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What’s in your hand?

God asked Moses “what is in your hand?”

Moses only had a staff, a bit of wood, which seemed useless when looking at liberating a nation from a military superpower.

Yet anyone who knows the story of Moses knows that his staff did amazing things, launching the plagues on the Egyptians,  opened and closed the red sea, cracked open water from a rock and much more.

Never in the history of sticks has one staff been used to do so much to do so many incredible things.

Yet this still through out all this the staff remained a stick (except for the brief time when it became a snake!)

There was nothing remarkable about this stick, other that it was an inanimate and ordinary object used by God.

There was nothing amazing about a child’s packed lunch, the loaves and fish that fed the hungry people who were listening to Jesus!

There was nothing amazing about a gentile widow’s kitchen scraps, oil and flour, used to bake a loaf of bread for Elisha when he visited -and yet it never ran out!

Yet of course it’s not really about the stick, or the oil and flour, or the bread and fish…
…but rather about a God who chooses to use ordinary things, sticks, oil, flour, bread, fish or ordinary people to reveal his glory.

In God’s hands the ordinary becomes the extra-ordinary.

Often though we cling on to the things that we have -with the same grip that the Rich Young Ruler clutched his wallet, forgetting that God can -and does-
use what we give him – God who can do more than we ask or imagine!

Too often I have been in meetings where we haven’t taken a step of faith because we “don’t have the money” but we forget we follow a
God who used a fish as an ATM machine!

Too often too I have been in meetings where we haven’t taken a step of faith because we haven’t got the people forgetting that Gideon won a military victory
through 300 inept soldiers.

God even on one occasion spoke through a donkey!

Proof -if proof were needed- that God doesn’t wait for people or things to reach a certain level of posh-ness before he considers them worthy of his use.

God will use that which we give to him, that which we trust him with.

In the Christmas carol we sing “what can I give him poor as I am, if I were a shepherd I would give a lamb, if I were a wise-man I would play my part, yet what I have I give him, give my heart!”

Paul urges us to “give our souls and bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”.

When we give God our hearts, become living sacrifices, it is Bible speak for giving everything I am, and have, and ever hope to be… my everything, holding nothing back!

The parable of the pearl of great price tells of a merchant who gave EVERYTHING for this pearl.

So today, remember God wants to use us for his glory, and all that we have.

I will close with prayer the Anglicans say when they give their collection:

“All things come from you O Lord, and of your own do we give you!”

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Just snap out of it…

I don’t know why -well I do a bit- but today has been a day when I’ve really struggled to get going, just feel so low and depressed I don’t want to get out of bed or see anyone, or do anything, it’s like your mind has paralyzed your body is a sea of lethargy.

Often people say really uphelpful things like “just snap out of it” -and I wish I could, I wish I could be free of my own head/thinking more than anything in the world.

I’m not claiming to write a long in depth blog writing the definitive answer to struggling  with depression, yet I hopefully we can challenge peoples thinking about this.

I used to feel incredibly guilty about being a Christian and feeling how I do, surely as a Christian I should be like A.A. Milne’s Tigger rather than feeling more like Eeyore.  Someone how I was a ‘failure’ Christian -or worse a ‘fake Christian’ for not being perpetually happy.

Yet I did wonder, reading some of the Psalms, that David may have had bout’s of depression? Some of the psalms sound like David is depressed, and actually expressing the full range of human emotions honestly before God is okay. Perhaps I would suggest too that our worship has become too ‘praisey’ -and nothing wrong with praising- but sometimes we as humans need to share our tears, our words of lament, of repentance, of confusion with God.  Have we become ‘one-mode-worshippers’?

Certainly it sounds like Elijah did following the Victory on Mount Carmel hit a wall of depression.  God’s response is wonderful, he let’s him sleep and makes him breakfast, before gently re-commissioning him, lovingly restoring his hope and gently speaking truth to him “that 7 thousand have not bowed the knee to Baal”.

David reminds himself of truth to combat the lies within his heart and head in his psalms “yet I will trust in your unfailing love”.

It is not a failure of our faith to have times of struggle, rather it is an admission of our humanity, and our need of God, our inability to do life by ourselves. People talk about Christianity being ‘a crutch’ and to that I’d respond ‘aren’t you broken then, because I know I am and I need God’.  Despite feeling really, really low -I still believe the reality of the resurrection- I still believe that God is good and have put my trust in him, but I know too that the world and me are fallen and not as they should be (that’s why the cross matters so much). So, rather than being a fake Christian, I want Christians to see that even in the midst of depression -even despite the lies that seep into our hearts and our heads- that God does not leave us or forsake us at these times, even though like the footprints poem we might not sense that he is in fact carrying us.

Here are some thoughts on how to work with those of us who get a bit poorly from time to time (we wouldn’t think we were failure Christians if we broke an arm or got the flu).

