Age, cost, Depression, Disappointment, Discouragement, doubt, Dreams, expectations, Experience, faithfulness, Grit, hope, Hopes and Dreams, Humanity, Risk and Change, self awareness, Spiritual Warfare, Step of faith, Suffering., Testimony, vocation

Looking back over my 30’s!

I remember 10 years ago about to turn 30!

30 -I couldn’t believe I was going to be 30!

30?!

I remember sat in a pub on the Quay -and called the Quay- in Poole.

I was all full of hope and excitement about life…

I was about to get married.

I was a year(ish) into my curacy and was about to be ordained Priest/Presbyter.

I was full of audacious dreams of the adventure God had planned for us in somewhere we did not yet know.

Today I’m feeling much more melancholy.

Looking back over the past 10 years have had some wonderful moments, particularly marrying Allana and our fantastic daughter.

But, I am asking myself 40? -How did that happen?

40,that can’t be right?

40!?

There have been some wonderful moments, seeing people pray prayers of commitment to Christ and meaning them, baptising adults, planting a Church -and a few new congregations-, seeing friends step into what God has for them especially those ordained (especially Sam)and seeing some wonderful Kingdom signs and wonders along the way too.

Yet there have been some tough moments too.

To be honest it feels a little like half way through a boxing match where you are dabbing your eye with a wet sponge and spitting blood into the bucket.

Sometimes when we stop we sometimes realise what a fight a season has been, how far you’ve come -and even if it doesn’t feel far, it is worth remembering that sometimes the shortest distances sometimes can be the toughest of drags. One clergy friend that had a tough time talked about “I ran with the ball and I made the 9 yards”. It might not feel a long way, but they were significant steps hard won and costly.

As I slipped into sulky mood, I began to have a bit of a self pity party with the people that let me down, the mean stuff people have said, the times plans didn’t go right and all sorts of bumps and bruises along the way.

Yet in it all I am sure I have learned stuff.

And despite sometimes feeling very confused, and even sometimes asking “God where are you?”, why is this happening” and “why did this door close?” I can still say (even though this has probably been the toughest decade of my life) that God has been, and is, faithful.

As I thought of that young thirty year old dreamer, I’m now a bit more gnarled and wrinkled, but we are standing on another new season.

The dream for God to take us, now the three of us (four if you include the dog) into new adventures into the unknown, with expectancy, again not knowing what the future holds, but knowing who it is that holds the future.

As I sit here, a bit battered, but still want that same dream to stay alive.

I think there is nothing spiritually mature about becoming jaded and downsizing our expectations of God. There is nothing Godly about playing it safe and going through the motions. There is nothing wise about allowing dreams to die and reducing and minimising your vision.

I love the C.S. Lewis quote that says “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream”.

why should the future look boring and safe? An adventure with Jesus might be tougher and harder than most of us thought when we surrendered our lives to him, but it is still the greatest calling we have.

It would have been so easy to keep on doing what we have been doing and just slowly die under the moany pessimistic emails, the endless cycle of harvest festivals and other annual events and preaching to people who have heard it all a million times but longing to preach to someone who has not heard it at all.

It is so easy to be safe keep your head down grit your teeth and think about your pension, yet I believe that God has so much more for all of us than our 9-5 prisons.

As we get older, sometimes the risks feels bigger (especially those of us with families) and the jumps feel further, and the costs seem greater and yet the truth of God’s faithfulness remains the same, constant.

So, looking back and looking forward, however it looks I want to pledge one thing, it will be about Jesus, the one who is the same today, yesterday and forever.

It will be uncertain although it is in the service of the only truly certain thing in this universe -Jesus is this life’s only true certainty.

So, although I feel like I’m sat on a stall, it’s time to return the gum-shield, step into a different ring and listen to the bell and see what God ahs in store for the next decade.

It’s not about how much it cost -although sometimes that does feel quite in your face at times- but rather it is about how great is the prize, the Kingdom, the pearl of great price, the one worth it all.

“were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”.

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

Teaspoon hiding Vicars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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call, challenge, Commitment, cost, Cross, Determination, Discipleship, Discipline, Endurance, faithfulness, Fruit and fruitfulness, Grit, obidience, pperseverence, steadfast

Grit, the missing Element.

