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The Scarcity Narrative.

I recently blogged asking the question where I our Christian lives (both individually and corporately) is there the extravagance of God made manifest through our outrageous acts of Kingdom generosity?

Today I want to think of the scarcity complex which I believe is epidemic within our culture and society.

We live in a such a frenetic and consumerist world that we feel we inadequate and I’ll equipped as we believe we never had enough to live the life we are called to and to truly be the Kingdom people we were intended to be.

There is not enough of us…

We can afford it…

I haven’t got time…

We haven’t the resources…

I haven’t got the experience…

The scarcity mindset runs on fear, it grinds us to a halt and causes paralysis.

The scarcity mindset wants a hero to come and make it all right for us all.

The problem primarily with this mindset it refuses to do what we can, where we are, with what we have got. God asks Moses “what do you have in your hand?” -A stick, clearly not enough, but with God it was more than abundantly enough!

The truth is we will never have enough or be ready and able with all we need, Jesus didn’t say to the fishermen come and follow when the time is right and everything is in order and you are ready to go.

The scarcity mindset would have binned the five loaves and two fish and sent the give thousand away hungry.

The scarcity mindset would have the widow keep her mite for a rainy day.

The scarcity mindset would see Gideon’s army running for the hills rather than running into battle.

The scarcity mindset would not be able to reverse the fall with coming as a vulnerable baby, born in poverty in a remote corner of an occupied and oppressed territory.

This mythical belief refuses be transformed by the hope of the Kingdom and the good news of Jesus Christ, as it is a defeatist, pessimistic and faithless worldview that refuses to acknowledge the power or the character of the almighty.
Scripture reminds us of God’s all sufficiency.

St. Paul says “I can do all things through him who strengthens me!”

The scarcity mindset causes us to cling on for control as it feels like we are looking everything, we think everything is running out and we panic, and as we panic we become more and more imprisoned by the stronghold of this deception.

Paradoxically the way out of the scarcity mindset is to learn peace and contentment in what we have and who we are -not giving Satan a foothold! Incredibly countercultural!

The scarcity mindset is rebuffed when we live in generosity and dwell not in our poverty but in thankfulness at God’s abundance (lessons we can learn from the two thirds world). Embracing Isaiah 61 living that swaps despair for joy.

The poverty deception has very little to do with the reality, often issues of time, money and energy is more to do with our perception than reality, pray that God shows us our lives with his eyes.

The greatest poverty I believe is not to do with where we have it rather with our hearts and our heads, do we have a poverty of faith and I imagination? Have we tended the fire with our hearts? Or have we allowed cynicism, jadedness and fear take mastery of our inner-most being?

Come back to the Saviour who gave it all for us, and ask him to banish from our souls the permissive paranoia that rugby tackles so many Christians and Churches and extinguishes the Kingdoms hopes and dreams that God has placed within each one of us.

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A Just Church?

In one of Terry Pritchett’s Novels he described the human race as “mostly harmless” one thinks that C.S. Lewis might have said a similar thing about the Church in his Screwtape letters (a senior devil writing to a junior devil).
I think too rarely do corrupt politicians, gang lords or drug pushers loose much sleep over the power of the local church.

Too often the Church feels too apathetic, too toothless, too baige, too middle class and too self absorbed to do anything more than just talk meaningfully about poverty, gang culture, injustice and exploitation.

Yet I long for a revolution where Church becomes the lion with its God-given confidence to roar that it was intended to have!

Bonhoeffer wrote that we (the Church of Jesus Christ) “should drive a spike into the wheel of injustice”, and it was his defiance to Hittler that cost him his life.

The Archbishop Oscar Romereo fought corruption with such fire that he was martyred by an a assassin who shot him during Mass.

Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, was so controversial that he lived his life within a whisker of being stoned to death and was executed by the Romans for fear of rioting crowds.

