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Stopping, dusting our Doc Martin’s and not bursting old wineskins…

To live differently and to do life, mission and ministry in another way will require us to not only pick up new things, but to stop doing some of the things we currently do.

How can we take on a new and different way of living when our hands, hearts and heads our full of the old ways?

When I used to read many of these Church leadership type books I would always underline passages like the one above, yet I came to realise that although I agreed with the sentiment, I did not actually know how to do it in practice in either my own life or my work context.

The Bishop of Bristol used to talk about “human beings having a status quo bias” in other words we instinctively pull towards what we know, what is comfortable and familiar, and how things have always been. There is an old adage: “if you always do, what you always have, you will get what you have always got”.

“The old is better” (Lk.5.39) is what Jesus warned us people would say (and believe me they do, people look back with a nostalgia even if it is vastly inaccurate, just look at the Israelites remembering slavery and slaughter fondly in Exodus 16!).

When Jesus taught about “New Wine and New Wine Skins” that is a picture I believe of the new thing God is doing being shoehorned into our old habits, structures and practices that cannot contain it, the old wineskins burst when filled with new wine (Mk.2.22).

This was true of my own personal spiritual life as well as with my work of trying to lead others in mission and the work and life of the Kingdom. My own personal prayer and devotional life struggled at times to cope with demands that a busy parish and life as a Vicar placed on it, and used to feel like I was feeding others whilst feeling really hungry inside myself.

The question is what to stop? I was really annoyed to discover upon my return to work after my paternity leave that a weekly prayer meeting had become a monthly one, and I understood “that people are busy”, but I do wonder if we stop things, do we stop doing the right things and continue with the wrong things. We need discernment to know what to stop and what to carry on with.

The BBC nearly stopped the comedy shows “Only Fools and Horses” and “Blackadder” after their first series, but fortunately someone had the vision to realise the potential that these had. We, like the BBC commissioners, need to have vision and discernment to realise what are the things we need to invest it, sustain and develop and what –like some of the last few episodes of Doctor Who in the 80’s- needs to be stopped for at least a season or two (sometimes, like with Doctor Who, to stop something means it can return in a new form with new life, rather than limping on in decline).

As I thought about stopping both in my life and as a minister I was drawn to the passage of Jesus parable of the fig tree that did not produce fruit (L.13.6-9), and the owner of the fig tree wanted to cut it down, but a worker asked for a year to prune it, to dig around and nourish its roots, and tend its life.

We, like that fig tree, need to tend our lives, investing in our foundations, removing our fruitless branches, and pruning that which bares fruit.

The picture works for our churches too, they need similar investment to produce fruit, indeed if they carry on being fruitless “why should it waste the soil”.

To be fruitful is worth it, just like “getting into shape” is worth it as human-beings but to get there often means pushing through the pain barrier of diet and exercise, and is easy to flop back on the sofa with a pizza!

I was thinking why I find/found stopping really hard when I was a Vicar in Bristol, and came up with three main reasons why I found it such a struggle!

-> Stopping is really hard, because much of parish life is literally jumping on what feels like a treadmill going at a fair old speed, and to try and do anything different to the established pattern takes a lot of effort and energy. It was a difficult lesson to learn that you cannot do it all, nor can you do it all well, and trying to do a marathon at a sprint is not sustainable in the long term, but like a treadmill if you “hit the ground running” the pressure is to keep running.

-> Stopping is really hard because by nature I am an activist, I find it hard not to be doing something, which is probably my greatest strength and also my greatest weakness; knowing oneself and ones character, our drivers –for me guilt and needing to be needed both can press my buttons- so sometimes going against the grain of our character, and choosing to do something that is not our “default position” is a challenge.

Yet having the space –and the bravery to allow the diary to breath- space to think, time to pray, read and study scripture was something that was really hard to do, in fact I always struggled and often failed, but how can we be strategic (or perhaps obedient is a better word?) with our time and the priorities of the Kingdom of God when everything else is bombarding us.

-> Stopping is really hard because other people have certain things they want you to do, and managing other peoples expectations can be tricky. Many things are cherished –even if they have ceased to be fruitful- they become part of the weeks routine, also in Church often there are issues of power and status tied up with things that happen, they have been part of their story and the story of the Church. With the mission work I was seeking to do in Kingswood, I discovered the root of much of my foolishness came from pursuing a (mainly) unachievable goal of trying to keep everyone happy at the same time. Part of this was trying to be kind and compassionate to people, but also, if I am honest I wanted to be liked, popular and affirmed with people thinking I was doing a good job and yet actually it was detrimental to my mental health and my family life.
In Kingswood we had a small church that was doing all e worship where often I was the youngest person in the building, I was told “if it is not broke don’t fix it” I realised people do not want to at times acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Pointing out elephants, is something that will make you really unpopular, it is easier to play along with the game of the “Emperors new clothes” (the Emperor did not actually have any clothes, but no one was brave enough to tell him he was stark naked!). Yet this is not the way of Jesus, nor the prophets of God in the Old Testament, who seem to prize truth above “hurting peoples feeling”, as living in a deception is neither kind nor of the Kingdom of God.

Yet, until my resignation from Vicaring in the institution of the Church of England, this is what I had spent most of my ordained life doing, trying to not burst wineskins that were not fit for purpose.

When Jesus sends out the 72 (Lk 10) he talks of “knocking the dust from our feet”, I was talking to a friend after a prayer meeting where no one had turned up, and I said: “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” to which my friend reply “if I were you Andy I’d get a new horse” –this conversation was the ‘nudge from the Holy Spirit’ I needed to set the wheels in motion to plant another Church in the most deprived area of the Parish, which is something that brought so much encouragement and life to me –and led to seeing people giving their hearts to Christ and coming to Baptism. It was painful, and some of the existing congregation were antagonistic both myself and the new congregation –and I felt really hurt by this. Yet I could have carried on putting on prayer meetings where no-one came to pray. Jesus spoke about “knocking the dust off our feet” (Matt.10.14) to the unresponsive towns and going where people will want to accept and welcome us, and the message we bring.

Shortly after this, I had an opportunity to drastically alter my Sunday commitments, as a year earlier a new parish, Hanham which adjoined our parish- had been added to them team with two more Churches, following some internal troubles, they needed someone to go down and help run the early morning breakfast service and the parade service. It meant drastically changing my Sunday commitments and was costly, and meant I no longer did much work in two of the five Churches. Yet in prioritising these services that were seeking to reach out to new people, and engage with people who wanted to go deeper in their faith, I felt less drained and more energised.

