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An Orthopraxis Revolution.

A friend of mine once said he would rather have a congregation whose faith made a statement than being yet another Church with a statement of faith on their website.

Growing up in the culture of evangelicalism there was a huge emphasis on studying the Bible, but I came to realise that the Churches big challenge is not lack of teaching but rather a lack of putting it into practice, a lack of application, obese on spiritual food that should be the fuel to propel us into world to transform it in Jesus name.

Church history is crammed full of the fight over Orthodoxy (right belief) but I long to see an orthopraxis revolution -right living and right behaving!

Too often we have this limited view of Godly living as not doing stuff (drinking, swearing, gambling or sex) but surely being a Christian is more than a list of prohibitions but rather about the positive things we are called to do and kind of person we are called to be.

I’m tired of Churches being theologically sound but in practical terms sound asleep.

Jesus himself says “why do you call me Lord,Lord and yet don’t do what I say!”

The Christian message is not just to ‘get to heaven when we die’ but a life where eternity starts now, Jesus talks of “life in its abundance” (In.10.10), a transformed revolutionary Kingdom-life.

Recently I have joined a new missional community and alongside us are some wonderful travellers who aren’t Christians yet but have been attracted to us as a community by the different way of life; sharing our food with the hungry and homeless, cleaning beaches and living sustainably and engaged with protest and campaigning for justice.

As I have journeyed with these new friends I have discovered afresh that engaging in living this different life is actually the call of Christ, the longing and groaning of creation and the very heartbeat of God. The life we should be living.

Within the Christian world I worry that we have spiritualised our faith when it was intended to be intensely practical. We talk about being Christ’s ambassadors and ‘salt and light’ but often we need to match our rhetoric with actions, Christianity was never meant to be a hypothetical religion.

Too often people think the Christian life -and the church- is dull, boring and irrelevant because we have not lived out our calling to see God’s kingdom come on earth as in heaven, shining out like stars in the universe and holding out the word that gives life!

The call of Christ is a call for a revolution living, not to passive listening but for action, a call not to blend in with the world around us but stand out by radiating Christ in our lives.

So, let’s accept Christ’s challenge to live for him, following where he leads, learning to live our lives his way, letting Christ be our Lord, and Lord of all.

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A friend of mine once said he would rather have a congregation whose faith made a statement than being yet another Church with a statement of faith on their website. Growing up in the culture of evangelicalism there was a huge emphasis on studying the Bible, but I came to realise that the Churches big challenge is not lack of teaching but rather a lack of putting it into practice, a lack of application, obese on spiritual food that should be the fuel to propel us into world to transform it in Jesus name. Church history is crammed full of the fight over Orthodoxy (right belief) but I long to see an orthopraxis revolution -right living and right behaving! Too often we have this limited view of Godly living as not doing stuff (drinking, swearing, gambling or sex) but surely being a Christian is more than a list of prohibitions but rather about the positive things we are called to do and kind of person we are called to be. I’m tired of Churches being theologically sound but in practical terms sound asleep. Jesus himself says “why do you call me Lord,Lord and yet don’t do what I say!” The Christian message is not just to ‘get to heaven when we die’ but a life where eternity starts now, Jesus talks of “life in its abundance” (In.10.10), a transformed revolutionary Kingdom-life. Recently I have joined a new missional community and alongside us are some wonderful travellers who aren’t Christians yet but have been attracted to us as a community by the different way of life; sharing our food with the hungry and homeless, cleaning beaches and living sustainably and engaged with protest and campaigning for justice. As I have journeyed with these new friends I have discovered afresh that engaging in living this different life is actually the call of Christ, the longing and groaning of creation and the very heartbeat of God. The life we should be living. Within the Christian world I worry that we have spiritualised our faith when it was intended to be intensely practical. We talk about being Christ’s ambassadors and ‘salt and light’ but often we need to match our rhetoric with actions, Christianity was never meant to be a hypothetical religion. Too often people think the Christian life -and the church- is dull, boring and irrelevant because we have not lived out our calling to see God’s kingdom come on earth as in heaven, shining out like stars in the universe and holding out the word that gives life! The call of Christ is a call for a revolution living, not to passive listening but for action, a call not to blend in with the world around us but stand out by radiating Christ in our lives. So, let’s accept Christ’s challenge to live for him, following where he leads, learning to live our lives his way, letting Christ be our Lord, and Lord of all.

