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The Contemplative Pioneer Evangelist.

At a recent meeting I was at, I was hearing about how we need more “risk takers” and in some degree I agree that as the Church of Jesus Christ we can sometimes be risk adverse. Again the conversation progressed with we need more entrepreneurs too, and again we do need people with ideas and creativity and the ‘can do’ attitude to make things happen.

Yet the thing that I found was missing was the question of where is God in all of this? Surely the key to all mission is stepping out in faith with what God is calling us to do.

Surely a good pioneer has to be someone who is prayerful and is actively seeking what is God’s will for this place at this time with these people.

I know many risk takers, and I admire their courage, but risk in itself is neither positive or negative, the question is whether or not it is the right thing to do, the thing you are called to do.

I remember in “Only Fools and Horses” Rodney saying of Del, that he’s read a book where a modern man makes bold and entrepreneurial decisions “which is why we have half a dozen Russian Betamax Video recorders and a whole load of horse riding helmets painted red” -In other words he’d bought a right load of old tosh!

Scripture reminds us that “Zeal without wisdom is folly”.

In the world of Pioneer Ministry there is much talk of leading, but surely the key is being led by the Holy Spirit.

In my context of Kingswood, there are a million worthwhile ventures that I could be doing -filling the diary up has never been the problem- but rather what is God calling us to do? What is God’s plan and purpose of the people I serve?

My friend Mark Rich talks about “the devil seeking to cause us maximum weariness for minimum fruitfulness” -after all the most dangerous thing is not failure but succeeding in things that don’t matter. Scripture talks of building with “Gold, Silver and costly stones” -imperishable- rather that “wood, straw and costly stones” -perishable-, our own ideas might sound impressive but it is only the ideas that stem from the heart of God that have lasting eternal fruitfulness.

To discover God’s plan and purposes I believe can only be discovered by being a good listener, listening to God in the quiet place -seeking his Kingdom on our knees- and listening to the community.

Often people come to me with a great idea, and they really try to sell me their idea, and often there has been some brilliant and wonderful creative thinking, yet the question I want to know is “do you believe you have heard from God on this? Is God calling us to this?”

For “if the worker does not build the house then the labourers labour in vein” and what is more even Jesus said “I only do what I see my Father doing” -we need reminding that “Mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in” (as former Archbishop Rowan Williams said).

Whilst I was at college one of our lecturers described the best ministers as ‘reflective practioners’.

We need people to be practioners as so often we can ‘navel gaze’ being so reflective that never get around to being productive! Yet we can be so activist in being ‘practioners’ that we never prayerfully reflect or evaluate anything and thus miss out on the fruit that God wants to give us.

We need to seek God for the right way forward and build it. Yet as we build something new, we need to be self aware, critical in our thinking and with open hearts and minds to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly a wise and Godly friend gave me this advice on starting in Kingwood which was “pray, pray and pray some more… Spend the first year just praying” -advice I wish I had heeded more.

Yet, although it is great to “hit the ground kneeling” and begin embedded in prayer, we also need to continue on in this vein. Not just birthing a vision in prayer, but nurturing it prayerfully, sustaining it prayerfully and continually evaluating it prayerfully too.

So, let’s learn afresh to be people who live deeply with Christ, whose rhythm of life is “the ancient art of breathing” -receiving from Christ (breathing in) and sharing it with the world around us (breathing out).

To conclude, for me the most important gift with any Kingdom work is the ability “to hear and discern God’s voice and the courage and obedience to put it into practice”.

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The Contemplative Pioneer Evangelist…

At a recent meeting I was at, I was hearing about how we need more “risk takers” and in some degree I agree that as the Church of Jesus Christ we can sometimes be risk adverse. Again the conversation progressed with we need more entrepreneurs too, and again we do need people with ideas and creativity and the ‘can do’ attitude to make things happen.

Yet the thing that I found was missing was the question of where is God in all of this? Surely the key to all mission is stepping out in faith with what God is calling us to do.

Surely a good pioneer has to be someone who is prayerful and is actively seeking what is God’s will for this place at this time with these people.

I know many risk takers, and I admire their courage, but risk in itself is neither positive or negative, the question is whether or not it is the right thing to do, the thing you are called to do.

