2 Samuel 23 15-17, best and the worst., Extravagance, Giving/Generousity., Luke 21. 1-4 (widows mite)., values, Water

Value Church?

we have this wonderful person called Jo in our Church, she is homeless and lives in a bus shelter near the Church, and she is also a transsexual, which causes some in the Church to struggle.

I chatted to Jo as I was walking past and she asked me how I was doing, I laughed and said “nothing a beer and a holiday in Barbados wouldn’t fix, but not much chance of either!” we both laughed, and I forgot about the conversation and went off to lead a Bible Study in our Church Cafe (which is a converted toilet -write your own joke here!). Later on I spotted Jo’s wig by the window, and she had brought me up a tin of bass beer (Bass is Jo’s favourite, she hadn’t just got me a cheapy larger, but one she’s drink herself).

Although I love beer, that beer for me is too precious to drink. One of the most extravagant examples of grace and generosity I have come across. Sadly our Church has sometimes lacked both generosity and grace, and sometimes looked down on Jo too, and yet here she was showing something of the wonderful extravagance of God, a lesson and a challenge for us all.

For me, this story reminded me of King David and the well at Bethlehem.

13 During harvest time, three of the thirty chief warriors came down to David at the cave of Adullam, while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 14 At that time David was in the stronghold, and the Philistine garrison was at Bethlehem. 15 David longed for water and said, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” 16 So the three mighty warriors broke through the Philistine lines, drew water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem and carried it back to David. But he refused to drink it; instead, he poured it out before the Lord. 17 “Far be it from me, Lord, to do this!” he said. “Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” And David would not drink it.

There is something wonderful and humbling about an extravagant gift.

I work most weeks at the foodbank, and it is interesting that some people bring along “Tesco value food” and others bring along “Tesco finest”. Any donations are gratefully received by hungry people, but I did think if I was having Jesus around for a meal would I serve him value food, or would I get the best I could afford? Jesus said: “whatever you do for the least of these you do for me?”

David refused to give God a sacrifice that hadn’t cost him anything, he wanted his worship to show God his worth-ship.

Another story that struck me as I was writing this blog is the story of the elderly widow with two copper coins, who gave what little she had to God, whilst the rich and the famous were giving large sums of cash in a showy way, she gave ALL she had. Although they gave a lot, they actually gave nothing at all, although she gave very little she actually gave more than them all.

what we spend our money on shows what we value. I had a job interview a while back in Portsmouth (the same Church that asked me 3 times about my opinion of LGBT people but not once about the cross). we went to their Sunday Supper for the homeless people of their area and they served up big saucepans full of instant soup, bread, and some cake. Then we went off to a meet the Church Council, we drank wine and had an extravagant spread of food. It is great that they are feeding the homeless each week, but the contrast between the two evening meals really struck me.

whilst I was at Salisbury I was involved in a project called Morning Star and they used to do a “Banquet run” giving out food to the homeless, but they made sure that is it was “food fit for a King” using their home-grown produce and serving food for the cities homeless that really showed them the extravagant love of Jesus.

I want to be a Christian that has a heart like Jo’s.

Jesus love for us is not “Tesco Value” love, but “Tesco Finest”, perhaps sometimes we need a little more extravagance in our love and our giving?

I’ll end with one of my favourite clips from the film Les Miserables where the Bishop gives the thief Jean Valjean not what he deserves but extravagant and amazing grace… Take a moment to watch this:

Discipleship, Extravagance, John 21, Jugementalism, Luke 9 and 10, Matthew 16

Making Disciples Jesus way. Part 1.

As I have been writing the last couple of blogs on discipleship realise that when I think I’ve nailed talking about it, I realise there is still more to write.

I was wondering about how Jesus made disciples?

I thought that primarily he took a risk on them, they knew they were chosen by him, he called them to come and follow him, and they left absolutely everything to come and follow him.

I wonder whether those we work with feel like they are called by Christ or whether they simply feel a bit guilty and are doing us a favour?

