faithfulness, Fruit and fruitfulness, Giving/Generousity., grace, hope, justice, Kingdom, Politica

Jesus for President.

Jesus for President, was the title of a book by one of my heroes Shane Claiborne, the title made me think, firstly I thought Jesus never wanted to be president, he was offered all the Kingdoms of the world when he was tempted by the devil, and yet he turned it down.

Instead Jesus was a nomadic preacher, with nowhere to lay his head, former child refugee who advocated loving enemies, rather than clicking his fingers in the board-room he took a towel and washed his disciples feet, including the one, Judas, who betrayed him.

Yet Jesus is the one I want to follow, his Kingdom may appear upside down to most of the world but to me I think it is the right way up, and his Kingdom is what I want to devote my life to building. The Lord’s Prayer seeks for Gods Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” so clearly something of the rule and reign of God can be seen today in real lives and communities, not as some weird theocratic rule, but in hearts and minds transformed by God and living out their faith in radical Kingdom ‘salt and light’ living.

As I was thinking was does a Christian world view look like, I am often confronted by the phrase ‘Christian Values’  which is often condensed to anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage and whose rhetoric often sounds pretty un-Christ-like –God hates fags? No, of course he doesn’t, he loves each and every person he has made. and longs for all peoples to come into relationship with him.
More over much of the American Christian Right seems very pro guns, anti health care for the poor and pro death penalty and I struggle how we can link these heinous ideas with the Jesus I find in scripture.

Yet surely If we are called to have Christian values, if we really believe Jesus meant it when he called us to “love our neighbours as ourselves” then we are called to care about the welfare of the planet, foreign aid, education, justice, health care, civil liberties, community cohesion and ethical investment in economic policy.

A Biblical world view is about bringing people together rather than building walls between each other… The Old Testament repeatedly tells Gods people not to I’ll treat the alien who resides in their country because they themselves were slaves in Egypt.

A Biblical world view talks about sharing our wealth with the poorest and most marginalised, the parable of the Good Samaritan works for nations too, and we need to heed the words of scripture that says “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?”

A Biblical world view is one that is outward looking and not inward looking, “I am my brothers keeper”, inward looking ideals end in implosion.

A Biblical world view realises that “the love of money is the root of all evil” and realises that financial prosperity and true happiness are not bedfellows.

A Biblical world view sees us from every nation as Gods children and extreme nationalism seems to me like a idol or fake God than needs to bow the knee to Christ, an illusion that hoodwinks many people.

A Biblical world view sees enemies being loved, the other cheek turned and the myth of redemptive violence seen for the lie that it is… As Ghandi said “if we take an eye for an eye then the world we be blind”. When we think of Christ entering into the city he came on a donkey like the ones we see at Weston, not on a war horse or sitting on an amounted vehicle or tank, this Prince is called the Prince of Peace, and at fulfilment of his Kingdom will see swords turned in ploughs and people practicing war no more.

A Biblical world view effects how we see one another who made in the image of God, can we imagine Jesus calling a woman –or anyone for that matter-  a “fat pig”? In fact, as Christians we are called to fight for human dignity “to bless not curse”, we need to see the rest of the world as precious to God, whether they be a Mexican refugee, a community leader in Iraq or someone who has a different opinion to you.

When I think of Jesus for President, I think the reason why I follow him is I can trust him, “let your yes be yes and your no be no”, when Jesus speaks we know it is the word of truth.

Sadly in the American election the major parties seemed less interested in their candidates character talking more of the competence or rely on their charisma, however “competence and charisma without character often results in Catastrophe”.

In a “Dog Eat Dog” world with people scrambling to be top dog we see Christ saying the last will be first.

My prayer for whoever is president is that they may “Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly before their God”… Knowing that with great power also comes great responsibility, the call to steward what you have been entrusted with well, knowing that are all answerable and must now the knee before Christ.

