acceptance, brokenness, community of grace, Compassion, ethics, grace, Holiness, inclusion, LGBT, love, truth

It’s a SIN?

I recently blogged about the Church needing to be loving in its attitudes towards people especially those in the LGBT community.

I deliberately didn’t blog about where I personally stand on the issue, as normally that normally means that only the people who agree with you read your post!

I long for all sides of Christ’s Church to become more loving, to read the Bible together in loving, God-honouring, humbling, respectful exchanges.

People talk about grace and truth being held together, and I think much of our Christian theology is about holding some difficult things intension in a Godly way (which is hard at times).

For some this is primarily a debate about the authority of scripture, what authority does scripture have over how we are followers of Christ live our lives? Does scripture say what we think it does, are we reading things the same way? Let’s talk and seek God together about authority of scripture and then about what it says within it?

For some this debate is about pastoral theology, how do we live out our faith together in community?

For others it is about how people make sense of their story and the story of God that captivates us, and the fundamental question of “who am I in Christ?” And for some, how do I make sense of “who I have discovered I am” with “who I have discovered I am in Christ?” and is there a tension with the two, and if so, how do I authentically deal with this under the Lordship of Christ.

The question people often say is “is it a sin?” as it seems be saying “if it is a sin, then the gloves are off and we can treat them how we like”, pastorally, even if it is a sin we are still called to love people and to “love our neighbour as our-self”.

Some think unquestionably the answer is yes.
Some think unquestionably the answer is no.

Some distinguish between desire and inclination and the practice.

I think the problem is we want a ‘clear cut’ discipleship and yet I have discovered that most pastoral theology is often complicated, messy and often not as clear cut as we’d like it to be.

I know many people in different places on the spectrum.

One Christian I have spoken about this, is an amazing Godly person and this person has chosen to be celibate rather than living out her sexual desire.

I know other Christians, gay and straight, who genuinely have really studied, prayed and sought God and believe the opposite.

Much ink has been spilled in the “nature/nurture” debate, yet irrespective of this Jesus is a God that meets us where we are at, and this is true for all people regardless of gender identity, and yet loves us too much to let us stay that way. we all need transformation, and we are all fallen, broken people. The straight person is not superior to his gay neighbour, as before the foot of the cross it is level ground, we all come from any and all walk of life, empty handed before a loving God who died for us.

I worry we have re-written the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector to the “straight and the gay person”, and I don’t want to be on the wrong side of the parable.

Christ’s grace and love extends to every area of our lives include our sex lives and inclinations, as does his Lordship too.

As I said in my previous blog, the only way we can see these rifts within the wider Church and individual fellowships be healed, is in love journeying together prayerfully, seeking God and seeking him honestly through scripture (which can be immensely challenging for us all whatever perspective we hold, as scripture always shapes and challenges us profoundly to the core of our being).

Even if we don’t agree and may never read the Bible the same way as someone else our challenge remains to love them and to ensure that our conduct towards them reflects the Christ we serve.

It is a difficult call, and groups like synod will make stands some of which we will applauded and others of which leave us perplexed, yet rather than walk away, lets keep engaging, praying and seeking God with those who see things differently by reading his word together.

It is hard being in conversations about things that are deeply personal and important with people that don’t agree with us, and the Bible can feel incredibly sharp on occasion, yet even though it is difficult it is the cost of being a disciple to be a loving community, gathered around Christ and his word, and to seek together to follow Christ, which is often more complex, messy and ambiguous than we would like it to be.

As we seek to share our journey of faith with our brothers and sisters from many different walks of life, we need to let God work in us and shape us, and these things are often costly, “Iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another”.

The Church in the U.K looks like it might split over this issue, which would be a tragedy for us all. There have been many big and important issues that have threatened to tear the Church apart, but we need to remember the heart of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane that prayed “let them (the Church)be one as you and I are one”, Christ wants his bride to be united. To stop fighting and prayerfully gather around scripture takes bravery from all sides, and even more courage to stay praying and sharing around the Bible when it gets challenging, but worth it, to show the world that Christians can disagree in a Godly and honourable way.

The Church needs to heed the words of murdered MP Jo Cox that said “there is more that unites us that divides us”.

I believe the Church can and should be an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, and I believe it is worth fighting for, because you are worth fighting for, because we are the Church of Jesus Christ and we will not let’s not allow Satan to divide us.

Keep loving.
Keep meeting with people who we disagree.
Keep praying.
Keep sharing.
Keep reading scripture.
Keep on seeking God together.

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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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Bravery, Compassion, wisdom

The Scarecrow, Tin Man, The Lion and Us.

