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Fake Mission and Pseudo Evangelism.

I remember a transformative moment in my life was sat in a nice comfortable Church listening to Joel Edwards speak at an Alpha launch, looking around at a Church full of people who appeared to be (mainly) already Christians.

It was that night that the Lord called me to plant Street Pastors in Salisbury.

Often I have been at Church events when they have put an awful lot of time, money and effort into a one day jamboree -but when you look past the fantastic photos on facebook there is no long term constant commitment or strategy to reach their community, and this just feels like ‘token gesture mission”, evangelistic efforts to appease our consciences.

Yet in a way I understand this, Rico Tice -the Evangelist at All Souls Langham Place- talks about pushing through the pain barrier, authentic mission is costly and requires sacrifice and is sometimes painful and difficult.

Sadly although scripture urges us to be “bold and courageous” sometimes we succumb to fear and cowardice.

Sadly too, within us all there is a temptation to avoid uncomfortable and the challenging.

Perhaps we fill our churches diaries up so to look busy and fruitful rather than venture outside our physical building and our invisible comfort zones?

Perhaps our own pride causes us to have the right rhetoric that talks the talk rather than the more costly path of walking the walk, especially when no one sees or appreciates our efforts except perhaps those who ridicule us.

When we are honest with God, and one another, admitting that at times we are scared, even admit that at times we procrastinate -and perhaps as Church we have a procrastination culture?- God delights in our integrity about owning our feelings, and wants to help us be brave and courageous as we step out in faithful obedience.

Our culture is pretty risk adverse and as human beings have a status quo bias that fears change, yet our God is greater than the world.

I have been in many meetings where we have been scared about the missional efforts we have agreed too, and seen how a small seed of faith and bravery can motivate a room full of people and rise us to our feet.

So, let our faith be bigger than our fears. Let’s cease doing activities for the sake of doing them, or because we have always done them. Don’t let the desire to ‘just do something’ be our motivation falling short of our vision of the Kingdom.

Instead, let us not only seek God’s vision for his mission in the context he has placed us in, and also the bravery and courage to heed his call obediently.

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Loving the Found?

We often talk about “Loving the Lost” but do we love the found?

Do we love each other?

Are our communities loving and up-building places?

Do we extend love to one another?

How about love across the divides of denominations, theology or those we disagree with?

Recently, I saw some posts on facebook about Joel Osteen, being attacked over closing his Lakeside Church in the wake of Hurricane Harvey (although he has made a public donation towards the cause). He has been criticised for not doing enough to help those suffering whilst living in a mansion and having a networth that looks like a mobile telephone number. I don’t particularly like or agree with Joel Osteen, yet I have been challenged about my response to him.

Do I tick ‘like’ the posts bashing him? After-all I want to encourage Churches to be hospitable places that welcome, love and seek to serve those around them, especially the broken, hurting, marginalised and disenfranchised?

On one level I feel somewhat smug and secure with my modest stipend and small 3 bedroomed house, criticising a wealthy man with in a 28 bedroomed mansion. It is easy for me to throw around verses from the Bible like “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person!” (1 John 3.17).

Yet, then I wondered about what a child living on refuse tip without access to clean water would say to me, with my house and income? They could with even more validity quote “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

The danger is we notice the specks in one another’s eyes but not the logs within our own eyes.

There are many clichés such as “those in glass houses not throwing stones”, or “when you point the finger remember there are three pointing back at you” and like all clichés it has a challenging truth at its heart.

Interestingly, I remember seeing a clergy colleague attacking gay marriage with large posters outside his Church, a couple of months later he was exposed having an affair, my friend told me about this in a pub by the waterfront in Bristol as a Hen-Party walked passed dressed scantily and I was reminded of two verses “judge not unless you be judged” and the words of Jesus about “even if you look lustfully at a woman it is as bad as committing adultery in your heart”.

