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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call, Colossians 1:28&29, Discipleship

My First Ever Sermon…

Colossians 1:28&29. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I labour with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”.

It .was 20 years ago, I was 19, and working in wakefield and my boss, a dude called Tony vashington, asked me to do a talk on this verse to some youth and children’s workers in Darlington (top north east of England). I was very nervous…. here is (more or less from memory what I remember saying, although I think it was probably peppered with a million “you knows”, “er’s” “ums” and “sort offs”.

We are going to change a few words here and there, maybe tweak it a little.

Let’s change the first word… “We” -the idea of collective responsibility- its is assuming that those of us reading this have bought into the idea of living out the message of this letter. The problem is in our society is that it is always someone else’s problem, yet Paul is saying the work of the Kingdom is our responsibility… but I guess many people would like this verse tweaked to say:

“Keen Christians and leaders and anyone that isn’t me”

“Proclaim” er, um, here we have another problem…

Proclaiming sounds a bit um bold, people might not agree with us, or like what we are saying, lets change “proclaim” to “tentatively suggest”…

-Maybe we could addd in the phrase “it would be jolly nice if you might”

“him” – well that’s Jesus, Jesus is a bit controversial, you can just bout get away with talking loosely about God, or Church, or Spirituality…

The problem is Christianity is all about Jesus Christ, and if it isn’t about Jesus Christ, then it isn’t really Christianity…

Yet, I wonder is JC, well, PC?

Couldn’t we say, “think seriously about Spiritual stuff”?

Admonishing and Teaching “that sounds a bit bold too, implies that we have something to share, rather than just listen to their stories” maybe listen and nod enthusiastically and hope they pick up stuff even if we are not saying anything”

So, where have we got too?

“Church leaders and keen Christians and anyone that’s not me, would be jolly nice, if you could tentatively suggest thinking spiritually about stuff, whilst we listen and nod and hope you pick up stuff even if we’re not saying anything”

with all wisdom… Maybe change that too “with any luck”

“That we may present everyone mature in Christ” -maybe we could change that to “coming to Church reasonably regularly” or maybe if we are being a bit daring we could say “that they may have once pray a -or even (gulp at our bravery”)- THE prayer” or at least we could say “really nice people”….

Now, the last bit is difficult, because we know how important a work life balance is, so instead of saying “to this end I labour, struggling…” maybe I could say “as I’m sure they mean well and are doing their best (I mean what can you expect for the money we pay them!)”.

…and the last bit maybe could say “and I’m sure the good Lord is Jolly grateful”

“Church leaders and other keen Christians and anyone that isn’t me would be jolly nice if they tentatively suggest that people consider thinking about spiritual stuff with any luck they might come to Church, maybe even pray the prayer, but even so they’re lovely people, as they mean well and are doing their best (I mean what can you expect from the money we pay them) and I’m sure the good Lord would be jolly grateful”

Sounds a bit different doesn’t it.

Lets look at the proper passage again.

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I labour with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”.

Personal responsibility to make Jesus Christ known and to see one another (and ourselves) come to maturitty in Christ as we seek to serve him and each other with wisdom, learning from each other, warning and challenging each other, wanting the best for each other that we might be all we can be in Christ. It is a tough battle, a real struggle, and yet in doing this, we have this awesome promise that Christ himself, the one who is greater than he that is in the world, is working powerfully in us and through us.

Yet how often does the conversation sound like the corrupted verse?

Or even if it doesn’t how much of the corrupted verse actually is want we may secretly think, or at least is a viewpoint within our Church communities.

So, let’s end with this fab verse…

“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I labour with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”.

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Discipleship, Youth and Children's Work

A Little Child Will Led Them…

On Wednesday Morning at the Turning Mission, I remember sitting there listening to the training ending with doing some ‘role play’ going the script with those around us. I looked around and everyone was partnered up, and then this little voice piped up with asking if I needed a partner, the voice came from a young lad, Joel, who is probably about 10 (I guess). He was the evangelist going through the script with me, and as part of the role play he went through the prayer of commitment with me, as I prayed that God would “give me a fresh start” and that I would “fulfil all that he has for me”, and felt the Holy Spirits touch, a real God encounter, ministered through a young person.