In our heritage as Christians we are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses such as Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Wilberforce and Dorothy Day and many more people who refused to live their lives quietly and rocked the boat for the sake of those around them motivated by their allegiance to the revolutionary carpenter from Nazareth.

Recently I met an amazingly lady who had given her life to ending female genital mutilation and had seen a reduction of this hideous practice in some of the countries she has worked.

I recently saw on Facebook the story of the wo peace activists who broke into an aircraft hanger with the intention to stop planes flying into Yemman and bomb civilians.

I see a generation who write the Church off as being boring and irrelevant, perhaps I’d we showed more of this radical non conformity the boring tag might be less apt.

True, there is the early signs if awakening with Street Pastors, food banks and Christians against poverty starting to rewrite the DNA of our churches in line with the heart beat if God, yet sadly these are still in many cases tinge activities of the uber keen.

I sit through endless meetings where people are incredibly proud of raising a few quid from the odd poorly supported coffee morning something inside me died, this doesn’t feel like the salty community of Christ that combats decay, creates thirst for Christ and “brings out the God flavours of the world” to quote Eugene Patterson.

The light causing the darkness to flee, where blind eyes are not turned towards the worst of humanity, where shoulders aren’t shrugged at the state of the world outside our church door but compelled to bring the light, life and love of Christ into dark, hurting and broken communities.

The prayer book refers to the Church militant on earth, and historically its militancy has not always been directed helpfully, but what if we really did combat decay?

What if human traffickers and drug dealers said “we won’t work here because the Church is too active and will see us destroyed?” Churches rescuing people from the jaws of predators, strong holds being destroyed by prayer and action, poverty being reduced because the Church is actually being good news within its community and children not going to bed hungry.

The local church feels like a great giant but one which feels like it is asleep, I long for the Bride of Christ to wake and feel the heart beat of God for the brok3n, marginalised, disenfranchised and ostracized.

A Church where justice isn’t just a recreational hobby, a bolt on ministry, but part of its core DNA to see transformation in the streets of the areas God had placed us.

No more bland and milky church self obsessed and self absorbed, let’s be the salt and light Kingdom ambassadors that engage in warfare with the powers and principalities, with the strongholds of community, and the Church of Jesus Christ truly is good news to all people.

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WITH

Whilst studying I came across a quote from Samuel Wells, the Vicar of St. Martin in the field (in Trafalgar square) who spoke of the most important word within theology being “with”.

Which made me think how often is Church done “too” us, someone said on our Mission Shaped Ministry Course “we do Church to the next generation as it has been done to us”, realising that so often we passively receive Church as we have known it week by week.

Sometimes, in the worst extremes it can feel as though faith is being done ‘at’ us.

I have known leaders who have said things like “if you don’t like it there is the door”, which is saying your voice and your view does not matter.

In many ways it infantises us, when someone does everything “for” us we never lean to do it for ourselves, and certainly never learn to train others to do it for themselves either.

Too much of modern day discipleship looks like spoon feeding people, cutting up their food for them, thinking for them and unsurprisingly (although often well mean) this leaves them stunted and dependent in their growth and unable to fend for themselves.

Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse used to have a sketch where their phrase “you don’t want to do it like that, you want to do it like this”. It was a controlling picture, an unhelpfully parental picture, that assumed you knew nothing and the person talking knew everything.

Often these well meaning types can run the risk of keeping us from fulfilling who God has called us to be, and to do what God has called us to do, and leaves us rather as a pale imitation of someone else, someone we ‘re not. God has no need of a clone of anyone else, but rather his call on your life will enable you to be you in its beautiful Technicolor!

The power dynamic with “too” or worse “at” has one person with all the power and the other with none, one is the provider -the one who does, and the client – the one who is done too.

Yet when we look at the ministry of Jesus he was a leader who embraced the concept of with, he shared his life with his disciples, he gave them opportunities to participate in ministry and to shape what was happening. It was a journey of empowerment and opportunity within the context of relationship, it was mentoring and apprenticeship of people who were active participants invested in the outcome.