A.A. Milne’s wonderful character Eeyore (a depressed, pessimistic donkey) shows us a wonderful way of being Church with those of us that might sometimes struggle:

“An awesome thing about Eeyore is that even though he is clinically depressed he is still invited to participate in adventures and shenanigans with all his friends. They don’t expect him to pretend to be happy, they just love him anyway, and they never leave him behind or ask him to change”.

I had a beer the other day with my friend Chris, and I must have moaned for about an hour or so, poor guy must have left and gone home to listen to REM “everybody hurts” on repeat to cheer himself up… but he still invited us out for a beer again. That is a wonderful Christ-like example of true fellowship with the DNA of the Kingdom of God.

Although Stephen Fry is an avowed atheist I think he glimpses something of the Kingdom of God in his now famous quote about depression:

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” -Stephen Fry.

Another quote on behalf of those of us who are reasonably good at wearing a ‘grinning’ and ‘keeping the show on the road’: ““Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”-Wendy Mass.

Although, today it doesn’t feel like it, perhaps depression can be a gift to the Church, to help us understand and to love better, and to become more the community we intend it to be.

For me, my depression has really focused my mind in the importance of what Moltmann calls -the theology of hope- so important it is what I have named my daughter- One of the three greatest things that will last according to St. Paul, and yet depression is what hits and undermines this great gift, I think something you learn to value when you have to cling on to it at times

 

 

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A new Vincent Donovan

As my protruding belly probably shows I’m no fitness freak, in fact I haven’t been to the gym in nearly a decade!

When I did used to go regularly one thing I found particularly frustrating was the treadmill, where you ran and ran and never got anywhere, lots of energy but very little progress, yet you can’t stop, if you stop you end up in a crumpled heap of the floor, ‘spat out’ by the machine.

One place I’d like to go to (but never have) is one of those Sushi Restaurants, where the food is on a little ‘railway-track’ going around and around the table, in a continual circle.

To me much of my Church life has felt like these two images colliding, running just to keep still the pace felt like an avalanche of expectations that was utterly relentless, along with the same sensation of: “here we go again, Harvest, All Souls, Remembrance, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Holiday Club, New Wine and back at Harvest again…”.

Is this really what Jesus meant when he said: “Come and follow me? Come and I will make you fishers for people?”.

Whilst at college I read a book that utterly captivated and transformed me, it was by a Catholic Priest Vincent Donovan “Christianity Rediscovered”. A young clergyman who went of the share Jesus with the Masai, and saw that lots of time an effort was spent doing Mission but it was not very fruitful. The missionaries -living in safe westernized compounds- brought food and education and people “accepted Christ” to  access what the missionaries were offering. In China people used to call these Christians “Rice Christians” as they would only be Christians -or Buddhists- -or whatever- in order to gain food.

Vincent Donovan thought this cannot be right, we need to think of another way, and so (rather like Jesus sending out the 72) he just went to village after village and talked to people about Jesus. Some accepted Christ, some rejected him. In his journey he had to learn what being a Christian would mean for a Masai, how would it look? How do you share Jesus in a culture with different values, questions and symbols to ours? -Fascinating book.  He wrestled with this issue and saw an indigenous Christianity form that was authentically Masai and authentically Christian.

To me the early chapters sounded very much like David being Saul’s Armour, being placed on the treadmill, linked to the sushi train. Yet David in Saul’s Armour would have been crushed by Saul. David needed to find a new way, God’s way, to defeat Goliath.

I have seen so many Vicars burn out trying to do mission and ministry as we always have and seeing little fruit but much perspiration, not realizing that perhaps we can get off the treadmill, perhaps the Sushi train can be re-routed.

Thinking perhaps our treadmill is actually more like a fruit machine, we put thousands of pounds into it, occasionally (such as Christmas) it gives us a pay out just large enough to keep us on the treadmill and away from dangerous, pioneering Kingdom thinking?

My friend Mark Rich talks about the Devil longs for Christians to have “maximum weariness for minimum fruitfulness”.

I long for -and would love to be- a new Vincent Donovan “discovering God’s new way to reach the people we serve”, and like Vincent Donovan when we leave the compound and start talking to the people outside our Churches, perhaps our evangelism will get better as we actually ask the questions they are asking, we use their symbols not our own, we talk into their cultural rather than expecting them to translate from ours.

In a fast changing and transforming world I long to see a Christianity birthed and come to maturity in this nation that is authentically Christian and authentically indigenous for the people we serve. Talking Jesus in their own language -just as on that day of Pentecost in Acts 2.

 

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Iron sharpening iron.

I have blogged recently about the shocking and sudden death of my friend Simon, which has made me think and reflect more deeply on friendship.