I was reminded that there is no junior version of the Holy Spirit.

As I thought about this, I began to think about the incarnation, I thought about Jesus being fully baby and yet fully God, fully toddler and yet fully God, fully child and yet fully God, fully teenage and yet fully God, and fully man and yet fully God.

Jesus was a normal human child, but also God in human form, God with skin on.

Therefore, children can be both child-like and Christ-like.

This became evident as we saw the kids on the mission telling people about Jesus, praying with people, giving testimonies and even being involved with worship.

I think too often as Christians we think that our faith is “adults only” and too often we try and provide a baby-sitting service whilst the ‘proper worship and teaching’ is happening, and yet any of us who engage in youth and children’s work regularly know that God can and does meet with young people, and they are some of our most courageous disciples living for Christ in their schools.

Children like adults will fall and sin, they might not have the same sophistication at covering up our sin or pretending to be Holy, I think there often is a danger of unrealistic expectations of perpetual holiness for children and young people that we know isn’t possible for us to achieve.

The Victorian era of children being seen and not heard, where they sat passively in Church and watched in silence all that went on is a really unhelpful model that still exists far too much in the Christendom mind-set but has no scriptural basis.

This is very different from the Jewish way of doing things were the children of the family are right at the heart of celebrating their faith.

The Christian faith is not a passive one, its not just meant to be witnessed but experienced, practically lived out, the call -like the Holy Spirit- has no junior version.

More over God has created us to learn by actually doing, there is an old adage that goes “I hear I forget, I see I remember and I do I understand” -why then do we just fob our kids off with colouring sheets? Why is Christianity in our Churches all about sitting in rows listening?

John Wimber having recently become a Christian asked his Church “when are we going to do the stuff?” -meaning the stuff in the Bible especially in the book of the Acts of the Apostles-… I think if we are meant to have a child-like faith, they roll up their sleeves and get involved, often with glee and gusto, rather than standing back and watching.

Francis Chan, spoke of discipleship meaning we memories scripture, highlight it in our Bibles, talk about it, maybe even learn it in Greek(!) but despite all of this we don’t ACTUALLY DO IT!

Our kids watch us, they see what really matters to us, they see whether we are living this stuff out (and I don’t mean just going to lots of Churchy meetings) and they see what difference Jesus makes to our lives. We have the responsibility of showing out children the great gift the world has ever known the transforming good news of Jesus Christ, the pearl of great price. They see us behind closed doors, they probably can tell what we are thinking in situations, they are like little sponges -picking up both our good habits and our bad habits too!

This week at the Turning we have seen children joining in with the mission of Christ, it is an adventure, they saw their parents/grandparents and Christian friends ‘actually doing the stuff’ with the adventure of following Jesus, and they want to join in, something they wont forget.

Also, they got involved and were encouraged, so often we fob off our children from the ‘real work’ and then wonder after years of being fobbed off when we want them to do it, they’ve lost interest. A leadership mantra is “go with the passion” -where is the fire- often our kids bring with them passion and enthusiasm to get involved but are fragile too, and too often I believe we squash and squander our most precious resource which is our children and young people.

I used to say as a youth worker, your most precious resource is sat on your back row, encourage them and don’t “tut” at them.

When I headed up the kids work whilst I was at theological college I remember saying “you may have in your group the next Archbishop of Canterbury so make sure you are nice to her!”

So, let’s see our kids not as people to “babysit” whilst we do the stuff, but as missionary partners in Kingdom business. Let us see their church experience as more than colouring in but the adventure of following Jesus as part of a family transforming their communities for Christ.

Often, like me at this mission, we don’t expect our kids to bless us and for God to minister through them, and yet I have found that often they astound us by their profoundness, depth and ability to hear and be obedient to the voice of God without the mental clutter that we as adults can cloud everything with.

