Carrying burdens, Church, community of grace

Playing Our Part.

There is an African Proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child”.

The idea of a collective responsibility for raising the next generation, rather than leaving it simply up to (a) struggling parent(s).

Right at the beginning of time  (Gen. 4), Cain asked of the Lord “Am I my brothers keeper?” (as he’d just murdered Able) -the answer God gave him is “yes”.

The selfish and individualistic worldview of “I’m alright Jack” that doesn’t care about those around us, might be prevalent within our culture, but is diametrically opposed to the Kingdom of God.

We were not created as human-beings to be ‘independent’ but rather ‘interdependent’, we need each other and are needed by each other.

We have collective responsibility for one another for each others growth in faith.

We have an investment together in the Kingdom.

The Christian faith is a corporate one, we do not exist in isolation, but rather our strength comes from our unity, we are greater together than we are on our own.

Paul uses the image of a body as an image to describe the Church, where everything is in its place, and everything, even the smallest part, is useful. I remember a Church leader I knew once saying “the body of Christ has no appendix” -in other words, no part that we can do without. An when people ‘opt out’ or ‘take a back seat’ the body of Christ is diminished.

Yet, that is not how we behave often as Churches.

Another Vicar friend once said “it is easier to get someone to preach in the Pulpit than to clean it!”

Or as Shane Claiborne said: “Everyone wants revolution but no one does the dishes”.

Yet service is at the heart of being a Christian, who are called to “serve one another”, following the example of Christ, “who took a towel and washed his disciples feet”.

So often we have Churches that burn out their Pastors, yet people who wont roll up their sleeves and serve, and even less likely get to on their knees to pray.

I was at a PCC meeting on Sunday Night talking about a new leader, and I bit my lip, an although we need a new Vicar or new leader, we need just as much to be a body of believers to partner with them in prayer and service in obedience to Christ’s call and command.

These thoughts went through my head as I sat on my own in Chasers Lounge for a inter-church meeting where no-one turned up.

Someone reading this might say “people can’t manage day time prayer meetings” (despite mainly being a retired congregation) but we have also been holding inter-church prayer and worship evenings and yet only had 11 people came.

Is there really only 11 Christians who think praying together for God’s Kingdom to come is really a worthwhile activity?

I long to see revival come to this area, but I realise that historically before every great move of the Spirit the Saints have gathered to pray.

We each of us need to take responsibility for our own faithfulness to the Kingdom call (and it probably calls us to a place of sacrifice). On Saturday, I went to an early morning prayer meeting (and I’m rubbish in the mornings and was exhausted, and had to do some driving backwards and forwards with the car, it would have been easier not to go, but I am so glad I went, I realised I can’t out give Christ).

A challenge for us all personal to take responsibility to be faithful, it’s your job, not someone else’s (here is a story I found helpful).

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.  Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

If we really want God to move in our area, perhaps we need to sacrifice our comfort and adjust out priorities? Perhaps God is calling us to place prayer and service back (and higher) onto the corporate agenda of Church and Churches Together?

If we want to see the Kingdom come in our area then God himself tells us clearly what we need to do:

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” -2 Chronicles 7:14.

So, let’s humble ourselves (we don’t serve because we think we are too grand or important to lug tables around or wash up, service is a great antidote to the sin of pride). Let us pray, let us seek his face? Let’s turn from our wicked ways (and make no mistake apathy is I believe “a wicked way” -for (as Edmund Burke reminds us) for evil to prosper all it takes is for “good people to do nothing”.  In fact the prophet Samuel describes a failure to pray as sin.

So, a challenge for us all to repent of apathy and complacency, a call to hear Christ’s call to serve, and be faithful in our call to pray… and as we do this and seek together the face and presence of Christ we will see the advance of Christ’s Kingdom here in Kingswood as it is in Heaven.

So, let’s pray together.