I had a breakfast the other day with my friend ‘Pastor Benson’ it was great to catch up with him. He arrived in Kingswood with the instructions from his Church leader to “plant a Church in Bristol”, and that’s how I got to know him and become friends.

He tried planting in the conference room of the Soundwell Swimming Baths, before moving into the city centre into the Holiday Inn as a venue for their Church.

He now has a small fellowship meeting regularly there, interestingly I asked how his Church started and he had on e word “grit”.

Keeping on going.

Each Saturday they went out onto the streets and invited people to come (anyone doing much Street work knows what a hard and thankless task it can be!), each Sunday there were there, set up, with tea and coffee waiting for people, as they prayed, worshipped and sought God. It took 7 or 8 weeks before anyone other than his family to come and join them, yet they kept on going, they didn’t quit, and the Church was born.

He said to me on Saturday “it doesn’t say well done and gifted servant, or well done successful servant, but well done good and faithful servant” we just had to be faithful.

My mind wandered back to my Greek lessons at College (not exactly my finest hour!) and remembered a phrase (actually normally used of being filled with the Holy Spirit) which is “go on be being filled”, but wondered if “go on be being faithful” perhaps might have the same idea, faithfulness isn’t a one off, but something we are called to be in a continuous cycle of repetition, remaining actively faithful.

Yet as I thought about this, it is amazing how quickly Christians scarper from the battle-field, they may all be noisy in the barracks before the battle, and maybe be around for the first charge, but faithfully having the grit and determination to ‘stand firm’ or ‘stand fast’ keeping going with what God has called us to do. Holding the line in obedience not wandering off in distracting vanity projects, not fleeing the battle front-line for a safer-option.

Let’s be people of grit, of determination and perseverance.

Scripture is full of heroes that kept on going, that remained faithful, gritty characters that persevered, Noah building the Ark, Moses leading the people through the desert, Esther in prayer, Ruth in her commitment to her mother-in-law Naomi, Daniel in righteous living, Nehemiah in re-building the wall and Paul in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Yet our greatest example of grit and deterination is Jesus “who for the joy that was before him endured the cross and scorned its shame”. Jesus did quit on his Fathers Mission even when his sweat fell like drops of blood, even when it cost him everything he had including his life. Jesus remained faithful unto death “even death on the cross”.

I believe the “secret” to transformation in mission is not more courses, or new programmes and ideas but rather greater grit, more steadfastness, keeping going and pressing in to see the harvest.

Bill Wilson of metro-ministries the worlds largest Sunday School in New York said “Christians so often quit before the break through”.

So, a challenge for us all is to not just start new things but have the grit and see them through and come to fruit.

Patient endurance is tough, but often the key to fruitfulness.

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call, cost, Evangelism, Journey, Kingdom, Monasticism, Pilgrimage, Pioneer, Post-modern-culture, ready, rejection, Risk and Change, Salvation, Simplicity, St. Francis, vocation

A Cunning Plan…

People are asking me all the time what am I going to do once I leave (especially about money).

It is hard because the honest answer is “I don’t know, God hasn’t shown me yet” which as someone who normally knows where they want to go, has a strategy and is forging ahead, this is pretty uncomfortable place.

I have said I will spend October until Christmas seeking God and praying (although I’ll also try and find some way of earning some cash too, unless Allana can keep me as a kept man!)

I do want to learn to be a better husband and dad, heart-breaking phrase from Hope was about being glad I’m not going to be a Vicar anymore as she will see more of me as I wont always be working. As you can imagine how much that phrase was like a knife in my heart.

Somehow in making personal sacrifices for ministry, we end up causing our loved ones to suffer in a way that I don’t believe God intended.

One thing I remain passionate about is telling people, who want to know about Jesus, about Jesus.

And some thinking is beginning to emerge in my head and heart.

Recently I have become aware that two phrases I hear all the time, is “I don’t like ‘hit and run’ evangelism” and I want to be a Church like the book of Acts.

which is ironic as Acts is full of hit and run evangelism, as are the gospels, Jesus only did ministry for three years (that’s shorter than a curacy in the Church of England), he sent the 12 and the 72 out to go into the cities, towns and villages and then to come back. The book of Acts is entirely “hit and run” S/Paul the great missionary only stayed in Ephesus for a year -ironic as the average clergy stay is 7 years. More-over it seems to have taken about half an hour for the Church in Ethiopia to be planted (as it appears as though he went back home with his faith, told others and by God’s grace the Church took root and grew).