Interestingly too friendship has become a big subject of discussion as a straight bloke Andrew and a gay bloke Shane have become friends on Celebrity Big Brother and there seems to be a twitter-storm about friendship without a sexual or romantic element too it, which is sad I feel as it shows just how misunderstood friendship is in our society.

The film ‘when harry met sally’ has at its central premise can men and women ever really be friends. Again showing how society struggles to understand friendship.

Yet the Christian path is all about having real, deep, authentic, reciprocal  relationships with one another ‘By this all people will know you are my disciples that you love one another!’

A call for Church to restore and fight for the need of human relationships, for friendships.

Yet -as I said in my previous blog- about how I worry that too much of Church life substitutes ‘pleasentness’, ‘niceness’ and ‘superficiality’  for real and authentic relationships. I remember a friend once saying “I don’t want to go to a ‘friendly Church’ but rather a Church I can make friends in!”

I worry about friendship, we live in the world of virtual world of social media where I have hundreds of friends on social media, many of whom I rarely see -and some if I’m honest I barely know. I think we need to hear and heed the words of Shane Claiborne who urges us to remember that the word ‘virtual’ can also mean “not quite real”.

Impersonal friendships based on ‘swapping emojis’ is no substitute for real, face to face human interaction where we can hear tone of voice and make eye contact.

In the virtual world  we can ‘friend’ or ‘unfriend’ people at the click of an button, in a way that I think we risk the  danger of our on-line behaviour filtering into our everyday life”.

Friendship is one of the greatest gifts we have as humans, ultimately we are social beings -even those of us who are introverts!

We were created to love and be loved, this doesn’t just mean a love for spouse and family, but to love the other, to love our neighbours’ -and the call to reach out beyond the bubbles we create to exclude, shield and exclude the other.

Bonhoeffer talks about people having ‘two fellowships’ -the fellowship of the righteous (where we related to one another as ‘sorted’ people) and the fellowship of sinners (where we relate to one another with honesty and vulnerability).

Yet real relationships wont flourish when we just present idealized versions of ourselves to one another because that isn’t really us.

It often takes incredible bravery to choose to let our walls down and be vulnerable with other people allowing them into our lives and allowing ourselves to be known.

Jesus came and removed all the barriers between us and God by his death and resurrection -restoring humanities primary relationship -between us and God-. The vertical relationship.

Yet we are called to be in right relationships with one another too, the horizontal relationship -which makes a cross shape, living cruciform lives.

Yet although friendship is so so important, it is also costly and difficult.

Who we spend time with shapes, molds and fashions us, and we in turn shape, mold and fashions those who interact with us.

Relationships become a transformative crucible.

It can be a painful process, the Bible talks of “iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another”, yet the sharpening process is often painful, it creates sparks, conflict is often relationships bring great blessing and sometimes real pain too.

Yet, for the Christian we need to ask, are peoples encounters with us also encounters with the Christ within us?

Or do people encounter our fallenness rather than the Holy Spirit within us?

What of our relationships with other people? As we encounter and connect with other people, are we receptive enough to see what refining work God might be doing in us?

Are we self aware enough to see how we affect those we interact with?

So, a challenge to be brave enough to let our walls down to other people? Willing to be shaped and to shape other people, aware of God at work through us but also in us. In relationship which may generate conflict and sparks are prepared to humbly come before God asking him to show us what it is he wants to do within us?

 

 

 

 

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Please don’t tell me that starfish story again!

I used like the Star-fish story, you probably know the one? It is of a man seeing another man on beach which is covered in starfish drying out and dying in the heat of the sun. The man is throwing starfish into the sea. The other man laughs at this fellow, and says to him “there are thousands of star fish you can’t make difference to them all!” To which the guy replied by picking up another starfish and threw it into the sea saying “well, it made a difference to that one!”

It is good to be reminded that everyday acts of kindness can be life-transforming-blessing to other people, that the way we live our lives does speaks volumes and our words can hold life/hope/salvation.

I think we often don’t realize the impact that we can make on the people we meet or the surrounding we are in.

I have often quoted verses like “do not despise the day of small things”.

True to that what we think of as “small things” can actually not be small at all, but just under-valued by our society such as bringing up children, caring for elderly relatives or whatever.

Yet, the reason I have come not to like the story of the star fish is it lacks vision or aspiration, it is a message of “do what you can, with what you have” -which isn’t a bad message, but it isn’t full message, surely as Christians following the creator of the universe (we are filled with ‘he that is within us is greater than he that is in the world’ -the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead) we should be boldness and audacity in our visions and dreams.

Too often as Christians our vision is too small, why? because our vision of God and his power is too small.

Sadly I know too many ambitious clergy, but too few who are ambitious for the Kingdom of God.