More than that, I had at that time a fantastic intern called Sam, who was brilliant, he had come to faith from a non-Christian background and felt the call to ordination. The breakfast Church “Holy Toast” in particular really caused him to thrive, and also it was a place where they really encouraged and affirmed his gifting which I sure helped him flourish (we all do better when we feel loved and appreciated). Sometimes, in making a hard-choices that causes us to have opposition, we have become catalysts of blessing for others.

To “keep going with what we are doing” because we want an “easy life” is actually quite a selfish thing to do, where as enduring unpopularity so that others may grow in Christ is the self sacrificing call of God’s Kingdom.

Also, within this parish there was a young guy called Regan, who had returned to faith in that Church, he began to come along when he had to stop work due to some visa problems (he was from Zimbabwe) and began to attend mid-week communion more out of boredom, but began to drift and said to one of the Church members (who was in the process of becoming a Vicar) that “he didn’t feel like coming along to Church anymore” to which she replied “I don’t think Jesus felt like dying for us on the cross, but he still did it”, and from that Regan never looked back.

Sharing Ministry with Sam and Regan really was one of the highlights of my time in Kingswood, both I believe are better preachers than I am, and one thing I used to enjoy was being able to sit back and receive what God was saying through them, rather than me having to always be the one preparing a sermon for each event. Yet, to my shame, it was not easy giving up doing the things I enjoyed to allow others to do the bits I thought I was good at (especially when they were better than me). Yet I discovered in stopping doing everything, it allows other people to have the opportunity to discover their gifting too, and now having moved on from Bristol I know that they are faithfully bringing good news to the people of this city that I deeply love.

A little while before both the Church plant and the move to work more in Hanham Sam and I had started doing a monthly worship event that became known as “Praise and Proclaim” which was something a previous Vicar had done and had stopped. For a while it was really fantastic, a chance for informal worship, an opportunity to go deeper in our preaching and gave room and space for testimonies and to use spiritual gifts and explore spiritual and charismatic renewal together. Yet when we started the Church plant we had this within our parish every week, and we could no longer sustain both services and numbers began to drop from Praise and Proclaim and rise for the Church plant, so we made the choice (for a while) to stop Praise and Proclaim, which was difficult as it had been such a source of blessing and encouragement.

So, as I pondered about the lessons I learned in Bristol, and I believe that even though I have left there is still much more Bristol still has to teach me, I would say learn what you need to stop. To learn to prune what you do and invest in the right things and people.

It is not exactly a “how too guide” as everyone is different, as is there context and community, but this is a bit of my story, my journey and the lessons I have learned and am still learning, as I learn to try and be faithful in living life following Jesus, doing it his way, not my way.

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Imprisonment or liberation?

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela realised that it is not just locked doors and bars on the windows that keep us prisoner but it is often what is in our hearts and our heads, and this is a prison that we often struggle to escape from, if we are to fulfill God’s plan and calling on our lives, Jesus promises that “those whom the Son (Jesus) sets free will be free indeed” (Jn 8:36).

The writer of Hebrews talks of us “running the race and casting off the sin that so easily entangles” (Heb.12.1) –running with our legs entangled with stuff will slow us down, inhibit our progress but also potentially take us out of the race, either for a season or possible permanently.

For Jesus to work through us, he also needs to work in us.

Often our sin causes us (like Jonah) to run from God, yet we need instead to turn around, and run too God and his loving arms, he wants us to set us free and see us thrive in the good works he has prepared for us to do before the foundation of the world!

Yet, this is often painful and often means addressing things we might prefer not to deal with; admitting our faults, cracks and imperfections both to ourselves, and with other people, bringing things into the light, confessing and repenting of our sin is a brave and courageous thing to do as such “Soul Work” is painful but it is necessary if we are to be fruitful.

So, a challenge, whatever it is in our lives that is imprisoning us or impeding our progress, we need to allow God to meet with us and be honest with him about the realities of our life, the state of our heart and the baggage of our head, maybe include one or two trusted Christian friends too.

One of the phrases I hear when watching sport (admittedly something that does not happen too often!) is a player being “match fit” –ready and able to play for their country or their team. Many of Jesus parables such as the foolish bridesmaids, the rich fool, the fig tree or the bad tenants are all talk of the people of God not being ready for what God was about to do.

My prayer is that today for those reading these few words is your day of liberation and freedom, that God will work in you and me to see us becoming “match fit”, ready to be able to fulfil all that he is calling us to do for him. I pray we can all echo honestly the words of that great hymn by John Wesley’s brother Charles “And can it be” with the lines “my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed thee”.

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Recognising Jesus if he sat next to you…

My friend Andy and I chopped veg for the casserole the guys are going to eat tonight at the Wild Goose Café in Bristol, that feeds the homeless.

As we chopped we also chatted. Andy told me about a service at the Cathedral where a preacher had asked, “What would you say to Jesus if he was sat next to you?” Yet, Andy being Andy asked: “How would I know it was Jesus?”

This question reminded me of the song: “What if God was one of us?” featuring the line “just a slob like one of us, just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home”, but I didn’t think Andy would appreciate my singing so I mentioned the story of the road to Emmaus (Lk.24), where the two disciples had Jesus walking with them, and yet were kept from recognising him. We don’t know where God is going to show up and challenge us!

To my shame I made a rather inappropriate joke about Jesus probably more likely to be hanging out here at the Wild Goose than at the Cathedral, which shows something of my ‘inverted snobbery’ and the danger of putting God in a box, I have discovered that I have often met God where and when I least expected him to meet him, and normally through the least unlikely people.

In Bruce and Evan Almighty we see Morgan Freeman as God often dressed in disguises as people such as workmen, people on the street, or around and about our heroes, making in some way the point that each of us are made in God’s image (Gen.1.27), and something of God can be seen through all people, admittedly sometimes harder to glimpse in some people than others. I wonder too, although I love the idea of “treating everyone as if it were Jesus himself standing in front of us” –I worry that this is not always the reality, how can I be better at treating everyone I meet with the love, dignity, grace, mercy and kindness that I should show them.

