call, cost, Deep, Discipleship, Discipline, faithfulness, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, obidience, priorities

“There is nothing remotely sissy about the women’s auxiliary balloon corps”.

A quote from Blackadder from Captain Darling, both trying to work out ways of avoiding death in the first world war by trying to escape the trenches, yet neither of the two men wants to admit that actually they are afraid of fighting and dying.

Captain Darling, manages to get a safe job behind a desk, and Blackadder tries (and fails) to be posted elsewhere.

This picture reminds me of uncomfortable (and maybe uncharitable) thoughts and conversations I have had with Christians about mission and evangelism.

The truth seems to be they’d rather be doing something nice and pleasantly Christian rather than the costly and sacrificial following of Jesus.

Interestingly, we were doing an outreach on Easter Saturday, and the Church was full of people doing flowers, but only one person came out onto the streets to do outreach with us.

I remember once we were desperately short of people to help with out teenagers and one person emailed to say she couldn’t do it because she was the only singer who could sing soprano (or something like that) in the choir.

The problem is this is it is majoring on the minor.

Prioritising the trivial over the transformative.

Our will being done, not Christ’s will be done.

Discipleship cannot be conditional discipleship, following Jesus only when we happen to be going in the same direction.

Christianity lite.
Decaf Christianity with extra milk foam.

when I was at college there was a cartoon that said “God I will go anywhere you call me too” and underneath it said “provided it is in Surrey”.

It made me think, is the problem with discipleship in the west that it is discipleship on our terms?

A phrase that often challenges me is “If Christ is not Lord of all, is he Lord at all?”

I think all of us find it easier to serve God when it is fun and rewarding, it is harder when it is seemingly making little progress.

Rather than being a backseat driver I fear when the call looks costly, or it is hard-work and a slog, we wrench the steering wheel out of God’s hand or pull up the handbrake and rush for the nearest cushy and consumerist gathering and end up seeking out roles of maximum kudos for minimum cost, the safest option.

The truth is following Jesus is either about obedience and faithfulness or disobedience and sin, the problem is that too often we try and give sin and disobedience a sugar coating of religiosity and respectability.

Blackadder sought glory but not the danger, wants recognition without risk, medals without cost, honour without achievement, and reward without sacrifice.

Yet Christianity has never been safe.

Jesus talks of picking up our cross and following him.

Following Christ will cost us everything we have, it is an “everything or nothing choice”.

As I thought about this blog, I wondered about getting David Beckham to make the squash at football matches. It is a job he could do, but it is substantially short of what he is capable of, and leaves the wider body deprived and should short.

Too many are full of potential that they leave deliberately untapped, because -as a proverb says- “many opportunities are missed because they come in overalls and look like work”.

Lets not give God the fag butts of our time, energy, gifting and resources rather than our first fruits.

So, let’s not be like Captains Darling and Blackader trying to slope off the battle-field, but instead bravely give all that we have, our best efforts and richest resources in the service of King Jesus.

call, cost, priorities, values, vision

More than just keeping the show on the road?

I remember the Vicar who is leading one of the Churches my dad used to lead, telling a story of his previous parish in the leafy Sussex Countryside which went something like this, :

“Treasurer:- Unless we sought out our giving this Church will shut!
Vicar:- Unless we sought out our evangelism, mission and outreach people will go to a lost eternity”.

We often get obsessed about keeping the lights on in our Church building, rather than our calling of “seeking God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven” as we fulfil the great commission and “make disciples of all nations”.

Jesus never promised to keep open our particular building, but he did say “I will build my Church and even the gates of hell won’t prevail against it”. Jesus told us to “seek first the Kingdom of God”.

Too often we neglect the “seeking first the Kingdom of God” to worry and stress about our building, our constitutions, our processes and 101 trivialities, which from an eternal perspective are cul de sac’s, diversions from our main focus.

