Community, comparisons, Individualism, normal, precious, Unique

Everybody is normal until you get to know them.

Normal?

what’s normal?

Yesterday I spent the day with the teenagers from Church, just hanging out at Brean Leisure Park with umpteen terrifying rides to cause your blood pressure to rise!

Yet in hanging out, you realise afresh just how unique each of us are.

I hate it when people get ‘lumped together’ with certain qualities or faults attributed to us ‘en masse’ -happens to the young and the elderly all the time.

I was recently in a meeting where the conversation moved to reaching the under 40’s, I got so frustrated with the conversation (mainly carried out by people in their 50’s/60’s) that I eventually said. “we aren’t aliens, or a different species, but rather the people you meet all the time, kids, family, just out and about don’t patronise us with this idea that ‘one size fits all'”.

It often strikes me as a odd paradox that we are so obsessed by being individuals and yet we dismiss people, and sometimes whole people groups, with sweeping generalisations.

Sometimes as Church and as Christians we loose the individual in the generalisation, “God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have ever-lasting life”, a global truth but also a personal reality and revelation. Christianity is both universally true and also personally true.

we are keen that our own uniqueness is recognised, but also need to fight for the uniqueness of others to be recognised too, yet we can only do that when we ourselves recognise that in each other.

A celebration of our diversity is what enables the body of Christ to achieve all that the heart of Christ longs for, every part -every member- valuable, and without them playing their full part the body of Christ is diminished and poorer for its absence.

we all are unique both in our gifts, talents, skills and abilities, as well as in our brokenness, struggles and fallen-ness.

we all have our own history and journey which actually no one else now about us, and our journey for all of us is unique to us.

It is interesting as I know many people that want to be known, but not interested in knowing other people. They want people to appreciate them and sympathise with their difficulties, but yet seem uninterested in other peoples lives.

Others are very good at pastorally care but struggle with being known themselves, caring with others but find personal disclosure and vulnerability hard.

Yet as whole people before God we are called to know one another, to share with one another our lives -the good and the bad- and to be known. we flourish best when we are known, just as other people flourish best when they are known too.

However, getting to this place is not easy -especially for us introverts!- but it is worth it, it is so much easier to live in a polite and superficial world where everyone keeps everyone at arms length and Christian communities dies from lack of authenticity.

Yet authenticity requires tremendous bravery and courage, and sometimes and unswerving commitment of love and grace too.

This community will only flourish when we remember before Christ our own fallen-ness and need of him.

Each of us too carries many things, the hurt and baggage, the rejections and the disappointments, the brokenness and the pain… but we are not called to carry them alone, in fact we are called to carry one another’s burdens, a picture of interdependence, and yet many of us don’t really know the secret pain and struggles we carry inside.

It is an immense privilege for another human being to let us into the most sacred and precious things they are carrying (as indeed they are often the things we carry most tightly) and so we need to hold this valuable vocations seriously and deeply before God.

And for us it is something very deep and sacred to let other people into our vulnerability and what is deeply personal.

This call of Christ to be his family, living out our lives experiencing this love and also returning this love, is an incredibly costly call. Easier to blend in and be just another face in the crowd and another bum or the pew, yet that is not, and never was, the plan of God for his community on earth. It is a risky and brave calling, and when it works it is truly a fore-taste of heaven, and sadly when it fails it is incredibly and unbelievably painful.

Yet even knowing that this is risky, vulnerable and difficult to achieve in a fallen and broken world, yet let’s not give up on the dream, let’s not all become beige, lets not allow the faces in the crowd to blur together, but embrace the call and cost of a corporate life lived together for cause of Christ.

Let’s reject normal. No one is normal. we are all unique.

A bit broken, and a whole lot brilliant.

Fallen and fabulous in so many ways.

we are a celebration of God’s diversity in his world, and called to recognise this too in one another, seeing the glory not just in similarities but in difference, a key component in Christ’s mission to his world to bring it to himself in redemptive love.

He needs you and no one else will do.

