Authenticity, encounter, Worship

worship: A balanced diet.

“God doesn’t have a ‘faltering ego’ that needs propping up by your praise. God doesn’t have a lust for worship. He is not like Kim Jong-un. God created you because He loves you. You were created to love and be loved. To celebrate and to be celebrated. To walk with God with mutual enjoyment and pleasure”.

“We worship because we can’t help but worship this radical God of love. The God upon the throne is a lover, not an egomaniac. He may have our allegiance, but does He have our hearts. That’s a true worshipper, and the ones the Father seeks”.

These were the quotes on facebook by a guy I sort of know, Ben David, but it made me think afresh about worship, as celebration, I think for all of us when someone we love responds with love to us it brings a joy to our heart, it’s like a Father delighting in their child is God delighting in us.

I was reminded of the words of the Westminster Catechism “the chief end of man is to worship of and to enjoy him forever”, the idea of enjoying God was an idea I liked with worship.

I remember several years ago chatting to Bishop Stephen Conway (awesome man of God -Now Bishop of Ely) who I think describes himself as a sacramental, evangelical, charismatic which he described as “Loving God and having fun”, interestingly we don’t think of worship as fun -especially as an outsider looking in at more anglo-catholic forms of worship- et watching these guys splashing each other with holy water and wafting incense around maybe even though it is not something I fully understand I saw something of the fun -or perhaps Joy might be a better word.

I began to think about worship and realise that so often I have had a narrow view of worship, like a child who only eats the same two or three things, worship is singing songs with sound reformed theology with gusto!

Yet I have discovered that worship can encompasses all range of human emotions, musically it can be loud or quiet, exuberant or reflective, standing up on kneeling down, perhaps the song was written within the last few days or perhaps it is several thousand years old or maybe there are no spoken words at all, maybe its is said with movement like a dance, or in oils/paints/crayon or felt-tipped pens or a tear falling down your face.

Someone (I think it is Matt Redman) once said: “worship is all I am responding to all God is”.

Yet how can we respond to God adequately, all that we are can never be enough or a fitting response to the awesomeness of God.

Two of my favourite worship quotes come from a very old hymn and a much newer song: “when I survey the wondrous cross” which ends with the lines “were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” and Matt Redman’s ‘I will offer up my life’: “Jesus, what can I give, what can I bring to so faithful a Friend, to so loving a King? Saviour, what can be said, what can be sung as a praise of Your name for the things You have done? Oh, my words could not tell, not even in part of the debt of love that is owed by this thankful heart”.

As when we respond to God our everything simply isn’t enough, perhaps the varieties, styles, traditions are ways that maybe help and enable us to encounter God afresh in a wider, deeper way.

Maybe, as we encounter God in different ways, we discover more of ourselves and more of God too.

I have encountered God in everything from Soul Survivor to Taize, from art to stillness, in fact as I have gone on, the more I have realised that a wider menu of of worship styles to draw on actually enhances not diminishes my faith, and frees me from the desire to say “you should worship more like me”, rather let us praise God together and discover more of him in new and exciting ways. Also, different people discover God in different ways, in the same week I remember talking to someone who wanted lively worship with some ‘oomph’ and someone else asking if we did a service that was more or less silent, it is okay to find a way that is authentic for you, and maybe too if maybe a way that did work is less helpful than it once was and something else is more helpful now, that is okay too, just as with food our taste buds change and develop so sometimes our spiritual lives change, I remember the Church I made a re-commitment in -I think I would struggle there now but at the time it was what I needed and I praise God for the blessing it was into my life”.

So, let’s worship God, encountering him, in whatever works for you, enjoying him, knowing he loves you, and wants to share this moment with you.

All of who we are responding to all that God is…

As we worship we discover that nothing can ever squeeze him into a box, we can never get bored of worship as there is always more to discover, to encounter and meet with, and perhaps in that encounter the journey might be different too.

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Authenticity, Fear, Life styles, Listening, Mission, Naaman, Pride, Risk and Change, Salvation

word on the street

Today I went to the Turning Mission happening in Bristol.

