apathy, Desperate, Hungry

Vicars with rumbling stomachs.

The Turning Mission was fantastic, and at the end of two weeks out in the community we came together for a celebration service at the City Centre Elim Church, and Pastor Yinka got all the Vicars and Ministers up on the stage to pray over the city of Bristol. I think all of us felt a bit self conscious up on this stage. As I looked around I was conscious of something (and this maybe going to cause me a load of flack!) most of us were people who weren’t leading the all singing all dancing mega Churches (there was barely a cheno or rugby shirt in sight!) and most of our contexts are hard graft.

I remembered at the very beginning of the Turning, when there was a Pastors lunch with Pastor Yinka, and all the shiny important Pastors turned up, and yet from that original crowd, there were only a couple who were there at the leaders lunch.

As I looked around further I noticed that some of these guys had been in ministry a while, I knew some of them had had some battles, there was something humble about these guys, no cockiness of Pastors thinking they have all the answers or smugness of the “sorted Churches”. I thought as I looked around and we came from different streams and styles, but I thought the thing that unites us on the stage, and the tribe worshipping who’d undertaken the mission, was we were hungry, we were desperate to see God move, we didn’t think that a new coffee machine and a re-brand of Alpha was going to change the cities fortunes instead as I looked around these were the guys who gave up their Saturday mornings at 7:00 to pray.

If I ever interviewed a person for a Vicar job the question would be, how hungry are you for a move of God?

I think that part of the reason we struggle in the west with growing healthy Christ-like Churches is we aren’t hungry for Christ.

Jesus himself calls us to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” -I’ve never been starving like we see these tragic cases on the telly, but have been really, really hungry and know how hunger or thirst can be an all consuming passion, a desperation. I felt as I looked around the room, the reason why the Turning worked is that people were desperate for Jesus, they were passionate about a move of God.

There is a song that has the lines “I desperate for you, and I’m lost without you” and the number of times I’ve heard it sung in a manner where it sounds anything but desperate.

More over, the ‘script sceptic’ in some of us Pastors, brought us to a point where we either became full of ourselves and walked away or emptied ourselves of our “sortedness and so called wisdom” and learned what God had to teach us… Perhaps, I wonder, if the script is a bit like a ‘Gideon test’ that shows our teachability, and when we come humbly we are in a position to be used by God. I remember once hearing someone say “God can’t fill you with himself if you’re already crammed full with yourself”. Another picture I read once said “A flute is just a stick that has learned to empty themselves”.

These truths aren’t just true for Pastors but for everyone, but maybe just more evident and obvious in us.

So, what is the key ingredient of the Turning, isn’t about the scripts, or the programme, but ultimately about people surrendering fully and completely to Jesus and letting him be glorified through people whose only qualification is the desperateness of the heart to see him at work in his world.

apathy, Revelation 3.14-22.

A Lukewarm Church

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

I wonder what God would write if he wrote your Church a letter?
I wonder too, what God would write, to us personally as individuals?

I sometime joke that my mum was such a bad cook that she used to use the smoke detector as an oven timer…

Smoke detectors are funny things, sometimes they are so over-sensitive that they go off when the toast turns just ever so slightly brown… others have flat batteries and the house can go up in flames before the thing makes a bleep…

In manys the human conscience is a little like a smoke detector, sometimes over-senstive, Christians bowed down with guilt and feelings of failure, needing to hear the Easter message of forgiveness, redemption and restoration, of our love and value before God.

Others, become so used to being Christians, so familiar with the gospel message, so comfortable with their lives, so content with their Churches that they do become a little like a smoke detector with a flat battery.

In many ways this is the picture of the people at the Church of Laodicea, this is a wake up call to an apathetic Church.

A challenge for the complacent.

Sobering thoughts for the smug.

Jesus says “I know your deeds” (v15) and “you say you are rich and don’t need a thing” (v17) -yet “but you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (v17).

