doubt, faith, Falibility, Fear, Holy Saturday, Pain, Suffering.

Holy Saturday.

Good Friday is an easy blog to write about, the fallen-ness of human nature (after-all “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” and the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord”).

It would be easy too, to write about our need of a Saviour and the amazing action of God who left the glories of heaven to step down to the earth he created to suffer and die, in our place, for our sins.

In fact I’m sure many Christians blogged this sort of stuff yesterday.

Tomorrow, I’m sure the internet will be awash with blogs talking about Jesus’ resurrection shows that death has been defeated, sin has been conquered and relationship with the Father restored for those who choose to put their faith in Christ.

But I want to blog about today, Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday, with the body of God incarnate dead and sealed in a stone cold tomb. The day before the resurrection, when tragedy was turned to victory.

Today is a day of doubts, we see the disciples run and hide in upper-rooms, or quit it all together and return to the fishing trade, or walk off from Jerusalem to Emmaus (remember Jesus had instructed them to stay in Jerusalem). A day when dreams died, an disappointment reigned, questions hung unanswered in the air.

The first Holy Saturday was a pessimistic day, the  only people who had any faith for a resurrection were the Chief Priests, the scribes and the Pharisees -those who feared it the most, I wonder if their doubts were rising? “Perhaps Jesus really was who he said he was?”  Maybe in the depth of their hearts they might have been asking whether they had just made a terrible, terrible mistake?” -I wonder?

I wonder if our lives sometimes feel a bit like a Holy Saturday?

where we look back at our own surrendering of our lives to Christ, and look forward to his return, but now sometimes we get plagued with doubts? Perhaps we are disappointed about how things have worked out? Maybe deep down we worry we have got it all wrong?

And maybe our Holy Saturday hasn’t just been 24 hours, perhaps it has been a long time, perhaps even years?

In my life, I have had some wonderful mountain top experiences, but I have had some valley times too.  I believe Holy Saturday feels like a day of a spiritual desert, and deserts are tough places, but places in which God often does his deepest and most profound work within us, but most of us want to escape the desert, just as most Christians want to either rewind to Good Friday or fast forward to Easter Day, but to do this misses out on what we can learn in the from Holy Saturday.

If we rush past Holy Saturday, often our Easter Message often sounds glib and insincere.

If we have just an Easter Sunday Morning faith, we have a great theology of victory and power -which is great- but we also (I believe) need to have a faith that can cope with the pain, suffering, complex questions and difficulties of following Jesus in a world that is broken.

I have heard people talk about the “already and not yet” of the Kingdom of God, meaning that the Kingdom of God can -and does- break into real peoples lives but the fullness of this in its entirety has still yet to be seen.

Recently I read Pete Greig’s books “Red Moon Rising” and “Dirty Glory” and was struck by how he started an international prayer ministry whilst it looked like his wife might die of a brain tumour.

I remember reading about David watson and John wimber both taught the Church to expect God’s miraculous healing miracles in the here and now -and have seen many, many people pray and receive miraculous healing- and yet both of these great men died of cancer.

I struggle with Holy Saturday.

I struggle with waiting.

I wonder why it took 7 years after first meeting Allana to end up marrying her, why the wait and the pain?

Mike Pilivachi talked  about waiting around 17 years to leave his job and become a Pastor, why the wait and the frustration?

why didn’t Jesus rise a day earlier on Holy Saturday? why the wait?

Actually I don’t know why God waited 24 hours, nor do I know about any other waits, but I do wonder if one day I’ll understand? The resurrection, like all waits, we have to trust God’s goodness, even when sometimes that takes what can feel like ore faith than we have at the time.

I wonder, the disciples must have remembered Jesus talking about rising from the dead, I wonder if deep within them there was a small flickering light of hope burning away in the depth of a disciples heart?

Perhaps there is something you are faithfully clinging onto God for, and you can identify with this picture of Holy Saturday when you are believing for something even though the wait might be tough.

Perhaps as we wait for Easter Day, Holy Saturday can teach us that one day every doubt will be resolved, every question answered, problem solved as the King of Glory will return with his rule and reign.

I remember hearing Delirous play “every little thing is going to be all right” and at first I objected, Jesus said “in this life you will have trouble”, but then Martin Smith (the lead singer) said “It will be all-right in the end, and if its not all-right its  not the end”… A former vicar friend of mine used to say of the book of revelation “I’ve read the end of the book and we win”.

Yet today is Holy Saturday, we are not without hope, Jesus will rise, but at the moment the Sun has yet to rise, and sometimes the night is darkest before the dawn, but the dawn will come.