I felt a bit awkward going in as I had missed the last couple of days, and had to log in on this computer that kept crashing, before grabbing a disposable cup of coffee (actually not too bad coffee for Church coffee!).

I scanned the sea of faces for a face I recognised before spotting my friend Geoff, another Vicar, who works with us sometimes, it was his first day too.

I wasn’t wearing my clerical collar, normally when I do outreachy stuff I’m normally in Kingswood, and I wear it as have found it often helps the conversation get started. Often too when I do outreach I’m either doing School or Street Pastors with lots of practical help to offer (not to mention the large florencent jackets!). Other times when doing Chaplaincy work we are giving out creme eggs other chocolate, but today, it was just me, no props, no costumes, nothing to hide behind, just me (and God).

My friend Greg Sharples once spoke on Jesus sending out the 12 and the 72 without anything extra for the journey and his main point was simply: Jesus is enough… we don’t need the gimmicks.

Anyway the worship started and I tried to look Holy whilst trying to surreptitiously drink my coffee.

Although the worship was just a random dude on a guitar there was a real sense of God’s Holy Spirit anointing on our worship together, reminding me afresh of importance of God’s presence. 

Also reminded me just how complicated we have made Church life, let’s just worship together, share life, open the scriptures, pray and eat together.

The Turning is based on two very simple ideas, soak in God’s presence and go out into the community in pairs following a very simple script as we talk to the people we meet.

I felt nervous about using a script, I wanted to sound authentic not scripted, would I sound false? Also, if I’m honest I was a bit proud, I’m not sure I need a script I thought… then I had a pang of guilt/regret as I thought how few people I have seen make a commitment: “Lord Jesus, I pray I’ll be humble enough to learn what you’ve got to teach me” I prayed silently.

I was reminded of the story of Naaman, the Babylonian Commander with lepracy  who was told by Elisha’s servant to wash seven times in the Jordan river, Naaman was offended, his pride was hurt, because he thought he was too good to wash in the dirty old water of Jordan. Do we think we are too good to learn from other Christians?

And then we were off. I was in a of team of five, and we had been told to go to the M shed, as we set off we saw a guy sat on the grass, with his bike. My friend Harry and I went up to talk to him. (I’ll be honest I felt nervous, I felt like 14 at the school disco asking a girl to dance). we introduced ourself, we told him God loved him and had a plan for his life. The next part of the script talked about if he died tonight  did he know if he would he go to heaven (all the pastoral-ness in me was cringing a bit, feels pushy and don’t mention death its an uncomfortable subject), I did make a joke about “we hope you don’t die tonight by the way” -not a great joke, by he smiled, and said he’d been thinking a lot about this sort of stuff recently, probably not fair to blog his conversation with us, but as  conversation moved on and was able to pray with him, and lead him in a prayer of commitment.

we came down the hill, and then realising that the rest of the team were all engaged in conversations too, quietly prayed for them, and then began to grin at passers by trying to get another conversation, I think I was over-eager as people refused to make eye contact with this over-grinning bearded scruff.

Later ended up talking to a couple who had already been chatted to, but they were smiley and chilled, so began to relax a bit, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Something however was rattling around my brain, the previous night my friend Jason and I had been talking to a lady in the pub with our PINTS OF VIEw event, and she had said to me “I really like the fact that you don’t come in here and preach to us”…

Last night I had taken that as a compliment, but then wondered whether sometimes I’m too worried about listening well,  caring and saying the right and helpful thing that maybe I should be more bold and tenacious with the gospel.

I remembered hearing Ricco Tice talk about the pain barrier in spiritual conversations, often the great fruit comes as we leave our comfort zones and are bolder than we’d like to be.

Again, I remembered hearing talk about dangerous faith, and felt God say that maybe I’d got a bit too comfortable just being the nice Vicar out an about in the community. Suddenly I remembered my walk to work on Easter Monday 1996, the day after I had made a re-commitment, I believed as I was about to commit social suicide by being different and telling my friends and colleagues I’d become a Christian (actually it was fine, and led to loads of great conversations, God is very gracious and faithful).