The fruit of Jesus’ with style ministry is seen by its fruit that when he returned to heaven the disciples continued the work on earth without him, when we breed consumers and disempowered spectators we won’t grow disciples that will step up when we leave the room, but grumble as they seek someone else to “do it all for them”.

When we think of Ephesians with the 5 fold ministry of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, we often think of them exercising their ministry to us (or at us if done badly) but rather they are meant to help us become more proficient in their ministry, learning how to be visionary, prophetic -hearing from God ourselves-, how to lovingly share our faith with those around us, how we pastor and love one another and how to learn and share with others what we have discovered about who God is.

We need to learn again how to do discipleship alongside one another, sharing our journeys together as fellow travellers following Christ, not as expert and pupil, yes we need to mentor and apprentice one another but not trying to shoehorn people into our cookie cutter idea of what we think they should be, but working alongside to help them fullfill all that God has for one another. As we do that we see new leaders arise that look like them and who God has called them to be, rather than clones of us.

Too often, especially in ministries of justice and compassion, we loose something of the uniqueness and value of the people who receive from us but have no possibility of reciprocation, which dehumanizes them and withdraws from us a wonderful catalyst for blessing.

So, let’s learn from Jesus our teacher, the one who by his spirit longs to work with us, the one who invites us to work with him rather than for him, and calls us to work with his beloved alongside us in a way of value and dignity not working ‘too’, ‘for’ or ‘at’ them but with, a liberation movement for the body of Christ as we seek to make disciples Jesus

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Missional God…

My favourite book on evangelism is “God on the beach” by Michael Volland, in it there is an awesomely powerful image, he looks out and sees a boat stuck in the sand, at closer inspection the boat has been there for years, and will be there for years. Michael was coming to an end of a mission week in Newquay, and in seeing this boat he received a picture from God that God had been in Newquay since before the mission team arrived and will be there after they go.

This understanding that we are invited into the awesome privilege of joining with God for a season of his salvation work in his world. Rowan Williams once wrote that “it is not the Church that has the mission of God but rather the God of mission who has a Church!”

There is a theological phrase fort his, it is called the Missio Dei the mission of God, which he calls us to enter into.

God is always at work within the creation he adores the call to us is to find out what God is doing and to join in.

The problem is that God is working often in places our religious spirits don’t want to go, Peter on the roof of Simon the Tanner when he sees the vision of unclean animals for him to eat, but instead he says “I’m not eating that” despite Jesus saying to him on mission “eat whatever is put before you!” and because of this vision he goes and finds God at work in the life of the Gentile Cornelius. God had been working where the good respectable religious people thought he shouldn’t be working, but was.

The same is true today, often Christians are scared to go into “body, mind and spirit” fayres forgetting that “he that is within us is greater than he that is within the world” – in fact the display of the Holy Spirits power was so impressive in the book of Acts that one of the peddlers of occult stuff wants to buy the Holy Spirit as the recognises the Spirits power is greater and more beautiful than his own limited attempts.

I used to do a town centre chaplaincy giving our chocolates to the various workers in retail and used to feel awkward about going into the Good Timez store with its in store clairvoyant, but although I’m not into such things I always went in as I saw these people as spiritual seekers, people looking and longing for God, must looking in the wrong place. Something of mission is discovering where the Holy Spirit is at work in them even if other things appear more viable at first.

We often start a conversation unaware that God has been at work in a person for years, recently having a pint with my friend Chris he said “the girl behind the bars’ dad’s a vicar” and some of the regulars have got Christian mates or been part of a Christian youth group… yet at first glance you wouldn’t realise that God has been at work.

I love the idea of looking at people and the world with the eyes of faith, seeing God at work and ingeniously drawing people to himself, just like the star in the East leading the astrologers to kneel before the king of kings in a manager, so God is reaching out to his world in live, not wanting anyone to perish.