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Boldness, Community, Discipleship, Fear, hope, Mission, The Turning

Word on the Street 2

we are nearing the end of the Bristol Turning Mission Fortnight, and I am really tired, but I’m also excited, encouraged and also still feel a little daunted.

I started this mission, nervously excited (but secretly bricking it a bit if I’m honest!) with lots of questions, in fact my nervous excitement was worried about being excited as have thought many times that I had the keys to world evangelisation (okay slight exaggeration!) only to come away feeling a bit disappointed.

A while back I was holding a meeting about Church planting and mission and this amazing dude called Mark from the Salvation Army was saying NASA had invented a dart board that copes with 0 gravity in space that is computerised and moves so you always it a bullseye. Too often I’ve had to make encouraging noises for the team, “well it is good we are a positive and visible presence in the community”, “they might not have become Christians but we blessed them”, “we don’t know what seeds have been sown” (all of which are true) but masking the disappointment that “we had fished all night and caught nothing!

I wonder if as Churches we fire our arrows and then paint rings around them, and pretend we have hit the target -“…’cos I meant to do that all along!”

I was worried about being expectant for God to meet me in mission, even though I probably preach about the “missio dei” (God’s mission) and about being open and expectant from the Holy Spirit, disappointments had crusted over my heart like Lyme-scale in a kettle, but deep down within me was that ‘child-like faith’ that ‘voice of hope’ excited that God is going to do something wonderful.

I have discovered how debilitating disappointment can be, and how this limits our expectation of God. Over the past few months we have been meeting up on a Saturday morning to pray and share from all across the Churches (at 7:00 in the morning, I hate mornings!). Yet being with other believers praying and believing passionately that God is on the move, I felt something shift inside me and I was daring to dream again, I was praying passionately, but I had a few too many “yeah buts” going on in my head.

I have found the work in Kingswood so incredibly lonely, and yet feeling like part of a team of like-minded people has lifted my spirit.

Often when I have been in church and no one else is on the same page (possibly even a different book!) you begin to doubt yourself “Is it just me? Am I the only one who thinks this is important? why do we sing and pray for revival but not do anything to enable it to happen? And there is a wonderful ‘kinship’ in this, on Maundy Thursday worked with a retired guy in his 70’s, on Holy Saturday a young lad in his 20s, on Easter Monday took a team of people in their 50s out with me, yesterday I worked with a young mum and a fab older gent who a local Baptist Pastor, and today I got to work with my friend Jackie from Elim who (I’m guessing is around my age), we were also joined for a bit by a lady who has been through some very tough stuff and only been a Christian a short-time but she did a great job of opening up conversations too.

It was encouraging to see Christians from a variety of backgrounds, ages, Churches all unified together in the one thing -our Saviour Christ Jesus- than anything that divides us.

Very different people, but the same God, very different personalities which came through, but using the same script, yet  despite our differences we all had the one thing in common, God used us in sharing his amazing news with people.

I blogged in my previous blog about my worries about using a script and about my fears about talking to random members of the public that I didn’t know, and yet in stepping out the boat, leaving our comfort zone, God has been incredibly faithful and gracious to us and we have seen much fruit (500 people last week, and I’m not sure this week but probably in three figures by now!)

The fear of rejection, it’s not nice when you speak to people and they just walk past you as though you don’t exist, the occasional “**** off!” isn’t particularly pleasant either, but I have been really challenged about not letting the disappointments stop us, one lady went out with her son (possibly teenage?) who kept a count of the knock backs “that’s 18 rejections mum!” and yet on the 19th she led someone to Christ -what a star that lady was.

I wonder if I’d have had her wonderful tenacity to keep on going for the fruit of the 19th person getting saved? I often mention Jackie Pullinger who spent 7 years in the gang-land ruled ‘walled city’ of China before she saw her first convert but then after that came break through after break through. I wonder if that was me I wonder if I’d have lasted 7 months?

I also began to feel the danger of comparisons, one morning they got those of us who had been out before to line up and be team leaders, and those who hadn’t done it before could come and join us, and instantly in my head and my heart I was back in school when the ‘cool kids’ were being picked for the football side and I ended up praying that someone would pick me and that I wouldn’t be left until last.