If we do what we can reasonably achieve with the resources we have, where is faith in that? This isn’t walking by faith and not by sight.  I believe that following Jesus is a white-knuckle-ride of faith. John Ortburg wrote “If you want to walk on water you have got to get out of the boat” -yet unfortunately this pre-supposes that Christians actually want to get out of the boat!

We have become too comfortable with bland, safe, comfortable consumer religion that might wear the clothes of the culture of Christendom but has nothing to do with life lived following Jesus Christ.

We are told that ‘God is able to do more than we ask or imagine’ and yet we live like God lacking in power and might, let’s seek to embody this truth living out our lives for Christ boldly and bravely.

Churches too often our risk adverse, stingy and frightened, and yet we have a risk-taking God generous and bountiful, the God who gives courage.

A friend once talked of the faith he wanted to see birthed within the Christians he journeyed with that made people “gulp rather than yawn!”

Let’s not be victims of events, let’s not just do the best we can with what we have (what a poverty mindset!) but let’s say to God as Caleb did “give us this mountain”.

Let’s pray that God open’s our eyes, our ears, our hearts afresh to his Spirit and seek to step out into our unknown future with our known God, seeing to see the world not with our limited, fearful and timid visions rather pray that God births in our hearts his bold, brave and audacious vision. A vision we cannot fulfil in our own strength, with our own resources, but rather in that position of weakness, desperation and vulnerability where God delights in ‘showing up’ and doing what we could have done without him.

Too often we operate in our own strength, looking through our own eyes, forgetting that we can have the mind of Christ and the resources of heaven at our disposal.

So, let’s leave behind a playing safe Christianity and embrace New Testament Christianity that changes and can and does transform the world.

 

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In memory of my friend Simon Turner.

On Tuesday I got a phone call from my friend Simon Turner’s brother Nick saying that my friend had been found dead.

I was in shock.

I just felt initially numb.

I knew it had happened but simply couldn’t get my head around it.

How could Simon not be with us anymore?

Last time I saw Simon he looked really healthy. His photo’s on facebook’s look so full of life and fun…

Memories of Simon came flooding back… he was fun to be around!

Karaoke at the Sherwin in Sunday night, entertaining the pub with his rendition of the Killers ‘Mr Brightside’; Snow Patrol’s ‘Run’ -especially lighting a cigarette timed perfectly to coincide with the line ‘Light up!’ and James Blunt’s ‘Your beautiful’.

Or singing the “Greasy Chip-butty song” the anthem of his beloved Blades (Sheffield United), often in a pub full of Forest Fans!

Yet it would be easy to write a bit of a blog about the many stories of Simon being life and soul of the party, and he was lots of fun to be around, but there was also a deep side to Simon that I want to celebrate too.

I had gone to St. John’s College to train as a Vicar, and I wanted to learn more about what it means to look like Jesus (this was before the beard and long hair!).

I met Simon somewhere during my first year or so, or maybe at the start of my second year and we became friends. As my second year unraveled a bit when a relationship I was in ended and Simon was there for me when I was in a low and bad place.

Ironically I was surrounded by a whole load of people learning to be ‘Pastoral’ most of whom didn’t care, and in an institution that “talked the talk but didn’t really walk the walk”, yet Simon was the exact opposite -he didn’t brag about his big heart but his actions spoke louder than his words. I was a mess and probably depressing company, but Simon didn’t care and kept on inviting me out, burning CD’s of bands and just being a really good mate, but never in a patronizing or condescending way, care and compassion but with dignity.

Actually, as this continued over my second and third year and the two of us became ensconced in the life and community of the Sherwin Arms, I discovered the community I thought college should be -and Church I dream of building- were represented beautifully within the pub. I used to think when I saw these guys looking out for each other “Church has a lot to learn from this community”.

Simon  was a nurse initially working with the homeless in London, a real advocate and fighter for the underdog. I often thought if I ended up homeless Simon was the kind of person I’d want on my case, like a dog with a bone, he would take on anyone -irrespective of position- on what he saw was an injustice.

Simon was someone who gathered people together, he was a ‘feast’ type person -rather than being part of a little clique- Simon’s attitude was “there was always room for another one” -and through my time hanging out with Simon I met some really interesting people.

Yet Simon was something of a “Wounded Healer” he’d been through some tough stuff and knew he carried some scars, later it transpired that he had a real problem with alcohol and was addicted, sadly too his marriage to Lucy broke-down, but in the midst of all this Simon showed incredible bravery, going into rehab and turning his life around. This sentence probably makes it sound easier than it was, as anyone whose been around rehab knows it is a tough -sometimes backwards and forwards process- but Simon came out the other-side and lived in active recovery.

More than that, he used his experiences to help other people, and thanks to Simon many, many people are leading lives of sobriety and drug free.

The Japanese have a method of repairing broken pots by using gold as a kind of glue, which means that where the pot was once broken now is its most valuable and glorious.