Within the work I do in the local schools in Poole, I have a (primary school) assembly where I get the kids to look at their thumb prints, and talk about how unique and special they are, then I get them to look at their neighbours ear and their eyes –pointing out that each of us is different- and that God loves us so much he thinks that our value is “beyond rubies” () and that we are worth dying for, saying “you are precious and honoured in my sight and I love you” (Is.43.4) –and so is the person sat next to you, so is your annoying brother or sister, the person in the class that maybe isn’t very popular- everyone is loved by God and made in his image. My closing remark is “and you will never meet someone who God doesn’t love!” –It might be a challenging message for school kids, and if I’m honest, even more challenging for me as a grown up.

If I find it hard to see God in other people, then this makes me ask: “What of me?”

Sometimes, however, it might be hard to see Christ in me, or see as much of him in me as I would like, sometimes there is too much of me there and too little of Christ? I am reminded of the words of Paul who talks of “Christ in us the hope of glory” (Col.1.27) or the God who shines like “treasurers in jars of clay” (2Cor.4.7-9) and pray that over these next few days that Jesus will be seen in me, and that I might be a blessing to the people I visit and encounter.

As I continued to chop carrots with Andy, I was left thinking about God as stranger. God who wants to speak to me, but am I ready and willing to hear what he has to say? More than that, if I hear what he says am I brave enough to put it into practice, do I have the courage to obey, I pray that I do –but there is always the nagging voice of doubt there too! Will I recognize Jesus straight off like Abraham welcoming the three guests into his home (Gen.18) or might I be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus and it might take a while for me to realise and recognize him?

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Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto!

At the end of the film Schinders List, Oskar Schindler has a moment where instead of feeling proud of the amazing achievements he done saving the lives of many of his Jewish Workers, paying money to save them, he says “my car, if I sold my car how many would that have saved? My ring, how many could I have saved?”

It is a poignant moment in the film, and anyone of us who have been driven by a vision know that there is always more you could do, whatever you have done probably wont feel enough, often it is never done, there is always more people who are suffering than we have a capacity to help, even Jesus said: “the poor will always be with you”.

I was talking to some friends at the recent election, they are in a marginal constituency, where a few votes could alter the outcome, they said that there was always another door to knock on, another phone call to make, another conversation to be had –knowing that every vote counted- as a Christian wanting to see the Kingdom of God advance it feels to me much the same way.

Remembering the words of William Booth who said his famous speech about fighting on whilst there are people suffering; that resonated with me and terrifies me. Knowing that Booth also was wracked with depression did not surprise me, as living with that mind-set can become all-consuming, and the guilt and not doing enough can be relentless.

I find that the work, or ‘the cause’, is never done –there is always someone or something that needs your attention and time, is a hard place to be, and stopping was not easy.

Often these feelings are intensified when we feel unsupported when we feel like a lone-voice, or at least a small minority, yet when we feel like we are part of a team, a missional community, that pressure is elevated somewhat as we know that it is not all down to us. Yet, for too long, much of our thinking of leadership within Churches is all about the one heroic leader who is omni-gifted –A spiritual James Bond type- rather than understanding the new testament model of ministry is all about being an interdependent team.

This superhero leader, the perpetual optimist, is a false expectation that either is placed upon us by other people, or we place on our own shoulders, and these expectations are often a heavy burden, that I do not believe God wants us to carry. Sometimes we can be ‘faith-filled’ and determined, and other days we wobble, which is why scripture calls us to carry one another’s burdens, we need to learn to spur one another on, both being the one who spurs and allowing others to spur us on too.

Alongside this, our culture too, glorifies the busy. I had a chat the other day with a really wise retired Church leader who said people used to say: “Are you busy?” –to which he replied (very wisely) “I am always be busy, but is busy always what God is calling me to do?”

Yet in Church culture we have –I believe- over swung and glorify reflective to the reflective, and the ponderous.

In Jesus however, we see both activism and contemplation, both have wonderful strengths and also shadow sides, when both embrace each other in the dance of divine obedience, both compensate the others flaws and enhance each others strength.

Jesus was fruitful in his ministry, but he does not seem to be driven in the way many of us are, most of us could not have waited three days to visit Lazarus and his family? Nor would we just be ‘sat by a well’ able to have a fruitful conversation with a Samaritan woman. Yet, he travelled from place to place –he grasped the moment- and acted spontaneously; interestingly Mark evidently saw Jesus’ activism and fills his gospel with words like “suddenly” whereas John paints a more reflective Jesus, perhaps that is why we need to read both narratives together?

I worry if I was being described in three words, one of them (maybe even the first one) might be “driven”. Yet in coming to the point to realise however hard you work, you cannot do it all. Nor was not very good at it all either. Perhaps that is because I was not meant to be doing it all, I needed to be in a team which maximises my strengths and compensates for my weakness, that is why God intends the Christian to be in community, which refines us, and enables us to be fruitful.

As an Activist, I always want to be going and doing, and sometimes need to listen, heed and hear the reflectors who want to go slower, and think more! Yet the truth is that if we were all activists we would be running with the first idea –rather than the best idea- and if we were all reflectors we would probably never actually do anything. Yet, we need both within the body of Christ, and rather than ‘butting heads’, with the activists pushing and the reflectors dragging their feet, seeing that both are essential components of fruitful mission, “reflective practitioners” –contemplative activists- rather than suppressing our nature to accommodate the other person, celebrating our diversity that actually results in something better and more beautiful in the end, indeed perhaps God puts activists and reflectors together to bless and refine each other.

My mind wandered to Paul’s Five Fold Ministry in his letter to the Ephesians of Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, Teachers and Shepherds/Pastors, thinking how could anyone manage to be all those things together and at the same time is impossible, God deliberately put different gifts in all of us, so we need each other, the problem is that we try to stretch ourselves to cover the gaps, often over-stretch ourselves sometimes to breaking point.

Recently I wrote about Elijah suffering a depressive episode after defeating the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, and I noticed this is one of the rare times we see someone is scripture doing ministry on their own, and God speaks to him reminding him that he is not alone, and then asking him to go and anoint Elisha, giving him a friend and colleague.
I came across an African proverb the other day, that said: “If you want to go fast, go alone, and if you want to go far, go together”.

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Host?

“If Jesus ran a coffee shop, what kind of coffee shop would it be?” I remember my former boss Rupert asking, I rather unhelpfully said: “Well we would not have to worry about running out of coffee!” (I was only twenty at the time) but have since often wondered that question,

Interestingly a friend once asked: “what does it mean to truly be a Christian group, it surely means more than putting a cross in the logo, or happen in a Church”.