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Namaste and Malchezedek.

‘Namaste’ is a word I discovered the other day, it is an Indian term for “I honour the Holy One inside you!”, the recognition of God’s presence in the other person. In his book “Irresistible Revolution” Shane Claiborne tells a wonderful story of dressing to wounds of a suffer of leprosy who said “Namaste” to him to which Shane replied “Jesus”. It is -as Paul wrote- “Christ in us the hope of glory”.
Too often the problem is we think it is the “us in us” that is the attractive thing rather than bowing down and surrendering so Christ can be made visible in us.
Another picture I love is that of the treasure of the Kingdom being stored in us as clay vestals, ordinary people filled with an extra-ordinary God who shines out from us, indeed where we are cracked and broken that is often where people can see the treasure.
An image I found helpful when thinking about God’s glory revealed -celebrated even- in my weakness is the Japanese art of Kintsugi, whereby smashed up and broken pots are mended with gold making what was cracked and ruined now has new life, and its beauty and greatest value is where it has fractured and fallen apart.
What of us are we prepared to let Christ the healer come into us into the most sacred parts of our life and restore us and shine through us, even in the parts that seem beyond repair?
My big question when I look in the mirror is “is Christ visible in me, or do I just look like everyone else!?” -true I have had long hair and beard, so I probably look more Jesus-y than the average, but joking aside I want Christ to be seen by the way I live. Could my bank-manager tell that I was a Christian? When I talk and interact with people is Jesus revealed in my relationships and how I am with people? Sadly too often I look more like a chameleon than Christ -indeed Christian actually means little Christ.
Abraham meets God in the character of Melchizedek, a pre-Jesus incarnation of God, and he sees God in him and responds to him in a way that at the time -being blessed- seems nice but when we read the epistle to the Hebrews we realise that this momentary encounter ordained a whole new priest-hood in the order of Melchizedek when meant Christ could be for us, both the lamb that was slain and our great high priest.
A momentary encounter that echoed in eternity, a brief moment of blessing that changed the world, a moment that seemed insignificant became probably one of the most significant -arguably the most significant- thing in Abraham’s life.
This encounter could have been seen by Abraham as an interruption or and inconvenience rather than an opportunity for a divine appointment, what of us, do we miss seeing those opportunities where something of heaven touches earth because we see these as distractions rather than Kingdom Catalysts.
Are we expectatant that God will use us to encounter others through us?
Are we expectant that we might meet God in other people, to hear what he wants to say to us, to hear what he wants to say to us, and to feel what he wants us to feel?
What of us and our encounters with people, do they see Christ in us? Do we see Christ in them?
Are we open to learn and be shaped by our interaction with one another in the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Whilst on the Arrow Course a lecturer challenged us to see every relationship and conversation as an potential opportunity for the Kingdom of God to touch, bless and transform lives. She told us that she had issued this challenge to some students on a study week at the Bible College she worked in, they set to work at the lunchbreak on the Monday morning chatting to the catering staff serving their food, and learned their names, at the end of the study week they bought them some chocolates and some flowers. The catering manager burst into tears and said she had worked at this Bible college for a number of years and had never even had a thank you card and was blown away by these few students showing love and interest in the people around them -the people often invisibly serve us.
When we love and serve people would they say ‘Namaste’ to us?
Do they see within us enough of Jesus to want him for themselves? Too often people say of Christians ‘they are good people’ but I want people to say: “I want what they’ve got!” -I want Jesus!
I once was talking to a homeless guy in Kingswood and he opened up a bit and he asked “is Jesus like Dave Mitchell (Dave led the largest Church in Bristol)?” -I wasn’t sure how to answer this, so I asked why he asked the question, “because I’d like Jesus to be like Dave Mitchell” was the reply and talked of how he had been helped and encouraged by Dave and the guys from Woodlands Church. I gently said “I’m not dissing Dave, but maybe it is the other way around, maybe Dave is like Jesus? What you are seeing in Dave -love, compassion and kindness- stem from him wanting to be like Jesus”.
We in English don’t have a word “Namsate” but we can still personify the word so the world may see Christ through me and you.