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Carrying burdens, community of grace, Discipleship, Godliness, Partnership, Paul's Prayers, Phillipians, vocation

“Don’t just ‘SUPPORT’ me, ‘PARTNER’ with me” (Updated).

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Can you say a little prayer for us Vicar?

Would you mind if I said a little prayer for you?

I don’t want to pray a LITTLE prayer!

A “Little Prayer” sounds as though we lack confidence in Gods power to transform lives and circumstances.

I want to be like Paul praying big, hairy and audacious prayers rendering heaven.

I’ve been thinking too often we have dumbed down our language and expectations of prayer, mission and discipleship.

Recently, I came across (via Jackie Davies) a William Booth quote: “I’m not waiting for a move of God, I am the move of God”.

This is God’s plan for the transformation of his world, you and I living for him, stepping out in faith, and partnering with him.

This was reinforced for me recently with two things that happened this week…

The first when I prayed for someone to be healed, and they were, and I was more shocked than they were, which led me to have an interesting discussion with myself afterwards!

The second when I was sharing at a Church meeting the work I am doing in the community, and quite frankly it was pretty obvious they couldn’t care less…

My experience of this healing miracle made me think about living out my calling to partner with Christ (if you are a Christian, that is all of our callings!) and wondered am I really pulling my weight here, am I working with him, alongside him, or doing my own thing.

My experience of the DCC made me feel unsupported, certainly not feeling like we were in any real sense ‘partnering together’.

I was talking to another minister type mate who and said about supporting him, he said “I don’t want people to support me, I want people to partner with me”.

The same is true the other-way around, I don’t want to just support my congregations in mission, I want to partner with them.

The word SUPPORT conjures up images of sitting there with a sympathetic and slightly constipated look, offering milky coffee and making polite noises for a few minutes until the conversation returns to something less uncomfortable and more superficial.

Whereas the word PARTNERSHIP conjures up both people investing heavily in something, standing shoulder to shoulder, battling together amid blood, tears and sweat.

Partnership is a word about mutual investment, were the outcome really matters to those involved.

Support, sounds more like offering a hand, lending a fiver, giving someone a lift, making a cuppa (all good things, but has the image of superficial investment and involvement).

Paul wasn’t after support from his fellow Christians, he didn’t want “Oh Bless him” platitudes, he wants the disciples partnering with him to carry on fighting for the Kingdom cause as fearlessly as he did when he was on his missionary endeavours -especially as now he is in prison, in chains, for talking about Christ.

Paul’s prayer shows his aspiration for his team.

This left me wondering, is this the kind if thing we pray for ourselves? Our Churches? Our home-groups? Our friends involved in Christian Unions at work? Our Kingdom allies locally doing things like work based Alpha, Street Pastors, outreach work or whatever it is God is calling them too?

Or do we pray that God would just “help” them or “bless” them…

Over the next few days I’d urge us to grow our intersessions vocabulary, and realise that as we pray we are doing something bigger more amazing, more powerful and beautifully supernatural..

So let’s rediscover afresh the awesome power of prayer, connecting us with the awesome power that comes from almighty God.

Let’s up our support of one another so that it feels more like partnership.

Let us review how response to God’s partnership offer, are we partnering with him, pulling our weight and keeping in step.

To the original readers of the scriptures the word partnership would lead people to think of Oxon partnered together under a yoke, journeying together, in step, both taking equal share of the weight…

Yet for us the Yoke is a three person yoke, shouldering our partnership with God, and with one another, a call to carry one another’s yokes or burdens -and let them carry yours- as we all partner together to fulfil the heartbeat of creation to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

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Bravery, Carrying burdens, Counselling, Depression, Discipleship, self awareness

Counselling thoughts…

I have recently been having counselling.

There I’ve said it!

Just as a couple of years ago I felt it was right to ‘come out’ about the fact that I had depression and was on medication, medication I’d dearly like not to be on, but it does help me function and survive so for the time being it looks like the tablets and I will be walking together for the foreseeable future at least.