The Oasis Coffee shop in Wakefield was something that revolutionised the mission and ministry in that community, and twenty (plus) years ago it was much more rare for Churches to engage in that type of venture. Yet, I would say it worked not because a coffee shop is a good idea, but it was a response to God’s call and the community need. It was founded out of obedience, the question was “as God has called us to run a coffee shop, who is he calling us to be, and what is he calling us to do?”

I recently discovered a Church café that is called “HOST” –in the midst of the financial district of London. The word ‘Host” also has Eucharistic connotations too, with Jesus hosting the last supper -and in Anglo-Catholic traditions- is sometimes refereed to the bread and the wine, symbolising Christ’s body broken for us, and his blood shed for us. Jesus, by whom everything was created, suffered and died, to welcome us to feast at his table, the host of the universe laid down his life in sacrificial love, reminding me of the words from Graham Kendricks ‘A Servant King’: “Hands that flung-stars into space to cruel nails surrendered”.

Yet as I think of Jesus as the host of all we do, it is a helpful reminder that in everything we do, we submit and surrender to the Lordship of Christ, it is all for his glory, too often as we host things and put on events pride can creep in.

I remember one Sunday I covered a communion service at a neighbouring Church, everyone introduced themselves incredibly proudly by their job title “I’m XXX and I’m the choirmaster” or “I’m one of the lay readers here” and sometimes when we serve status and self importance creeps in, we may be doing it for Christ, but sometimes we like it a bit too much ourselves and need to rediscover our humility. A friend who led a large Church said: “I could fill the pulpit every Sunday of the year, but we can never find people to clean the toilets”.

As I continued to think about hosting, I began to think through a few ideas, firstly God is the host –we might collaborate with him in hosting, but “if the Lord does not build the house the workers labour in vain” and if God is hosting, and we are acting as his ambassadors (2Cor.5.20) then who we are matters as much as how we do things.

If God is truly the host, then are we listening to him, being prayerful in our decision-making together, too often, I fear, we say prayer at the beginning and end of a meeting more out of habit than expectancy?

If God is the host, then it is his Kingdom DNA running through the project, that not only informs our relationship with God, but also one another, our fellow co-hosts, if God is love, we must love one another, and yet so often in many Christian projects relationships get strained, break and go wrong: Yet John in his Epistle reminds us that “God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them” (1Jn.4.16) –therefore if God is the host, then love needs to be prioritised. In choosing love this affects everything, for example choosing to use fairly traded items so that all our suppliers are treated well, or welcoming in the eccentric stranger who smells –which businesses would discourage but Jesus’ love embraces. Rupert, from the Wakefield café used to talk about “going the extra mile with a smile” –which is much easier said than done, as some people can really try your patience- but it is these everyday disciplines, choosing Christ and choosing love- that builds culture around the DNA of the Kingdom of God.

For Christ to be central and his spirit leading us in all that we do requires us to be intentional about “acknowledging him in all our ways” (Prov.3.6). The Church I believe should be, at its heart an intentional gathering of people around the person of Jesus Christ (in a time and place) –when that ceases to be the case we run the risk of becoming (to quote Archbishop Welby) “a rotary club with a pointy roof”.

As a community that is established around Christ, then we need to constantly ask whether our values and our actions truly reflect Christ in our shared life together.

The Church I was involved in planting in Bristol in a forgotten part of the parish had for a while on our facebook page the question asking: “If Jesus came to our Church, would he feel say “this feels like me””.

Our ‘strap-line’ was “All Souls” (called that, partly after a Church in Eastbourne that would not be written off and closed, and partly because it was a Church for everyone) “where strangers become friends and friends meet with Jesus”.

Formed around a prophetic word from an Archdeacon (does happen sometimes, depends on the archdeacon!) and our desire to welcome and love people, not just “being a friendly Church” but one you can make friends in, but also to see people meet with Jesus.

If Jesus truly is the host, then we want people to be able to encounter him, with as little baggage and clutter in the way as possible. A clergy colleague used to talk about “wanting to be invisible” by which he meant that he wanted people to meet with Jesus and he did not get in the way of that at all, he used the image of the Donkey bringing Jesus into Jerusalem, fulfils a function but not the focal point.

For Christ to truly be host, Lord, central -We must work out what it means to serve Christ not just in our individual capacity but also in dreaming together, corporately, bold, audacious, prophetic visionary dreams to see the advancement of the Kingdom of God within our community and context. Part of the reason why at our heart Christianity is very much a corporate faith lived out together is that in coming together with our different gifts, skills, talents, callings and abilities we are so much more than just our individual components, together, when led by the Holy Spirit, we can truly be a force of transformation and blessing beyond our expectations.

Often this will mean using the resources we have been given faithfully and obediently, with generosity for hospitality, which will require us to serve others by offering our resources to serve them, it seems from the Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and from Acts that worship and ministry involved lots of shared meals and mass feeding projects. As we co-host, we offer back to God the resources he has bestowed on us to be used for his glory remembering that “all things come from you, O Lord, and of your own do we give you” (1Chron.29.14).

The call to co-host with Christ –to partner with him in mission-, is a call to humility, to give sacrificially, to be generous and loving and welcoming to all, knowing that it is often in the faces of those the world would dismiss we often encounter Christ in “distressing beauty”.

I think that this is a helpful image to think as we remember that Jesus came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a random for many” (Matt.20.28), the Christian understanding of hosting is not to be the one who has the power and the kudos –like some form of Royal Garden Party- but rather, like Christ at the last supper, took a towel and washed his disciples feet (including Judas who would later betray him).

Scripture is full of hosting images, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, is of party thrown by God “who prepares a banquet for me” (Ps.23), Or a King who invites everyone from the highways and byways, the blind, the lame and the beggars (Luke 14.15-24), a picture of extravagant generosity on people who could never repay such kindness. Or a loving Father who runs to meet his wayward child and kills the fatted calf for his son’s homecoming party (Lk.15).

Are we like the Father throwing a party, or perhaps like the older brother, who resents his younger siblings home coming? I believe it is actually this older brother who actually is the more “lost” of the two brothers, who does not realise or understand the Fathers character, it is him who is the lost son!