 

 

 

 

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Bravery, faith, Joshua, vision

Joshua…

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.’So at the Lord’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites
(these are their names, and then follows a long list of people, including a Vophsi which I think is a great name).These are the names of the men Moses sent to explore the land. (Moses gave Hoshea son of Nun the name Joshua.)
17 When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, ‘Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.’ (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)
21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, towards Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol,[a] they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs.

At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.
26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 They gave Moses this account: ‘We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.’
30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’
31 But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’

Just to finish the story off, the people didn’t respond in faith and ended up wandering around a quite small dessert for 40 years, before their next generation went into the promised land led by Joshua, who was probably about 20 here, and so would have been about 60, so  when he’s used of an example of a young leader they’re not doing their maths right (although Samuel, Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Mary and the disciples and Timothy are all still good illustrations of God using young people!)

Here the people are faced with a choice, to choose to live the life that God has for them, or to stick with the old, comfortable and familiar life. 

The choice is between a life in a fertile land of their own where they can settle down, or the nomadic life of a desert traveller.

Bishop Lee read a quote out about a woman who said “I know I live in hell, but I do know all the road names”, meaning she knows that her life was horrible, but she just couldn’t cope with the change.

The problem was the Israelites were faced with a choice, did they trust that God was able to lead them into what he had promised or not? The same God who had delivered them from the hand of pharaoh, and provided for them in the desert in some remarkable ways at yet they looked at this large fortified city with panic, rather that looking at our faithful God and pray!

The choice we all have on a daily basis is do we panic or pray.

What rules our hearts, faith or fear?

Faith is being certain of what we hope for and confident in what we do not see (Heb.11.11), as Christians we live/walk by faith and not by sight  2 Cor.5.7… 

Faith is putting it into practice, living it out…

I was thinking too about faith and fear being cultures… 

The Israelites created a culture of fear, defeatism which caused them to walk away from the promised land and die in the desert.

Imagine the bravery and social awkwardness of Caleb and Joshua saying after a long diatribe of negativity to stand up and speak out that they believed that God could do it. I am guessing many of us have been in that awful situation in our Churches where faithless defeatism sometimes runs rampant, and we have to stand up to a hostile (and often quite patronising) group and say actually I believe if God is calling us to do this, then he will be faithful.

Sometimes too, the hardest people to speak a word of faith are those closest to us, these were Joshua’s tribesmen, relations, friends; and yet was called to say to stand up for his faith in front of them. Often Christians find the hardest people to talk about Jesus too our those closest too us. Yet here we see Joshua model bravery of speaking up a different and an unpopular view-point, but one that was right. Joshua was prepared to say the unsayable, because of his love and loyalty to God.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried to speak a word of faith only to get fobbed off with a line about ‘love your enthusiasm’ -which is normally code for “I think you’re a bit naïve!” -Yet actually when we look at this from God’s point of view it is the  other way around, with God we are always in the majority, he is the God who is our provider, he is faithful and will fulfil all that he has promised, in fact even when we are faithless, he will remain faithful for he cannot deny himself.

Steve Strydom uses a great phrase, “God’s will God’s bill!” -in other words Jehovah Jirah is our provider.

Are we people who look at the size of the problem or the size of the God who is  our solution.

Too often our Churches can be places of pseudo-faith, where we pay lip-service to trusting in God, but our lifestyles and our life together says a different story. The problem with ‘lip service’ or ‘phoney faith’ is that scripture reminds us that “God is not mocked” and he reminds us that “Faith without works is dead”, to say “I believe God can do it, has to be backed up by our actions otherwise it is empty rhetoric.

I want to close with being a culture of faith, scripture talks a lot about taming the tongue, and all of us can probably remember the story when one person completely changes the atmosphere by what they have said or done. Faith snuffed out by unrighteous cynicism.

Or we could be a community which is filled with faith, spurs one another on in faith, encourages and nurtures faith, a community when faith sets the tone.

This is the culture Joshua created with God, having first heard God speak “bold and courageous, do not be terrified, for I the Lord am with you where-ever you go” Josh 1.8; which led him to issue the Israelites a challenge,  ‘Choose this day whom you will serve, but for me and my house we will serve the Lord’ (Josh 24.5). They were clearly filled with faith, as wandering around the city armed with nothing more than a mouth organ seven times a day, was God seeing their hearts and they were obedient, he delivered the city into their hands, and brought them into the promised land.