We hear stories of Muslims asleep and encountering Jesus in their dreams, God working in areas that often we assume he would bypass. Yet there is no door that can lock out the spirit of God.

Even within the world God has ordained that everything reveals his splendour, St. Paul talks of all nature leaving humankind without an excuse but to believe in God.

My former intern Sam once told the story of an African village which was having peace talks , and ones of the tribal leaders rushed forward and gave the other warlord his son, and grabbed the warlords son. The image was powerful that whilst their flesh and blood lived within the other community there would be peace through the sacrifice.

A redemptive image from their culture which gave the missionaries language and opportunity to speak to this tribe of a God who gave his son to bring reconciliation. The world is full of atonement imagery pointing people to Jesus, but the spirit of this world has blinded the eyes of the unbelievers.

If we read Harry Potter we see a wonderful image of salvation, these images are seen from Disney to Dickens literature and film are pale immitations of humanities yearning for the greatest story of all.

In sport when a hated player from the premiership done an England shirt his past performances for his team are forgiven as he tries to bring victory to the national team.

A world screaming out the message of the gospel.

Yet God invites me and you to come and to join him in partnership with sharing revelation and his good news with his beloved peoples where-ever they may be and whatever they may have got into.

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Uncomfortable Stillness.

I have wanted to blog about this for a while!

I have currently been ‘on sabbatical’ now for almost two months. I left my job on October 1st and am in debate with my new work about a start date in January,
and this time between roles was partly to recover from the bruising time that was much of our internal churchy experience partly to pray and seek God for the future, partly to intentionally spend more time with my little girl but primarily to reconnect with the disciple behind the dog collar.

To rediscover a new relationship with Christ based on who I am, not what I did.
As anyone who knows me has probably noticed I am an activist, perhaps at times driven beyond the call of God. Perhaps a little addicted to the drug of accomplishment.

I find doing nothing really difficult.

In fact more than difficult, it is painful.

I was recently challenged to “push through the pain barrier” of just being, to find God at the other side.

As I sat and waited on God, I could feel the restlessness descend on me, 101 things (all of which were probably pointless) pressed in on me, and I resisted. As I sat through this actively choosing not to let my mind wander (what the Buddhists’ call ‘monkey mind’ where your mind flits about all over the place when trying to be still).

When you are still with yourself as you really are and the God who knows you through and through there is no place to hide, a place of facing and confronting those things that we try to avoid encountering.

I recently remembered the lyrics from the song “when the music fades, all is stripped away and I simply come” that idea that “nothing in my hand I bring simply to your cross I cling” that all I’ve done and all that’s happened is not the reason God loves me, instead I was loved before I was able to go anything positive and will be loved after I’ve ceased to be productive, and whether I work a 5 or a 50 hour week neither will see an increase or a decrease in God’s love God me.

I read an article that talked about to many of us are addicted to the drug of accomplishment that it often leaves us grouchy on our days off!

The pressure of work undone can be a real and active distraction.

“Be still and know that I am God” is something different ones of us find easier than others.

Recently my mind had been drawn back to Luke 10 with the story of Mary and Martha.

I identify much more with Martha in this story than with Mary. I would want to be doing something I’d Jesus had arrived, I’d feel just sitting at his feet feels like self indulgence. I would certainly be muttering the same types of things as Martha expecting Jesus to “tell off Mary for not helping!” (and to be fair there are lots of verses about working diligently and conscientiously!) and yet Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better thing.

She’s not rushing around but sat at the feet of Jesus.

Jesus wants her, Martha, not what she can do for him.

Busy-ness inhibits our human relationships, where we don’t have time for people, and busy-ness can inhibit our relationship with God too.

God wants intimacy more than productivity.

Someone once joked about Martha was trying to make Jesus a sandwich he didn’t want, often we are so used to having transactional relationships with people -you do this for me, I do this you- that we realise our worth is not in what we do, and our relationship with God was not intended to be a transactional one either.

