Bible, Commitment, consumerism, cost, Deep, Discipleship, expectations, Fruit and fruitfulness, Growth, pperseverence, prayer, Presences, relationship with God

Teaspoon hiding Vicars.

I read an article about a Churchy couple that invited the Vicar around for tea, it was all very pleasant and nice, but later that evening the couple noticed a silver teaspoon was missing. It was no where to be found.

A year or so later they had the Vicar around for tea again, this time they asked him why he had taken a teaspoon.

The Vicar said that he didn’t steal it, instead he hid it in their Bible.

One of the things that really worries me is the low level of Biblical literacy in the Churches. I remember a Churchy young person telling me the story of the elder wand (from Harry Potter) thinking it was a Bible story.

This book which cost people their lives to bring to us is barely flicked through by Christians, they key to discipleship is not more Church events or umpteen courses or bacon butties but for the men and women that want to follow Jesus to seek God in prayer, read their Bibles and invest in the most important relationship of all -their personal relationship with Christ Jesus.

The problem with discipleship in the UK, people say about “coming to Church to be fed” -a phrase that shows a complete misunderstanding of what Church or discipleship is actually all about, as though our walk with God has been sub-contracted out to someone else, we -before God- have to take personal responsibility for it, not expecting someone else to spoon feed us.

And perhaps with Bible study if we’ve been in the word ourselves, we can come to the group as a contributor rather than just a receiver.

So, if you’ve had the Vicar around for tea check your Bible for teaspoons.

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Bible

“I” before “e” except after “C”.

 Exegesis, “to lead out” is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, the idea is we try to encounter the text without reading or bringing external things into it.

Whereas eisegesis, is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that the process introduces one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text. This is commonly referred to as reading into the text.

Yet how we approach the ‘written word’ will effect how we approach the ‘living word’.

In other words when we read scripture, when we encounter God, sometimes we come to him and his word with lenses over our eyes, things that filter how we see and respond.

The truth is probably we all come with ourselves to the text and to God himself, and those who think they don’t are probably  are most guilty of eisegesis rather than exegesis.

A great prayer to pray when reading scripture is “let me read and see what is actually there rather than what I think I see there, let me hear you speaking through your word, not just repeating what someone once told me the Bible said”.

We serve a God who made blind eyes see, and yet sometimes our own vision gets distorted, and needs God’s healing hand to enable us to see him and his word clearly.

Sometimes too, we ignore the Bible, or are selective with it because we don’t want to hear what it says, sometimes it says what we don’t always want to hear.

We are called to read scripture in context rather than cherry pick parts of verses and our hobby horses.

Someone once said that “a text out of context becomes a pretext”.

“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.” Soren Keikegaard.

Although undoubtedly true that sometimes there is a wilfulness in our interpretation of scripture, we need to make sure we not only don’t water it down, but also that we don’t get caught with a legalism the Bible doesn’t endorse.

I am reminded of that great verse and the start of the book of Joshua 1.7

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go”.

We see Jesus correcting many of the scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law who turned to the right of the law and lost the heart of the law and the heart of God.

More recently theology often is characterised by a turn to the left of the word of God, becoming more liberal in its interpretation.

Yet I would suggest that any turning from scripture whether to be more hard-line or more flexible is still a deviation from God’s word.

My dream is for Christians to actually read the Bible for themselves, to wrestle with it responsibly (so much sloppy theology crops up from people who have been Christians long enough to know better).

So, let’s take sometime to get into scripture, to allow the word and the spirit to affect us and our vision, leaving our baggage aside from the text.

And may we become people shaped more and more by encountering the living word through his written word.

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2 Kings 22.1-13., Bible, Youth and Children's Work

Josiah.

2 Kings 22.1-13.

Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem thirty-one years. His mother’s name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah; she was from Bozkath. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.

In the eighteenth year of his reign, King Josiah sent the secretary, Shaphan son of Azaliah, the son of Meshullam, to the temple of the Lord. He said: “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple. But they need not account for the money entrusted to them, because they are honest in their dealings.”
 
Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: “Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
 
11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes. 12 He gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Akbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary and Asaiah the king’s attendant: 13 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

I have a heart for the unsung heroes off scripture, often some great characters we don’t hear about much in Church either, but perhaps we should do!

