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Walking with God.

I’m currently doing an MA in Mission and Leadership at Church Mission Society and I had zoned out a bit in a lecture. Someone said something about: “Three mile an hour God” and I didn’t know what they were talking about. It turns out that “Three Mile an hour God” is a book (a classic) by Kosuke Koyama a Asian theologian, and ‘Three Miles an hour’ refers to the average human walking speed, in other words a God who walks with us, alongside us, at our pace. This image blew my mind, yet it makes sense God chooses to partner with us in his mission of transforming his world, created and knows us and ‘knows of what we are made’.
When out walking I adjust my pace of walking when I am holding my little girls hand so that we can walk together, God does the same thing with me and you.

As I thought further about ‘walking with God’ I was reminded of this passage in Genesis where God walks in the Garden of Eden seeking out Adam and Eve to walk with.

I love walking, I like seeing beautiful things, but I prefer walking with someone so that you can share what you see.

As a Pastor I have long and deep conversations with people and so I often suggest “why don’t we go for a walk”, people open up and share when you walk with them rather than sat opposite them staring at them! Walking with suggests taking time, accompanying, listening to, journeying with and being in step with. Nor are we ashamed to be seen with the person we are travelling with, just as Christ is not ashamed to be seen with us.

As I thought about walking with God, I thought about the image of journey, normally from somewhere too somewhere. As I thought more about this metaphor I wondered when walking with God am I rushing to get to the destination and ignoring my trav-elling companion? Or am dawdling along never getting anywhere and God is urg-ing me to keep walking.

Recently I accompanied a school on a pilgrimage day, and as I am tall I was at the back of the class to make sure we didn’t loose any stragglers, most of the conversa-tion I had with young people on that journey went something like this “my feet hurt”, “its too hot” or “my bags heavy” -which felt sad as they were missing beautiful coun-try side, amazing sea views and a chance to enjoy hanging out with their mates. Yet is this all I talk to God about? Do I just whinge about how hard the journey is? My-self and their fab class teacher kept on trying to encourage them to keep on going and walk, and not stop, because when you stop it is harder to start again, and the gap between you and everyone else gets bigger and bigger.

As I thought about my walk, I thought about walking with my wife, and sometimes I hold her hand, because on occasions I just feel like I need to know she is there with me, and just her presence -often not even having to say anything- helps me on my journey, to know I am not alone, I am walking with someone who loves me and that they are there with me.

At our wedding we were given a toilet roll (I can’t remember the significance of it be-ing a toilet roll!) with another verse on it, from the end of Luke’s Gospel “Jesus him-self went with them but they did not recognise him” -A verse I have often thought of, Jesus is Immanuel -God with us- he does not forsake us or abandon us, he promis-es that he will never leave us, and he will be with us even to the end of the age. Yet so often I fail to recognise him walking with me and fail to hear his voice ask “where are you?”

In the story of the Road to Emmaus, the disciples welcomed Jesus to come and walk with them and share with them, even though they did not know it was him.

A challenge for us all to see if we can recognise God walking with us? To share with him like we would walking with our very best friend -sometimes we don’t even have to say a word -just touch of his hand.

And don’t stop walking with him, even when it feels tough, as you will miss out on all the wonders God has for you in your journey with him.

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A Theological Rainbow of Ideas

The story of Noah shows us a God whose mercy triumphs over judgement, in many ways that is what the rainbow symbolises, a sign of hope in the character of God who is faithful and good.

It is a sign of peace, justice has been satisfied by the flood. God has put an end to the sin and violence on the earth and wants to begin again with Noah and his family.

It is a sign of the covenant and promise of God not to flood the earth again. A picture of hope, that although God has judged the people, his mercies are new every morning, we can hope in God. Our hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth, and keeps his promises forever.

A God who washed away sin and rescues people.

A God who saves.

A God that gives fresh starts.

Rainbows are beautiful, it is when light is split through a prism and all the its component colours are revealed, yet this can only be glimpsed when sunshine and rain collide.

Recently the rainbow has become a symbol of diversity and unity: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”, very different people united in Christ, one body made up of people’s of every age, tribe, nation and tongue.