I can imagine Jesus saying to Martha: “I just want to be with you…. rather than what I can get from you!”

I then wondered about our relationship with God, do we ever tell him that he is all we want rather than what we want from him. He wants us to seek his face not just his hands, and the Mary and Martha story shows us that God thinks the same about us.

So a challenge for those of us who are not naturally like Mary’s to learn afresh to sit, to wait, to seek his face even when we become restless -especially when we become restless- learn to embrace the pain and discomfort to encounter God, often in a deeper and more intimate way.

Then as I thought more, and deeper, about this story Martha is not heard of again in scripture but Mary appears later, probably the Mary at the cross and by the empty tomb meeting the risen Jesus. Perhaps from sitting at his feet Mary was able to recognise his voice when he called her name, realising he was not a gardener but the resurrected Lord.

Perhaps intimacy is investing in the depth of relationship that not only ‘stays the course’ but has the depth to withstand the turbulence of the Christian life.

So let’s learn to stop and seek the Lords face.

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Proper Church?

As someone involved in Fresh Expressions I often hear people say “when are they going to come to proper Church” -makes my blood boil, I get really angry! Still, deep breath, swing the coffee and write the blog!

The idea is that some expressions of Church are ‘legitimate’ and others aren’t, often it is the inherited forms of Church that won’t recognise Fresher Expressions of Church because for them it doesn’t feel like ‘proper’ Church, and in a way I can understand this.

If your Churchy experience has always been a formal service with choral music and robed clergy and choir, and this has been your experience for the past 70 years then recognising a gathering of families chatting, eating bacon butties and singing “Great Big God” led by a Vicar in a hoodie and skinny jeans as Church takes a bit of getting your head around.

One guy (actually not old, but old before his time) couldn’t get his head around Church in a pub, his world view had the sacred and secular kept removed from each other and bringing them together was ‘just not cricket!’

Yet to be honest most of this generation are used to cultural adaption often keeping up with their grandkids on facebook whilst at uni, with a mobile in their handbag for emergencies, and doing their internet baking on-line. Even the most stuck in their ways person must admit that every sphere of life has undergone change and transformation.

Sometimes Church is the one bit of life that has remained the same since before the rise of the generation that is called baby-boomers and these 70+ people think they might be able hang on until the institution sees them out. I have asked these type of folk “Do you want their to be a healthy and vibrant Church for your children and grandchildren?” Many say yes -or tell me that their kids wouldn’t be interested (which bizarrely is part of the point I’m trying to makes!)

The truth is ‘proper church’ idea of logically and theological flawed, but I can understand that the issue is probably for the people who say this sort of stuff is an emotional one: “we want people to like and value what we love”.

Sometimes when this works it is beautiful, Doris -in her 90s- in Salisbury once said of “Fun Church” our attempt at a Fresh Expression ‘Its not my style but I love seeing the Church full of kids’ and seeing her cuddling a baby during a worship time was something I spotted and was a precious moment.

My friend Sam -a young hippy- and Joan a traditional Anglican lay-reader (although wonderfully Godly and supportive) both enjoyed our silent service sacred space followed by compline and them both enjoying worship together was beautiful.

When we explore what many mean by proper church they mean a service in “Shakespearian English” wearing a uniform based on Elizabethean lawyers, taken from a model of the Roman Senate, singing eighteenth century hymns (in fact things like music groups and chairs rather than pews are actually more in keeping with the earliest forms of Churches!) -There is nothing ‘proper’ about it really!

In many ways it is like the Story in the Bible where David is due to fight Goliath and the King -Saul- loads him up in heavy and oversized armour and David is limited and constricted, and he says “I can’t fight in this” and so he shrugs it off and fights with a sling! A past culture made it impossible to fight a current battle. The old way had worked but now it needed a new thing, much of it was baggage from a previous era.

The new wine of the Kingdom of God -God doing a new thing- struggles to be confined in the old wine skins, in fact new wine in old wine skins causes the old wine skin to burst and the wine to be ruined. New wine needs to go in a wine-skin with the flexibility to retain and cope with activity of the new wine.