I am looking at King Josiah, a young guy who becomes King of Judah (Israel and Judah have split into separate Kingdoms by this point) when he is just eight years old, a very young age to have such great responsibility thrust upon him. Interestingly we say at how young footballers are to have wealth and fame thrust upon them and they can’t cope, here we have a young guy who could have let the title of King go to his head, he could have let his teenage hormones get a bit carried away, after-all it does seem to be a family weakness both David and Solomon (his ancestors) could control their lusts, rather their lusts controlled them. 

Anyway, this lad becomes King at an early age, yet is one of the few Kings of Judah who do the right thing in the eyes of the Lord.

Sometimes I think we are unduly harsh on young people, we forget that Jesus called us to have a child-like faith, and we seem to think with regards to stuff like teaching and ministry that there is a junior version of the Holy Spirit, yet clearly their isn’t!

Cris Rogers (vicary scholarly dude who runs one of the HTB Church plants) reckons that the disciples might have actually been teenagers, we know Mary may well have been 14 or 15, Jeremiah told God he was too young to be used as a prophet, which suggests he was young, Samuel first heard the audible voice of God in the temple when he was a child, Timothy was told not to let anyone look down on him because he was young and I think that the brave and Godly defiance of Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednigeo to the King makes me think these guys were idealists, “The God we serve is able to save us and if he doesn’t we’re still not going to bow down to your poxy statue, so go on then throw us into their firey Furness grandad” -okay that’s not an exact quote from the book of Daniel, but I think it makes the point that the Church I believe sometimes forgets that young people are just as much (maybe more so) Godly ambassadors for Christ on a tough front-line and often serve him with great courage, authenticity and integrity… and yet they too often are ignored in our Churches.

 Anyway, he is left a terrible legacy, people are worship idols, the temple is getting dilapidated, and sound biblical teaching had dried up, so much so that the book of the law (the Torah, the most holy scripture for the Jewish people) had been lost.

Imagine going into a Church and there not being a single bible, nor anyone who really knew what it said, it would be shocking.

Yet this is what happened here in this time in Judah… 

In fact I fear it is happening again, Biblical knowledge is pretty poor in many of our Churches… even shockingly in some of our theological collges there are scarily few Biblical modules on the sylabus.

Yet before we start eye rollings and finger pointing, I wonder if we lost our Bible how quickly we would notice it was missing?!

Anyway, the book of the law is found and brought to King Josiah, who hears God’s standards for life lived God’s way, and he is deeply challenged and convicted (and bear in mind this is a good King) so much so that he rips his robes. (A deep symbol of repentance and mourning), this wasn’t a slightly sheepish embarrassed grin when he was caught having fallen short of God’s Holy standard, this was a heart wrenching devastation and a deep cry of repentance and a begging for forgiveness. 

What do we do when we realise our lives don’t match God’s standards, are we bothered? Or do we, like King Josiah come back to God desperate for forgiveness, deeply sorry for the hurt we have cause God (and possibly those around us).

You, might be saying, hey Andy, this is Old Testament, you are forgetting about grace, God’s all fluffy and nice now (and there is truth in this as our God is incredibly merciful, overwhelmingly loving, beautifully tender, phenomenally compassionate and forgiveness is guaranteed because of Christ’s all sufficient sacrifice) but we forget that God is a Holy God, and sometimes I fear as western Christians we can sometimes engage in what I call cheep grace, and pseudo-repentance, we forget that the Anglican absolution says “Almighty God who forgives all those who TRULY repent”, and the word repent literally means a full 180 degree turn, literally meaning ‘turn your life around’.

So, a challenge to us to be people of the word, getting stuck into our Bibles, not being ignorant of what God’s word says to us, let him speak to our souls. And when we feel the convicting touch of the Lord through the reading of his word, let’s be people of action, that keep on chasing after Christ, living life his way.

The problem is too often in our culture rather than changing ourselves, we try to change the Bible to make it fit our world view… To often as adults we get too clever by half, and manage to neatly talk ourselves out of those awkward bits when scripture challenges us and comes too close into those areas where change might become a bit uncomfortable.