Anyway, I was brought back to earth with a jolt, I’d made eye contact with a guy on the bench. Another conversation followed with a young guy who wasn’t up for making a commitment but liked being prayed for and had a job interview later that afternoon and were able to pray for that.

The rest of our team had seen a couple become Christians early on, but now conversations were getting flat. I tried talking to a homeless guy sat on a wall but he told me to  “F*** off” -Something I’d been expecting a lot of today, but hadn’t really happened!

Then ended up having a conversation with some guys working for Amnesty international, a charity I love, they were a bit cold to the idea of God “yeah but is God a MAN, how do you know?” one sneered, I made some joke about God being bigger than gender -they laughed (a miracle it was a rubbish joke!) but the ice was broken. I tried doing the spiel ending with a “can I pray for you?” -“only if you let me recite you a poem” said the guy who was clearly the “big cheese” of the group, so I prayed my best and boldest prayer, and he recited his poem, interestingly there were images of the fall, of the worlds emptiness and some redemptive ideas within his sonnet, we ended up chatting about his poem and his world view, as we chatted he became  much warmer and did a two handed grasp when he shook my hand for the final time. It struck me that two of these guys with their dreddlocks and their tattoos were spiritual and seekers, the third was much more interested in trying to convert me than listening to what I had to say. Am I like this? I hope not, do I only listen to reply, or do I listen to hear what is being said? Street Pastors talk of “Double Listening” -hearing what God is saying, hearing what the person is saying (and by hearing I actually mean taking it all in, words, body language and everything else).

we were still no where near the M shed and it was nearly time to go back, the guys were talking to a busker whose English was bad, just then Harry started chatting to him in  Spanish, I didn’t know Harry knew Spanish! “Afterwards Harry said “I might have ordered a beer” but I hope I told him Jesus Loved him”.

Geoff came up to me and said that a dad and a daughter had just accepted Jesus which was amazing, and the lady in our group was having a fab conversation with a girl who was raising money for charity.

A guy walked past sort of stopping, and he said he was a Catholic, always an interesting one, is this a cultural/family thing or a real relationship with Jesus? He couldn’t stop, but did want a copy of the script. Two lads on the steps of the registry office eating hummus let us talk to them, polite but didn’t want us to pray for us. I did wonder, one guy seemed more open than his friend, I wondered if his friend wasn’t there might it be a different story. I thought about Street Pastors and how peoples mates can make them act totally differently.

Harry joked about having a 100% failure rate claiming that I did all the work on the first guy. It was one of those half jokes that often hides a sadness. Just then an old bloke struggled out of his mobility scooter with an empty disposable cup. I asked him if he wanted a hand, and he asked me if I could put his cup in the bin for him, so I did, the nearest bin was over-flowing so I went to the next bin down the road, and came back to hear Harry leading him in a prayer of commitment, the 100% failure rate had been broken, praise God.

we then headed back to hear testimony upon testimony of people accepting Christ, making re-commitments, or having prayer for healing or words of prophecy, one person met someone from Canada and they turned out to have a mutual Christian friend -what a divine appointment!

Praise God.

So glad I went along today, wished I had had a prophetic word for the Amnasty guys, as think you can bat ideas around for ages, but sometimes the prophetic cuts through everything. Still God is able to reach them, and even if it wasn’t through me today, he’s got lots of people and places to connect with them.

The last thought I had was remembering Rowan williams quote, “find out what God is doing and join in!” -when you find out what God is doing its always risky and a step of faith, but an adventure, which made me ask why so often is so much we do mind-crushingly dull?

I left thinking, why isn’t this my normal Christian life? I believe it could be, and should be… My prayer is God show me “what I can do to make my life like this not just on a mission, but on a normal everyday day?”

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Authenticity, Discipleship, love, Matthew 23.

Making Disciples Jesus way. Part 2.

Yesterday I wrote about how Jesus actually made disciples.

Yet Jesus gives us some insights into how NOT to make disciples!