I remember in “Only Fools and Horses” Rodney saying of Del, that he’s read a book where a modern man makes bold and entrepreneurial decisions “which is why we have half a dozen Russian Betamax Video recorders and a whole load of horse riding helmets painted red” -In other words he’d bought a right load of old tosh!

Scripture reminds us that “Zeal without wisdom is folly”.

In the world of Pioneer Ministry there is much talk of leading, but surely the key is being led by the Holy Spirit.

In my context of Kingswood, there are a million worthwhile ventures that I could be doing -filling the diary up has never been the problem- but rather what is God calling us to do? What is God’s plan and purpose of the people I serve?

My friend Mark Rich talks about “the devil seeking to cause us maximum weariness for minimum fruitfulness” -after all the most dangerous thing is not failure but succeeding in things that don’t matter. Scripture talks of building with “Gold, Silver and costly stones” -imperishable- rather that “wood, straw and costly stones” -perishable-, our own ideas might sound impressive but it is only the ideas that stem from the heart of God that have lasting eternal fruitfulness.

To discover God’s plan and purposes I believe can only be discovered by being a good listener, listening to God in the quiet place -seeking his Kingdom on our knees- and listening to the community.

Often people come to me with a great idea, and they really try to sell me their idea, and often there has been some brilliant and wonderful creative thinking, yet the question I want to know is “do you believe you have heard from God on this? Is God calling us to this?”

For “if the worker does not build the house then the labourers labour in vein” and what is more even Jesus said “I only do what I see my Father doing” -we need reminding that “Mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in” (as former Archbishop Rowan Williams said).

Whilst I was at college one of our lecturers described the best ministers as ‘reflective practioners’.

We need people to be practioners as so often we can ‘navel gaze’ being so reflective that never get around to being productive! Yet we can be so activist in being ‘practioners’ that we never prayerfully reflect or evaluate anything and thus miss out on the fruit that God wants to give us.

We need to seek God for the right way forward and build it. Yet as we build something new, we need to be self aware, critical in our thinking and with open hearts and minds to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly a wise and Godly friend gave me this advice on starting in Kingwood which was “pray, pray and pray some more… Spend the first year just praying” -advice I wish I had heeded more.

Yet, although it is great to “hit the ground kneeling” and begin embedded in prayer, we also need to continue on in this vein. Not just birthing a vision in prayer, but nurturing it prayerfully, sustaining it prayerfully and continually evaluating it prayerfully too.

So, let’s learn afresh to be people who live deeply with Christ, whose rhythm of life is “the ancient art of breathing” -receiving from Christ (breathing in) and sharing it with the world around us (breathing out).

To conclude, for me the most important gift with any Kingdom work is the ability “to hear and discern God’s voice and the courage and obedience to put it into practice”.

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Don’t rip up your L plates.

When we are learning to drive we put L plates on our cars to warn other motorists that we are learning, and then when we pass our test we rip up the L plates and can drive normally.

Yet I think we learn most about driving safely when we are actually driving, and so often the worst crashes are caused by people who think they know it all and sadly discover with dreadful consequences that they don’t know it all.

Too often I think we have this idea that learning is only a temporary thing until we pass a test, or master a technique or skill, or gain a certificate.

Too often we are too eager to tear up our L plates, all of us long to feel competent, knowledgeable and learned.

Yet, I would suggest that it is folly to believe we ever fully reach this destination, it is a sign of immaturity and pride to think we know it all.

Instead, let’s be Christians still with our L plates on, people that are life-long learners, going through life humbly seeking to find God and to grow through the circumstances we find in life.

A great question to ask in all we go through is to say “Holy Spirit, what is it you want to teach me in this situation?” Looking and seeking God’s voice in the chaotic and crazy world around us.

Let is never thinking we are experts and have nothing left to know, as not only does this puff us up with pride, it is folly to think we can ever put God and his creation in a box.

“My ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts” says the Lord is Is.55

Part of our humanity is knowing that we are not, and never will be, all knowing but we surrender to a God who knows all things, is loving and can be trusted.

It is knowing that we as humanity aren’t at the centre of the universe that gives us wisdom… Perhaps that is why it is written “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”?

Paul urges the Christians in Rome to “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you”.

Yet, knowing the limitations of our humanity is not a reason to give up even trying to be a life long learner.