Yet I believe something of an “older brother syndrome” sometimes inhibits our hospitality –and prevents it from being Christ-like-. Perhaps fear we could risk loosing our influence, power and status? Sometimes all sorts of attitudes can creep in and spoil our hosting and hospitality, and we (just like the older brother) need to realise God’s awesome love for ourselves too. Within Church we know we could be welcoming our replacement, and although there is a joy in passing on the baton there is also sometimes pain and grieving that happens there too.

We think of who God is, God is the creator of everything, has filled the earth with good things in generosity and abundance –even if human greed does not share it equally or fairly- and the Bible tells us that “God shines the sun on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt.5.45) –God is good and kind to everyone, even those who do not follow him, because God is a generous host, and calls us to be like him.

I have known people return from mission over-seas and tell of people who have nothing, living in abject poverty, and yet in their hosting and hospitality they are so generous giving what little they have. Just like the widow who gave two copper mites –all she had to live on- as a temple donation (Luke 32.1-4) or the widow and her son that share their food just one last loaf of bread, made from flour and oil, with the prophet Elijah and yet their flour and oil never runs out and feeds them through the famine (1Kings.7-16). Or the woman who had led a sinful life pouring out a pint of pure nard over Jesus’ feet, anointing him, crying over his feet, and drying them with her hair –she extravagantly gave what she had to Jesus rebuking the token-gesture, going through the motions, hospitality he received from Simon the Pharisee who was hosting the party, here is Jesus response:

“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7.44-47).

We love much because we have been forgiven much, we are generous because God has been generous to us, it starts and ends with him. When we co-host with Christ, partnering with him in his mission, we do so as an overflow of our love for him, it is an act of worship, where we want to elevate Jesus so others can see, encounter, meet with and be transformed by him. It is out hope that Christ may be seen in us, and through us they may meet with him, and yet too as we serve we also meet Christ in other people too.

So, what would it be like if Jesus ran a coffee shop, or any form of Christian hospitality? It would be a place where an upside down world is turned the right way up and feels like a foretaste and outpost of heaven.

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Holy Guest.

The word “guest” began to chew around in my mind. It is the word we use in the rough sleeper project I work on in Bournemouth as it feels like a kinder and more friendly word than “client” or “service user”, it is someone from somewhere else who has been welcomed (or at least permitted) to be with us for a time.

As I thought of guests I was reminded of Abra(h)am welcoming his three visitors who told him that Sara(h) was going to have a baby (Gen.18), and the writer of Hebrews writes: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Heb.13.12). I laughed thinking that if I was an angel in disguise it was a very good disguise, there was nothing angelic about my smelly feet!

I had not really thought theologically enough about the idea of being a guest somewhere, but realised that actually this is a major theme of scripture, for much of the Old Testament the people of Israel are strangers in a land that is not their own, and yet in the Exile God urges them to “be good guests” to settle down and bless the community in which they are living.

Sadly, human history has shown that sadly many of the colonialist were not always “good guests” exploiting and enslaving the population, often imposing culturally insensitive forms of Christianity upon those who already lived there, rather than discovering that if they had come as guests, they would have discovered that God had already been present and at work within these people, and they have much to teach us in how we understand and see God. What does it mean to be a good guest, and to see and discover where God is at work, and explore truths with people who see the world, and live differently from us, but probably exhibit sighs of the Kingdom by being people made in God’s image.

Even on the smaller scale, thinking how we can be respectful when we are in someone else’s space, and receiving the generosity, what does it mean to be a good and grateful guest is a good question to ask.

The incarnation (God becoming human), talks of God as guest. Jesus name Immanuel literally means “God with us” and through Jesus all things were made that has been made (Jn.1.3), he come to earth as a guest, where some welcomed him and some rejected him. In the nativity narrative the family are receiving hospitality from someone who had mercy on them “because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk.2.7).

Jesus comes as a guest as “the Son of Man has no-where to lay his head” (Lk.9.58) -he is reliant on people’s generosity and welcome.

Being a guest and accepting their hospitality conveys honour and dignity to the hosts: “these are people I am trusting with my safety and security, these are people I want to spend time with and be amongst”.

At that time Jesus was at the peak of his popularity, many prominent people would enjoy the Kudos of having Jesus as their guest. Yet Jesus chooses Zacchaeus – a despised tax collector and outcast- and says: “I must stay at your house today” (Lk.19.5) This is whom Jesus chose to bless with the honour of his presence as a guest in his home.

My wife is someone who is very good at hospitality, and will tidy up, and cook amazing food; yet often people feel embarrassed by having guests around, “what will they think of us?” “Surely they wouldn’t want to come here?” In going to Zacchaeus’ home, Jesus is giving him worth, honour and dignity, saying: “this is somewhere I want to go, with someone I want to spend time with”.

Jesus sends out both the twelve (Lk.9) and the seventy-two (Lk.10) without provisions so that they are dependent on the hospitality of other people, the people of peace (Lk.10.5). These disciples can only come as guests, they cannot come as paying customers, as Jesus instructs them not to “take a purse” -money for the journey- (Lk.10.4) and he tells the disciples to stay where they receive hospitality rather than ‘socially climb’ to whoever has the nicest offer telling them to “stay where you are welcomed”, “eat whatever is put before you” and don’t “go from house to house” looking for the best hospitality you can get (Lk.10.7&8).

It’s a call to give dignity, worth and honour to those who welcome, to the ‘people of peace’. I’m sure we have heard stories of missionaries who have had to eat or endure things they would not have chosen because they have gone as guests and wanted to bless and not offend their hosts.

As I thought about what it means to “be a guest” both where I am staying, but also in terms of mission and ministry, I also wondered who were the people of peace that I know, I wonder who the people of peace who met the early Saints in this country and the hospitality that was accepted from people who had arrived, often penniless to these shores but with the message of Christ, that is of infinite value.

I wonder who the ‘people of peace’ are in our context, in our community or communities, in our network of relationships?

Jesus instructs his disciples to go where they are welcomed, -go where you are invited- receive the hospitality of others, and bless them by being a guest who brings honour.

To be a guest is making yourself vulnerable, by nature of being a guest it means that you are not in your home or domain -it is a surrendering of power- and it is leaving what is familiar to you, and it is receiving what you need from the generosity of other people.
Too often as Christians with our mission and ministry we are the people with the power, we have what people need, we invite them into our space to our events, we cast ourselves in the role of host and them as the guest.