Here is what he says in Matthew 6:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Here we see Jesus attacking doing things for appearances sake, and sadly although 2000 years have elapsed from when Jesus said these things sadly they feel as relevant and fresh to our generation of Christians to those to whom Christ was speaking too.

Sadly there is still pomposity, pretentiousness and pride creeping in and distorting our worship, prayer, giving and discipleship.

I love the way Jesus instructs his disciples to go home, shut the door and pray quietly -and think there are vast armies of Saints faithfully praying unknown to any of us. A Vicar I once worked for used to talk about  “Investing in our secret history with God” by which he meant the time we spend with God on our own that no one other than God knows about.

In a world so fed up of spin, exhibitionism and pretence there is something refreshingly real and authentic about Jesus words on giving and prayer that I believe both resonates and challenges us all. At the heart of this type of discipleship is “living for the audience of one” -where the opinions of others don’t matter only the opinion of God is sought.

Jesus’ discipleship is about our internal lives, -the reality of our hearts- this is not just about our external or superficial lives, his stark warning in Matthew 6 occurs later on in Matthew 23 (perhaps that Jesus made this point more than once shows how seriously he meant it?).

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs,which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Yet Jesus said many other things about discipleship and how not to do it, here is some of the things Jesus said in Matthew 23:

14 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

This is not just an attack on gracelessness and jugdementalism, although neither have a place within the life of the Church.

Here Jesus tells the Pharisees they are fake, although they are “holier than thou” with their legalism, and their ruthless expectation of perfection from people, they don’t actually ‘practice what they preach” and don’t end up creating disciples but because their discipleship has become so distorted they are creating monsters.

Listen to the strength of language that  Jesus uses “shut the door of the Kingdom of heaven in peoples faces” and making converts “twice the child of hell as you!” ouch! Powerful words, it is not just saying that their efforts fall short, but are so counter productive they are demonic driving people away from God.

what of us?

Can we be legalistic too?

Do we expect a standard of behaviour from other people that we ourselves can’t keep?

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

There are times when I have recently thought a lot about quitting as a  Church of England Vicar and mainly it is summed up in these verses about “straining gnats and swallowing camels!” -why are so many people in our Churches get so stressed about tea bags, bits of paper or furniture and yet wont come to a prayer meeting, or invite a friend to Alpha or do some act of compassion or justice? why to do so many Church meetings major on the minors and ignore the important things. I had to write a letter as part of a course I was doing to an aspiring young leader and the best bit of advice I could think of was “keep the most important thing the most important thing” as I worry that too long in some places could turn me into a gnat straining camel swallower, perhaps maybe I do swallow the odd camel and maybe strain a few gnats already? Maybe Christ is calling all of us to review our priorities?

As I was thinking about this blog I re-read Dirty Glory by Pete Greig, who wrote of a stripper called Anders who became a Christian in Ibiza and ended up at a Church that demanded he cut his hair and covered his tattoos. Realising that our idea of hat Godliness looks like might actually have very little to do with what God thinks it looks like to live our lives his way.

The call to discipleship is messy, it involves being in the gutter, and living and loving in the grey and confused knowing that within the brokenness of life God’s glory can still shine through greater and more beautifully. I think the messier the Church gets with people with messed up lives as part the family, the more it looks like what Jesus had in mind, and the more it is a club for the suited and sorted the less and less it looks like the plan of Christ for his world.

This was powerfully illustrated in Pete Greig’s book “Dirty Glory” when he talks of a woman who was an illegal immigrant that had been trafficked and enslaved to prostitution by her traffickers becoming a Christian but unable to escape her trade leading worship on a Sunday within the 247 Church in Ibiza. The gospel of the Kingdom calls us away from the safe and respectable and where it is real and messy, but also beautiful and real.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

And I’ll close with these words of Jesus, here we see the discipleship that Jesus is offering coming not from a sense of duty, power or any other wrong motive, but from the right and the purist of places that of love, love not just for those who do what we want them too, but love for the difficult and the disobedient.

Discipleship Jesus way is costly because ultimately it is following in his footsteps giving the ultimate in sacrificial love and compassion.