I was thinking how most roles in Church fee really devalued because most people end up doing them because “someone had too” rather than they were chosen, head-hunted to fulfil a role that was about the advance of God’s Kingdom, real people receiving real salvation. Jesus made it clear their calling was bigger and beyond what they might initially see (hanging out with an itinerant preacher) but instead “they were going to be fishers of men”.

Jesus shared his life with his disciples for the next three years, he only had 12, although others gathered around from time to time, and 3 of those he gave extra time and opportunities. I was wondering in our Churches as a Pastor we normally only see people when they are either in crisis or doing something exceptional, most people we only get to see a for a few moments each week. Perhaps we are too worried about quantity of numbers rather than quality of relationship? Jesus clearly really knew the 12 really well. Living with people show us what we are really like beyond the surface veneer of polite spiritual niceness.

Jesus also let people see what he did, before equipping them to go and do it themselves (Luke 9), he gave them real responsibility as he sent them out to proclaim the good news of his Kingdom with no safety net (they went out without coat or cash) and yet they came back rejoice because ‘even the demons fled at their command’. Jesus’ discipleship was not peripheral stuff, they were doing preaching, healing and deliverance not stuck on coffee duty! Yet his discipleship was much much more about who they were rather than what they did “don’t rejoice because the demons submit to you, but rejoice because your name is written in Heaven” (Luke 10:20).

How often in discipleship do we get confused between role and identity? -Something Jesus was keen to draw a distinction on.

Jesus didn’t lower his standards of discipleship, he was prepared to set the bar high and didn’t drop his standards no matter what… “let the dead buy their own dead…No one who puts his hand to the plough and keeps looking back is worthy to be my disciple” (Luke 9.62).

Jesus  looked at the Rich Young Ruler and loved him, and yet said this “one thing you lack, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor and then come and follow me” (Matthew 19.21), it is the same demand that he makes of the fishermen who leave their nets, their livelihood, their father, to come and follow Jesus (Matthew 4:20). If that was us in our Churches I wonder if we’d be chasing the rich young ruler down the road with a gift aid form?

I think we need a compelling vision, a challenge, no one wants to give their life for an easy goal, a wimpy small vision, a pathetic challenge, a mediocre cause and yet too often this is how we sell being a disciple of Jesus.

It is an on-going challenge, were we never reach the goal, a quote I read tonight really spoke to me “The Church is a Prayer-filled Missionary Movement, Continually discomforted by the consequences of its own gospel”…

Peter, the leader, one of the first disciples, still kept on messing it up and needing to keep on learning.  In the Galation Church still messed up as Paul’s rebuke shows (Galations 2:12). we are life long learners, and yet how many times do people think they have got there and act like they have got it all sorted?

Jesus gives praise when the disciples get it right, here is Jesus’ response to Peter realising that Christ is the Messiah:

Matthew 16.17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 

Yet Jesus is also prepared to give back tough and hard feedback as Peter finds out to his cost, when Peter tried to talk Jesus out of dying on the cross  Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

And whilst we are talking of Peter,  here is a guy who messed up spectacularly, blowing it when it mattered the most, denying Jesus three times before his execution, and yet Jesus re-instates him, asking him the one and only question that actually really matters when we think about discipleship “do you love me?” (John 21:17).

I wonder in our discipleship do we have the grace to pick up the broken and restore them even when it goes badly wrong and is really messy?

Jesus’ call is extravagant, the task is audacious, and the grace in Christ is incredibly.

I have never been discipled like this, not have I ever managed to disciple anyone like this, but I think this shows us Christ’s standard for discipleship being so so much greater than our own thinking around discipleship.

And I’ll close with this thought, these disciples were faithful to Christ, despite massive cost even to their lives, but in doing so they changed the history of the world through their faithful and courageous obidience.

Discipleship, Extravagance, Fear, Worship

Undignified Worship.

So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancingbefore the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it,and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty….

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour.”

Just to put this passage into a bit of context, the Ark of the Covenant had departed from Jerusalem, which symbolised the absence of God’s Presence with his people. It was a bad sign. So, imagine the joy of the Ark’s return to Jerusalem, more than just “we’ve got our treasurer back” but rather a symbol of God’s returning presence, blessing and splendour to the capital city at the heart of the nation.