At times in my life I have often wished I was more “gregarious”, “quicker witted”, “more charming”, “better theologian & apologist”, more gravitas and many more things too… I know I have a fake idea of what the perfect evangelist should be made up of components of other evangelists -with perfect teeth- I have known.

Yet he problem with comparisons we often run someone else’s highlight reel with our blooper reel, and actually make it about us and not God at work through us.

I remember someone talking to me and said they didn’t feel qualified (exact words!) to share their faith, and a friend of mine said “If you love Jesus and you have a pulse then you are qualified -amply qualified!”

This week my friend Rich said something incredibly wise when he was leading a bit of the training he said “even if you just tell someone that “God loves them and has an awesome plan for your life!” -you have done more good than if you’d stayed at home watching day-time telly.

This is something that never ceases to humble and astound me that God chooses to work through ordinary people like you and me for his glory and Kingdom advancement.

One of things I have found most exciting) is that we have trained up probably about 200 ordinary (which is the wrong word, but you know what I mean!) Christians to be able to share their faith simply but effectively with those around them.

If we can chat to strangers on the street about Jesus maybe we can chat to neighbours, friends, colleagues and family members too? It made me wonder how many sermons I’ve heard on the need for evangelism (which probably has made everyone feel guilty) and how few on some helpful tools, useful tips and practical stuff to help us actually do it (very few).

I saw ‘big Al’ one of our wonderful friends lead a couple of guys who come to our Soul Cafe project to a prayer of commitment on Sunday, on Monday we heard a story of a guy leading a work colleague to Christ, another guy led someone to Christ in our Church Car Park, from an organised event to organic every-day life evangelistic overflow is what I dream of seeing happening more and more as just ordinary and normal part of our Christian life -it should just be what we do as part of our regular day to day lifestyle.

It has been wonderful to be part of thing Kingdom culture for this time, and yet the interruptions of the pettiness and over-stress of the trivial remind us of where we actually are as Churches, but something of this is a glimpse of the Kingdom, the pull of a different and better reality instep with God, the longing for moreness of what God has in store for us.

As we fellowship as a missionary community, united in love in Christ and his gospel, celebrating with joy hearing stories of Salvation, there is a challenge awaiting us, that of following people up well and seeing them not just become converts but becoming mature disciples in Christ.

I remember when we saw a lad we had met from the Streets become a Christian I was very excited and joyous, but a friend said solemnly “you realise that XXX becoming a Christian isn’t the end of something, this is the beginning, this is where the hard work starts!”

who is up for joining us in this new and exciting challenge?

 

 

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Community, community of grace, Compassion, love

Where is the Love?

I remember watching the musical Oliver and the child sings this song “where is love?” and it is really heart-wrenching song, the production I saw had written as a sign on the workhouse wall the words “GOD IS LOVE”, as the work houses at that time were very proud of their Christianity, but showed no little love for the people they served.

This is so at odds with the words of Jesus who said “by this all people will know you are my disciples that you love one another” and “Love one another as I have loved you”, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

John the apostle writes in his first letter “God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them”.

Paul says “If I do not have love I am a clanging gong or a resounding symbol…” and ends by saying “If I have not love I am nothing”, talking about all the great and worthy things we can do in acts of service but if they are not rooted and grounded in love they are worth nothing at all.

Yet, why do our Churches often feel so unloving?

Philip Yancey’s quoted a young man wrestling with his sexuality in one of his books and he said “Sometimes it is easier to get sex on the streets than a hug in a “Christian Church”.

I know love can be expressed in different ways, but I wonder whether the people in our Church and our fellowships feel loved? Do they feel loved by us?

Perhaps there is something you can do to bless someone who needs to feel that loving touch of God?

Perhaps too, you can be part of re-writing a churches DNA, and living out a different life that loves and is gracious even when it really really tough.

For me, there are people I struggle to love in my Churches, and sometimes I find it almost impossible to give them communion, but when I feel like this I need to be reminded of how much God loves me -and I know I screw up and let him down loads-, which enables me to pass them the bread and the wine, knowing that (to quote George Herbert) “It is love that bade us welcome”…

 

 

 

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Community, Sharing

Sharing your Jigsaw Pieces.