 

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Authenticity, Discipleship, incarnation, Spiritual Health

Discipleship 2: louder.

“I can’t hear a word you are saying, your life is shouting too loud!” Anon.

This quote I find immensely challenging, I don’t want to be responsible for people not hearing about Jesus, I don’t want who I am to get in the way of the greatest message on earth being heard.

Yet there is a lot of truth in this quote, for me, who said it matters as much -if not more than what they said.

when David Cameron, the multi-millionaire Prime-Minister whose tenure saw the rich get richer and the poor get poorer talk about “all being in this together” it sounds different to when someone like Mother Theresa who gave up everything to live amongst the worlds poorest in Calcutta, talks about sharing her life with those in poverty, we hear a different message. Their lives speak louder.

I have been working for Churches for 20 years now, I have worked for some amazing preachers and various Churchy people but I can’t remember much of the great talks and studies I listened too, but I do remember them as people and how they made me feel.

I remember too their lives, whether I saw Christ in them, whether their life challenged and inspired me in my walk with Jesus.

Often it is the funniest bits that speak the loudest, I saw a supervisor have a row with his wife, and then come back and apologies to her afterwards, and I was so challenged by his keen-ness to put things right, really challenged me.

Another time, seeing the same placement supervisor, praying with tears in his eyes before a reasonably difficult PCC meeting, again deeply challenged me.

Another time, I ‘busted’ the Team Rector here cleaning the toilets after an event, rather than tell the cleaner off, he knelt down and scrubbed… Yet there are people who aspire to leadership who I’ve never seen roll up their sleeves and wash/dry up.

I’ve also seen emails, or over heard bits of phone-calls, or seen behaviour in meetings, or seen colleagues rip into each other which if I’m honest has left me thinking a bit less of them.

I know too there have been times when I’ve known I’ve not always acted very Christ-like too, I know there are certain situations and if I’m really honest people that do manage to push my buttons. I want to be the type of person where Christ is seen in me, but too often I know that the me in me can become to visible too often.

You see what we are really like, and how we behave really matters, what you do matters much more than what you say you do.

You see I believe discipleship is ‘caught rather than taught’.

I want to hang out with Christ-like people, I’m not into putting people on pedestals but the truth is we do need role models, and probably when we think of our Christian life, there are those people along the way who have shaped/fashioned/developed and grown us in our walk with Christ.

“Iron sharpens Iron as one person sharpens another” we are called to journey together and to be a community that gets the best from each other, pulls us up, when too often communities can do the opposite and drag us down.

The Christian faith needs to be seen and experienced with flesh on it, lived out in real life, it’s got to work on Monday morning not just sound great on Sunday night.

I used to hear the phrase “don’t look at me, look at Jesus” and there is truth in that, but if people can’t see Jesus they might look at you to get an idea.

The Apostle Paul says many uncomfortable things, one of which was “follow me, whilst I follow Christ”, he knew that if he was trying to live his life following Jesus, then people would watch him and emulate him, and so he wanted to be a good example.

Sometimes too, knowing that people are watching you can spur us on, I know as a dad that my daughter watches how I treat people, and I’ve told her it is rude to ignore people and one day I tried to avoid a big issue seller, and she spotted and challenged me, now I always speak or acknowledge them for two reasons, 1) it is the right thing to do and Jesus wants us to treat everyone with dignity 2) I don’t want Hope to see me ignoring anyone ever again.

So, I’m not knocking Bible-studies, blogs, books and I’m all for preaching and teaching but primarily our main work is not spent with our head in a commentary and concordance, nor is it about what or where our theology degree (if we have one) came from, but actually the greatest and toughest work is not saying the words, but in the day in day out strive and struggle to be an authentic follower of Jesus all the time and in all situations.

I’ll close with the quote that challenges me deeply every-time I hear it: “The Greatest cause of Atheism in this country is Christians who confess Christ with their lips but deny him by their lifestyle, that is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable”.