Such is my thinking of Simon and his amazing work with recovery in South Africa.

Someone who all of us who knew him were incredibly proud of him and all that he achieved.

When I went to St. John’s theological college Nottingham, to learn to be more like Jesus, I discovered most about Jesus whilst I was there, not from the writing of some dead German theologian or from swaggering around the chapel in a cassock, reciting liturgy like Sir John Gielgud but from a friend who swore like a trooper and smoked like a chimney but reflected Christ in an incredible way by his love for people, his loyalty, his passion, his commitment to justice and to truth, his kindness often very unobtrusive, his inclusion, his wisdom, his wisdom and generosity.

Simon’s legacy I believe will reach far and wide, and will be held by many of us so deeply.

Simon was good at parties! Just thinking of Heaven described in the Bible as a feast “probably serving Eggs Benedict, Mussels and hot Bovril!” Heaven

Often I would work late on my dissertation and Simon would text about 9:30 and say “I’ll go ahead of you and get the beers in” -in many ways this feels like a picture now of his death, he’s gone ahead of us but will be waiting for us at that great and glorious party in heaven.

The Christian faith means that death is not a full stop, but a comma, someone we will see again, but for now we’re shocked and gutted at his passing.

How best can we remember Simon?

Perhaps he can inspire us with his boldness at fighting for justice -I remember seeing a photo of him on a protest with a banner saying “PEOPLE CAN CHANGE”- in loving those around us not with patronizing condensation but with dignity and great love?

Perhaps we can be people that let the walls down and see strangers as Simon did as “friends we haven’t met yet”?

Perhaps there is stuff in our lives we need to be free of, and let Simon be an inspiration to sort out that which needs sorting out?

I’m think Simon is someone whom Jesus could be seen in, and I want to be someone that lives a Christ-like life, someone I was blessed to walk with for a season.

Love you bud.

Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory… when we will meet again.

 

 

 

 

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St. Francis.

I’d seen some naff pictures of St. Francis looking all ethereal in his brown habit and long beard, surrounded by the animal cast of “Ace Venture: Pet Detective” hanging around him and to be honest was someone I didn’t know much about -or care much about.

I knew the quote about “preaching the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words”, which although I agree with the sentiment about how important it is that our lives do not invalidate our message, I do think it is often used as a cop-out from not actually speaking about our faith. Interestingly many scholars don’t think the leader of the largest and most fruitful mission movement outside of the New Testament would have said that!

Yet it wasn’t til years later that I discovered St. Francis a remarkable and inspirational man of God.

He was born in Assisi in 1182, grew up the son of a wealthy silk merchant, and lived a young life of descendant and extravagant emptiness, he ended up signing up for a military campaign in Perugia, and ended up as a Prisoner of War in Collestrada. It was during his time here that he had a dramatic and life transforming conversion to following Jesus Christ. When he was freed he returned home a changed man.

Francis spent time seeking God’s call on his life, and heard Christ say to him “to go and restore my Church which is falling into ruins” -he initially took Christ literally and tried to rebuild the falling down Church he was praying in.

Too often we think about the Church as in the building and the institution, yet God does not see his Church as just bricks and mortar but rather his people, his body, his bride those who have heard and heeded the call to following/loving/serving Christ.

His friends tried to tempt him back to his old life and he talked of marrying “A fairer bride than any of you have ever seen… Lady Poverty”.

On one occasion a beggar asked Francis for Alms from his Fathers market stall and Francis gave him all the money he had.

His Father was furious, and beat Francis and locked him away.  His Father threatened to cut his son out of his will if he didn’t give up his crazy new life and ideas.

Too often we allow the ‘golden handcuffs’ of other peoples opinions, financial security, career stability or whatever to stop us doing all that God would have us do. Yet Francis, however, wouldn’t be dissuaded.

In a fantastic act in the middle of the city-center of Assisi -the Bishop used his Mitre to try and protect Francis modesty!

From there Francis literally had nothing, he began to wear a habit -the clothes of a beggar- which has now been known by being worn by monks, but at that time was a symbol of poverty but also a deliberate standing in solidarity with the marginalized.

He was attending a Mass when he heard the story of the Disciples going out to call people to proclaim the good .news of the Kingdom, going without a bag, belt, money or even a spare tunic. This idea of ‘stepping out in faith’ reliant on Christ for everything appealed to Francis and him and eleven other friends began to do just that, sharing Christ where-ever they went taking nothing with them.

His rule of life was simple it was “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps” -too often in the Church politics of much of Christendom -now and then- people get so caught up in things that ‘follow Jesus…and walking in his footsteps’ gets sidelined.

Francis began to work with lepers, and on one occasion when he was being castigated for touching a leper spun around and kissed the leper on the mouth. Francis wasn’t afraid to shock and challenge.