Paradoxically, I have seen on many occasions, when we focus on the Kingdom of God the things we so often stress about are resolved -unexpected legacies come in, or people with needed gifting come out of the woodwork.

When we put Jesus first, he sorts out the rest, in fact that is what he promises “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”.

You see it is not the Church that has the mission of God, rather it is the missionary God who has the Church. We collaborate and partner with the ‘Missio Deo -the mission of God’, yet too often we become curators of dusty buildings.

As I thought more about this tragic picture I remembered the story of Mary and Martha, Martha was busy making Jesus a sandwich he didn’t want (in fact the one who fed the 5000 probably wasn’t that worried about missing lunch!), how often are our Churches stressing and wasting our time stressing on things that God himself will sort.

Ironically too, the best way of ‘keeping your building open’ is by keeping in step -living in obedience- with the Holy Spirit of the Living God.

The often stated phrase of “keeping the show on the road” is only a laudable aim when the show is orchestrated and choreographed by the Holy Spirit of the Living God, otherwise it is simply re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We forget the warning in scripture that reminds us that “unless the Lord builds the workers labour in vain”.

Often people are very keen on keeping their buildings open, but the question has to be asked, is there anything in this building that is worth preserving? Are we being a Matthew 25 Church? Are we being an Acts 2 Church? Are lives being transformed by Christ?

To me, it seems like much of the Church in the UK has the telescope the wrong way around distancing us from what should be close at hand, a false perspective -a distortion- that brings complacency.

So, let’s ask God to transform our vision to coincide with his vision.

call, Democracy, Politica, trust, values, vision, vocation, Vote

Voting is a lifestyle…

Today people will be voting in the general election, for who they want to represent and govern them. It is really important to vote, so if you’ve not done it already go and do it!

Yet democracy ought to be more than marking a bit of paper every four years? As I began to think about it, we actually vote all the time, often a vote for the status quo, but a vote none the less.

It has been said that every pound you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in, scary when we think that if we have the internet in our homes we are in the top 4% of the worlds richest people. How we spend our money shouts loudly to this capitalist world.

Interestingly if we look back to the 80’s when many banks wanted to invest heavily in South Africa at the height of the apartheid they stopped doing so when people -mainly students and the now infamous picture of Jeremy Corbyn getting arrested- boycotted their banks.

As consumers what we think really matters, if in any doubt look at the millions that are spent devising algorithms to match our viewing habits to commercial sales.

So, although it might be only a baby step even a facebook share or twitter comment at least does make something of an impact.

The lie we are fed is that we are too small or insignificant to make a difference.

Yet as Confucius once said “Too small to make a difference? Try spending the night with a mosquito”. -He also said, that “A mosquito on your testicles teaches man that not every problem is best solved with violence”-.

The problem is that we are often don’t make a stand about anything much at all. A great question that has always challenged me is “would my bank manager know I was a Christian by the way I lived and spent my money?”

What are my choices when I buy, do I seek to be an ethical consumer? Do I value fair-trade? Do I enquire about sourcing? Or animal welfare? Do I ever do any on-line research about company ethics? Is there anything I boycott due to ethical grounds? -How does our (honest) answers on this chime with our response to a position of God entrusting us with the responsible stewardship of creation?

Yet, I think that we can do more than spend wisely, read labels and write strongly worded tweets on social media.

I passionately oppose the sale of weapons especially to states with awful records on human-rights, but yet I have never been on a protest, or picketed and arms faire, if I care about this issue I need to step up to the plate and make my protest felt.

Although Christians statistically are good citizens when it comes to doing their civic duty and vote, we perhaps need to be better at protesting against injustice, do we sign petitions? Do we write to our MP’s? Do we go on marches? Do we campaign for a better world?

The truth is that if the people of God don’t step up for the things that are upon the heart of God then who will step into that void?

