call, cost, priorities, values, vision

More than just keeping the show on the road?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Church, Commitment, consumerism, cost, Disappointment, Glory, Kingdom, Numbers

A Few Good (wo)/men.

I remember hearing a minister once say, I’d rather have 10 people passionately souled out and on fire for Christ than thousands of apathetic Christians.

Numbers do matter, we want to see lives transformed for Christ, and so the more people doing that the better, the more people hearing the gospel the better too.

Yet in another sense numbers don’t matter. I keep on seeing how Jesus took time out to talk to one individual, a cowardly scholar, a woman with a dubious reputation, it wasn’t all stage managed crowds. In fact Jesus was always leaving crowds where-as our leaders are always trying to milk them.

Yet I have noticed the weekend in particular with a couple of very small events, our 20’s & 30’s event only had 6 people, and our LATE SERVICE in Hanham was also numerically small, yet both had an intense sense of the Holy Spirits presence, and we shared openly real and authentic stuff as we prayed into stuff in a vulnerable way, but a way that felt beautiful and God honouring. A glimpse of what I believe Church can, should and could be.

we might like the anonymity of being part of a crowd, but I think it is in real community that we really grow.

we might like the fact that in a larger group your turn at serving on the (whatever) rota comes around less, but actually in serving we grow.

If I ever did a PHD I would like to do something on the corrilation between larger/smaller churches and discipleship, my belief is the larger the Church the more the risk of consumerism and complacency, after all someone else will probably do it, safety in numbers, yet discipleship is never meant to be safe.

As the five of us worshipped in Hanham on Sunday night, I shot a side-ways glance, and thought “is this my Gideon’s Army for taking Hanham?” just as the group of us pledged to seek God’s transformation is again a small group, but then I was reminded that although Gideon’s Army was tiny it still defeated the Midionites, in Corinthians Paul reminds us that “in weakness God is strong” after-all God reminds us that it is “not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts” -maybe in a great team of mighty people we may see wonderful advances but the glory would go to the team leader, as a tiny bunch of ordinary stretched and broken Christians seeing God do wonders, the glory goes to God.

So, although the numbers may feel discouraging, I believe that with God we are always the majority, I’d rather have a small group of people committed to the Kingdom cause, than a great bunch that come and want to be entertained.

Yes it is nice to talk to a crowd, it is nice when they laugh at my jokes, but the Church is not measured by its bums on seats but rather on its fruitfulness,it’s Christ-likeness and its serving capacity. Yet it is interesting how often clergy ask each other “how big is your Church” which gages as a measure of your success, but if no one is becoming more Christ-like then you have just created a wonderful middle class hang out.

So, even if we are a small army, let us be measured by our hearts and our desire to be obedient to Christ, rather than our numbers.

Someone once said “its not the size of the guy in the fight, but the size of the fight in the guy” -even if we are small, we can still have a big vision. Let’s be people ahead of the curve where God is about to move, rather than hanging around where God has been working enjoying the aftermath.

Let’s not let the small number of fellow troops in the trenches deter us for we remember that the battle belongs to the Lord.

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call, cost, Isaiah 55., values, Worth

A Bizarre Burglary at the Jewellers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

we can have everything, and actually have nothing.

we can have nothing, but yet actually have everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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cost, Self Care, shepherd

Safety and the Shepherd.

I have been at a safeguarding training day all day, and it made me think a lot about the whole idea of safety, of power, of loyalty and Kingdom.

As I thought of the role of being a pastor, my mind wandered to the word Pastor which can also be translated as shepherd.

I asked myself “what does a shepherd do?”

A shepherd not just tends and cares for the sheep, but also defends his sheep from attack, from predators and wolves.

I think we all wish that real life was like the old Hollywood movies where the good guys and the bad guys were always clearly distinguishable, yet in real life this sadly doesn’t happen.

It made me realise afresh that people who may appear lovely, warm, kind and friendly but may not be what they seem.

I remember on one occasion a former contempory was found guilty of some horrific stuff, every one of us was shocked, no one would have believed it. 

We by nature want to believe the best of people, and yet we also live in a fallen world, we know that people who we know and share our lives with, can behind closed doors lead a very different life.

The Bible calls us to be as “wise as serpents and as innocent as doves”, we are called to be in the world but not of the world’. 

We need to realise and be aware of the real possible and potential dangers that exist within people we might least expect.

We need to do the right thing, however costly, however painful, however uncomfortable and as shepherds.

For the shepherd doing the right thing could be costly; fighting a lion, bear or wolf, it could cost them the ultimate sacrifice, their life.