Bill Hybels says “Armed with enough humility leaders can learn from anyone”.

I would add that armed with enough prayerful discernment every circumstance can teach and shape us in our discipleship, sanctification and our walk with Christ.

James says “if anyone lacks wisdom they should ask God who gives generously”.

The question is not “are there opportunities to learn and grow?” The truth is these are all around us, but rather do we have a teachable spirit, a humility to learn, a desire for growth and discipleship?

Our discipleship depends on our openness to hear God’s voice with soft rather than a hard heart.

The humility to hear God’s voice sometimes in places that we ordinarily might choose to avoid, to seek God in the places of discomfort, and to be real and honest in hearing truths we might prefer to remain ignorant of.

In the Bond film Casino Royale M (the boss) says to Bond “Arrogance and self awareness rarely go together”.

I believe that self awareness is at the heart of discipleship, knowing what we are actually and really like rather than some self delusional view-point.

As the Psalmist urges us:
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting”.

So, let’s keep the L plates on, and be open to all that God wants to teach us.

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The search for perfection…

We live in a consumeristic world.

We live in a virtual world, where every image we see is air-brushed, lit and positioned to look as attractive as possible…

Those who say the camera never lies have clearly never heard of photo-shop!

I was thinking that in our culture we as so influenced by the media and advertising agencies that we are always in search for the perfect, but it is an illusive search. The world and all that is in it is fallen, somehow we can live our lives chasing a fantasy of the perfect life, the perfect job, the perfect partner, the perfect holiday and the children… and yet we forget that we’re not perfect either.

Our consumerist desire for ‘bespoke’ and our airbrushed unreality leaves people feeling dissatisfied.

Beauty is not about cutting ourselves off from reality in some pseudo-bubble-world for as long as we can keep the illusion going (the more money we have the more we can keep ourselves in a deluded state, but even then we know deep down its not real but actually incredibly empty).

Islam recognises this issue in its philosophy of beauty, which understands that only God is perfect and to try and achieve perfection is in their view idolatrous, that is why art from this culture sometimes has a deliberate mistake in it as a testimony to God’s perfection and human-fallen-ness.

Yet traditionally the Christian understanding of beauty is very different from Islam, where we believe we can see beauty in brokenness. Despite the fall God’s indelible goodness can still shine out of that which is broken.

In fact Jesus often calls us out of what feels beautiful and comfortable to discover a new beauty in a more broken area.

When I was at New Wine I went to a session with Gareth Robinson, a Church planter, and he described about how he and his wife had wonderful Christian gatherings in their conservatory with nice Christians friend on his planting team. Yet then they planted in the estate they felt called to be in, and it went messy with local kids running around and causing havoc and it all went messy. The seminar was called ‘birthing Church-plants’ and his opening remarks were that often birth is messy and costly. Yet many years on have seen many local kids become Christians and have seen Christ impact the estate.

I have worked in youth work and Church leadership for about 20 years and on occasions I have had to pray “Jesus let me see these people/community/group with your eyes and give me your love for them”.

Even gold looks unattractive when it is mined out the rock, but in the purification process its true beauty and value becomes more and more apparent.

Yet when we think of God at work in our own lives, sometimes people have noticed the gifting and potential in us -often deeply buried- within us and yet God and his people have had the wonderful privilege or drawing it out and enjoying and being blessed by us, and us being blessed by being a blessing.

The exciting privilege of partnering with God in his redemptive and sanctifying work in us and in the lives of the people we have come to love.

In fact the harder we look with the eyes of Christ the more we see of God in the most unlikely places, the smudged finger-print of the Spirit of God in the least likely places and the most unlikely people.

Our world tries to sell us counterfeit beauty but yet the beauty really end up appreciating is that which we have invested it, which is so much greater and deeper than superficial beauty that the world has tempted us by.

Often we settle for nice -like the lovely pleasant time Gareth had in his conservatory- but if you asked them would they swap it for the wonders they found in planting a Church amongst the broken and marginalised, I bet they wouldn’t swap! So lets press on for what is declared by the divine to be beautiful.

The greatest beauty we can see is something of heaven, the Kingdom of God, touching earth -or at least our bit of it- and this is a beauty we can participate in.

A beauty that maybe the world can’t always see, unless seen and felt with the eyes and heart of Christ.