So a challenge for us all, are we people who are shaped by fear or by faith? When faced with adversity do we panic or do we pray? Are we people who inspire and encourage faith, or are will filled with cynicism that snuffs it out.

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Discipleship, faith, Risk and Change, Spiritual Health, Uncategorized

Dangerous Discipleship.

I’ve written a lot about the John Wimber quote that “faith is spelled R -I -S -K” and there is a lot of truth in that if it is comfortable, safe and easily to accomplish then it probably was neither faith stretching or faith strengthening.

We are called to “walk by faith and not by sight”, and all through the Bible we see amazing men and women hanging on to God’s promise and faithfulness in the midst of challenging and difficult times.

In the Narnia books, Aslan (the Christ figure in the narrative), is depicted as a Lion, and the question is asked “is he safe?” the reply was “of course he’s not safe, but he is good”.

Following Jesus is not safe.

Following Jesus is not the comfortable or cushy option.

I often say on Alpha, Jesus was accused of many things, but never being boring!

What a disservice we have done Christ by making this world transforming movement into something boring, what a shocking misrepresentation.

If Christians are going to be like Christ, then they won’t be dull following the only person in the world who never bottled it, who never wimped out, and never played it safe.

I’m not sure anyone wants their epitaph to read “s/he always played it safe”, if you want comfort and safety you don’t want to be following someone who asks of you “to pick up your cross and follow him”, and the promise of “life in all its fullness” is actually a promise not of a safe passage a comfortable journey from the cradle to the grave, but rather a “white knuckle adventure of faith”.

I was wondering that too often we make the discipleship bar very low, we’ve cushioned our Churches with lovely leather sofas, served wonderful coffee, and in being seeker friendly let people consume worship and sermons without ever challenging people to make a response, to put this radical life into practice.

Being a Christian has always meant more than polling along to Church once a week and occasionally listening to a worship Album at home.

Its more than just being an attendee.

I was in the queue in a funky little coffee shop the other day and someone asked for a drink that was “decaf”, “fat free”, “skinny” with two shots of something sweet, and I wondered if that is what we have turned Christianity into? Warm -but not hot- unleaded with no risks to health or comfort and sickly sweet…

Yet Biblical Christianity had the founder turned the millionaire away telling him to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor whilst hanging out with the most insignificant people he could find.

Biblical Christianity saw the sick healed, the lame dance, demons cast out and the dead raised.

Biblical Christianity struck King Herod dead, and brought people back to life.

Biblical Christianity scared governments, terrified religious leaders and seeing nobodies become somebodies as they shared a message that was so controversial that many lost their lives for their faith.

I believe we have a generation who want something to live, a reason, a purpose and yet all they see is this comfortable risk adverse Christianity that is sickly sweet. We need to show that following Jesus is that rolla-costa life, building something that will last for all eternity. Partnering with the living God. Experiencing the indwelling spirit of the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the grave.

Christianity is dangerous.

Following Jesus is massively counter-cultural, and he’s not into settle-down, his plans for you may be different from any chocolate box idealized future you may have dreamed for yourself, yet going Jesus’ way isn’t a waste of a life, it is doing the good works that were prepared for you before the creation of the world, how cool is that?

Let’s show the world a Christianity which looks more like Jesus which (to quote the 24-7 story) “makes children laugh and adults angry”.

Lets show the world a dangerous Christianity, that isn’t tepid, sickly sweet without a kick or cost, but is fully caffeinated, full fat and lived in full.

A life where our non believing friends look at us and say “I want what they’ve got, it looks exciting”.

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Bravery, faith, prayer

A tale of two farmers…

There were once two farmers and they were desperate for rain…

They both prayed.

One carried on as normal and left his seeds in a draw until the rains came.

The other went out and planted the seeds.

The rains came and he had a great harvest.

So often we pray and then have almost a theology of abandonment where once we have prayed we feel that is our part of the task done and dusted, yet often God calls us to be the answer to our own prayers.

“Lord send someone to help this situation” -is a prayer easily prayed, but often the answer if that the person God sends is us.

The guy in the parable risked everything on the rain, he planted his seeds with hope and expectation that God had heard and answered his pray and would send rain. If no rain came, he would have lost all his seeds. He would be bankrupt. Are we like this, have we risked it all on God and his faithfulness? Or have we got a back up plan for ourselves?

Do we really trust that God is able?

Do we really trust that God is good and he cares?

Are we prepared to live the Christian life that isn’t simply playing it safe, having a safety net or two up our sleeve, or are we prepared to be Christians who risk it all on the one certainty we have which is the faithfulness of Christ Jesus.