Bishop Graham Cray spoke of sin as “there by the grace of God go I”.

It is interesting as a human beings -especially involved in pastoral work- how aware we are of others failings and completely blind we are to our own faults and failings.

The Pharisee who pours scorn on the tax collector was blind to his pride, arrogance and judgementalism.

We forget that we too are capable of sin, and are people in need of God’s grace.

Jesus said “let those who are without sin cast the first stone” -we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

Jesus said too, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples that you love one another” -yet sadly we see some spats between Christians all over social media. I remember recently being struck by one argument between John Piper and Rob Bell. Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’ received a tweet from Piper saying “bye bye Rob Bell” (implying he had left orthodoxy behind and was now a false teacher). Bell responded by a Vlog talking about doctrines he agrees with and ending with damning those who “comment on books they haven’t read”. I remember thinking at the time, this edifies no one, and instead might sell copies of the book but fractures Christian unity.

This is not say that we cannot challenge one another to pursue holiness but can’t do so from a position of smug superiority but rather with humbleness aware of our sin and Gods’ awesome gracious love.

Perhaps aware too of those who listen and hear what we say and how speak about other people, particularly other Christians.

We are meant to be one family bonded and birthed in love from Christ, and yet we shame Christ by the way we squabble and fight.

I heard the other day about an inter-theological college cricket match where the Captain of the evangelical college said as they went to play the liberal catholic college “don’t worry guys we can beat them, they don’t even believe in Jesus!” Now although I am an evangelical, and I do feel really uncomfortable both with some aspects of liberal theology, but I also feel really uncomfortable with comments like this.

As Christians I’m not sure we should be at war with each other.

We are called to love our enemies, and yet sometime we can’t even love our brothers and sisters.

We are called to love the lost, when we can’t even manage to love the found.

Sometimes we are too attacking one another about where we disagree, the world only hears the argument and not the bigger and greater message of Christ.

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The beginning of my Street Pastors Story.

(Here how God called me to the work I’ve done with Street Pastors)…

I was sat with Bishop David, the Bishop of Salisbury, in his study, feeling like a 14 year old who left his homework on the bus. I’d just finished theological college and was about to start my curacy (or serve my title as its technically called!).

“I’d like you to do some work with clubbers” he said -I wondered for a second why posh people always speak through their noses!
…work with clubbers in Salisbury? -I didn’t know Salisbury even had a nightlife (let’s face it Salisbury is hardly Ibiza!)

Anyway, I started work at Bemerton (a tough estate on the edge of the city).

To be honest my boss couldn’t have been less keen if he tried!

So, I didn’t do much about it.

Then one day I was at Alpha at the posh Church in town (if you’re the poshest Church in Salisbury that is saying something!). They had Joel Edwards talking.

As he spoke I looked around and wondered if anyone in this packed room was actually not already saved?!

I wondered how much evangelism we do actually is simply talking to our Churches. Great gospel sermons preached to the already converted. Activism that just makes us feel like at least we are doing something even if it’s not actually achieving anything very much.

Maybe I’d just become a grumpy and twisted cynic.

So many thoughts. It had been a long week, maybe I just needed sleep.
It was a Friday night when I got in and I had a beer and put on the Jonathan Ross show and attempted to chill out.

Yet suddenly I got this God nudge about going down into the city and having a look around.

…But I’m knackered and can’t be bothered.

I tried turning up the volume on the Telly and tried to put the thought out of my mind (being the ‘good’ Christian that I am).

Eventually the nudging got so much that with a grumpy reluctance I grabbed my coat and headed off for the city centre.

As I headed down the Wilton Road into the city, I wandered past three girls, the middle one was so drunk her two friends were trying (fairly unsuccessfully) to carry/guide her home. As I looked closer they weren’t young women, but school kids, probably no more than 15. Now as a dad, I see girls like this and

I worry realising just how vulnerable they are.