Normally when someone talks about King Josiah finding the book of the law in the temple, someone reminds us of the words of Jesus about having God’s law written not on tablets of stone, but on our hearts… and so this is true, God’s Spirit is within us, and the new testament image of temple is ourselves, our bodies… So a question could be asked, have we ‘lost God’ in our lives? 

Scripture warns us (repeatedly actually): “Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts”.

Are we living our lives listening out to the spirits voice? His guiding and directing? Or have we let other things shout louder, other “wisdom” confuse us, different things that distract us…

A challenge, to hear the voice of God today in our lives, to hear his voice and to respond with obedience -like King Josiah- repenting of what shouldn’t have been, and living a new life God’s way.

So when we think of Josiah, a young King who could have gone off the rails but didn’t, a King who found the book of the law because of his love for the temple, who read it and was challenged by it, who repented and called the nation to return to God and his ways. A real unsung hero of scripture… But the challenge is for us to be like him.

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Bible

“Where does it say that in the Text?”

“…And where does it say that in the text?” asked Elizabeth Fisher, my Biblical Studies tutor.

Although she didn’t call herself an evangelical, she was ruthless in her expectation that our view-points came from scripture, actually from what scripture said rather than simply what we thought it said!

The Discipline of going back to the Bible seems to be somewhat lacking in some of our Churches as so often scripture is misquoted, taken out of context and non biblical texts are wrongly-attributed which aren’t actually in the Bible! Recently I heard some one talk about “the right thing which often isn’t the easy thing” confusing the words of Jesus with J.K Rowling’s  Dumbledore from Harry Potter.

Discipleship is not quoting your first ever Pastor parrot fashion, but actually s/he should have taught us to read the Bible for ourselves and be able to shape our lives and doctrine accordingly.

I have more respect for someone who disagrees with me, but has prayerfully sought God and wrestled with the text, and the wider text(s) than somebody who may tick the same doctrinal box as me, but really is simple regurgitating lazy third hand theology.

The question we need to ask ourselves, is are we ‘God Honoring’ in how we responsibly use the Bible, prayerfully, in context, or are we playing a bit ‘fast and loose with it?’

The reformation happened when Martin Luther, a German Monk, saw in scripture what it actually said rather than what he had been told it said (and meant) -“be penitent” rather than “do penance” -Which led to people reading the Bibles for themselves and discovering afresh that this was good news worth dying for (in fact many of them did).

It made me think, Truth is still true even if no one believes it, just as a lie is still a lie even if everyone believes it!

One of my friends, was at theological college and they were asking about peoples fears, one of the fears was about “loosing their faith” and Chris’ response inspired me… “I don’t want to be believing something that’s not true!”

He used to do some great spiritual chats with young people, and he used to say was “Don’t believe anything I say simply because I’ve said it, but because you have discovered it to be true”.

“When-ever I preach I don’t want people to blindly follow me and agree with everything I say, that is bonkers, but rather the question has to be does it line up with the word of God, and is he using scripture wisely and appropriately.

Bishop Stephen Conway once said “when we disagree we need to read our Bibles together more and more”.

More-over, in the book of Joshua we are told not to depart from the book of the law, not to turn from the right or to the left, actually both are unbiblical, because both are a turning from God’s word. Instead, I have found trying to be biblical has often been more like a tightrope walk, and on some occasions I have been accused of being liberal and on others of being too fundamentalist… Yet sticking closely to the word of God will get you in trouble probably from either side of the fence. Sometimes when I get attacked from both sides and no one seems happy, I think “perhaps I’m doing something right”!!

Yet the problem I think ultimately stems from the way too many Christians in this generation don’t know their Bibles very well, and reading it regularly sadly seems to be something that slips more and more.

Are we ruthless pursuers after truth? The dream of many of us, is that we actually have a more biblical Orthodox (right belief) but also a more Biblical Orthopraxic  (right living).

For me as a Vicars kid, part of ‘owning’ my own faith, was coming to my own biblical conclusions about various things, and the thing that really shaped what I believed most was aged 21 reading the Bible in the year. Something I’d urge us all do to.

So, my challenge for us all, is as we end 2016, let’s have 2017 as the year of deepening our relationship with scripture, let’s read the Bible together more. My prayer is lets not just get information to fill our heads (after all knowledge puffs up) but rather revelation for our hearts, which bring transformation to our lives and the lives of others.