I ended up have a coffee with my friend Mark Rich this evening, both of us have only kids and we talking about the challenge of getting kids to share.

I remember my daughter used to say very defiantly “I don’t like sharing!” Quite profound actually, as actually although we might not say it, we as human beings don’t always find sharing very easy.

Yet, as an episode of Woolly and Tig once said “in sharing our toys can become more fun”, imagine how much more fun a football is if you play with someone else rather than just kicking it around on your own?

Sharing is the antidote to the selfishness of this world.

I remember seeing parents dealing with arguments and trying to keep their kids happy splitting toys up, you’ve got a toy car and you’ve got a toy car, now everyone’s happy.

Yet, this doesn’t work with all toys.

I remember seeing a parent dealing with two squabbling kids and they were fighting over a jigsaw puzzle, the mum stepped in and gave one child 5 bits and 5 bits to the other child (it was a basic 10 piece puzzle). This was somewhat futile, as unless the kids shared their pieces the jigsaw puzzle couldn’t be completed. They might be able to put together the odd bit, but the beautiful whole that it had the potential to be wasn’t possible.

I thought this is actually a bit of a picture of the Church in the U.K, in many ways God has given his children plenty of wonderful gifts and resources, and yet they are distributed amongst the various local Churches, only when we work together we can see the full beauty of God’s picture, rather than scrabbling around piecing together our own scraps.

What has God given you? We all have wonderful things that make a beautiful contribution to the whole, but yet when we fail to utilize these faithful, we deplete the body of Christ.

When we just keep our gifting to the small limited group, again we deplete the whole.

So, a challenge for us all as we think of being fruitful for the Kingdom of God, this means being generous with the gifts and resources, let us share with extravagance, giving beyond our own fellowships, reaching beyond our comfort zones.

 

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Community, community of grace, grace

Community of Grace…

I had an amazing Mentor for a while, called Simon Holland, he’s now the Warden at Lee Abbey, but before that he was Rector of a Church in Bath. His Churches Vision was :”to be a community of grace at the heart of the city”.

A broken world, and broken individuals need to experience the radical grace-filled love of God expressed in the love of God demonstrated most clearly and beautifully upon the cross of Calvary. Yet the cross actually shows something more wonderful, as Steve Britten -the Prayer Pastor Co-ordinator often says, “the cross shows us the greater truth, that God himself is good news”.

At  the heart of the universe is a God who is not angry or vindictive, but loving us and desiring to welcome us home into relationship with him, with that same furious love as shown in Luke 15, with the parable of the running father (a better and more apt name that the prodigal son).

This is a message of radical and transforming hope, that however broken we are, however steeped in sin we have become, what ever we have done or whatever has been done to us, the grace of God and his love is greater still.

Reminded of the line from that great hymn; “the vilest offender, who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”.

The truth of us as Church, is we have often forgotten what God, in Christ, has done for us.

We have forgotten we ourselves are forgiven sinners. We ourselves are not whole and respectable, without fault, blemish and with a cupboard or two full of skeletons.

Grace has saved us, we need to show grace to a world that won’t necessarily understand it, and probably can’t articulate it, but is none the less desperate for it.

Grace changes lives.

Grace transforms brokenness.

Grace is needed in the meeting place (Church) as well as the market place (world).

After all as Jesus himself said: “those who are well don’t need a doctor but only those who are sick… not come to call respectable people but sinners” -yet the western Church spends half its life trying to look respectable.Simon, would speak  of our Churches flinging open the doors every day of the week welcoming people in  but I am saying one step further.