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Authenticity, Discipleship, mentoring

Disciples that make disciples…

Often people talk a lot about “discipleship”, but I wonder if this is one of those terms, like mission, which is used a lot but everyone means different things about it.

Shane Claiborne talks about the massive difference that exists between a believer and a follower and for a long time our language in Church has been about being a believer.

A follower is someone who follows Jesus, so discipleship I believe is defined by movement, it’s a journey, things are changing, Jesus is not a static God standing still.

Yet for too long we have made discipleship all about our minds, about what we know, Christians bickering playing ‘top trumps with (often out of context) scriptures’.

Often we have made discipleship really passive come along and hear someone talk about the Bible and you’ll become a disciple through lots of listening passively.

The word that really annoys me is “so and so doesn’t feel fed”, firstly we all have responsibility for our own discipleship, Church together is meant to encourage each of us in our walk with God, but its the consumer mentality that says “what do I get?” rather than the more Christian “what do I bring?”

I don’t think the real problem with Church is a lack of teaching, we have Christian books published by the thousands, blogs -like this one- clog up the internet, there is always some great and good minor Christian celebrity doing the rounds -we have more information at our fingertips than any other generation, and yet we aren’t becoming more and more Christlike.

Sadly, it seems as though Christians just loop around their favourite Christian cul de sac, only buying books of people they already agree with, we don’t have real discipleship, just gathering people around us who reinforce our views.

I used to run an under 18’s nightclub, with a lot of young people who were Christians who helped run the club, I didn’t do lots of teaching, but they did have lots of conversations, I remember seeing one of the young people mopping up some sick once (completely unasked) and thought she had understood something deep and profound about the Kingdom of God, doing those blessed but unnoticed things for the sake of the Kingdom. we did share testimonies at the end of the evenings and some evenings were challenging (we were reaching out to some challenging young people) and we saw together highs and lows of ministry -which I think is more like the discipleship that Jesus had in mind, we learn by doing.

we grow by being self aware with the Holy Spirit and those we trust, those who are least spiritual mature are normally those who are least self aware and humble, because unless we can reflect upon ourselves authentically and honestly, we will keep doing what we were already doing.

I believe too we need more Godly mentors too, when I did youth work in Poole, most of us who were youth workers had either come from being schools workers led by this guy Danny Brown, or had come from a Youth Movement called the Farside led by this guy Simon Harwood.  Often much of the outreach that we did neither of these guys were about for, but their investment, time and energy probably underpinned most of the positive youth work in this area.

Yet on the whole the question I want to ask is where are the mentors? A question I often ask is “who is mentoring you?” and also ask “who are you mentoring?” Sadly too often the question is “no one”.

Sadly too often even when discipleship groups happen or people come to Church they hear a great load of Church history, or power-point maps, all of which has some interest, but often we lack the application, to our normal everyday life.

Too often our heads our filled, but what about our hearts?

Shane Claborne talks of Churches that come/sing “Just as I am”  but leave “just as they were” and behave like they always have.

Often too, with peoples behaviour is often the elephant in the room, we never have the courage to say, even gently -is this how Christians are meant to behave? (Unless it is about sex and then suddenly everyone seems to have a vocal opinion!).

So, lets re-discover real discipleship, discipleship where we are changed and transformed, where our lives don’t stay the same, and we learn through doing rather than just gorging on another podcast or having some lengthy theological conversation which is just self indulgent… Lets do it differently, and in doing so, I believe we might discover, we look, sound and act a lot more like Jesus.

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Acts of Service, Authenticity, incarnation, prayer, welcome

Prayer Meeting with Jeremy Kyle.

On Mondays for a while, some of us meet up and pray for our local area (if you are a local reading this, do join us, 9:30-10:30 at Chasers). We use a local pub/coffee lounge to meet up in, on the walls are tv screens normally play Jeremy Kyle.

I used to see this as a distraction, an annoying interruption, I used to get them to ‘mute’ the sound on our nearest screen. Yet something about this has challenged me profoundly.

We have for a long time tried to have prayer meetings and other such meetings out and about, we don’t want to be Christians hidden away in dark corners of invisible Church buildings.