And this beauty is investing in that which is eternal.

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Those who show up…

I am reading at the moment Andy Flanagan’s book called “Those who show up” the title is taken from a quote by John F. Kennedy “History is made by those who show up”, another facebook meme distorted the quote with the words: “History is made by those who are prepared to get their hands dirty”.

Yet I would suggest that it is more than showing up, but keep on turning up, as often gathering a few enthusiasts short term is easy but they soon drop off as apathy sets in.

Apathy is the greatest danger facing the Church of Jesus Christ in this nation.

We accept the unacceptable.

The call of Christ is to stand, it to be salt and light, to be Christ’s ambassadors, to turn this broken and upside down world the right way up for Christ, to seek his Kingdom to come here in the communities we live and work in on earth as it is heaven.

Fictional President Josiah Bartlett in the popular TV series “The West Wing” popularised the phrase -originally penned by Margaret Mead- who said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

The truth is most things aren’t changed by millions, but normally by a few people who dream the dream of a different and transformed future.

Yet this isn’t just a blog of a motivational pep talk about the power of the individual. We as Christians have within us the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave. He (Christ) that is in us is greater than he (the devil) that is in the world.

Part of the problem is our lack of vision, we fall for the lie that our actions cannot make a difference or change the world.

We forget that we are not powerless victims tossed around by events, but rather children of God filled with his spirit and with his authority to see his Kingdom come.

Shane Claiborne says “Everyone wants a revolution, but no one wants to do the dishes”.

Yet if we are to see vision becoming a reality this often requires us to roll up our sleeves and humble ourselves. If we are to change the world then we can’t be half hearted and expect it to be cost free.

And as we think about being these people that change the world, we remember that we follow in the footsteps of the worlds greatest revolutionary, Jesus Christ.

A God who showed up.

A God that stepped into his world.

A God that chose to make a difference and to intervene, even though he knew he would be rejected by many.

A God committed to changing his world, and the lives of those within it.

A God that was prepared to humble himself and serve in the most unglamorous.

A God that paid the ultimate sacrifice.

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Peace…

“Grace, Mercy and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you”.

We have thought about Mercy and Grace over the last few days, and as I thought about these wonderful gifts I realised that these are part of an upside-down Kingdom, these are mighty and wonderful gifts, and yet they are massively counter-cultural.

Mercy is not something our culture respects, it is something requiring incredible strength but one which paradoxically is often viewed as a weakness.

Grace, that extravagant generosity, giving people what they don’t rightfully deserve, is often viewed as foolishness… “Your crazy they’re just taking advantage of you!” is what the world will tell you!

And today we think about Peace. Yet most of our heroes of history have been people of war. Culture adores the fighter, yet very few statues are erected for the peace-makers.

Yet Jesus is the greatest broker of a peace-deal of all time.

Jesus made peace between a fallen world and a righteous Godhead, he took on the evil of the world and the wrath of God (the need for justice to be done)in what was from the aggressor an act of violence met by the ultimate non violent peaceful protest that shouted “Father Forgive Them!” whilst gasping and dying for breath.

Jesus brokered the peace-deal between humanity and divinity, people and God. He calls us to carry on his ministry “ambassadors of reconciliation”.

The call of following Christ is to be at peace with God and at peace with one another, the horizontal relationship and the vertical relationship.

Yet Jesus says “blessed are the peacemakers” and the prophets urge us to seek the day when God turns spears into pruning hooks and swords into ploughshares.

Peace isn’t just the absence of war, but of harmonious relationships one with another. Yet our human nature often likes a bit of drama, we like a ‘robust debate’ and sadly our Churches aren’t the places of peace that they’d like to be, this doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with everyone all the time, but the issue I feel is are we disagreeing in a Christ-like way.

Peace, is a word that covers so many other ideas, welcome, acceptance, hospitality, openness, honesty, integrity, trustworthy, compassionate, calm, wisdom and love.

Peace is one of the fruit of the Spirit, and yet one we don’t always appreciate enough, nor one we know how to apply to our lives.

We know that a gentle word turns away wrath as the proverbs tell us. Many of us have seen ugly debates where we may have won an argument but lost the person.

The Apostle Peter urges us when talking evangelistically “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have but do so with gentleness and respect”.