Jesus said “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for theirs in the Kingdom of God”

 

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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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call, Depression, Discipleship, Fear, Guidance, Kingdom, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, obidience, Pioneer, vocation

Don’t stop Pioneering!

I remember walking (or rather floating) to work having just made a re-commitment to God, I was excited, I knew God had changed my life, I longed to see more of him at work, I was hungry.

Later I went off to work for a Church in wakefield, I saw their leader step out in faith and God doing wonderful things.

For the last 20 years I have worked for various Churches and I worry sometimes that I’ve lost my fire, or at least that fire has cool, the lion has lost something of its roar!

I am at a Church where although I’m one of the clergy nearly everyone there is older than me, and when I talk about stepping out in faith I get hit regularly with this bucket of cold pessimism and defeatism, one guy in particular seems to champion the “God will never do it here” corner, which is really tough.

The last 7 years have been unbelievably  tough -people who call themselves Christians can be just so mean and inch by inch you feel more and more deflated by this critical spirit tapping away all the time.

I have been crying out to God for break through, more recently if I’m honest I have been crying out to God for rescue.

Often people (probably well meaningly) talk about how they did great exploits for God when they were young too, I think this is meant to encourage me, and I praise God that they were on fire and did do “mission England” or the “decade of evangelism” but I look at them and think I don’t want to believe my faith in believing in God’s ability to transform is simply “naive youthful exuberance” and “jaded cynicism” is somehow spiritual and actually maturity. At my interview someone said “no one expects miracles in Kingwood”. I believe this is a lie, a demonic lie, maturity in Christ is not youthful naivety.  I don’t see “settling down and being comfortable” as part of the call of God on our lives, we are called to follow him ALL the days of our life, not just those reckless early years or at the start of our walk with him.

This is meant to be our daily reality, not just a nostalgic dream.

At this time of struggle, it is a time to pick up and ‘pioneer again’, to not settle for simply what we already have, but to push onto God for more of him, more of his Kingdom.

He may have given us stories we can dine out on and sound spiritual in the past, and I’m sure they will continue to be used for blessing, but like the manna the Israelites ate yesterdays manna does stale and there is plenty for each day.

As we get older our energy can decrease, and we value comfort more.

Do we have the energy to start again? To keep on following Jesus where he calls us? To the new challenge? To the new role? To the new mantle? CS Lewis reminds us “You are never too old to set a new goal or dream another new dream” -especially when that dream is put inside you by the spirit of the living God.

“But gradually the worries of life and the decifulness of wealth constrain the bloodrush of youth, we tame the wild and call is wise”-Pete Greig.

It is the nature of the human condition to pioneer and then too settle, yet God is calling us not to be settled, this earth is not our home, instead we are citizens of heaven.

we have responsibilities too, what of my wife? what of my children? These are valid questions, but God is able to take care of them, he is able to be faithful with them.

“But is he?” I ask myself, we are struggling here, it seems like the water is rising up and up, and hanging on to the promise that he wont let us drown. I remembered the story of Joseph, and God was faithful to Joseph, but before Joseph got to the Palace he first had to go through the Pit and the Prison.

The problem when we are in a pessimistic environment it can become so corrosive to our faith, to believe differently from the people around us is tough, sometimes being a Christian really does feel like swimming against the tide, and somehow it feels harder to swim against the tide within Churches because it feels like they ought to get it, but sadly they don’t, or they choose not too, and that can be a really tough place to be, it’s the place of Moses with the people of Israel, it was a really tough 40 year desert journey, and he only got to glimpse the promised land, but when he did I know that he would have thought that none of this was done in vain.

God is faithful and is with us even when it doesn’t feel like it, and maybe this side of eternity we will never understand why God led us on the path that he did, why he closed some doors and allowed other doors to open. Yet despite it all, and sometimes through gritted teeth, I still choose to believe that God is good..

Sometimes the place of pain traps us and paralysis us, leaving us unable to move on, Abra(h)ams Father Terah was on his way to the land of Canaan, yet he settled in Haran, the place he names after his son -also called Haran which is clearly not a co-incidence- Haran  died, and Terah settled here in his grief.  I believe God is saying to us all today not to let pain stop you in your tracks.