The Bible say “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” -Doing the right thing, especially within this context of child protection, is something that may call for us to sacrifice our closest friendships in the cause of justice and safety for the people we serve.

Nelson Mandela says “If you are neutral in issues of justice, you have chosen to side with the oppressor”.

If we fail to act, we may permit great evil, pain and suffering to continue. Reminded of Edmund Burkes quote “for evil to prosper all it takes is for good people to do nothing”.

Sometimes we are presented with just a bit of a hunch, a uneasy feeling, a nagging doubt, often feelings I have tried to brush away as me being judgemental, but I do wonder that sometimes these spiritual hunches could actually be Spiritual Discernment.

Maybe, gently and in love, if you get those nudges share them appropriately and wisely?

Imagine, if we’d had an inkling and then discovered someone had been abused and we might have been able to stop it happening.

I’ve had some occasions when I have gone with my gut instinct and later been so glad that I have, on other occasions (although fortunately never in a child protection context) where I have dismissed my gut reaction and later really regretted it.

As I thought about the call of a shepherd, I thought about my responsibility before God to the sheep, a responsibility to be wise and not fooled, to challenge behaviour even when it is costly -even when it is a person you have come to love-, to fight to be a custodian of a culture where people are not exploited.

Often, we think of abuse as in physical or sexual, forgetting that emotional, financial, psychological are all forms of abuse, people can be exploited in many ways, power can be misused and people can be hurt.

Yet surely this should not be happening within the bride of Christ? 

The Church should be a place where everyone is welcome, but some behaviours are not.

The Church should be a place that shows its love for its members by going that extra mile to try and be as safer community as possible.

I believe safeguarding can be a beautiful act of worship, as protect the child and the vulnerable matches the very heartbeat of God.

God is a God of love and compassion, who cares for all he has made.

God is not blind to exploitation and injustice in any form..

“By this will you know that all people are my disciples that you love one another”; the greatest act of love is to “look out for” to keep them safe and protect them.

We also thought of self-abuse, and I thought about loving one another might been not just protecting them from the predatory, but also protecting them from themselves.

So, some challenges about being a custodian of the culture of our Church communities, ensuring transparency and wisdom in all we do, ensuring all behaviour is beyond reproach, that we are wise in all we do, that concerning behaviour is challenged and not ignored.

So, lets seek to say that everyone matters, let us discover afresh to carry one another’s burdens and to keep ourselves safe from harm. Let us not just rely on one shepherd to do this work, but let us all exercise a pastoral ministry doing our utmost to keep one another safe.

A family who looks out for each other.

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cost, expectations, Falibility, Ministry, Mission, Uncategorized

Our Response When the Storms Hit…

Matthew 8…
23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

In many ways I feel this is a picture of the Church in the UK.

It is a picture too of our own individual Christian walk with God too.

We’re okay when nothing much is happening, but can’t cope when it stops being comfortable, nice, and safe…

The Disciples are with Jesus, Jesus is in the boat (albeit asleep), and a storm hits…

They look at the size of the waves and they panic.

The strength of the wind makes them fearful.

Their hope is undermined, probably one of the disciples said something like “we’re going to die…” and this fear was infectious and spread.

The disciples problem they were focused on the problem (the storm) not the solution (the Saviour).

What are we like when storms hit us? (Afterall life throws us plenty of rocky moments).

Do we PANIC? Or do we PRAY?

Our are our hearts, minds and lives filled with FEAR? Or are our hearts, minds and lives filled with FAITH?

I was thinking about how fear is debilitating, a rabbit caught int the headlights of a car is frozen…

Fear makes us (like Jonah) run in the opposite direction from where we should be…

It’s okay to be nervous and not understand what is happening or why, that is a fairly normal part of being a Christian and being a human being, but fear is something we often choose to invite into our lives which God does not want in their.

The Bible tells us that “Perfect love casts out all fear” -and the only one with perfect love is God himself.

The most frequent command is “Fear not”…

But then imagine being in a stormy boat, being powerless to save yourself (there is quite a Salvation message here, powerless and destined for death until the Saviour intervene’s!) and then your passenger speaks to the wind and the waves and they fall quiet and go silent…

The question I’d like to ask the disciples, were you more scared before or after JEsus calmed the storm… I think afterwards!

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, our starting point is the awesomeness of God.

 Today was meant to be the launch of our Church plant All Souls’ Southey Park, but there are problems with the lease and this is delaying us getting in there.  It would be easy to look at the stoms and the winds of things standing in our way, no key the the building, not much of a budget, very small team of people behind us. Sadly our Churches can be filled with scare mongers and prophets of doom, do with listen to their shouts rather than God’s still small voice whisper? 