At this time the crusades were raging and many people were going off to spread Christianity not with converting hearts but with swords and violence, something Francis opposed. During the war the Sultan (the leader of the Arabic army) offered gold for the head of any Christians discovered in his lands.

Francis bravely sought to make peace speaking both to the crusaders and the Muslims. He walked into the Sultan’s lands, risking his life, and met with the Sulton and although neither converted the other, both walked away respecting the other and becoming friends.

Struck by Francis bravery to seek another way the way of peace, too often we as Christians seem to collude with the idea that problems are best solved with violence.  Francis risked his life to build relationships -friendships- with people who would have been viewed as his enemies. His love, grace and the reality of Christ in his life saved his life.

After the Crusades, the Franciscan movement continued to grow, and a friend, Claire of Assisi, felt called to start an order for women who wanted to live out their faith and discipleship in such a radical way as Francis and his followers, following the three rules of “Poverty, Chastity and Obedience”. In a world that is materialistic and capitalism runs wild to deliberately choose to live in poverty is massively counter-cultural and incredibly liberating. In a highly sexualised and promiscuous culture choosing celibacy is massively counter-cultural. In an independent world choosing to say ‘no’ to ourselves and ‘yes’ to Christ is at the heart of discipleship echoing that war within ourselves that Paul speaks of in Romans 7.

For me as I read Francis words he was someone who wanted to be utterly committed to living his life for Christ. His story reminds me of the Simon-Peter, Andrew, James and John who left everything and went and followed Jesus.

Jesus talks of the parable of the pearl of great price so beautiful and pure that the merchant seeking fine pearls was prepared to give up everything to possess that pearl. We as Christians know this pearl to be Christ.

The murdered Martyr Jim Elliott said “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep (our lives) in order to gain what he cannot loose (eternity)”

So, as we take this glimpse of Francis someone who wasn’t just prepared to go through the motions of faith, but lived a life of radical obedience to his Lord.

I’ll end with Francis famous prayer:

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life

 

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More on the Ancient Art of Breathing.

I have written before on the idea of the ancient art of breathing.

We breath in when we receive from God, and we breath it out in the world.

It is a wonderful image as links the cycle of life and our dependence on Oxygen with our spiritual existence.

Indeed it resonates with that wonderful image in creation where human life itself is started by the breath of God animating humanity from the dust of the earth.

The name of God, too Holy to say in the Jewish culture was often spelled ‘YHWH’, an unpronounceable word, but best described as an exhalation of breath.

A staggering thought to think that God is known by the lungs of his creation breathing out. In fact one of the names by which the person of the Holy Spirit is known is as “the breath of God”, “O breath of God come breath within”.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit in the Greek is a continuous tense “go on be being filled” -keep on breathing. In a world where I feel deflated, reminding that the breath of God, his Spirit can reflate us.

An image I find fascinating within this imagery is that we cannot contain God within us by holding our breath (if we did we would simply pass out), I love this image of God’s proclamation refusing to be contained within the limitation of our lungs.

Indeed there is enough life in our breath to resuscitate someone back to life, and yet if we simply continued to breathing out we would soon be gasping for air and pass out.

Healthy breathing receives from God and gives it away.

My grandfather would speak of going forward at a Billy Graham crusade in 1952, yet didn’t seem to progress from there onwards. Too often we characterise Christianity as ‘praying the prayer’ -taking a saving breath- rather than living a life of ongoing and habitual “yes” to God.

I had a wonderful Student with me in Kingswood, Denise Adide, who talked about a spirituality of overflow, where what we have received from God spills out of us, and yet too often in my own spiritual life I feel as though I am scraping the barrel of a spiritual desert.

In a recent book Emotionally healthy leadership the author Pete talks of the problem of exhaustion of “doing more activity for God than their relationship can sustain… chronically over-extended”.

A challenge to stop and take a breath.

Indeed when I have become over anxious, excited or angry there are times when I have had to stop and take a breath -and the times I haven’t I have normally regretted later.

The problem is in the West we can fall victim to either a consumerist mentality where gorge ourselves on the vast array of spiritual opportunities, or we fall victim to the Martha -or even martyr- complex where we feel too busy to stop and breath. I would suggest -to totally mix my metaphors- that we need to see ourselves as tight-rope walkers, living in the tension between the pull of consumer Christianity and the pull of Martha martyrdom -you yourself will know which side you are most vulnerable too.

Interestingly when I shared this image at a Church weekend away the Rector talked about her husbands’ Fathers’ of being in a deep sea diving bell in Portsmouth where they are deeply submerged and have to reach the top of this bell by gradually swimming upwards releasing the air from their lungs. If someone was struggling they had to punch them in the stomach to help them breath out.

Perhaps God is saying we need a punch in the stomach to release the oxygen within us?