Pete Greig says this “It is easy to pioneer when you’re too young to know what it will cost you, when you feel immortal and invincible and the whole of life is an adventure waiting to begin. but Pioneering a second time is hard”.

Yet let’s be Spiritual Abraham’s, never settling for what we have, but pushing on despite the challenges and not getting entangled in the comfort, for the more of God and his Kingdoms. we are not called to be settlers but pioneers.

Don’t stop pioneering, keep going, let’s persevere, let’s see the new thing, the new dream that God has for each one of us.

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Discipleship, Giving/Generousity., justice, love, Matthew 25., Servanthood., welcome

Making Disciples Jesus way… P3.

I almost entitled this blog “A little less conversation” because that is what discipleship sadly so often has become, people talking, and yet discipleship needs to be lived out, the world needs to see what following Jesus actually looks like in real, authentic everyday life.

I remember reading in Philip Yancey’s book “what is so amazing about grace?” of a story of a woman who really messed up big time, and she was asked about going to Church, to which she replied “I feel bad enough already, Church would only make me feel worse”.

Somehow this seems a million miles away from what Jesus said “by this will all people know you are my disciples, that you love one another as I have loved you”.

Discipleship I believe is about being that community that loves one another, and loves and welcomes in the broken, marginalised, ostracised and disenfranchised… A Church that welcomes the last, the least and the lost.

People talk a lot about creating an Acts 2 Church, but I wonder whether we need to create a Matthew 25 Church?

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Mother Teresa describes this as “Jesus in his most distressing disguises”, in serving the hungry, homeless, imprisoned or hurting, we are in fact serving Christ.

This has always been on God’s heart, in the book of Amos, God says he is fed up of all this religious activity and events whilst people were corrupt, unjust and lacking compassion…

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

In  Isaiah 58.6:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

In the book of Micah it says:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God”

And in the first letter of John it says:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children,let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Discipleship is not about sitting around pontificating.

Too often western discipleship fills the head but does little in the heart, and even less to make the world a better place. I would argue that Discipleship should not only bring about transformation in us and out lives, but we are actually practically partnering with God in (to quote Bishop Stephen Conway) “turning this broken and upside down world the right way up for Jesus Christ”…

Christ reveals the priority of heaven when he encourages his people to pray “may your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, we know eternity is where peace and love reign and where violence, corruption and hatred have no place, and we are called to see this translated onto the earth.

we read in Luke of his mandate -taken from Isaiah 61-

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”

I believe that we over spiritualise these passages, thinking Jesus is talking about the Spiritually blind, or the spiritually imprisoned, but I think he actually meant those who were actually blind, broken hearted, imprisoned.

Certainly extravagant love for people was how the early Church took the words of Jesus, now sadly it feels like we are far too selective in our use of scripture, preaching on Paul’s letters and John 3:!6 and omitting all this talk of justice, transformation and the Kingdom of God.

So few of our Churches practice radical hospitality, feed the hungry, help with housing, visit people in prison. John wimber once asked when the Church ‘did the stuff’ meaning signs and wonders (and I’m really, really up for that) but I think the same question could be asked for acts of love, ministries of mercy and the pursuit of justice.

The book of James says that “worship (although some versions mistranslates as religion) that God finds pure and faultless is to look after widows and orphans in their distress…”

One evening instead of doing our normal Bible Study I took my home-group out into the city to feed, bless and talk to the homeless… It was one of the deepest and most spiritual evenings we shared together as a group.

So, lets look at what is on the heart of Christ, lets not just talk a good game on comfy sofa’s, let us get out and partner with God in ushering his Kingdom in, and we start by welcoming Christ in his most distressing disguises.

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Authenticity, Discipleship, love, Matthew 23.

Making Disciples Jesus way. Part 2.

Yesterday I wrote about how Jesus actually made disciples.

Yet Jesus gives us some insights into how NOT to make disciples!