As I thought more about this, the greatest missionary movement outside the Acts of the Apostles -St. Francis of Assisi- again saw people travelling from place to place, just as Wesley too was captivated by his assurance of Christ and went from place to place telling other people about Jesus.

Yet why has that stopped? why have we become so settled in our communities? why have we lost this urgency of the gospel which we want to tell everyone and go to the ends of the earth if necessary?

why do the only people that seem to go from place to place talking about Jesus nowadays are the big name speakers, staying in plush hotels, and speaking to large audiences (most of whom -est. 70% are already Christians) in luxury venues with massive sound-desks and lighting rigs and a ton of equipment.

Yet Jesus sent the 12 and the 72 out without even a second jacket, knowing that the gospel was enough. -How come todays Christianity looks so clunky? why is it so like Saul’s armour, slow and immoveable?

Recently we planted a Church, its been tough, recently I sat in a meeting and they were talking about all this Churchy procedure and just felt like something in me was dying (I’d already resigned by that point, but it certainly confirmed by decision). why is establishing a new Christian community so full of human beaucracy, it was jobs-worthy we need to remember that Jesus matters more than red tape!

A year ago I blogged about “Simple Church” we make it so complicated when really it is simply gathering together, worshiping and learning together about how we follow Christ and sharing together bread and wine. Today I was chatting to a minister who talked about “Pop Up Church”, the idea of Churches shooting up all over the place, travelling light, trying stuff out, mobile and seeking where works the best and through it all people discovering and growing in Christ.

This model of Jesus, Francis and Wesley relied not on “paid professionals” coming in and teaching us how to do Church, but rather empowering people from day one, it was collaborative, it was free from really unhelpful “provider client” baggage, or of preacher/pastors needing to be needed. The preacher was off to the next town, so “all hands on deck”.

Perhaps this next season might involve simple mission, just telling people who are interested about Jesus (so often in all the fuss, noise, events, buildings, fundraising, activity we forget that we are meant primarily to be telling people about Jesus). Simple Church, that makes simple disciples that live for Christ and transform the world.

Church that keeps on moving, place to place, keeps on planting again and again, and keeps on going until this nation is changed and transformed.

Perhaps this is the new monasticism I’ve longed for looks like, people simply talking about Jesus going from place to place, and setting up Churches as we go. Not every Church will grow and flourish, but -God willing- some will.

So, come January, maybe somehow can work out a way of simply doing this, which looks to me like mission as Jesus intended, very simple yet very challenging. Simply talking Jesus -and showing him by how we live our lives- seeing Churches literally popping up, some will live and some might not make it, and as we step into all that God has for us, seeing the great commission fulfilled and “disciples being made”…

I don’t know yet how this will look, and maybe it’s just an unrealistic dream, a bonkers thought, or maybe, just maybe, there might be a gleam -a momentary glimpse- of a possible future that maybe starting to be born…

And maybe it is a challenge for us, maybe this vision might reasonate with you, or maybe God has a new vision for you about to be born, maybe he’s calling you to lay something down, in order in his time to pick something else up.

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word on the street 3.

Over Easter we had a mission across the city “The Turning” where we went out and talked with people on the street about Jesus(using a simple script).

Yet we now have the new challenge, rather than just putting a load of effort into a short term event, we are trying to be missional people doing this as a normal part of our usual, normal life together.

we are being ‘intentional’ about keeping on going out together regularly onto the streets to tell people about Jesus, this months there have been three Friday worship sessions followed by three Saturday mornings in different parts of the city.

At the beginning of the month a load of us met up and worshipped, soaked in God’s presence, as someone that is an activist normally with multiple diary clashes prioritising God’s presence was a wonderful thing to do, although I must admit that just turning up for the Saturday outreach did creep into my mind. So glad I didn’t.

Today however I just came to the outreach on the street, we were in South Bristol and I felt convicted if I wanted people to come and share their faith in Kingswood area, then I ought to be prepared to bless other parts of the city too.