David is over-joyed, he is uncontainable, he orders sacrifice of bullocks every few feet, it was messy, it would have been costly to the countries economics, but David wasn’t skimping on the pennies when he was showing God his adoration, love and loyalty.

David, get’s carried away with his worship too, he is dancing before the Lord with all of his might, so much so that he looses his Kingly robes and is dancing in his Ephod (Hebrew for boxer shorts). He is worshipping unrestrained and uninhibited in his worship of God, and then his wife tells him off, she is scornful and shames him, she tells him his being a disgrace and being unkingly, setting a bad example.

How often are we passionate about something, and then someone pours a bucket of cold water over it, the bubble is burst, we are deflated? Yet, not David, he wont be dissuaded from the worship of God.

It made me wonder whether we let “what people think of us?” influence our worship, praise, discipleship and generally our walk following Jesus?

Mike Pilivachi wrote an amazing book on worship which was called “for the audience of one” the idea that we live primarily not for human approval but (to quote a book title by Andy Hawthorn) living our life for the “smile of Jesus”, living primarily to bless and please him.

I wonder too, am I sometimes like Michel, David’s Queen, do I ‘cut people off from worship’ by my attitude and the baggage -her view of ‘propriety’.

David is not being dissuaded from his worship with his line “I’ll become even more undignified than this”.

David is holding nothing back, he’s not playing at worship, not just going through the motions. David is for real.

He is being authentic in his response, just as David is equally authentic in his response when he is struggling and writing psalms of lament, he is sharing his heart openly and publicly with God, and in doing this he is actually leading his people in worship, he is showing true surrender to the greater King, the Lord Almighty.

This is a shocking image, rulers don’t humble themselves in public, but here David is humbling himself before his God, saying to his people “I might be you King, but I am bowing my knee before God”.

I remember Sam, who used to work with me, saying “just imagine Queen Elizabeth II in her pants”. It is a shocking image. It says to the people, “I’m the King, and I know I am not greater than God, however great you think you are, you are not greater than him either!”

Too often in Britain we have become too influenced by the Victorian period where we struggle to express any emotion -either happy or sad- and a more extreme emotion makes us feel uncomfortable.

Yet here David is showing extravagance in worship, too often we try and tone everything down so as not to cause offence, yet here David was unashamed, perhaps we need to discover afresh something of this unashamedly passionate about the presence of Father God for the Church to thrive in the 21st Century.

There  is a phrase in the Bible about being a “Fool for Christ” -although perhaps from the view of eternity a good question might be to ask “who is fooling who?”

The Bible talks of our whole lives being a Spiritual Act of worship (Romans 12) and I wonder  “Am I prepared to be a fool for Christ?” -Am I prepared to risk it all -my pride, my reputation (or whatever it is for you)- for the sake of Christ?

The Band Delirious sand “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel, I am not ashamed of the one I love” -but perhaps maybe sometimes we do get a little ashamed?

Maybe when we hit these moments, perhaps we need something of the cry of David within us, spurring us on and leaving comfort and mediocrity far behind, as we  say “I’ll be even more undignified than this”, or in other words “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Perhaps that is the phrase for this generation, if you think we are too bold, to out there, to radical, too noisy, too non conformist, too revolutionary, to Jesus-like then let’s echo the Spirit of David and say “we’ll become even more undignified than this! In you are looking at my discipleship following Christ, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Discipleship, Extravagance, Spirituality, Worship

Where is the extravagance?

One thing I noticed when re-reading the gospels recently is something we don’t often associate with Jesus is the word extravagance.

Yet feeding 5’000 people with just 5 loaves and 2 fish yet having 12 baskets left over can only be described as extravagant!

Filling the nets with fish until the nets started to give way with the miraculous catch of fish was extravagant, as was filling the huge stone water jars with the finest wines again was not only extravagant in quantity,  but it was also extravagant in quality too -“you saved the best til last”.

Yet there was extravagance in Jesus teaching too.