So a call not just to vote, but live a life that seeks to usher in and advance the Kingdom of God, voting as a lifestyle each day, choosing to be a campaigner for the Kingdom of heaven and the cause of the heart-cry of Christ.

call, challenge, Church, cost, Discipleship, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, obidience, perspectives, priorities, vision, vocation

we don’t need more Churches, rather we need Churches doing what they are supposed too!

Recently I had a sad experience, we had started a small congregation meeting next door to the main Church in the Community centre, mainly to allow the children’s work to flourish but unfortunately it didn’t work as we had hoped. I remember doing the last service there, which was a damp squib, as I tided up and walked out the door, something of lump appeared in my throat, although only a very short era, it was still and end of an era.

I did in my spirit wonder if maybe we (as in the Christian Community) will be back here reaching out to the people of Kingswood.

Then as I thought more about this I began to ask myself the question “does Kingswood need more Churches” actually Kingswood is choc-a-bloc with Churches yet few that are reaching out beyond their four walls, few seeking to reach out with the good news of Christ Jesus, few trying to raise up discipleships that are ‘nation transformers’ and praying in the Kingdom of God.

We also have new Churches planted into Kingswood, and yet sadly, they come into Kingswood, people drive in and drive out, some don’t even get around to investing in a “welcome sign” by their front door. Yet all that happens stays within the walls, and they never even send the other Churches in the area a email saying “hey”.

Yet we know that God is wanted his deeply divided Church to be unified in him, and in seeing his Kingdom advance and grow, impacting local communities and transforming lives, as we think of the Pentecost season, we know the need of the Spirit of God taking his Church back, breathing fresh and new life into it and blowing open its door to reach the community for Christ.

We don’t need more congregations and Churches, but actually for the Churches to do -or at least try to do- that which we are called to do.

The challenge is that the Church, is not some faceless institution, but rather you and me, we need to be people filled with his spirit, living his way, and seeing as individuals to shape and transform the corporate body of believers to keep us following Christ in courageous obedience.

call, Colossians 1:28&29, Discipleship

My First Ever Sermon…

Colossians 1:28&29. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I labour with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”.

It .was 20 years ago, I was 19, and working in wakefield and my boss, a dude called Tony vashington, asked me to do a talk on this verse to some youth and children’s workers in Darlington (top north east of England). I was very nervous…. here is (more or less from memory what I remember saying, although I think it was probably peppered with a million “you knows”, “er’s” “ums” and “sort offs”.

We are going to change a few words here and there, maybe tweak it a little.

Let’s change the first word… “We” -the idea of collective responsibility- its is assuming that those of us reading this have bought into the idea of living out the message of this letter. The problem is in our society is that it is always someone else’s problem, yet Paul is saying the work of the Kingdom is our responsibility… but I guess many people would like this verse tweaked to say:

“Keen Christians and leaders and anyone that isn’t me”

“Proclaim” er, um, here we have another problem…

Proclaiming sounds a bit um bold, people might not agree with us, or like what we are saying, lets change “proclaim” to “tentatively suggest”…

-Maybe we could addd in the phrase “it would be jolly nice if you might”

“him” – well that’s Jesus, Jesus is a bit controversial, you can just bout get away with talking loosely about God, or Church, or Spirituality…

The problem is Christianity is all about Jesus Christ, and if it isn’t about Jesus Christ, then it isn’t really Christianity…

Yet, I wonder is JC, well, PC?

Couldn’t we say, “think seriously about Spiritual stuff”?

Admonishing and Teaching “that sounds a bit bold too, implies that we have something to share, rather than just listen to their stories” maybe listen and nod enthusiastically and hope they pick up stuff even if we are not saying anything”

So, where have we got too?

“Church leaders and keen Christians and anyone that’s not me, would be jolly nice, if you could tentatively suggest thinking spiritually about stuff, whilst we listen and nod and hope you pick up stuff even if we’re not saying anything”

with all wisdom… Maybe change that too “with any luck”

“That we may present everyone mature in Christ” -maybe we could change that to “coming to Church reasonably regularly” or maybe if we are being a bit daring we could say “that they may have once pray a -or even (gulp at our bravery”)- THE prayer” or at least we could say “really nice people”….