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Bible, Depression, Discipleship, Godliness, Journey, prayer, Spirituality, Worship

When You Are Just Not Feeling It.

Writers block… Normally I have 101 ideas I’m dying to share with the world about following Jesus, but today I can’t think of anything!

Sometimes we go through seasons when really feel Gods presence wonderfully close, other days God doesn’t feel so close.

Sometimes, when we read the Bible it really speaks to us and there is a wonderful connection, other times it can feel like a habit and your read some verses that aren’t bad but don’t really move you.

I’ve had times when I can’t put the Bible down, and I’ve had other times when I’ve struggled to pick it up.

Have you ever been in a church service of an event when everyone else seems to be connecting with God in a wonderful and deep way and we feel a bit jealous because we are just not feeling it?

Sometimes you sing some songs and you feel Gods presence and other times it just feels like you are singing songs, sometimes the words catch you, especially songs that are joy filled “…and I feel like dancing” which doesn’t always resonate with where we are at.

Sometimes it’s a choice, and in singing words it’s a faith filled thing, saying that the truth of God is greater than our current feelings, and I will worship despite my circumstance, mood, or whatever… Other times it’s a question of integrity, I can’t sing “I’m overflowing with joy” when God knows that I’m not, he knows I want to be, but for whatever reason today doesn’t feel like it.
I think there are times in our life when sometimes it isn’t easy being a follow of Christ.

I think that there is a false Americanisation of some worship styles that are often overly joyous and ‘sugary’ as though life is perpetually good and the only human expression the

Christian is allowed is a cheesy grin.

Yet in the psalms there are plenty of laments and even “where have you gone God?” Psalms, Jesus even quoted one of these (Ps. 22) on the cross, I long to see greater authenticity within our sung worship, that embraces rather than runs from pain, confusion and frustration.

I love (and am deeply challenged by) Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name, when the suns shining down on me and the world is all that it should be… Blessed Be Your Name when found in the Desert place, on the road marked with suffering, though there is pain in the offering, blessed be your name… You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, blessed be your name”.

I don’t think God ever intended human beings to live perpetually on the mountain, he knows that in real life we go into real valleys, and maybe even real deserts too.

In fact it’s the deserts where the most beautiful and powerful growth occurs.

Just as a rose bud develops its best scent when it is tightly compressed.

Yet it is in the mundane we discover something deep in our faith, just as in our human relationships it is easy to serve your spouse when you are totally loved up, but harder when maybe its not all rose petals and romance.

Yet what an amazing act of truly beautiful Worship when we Worship even through the tears.

I think we need a spiritual life that  is robust enough that know,and can cope with highs and lows, and when things are tough we learn discipline and gain strength.
Yet it is easy to serve when your heart is full of gladness, but harder when your heart is full of sadness, but in a way more beautiful and authentic, for we are saying to God that despite our internal and external feelings and circumstances, even so, we are going to rely not on our feelings knowing they are fallible, but instead place our trust on God and his faithfulness, which -despite our feelings- remains steadfast.

Sometimes when you feel you have nothing to say, sometimes that’s the most profound message of all.

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Bible, justice, Salvation

The Wrong J.C

Although I am a massive, massive fan of Jeremy Corbyn -and my socialism and faith are very interlinked- I am passionate about social justice, fighting inequality and poverty irradiated I belive that Jesus Christ offers people more than socialism ever can.

Theologian, Karl Barth, once suggested that CHristians should read the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, and I agree that the word of God needs to rooted and grounded in everyday reality, yet I worry whether sometimes whether we sometimes ignore scripture and just stick to the newspaper.

The current bishop of Manchester was asked what his priorities were to which he said something like housing, immigration and someother important social justice issue… and although it is fantastic that Bishops are fighting passionately over issues of justice, but I did wonder surely our highest priority is proclaim Gods awesome message of Salvation through Christ.

Although I love liberation theology, we need to realise that our gospel is so much bigger than just liberation theology.

There have been times when I have sat in the pew and although I feel fired up to make a difference in Gods world I worry that sometimes Jesus isn’t mentioned much, nor the cross, or redemption from sin.