So what is Church? Defined by Rowan Williams as “an intention gathering around the person of the Lord Jesus Christ”.

At the start of the birth of the Church at Pentecost we read of ‘everyone heard the word of the Lord in their own language… and asked what must we do?’

Is this the call of the Church? So that people can hear the invitation of Christ in their own language, so they ask “what must we do?” -note “do” from yesterdays blog about Church being a verb!

I guess proper Church looks a bit like this:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved

Proper Church is not trying to pretend we are still in the Victorian era with old fashioned and outdated traditions, but rather one that looks and acts like Jesus.

Proper Church is one which shares the good news of Jesus in a way people can understand!

Proper Church is one who make disciples that look, sound, act and smell like
Jesus! It is real community, it is devoted.

Proper Church is one that seeks to feed the hungry and takes the redistribution of wealth seriously.

Proper Church is one that loves the marginalised and disenfranchised!

Proper Church is one that worships by word and action!

Proper Church is prayerful and lead by the Holy Spirit.

Proper Church sees God answering prayer.

Proper Church loves one another and looks like family.

Proper Church will offend the judgemental and the religious but be good news for those who are broken, dirty and hurting.

Maybe all of us are a long way from being all that God intends his Church to be, but maybe as people speak derogatively about “proper church” this can be subverted into hearing and heeding God’s call to explore more closely want it means to be a community loving and following Jesus Christ.

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Church is a Verb!

A phrase I heard at the Mission Shaped Ministry Taster Day and it has been rattling around my brain.

I remember a time when people used to talk about ‘going to Church’ Church was a place, a brick building with a cross on the top. Yet as I read scripture I realised that the Church of Jesus Christ was never meant to be an inanimate stone object but rather the people of God.

Going to Church is an Oxymoron, you can’t go to something you are!

I have tried to talk of Church as something we are rather than something we go to. I have talked a lot over the years about ‘being’ the Church as opposed just to ‘going to’ Church.

Yet the idea of Church as something we do has been making me think. Christianity is a ‘doing word’ as at its heart is the call to ‘pick up our cross and follow Jesus’, as often Church is passive it might exist as a group of people who believe in Jesus, but ‘faith without deeds is dead’, being Church is about a community corporately living out our faith.

Church defined by its action and activity in following Jesus, we BE church by coming together around Christ loving one another as community, but we ‘do’ Church when we step out in obedience to Christ.

This idea defines Church as not just a building, or even a gathering, but is defined by our obedience to Christ in seeking to “the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven”.

The Church is meant to be an active world changing organism, it is an agent of change and transformation in the world.

Living for Christ is a verb.

Discipleship is a verb.

Church I believe should be a verb.

Being and Doing are at the heart of our identity, who we are is revealed by what we do!

Understanding Church by what we do actually seems quite Biblical, we are known for our fruitfulness and faithfulness, rather than our worship style or our denominational heritage.

As someone involved in Fresh Expressions I often hear people say “when are they going to come to proper Church” -makes my blood boil!-

Proper Church is not trying to pretend we are still in the Victorian era with old fashioned and outdated traditions, but rather one that looks and acts like Jesus.

Proper Church is one which shares the good news of Jesus in a way people can understand!

Proper Church is one who make disciples that look, sound, act and smell like Jesus!

Proper Church is one that seeks to feed the hungry!

Proper Church is one that loves the marginalised and disenfranchised!

Proper Church is one that worships by word and action!

Proper Church is prayerful and lead by the Holy Spirit.

Proper Church loves one another and looks like family.

Proper Church will offend the judgemental and the religious but be good news for those who are broken, dirty and hurting.

I guess proper Church looks a bit like this:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”.

So, let’s make Church a verb, let’s live out our faith together as Church, proper Church that looks like the hands and feet of Jesus active within our lives and within our community.

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