The Church is called out to the streets,
The Church  is called out to the marginalised and disenfranchised.
The Church is called to minister amongst the hurting and the broken, the least, the last and the lost.
The Church is not some faceless institution or an over-worked vicar.
The Church is you and me, ordinary people who love Jesus, ordinary people for whom Christ died. One beggar showing another beggar where to find bread, all of us, all the time, living out a radical life going against the tide of conventional norms and expectations, doing life God’s way, holding our grace to a world that needs not just to theologically understand it, but understand it through experiencing it.
I believe grace, like love, needs to be experienced before it can be understood.
The challenge is about taking this grace out with us into our world, everyday, in the vast medley of situations, opportunities, people, places that we encounter each day, a deployed army, and undercover agent living for a different Kingdom shining out like stars in a crooked and depraved world, salty people, light people, people of hope for it is Christ IN US the hope of glory; the same spirit within us  who believe who raised Jesus from the dead.
And we’re not just called to potter around in these places, but actually to transform them.
I believe all of us should be looking for those small and significant opportunities to bless and live out grace, but also look for the great opportunities, the transforming moments, dream dreams that scare you, pray God gives you visions, believe in bigger as too often we have lost sight of the furious love of God who desires relationship with his creation and think that all we can do is the small, lowly and sparse, where actually dear brethren, the Father longs to give us the Kingdom.
A friend of mine described one of his vision statements for his Church, it was “faith that made you gulp rather than yawn”, I think the same should be said for Grace.
Grace that makes us  ‘gulp rather than yawn’.
You see when you and I live this out, they see people and communities that look like Jesus.
Jesus had the most attractive life ever lived on this planet.
The word Christian simply means ‘little Christ’.
So when you put you computer off, remember that you are now in your mission field, you are now on the front line.
Now is the day of salvation.
Let’s live out lives of radical grace, not just within out Churches, but within a world that broken and needs to know God and to see what he is like.
You might be thinking, this is too much Andy, I can’t do it in my strength, then I will close by saying, ‘yep, you are dead right…’  but the good news is you don’t have too!
Pray that God will help all of us see this message not just be an email rant, but a daily reality, impossible humanly speaking, but as the gospel reminds us, “nothing is impossible with God”.
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Church, Community, community of grace, incarnation, Ministry, Mission, Simplicity, Worship

Simple Church, or Simply being Church.

I’m loving our time at New Wine, but as our opening night ŵhen all the lights, power, tech all went down really made me think.

As many of you know we are trying to seek where God is calling us to best impact for Christ the area he has called us too.

One thought I’ve been wondering about is “have we made Church a bit too complicated?”

I also heard some else this week talk about how hard it is “doing Church”, now apart from the dodgy theology here –you can’t “do” what you already are!- it got me thinking.

I have long time been thinking that our current view of Church is very different that found in the book of Acts.

Rowan Williams the former Archbishop said “Church is the intentional community gathered around Jesus Christ” and more recently I heard a genius quote by Paula Gooder “The plural of disciple is Church”.

Do we make Church too complicated? Do we really need all the “stuff” –sometimes car loads of it!

As I began to pursue this thought in my mind, I remembered some of my greatest corporate experiences of God, “Church”, and I realised (other than the night I re-dedicated my life to Christ), all of them were spontaneous times with other Christian friends, often on beaches, hills, friends offices’, mates’ sitting rooms, very rarely actually in a special “Holy” building.

I wonder too, whether we get to worried about DOING Church and not enough about BEING Church, ordinary Christians met together and intentionally inviting Christ by his spirit to presence himself with his people (“where two or three are gathered together there I am in the midst of them” –Jesus).

Often we feel like we are unable to Ŵorship without the screen, words and music –rather than the overflow of our hearts thankfulness and praise expressed corporately…

Or perhaps we feel like we can’t pray out loud because we haven’t been to bible college and can’t make our prayers sound “proper”, but we can share our hearts with God with others, we don’t have to be some special holy person to simply love, pray and stand alongside our brothers and sisters…

Often we think that we can only share what God is saying to us and our hearts if we have been to Bible college, utter rubbish, go for it, if you think God is saying it why not share t and bless one another…

To often we have made Church too much come and watch the paid professionals lead, and just join in the singing bit… Rather, than Church equipping you to be the Church where ever you are and whatever you do.