The Church is more than a social justice club, or a toothless spin off from the Green Party, important though these issues are we have a hope to proclaim that is beyond the grave, transformation that is not just of our external circumstances but of our hearts.

I once heard someone say “You have fed me, clothed me, loved me and listened to me…and yet you let me go to hell because you never told me about Jesus!”

Shane Claiborne said to the American Evangelicals that Jesus had plenty to say about life here and now rather than beyond the grave, I wonder sometimes whether in the West we need to remember the vital importance of eternity won for us with his blood soaked broken body on the cross.

Social Justice is a massively important part of the advance of the Kingdom, it’s obidience to the commands of Christ and I am delighted that the Church of the 21st Century has grasped its importance, but this can not be at the neglect of Gods Salvation message.

The Gospel, I believe needs to be proclaimed by words and needs, Paul tells the Church in Phillipi that “we hold out the word that gives life”.

I love the Salvation Army they realised that God was calling the stuffy, pompous and smug Victorian Church to roll up its sleeves and meet the people God loves who were in the gutter, but they didn’t just recognise their physical needs, people are whole people with a spiritual hungers, they needed to know about Christ, his death resurrection, forgiveness from the past and power to live a transformed life in the future.

Danielle Strickland, a Salvation Army Officer, who spoke at New Wine about how there are prostitutes coming out of their old lives, living free from drugs in flats and yet they keep returning to destructive past behaviours because although their external circumstances have changed, but God is into internal change, transformation and healing on the inside.

Let’s continue to be Christians passionate about Social Action, but don’t let out works become a replacement for seeing the eternal Kingdom of God breaking into real people’s lives.

I love Jeremy Corbyn and think he could be the best Prime Minister we have had, but let’s not get confused with with which JC it is actaully all about!

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Bible, Luke 18, Luke 19

A beer… And Two Blokes…

Those at All Souls Southey probably have heard me going on about reading the Bible like a beer rather than a sherry.

Sherry drinkers take small sips.

Whereas a beer is a long drink.

In other words, when we read the Bible, don’t just read a verse or two, read a whole book (lots of them are just a few chapters, a few pages).

Or if you are reading a longer book, read it in a couple of sittings.

Why?

Because context matters!

You wouldn’t with any other form of literature read chapter 39 of Bleak House and then next day read chapter 7 or David Copperfield and then the next day read the last page of Oliver Twist… We don’t read Dickens like this, but that is how we read the Bible.

Such is the case with Luke’s Gospel, we see two very different blokes, with stories that are a chapter apart and (18 & 19), Luke wants us to make a comparison/contrast between the two, a message Luke is shouting at the reader, but most of us have missed this because we have learned to read the Bible in a way which is frankly bonkers!

So, who are these two guys?

One is the Rich Young Ruler, who wants to follow Jesus but also wants to keep his cash, he wants to have his cake and eat it, follow Jesus but do want he wants with his life and his cash… Although Jesus looks at him and loves him… Jesus says to him “go and sell all your possessions and give it to the poor” and the guy walked away from Jesus as the cost of true discipleship and cross carrying was too much for him.

The other guy, is call Zacheus, he’s a rich guy, money probably has been his God, yet when he encounters Jesus, who speaks with him (and his controversial friends)… and Zachaeus’ first response after his encounter with Jesus is to give half his cash away and refund (plus extra) those he’s ripped off and exploited.

It is a very different response.

Yet I wonder, whether if the Rich Young Ruler wandered into our Churches he’d probably be welcomed with open arms, his piety would probably get him parachutted onto the leadership… Yet Jesus turned him away.

And would a Zacheaus character be welcomed the same way? I think sadly not, yet he was the one Jesus described as ‘Salvation coming to this house’.

Jesus urges anyone who follows him to think carefully, count the cost, before people come and follow him.

I’m currently reading Francis Chan who said he hates running, but would like to join the marines, and said he wouldn’t be able to say to the recruitment officer “I want to be a marine, but I don’t want to run anywhere!”

We can’t accept Christ on our own terms.

Both get it.

Both get that results is cost, sacrifice and surrender.

One can do it.

One can’t.

And the one who can, isn’t the one you think it would be.

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