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What does success look like? (Building Babel or the Ark?)

“What do you think success looks like?” -I asked at a job interview once.
It is a good question: What’s the vision? Where are we aiming for? How will we know if we have reached our destination?

Most of the images in Genesis are around the theme of journey, beginning with Adam and Eve leaving the garden of Eden, Cain heading ‘East’ following the murder of his brother, Abra(ha)m and his wanderings, Jacob on the run, Joseph trafficked to Egypt, his family becoming refugees in Egypt (and Exodus is the story of God through Moses taking them home again). The imagery is around destination, taking the next step and travel, but there are three ‘building images’ that are intertwined within the journey pictures (although two certainly have a travel element to them as well!)

The first is Noah’s Ark, the second is the Tower of Babel and the third is the monument Jacob set up to mark out the place of Bethel where he met with God in a dream.

Often in scripture (particularly in the New testament) we see ‘sandwiches’ within the text, the first and third story act as commentary of the 2nd story, the middle story, is either a great example of what to do (or, as in this case) what not to do!

Noah’s Ark was an obedient response to the call of God, he heard and heeded God’s voice, and although the idea of building a boat that size seemed preposterous he trusted God and was faithful. His project looked like folly until the rains came when it was salvation.

Jacob set up a bolder as a memorial of where he had met with God, a response of worship out of his overflow of gratitude and worship to God for his goodness and loving kindness.

The Ark and the monument were built not for either Jacob or Noah’s own personal glory -indeed, probably no one other than Jacob and God knew what that rock really meant or represented!- but rather for the glory of God.

So, what of Babel? Babel was a vanity project, built for recognition and celebration of pinnacle of human achievement, it was about self glorification not about the glorification of God. Yet, like the house built on sand, it may have looked beautiful but it fell due to its deficient foundations. Success Jesus tells us in this story “is like a wise man, who hears my words and is like a man who builds his house on the rocks, and when the rains and floods came the house stood firm”.

When we ask “what does success look like?” the question we need to ask is “from whose perspective?” -does it look successful to those around us, or does it look successful to the one who ultimately really counts?

The audience of our peers? Or the audience of one?

Here in the text of Genesis it is clear which two buildings are faithful discipleship and which is egocentric sin, but in our every day life such distinctions are often much more blurry.

Many salvation initiatives in our Churches may sound like they are ‘Ark’ projects -and of course in one level no one would deny that causing the Angels to rejoice in heaven over sinners who repent is not success, but we know sadly that sometimes human-beings get proud, egos get inflated and we try and take the credit for what God has done. Good things can stem from a compromised heart, things may start off doing the right things for the right reasons but we can get distracted inch by inch, degree by degree, along the way. King David was called a man after God’s own heart, and Ezekiel prayed to have an ‘undivided heart’.

Many worship initiatives too can begin as humble service facilitating people meeting with God, often saying the right things, singing and praying the things that are correct, but again people praise and affirm us and soon we discover we have lost our focus and gained a problem.

Somethings that maybe wow us with their success and glory but are simply ‘spiritual fire works’ look great and glorious for a blink of an eye but are forgotten a moment later, spiritual success in not measured in decibels but rather in the likeness of Christ revealed in his world.

So, what does success look like, is an interesting question are we looking through the lenses of how does something make us feel? What is in it for us? Or what does God think?

Often spiritual success is clothed in religious language, it is easy to sound holy and Godly when his will and ours align, and we are asked to do something that will give us recognition and kudos, but what if the call of Christ is a call to stand for something that is unpopular, embarrassing and costly?

What if our spiritual ‘success’ is never recognised -or someone else gets the credit we feel we deserve? What if we are called to ‘break up ground’ or ‘plant seeds’ rather than ‘reaping the harvest’.