Now, the last bit is difficult, because we know how important a work life balance is, so instead of saying “to this end I labour, struggling…” maybe I could say “as I’m sure they mean well and are doing their best (I mean what can you expect for the money we pay them!)”.

…and the last bit maybe could say “and I’m sure the good Lord is Jolly grateful”

“Church leaders and other keen Christians and anyone that isn’t me would be jolly nice if they tentatively suggest that people consider thinking about spiritual stuff with any luck they might come to Church, maybe even pray the prayer, but even so they’re lovely people, as they mean well and are doing their best (I mean what can you expect from the money we pay them) and I’m sure the good Lord would be jolly grateful”

Sounds a bit different doesn’t it.

Lets look at the proper passage again.

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I labour with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”.

Personal responsibility to make Jesus Christ known and to see one another (and ourselves) come to maturitty in Christ as we seek to serve him and each other with wisdom, learning from each other, warning and challenging each other, wanting the best for each other that we might be all we can be in Christ. It is a tough battle, a real struggle, and yet in doing this, we have this awesome promise that Christ himself, the one who is greater than he that is in the world, is working powerfully in us and through us.

Yet how often does the conversation sound like the corrupted verse?

Or even if it doesn’t how much of the corrupted verse actually is want we may secretly think, or at least is a viewpoint within our Church communities.

So, let’s end with this fab verse…

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I labour with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”.

call, cost, Isaiah 55., values, Worth

A Bizarre Burglary at the Jewellers.

I heard this story once (almost certainly made up) of a burglary at an expensive west-end jewellers, oddly nothing was taken, the only thing the intruders did was to swap the price tags around on everything, so no one knew what was worth what and they were able to legitimately buy great treasures for tiny prices.

Sometimes life feels a bit like this, as though everything’s values are just gone wrong and the worlds gone crazy!

Yet then sometimes I realise how much I am sucked into the world when I realise that the worlds warped and crazy values have become my values. Eugene Peterson paraphrased Romans 12 with “don’t let the world squeeze you into its mould” don’t fall for the lie that things can make you happy, or work is more important than your family, or that this promotion will leave you feeling satisfied, or if I can make people laugh and be popular I will be fulfilled…

There is a phrase “knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing”.

I once heard someone say “advertisers are false evangelists selling fake salvation” -this idea that happiness can be obtained by (whatever) and then when we buy the product it doesn’t bring the hoped for fulfilment.

J.John once said “we buy things we will never use, with money we haven’t got, to impress people we don’t like” doesn’t this sound like a world where our values need to be readjusted.

we can have everything, and actually have nothing.

we can have nothing, but yet actually have everything.

Here is some words of Isaiah that sound a bit like what I believe Jesus longs to say to me and too you (Is.55).

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labour on what does not satisfy?

we need to look at the world not with our distorted human lenses but with they eyes of Christ through faith. As I type this I am reminded of a kids worship song “Fix your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace”.

Seeing things with Gods vision sets us free from the false values of a fallen world.

Scripture talks of the Christian building with Gold, Silver and Costly stones not with mud, straw and clay that get burned up in the dross, the problem is from this side of eternity it is the empty things that seem to shine the most brightly, but yet as we know often that which glistens is not always Gold.

Lets ask God to see the world with his values not our own limited and partial vision of an upside down world being turned the right way up for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

call, Life styles, vocation

Am I called? Is my heart beating? Then YES!

Am I called?

Am I qualified?

Are these questions you have heard in your Churchy context?

I think these questions show how we have a very bizarre idea about the whole idea of vocation (living out Gods call on our life) which I think displays itself in what we think of as normal and ordinary.

Let me digress for a moment, most people wouldn’t think of sticking the firms monthly takings in their purse, why, because we know it is wrong and not how Christians should behave. we don’t need to have a prayer meeting and seek wise and Godly counsel to know that being honourable and honest is a right way to behave. So, if we know as a follower of Jesus that there is some behaviours we ought to avoid, why do we count ourselves out from the positive behaviours of things we should be doing?