I love the idea of a Church to spread the DNA of Jesus as widely as possible, and equipping the saints to be stewards ushering in the Kingdoms reign and rule, where gathering together and encouraging one another is just what we do when we meet other Christians we acknowledge the presence of the Lord with us, and listen to his voice and be expectant for his encounter and blessing.

Church is not about putting on services, but intentionally meeting together expectant of the presence of God to meet with us.

Perhaps, we ought maybe to intentionally seek out times not just to be with God personally, not just be with people who don’t yet know Jesus, but also intentionally seeking out time to be with our brothers in sisters in Christ to build us up and sharpen us in our faith (after all “iron sharpen iron as one person sharpens each other”).

Wondered maybe we need to be people who get together, bless one another and seek God and his face with expectancy.

Let’s learn to make our encounters with each other more like how Church should be.

And to do this we need to put aside our differences and love one another.

Too often we often just think about our vertical relationship with God when we have a service together, and too much about our horizontal relationships with each other when we aren’t in a religious building, but perhaps we need to mix the two up a bit, more of Christ in our relationships with each other, and maybe more of our relationships with each other in our encounters with God.

Let’s learn to be simple Church organically happening intentionally when we met up with other Christians, stoking the fire in one another for the sake of the glory of Jesus where ever we are.

Let’s just do it.
let’s just be it, everywhere we go and whatever we do.

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call, challenge, Commitment, Community, Discipleship, Discipline, forgiveness, freedom, Fruit and fruitfulness, Uncategorized

Making Disciples…

“Go into all the world and make them my disciples, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you, and surely I am with you even to the end of the Age”-

Very famous verses from Matthew 28.

It’s an active word, we are called to “Go”, we are called to “make” disciples, we are called to “Baptise” and we are called to “teach”.

It is a command of Jesus not his final suggestion.

It is a word not just to the disciples standing there but actually a word that echoes through the ages to us.

Earlier  in the Gospel narrative Jesus Jesus says “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” Slightly paraphrased “My job is to build my Church”… The problem is we often think that this bit, his bit, it our bit.
Our role is “go and make disciples” -yet too often we try and build Church rather than make disciples.
Church actually is all about making disciples.
In fact that is what Church is “The plural of disciple is Church” says Alison Morgan.
Mike Breen reminds “If you make disciples you get Church, but if you aim for Church you might not get disciples!”
So what is a disciple?
Disciple comes from the word Mathetes, one who learns as they follow.
Have we aimed to low?
Have we settled for attenders rather than discipleship?  Had (and still have) an on going battle with my Church about the whole argument about “bums on seats” -we could fill our Church buildings if we offered free beer and lap-dances- the challenge has never been just to get people into the building, but rather to see people come into relationship with Christ!
Maybe we have just settled on producing believers? Shane Claiborne talks a lot about the difference between a believer and a follower, his great quote is “there is more to being a Christian than believing all the right stuff”.
Have we strives to make ‘dutiful church members’ which is different from our call that is to make real life authentic and engaged disciples.
People will live out their discipleship not just within our buildings but rather on their front line where God has called them, whole life discipleship.
We need, and need to be, people who are model the life of Christ…
Discipleship needs to be seen lived out, with flesh on, as St. Paul said: “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”.
“All members of the community have a responsibility for enriching and contributing to the up building of others” Sylvia Wilkey Collinson.
Our Discipleship is something we ourselves need to take responsibility for, our discipleship is not received like spoon feeding consumerism, but is something we all have responsibility for, both a responsibility for our own faith and growth, but also a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
 
“All of this (the Missional life of Jesus and the discipleship) is more like an action movie than an initiation into Philosophy” Roger Wilton.
Too often we  have made discipleship all about our own head knowledge, rather than about our lives as we follow Christ, looking like him, and we will be more like him the more we hang out with him, the more time we spend with him.
Rob Bell talks about being covered in the dust of your rabbi, as you follow them you are close enough to get covered in the dust from the dusty paths they walk on…
God bless,
Andy

Check out more great resources at http://vergenetwork.org Francis Chan – How Not To Make Disciples
YOU CAN SHARE THIS VIDEO! I must note that although programs and events are useful they can easily create an inwardly focused atmosphere to where the body is …
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