So, we pray whilst somewhere in the background of the room we hear the shriek of “he’s not the Father of my baby”.

Yet last week, I was struck by how nice our prayer room is, with wonderful coffee, and so often the rawness and brokenness of many peoples lives never creeps into our prayer rooms.

Too often we assume that everyone’s life is like ours, and yet for many people the things we are just ‘normal’ and take for granted would be a very alien way of life for many.

Too often we as human beings steer ourselves away from the mess, brokenness and pain of life, when is Church intersessions does anyone ever pray openly about domestic violence, abused children, traffic refugees caught in the sex industry, depression, self harm, sweat shops exploiting their workers so we can have cheap clothes?

Shane Claiborne says “It’s not that folk are hard-hearted toward the poor, but often simply that they don’t know the poor… we fear what we do not know”.

Our Churches are too often too clean and sanitised, and yet we have a God who left the glory of heaven and dwelt with us in poverty and brokenness.  Christ did not steer past the crap of dysfunctional lives, but rolled up his sleeves and embraced hurting and broken people and saw transformation.

I was struck by a Church I encountered once who did a lot of great work with disenfranchised people, a free meal on Sunday Night, a back to work thing on Friday morning, and yet I think sadly they do acts of compassion “to” the poor, it is a bit arms length. Like us with Jeremy Kyle playing on the TV screen.

I wonder are our prayers too removed because we are too removed?

Do just exercise safe compassion, great works but like Jeremy Kylie it’s clear whose who and where the power lies, where can always ask someone to turn the volume down a bit if we get uncomfortable.

Yesterday I was out walking and bumped into two friends, had a chat, pray, hug and talked a bit about life, one conversation had a bit of ‘story swapping’ -I was blessed by the encounter and I believe so were they, I wonder if this was more what real incarnational ministry ought to look like?

So, Jeremy Kylie stays on on a Monday morning, but rather than just to nudge our consciences as we pray, my prayer is that it is a reminder that the call is to be incarnational, living out our faith like Jesus did, not avoiding pain and brokenness, not having it as wall-paper remote and distant, nor at arms length, but in loving relationship embraced to our hearts, held in prayer not out of duty or obligation, but out of love, not people we serve (although we do) but people we call friends.

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Authenticity, Busyness, Counselling, Depression, Life styles, Spiritual Health, Spirituality

Doctor, Doctor -Can you Make it all Okay?

Again, possibly this might be a rather personal blog, but one which I hope might bless and encourage those who read it.

As many of you know I am a bit of an “Everything or Nothing” kind of guy, and sometimes I am quite driven, and try and be conscientious, I long to see more of God’s Kingdom break in and try and seek to serve God and those I minister to faithfully. I admit I don’t always get it right, but I do try.

Also, I’ve blogged about being a Christian with depression and about going to counselling, I would want to urge anyone who might be feeling they struggle with depression, or think that they might need some counselling to do the brave and the right thing, and maybe chat to your doctor, or book yourself some sessions with a Christian Counsellor (most clergy should be able to hook you up with someone, although there maybe a bit of a wait).

Yet more recently I have been challenged about two thoughts, self care and taking personal responsibility.

Talking with the counsellor when work was really stressful, and he asked “why don’t you get to the Doctor and get signed off?”

Yet as conversations continued, it is very easy to come to medics and ‘other professionals’ or people we put on pedestals and expect them to “fix us”.

If I had been signed off for a couple of weeks, it would be nice, but after a couple of weeks, would anything have changed?

I wouldn’t feel bad for cancelling a meeting if I said “Dr’s orders”, rather than simply saying “No” to something.

If I got signed onto ‘reduced hours’ that wouldn’t really do anything either as actually I normally manage (or fail to manage) my own dairy.

Yet too often we look to someone else to make it all okay.

Actually there is a lot of this in the Gospel, looking not at ourselves for Salvation and rescue but from Christ.

Yet, sometimes God, or another human being, doesn’t burst into our situation and wave a magic wand, sometimes God asks us ourselves to take responsibility for our situation and to change it.