The welcome home of the prodigal son embraced and restored with the slaughter of the fatted calf that would have probably fed the whole village was excessive. Or the Good Samaritan did more than just let the wounded man ring his mum on his mobile, but rather went that extra mile with a smile, we read that not only did he stop, but he looked after the man, took him to safety and paid for his care.

We see extravagance in the worship of the sinful woman who poured a pint -A PINT- of pure Nard over Jesus (this was probably about a years wages, think £22’000 pounds poured out over one individual). It is an excessive, extravagant act of worship and adoration of Jesus.

Jesus’ life showed the extravagance of the Father in giving his one and only Son, not just to live among us, but to die at our hands. God is a God of extravagant generosity, as is seen in the wonder and the beauty of the awesomeness of creation where not even one single snowflake is the same as the one before.

King David understood something of this extravagance in his worship and response to God, his wife thought it was outrageous -and it was- but surely worship can, and should, be outrageous at times. King David danced before the Lord in his under-garments with the line “I will become even more undignified than this!”. Yet just prior to that as he returned the Ark of the Covenant back home, he killed a bull every few paces, such extravagance in sacrifice would have had a real dent in the countries economy, yet David wanted to give God a pleasing sacrifice, asking in the Psalms “Can I give you a Sacrifice that has cost me nothing?” -Clearly David thought the answer to that question was no.

Yet extravagance is not a word we think of when we think of discipleship or life together corporately as Church, in fact we often appear to value frugal-ness above generosity (yet God is not a frugal God!)…

We often seem to value fasting above feasting, and yet there are actually more mentions of feasts than fasts in the Bible.

Recently I came across a wonderful (Christian) Cafe in Wareham (called Not Just Sundae’s) where people buy coffee and wonderful cake on account for people to go in and get blessed, they also have a group working with young people with esteem issues and they let the kids choose whatever they’d like from the menu to eat and drink for free (how often in our Church do the kids get cheap and nasty squash with soft and stale biscuits). The ethos of this Cafe was to offer people “outrageous hospitality” which is something when I heard it resonated with my spirit, this is something so often missing in our Churches and our lives together and yet when it is seen it is so beautifully and wonderfully Christ-like.

Today I was talking with a lovely saint -who has blessed me so much in the past- telling me how his wife and he are going to foster displaced children and teenagers, another clergy family I know have a Syrian Pastor and his family living with them and not only do they share meals with them, the dad (a posh older vicar) was telling me about how he enjoyed water fights with the kids in the summer, not just welcomed into the home, but clearly loved as part of the family. Extreme love and generosity.

The Church, Barnies, I was on placement at in Derby paid for an asylum seekers family to join him from the Congo to Derby.

In Salisbury the Soup Run was called the “Banquet Run” because they wanted to give out nice home-made soup, because if you take Matthew 25 literally you are giving Jesus his evening meal and therefore you’d want to give him the best you can offer.

When I worked in Poole/Bournemouth I discovered that one of my friends, Jon, the Nightclub Chaplain bought ‘his’ Big Issue seller a Easter Egg, but went to Thornton’s and got a big egg and had his name written on it in icing (and didn’t tell anyone, we found out from the Big Issue Seller). Yet doesn’t that sound like Jesus?

The foodbank the other day were wrapping up Christmas presents for people to put in their food bags, yet each present was being wrapped so carefully and with so much love it moved me, and again I thought, this looks like Jesus.

Recently I had an email from someone who mentioned about caring for his wife with dementia and I thought actually there are so many unsung heroes here whose wonderful love is truly extravagant and Christ like which often is not recognized enough in our Churches, yet it is outrageous love for another human-being that reflects Christ in its patient on-going sacrificial love.

Yet sadly we see so often in our own lives, in our lives as Church together, in our discipleship that often we have such a poverty spirit, tight fisted generosity which is many things but cheerful it often isn’t.

I think when see this lifestyle challenge, we are scared of the cost and the challenge, the pain and the sacrifice. Everyone wants this in theory, but the challenge to actually do it in reality is a bigger call .

Shane Claiborne said once “Everyone wants revolution, but no one wants to do the dishes!”