I walked past the kebab shop, there were some lads outside hanging about and the air felt tense, they were itching for a fight, their short-hair suggested that they might be squaddies, I crossed the road and walked past at a pace not wanting any trouble.

I walked past the Abbey National bank, and saw a lady huddled in the doorway wrapped in a filthy curtain, not even a blanket.

A few minutes later I heard some girl screaming at her boyfriend, and saw a girl crying in a doorway.

I then noticed that every Church in Salisbury was shut up and in darkness.

The Cathedral even went one better and had great big gates to shut the world (and its problems)!

The leading Nightclub ‘The Chapel’ is in a redundant Church. What message does this send out to the community? Not one of the Church and Jesus being relevant for the 21st Century.

Just then the rain started the fall, but something burned within me.

I had often been out clubbing, but somehow I saw this ‘world’ differently tonight, almost as though it was the first time but this time I was seeing this with the eyes of God.

As I thought and prayed about this, I asked God “what can I do?” -The problems seemed so big and I felt so powerless.

I felt God say simply “The only thing you can’t do is nothing”.

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Gamaliel.

“Are they lucky?” -that was the question that Napoleon used to ask of his Generals.

For the Christian the most important question when anyone is serving is “Are they prayerful?”

The truth is everyone has ideas, opinions, thoughts and are always willing to share them, yet within the community of the Church we need to careless about what you think, and more about whether you pray.

For when we pray we bring ourselves before God, we ask him to guide and shape us and our thinking, we need to too pray in community, corporately, seeking and saying to God: “You will be done”.

God changes people’s minds in prayer.

God changes people’s hearts in prayer.

God builds community together and deepens are relationships together when we pray.

There is a verse that says “If the Lord does not build the house then the labourers labour in vain”, the question when people say what they think should happen should not be “how much will it cost?” or “will it affect me?” but have you prayed about it.

I wonder whether some of the pain that has happened over the years might have
been avoided if we had learned to pray more and listen to the guiding of the Holy Spirit?

A character I find interesting in Scripture is Gamaliel, in the Acts of the Apostles, a very wise man, he sees the angry Jewish people incensed at what the apostles are doing. He says to the crowd -his friends- often it is harder to rebuke our friends than to ‘challenge an enemy- that perhaps God is at work through the people you are opposing.

Acts 5.29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

“you may be opposing God himself” -A terrifying line.

There is a song “Who is on the Lord’s side?” -the danger is we automatically assume that God thinks the same as us. Let’s not be people who resist and grieve the Holy Spirit, instead let our primary motivation be to be obedient to Christ’s will for us as individuals and corporately as a Church family.

Often we have our ideas, opinions and thoughts in order and yet don’t enquire of the Lord where is he calling, where is his heart, what is he saying? Perhaps too he is speaking and working through the person disagree with?

Part of being a Christian is that act of surrendering and submitting to the Lordship of Christ, it is no longer about our personal preferences, but where is the Holy Spirit leading.

There have been times when I have gone along with people on occasions not because I have initially been convinced of their arguments, but because I believe they have sought and wrestled with the Lord over the future, and are people of prayerfulness and integrity. The reverse is true, people maybe compelling and articulate, but if I don’t believe they are prayerful and honourable, I treat their opinions with a greater scepticism.

So, the question for us all is are we seeking the Lord, are we seeking him together, are we prepared to put aside the futility of our own thinking as we bow the knee to the Lordship of Christ?

I’ll end with a challenging comment if you do not come and pray should you be holding a leadership position? When we speak is this coming from our own agenda or has it been birthed first in prayer?

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Two Sins…

Reading the book of Jeremiah the other day I came across an interesting phrase (2:13) “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have do dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water”.

As I thought about this passage I thought about how true this is for our own society, we have drifted from Christ, who is the stream of living water, and so we have a society that is lost, confused and hurting.