The rainbow is good news for all people just as later the cross and empty tomb was global good news.

The rain in the rainbow, the greyness of the storm, and the story of Noah reminds me that I have sin in my life -wrong things I think and say and do (and the good things I fail to do). We have all sinned, we’ve all fallen short of God’s perfect and holy standard. That’s pretty rainy news.

Yet the sunshine news is a God who loves and rescues. The rainbow points towards God’s great redemption plan to cleanse us from our sin and all unrighteousness, when Jesus died on the cross (rain)and rose again (sunshine). A rescue for all people, sin being dealt with not by the water of a flood of judgement, but liberated by the shed blood of Christ and his love for us.

As I think of the wide variety of my faults, flaws and failures -technicolour sin- yet amazingly my iniquity and wrongdoing is more than covered by God’s excessive multi technicolour grace that can forgive all and every trespass.

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The Divine and the Dirt…

We live in a world more and more disconnected with nature, the ‘sacredness’ of human relationship with God, the land and themselves is broken.

We see vegetables wrapped in plastic and clingfilm from the superstore that has not just put the local independent green grocer (and the butcher, baker and candlestick maker) out of business but has caused our shopping to now have a vast carbon footprint, and some of which was traded where the conditions for the workers were not just unethical but dehumanising.

Our lives our sanitised from the effects of nature, we can get fruit all year around irrespective of season, we can just turn up and get what we want, pre-cut, and looking lovely.

I remember walking through the meat aisle and explaining to my daughter about meat coming from animals, she was upset as she likes animals, I began to feel less and less comfortable eating meat (as I write this I am dipping my toe in the water of being a vegetarian -my first day!) As I looked at the meat it felt detached from its source. (I used to work with a lovely vegetarian called Sam, but my daughter couldn’t say “Sam” and called him “Ham”.

As I write this, I’ve just been told off by my wife, for forgetting to split the recycling up properly and throwing away things that could be recycled. I feel a fraud writing about being a good steward of God’s creation.

In Genesis 1, we have words that make me feel really uncomfortable such as “subdue the earth” and “rule over it” as are used to seeing protests ‘subdued with violence’ and ‘rule’ being almost synonymous with oppression, yet subdue in this context is about ‘bring peace and order to creation’ the rule of God is one that enables flourishing and goodness to prevail, these words have been misused to justify exploitation of our creation, but theologically are bankrupt and flawed. As we continue through the creation narratives we read Genesis 2, our responsibility to care for the earth and steward it well is inescapable, in fact we originate from the earth and will return from it “remember you are but dust and to dust you will return”. We were meant to be at one with nature rather than trying to live separated from it, and in living separately we are not only abdicating our responsibilities but damaging and destroying what we were meant to be caring for. In fact, we are kill God’s creation.

As I see the multiple films and protests around the world I feel very small and very powerless. Then I remembered when we started our work with Street Pastors in Kingswood, at first we rushed around chatting to one another and unsurprisingly we had very few conversations about Jesus, but as we slowed down, talked less, looked around more, caught peoples eyes more and more opportunities were presented to us. I believe the same thing is true for ecology, the environment, Green issues and issues of justice, the slower we go, the more aware we are, the more we think, look and are intentionally seeking moments where can make a difference we will be astounded at the opportunities that are presented to us.

I believe that we live in a world where people want to make a difference, are yearn-ing to make the world a better place, to pass on a creation to our children and grandchildren a clean world, healthy and flourishing. The Church of Jesus Christ should have been leading the way on this critical issue and yet we have been slow and sluggish to step up and speak out on our responsibilities to be obedient to the call of God to look after his creation

Yet too we live in a world where the call of money and business is appealing and we the Church have a message that another way is possible, and there is another Kingdom to serve that is not Mamon -the Roman insatiable Pig God of wealth that was never satisfied-. Jesus says “You cannot serve both God and Mamon”. As the Native Americans remind us: “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money”.

Instead, lets gather around the truth of the story of the God who threw stars into the heavens above and allowed his creation to piece his hands, feet and side -and yet death could not contain, nor the rules of nature bind or imprison, and calls us to partner with him to build another world, the Kingdom of God, the groans of creations itself echoing our prayers and our heartbeat, living out a life that is good new too all creation.