Jesus prophetically teaches into the Church that is yet to be formed that “a house divided will not stand” -interestingly most of our parliamentary democracies work on the opposite principal, although in the second world war the parties came together to work together for the sake of the nation).

When we are squabbling amongst ourselves, the hurting world needs to healing of the gospel.

Jesus says that “blessed are the feet of those who bring good news”, Paul talks in Ephesians about having our feet ready with the Gospel of peace.

Jesus urges his Churches to be founded on the ‘people of peace’ with his mission strategy to find these people and around then build his Church.

Sadly, although the reformation brought with it many good things at the heart of Protestantism, is the idea of protest, and sadly we have seen Churches split, and split again. One of the reason I am an Anglican is a belief that these splits grieve the heart of the Holy Spirit.

Are we celebrating tensions and controversies in an unhelpful or a helpful and productive way?

Are we seeking broken and damaged relationships to be healed and restored, or are we nursing those pains and bad-feelings?

Are we seeking the advanced of the Kingdom, or is it more important to be right, and by being right do we often mean ‘the loudest’.

I had a friend that described his position on stuff as “being pretty orthodox” and then added “but I also think God calls us not to be a prat about it!”

“Wise as serpents but innocent as doves” -living a life where truth and love are held together in such a way that our life and doctrine compliment one another rather than contradict each other.

Let’s choose peace with the bravery and courage that the Price of Peace chose and embodies.

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Ephesians 2:8, grace, Luke 18, Uncategorized

Grace

In a smoke filled room in Oxford, some Dons were engaged in debate about the differences between the word religions, when suddenly another Don -C.S Lewis- walked into the room. One Don asked him:

“Jack (his nick-name) , what is the difference between Christianity and all other world religions?”

To which the great C.S Lewis replied (probably whilst puffing on his pipe!):
“That’s easy, it’s grace!”

Grace is a word that is awash in our culture, we call our daughters Grace, Bishops are called “your Grace”, people compliment people by calling them graceful and those that don’t behave well are called a disgrace. Often meaning gentle and pleasing behaviour, and yet this is so short of what the Bible actually means when it talks of grace.

Grace means God’s undeserved goodness and favour towards us, it is grace that meant although we are sinners and fallen short of God’s glory yet because of God’s great goodness and love, he himself took our punishment and died for us in our place. Someone once described GRACE as an acrostic for God’s Richs At Christ’s Expense.

Paul talks of Grace like this in Ephesians:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph.2.8).

All other world religions have people stretching and straining to reach an almost unattainable God, whereas Christianity has a God who reaches down to us, as one of us.

All other religions are self improvement theories based around “pulling yourself up by your boot-straps”.

Grace meets us where we are in the mess, but loving us so much that it doesn’t leave us there.

Grace means that nothing we can do can make God love us anymore, nor cause him to love us any less.

Grace is something that we struggle with, as we like to think of ourselves as good people, we like to think that we contributed something to our salvation rather than being lost with no means of salvation save through the cross of Christ as a great old hymn so neatly puts it “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling!” -when we take communion we come with empty hands, we bring no bargaining chips to the table, in fact God says in the book of Isaiah that “even our good deeds are like stinking rags”!

One thing I find interesting is reading Paul’s letters he is that some of his harshest words are given not to the people behaving badly but to the God-fearing Galatians that are very religious but have drifted from salvation by grace alone to works, and Paul is clearly furious at the betrayal of the heart of the Gospel.

The removal of grace from the gospel in Paul’s opinion means that it is no longer the gospel, no longer good news.

Grace, is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ, because grace is at the heart of the Godhead.

Danielle Strickland talks of “Pharisees anonymous”. Pharisees were this very dutiful religious group that prided themselves on their good works, S/Paul used to be one. As Christians we can be a bit like the Galatians and turn from the grace of God and unleash our inner-Pharisee, we need to liberate ourselves from our inner Pharisee, and find our freedom and identity in God’s grace.

The author Brendan Manning in his book the Ragamuffin Gospel talks of the choice Christians face is not the choice the Jews faced at Easter between Jesus and Barabas, no one intentionally chooses to follow a murderer, but between Jesus and Caiaphas the High Priest -smug religious piety versus the undeserved but humbling grace of God.

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Which are we?

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