I remember when my friend Alex became a Christian, he had been deeply troubled, as his response to my friend Chris was “why didn’t you tell me?”
He had realised that in Jesus he was being offered something unique and precious that he couldn’t get anywhere else, a stream of living water -the source of life, something uncontaminated and pure, something he had been thirsty and longing for all his life.

Watching a water-aid advert on the T.V seeing kids drinking disgusting water filled with parasites that could kill them was heart breaking, longing for these poor children to be able to have clean, pure water free from bacteria.
This is the contrast that God is showing the prophet Jeremiah.

So what is God saying?

When we reject him we are reject the source and fountain of life, we begin to thirst -an unquenchable thirst- and try to satisfy this with things that actually just make us more thirsty.

I love beer and coffee, both actually makes us more thirsty, so actually the more coffee or beer we drink the more dehydrated we become.

So, we’ve rejected the source of life -living water- and drunk instead poisonous toxic water that fails even to quench our thirst adequately.
It seems crazy to turn from something pure and beautiful for something toxic and sinister, but the truth is since the fall of humankind that is what we have done.

The truth is we have all at times rejected God and thought we know better than him.

Our world has rejected God and his way, and have tried digging their own cisterns, just look at the world of advertising which will tell us fulfilment and purpose will be fulfilled by consumerism, sex, relationships, popularity, wealth, some Eastern spiritually of fulfilment or whatever… The world offers no shortage of idols, broken cisterns -that promise everything and deliver nothing.
And what of us personally, I think we all at times can recognise within ourselves those times we have turned from God’s living and life giving water and dug a broken cistern, believing that real fulfilment, purpose and value comes from some idols whether it is a girl/boyfriend, a promotion at work, bigger house, better car, popularity and recognition or whatever.
Often our ideas of fulfilment fall into the danger of “Jesus and….” But Jesus himself is enough, our all sufficient one.

Over our lives we have all developed coping strategies in life, things we put in place to make us feel good, affirmed, loved, valued and important -often these strategies are diametrically opposed to our life in Christ and our identity and purpose we find in him (such as bullying, porn, consumerism/spending) etc, actually they are idols, they are things that make us feel good short term, -some momentary pleasure- but long term they damage our life and our relationship with God.

God is a jealous God and won’t tolerate a rival.

God is a God of love, that offers so much and longs to liberate us from these poisonous, toxic idols that don’t satisfy us with himself, in whom all our hungers are satisfied.

Jesus says (to the woman at the well in Samaria) “if you drink

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Preaching in the Rain.

Yesterday I was due to preach at Hanham Mount, and just before we were due to start it began to rain.

Ironically we had decided to do this in August because the weather would be better!

Hanham Mount is a local landmark, a Methodist world heritage site. It is where Whitefield and then Wesley preached the good news of the Kingdom of God to the Kingswood Miners. Wesley was an unusual choice, unlike the effervescent George Whitefield, Wesley was serious, academic and high church -maybe not the first guy you’d think of delivering lecturers to the U.K’s toughest community at that time. Wesley had reservations, unsure that preaching not in a Church building was quite ‘proper’ -until perhaps he read the sermon on the mount which was delivered outside! Anyway, here on this spot was Wesley’s first outdoor sermon to 16’000 Kingswood Miners, where many responded and even cried ‘white tears of repentance’ the tears cutting rivets through their sooty faces, and then went on to change the nation.

On this place I have prayed Habakkuk’s prayer “Lord, I have heard of your fame, I stand in awe of your deeds, renew them in our day, and in your wrath remember mercy”. I want to remind people of their history, of God moving in their community, and remind them that God is able to do it again!”.

A large drop of water splashed on my head.

I felt for my keys in my dampening pocket, I could just about fly back home and get the keys for the nearest of my Churches (although the Church has not been very into mission/prayer etc and getting worshippers/prayers out of the rain probably would illicit an angry email from some officious member first thing on Monday morning).