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In/Out of Ministry?

I was at a friend’s ordination service and someone asked me (as I’ve stepped away from Vicaring about 9 months ago) how it felt being “out of ministry”.

I thought about this curious phrase “in ministry” and then thought of my coming week with three school assemblies talking to hundreds of young people about Jesus.

Out of Ministry?

Or helping out with the Town Pastors blessing the vulnerable, homeless, lonely and in need…

Out of Ministry?

Too often we think of being in ministry as doing Churchy stuff in a churchy building.

Yet since taking a break I do think there is a world of difference between religious activity and Kingdom fruitfulness.

We get confused between Christ’s call and propping up an institution.

I wonder if that which we think is ministry might not be, and that which we don’t think is might actually be God ordained ministry which cause the angels to rejoice in heaven.

Indeed as my wise friend Alan Jenner said when I left Kingswood “Andy’s leaving the Church of England to tell people about Jesus!”

Perhaps we need to rethink what it means to be a Vicar/pastor/Church leader, where making disciples and advancing the Kingdom is prioritised over buildings, fundraising, committees and endless rotas… (and lots of moving chairs!)

Out of Ministry? Was what was called ministry always ministry? If it wasn’t then I’m glad to be out of it.

My friend Mark Rich talks of the Spirit wanting “maximum fruitfulness for minimum weariness but Satan wants maximum weariness for minimum fruitfulness”. –

Perhaps all of us – irrespective of whether we are Vicary or not- need to seek afresh the call of God afresh?

Are we doing what we should be?

Are we doing what we shouldn’t be?

I believe that every Christian who knows, loves and wants to follow Jesus is in full time ministry. Or to put it another way if you love Jesus and have a pulse you are in full time Christian ministry!

Are we too blinkered and selective in the small minority of things we celebrate? When God’s glory is spilling out all over the place, but often unnoticed by us within the Church.

As I stood there at the ordination service in my robes, waiting as bling covered Bishops and Deans processed down the aisle, I thought there was something deeply uncomfortable about the “them and us-ness” of this division of clergy and laity, as though we really think that proper calling involves a ring of plastic around your neck.

Yet the world is full of great Kingdom opportunities, different roles in the body of Christ -indeed Corinthians says if all bits of the body functioned the same then the body would be depleted instead it is our difference that bring its strengths.

Too often we forget that rather than those of us working in an obviously churchy role are (I believe) to equip, empower and enable the cross cultural missionaries we have in workplaces, homes, streets, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and prisons in every village, town or city in our country and across the world… the people we serve are our key assets, we as clergy are just the team coach an often invisible role of glorifying Jesus through equipping the saints, the boots on the ground, the people at the coalface, living out their faith on their front line. I believe as clergy our role was the largely invisible one of team coach enabling blessing to be released through the people I serve in their contexts.

Mother Teresa talked of “finding you calcutta” – the place God is calling each one of us to serve him-. The missionary God has gone before each one of us preparing for us all opportunity upon opportunity to bless, to be salt and light, to hold out the word that gives life, to be agents and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.

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We Are Family .

So we see in Genesis the rise of a dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. Perhaps a family that’s a bit (or very) dysfunctional is one we can relate too, as all of our families have some baggage within them? Yet despite this, we can see within God’s original plan, before the fall, the glory and beauty of what family life was meant to be -and at times can be-. Indeed although a broken picture, family is the image used to describe the community of Christ – his Church.

Yet although we have to be pragmatic enough to realise family is tainted by sin, but we can be idealistic enough to see the creators intentions gleaming through in glory.

One of the most profound images I had of family was in a queue in a post office in Derby. A grandma was there with her grandson, she was a bit posh, and asked the child what he wanted for lunch. He said “McDonald’s”. Grandma said “don’t you want to go somewhere nice?” To which the grandson replied “that is nice”. – As I pondered this picture, I felt sure that Granny would go to ‘Maccy Ds’ and the grandchild probably would have some posh family meals too. They would both compromise for the other out of love.