Both times on the Street were very different, lots of busy people in a hurry that wouldn’t stop. Yet on both days some people did stop and listen and have conversations with us, on both days we got opportunities to pray for people, and this morning we saw three people pray a prayer of commitment.

All things that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t gone out.

Today we prayed for a woman who said he life had been “ruined by God” as she suffered a stroke, but prayed for her and she prayed a prayer of commitment. Last time a lady we spoke to couldn’t pray that prayer of commitment as she was so angry with God for the way her mum had suffered before she had died.

Realise that in sharing our faith people are giving us privileged access to their hearts.

I wonder how many opportunities I miss by doing something “important” that actually from an eternal perspective might not have been that important at all!

Yet, I believe the Turning Mission is bigger than just the events with the label “The Turning” on it, just as “healing on the streets” and other initiatives should be bigger than just the teams going out, mission and evangelism should filter through to our Churches, our homes and work places.

The Turning has increased our expectancy for God to be at work, helped us see those potential Kingdom encounters. Recently an older gentleman shared about he was at Lidl and the lady at the front of the queue didn’t have enough money and was getting worried, he gently asked how much she was short by (32p) and paid the cashier. The lady asked him why he did this and he said “God loves you” and se began to well-up with tears.

Little things can make a big difference.

This last month, I have been reminded afresh of the pain of so many peoples’ lives.

This month of June I have had a student Dan with me, learning about being a Vicar. The first week he was here we wandered around the local shops giving out mini chocolates just as a gentle blessing from the local Church. The first shop we went into -a sweet shop- the woman declined the sweet but ended up talking about shutting her shop as it was loosing money. we were able to pray with and for her, and as we prayed she began to cry, just felt as though God had somehow touched her in that moment. Ironic as I toyed with the idea of not going into the sweet shop to give out some sweets as it seemed a bit cheeky. I am glad now we did.

Last Friday with the street pastors ended up spending a big chunk of the evening with a homeless couple, the girl of the couple just seemed really vulnerable.

On Thursday I had to help out for a couple of hours in the young peoples secure unit, seeing these young people who look both incredibly vulnerable and incredibly hard at the same time, one can only imagine what they have been through even though they are so young.

Recently as we do our weekly Pints of View (Church in a pub) I have seen us as a team becoming gradually more emboldened, one guy asking if he could pray for Annie (a regular) with her knees, next week she came in and said they were healed, and then began to complain about ankles. we prayed for her ankles, when I saw her a couple of days ago she said “you wont believe it but since you prayed they are ever so much better!”

One guy Jason, the week before heard one guy share most of his life story, but every now and then chipped in something really wise and Godly. People want to share their stories and want to hear what Christians have to say, we have fallen for the lie that people aren’t interested.

Also in our prayer time, we have been joined by a couple of guests, neither sure about what they believe, but both wanted to be there and came back next week, and we made the choice to carry on praying and worshipping in exactly the same way as we did when it was just Christians

Last week too tough lads smirking almost squared up to me and asked me if I could do “one of them gay weddings right there in the pub”… One of those things they didn’t teach me at theological college! It had the potential to be interesting (and by “interesting” I mean I could get punched in the face!). Yet with a bit of chatting and warmth the ice-melted and they admitted they both had girlfriends but thought it’d be funny to see how I reacted! From that my friend Harry began asking one of them if he had a faith, and ended up praying for him that he’d come to know Jesus -I thought Harry was pushing his luck and again expected him to be told to “**** off!” but instead the guy seemed genuinely moved shaking Harry’s and my hands warmly and thumping his chest in a “love you guys kinda way”.

It would be easy to read these stories and feel like we are sorted, but we are not, far from it, I still find even after the umpteenth time going out on the street that I feel nervous, and often wandering away I think of “what I should have said” -not what I did say!, but I believe we are gradually learning what it means to be a missional people living their lives everyday.

I know I and my friends still are far from sorted, but I know too that God is helping us be bolder and riskier in sharing him and seeing people respond.

I remember the line the overseer of The Turning Pastor Yinka says “the fields are white to the harvest and the workers are YOU” -what can we do?

Then we realise that God has gone before us and prepared the way ahead, opened doors and been tapping on lives already.

what an awesome privilege to partner this fantastic God.

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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.

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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.

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