Counselling was something that has been suggested and something I felt very fearful about, for whatever reason I found it tough to admit to the Doctor that I needed help, and to admit to the Diocese that I felt I needed to go to counselling.

I think that all of us want to tell ourselves and the world at large that “we are ok”. It matters to be “OK”, and admitting that we’re not ok feels somehow like we are failing, like some-how we can’t cope with life.

Yet as I wrestled with this ‘black dog’ I suffer with, it has helped me to realise at the heart of being a Christian is the admission to God that we are not Ok, I can’t do life on my own, I need help, I need a Saviour, I need a healer. Perhaps why the opening stanza on the sermon on the mount is “blessed are the poor is spirit because they know their need of God” (paraphrased).

To admit to the world that I am a Christian, but one on medication for depression, isn’t shaming the gospel but rather showing that Christianity isn’t for the sorted together religiously pious (ironically the people who Jesus never seemed to get on well with).

I think we live in a world where too many people try to pretend they are perfect when none of us are.

So, eventually after a particularly tough time over summer/September I got to see a counsellor, for 12 weeks, it is a very scary thing being in a room with another Christian, and to just talk and share, the power of being listened to is such a wonderful and powerful gift but a gift that seems rarer than diamonds in everyday life.

It takes courage to not ‘filibust’ -where politicians talk out the time on a debate so it gets thrown out- it is very easy to just talk and talk rubbish, but it is hard to choose to talk about the reality of issues of pain, loss, challenge, disappointments, hurts, expectations and experiences which shape and define us with honestly, to another human being and before -and with- God. Often slowly as we voice and own what is deep with us, we discover deeper revelation of ourselves but with self-revelation also comes a responsibility.

Ignorance makes no demand for a change of behaviour.

Ignorance has the security of the status quo.

Ignorance is self-delusional, and deep down we know from scripture that “truth sets us free”.

In discovering more of ourselves, which often is challenging, we aid ourselves in understanding ourselves, our journey, make-up and origins it helps enable us to shape our future in a better and a way of wholeness.

It is often far to slow, those of us who want a quick fix have to live with the frustration of our brokenness as often those simple solutions are (to quote Barak Obama) “neither simple nor solutions” and we must come to terms with being us.

Sometimes, it feels like being a small child on a long journey as we call out “are we there yet?”, in other words “am I sorted yet?”.

It has felt a bit like “Mary Poppins’” bag seeing my counsellor, as when I think “we must be done now” a well phrased question makes me realise there is still so much more baggage in the rucsac of my life that perhaps needs to be looked at, and perhaps not carried on into my future.

I think I was expecting to find a “magic silver bullet” one issue one thing that answered everything, and yet discovered layer upon layer of influences and pieces that explain a lot which helps me understand better.

We have an expression “don’t go there” and often that is how most of us live our lives, often sub consciously, and yet I believe in going there we discover critical insights, deep understanding and aids us into stepping closer towards greater peace and freedom.

I wish I could write a post saying everyone should get counselling to be sorted, but the more I travel on in life I realise none of us are every sorted, but I have discovered we can be more sorted than we are at the moment, we can have more peace than we currently experience, and there is more freedom than what we at this present time know.

 

 

 

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1 Kings 19, Carrying burdens, community of grace, Depression, Discipleship, Ministry, self awareness, vocation

Success or faithful obedience….

Some more thoughts from the prayer room yesterday…

I was feeling really sorry for myself, perhaps a bit of post Christmas blues?

I did feel a bit rubbish, the prayer room was empty, struggling to get teams out with Street Pastors as often as we’d like, Church has been particularly challenging over the last term…

It’s probably not on the same level as Elijah in the cave following the firey show-down on mount Carmel with Ahab and Jezebel wanting to murder him (1 Kings 19) -but I wasn’t feeling great.