Many of our Churches have dwindling numbers and are struggling, it is easy to see the wind and the waves and throw in the towel and give in and die…

Yet instead we need to look to Jesus, he doesn’t need waking up like he did in the story, but coming to him is always a good first response rather than a last resort, knowing he is more powerful than the wind and the waves, he is bigger than the problems and difficulties we face, nothing is too difficult for him.

So, who do we listen to effects what we do, thinking about the Church plant, I want to be like Caleb and Joshua who instead of being defeatist like the other spies who went to look at the promised land, came back saying that the land was good and God was able to deliver it into their hand… Yet the people chose to listen to the voice of fear rather than the voice of faith.

Fear took them into the desert to die…
Faith took Joshua and Caleb into the promised land to live.

Who do we listen too?
Who do we let speak into our lives?

Do we pray instead of panic?

Do we seek the Saviours Soultion rather than be pleplexed by the problem.

In your powerlessness remember that God is with you, who is able and mighty to save.

Encounter the storm stilling God, our starting point is an awesome God yet one who says “fear not”

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cost, ethics, Giving/Generousity., justice, Kingdom, Money

Kingdom Economics 2

So yesterday we thought that Money itself isn’t intrinsically evil, but we need to have a right attitude towards our money. Yesterday I quoted Bishop Mike Hill who said “Money should serve but never rule”, I would go further and say “money is makes a good tool but a lousy God -Money is a God which takes everything, and promises much… and yet gives nothing of any real or lasting value in return”.

So, in the second of this series I am exploring what it looks like to have a Godly attitude to money…

Are we Generous?

Generosity and extravagance is part of who God is, he is a God who gifts lavishly and abundantly and calls us to live the same way… I love the contrast between the expensive perfumed poured on Jesus’ feet and Judas sulky comments about where the money could have been spent better (how many times have we experienced the same poverty spirit in much Church stuff? -more of this later!).

Scripture says “those who sow generously will reap generously”… and you “reap what you sow”…in fact when Jesus once said “if someone takes you coat, give them your shirt too!”

Are we pursuing justice? -Are we seeking his Kingdom?

Sadly, money is power -and as people living in the 5th richest nation on earth our wealth carries with it responsibility. Did you know if you have a freezer you are in the top 10% of the world’s richest people and the internet puts you in the top 3%? We have a responsibility to ask if our purchases are ethically sources… The problem is that many Christians still think that the ethical consumptions means occasionally drinking fair-trade tea at Church rather than whole spirituality and life style.

Every pound you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in? If this is true (which it is) what kind of world are you sponsoring, one of abused children in sweatshops or where the world’s poorest get a fair day’s work for a fair days pay.

Jesus said in Matthew 25 what you did for the least of these (the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty and those in captivity -slavery?) you did for me…

Do we just chuck a few quid at the vicar and the busker to feel better about ourselves and go on with our lavish lifestyle, or do we use what God has given us to bring transformation in the name of Christ.

Why is it that when we take the highlighter pen to our Bibles we highlight Jesus saying to Nicodemus “you must be born again” but leave unhighlighted “go sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor”.

When John (the Baptist) tells his followers “if anyone has two cloaks, he should give one to the poor?” -do we overlook that verse?

I have heard many (normally evangelicals) say “we should not neglect preaching the word to wait on tables” and yet we forget that the early Church says “they had no people in need among them for everyone gave what they had”.

Are we building in faith?

Money is something we often place our faith in, someone once joked that the American Dollar should read “In GOLD we Trust” rather than “In GOD we Trust”, yet money is transient and its value is effected by much we can’t control. We are called to live by faith, putting our trust in Jehovah Jira -our God who provides… Just listen to some of those remarkable stories of George Muller, right here in this city of living by faith and discovering that when we step out of the boat, God is faithful and trustworthy.

Now this isn’t saying we need to be completely reckless with our money, probably all of us feel uncomfortable by American telly evangelists with private jets, yet the danger I feel with the Church in the west is not a gluttonous irresponsibility but often a grasping greed that knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

Our trust is in Christ, the God who owns the Cattle on a thousand hills, who made heaven and earth… this mighty God is not short of a bob or two, and doesn’t need us to lend him a fiver…

The problem often is found in the epistle to James “You have not because you ask not?” because we aren’t prepared to experience his faithfulness, to ask and open our hands to receive… Where our eyes are fixed on Christ and his call, rather than losing our faith in the balance sheets.

So the question should be, how in my life am I stepping out in faith, practicing the generosity of God, perusing justice and seeking his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

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