Sometimes God leaves the ball in our court.

It is easy then to revert to a position of a victim, or perhaps a prisoner, when God has placed all we need for a new future within us.

I am really struck by John’s account of the healing of the man by the Pool at Bethsaida, Jesus asks him “Do you want to be healed?” -he’s sat there supposedly wanting healing, but to actually be healed and learn a new life and a new identity not as the lame man who sits begging beside the pool, was for him a challenge.

I believe in many situations God himself has given us the tools to change our circumstances ourselves. The power is in our hands and our lives, through God’s Spirit within us. His Spirit within us is greater than he that is in the world, and is the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.

So, instead of going to someone else, personally thinking about self care, God’s call not just to be a good minister but also a good husband and father, good son and grandson, good nephew and uncle, good friend, neighbour and colleague.

Busy is a choice.

Taking time out, especially for retreat times and being with God, is not an optional extra for indulgent Christians, but actually part of God’s call to be a human being, loved because of who we are not because of what we do.

I have been chewing over the phrase about “seeking first the Kingdom of God” and God’s Kingdom’s call is for the whole person, not just the more overtly and obviously Christian bit.

Jesus says that his “Yoke is easy and his burden is light”, which makes me ask are the burdens I carry not of God? Are they self imposed? Am I trying to do them in my own strength?

A book I’ve flicked through is called “Driven Beyond the Call”, the title is very thought provoking are we driven beyond what God is calling us to do.

My friend Andy Schuman was talking about leading a spirit-led life and he joked about the phrase “God’s not doing it so could you do it Vicar!”

-Are we trying to push doors open when God is saying “not yet”?

-Or faithfully carrying on with what we maybe should have laid down?

Perhaps my busyness is due to my own drivers?

Perhaps there is a need to be needed?

Perhaps I don’t like saying “No” to people?

If I’m honest, sometimes I feel guilty about taking time off, feel as though I am being self indulgent, but often this is a false guilt, a guilt that robs us both of our peace and our joy.

A story I love is the story of Elijah who sees God break-through on Mount Carmel, and ends up exhausted in a slump in a cave, and God makes him fall asleep and gives him breakfast.

Mark Rich once said “sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is sleep”, often when we are tired and exhausted we look upon the world with bleary grey eyes, and we become more and more depressed.

Often busyness is actually an illusion or state of mind. Often we rush around and we miss the critical thing God is doing, which is the last thing I want to do.

A great thing to give up this Lent is busyness.

Perhaps God is calling us to look at our world with him, with refreshed eyes.

Philip Yancey says “there is nothing we can do to make God love us anymore, and nothing we can do to make God love us any less”.

Discovering “Who I am when I am not busy?” for me feels like a terrifying question to ask myself. Perhaps that’s a question you might ask yourself too?

One of the songs which moves me deeply is the song by Matt Redman: When the Music Fades:

Which talks of the hush of a busy world, a stripping back, and a silencing of all the noise and discovering afresh God’s goodness and awesome love.

In fact the Church, Soul Survivor Watford, had become so well known for its worship music that they stopped all musical worship and just sought God without lights, smoke machines, PA systems and amps, guitars and full bands… For the worship leaders if was incredibly painful, challenging their whole identity and contribution, but in doing this they came through this dessert time much deeper, here is what Matt Redman wrote…

“When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come, longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart”

Yet in coming to Christ, as we really are, without the noise, work and busyness, we discover something much deeper about ourselves and also about God.

“You search much deeper within, the way things appear you are looking into my heart”

God calls us all to “Be Still and know that I am God”.

God calls us all to ‘come and lay our burdens down gladly at his feet’, James tells us to “cast our burdens onto the Lord because he cares for us”.

So, to conclude, perhaps this Lent isn’t about whether or not we have another chocolate biscuit but rather we encounter God in a new and deep way, leaving the noise and busyness aside, and taking the responsibility to give ourselves the space and freedom to just be before our heavenly father who loves us.

So, my challenge for Lent is to learn afresh what it means to simply “BE”.

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