Yet Jesus embraces the role of the guest, the one who created everything needs to be served, asks for help, speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well he asks: “Can I have a drink?” (Jn.4.7) –he has no bucket or means to draw water- he made himself vulnerable, and placed himself in a place of need and lack, allowing himself to be served.

What would it look like to allow others to serve us? Are we prepared to be humbled? To come as a guest –to not have all the answers or know what is going on? To have receive other peoples hospitality in mission and ministry; to know –just as we do with chaplaincy and Street Pastors- that we are guests in someone else’s turf and culture? To know we need their welcome as they hold the power of the invitation, which they are able to freely bestow or withhold.

To be a guest, means that first we have accepted someone else’s invitation, in mission we are often invited guests into the world of someone else, they welcome us to and journey with them, perhaps for a few moments in a brief conversation, or perhaps it is a longer term, but we are guests within their lives and their story.

When we begin to think of the whole of Jesus’ ministry as the one who ought to be the host coming as a guest, a ministry of humility, waiting to be invited in, standing at the door and knocking (Rev.3.20) –there is no compulsion to open the door, as the famous Holman Hunt picture of Jesus knocking on the door, we see that there is no handle on Jesus’ side of the door, the handle is on the inside (our side).

We choose whether we invite Jesus in, yet we also have the promise that he “will come in and eat with us”. –However messy, broken, disreputable we are Christ promises that he will come in, not waiting for us to ‘sort ourselves out’ before he comes in, and shares himself with us.

Eating is an interesting phrase, as in the Jewish culture sharing food with someone is the highest form of kinship, an intimate act, the power of table fellowship something so precious it is almost sacramental.

Being a guest is a place of vulnerability and of surrendered power, but also where we give people the gift of ourselves and offer them the opportunity of inviting in the creator of the universe into their lives, discovering in Christ a God who allows us to choose whether, or not, we open that door and welcome him into our lives.

As I thought of the idea of guest, for the Christian –and especially for mission and ministry- this is a temporary state, we move from being a guest, to becoming part of the family (in fact that is one of the symbols of baptism), from receiving hospitality to becoming the one giving hospitality, from being welcomed to the one welcoming, from someone hearing the good news of Christ to someone passing on that same message, from someone being blessed by the lives of the people of God to someone who is being a blessing.

I wondered too, whether perhaps too often people guest stuck in being guests rather than feeling part of the family and serving. Guest receives whereas family gives.

So, let’s explore what it means to be guests together, which leads us in turn to think what does it mean to be a family which equips, enables and empowers each of the family members to thrive and be all that God has purposed them to be.

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Lone Ranger, or Team Member?

At the end of the film Schinders List, Oskar Schindler has a moment where instead of feeling proud of the amazing achievements he done saving the lives of many of his Jewish Workers, paying money to save them, he says “my car, if I sold my car how many would that have saved? My ring, how many could I have saved?”

It is a poignant moment in the film, and anyone of us who have been driven by a vision know that there is always more you could do, whatever you have done probably wont feel enough, often it is never done, there is always more people who are suffering than we have a capacity to help, even Jesus said: “the poor will always be with you”.

I was talking to some friends at a recent election in a marginal constituency and they said that there was always another door to knock on, another phone call to make, another conversation to be had –knowing that every vote counted- as a Christian wanting to see the Kingdom of God advance it feels to me much the same way.

Remembering the words of William Booth who said his famous speech about fighting on whilst there are people suffering; that resonated with me and terrifies me. Knowing that Booth also was wracked with depression did not surprise me, as living with that mind-set can become all-consuming, and the guilt and not doing enough can be relentless.

I find that the work, or ‘the cause’, is never done –there is always someone or something that needs your attention and time, is a hard place to be, and stopping was not easy.

Often these feelings are intensified when we feel unsupported when we feel like a lone-voice, or at least a small minority, yet when we feel like we are part of a team, a missional community, that pressure is elevated somewhat as we know that it is not all down to us. Yet, for too long, much of our thinking of leadership within Churches is all about the one heroic leader who is omni-gifted –A spiritual James Bond type- rather than understanding the new testament model of ministry is all about being an interdependent team.

Indeed, not only could I not do it all, I was not very good at it all either. My mind wandered to Paul’s Five Fold Ministry in his letter to the Ephesians of Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, Teachers and Shepherds/Pastors, thinking how could anyone manage to be all those things together and at the same time is impossible, God deliberately put different gifts in all of us, so we need each other, the problem is that we try to stretch ourselves to cover the gaps, often over-stretch ourselves sometimes to breaking point.

Recently I wrote about Elijah suffering a depressive episode after defeating the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, and I noticed this is one of the rare times we see someone is scripture doing ministry on their own, and God speaks to him reminding him that he is not alone, and then asking him to go and anoint Elisha, giving him a friend and colleague.

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Palm Sunday: Sheila on a scooter!

Today is Palm Sunday. It doesn’t feel like Palm Sunday, in fact it took me a while to even remember it was Sunday to be honest.

I remember one year for Palm Sunday, we have wandered into Church as a procession and I was try to explain what it might have been like for people that first Palm Sunday. So I told everyone that the Queen was coming, talked about red carpets, and being ready by the big main doors of the Church to see her limo approach with the Police motorcycles alongside it. Then one of our coolest older ladies, Sheila, crept into Church via the backdoor and came down the Aisle on my daughters’ scooter, wearing a Queen mask.

It was fun. Yet in a way it captured something of Palm Sunday, God does not turn up in the way we expect him too and is unpredictable. When God turned up in human form as Jesus, the Wise Men thought that a King must be in a Palace, not living in obscurity and born in poverty “laid in a manger for there was no room at the inn”.

Jesus just was not a leader that could be boxed, he rejected all the usual trappings of power when the devil offered them to him on a plate in the temptation story, and his most significant conversations happened to people who were nobodies in places you’d try to avoid (just like the woman at the well in the noon day heat).

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem not on a White Horse like another Caesar, but on a Donkey (echoing the ancient prophesy Zech.9.9), showing a different way of being a King, a King whose crown was not encrusted with Gold Bling but with thorns embedded into his head.

Sadly too much of our leadership –even in the Church- resembles a secure leadership mentality, too often Church leaders act like CEO’s, and sometimes leadership resembles more Alan Sugars boardroom than Jesus’ in the upper room washing the disciples feet.