Family, a community of committed and self sacrificing love, intergenerational and including diversity but yet still (often), manages to hold together in unity and mutual support. Yet family is not a sealed unit or impenetrable bubble, if it were the family would die out and no longer exist, each generation falls in love and invites someone new into the family – and different families are joined together- and from this new family life can flourish and so the cycle continues.

In many ways this community of love that invites the outsider to join with us reminds me of God, by which I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a perfect community of love but one that welcomes others in, indeed actively seeks us out.

Family should bring out the best in us, a community that enables us all to thrive, a place of belonging, safety and security. Family, where we are known most fully, seen at times at our worst and yet still loved. – isn’t this a picture of a Christian community you want to be a part of.

Family is a team, and team is an acrostic for Together Everyone Achieves More, we a better and more fruitful in loyalty and unity with our skills combined together than divided factions and lone individuals. Our life experiences and journeys compliment each other where youthful energy and aged wisdom bring us the best of human endeavour (not that everyone aged is wise nor youthful is energetic) but the truth is it is in our diversity and difference that our strength is found rather than in mirroring our similarities back to one another.

Families too are defined by their history and stories, shared down through the generations. What of us? What does it mean for us to be individuals and a community shaped and defined by the story of God, of creation, fall, cross, resurrection, ascension and pentecost?

How can be together the family of God, living our lives together open -reaching out and welcoming in-, seeing one another excel as we acts like Iron sharpening iron blessing, encouraging and challenging one another (as we ourselves are blessed, encouraged and challenged)?

Being truly evermore ourselves living the transformed life together as a community whose DNA takes it being from the Godheads perfect community of love?

Yet, how do live this out, putting real flesh and a human face (our face) on this theology becoming every life and normal practice for our life together.

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Don’t Look Back

Don’t look back! That’s the command God gives Lot and his family. Yet not looking back is really difficult. Lot’s wife can’t resist the temptation and becomes a pillar of salt. The problem with obeying God’s rescue plan is we often want to look out (or look back) for a safety net or a plan B. Jesus issued equally stark warnings when he said “no one who puts his hand to the plough and keeps looking back is worthy to be my disciple. If a farmer was trying to plough a field and not looking where they are going the furrows would not be in a straight line and the harvest would suffer. Looking back at Sodom was not a good thing for Lot and his family to do, because for them God was moving them on from there, they had been rescued and they don’t belong there any more, it was a door God had shut. Are our minds living where our body is dwelling or are we somewhere else in our head and heart? A bit like trying to drive a car forward and whilst in reverse, it can’t be done! It is very difficult to move forward in the right direction when our eyes are set behind us. I remember seeing some friends on a bus who I was trying to attract their attention as I walked into lamp post because I wasn’t looking where I was going! Are we looking where we are going properly in our walk with Jesus? How can we follow Jesus if we are not attentive to wear he is leading us? If our eyes aren’t on him can we see where he leading us, might we miss the turning or even our destination? Yet the past behind us can he ‘sticky’ we get imprisoned by it, whether its captured in the nostalgic and ‘rose tinted’ view of an I blissful era in your life that can never be bettered. Yet God does not call us to freeze framed moments but rather an ongoing relationship in step with him through every season of life. Churches get stuck in glorious past hay days that paralyses them from believing that with God their best days are ahead of them. Nostalgia can rob us of the gift God has for us in the present. Following Jesus means going with him where he is going rather than worshipping where he has been. Loving what the spirit has done rather than what he is doing. A spirituality with a museum mentality, religion of relics, yesterday’s mouldy manna, rather than the flesh fruit of today. Yet pain can trap us too, and cause us to live looking backwards at our regrets and disappointments. These things behind us captivate our eyes -like the burning Sodam and Gomorrah- pain pulls us from the present to look back at the past. To be like Lot and not look back takes a lot of faith and self discipline. To fight that battle of mind and will is a challenging struggle. Many of us need to ask God to free us from our pasts and help us move forward into the present. Later the author of the letter to the Hebrews urges us as Christians to “run the race ahead of us” and to “fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith”. So, let’s keep moving forward, in step with the spirit, following Jesus and not turning back or having our head turned over our shoulder.

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