It’s a bit like one of those great episodes of ‘come dine with me’ where someone thinks they are a fantastic chef, only to realise they have tested and found wanting.

One of the scariest verses in the entire bible is “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (v16)… spit you out of my mouth, is a bit of a literal translation, for you make me sick!

Scary words.

Yet it is important to note that Jesus takes no pleasure in challenging the Laodiceans on their apathy listen to verse 19 ” Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent”

So, what is Jesus’ advice for sorting out their apathy?

1) ‘buy Gold from me, refined in the fire, so you’ll be rich’ (v18) 

– Echoes of Pauls first letter to the Church at Corinth (chapter three).
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work”.

The idea of Gold being refined by the fire, is things that will last for eternity, rather than being hung up on tempory things that won’t last have no eternal value… wood, hay, straw will all be burned up, yet gold, silver costly stones will come through fire unperished and undamaged.

In other words, live for eternity and what really matters rather than tempory insignificent whims that so easily distract us.

2) “Wear white clothes” (v18) the passage  goes on about “covering shameful nakedness”. Normally nakedness in scripture has the idea of being exposed, I think this is saying about the people in Laodicea have been enjoying sinful behaviour, and have now been caught out, a bit like the teenagers in the yellow pages advert when the parents come home, caught out without excuse.

White is a symbol of purity, and the image in revelation is that we get white robes when we ‘wash our clothes in the blood of the lamb’ (Rev. 7:14), so together this has imagery of both confession and living a holy life.

In other words, confess your sins, and start living the lives you ought to be living as God’s Holy people, don’t tolerate and indulge in sin, take holiness and purity seriously, your lifestyle matters to God… God takes our sin serious (this week end shows just how seriously God takes our sin).

3) And lastly, “buy salve for your eyes so that you can see” the last thing is about vision for life, seeing our lives God’s way rather than being blinded by our own foolish ideas, our whims, our sin, our compliancy, apathy and arrogance… When we come to Christ we see the world in a different way, Jesus is inviting the Laodicea Church, to get new vision, not their old vision that is making God feel queasy and turning his stomach, but rather seeing things God’s way, with right and healed eyes.

This is followed by an invitation, probably one of the greatest invitations in scripture, where Christ himself says “behold I stand at the door and knock” (20) -notice he doesn’t barge his way in, in fact the famous Holman Hunt picture features Jesus knocking on the door of our lives, where the handle is on the inside, leaving the choice up to us about whether we open the door, or whether we ignore the knocking…

If we accept Christ’s offer to open the door, he promises to come into our lives, and eat with us, this is a Jewish term for fellowship and intimate friendship.

Today, if we hear God knocking on the door of our lives, will we open the door and let him in? Do we want to have fellowship and a friendship with Christ.

Do we want to let him in to every area of our lives, giving him access all areas?

I remember someone saying after do the Alpha course, “I had only let Jesus into the conservatory of my life, now I’ve asked him into the whole house”.

So, to conclude: – change your lives and start living not simply for comfort but instead for eternity; confess your sins and change your lives, living holy and pure lives for God; look at the world through God’s eyes rather than through our own distorted vision…

When we see this, we see ourselves as sinners in need of a Saviour… yet here comes our Saviour knocking on the door, asking if we will accept him.

Maybe this Easter is the day you want to rededicate your life afresh to God, turning your life around going his way instead of your own.

apathy, Church, Compromise?, consumerism, Discipleship, self awareness

The Danger of Drift…

When I was young I was learning to swim on my back, and somehow when I was meaning to swim a width I ended up not seeing where I was going and being a few degrees out and suddenly realised I was right in the middle of the pool completely out of my depth. I have drifted into danger.

Sometimes we carry on as we are and not changing course we end up drifting into danger…

As Churches we carry on not reaching out or engaging with our community until eventually come to the place where we are no longer viable, and are closed.