Or perhaps we need to gasp inwards more oxygen and let our breathing regulate and find a pattern that it was intended?

And lastly, another picture, when my wife was in hospital giving birth she was on gas and air, when we are in pain, sometimes we need to breath more deeply from God and yet often it becomes something we neglect. Perhaps there is pain in your life and you need to come to God and inhale deeply.

So, how is your breathing?

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Zephaniah 3:17

I’ve got a new job, I’m making miniature bible figures, so far I’ve made a minor prophet!

When I am in heaven and meet Zephaniah I am worried I have to say “Hi there Zeph, so sorry, I never read your book!”

Joking aside there are some amazing bits of the Bible we hardly ever read, want to share a great verse from Zephaniah.

“The Lord your God is with you!”

He is mighty to save.

He will quiet you with his love.

He will take great delight in you.

And rejoice over you with singing”.

The problem many of us have with God is that he feels remote and distant, that idea that God is sitting on a cloud looking down on us from on high, aloof and seperate -other- this maybe the God of Michaelsngelo, the one painted on the celling of the Sistine Chapel, but not the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus.

One of the most popular peoms of all time is that of the footprints, our lives mapped out before us, with our footprints and God’s foot prints side by side, and then we look a little closer and we see in the hardest and toughest parts of our lives with only one set of footprints, and we ask God “why did you abandon me when I needed you the most?” To which God replies that he would never leave us or forsake us, and the times we see one set if footptints was when he carried us.

Sometimes we needed to be remind that God is with us, Immanuel-a name for Jesus- means God with us. The God of all comfort invisibly carrying us, scripture reminds us that underneath it all is God’s everlasting arms of love. Our God never slumber of sleeps, his ear is not deaf to our call or his arm too short to save. The Psalmidt writes “where can I go from your presence if I go to the furthest end of the earth you are there, and if I make my bed in the depths you are there”.

Maybe there is a situation that we need to remind ourselves that God the light of the world is present within?

Yet too often we think of God as impotent and powerless, nice but harmless, and we need to remind ourselves that God is not weak nor powerless but able to intervene and transform people, circumstances and situations.

God does not lack power, when we pray there is no problem to great for God nor too small for him.

God is able to save.

Too often we place our faith or assurance of salvation not in the completed work of God in Christ, but in our own abilities to sin.

I used to have a wonderful boss, Danny Brown, who used to say “there is nothing stronger or more trust worthy than the blood of Jesus” -A challenge not to put our faith in our sin but in the trustworthiness of Christ.

In the back of my ordination stole there is a verse and a dedication to a friend, Samantha Wood, – the Churchwardens Daughter- who died tragically young after quite a while and colourful life, but the night before she died she prayed with her mum, despite the mess and junk, God is able to save. The verse I have embroidered in my stole comes from John 10.27 “No one shall snatch them out of my hand, for they are in my hand and my hand is in the Fathers”. It’s a big of s double whammy, our hand is in Jesus’ and his hand us in the Fathers. It is an image I think of most mornings when I walk my Daughter Hope to school, her tiny hand can’t hold on to mine, I can easily pull away, but her tiny hand inside mine is safe and secure and not going anywhere.

God is mighty to save, and is bigger than anything may face.

Quieting with love is a funny expression, Mike Pilivachi talks of how a friend’s baby started to scream with a truly vile smelling nappy and understood this verse when the Mother scooped up the smelly baby and cuddled it until it have up crying and it’s baby tantrum and be calm calm and went to sleep… despite maybe we feel as if our lives have gone a bit like that babies nappy, perhaps we can let God just hold us until our tears and rage subside, scripture calls him the God of all comfort and he can cope with our anger, pain and frustrations, sometimes when we are hurting and upset we need to let it out and let God quiten us with his love, holding us to him until the rage subsides and peace breaks through. Something of this we see when we read the book or see the film “the shack”. A God who quitens us with his love.

A God who takes great delight in us.

I remember the first time I held my baby daughter in my arms, at that point she had done nothing to earn my love, but I loved her anyway, and would do anything for her. I understood at that moment something new and profound about the unconditional love of God. Looking at her, I understood how God delights in his creation. He looks at us and loves us.

As I delighted in my daughter, at all her facial movements and expressions, I realised that although she will probably do things I don’t like, I can’t ever imagine not loving her.

Let’s just think about that awesome truth of a God who delights in you and me.

According to Mike Pilivachi, the phrase “takes great delight in you” means to spins around like a top whooping with excitement.

It is a crazy picture of extravagant enjoyment of us and our company. It is probably a poor image but when I was courting my wife I would text and then wait and wait (and wait) by the phone for her to text back… and that excitement or rejoicing when she replied I think gives a snapshot of God’s passionate love for us.