As a side thought, I was chewing over a friend -Kevin Lewis’- Blog who talked about not being “disillusioned or disappointed” but rather deflated, because if we are ‘deflated’ we can be ‘inflated’ again…

And another side thought, I also, was thinking about ‘restoring the joy of our salvation’ somehow in real life, real ministry, with real people, I want to know the real truth of the “Joy of my Salvation”.

Anyway, into the prayer room walked Derek from Carmel whose fire for the Lord was infectious, little guy but with big heart for God, and then walked in my friend Paul Mundy… and as we prayed together I felt my Spirit lift. It reminded me of a picture from the Bible which used to hang in my dad’s study, which has Moses sat on a rock, with two guys holding his arms up. The story behind it can be found in Exodus 17, Moses is praying with his hands raised whilst Joshua is fighting a battle bellow, and whilst his hands are raised in blessing they have victory and when they fall they are losing, so two guys support him and hold his arms up when he tires and is unable to stand anymore Sometimes we need to encourage of re-encourage one another. Sometimes just being, our presence alongside, there can really help, encourage and inspire someone else.

Today as a Church we went off to Clevedon and met Michael Eden, who was also talking about Moses, who also had times of struggle in his life and ministry when in the middle of the desert and his people turned on him and grumbled, and Moses must have felt pretty low.

Yet Michael reminded us that when Moses encountered God in the burning bush, God was the one who was moving but the invitation for Moses was to partner with God.

We forget we are partnering with God and think it is all down to us, we rate ourselves and our self-worth from the successes and failures we face, and if you are like me we are often unduly harsh with ourselves.

Moses must have found it a longish and tough call going through 10 plagues and umpteen rejections from Pharaoh until eventually he saw the people of Israel freed, but the success wasn’t down to Moses but rather it belonged to God, Moses wasn’t responsible for the success of failure of the task,  no, his call was simply to be faithful and obedient.

 It is a liberating thing to know that our call is simply to be faithful to the call of God, because this sets us free from comparisons, looking and watching other peoples’ race -often we play our blooper reel over someone else’s highlight reel- and feeling like a failure.

Yet the call is not about apparent success but about faithful obedience, the fruit rests in the hands of God, sometimes we don’t see the fruit we are involved in birthing -Philip probably never knew the extent of the Ethiopians Eunach’s gospel endeavours- but just because we don’t see the fruit doesn’t mean it’s not there, and even if we have a Church crammed full of people listening to us preach doesn’t actually mean that anything fruitful and worthwhile is actually happening.

Ultimately the fruit, the growth, the success rests with God, our call is to be faithful. Sometimes that call to faithfulness can be feel tough, Jackie Pullinger the missionary from inside the walled city of china, slogged for 7 years without a convert, and yet broke through and thousands have been blessed by here, but if her emphasis had been on her own success she wouldn’t have hung on in there and seen the blessing.

Bill Wilson who leads the worlds’ largest Sunday School talks about Christians often quitting before the miracles kick in.

Often God makes us hang on for a bit that maybe we know our dependence on him, allows our pride to be dealt with and our desire for fruit for no other reason that to bless and bring joy to God.

The truth is that if we want to have fruit, and fruit that will last, the only way of achieving comes from our ‘remaining in him’, he is the source of all life. Success is God’s job and we’ll only see much of what God has done through us the other-side of the grave.

Victory only comes through faithfulness and obedience, doing it God’s way, ultimately the only way to be fruitful comes from the path of surrender, the saying “not my will but yours” and seeking to be faithful.

So let us encourage and bless one another to keep on seeing Christ glorified in what we do, lets seek him and follow him, worrying more about whether we are in the centre of Gods will, surrendered to him, rather than just doing our own thing and hoping God blesses it.

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Carrying burdens, Discipleship, Journey, Spiritual Health

Heavy Laden or Travelling Light.

 

On Sunday I had an over-loaded car with some stuff for the homeless from Hanham, a whole load of stuff form Soul Café and some other stuff I probably should have taken out the car after our holiday.