The people saw things differently, they wanted a military ruler, a political leader, someone to drive out the Romans and be another King David, a temporary solution to a problem that only lasted a few centuries, something that only really worked for a small proportion of (jewish) people. Yet God’s way was greater, it worked for all people for all of time, it solved a problem so much deeper than that of the Romans, the problem of humanity itself, broken and disconnected from God, dead in our sins and brings us eternal life.

Paul talks of preaching crucified Christ, a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but is the “power and wisdom of God”, I think what Paul is saying in this passage, the cross makes no sense if we look at it through our human eyes, we can only understand it when we think like God thinks (1 Cor.1.23).

I spoke on the phone with someone this week, who said something like: “If we saw things as God saw them we would ask for very different things, and the things we have which feel so tough might even be the answers to the prayers we ought to have prayed if we saw them as God saw them” (I think the original idea came from Tim Keller, but has probably bares little resemblance to the original quote).

At the moment in our lives we feel pretty confused with this lockdown and the scary virus rampantly going crazy, and often in our lives things look so confusing and messy, and I often ask God “why are you doing what you are doing, I do not understand” –and why are you allowing things, and not allowing other things- and I don’t have answers, but Palm Sunday shows us that God’s unexpected ways actually do make sense and are a better, fuller, more loving plan even if we really cannot understand what or why things are happening. Even if things are going wrong, God is still able to redeem and use that which was meant for evil for good. God still manages –somehow by being who he is- to work “all things together for the good of those who love him”.

We do not understand, we often don’t see God at work –perhaps because he came in the way we didn’t expect, on a vehicle we hadn’t anticipated, and doing what we didn’t think he would do.

Yet one day, when everything is made new, evil has perished and pain, sickness and death no longer hold dominion over us, we might look back and say “was that you Jesus? And was that you too? What about that as well? That couldn’t have been you could it?” Then we will understand, and the bits that maybe really we do not get at the moment, we will one day see either God’s hand in redeeming the pain of human rebellion, or his plans being carried out, his grace and love blessing us in ways we might not have realised was a blessing at the time.

So, Palm Sunday reminds me not to put God in a box, to expect with him the unexpected, to not always get what he is doing but prayerfully trusting him even if it means sometimes grasping on with white knuckles and a bewildered expression!

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Mourning who I wasn’t.

This has been a thought that has been going through my mind over the last couple of days, as I have been thinking (or perhaps over thinking) about everything.

There are some things I know I will never be, or do, or achieve that I am fine with -I will never be an olympic gymnast does not cause me huge great disappointment.

We all have our dreams, some which might happen and others that might not, and those that did not, -or tougher still nearly happened- can be tough. Sometimes these have to be grieved, and grief can take time -and sometimes bereavement counsellors tell us we get ‘stuck’ in a bit of a grief ‘cul de sac’.

I also know that I have expectations of myself that sometimes are realistic and others that are not, I think I drove myself in my work life partly due to a drive of unrealistic expectations I placed on myself.

Yet, some expectations are realistic and yet not achievable all the time, most of us who are parents want to be good ones -and yet the truth is we will all have bad days, none of us can get it right all the time. We might never manage ‘perfect’ and that’s okay, no one (other than perhaps us and our inner critic) demands perfection of us (and if they do, that is an unfair and unrealistic expectation).

Sometimes, we hear other peoples voices in our inner monologues, sometimes people who are no longer in our lives, but their words have gone really deep into our perception of ourselves. I realised I was trying to prove a teacher from primary school wrong when I had not seen him in years, but his voice telling me I was “a waste of space” went deep.

Sometimes these false expectations of ourselves need to be laid to rest.

I had this idealised picture of “Super-vicar” with the revival kicking off and life looking like something out of Enid Blyton with everything perpetually happy “with lashings of ginger beer” -to quite EB! Realising that life is not a fairytale with everything covered in glitter is a tough realisation that some of us still secretly believe, the world is fallen as our we and delusion is sadly within all of us, as we chase illusive things that wont actually make us happy, as once again we buy into the fantasy that a certain aftershave (or whatever) will make everything good. Advertisers rarely sell a product, they sell a dream of a different life featuring their product at its centre, we buy the product partly because we get hooked into the illusion they catch us with.

Someone once said “comparison is the thief of joy” as too often we spend our days looking at everyone else and feeling like we’re not as good; or more dangerous is we also sometimes look out for someone else whose worse than us to help us feel better about ourselves “at least I am not as bad as…”

Comparisons either beat us up, or let us off dealing with something, both of which are probably unhelpful.

Yet, if we think of life as running a race focusing on the other competitors actually inhibits us from running as well as we could. I remember we had a mission in Kingswood, and a very gifted guy, Greg Sharples, came and helped, and he was so good at talking to people normally about Jesus in a way that was not freaky or weird, I remember walking home feeling a bit jealous and I remember praying “God I want people in Kingswood to hear about Jesus, Greg has been AMAZING, why am I feeling these silly thoughts!” I remember God saying: “If I wanted 2 Gregs his mum would have had twins!” -I wondered Greg was amazing on a mission, but I was called to be there for eight years -the long haul- and maybe it was okay -it was not a like for like comparison- he was him and I was me, and that was okay.

Yet too often we don’t “own” or notice our comparisons and do not deal with them in a right and a healthy way.

I know I sometimes live in an unrealistic fantasy of what I expect from myself, learning to accept that I cannot be liked by everyone all the time as a leader trying to move a set of Churches forward, was -for me- a painful lesson.

The Bible makes it clear that we are not perfect, but flawed human beings, ‘remember you are but dust’ it says on one occasion. If you are like me, then sometimes we are our own fiercest critic, rarely ‘patting ourselves on the back’ but often hard on our mistakes, holding ourself often to an impossible and unachievable standard. We cannot be perfect, but be better than we are.

Yet to we can sometimes cherish a wrong view of ourselves, sometimes we (although we notice it more in others) cling onto a vision of ourselves that is not us, or perhaps never was, sometimes we lack a self awareness -and even if we are pretty good with our self awareness I think we probably all have blindspots. Please don’t tell me I’m like this, when I really believe (or want to believe) I am like that, and sometimes hearing the truth that confronts and conflicts our image of ourselves is really painful. I think that is why I struggled to accept I might have ADHD because it did not fit my picture of myself in my head, or rather it did and I did not want to admit it did. I think too we sometimes use sweeping statements like being “a good listener” and the truth is that even the best lister in the world might get distracted when they are watching football, a more truthful comment is: “in those one on one conversations you have the ability to listen really well”.