The God of heaven actually wants to spend time with you, to be with you, and you with him. God’s heart rejoices over you. He loves you, really loves you. God doesn’t just love the world, no, he SO loved the world, and the world includes you personally.

For my dad, whose been a Vicar since 1984, had this realisation for him, when he heard a sermon preached and he realised that God’s love for the world included and reached out to him and demanded a personal response.

And lastly, God will rejoice over you with singing.

We are so used to thinking of God through the lenses of Victorian respectability that we fail to see a God who is crazy about his creation. In fact the depth, fire and extent of his love for us is seen displayed through the Cross of Christ. God’s love for us is neither calm, cold or tame.

I never understood this verse, it just sounded a bit naff like one of those weird musicals where people burst into song in a way that if you did that in real life you’d be sectioned!

Yet one day I went to a football match and heard the roar of the crowd, the crowd got behind a player and believed in him “there’s only one….” and he scored a goal.

I loved this image of God’s passion for us breaking out into joyous encouragement, reminiscent of Hebrews 11 “surrounded by such a great crowd of witnesses”, where heaven itself is cheering us on as we seek to bring glory to Christ.

I just think when I read this verse “wow” so much wonderful encouraging truth, hidden away in the Bible that probably many of us have missed it:

“The Lord your God is with you.
he is mighty to save,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will take great delight in you and rejoice over you with singing”.

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Us, Us together and Them.

At a recent Church weekend away which I spoke at, I got everyone to look at their thumbs -then their thumb print, the swirls, loops and lines that make up our unique finger-pint, then got people to look into each others ears, and then one another’s eyes.

It is an awesome fact of our humanity that our personality, fingerprints, eyes, ears are completely unique, there will never be anyone like you again in the world, nor has there ever been anyone like you.

The Bible talks about being ‘knitted together in our mothers wombs’ and ‘being fearfully and wonderfully made’.

The Bible tells us that we are “precious and honoured in God’s sight, and he loves us”.

It might be a bit of a cliche but I remember hearing someone ask how much does God love us and indicating with one hand a small amount as an answer (God loves us a little bit) where-as the truth is this is how much he loves us (opens their arms to the widest they can stretch) as Anglican Liturgy proclaims: “he opened wide his arms of love for us by dying on the cross”.

How much does God love us? He thinks we are worth dying for.

Yet to often we take a message like this, and we applying to ourselves, reminding us of the truth of God loving us, which fits with the individualistic world view that our society has.

Yet “God loves the world so much that that he gave his one and only son”, that means that God loves you -true- but he also loves all that he has made, he loves that person that annoys you, that person you can’t see eye to eye with, that person who manages to “push your buttons”.

Do we see ‘the other’ as a person beloved by God, our brothers and sisters in Christ. And what about those who are outside the Church?

My recent essay on the Shepherding Metaphor shows an awesome love for those who don’t yet know him, and those who have wandered from him.

God’s love for broken and sinful people is so extreme that “Angels rejoice in heaven over a sinner who repents”, Jesus came to “seek and to save the lost” and the Father runs to meet his child whilst they were still a long way off. Distinguished gentleman in middle-eastern cultures do not run it is shameful, and here the Dad runs to meet his son and hugs him. In that culture the son could have been stoned by the villagers for dishonouring his dad (Deut 21:15), and yet in running to him and embracing him the dad takes on the shame in his loving embrace saying “if you stone my son, you will be stoning me too”, a beautiful picture of love and ‘mercy triumphing over judgement’.

It seems to me that we forget how much we are loved by God, we forget how much others are loved by God, how desperate God is to restore the broken relationship with all people, a God who longs for us/them.

I challenged the people of St. James’ at their weekend away and St. Michael’s to think:

-> “What does it mean to be someone transformed by the good news of Christ Crucified and resurrected?”

-> “What does it mean to be part of a community transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ?”

Exploring this theme further, we looked at the character of God whose heart is for “none to perish”, a God of mission wanting creation to respond to him and his love for them.

The Missiologist David Bosche reminds us “Mission is not an activity of the Church but an attribute of God”. James Laurence talks about God’s heart beat and yearning is for those who don’t yet know him, and when we reach out beyond the bubbles of most of our Church existence we discover truly what it means when Jesus says “to come and follow me”.

It’s not a call to a comfortable walk in the park that Christianity within the pleasant bubble of Churchianity can be, but the call to “pick up our cross and follow Jesus!” -To hear and heed the call of sacrificial obedience, it’s worship of the most beautiful kind to see Christ glorified by people coming to know and love him.

As we seek to understand our identity (both as individuals and corporately as the body of Christ) in who Christ is and what he has done for us -and offers to his world- let’s pledge ourselves to the Kingdom cause.

I’ll close with 2 lines from 2 great hymns:

“Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee”

“Where the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering for too small, Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul my life my all”.

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