Every Christian is called to worship, not just singing songs but “being a living sacrifice” -living our lives Christ’s way, the idea of a living sacrifice is it chooses to remain on the altar, so we choose to live our lives as “A Spiritual Act of worship”.

Every Christian is called to be “salt and light” where-ever they are and whatever they do.

Every Christian is called to “Do Justice, Love Mercy and walk humbly”…

The Good Samaritan is a picture for us all, we shouldn’t need to have a soul searching Bible study when we see someone struggling and needing some compassion.

Matthew 25 is clearly speaking to all Christians everywhere, of how normal life should be, “what you did for the least of these you did for me”.

If you see someone hungry, I would suggest that you don’t need to ring up your pastor before you buy them a coffee and a pastie.

If you see someone crying you probably don’t need to make an appointment with your home group leader before you pull up a chair and ask what’s wrong?

If your Church has a donation box for tins, or does a soup run, or some other work of compassion and you are able to do it why do you feel like we need a specific theophany? -The problem is we count ourselves out and think it is someone elses’ job, when the truth is we are all called to care and to show love in practical way.

I know not everything Church does we can always make due to work or commitments, but it is interesting that too often we rule ourselves out, rather than counting ourselves in. I would suggest that if it is within our power to help someone then of course we do it!

I think too we often have a either arrogance or insecurities around works of compassion and we need to ask ourselves “why wouldn’t God want me to do this?” If it being obedient to the commands of scripture and the words of Christ, then why do we often want some form of dramatic encouragement to do the right thing?

Every Christian is called to pray, and seek the advancement and break-out of the Kingdom of God, I am amazed (without wanting to sound pious) when I ask people (Christians) if they have prayed about something and they say they haven’t. Praying is something we all ought to be doing, in praying we are “seeking first the Kingdom of God” and seeking to see “(God’s) Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”. I wonder if some of our greatest prayer (are in hospital beds, or nursing homes? whatever our life is like, we can all pray. Since the curtain has been torn in two after Jesus’ death, we can approach the throne of God directly and with boldness. The truth is the prayers of a Nun, Vicar or the person serving the tea are of equal value to God, because we are all his beloved Children.

Sometimes we are called to pray with one another and ask someone to pray with us and stand alongside us, but that is what we all should be doing anyway, it is what being art of the body of Christ, the family of God is all about.

You don’t need to have done three years in Bible college to care about your friends and pray with them and alongside them. Caring and praying is something we are all meant to do anyway, building up the body (by which I mean those Christians around us).

Every Christian is called “to be a witness” to share their story, or testimony, to “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have, but do so with gentleness and respect”, to “hold out the word that gives life” -we are all called to “do the work of an evangelist”, talking about the Kingdom and being “Christ’s Ambassador” is something we are all meant to be doing as our normal every-life.

So, sharing our faith on a mission, might be a bit scary, but the truth is “if you have a pulse and love Jesus” then you are more than qualified, it’s what “the priest-hood of all believers” is about Christ enabling people to meet with him through us. If you are able to come along and talk to people about Jesus then it is not a case of “is God calling me? -The Answer is clearly YES from the scriptures” -we are all called to make Jesus known, okay we might not be able to do everything that happens in our Churches, but I think more often than not we let the devil talk us out of being obedient.

The phrase “I don’t feel called to that” I think is often nothing to do with Gods call but rather who has Lordship over our lives, I think deep down we know when an excuse is an excuse and when is a genuine conviction that God is calling us else where.

So, the challenge is to live out our faith, in word and deed, in how we act and behave, where we know we are called, qualified and commissioned serving God in all he called us to do right in front of us, right here right now, you don’t need a thunderbolt to be obedient.

Just do it.
It’s what normal everyday Christianity should look like.