I prayed that God would stop the rain, I prayed loudly with authority, even prayed in tongues and the rain carried on, and if anything it got worse.

James, the worship leader appeared, having came up from Bedminster on the bus (he looked pretty soaked already!) I looked down and my T’shirt and posh jacket combination -really not dressed for an open air service in the rain (sometimes I am a bit of a muppet).

“What do we do James?” -deep down I wanted to carry on regardless- but didn’t want to make the poor guy even wetter!

“As I was praying I felt God remind me of the verse: ‘I will build my Church and even the gates of hell won’t prevail against us'” James replied.

“Well, if the even the gates of hell won’t prevail against the Church of Christ we’re not going to be stopped by a bit of rain!” I replied, hoping that it wouldn’t just be James and I crazy enough to pray in the wet.

Suddenly Mike appeared from around the corner, and carrying a spare water-proof jacket, which felt like not only God’s instructions to carry on, but also God’s grace and love.

A moment later two older people from One Church came to join us, they’d seen an advert on the internet.

We began to worship, I was a bit worried about James’ guitar, as I’m sure shed-loads of water couldn’t do it any good. Then a young guy came around the corner cuddling a toddler, a spare brolly was passed to him, and he joined with us.

Then two friends Paul and Mark appeared, Paul in his brightest bandana and carrying a Shofa, and we joined in singing worship and prayers of intersession to God.

I had a talk prepared all about the difference between Samson and Gideon (maybe will be posted on here one day!) but it didn’t feel right.

So, I began to share about a picture God had given me for Kingswood, its in the Bible where Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to settle the dispute between them and the followers of the one true God and their Idol once and for all. It was a completion, where the prophets of Baal had an altar prepared and they prayed that their God would send sacrifice and burn up the offering. They prayed, shouted, cut themselves with knives whilst Elijah jeered at them. Then when it was Elijah’s turn he dug a trench around the altar and drenched the sacrifice in more and more water until it was soaked (remember this is on top of a mountain and in a drought).
And then he prayed.
And God sent the fire.

Yet I often feel a bit like the sacrifice, awaiting God’s fire and feeling like another bucket of water has been chucked on us, dosed with more discouragements, but then when it was impossible for humans to make the fire come, God showed up and burned up the sacrifice and dried up all the water, and even the stones!

I shared about the verse that my friend Mark gave us with the street pastors “Do not grow weary in doing good for at the right time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up” (Galatians 6.9).

I began to explore how a little discouragement can cause our Churches to stall in their Kingdom work of mission and ministry… but God can still bring the fire despite the discouragement.

I began to explore how we personally can experience a little discouragement and our own Christian lives can grind to a halt too.

I urged us all (myself included) to not let discouragement keep us from seeing God break through and “send the fire”.

The previous week Regan had spoken on Is. 55 (the text for Wesley’s first sermon) but ended up talking about Habakkuk 3 (Habakkuk again!):

“Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Saviour”.

Even when it is tough and hard and encouragements are few and far between lets hang on to the truth that God is good, God loves us and God is longing to be made known in this area, God is an interventionist God, he wants to break through and be known by the world he created and died to redeem.

So, the challenge is to keep on proclaiming Jesus and wait for him to show up and send his fire.

As we think of waiting on the Lord, we need to remember his heart and his faithfulness.

That it is God himself who is the missionary God.

We simply love because he first loved us and gave his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

I remember when we first started Street and School Pastors, couldn’t get anyone to join with us, until Michael Eden the Salvation Army Captain volunteered, our first meeting was pouring with rain, but both of us felt God say “still go out” and I think this was where God tested our hearts to see how much we wanted to see him glorified.

When seeking God’s glory are we going to give up at the first hurdle, the first pot of rain, or are we going to say “bring it on” and follow Christ knowing that when we trust in his faithfulness he will never let us down.

So we preached that message, with prayers and praise, in the rain, and I believe it blessed the heart of God.

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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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