Here is what he says in Matthew 6:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Here we see Jesus attacking doing things for appearances sake, and sadly although 2000 years have elapsed from when Jesus said these things sadly they feel as relevant and fresh to our generation of Christians to those to whom Christ was speaking too.

Sadly there is still pomposity, pretentiousness and pride creeping in and distorting our worship, prayer, giving and discipleship.

I love the way Jesus instructs his disciples to go home, shut the door and pray quietly -and think there are vast armies of Saints faithfully praying unknown to any of us. A Vicar I once worked for used to talk about  “Investing in our secret history with God” by which he meant the time we spend with God on our own that no one other than God knows about.

In a world so fed up of spin, exhibitionism and pretence there is something refreshingly real and authentic about Jesus words on giving and prayer that I believe both resonates and challenges us all. At the heart of this type of discipleship is “living for the audience of one” -where the opinions of others don’t matter only the opinion of God is sought.

Jesus’ discipleship is about our internal lives, -the reality of our hearts- this is not just about our external or superficial lives, his stark warning in Matthew 6 occurs later on in Matthew 23 (perhaps that Jesus made this point more than once shows how seriously he meant it?).

25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs,which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Yet Jesus said many other things about discipleship and how not to do it, here is some of the things Jesus said in Matthew 23:

14 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. 15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

This is not just an attack on gracelessness and jugdementalism, although neither have a place within the life of the Church.

Here Jesus tells the Pharisees they are fake, although they are “holier than thou” with their legalism, and their ruthless expectation of perfection from people, they don’t actually ‘practice what they preach” and don’t end up creating disciples but because their discipleship has become so distorted they are creating monsters.

Listen to the strength of language that  Jesus uses “shut the door of the Kingdom of heaven in peoples faces” and making converts “twice the child of hell as you!” ouch! Powerful words, it is not just saying that their efforts fall short, but are so counter productive they are demonic driving people away from God.

what of us?

Can we be legalistic too?

Do we expect a standard of behaviour from other people that we ourselves can’t keep?

23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

There are times when I have recently thought a lot about quitting as a  Church of England Vicar and mainly it is summed up in these verses about “straining gnats and swallowing camels!” -why are so many people in our Churches get so stressed about tea bags, bits of paper or furniture and yet wont come to a prayer meeting, or invite a friend to Alpha or do some act of compassion or justice? why to do so many Church meetings major on the minors and ignore the important things. I had to write a letter as part of a course I was doing to an aspiring young leader and the best bit of advice I could think of was “keep the most important thing the most important thing” as I worry that too long in some places could turn me into a gnat straining camel swallower, perhaps maybe I do swallow the odd camel and maybe strain a few gnats already? Maybe Christ is calling all of us to review our priorities?

As I was thinking about this blog I re-read Dirty Glory by Pete Greig, who wrote of a stripper called Anders who became a Christian in Ibiza and ended up at a Church that demanded he cut his hair and covered his tattoos. Realising that our idea of hat Godliness looks like might actually have very little to do with what God thinks it looks like to live our lives his way.

The call to discipleship is messy, it involves being in the gutter, and living and loving in the grey and confused knowing that within the brokenness of life God’s glory can still shine through greater and more beautifully. I think the messier the Church gets with people with messed up lives as part the family, the more it looks like what Jesus had in mind, and the more it is a club for the suited and sorted the less and less it looks like the plan of Christ for his world.

This was powerfully illustrated in Pete Greig’s book “Dirty Glory” when he talks of a woman who was an illegal immigrant that had been trafficked and enslaved to prostitution by her traffickers becoming a Christian but unable to escape her trade leading worship on a Sunday within the 247 Church in Ibiza. The gospel of the Kingdom calls us away from the safe and respectable and where it is real and messy, but also beautiful and real.

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

And I’ll close with these words of Jesus, here we see the discipleship that Jesus is offering coming not from a sense of duty, power or any other wrong motive, but from the right and the purist of places that of love, love not just for those who do what we want them too, but love for the difficult and the disobedient.

Discipleship Jesus way is costly because ultimately it is following in his footsteps giving the ultimate in sacrificial love and compassion.

 

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