It made me think about what we travel with, some of us travel pretty heavily laden.

It reminded me of what I was younger and single how I could travel pretty light with just a couple of things thrown over my shoulder in a ruc-sac, but when I was married with a child the bags just accumulated.

I began to think about perhaps we carry stuff we don’t need, not just physically we become so dependent on stuff, but emotionally and spiritually.

When Jesus said “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will refresh you” he’s actually understanding something profound about human nature.

Some of us find it harder to travel light, used to travel light but as time has gone on we have lost that gift and now the world weighs heavily on our shoulders, but do we really need to carry all that we carry?

Are our burdens our own or should we be sharing them with one another?

Often I think our burdens that weigh heaviest on us, probably should be share with others, I wonder sometimes whether we are shouldering too much responsibility because others aren’t shouldering theirs?

Perhaps, we need to learn a new of doing life together, which prays, loves, encourages, supports and empowers each other, this is what I believe Church should be like, each being who they were created to be, but doing so in community that compliments each other.

Scripture calls us to “carry one another’s burdens” but the problem is too often we don’t because we feel “we have enough burdens of our own”, or perhaps we take on everyone else’s burdens, but don’t allow anyone to help us with ours. Sometimes it takes great courage to allow someone else to bless us and to carry our burdens with us, sometimes it takes more strength to be “be served” than to serve.

Sometimes we are carrying things which Christ is calling us to lay down, particularly those ‘roots of bitterness’, resentments, unresolved conflicts and grievances we have. I know for me personally, I have laid these down in prayer only to pick them back up again moments later. The prophet Micah talks of hurling these iniquities into the depth of the Ocean, and I think a wise addition would write ‘no fishing’. The problem with these burdens they are like scabs, they bleed easily, it doesn’t take much for them hurt again, and so we find ourselves laid low under the burden of them.

Satan, wants us burdened, laid-low without the energy or capacity to take on what God is calling us to do, he will keep an old burden weighing upon us until we take that active and on-going choice to not just let Christ set us free, but to walk onwards with him in freedom.

“Those whom the Son sets free are free indeed” is a truth, but freedom is something on going, let to our own devices we will soon become entangled again, or possibly re-tangled again. Walking free is a choice, we need God’s help to be free and stay free, but also need the help of our community to stay free.

Yet too often our burdens are often kept hidden like dirty secrets, the power of shame often makes our burdens heavier, especially as Christians we feel we should think or struggle with some of our burdens

Yet inviting Christ into our shame brings liberation, and inviting trusted brothers and sisters into strengthens community but grounding it in authenticity.

Bringing things into the light literally lightens the burdens upon our shoulders.

Sometimes our baggage can come expectations that other people place on us, sometimes these are completely unreasonable, my friend Kevin Lewis wrote a poem called “I am the Vicar I am” which joked about all the expectations people place on clergies shoulders, although more obvious with the clergy, we all live with other peoples unreasonable expectations on us, perhaps also we place these on ourselves, perhaps too people have long gone their expectations still weigh heavily -perhaps parents, perhaps teachers, perhaps someone we once looked up to… Yet are these expectations from God? The one whose “burden is light and his Yoke is easy” -not saying they are of no weight but a crippling or crushing  weight. Is what we are carrying life giving -life in all its fullness/abundance- or life draining?

So, as we start 2017, perhaps there are things that need to be left at the foot of the cross, and left in 2016, expectations, shame, pains and bitterness, leave them there and not to return to them.

Invite God to take the baggage and burdens from your shoulders that he never meant for you to carry.

Invite others to share your journey, trust others to help you carry your burdens as you help carry theirs.

As we start 2017, allow God to free us, refresh and renew us, taking off those burdens that are not of him, so our hands are able to take on all that he has for us in 2017, ready and able to serve, match fit and ready to go.