God bless,

Andy.

p.s. Inspired by a conversation with my friend Rev. Jackie.

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Church, faith, Fear, Glory, Risk and Change

Unsafe Church, Uncomfortable Vicars & Unexpected Fruit.

I love the story of John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement, who had become a Christian and started going  to a local Church and reading his Bible (not a bad start!) and he felt more and more concerned with the disconnect between what he experienced in the Church meeting and what he read about from the pages of scripture, so he asked the question:

“er…when do we DO the stuff?”

To which he was greeted by a somewhat perplexed look from the minister and the congregation, “The Stuff?”

“…You know, THE STUFF”…

What he meant was things like “healing” and answers to prayer, “prophecy, words of knowledge, tongues, discernment” -which is there is the Bible but often not sadly not actively pursued in our Churches our the everyday life of many Christians.

The Bible is expectant of the supernatural to be part of the everyday experience of God’s people (both as individuals and corporately).

I once preached that “the only difference between us as the Disciples in the book of Acts is simply time”, God hasn’t changed nor his power diminished… Yet our Churches and my own personal life feels vastly different from the book of Acts, why is that?

Firstly it isn’t safe. I remember someone prayed for me about Allana and I having a baby, and I was really grateful that they did, but it was risky, what if it didn’t happen? Fortunately God blessed us with a wonderful daughter Hope, but  on another occasion, we had a miscarriage (early stages) and people prayed that the baby would be okay and it wasn’t. Sometimes we see wonderful answers to prayer, and God does amazing things, and that is wonderful, and other times we don’t see the healings we have sought God for (for whatever reason, and to be honest I don’t really know). It is dealing with the real, the deep, the personal stuff which really matters… It is much safer just to waffle on with a sermon telling us to be nice to everyone, rather than deal with the real and knotty issues of real life.

The Area Dean, Si Jones once said that “when we didn’t pray for anyone nobody got healed, now we try and pray for everyone and sometimes people get healed”.

John Wimber said “Faith is spelled R-I-S-K.

Risk.

Risk of looking foolish or crazy!

Risk of upsetting people!

but also the risk of seeing God do what we can’t do and intervene and tranform the most desperate situations.

I want to be someone that risks praying Godly, knowing he loves his people and has the power to heal and transform.

I remember praying for someone with a really bad back, and suddenly they got really excited, telling me their back was getting hot and was feeling better… I’ll be honest I was more shocked than them. A reminder that I need to pray with expectation that God is going to work.

This morning we had  a guest speaker, Andy Bidds, who told about praying for healing for a guy with calipers on his legs, and nothing happened, but in Bidds praying for him this guy really felt God’s love in a really special way, sometimes God does something we don’t expect.

Yet I want to be unsafe, in so much as we talk about real stuff and we pray with faith into real life and risk disappointment in order to have the expectancy of wonder and blessing.

I’m a Vicar, and as a breed we are a bunch of control freaks, but the truth is we are not supposed to be in control, God is, and following a real God who speaks and answers prayer often is a step outside our comfort zone.

The guy whose going to be Vicar at the Church my Dad has retired too, told me the story of getting into trouble from the Chaplain for praying for someone to be healed on a hospital chaplaincy placement at college (the one Sam goes too) the problem was the guy was healed, and so the chaplain wrote a letter of complaint to the college!!

It is safe and more comfortable not to step out the boat, not to believe God can or does these type of things, and pretend that Jesus didn’t say “with God all things are possible” and cross out of our bibles verses like  “God is able to do more than we can ask or imagine”. Yet being a Christian is sometimes neither safe or comfortable.

Theologically we are told in scripture we have “the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead” active in our lives, “he (the Holy Spirit) that is in us is greater than he that is in the world” in fact the Bible makes the audacious claim that we will do “greater things than him (Jesus)”.

I want to end with the passage of scripture which changed my view of God doing supernatural stuff, it comes from the story of Abra(h)am and Sara(h) and they recieved a prophecy that Sara(h) would have a child, and her reaction was to laugh and the Lord asks her “why did you laugh?” -If we believe God created the world, raised Jesus from the dead and did what he says he did in the Bible, why can’t he do real stuff in my life and the peoples lives around me.

Lets pray riskily, let’s be bold, and let’s have stories of unexpected fruit.

Even if people don’t receive the blessing we would love them too, praying and loving them will bless them, on one sense nothing to loose, but everything to gain.

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faith, Fear, Matthew 8.22-27., prayer, Risk and Change

No Fear??

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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