I think too, it is important to realise afresh we are works in progress, the biggest danger I think we all face is a belief we have arrived, when none of us have, we are never fully sorted, yet we can be more sorted than we are at the moment.

St. Anthony talked of “your cell being your best teacher” by which he meant that time on your own being confronted by yourself as you are, rather than as you would like to be, will teach you lots about discipleship and yourself, many of us have had to stop what we are doing, and are at this moment due to this crazy virus and the lockdown, confronted with ourselves and maybe doing that ‘Soul Work’ with realising who we are, who we are not, whether our picture of ourselves in our own hearts and minds is accurate or whether actually bit need adjusting, difficult comments need processing, expectations need challenging and re-visiting.

This is a rare opportunity we have been granted, and for some of us it feels pretty scary, just as I am rubbish at tidying my bedroom I can procrastinate about sorting out what the Buddhists call my internal life.

Yet in doing this, it is not letting our inner critic take the gloves off and really go for us -which was sometimes how I would feel after some retreat times- but it is meeting the God who loves us passionately, who wants to spend time with us, who cannot possibly love us anymore than he does already (and wont love us any less by the end of it) walk through who we are with him, the person he made us to be.

Now I have plenty of “why have you made me like this God” -not just because I haven’t got a 6 pack and have a chin like buzz lightyear- but the internal stuff too, and maybe this will get somewhat resolved at this time, and maybe it won’t, but gently learning what he wants to teach us, to be the us he created us to be, to help us thrive at being us, the best us, which I find exciting. I love seeing my daughter on the trampoline (except of late it is freezing when stood outside watching her!) because she is so happy, she’s good at it and getting better all the time, she seems at her best there. God’s the same, he wants to see us excelling in the things he has called us to do, to thrive in being us.

I think my other problem with coping with those times of ‘encountering myself’ was that I had a wrong image of God, stern and disapproving -sometimes his voice in my head got blended with my own inner critic- and discovering a God rooting for me, who loves me, “who rejoices over me with singing” (Zeph.3.17). For me, the most transformative thing in my concept of my understanding of God was becoming a dad, I remember watching my beautiful little girl take a few steps unaided and cheering her with tears in my eyes, and thinking that is how God is with us.

My inner critic that tells me I am rubbish is not God’s voice, God does challenge and convict us, but a feeling of condemnation is not from him.

So, when we emerge from this time, my prayer is for me -and all those reading this blog- that we may have entered like caterpillars but exit like butterflies, beautiful and confident in who God has made us, thriving in who God has called us to be, and liberated from what we are not meant, called or expected to be.

As we emerge, thinking of God as a parent on school sports day cheering us on with love and pride in his wet eyes.

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Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow…

Yesterday I blogged a bit about how I was feeling and about wrestling with a potential ADHD diagnosis and talked about struggling and feeling really low.

Realise yesterday I did over share, and perhaps as a Christian was I too bleak?

Surely as a Christian I should have been more upbeat and talked about Hope and encountering God in those tough times more than I did?

Yet, as I was exploring these thoughts I remembered Psalm 88, a Psalm that has nothing positive within it at all, no chinks of light, no words of hope or faith, he just talks about the pain he is feeling. I think that is okay, to just let God know how we are feeling, rather than try and pretend to him that we aren’t feeling what we are.

I worry that there is too little authenticity and honesty in so much of the Christian life –how often have we said “I’m fine” when we are anything but fine really!

I worry that sometimes those of us who speak can give the image of perfected sorted-ness, rather than really it being “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”.

(That said perhaps knowing and choosing the right context for sharing is vital too).

I also thought that life is often a journey, we do not know how it will end, how things will turn out, what the future holds. One of the phrases I have been thinking about a lot is “one day at a time” and today it feels like this, know that there is a tomorrow, and that might feel different, and it might not.

I have been thinking a lot about life of late, and one of the things I have been thinking about is what my friend Sam calls “farting Unicorns” -life is not always a bed of roses, even as a Christian, we do not always get a parking space, we get sick, we suffer depression, relationships are complex, people get sick, money can be a cause of stress and many more things (I guess all of us have “the thing we are struggling with most at the moment).

Yet, I also believe that there are other biblical pictures I want to hold onto at this time, the first is the idea of the third day, often something happens (the first day) and then later there is the conclusion to what was begun (the third day) and yet often we spend times in our lives living in that second day, that Easter Saturday after the crucifixion but before the resurrection, where we do not understand what is going on, we have lots of doubts and questions, pain is very real and present, and often God does not seem as close as we would like him to be. This is where some of us can sometimes identify with the Psalms, including –or especially- Psalm 88.

Psalm 88 would have been an Easter Saturday Psalm for the disciples who were in hiding after the crucifixion.

Yet another picture, I want to grasp hold of is a phrase which occurs and re-occurs in the Bible, and that phrase is “but God”, “But God remembered Noah”, “But God sent his Son”, “but whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us” –that But God moment, when God comes and touches a situation that looks utterly bleak in human terms, like Lazarus who had been dead three days (note the link) and yet for Lazarus resurrection happened. God who makes everything new, God who restores the years the locusts have eaten, God who raises the dead and brings hope to the hopeless. That is who are God is. He is a “But God” God.

Now, as you know I’ve been struggling a bit with all sorts of things going on in my head and my heart, and I know how I would like God’s intervention to look, yet God’s ways are not our ways, and (for whatever reason) he might not do what I would like him to do, nor in the way I want him to do it, nor when I want it to happen. Yet even with all of these caveats I am still longing and praying for a “but God” moment in my life (and the lives of those I love the most) however this might look.

So, perhaps it might feel like Psalm 88 for you, perhaps you feel like it is Easter Saturday (that’s a bit where I am) but I do believe that “but God” moment is not only possible, they are within the character and heart of God, who wants to bless and see his children thrive, and yet too, sometimes this takes an act of will and an act of faith, to believe that God is good and wants to bless, even if we are angry with him at the moment, and even if we are saying we do not understand why we are in Easter Saturday, even if we can’t imagine the resurrection coming (like the disciples) that it can come, and God wants to bless us with it, even if all the evidence at the moment feels like it is shouting the opposite.

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