Whilst on holiday this week, the family and I watched The Wizard of Oz, I guess everyone has seen the film? I was struck by the deficincies of the three characters, the scarecrow wanted a brain, the tin man wanted a heart and the lion wanted courage.

I began to think about life and following Jesus, both as individuals and in community… And began think that these three unlikely heroes actually offer us some insights and challenges.

The Scarecrows, lack of brains -or lack of wisdom- is something I know at times I lack in my own life, and I know that in our lives together, that wisdom is a quality that I believe God really wants to bless his Church and his followers with.

As I thought about choices I had made in my life, it worried me how many choices were made of out fear, reactionarism, insecurity, greed, envy, petty jealous, inability to say no to forceful characters, pride or whatever. Bad choices in the long run normally causes pain, discomfort an problems.

Yet wisdom, is a beautiful thing, which -even if in the short term uncomfortable- ends up being something that blesses everyone.

Recently reading books like Proverbs and other books in the biblical wisdom series I really want to persue wisdom, I want to make choices and decisions which bless everyone, I want to do thinks in a wise way… I wondered too how many good ideas fall by the wayside by unwise implementation?

Wisdom is something to strive after, but also something James tells us in his Epsitle “if anyone lacks wisdom they should ask God who gives generously”…

In tough, challenging and changeable times we as Christians and we as Churches need to be seeking and crying out for wisdom more and more.

The Bible prizes Wisdom highly but it actually prizes one thing more, Love.

The Tin Man was without a heart, and sometimes I think as Church we need to rediscover love and compassion afresh -get our heart backs- do we actually believe the words of St. Paul when he writes “if I have not love, I am nothing”.

Sadly I fear the Church in the West is all about our minds, right doctrine, right approaches o growth and Church management, doubt theological method in ethics (all of which are important) but actually we are meant to be people who are primarily identifiable by their love… “By this all people will know you are my disciples that you love one another”.

Christians and Churches often protest that they are good at loving one another, yet too often it means loving the people like them, the people on their side of a debate or arguement, yet Jesus himself says that loving those who love us isn’t particularly noteworthy as even the hypocrites do that, instead we are called to love our enermies, to do good to those who hate us… As well as the call to love the marginalised, the disenfranchized, the ostracised as in these people we discover “Christ in his most distressing disguises” (says Mother Teresa).

Yet I worry that sometimes compassion without wisdom won’t always help people in the most helpful way… I remember taking part in a debate about poverty and I was talking about giving to the poor, and was asked if I gave cash to beggars on the street, I said sometimes, and the reply was “how is helping pay for a drug dealers new car helping anyone out of poverty?” -actual I think this is a bit of a dangerous stereotype, but it makes the point compassion and wisdom are best held together in tension to actaully enable people to get the best help and support they can.

Compassion without courage too will be faceless. Shane Claiborne say “the problem isn’t that (Christian) people don’t care about the poor, the biggest problem is that they don’t know the poor, it’s not just about making poverty history but about making it personal”. It takes bravery and courage, to reach out I love.

Love without wisdom might not achieve the blessing for the person we desire, and love without courage will fall short of what Christ calls us to do.

The lion needed courage, and I think all of us want to be brave, and typing this in my head I have the verse from Joshua shouting in my head “be bold and courageous, do not be terrified for I the Lord am with you where-ever you go”. The courage of the Christian comes not from our testosterone levels but rather from knowing the accompaniment of our mighty and victorious God, he is our strength.

So, let’s look at courage. It is a great gift, and our history books all full of people of huge bravery and courage in the face of massive odds and opposition. Yet courage itself needs to be applied to a cause or a situation, courage without wisdom might lead you fighting for a the wrong cause. Courage without love may reach the end goal but cause much collateral damage.

So, let’s come to God like the Scarecrow, and ask him to help give us greater wisdom to live our lives his way, guiding us so our minds align and we are going his ways.

So, let’s come to God like the Tin man, asking him to give us his heart of love and compassion, a heart that is soft and tender, a heart the beats in time with the Lord Almighty, a heart that breaks for what breaks his heart.

So, let’s come to God like the lion, and ask him to give us his courage, to overcome obsticals and adversity.

Yet rather that three seperate compartmentalised giftings, installed into different parts of our character, I believe that their greatest beauty and Christlikeness is actually found in the three of these compilementing each other in each and every circumstance of life we face, meeting people with wisdom, compassion and courage, living together as Church with Wisdom, Love and Courage, that is the type of Christian I want to be, that is the type of Church we are called to be, and that -I believe- is the kind of Church that will change the world.