I wonder whether things that maybe look like they are like Noah’s Ark might in-fact have Babel interwoven within their DNA? Yet things that look like Babel can be redeemed and transformed and become avenues of blessing.

Success from the perspective of heaven I believes looks very different to success through our eyes.

Has Babel crept into our hearts and taken us of course?

Maybe you’ve been building Babel and disguising it as Bethel?

Would I rather be considered a failure in the eyes of the world, in order to be seen ‘successful’ in the eyes of heaven?

A call to renew our minds, to think from the perspective of heaven, to lift our eyes to a throne we will never sit on, and say the words of Paul “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain!”

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Sin is crouching at your door.

6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.”[a] While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
“Sin is crouching at your door seeking your destroy you!”

This is God speaking to Cain about Sin. In fact it is the first mention of sin in the Bible.

Sin, something seeking to entangled and destroy, but succumbing to it is not inevitable, we have a choice to get drawn in.

When we say “yes” to following Jesus we become ‘Marked People” we are placing our heads above the parapet. We need to walk wisely and humbly in accountable and true relationships to help us step away from the lurking entrapment of sin wanting to take us out of the game.

The image of sin crouching/hiding/lurking at your door reminds me of a ‘Honey trap’, whereby a beautiful girl would lure a guy through a front door only to have a gang of blokes beat him up and steal his money. This idea of sin lurking at the door waiting to hurt and harm is a helpful picture. Indeed the word ‘lurk/hide’ are perhaps ‘better’ words to see sin is subtle and deceptive in its desire to thwart the plans and purposes of God in the lives of his people.

Yet in today’s world we get confused about sin and what it actually is, too often sin is dismissed as a bit of a joke and used to describe “cupcakes or lingerie”, or perhaps used to describe the big stuff like rape or murder.

Much ink has been spilled over trying to define sin, whether it be rebellion against God or the human propensity to mess up.

Yet perhaps it’s best described in the words I saw written on a giant cross at an Easter experience lesson for Year 6 pupils in a local church. Sin was written as an acrostic poem saying: “Shove off, I’m in charge, Now I am going to live my life my way”.

Yet, if we are honest I believe we can know and recognise sinful behaviour… but in other people!

This is the danger we don’t recognise the sin lurking at our door. Nor the consequence to other people’s lives and our own relationship with God.

The challenge is recognising -and responding- to the sin in ourselves.

Holiness and righteousness requires ourselves to abandon perpetual self-justification, pride and stubbornness and everything that prevents us from seeing ourselves as we are rather than how we’d like to think we are.

Such ways of thinking are human defences that wrap ourselves in insulating cotton wool preventing us from the Holy Spirit’s conviction or from demonic condemnation.

We may recite confession liturgy on a Sunday but unless we actually have the courage to be honest with ourselves and God about our lives we are offering nothing more than pseudo repentance, and we become the Pharisee pointing the finger at everyone else.

Instead the challenge is to prayerfully allow God to touch our hearts and minds afresh, to echo the Psalmist when he said:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139.23 & 24).

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His blood cries out…

The image of blood shouting out is a powerful image, blood demanding attention -calling out to be acknowledged!

Indeed a similar picture is given in the book of revelation: “They (the martyrs) called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev.6.8).

Yet this call from the blood of Abel shortly after the birth of sin is responded to, and answered by, the blood of God himself shed upon the cross.

The sin and death birthed from the first Adam were answered by cleansing and eternal life from Christ, that second Adam.

On Friday I was helping at Roots to Routes, our local response to homelessness, and someone came in covered in blood and it provoked a response from everyone, even those who pretended not to care could not help but stare!

If Abel’s blood cries out to a God who hears and heeds it’s screams, what of us do we hear and heed that call? Or have we become desensitised? Are we putting our fingers in our ears and looking the other way? Remember Christ himself attacks the idea of being like the scribe or the pharisee walking past on the other side of the road.

When we turn off the TV to avoid seeing images that upset or offend us,thinking it is not our problem, yet this passage says ‘it is our problem, and we are involved!’, we are our brother or sister’s keeper, we belong to them and they to us.