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5 Fold Ministry -Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (Eph. 5), call, Carrying burdens, Discipleship, grace, Guidance, identity, incarnation, inclusion, Life in the Spirit, vocation

“Everyone Gets to Play”

“The term “laity” is one of the worst in the vocabulary of religion and ought to be banished from Christian conversation”. -Karl Barth.

I think Barth is right. The Clergy laity distinction does create an unhelpful them and us image of division.

It is translated into some peoples minds as “the called and the uncalled” -which is rubbish we are all called people, we just are called to different things and different roles within the body of Christ.

Or the qualified and the unqualified, but actually although it is an amazing privilege to study theology at degree level the under-pinning idea that ordinary everyday Christians aren’t “qualified” to do the works of the Kingdom is simply ludicrous -most of the original disciples were unskilled men!

Or perhaps you feel like the ‘elite’ and the ‘plebs’ which again isn’t helpful, because I think there is no such thing as a  super Christian, as we all stand on level ground before  the cross of Christ in our need of salvation, and ultimately all good works come “not by might, nor by power but by my spirit says the Lord of Hosts”.

In fact I’d go further and point to two pictures within scripture which I think are more helpful:

i) The first is that of the body of Christ, where every bit is interdependent on each other, each bit is needed, no bit can claim a greater importance in the body as each is doing a role or function that only they can do.

ii) The second is the ‘priest-hood of all believers’, not the few elected holy people as under the old covenant, but everyone able to approach the throne of grace with boldness.

That is not to say that there isn’t an important role in leadership within Christ’s Church, although I fear that to often Christian leadership looks more like Lord Sugar than the Lord Jesus’ Christ, the board-board rather than the upper room where Christ washed, dust, sweat and camel crap of his disciples feet.

Jesus said “The Son of Man (a term he used to describe himself) has come not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

I think Jesus showed us leadership that looked very different, it looks like sacrificial and costly servant-hood because that is what it is.

A friend who is a vicar, once asked a Church about a Biblical character they thought of when they thought of leadership, their response was of Moses coming down the mountain clutching the tablets of stone under his arm and saying “thus sayth the Lord” -an image I find very uncomfortable, and no wonder if this is your starting point is leadership abused. Instead this friend talked about the leadership picture he prefers which is that of John the Baptist “I must decrease so he must increase” -the path to fruitfulness is humility, prayerfulness, finding strength in weakness and these are entirely the virtues of the upside-down Kingdom of God.

I think we need to go back to scripture and see afresh what leadership is meant to achieve, from my reading of scripture it is meant to “equip the body of Christ for works of service”.

We often think this is about the 5 fold ministries in Ephesians, “Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Teacher and Pastor”, where someone comes and does Evangelism, or moves in the Prophetic, but surely the role of the Apostle is to teach other people to think apostolicially -looking for those kingdom opportunities, the prophet to hear other people to hear from God for themselves, the teacher to enable people to learn and grow for themselves, the evangelist to help other people in evangelism, and the pastor to help us love and care for one another”.

It’s not about building ourselves up, but rather it is about building up the body of Christ.

We often forget that leadership is actually about bringing out the gifts of God in others, it’s not a calling (to use a football analogy) to be a star striker scoring all the goals, but rather it is the role of the team coach who is called to invest, encourage, bless, challenge, inspire God’s people so they can turn this broken upside down world the right way up for Christ Jesus.

It’s not about building a big empire, with lots of people downloading your sermons and turning up to your services and putting on a great show on a Sunday, but rather sending people out to transform the world on Monday morning living out their faith in everyday life on their front-lines.

Too often leadership has been “you help me do what I think we should be doing” than asking “what is God calling you to do, and how can we help, bless and enable you to fulfil God’s call on your life”.

Too often we think of leadership about ‘press ganging volunteers’ to do our things -What can I get from them? Rather than thinking “how can be bless them” in what and where God is calling them.

I’ll close with a controversial Youtube Clip:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uikd5uoMdpk

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