As Christians we often drift in our faith only realising that we are just left with a series of habits and ideas that we have become familiar with, but the living dynamic faith that Christ wants for us is a long way away.

A challenge are we drifting as Christian Communities? Or are we drifting in our own personal walk with Christ.

Only a few degrees off from obedience over the course of time ends up as a long way of course.

Christians rarely just walk away from faith, often it is just a case of cooling off from God degree by degree?

It is not just about saying YES to God today, but rather everyday, each day, all the time…

Who or what is God calling us to be? Where is he guiding us, each step of the way?

The problem is we end up getting caught up in safe religion and comfort, lets keep fighting, keep on walking head towards the goal.

Forgetting what is past I press on to win the goal toward which Christ Jesus has called us.

Sometimes when we are together we need to show people where their current journey is heading… the realisation that if we keep doing what are currently doing we will keep getting what we currently have… Isnt it the definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing but expecting different?

Lets pray that we do manage to change paths from death to life… to new and dangerous, but Godly ways of life….

apathy, Church, Evangelism, Ministry, Mission, Revival, Risk and Change

Why I didn’t like Bishops when I was 19!

When I was 19 I did a year out and I worked with this guy Tony Washington, who used to do training in Youth and Children’s Work, and we used to do lots of very long journeys around the North East. I remember having a conversation about why (at that time) I didn’t like Bishops (I like a number of Bishops now!) and for some reason this popped back into my head this week.

I had just come back to God, a friend had died and that had made me re-evaluate what did (and didn’t really matter), and I had realized through her death something of the urgency of the gospel… If you die apparently not knowing Jesus then there is no assurance of salvation, and that is scary.

I had the eyes of a new believe looking at a creaky Church institution and was asking where is the urgency? Why were the people who were meant to be leading us seem so chilled out about people coming to know Jesus?

If this stuff (salvation) really matters why does everyone seem to be faffing around on things that aren’t important? Why when we have a Church full of not-yet-believers do we get a sermon about…I dunno what but it lost me… (and I knew about half of the long words they were using!)

The 19 year old me wanted to see fire, passion, wanted to see a vision to reach out and change the world for Christ and instead it just wasn’t happening.

I wanted to see leaders I could rally around and follow.

We  need “Saints” people who inspire and encourage us in our faith (not advocating putting people on pedestals) but we do need to see faith lived out around us in inspiring ways.

Church and its leadership did (and does) sometimes think that jaded apathy, gloomy defeatism is somehow a sign of greater spiritual maturity and that youthful fire was ‘a bit naïve’ I was (somewhat patronisingly told) -maybe people were trying to save me from disappointments (of which there have been plenty, but I’d rather have disappointments and failures than have flat-lined a faded away).

Fortunately no one told the apostles or the heroes of Hebrews 11 that they were being a bit too enthusiastic (or if they did I’m glad they were ignored!)

Teenagers and young adults are a heroic age, God has placed idealism, enthusiasm and fire within us and we want to make a difference, we want to change the world.

There are plenty of places which will give a compelling vision for world transformation, politics, charity works, self-help guru’s…

Yet why isn’t the Church at the forefront of inspiring people to change the world, because we have the highest and the greatest of commissions “to go into all the world and make them my disciples!”, “May your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!”.

I think actually over the past 20 years Bishops have got better at spearheading vision of mission and justice… but our

Churches are sometimes tired old institutions that sap our energy, quash our enthusiasm, damped our vision and sow seeds of doubt to our calling.

I remember reading Richard Dawkins who said of Christianity in the UK that is was “mostly harmless” -this idea that Christ’s Church isn’t doing anything much, isn’t what Christ wants.

I want a dangerous faith…

I want to be part of something that will last forever.

I want to be part of the greatest move on the planet for human good.

We need a revolution.

We need a return to Acts 2.

Let’s see Church rise from her slumber and once again change the world.

Are you with me in this dream?

If so, let’s turn this dream into a reality?