- but if you asked them would they swap it for the wonders they found in planting a Church amongst the broken and marginalised, I bet they wouldn’t swap! So lets press on for what is declared by the divine to be beautiful.

The greatest beauty we can see is something of heaven, the Kingdom of God, touching earth -or at least our bit of it- and this is a beauty we can participate in.

A beauty that maybe the world can’t always see, unless seen and felt with the eyes and heart of Christ.

And this beauty is investing in that which is eternal.

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