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Acts of Service, Bravery, Church, community of grace, Compassion, Discipleship, Giving/Generousity., Holiness, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, prayer, self awareness, Unity, Worship

A Dream for the local Church…

I wrote this in 2012, which was a time when nearly all the Churches in Kingswood had different leaders, All Souls hadn’t been planted yet and nor had some of the more savage ‘sheep bites’, but even so, it is still the picture that I long to see God do in this area… Although now where it says Kingswood, I think we’d have to say BS15 as we now work in Hanham too… In places, there are signs of this vision becoming reality and in other places there is still a fair way to go… (Anyway, hope it blesses you!)

Kingswood High Street might be littered with church buildings, and true they do have their own congregations and their own unique quirks, habits, funny ways but in one sense they really are one Church because they are all sold out on loving Christ and making him known.

They are all wanting to be filled with the spirit of the living God, they cry out for the lost in their prayers, they seek to seize every opportunity that Christ gives to make him known -pray and proclamation go together here, woven together with a beautiful seemlessness.

The Christian’s here  are deep and authentic about their faith and uncompromising in Holiness but awash with grace.

They pray together with such love that which congregation they belong to is hardly noticeable, they pray so passionately, and listen intently, and as they worship Christ in spirit and truth, the Church in Kingswood carries the very heartbeat of God.

It knows its identity, it is a holy and pure bride, but it is salt and light, wise as serpents but innocent as doves, it holds out the word that gives life, it shines out like stars in the darkness…

The church is attractive, marked as distinctive because of the hope that we have, filled with vibrant life, and deep authentic life shared together, this isn’t an hour on a Sunday morning  and an otherwise disparate community, but these are the men and women of God, ambassadors of Christ, solider called to take the ground of Kingswood for Christ.

They are living sacrifices.

They chose Christ in all they do through out the week.

The seize the moment never missing an opportunity to bless and seek and see God’s Kingdom break in.

They are  Church that hears God and has the courage to follow in obedience.

It is growing.

Ordinary people are meeting with an extraordinary God all the time, Kingdom encounters are normal part of our spiritual DNA.

The Churches are good incubators, people are loved, encouraged, mentored and walked with, we make disciples together as we all learn what following Jesus actually looks like.

People take risks on each other, leaders rise up from unlikely places, discipleship is organic and indigenous, and yet real and authentic with people being truly them and truly shining out Jesus.

Church looks funny, choatic even, but it is growing, it’s a movement of God in relationship, with people following where God leads, and it snowballs, it doesn’t play it safe and get comfortable, instead every group and sub group in Kingswood can hear about Jesus in a way they can understand..

This is the Church of Christ in Kingswood.

It is good news for all who are lost, hurting, marginalised, disenfranchised, ostracised, broken, it is good news for all. It is a community that reflects Jesus to the wider community.

It is a loving community, filled with compassion, and it is by this that all people know we belong to Christ, that we love one another…

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community of grace, Compassion, Falibility, Family, forgiveness, Fruit and fruitfulness, Hopes and Dreams, inclusion, inter-dependance, Life Together, Uncategorized

One Another…

Did you know there are 59 “one another verses” in the New Testament?

#Love one another…
#Pray for one another…
#Encourage one another…
#Serve one another…
#Support one another…
#Forgive one another…
#Bless one another…
#Carry one another’s burdens…

Yet bizarrely I find one of the toughest parts of being a Vicar is that you can sometimes feel really lonely. It has been said “Jesus sent the disciples out in 2’s but in the Church of England you’re on your own”!

The Victorians used to believe that a persons religion was a personal and private thing, a lie we’ve embraced as a culture made worse by our increasingly individualistic culture.

We need I believe to recapture the togetherness of when Church is meant to be a family, yet some of us have become so institutionalised into the mould of ‘lone-ranger-vicardom’ that we need the help of this family, to help us learn another way, and another new normal.

We need for Church to become a safe place afresh which gives people the confidence to be vulnerable, because they are held in a place of love.

The problem at the heart of this, as with much in the Church culture, in pains and hurts which causes us to suffer on our own, and often in silence, which causes Church to become polite and even friendly. Yet as I have said before, I don’t want to be part of a friendly Church, but rather work out a way of being a Church where people can make friends in. After all at All Souls’ motto is “where strangers become friends and friends meet with Jesus”.

Perhaps the problem is that in Church people can be more likely to give you a piece of their mind than a piece of their heart.

Sadly we hear these horror stories of people professing to be Christians who…
#hurt one another…
#gossip about one another…
#(try) controlling one another…
#bicker with one another…
#running down one another…
#compete unhelpfully with one another…

All of which makes Churchless and less like the foretaste and outpost of heaven that it should be.

Is our behaviour more the first list or the second?

What do we need to change in us, to help our Christian Communities resemble the one perfect community of love which is at the heart of who God is when revealed as Father Son and Holy Spirit.

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