Christ reminds us that when we feed/shelter/clothe/comfort our brothers and sisters we realise we are ministering to Christ -”in his most distressing disguise” (said Mother Teresa).

Scripture talks of God’s heartbeat of justice, mercy and love so much that if we tore from scripture every mention of these the Bible would be decimated. Yet, too often much of our preaching is about life beyond the grave rather than before.

From my reading of scripture there seem to be two righteous responses to the pain and injustice.

The first is reflecting the God of all comfort offering loving kindness and comfort, practical support, binding up the broken-hearted and giving the world a foretaste of heaven.

The second is to protest and fight injustice, as we grasp Christ’s call to be salt combatting decay and provoking thirst for righteousness, light driving back and expelling the darkness, embodied by Christ evicting the embezellors and exploitors from the temple.

As the martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself”.

The call of Jesus is a call towards transformation, liberation both for ourselves and those around us, for communities and nations.

It takes bravery and courage to hear and heeds Christ’s call. Scary, but worth it. Being a Christian is about following in the footsteps of crucified Jesus, to see “God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven”.

In responding to the call of Christ it may cost us everything, maybe even our lives, our blood may be shed.

Would I die for the one who died for me?

And am I prepared to live for him too?

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What does success look like? -A reflection on Abraham.

When we think of our faith as a life’s journey following Jesus we find one of the biggest questions our society (and indeed the Church) are wrestling with easier to answer.

The big question is “what does success look like”?

For those of who have surrendered our lives to following the call of Christ, the answer is relatively simple (although deeply challenging to put into practice), the answer is “to walk where he leads keeping our eyes fixed on him (Jesus) ‘the author and perfector of our faith’”.

Christ himself described living in pursuit of him as a call to “Picking up our cross and following him -a call to ‘die to self’ walking on a pretty deserted road that is ‘steep and narrow’.

Abram is a good example of a follower of God, who not just heard the call of God but heeded it too.

Not just as a one off action to dine out on for years, but as continuous and habitual obedience, a life lived with the constant response of “yes Lord” with every breath and heart beat.

Abram kept moving, pilgrimaging even, with the frequent call not to settle and be comfortable, but to pioneer to a new place/people. For those of us who have pioneered -often with the scars to prove it- it is so much tougher to pioneer a second, or third time when you know the cost of the journey and the pain of the travelling.

Too often we look for affirmation in other things that the Father’s voice saying “well done good and faithful servant”, such as popularity, fame and numbers.

Abram in Soddam and Gommarah didn’t see much fruit and grow a large Church, indeed God could not find 10 righteous people there and shut the place down. Yet how often do we get our value from the size of the crowd, and how popular we are?

Abram’s greatest step of faith -being prepared to sacrifice Isaac- was done in private but his greatest stumbling failure -sleeping with Hagar and fathering Ishmael- was public knowledge.

Too often many leaders fall because their steps of faith are public and their stumbling is in private resulting in tripping them up and taking them out the game.

When playing sports we ‘mark’ an opposition player seeking to limit their effectiveness and fruitfulness, the same is true spiritually, when we seek to live following Jesus we become marked people and need to tread wisely, carefully and prayerfully as we follow Jesus so as not be led into dead-ends and cul de sacs.

Abram lived “in step with the spirit” not jumping the gun and running ahead or procrastinating lagging behind, not lurching off to the legalistic right or the liberal left but walking with God on his journey of obedience.

Although his life didn’t pull crowds much, his obedience has affected millions.

Although he reached his destination, he was shaped, fashioned and moulded by his journey.

When asked what success looked like a friend said “love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and self control” -in other words looking like Jesus, as we follow Jesus, indeed we become like those whom we spend time with.

Yet, if I am meant to be following Jesus “in all your ways acknowledge him” why does it so often feel in my life and too often within Christ’s Church as though we are going in the opposite direction?

As the film sister act challenges us: “I will follow him wherever he may go” orl
with the line of a hymn I love “O let me see thy footmarks and in them plant my own, my hope is to follow duly in thy strength alone”.

It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, what is our next step? Is every step we take going where Christ is leading us?

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