Leadership is costly and sacrificial… Jesus said that he had  not come “to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

This leader isn’t hidden away in a bunker with other soldiers fighting on his behalf, this King, this servant King, gave his life that we may live.

This Servant King I will follow, and his upside-down Kingdom I will devote my life to seek and advance.

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Authenticity, call, faithfulness, obidience, vocation

A Heap of Stones or the Presence of God.

I was in a queue at New Wine (a Christian Festival) and some fella in front of me, evidently a clergy person, was saying how they wanted to find up at a successful New Wine Church.

As I thought about I wanted to punch him!
Why is it the big and successful Churches especially in nice leafy suburbs seen to be sort after by clergy, yet those churches which need renewing, which are struggling and in trouble no one wants to come to.
Just as in the world of teaching it’s the toughest schools which actually need the best teachers, yet everyone wants to go where it is successful.
Yet I was thinking that actually this is asking God for a bit of an easy life, a comfortable cross to carry, a cushy call.
When I was 20/21 I worked for two Churches in the North of England, one no one has ever heard of but saw God do amazing and wonderful things, the other is famous and much much larger and I didn’t see God doing very much at all.
A Church living in it (glorious) past where God did wonderful things, but the past is just that past, gone. I vowed then that trying to revive smug carcasses, relics of the past, church morphing into a museum, was not something I felt called to but seeking where God was at work, or wanting to break in was where I felt drawn to.
Sometimes we get sedduced by a name of a successful church, leader, ministry or movement and what they have done, but again the question remains not what has happened but what is happening.
Sadly things that have mightily been used by God need to keep in step with him, the problem is we keep wanting to stop and to settle, where the spirit of God keeps pushing forward in waves, are we keeping up, or have we stopped, or stalled on our journey.
To often we want to go where God has been, rather than where God is going, what God had done rather than what God is doing, sat looking at his footprints rather than chasing his shadow.
We can’t live in the past, caught in history, rather that step into the future that God is beckoning us into.
Often we share stories of conversation of what God has done in our lives that want he’s actually doing… Sometimes the stories we tell are getting a bit old, our best history rather that what God is doing with us now, today, and where is God leading us on to the future.
So to close, let’s make sure our walk with God, our ministries, where we serve isn’t just resting sat back on its history but pushing forward chasing after where God is leading.
Tommy Tenny used the phrase “God chasers” and I like the image of this, running after Christ and wanting to keep in step with his spirit, not stopping, not settling, not coming comfortable and complacent, stuck in a rut, lagging behind where God is leading us, sitting out for a season or doing our own thing.
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1 Corinthians 3., faithfulness, Fruit and fruitfulness

Echoes in Eternity…

Well done good and faithful servant”…
“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames”.
-Okay, let’s start with a bit of basic theology, we are saved by grace through faith.
Yet we are saved the Bible says FOR good works not by them.
 
So sometimes we forget that we are called to be different, to live out our faith, to build with Gold, silver and costly  stones, to see God’s Kingdom advance on our frontlines, where God has placed us.
 
As the film Gladiator says “what we do in life echoes in eternity”… I love John Wimber and he once said: “My plan is to run the race  and take as many people with me as I possibly can”.
 
He lived a life honouring Christ, and many millions of people found faith, our had their exisiting faith renewed and re-inspired by the spirit of God through the Vineyard movement which Wimber founded (not to mention the  legacies of St.Andrew’s Chorleywood (where new wine started), Holy Trinity Brompton (where Alpha started) and St. Michael le belfrey (where riding lights theatre group was founded).
 
Yet too often I meet Christians who have  a real faith but keep it a real secret when they are out and about (is this building with gold and costly stones or wood/hey and straw -a life that from eternities perspective isn’t investing in what really matters)
 
… Or Christians that have the ‘right’ rhetoric but behaviour is simply not loving and Christ-like, Ghandi said “I like your Christ, I don’t like you Christians” -Sadly as a Vicar and growing up in a Vicarage, I’ve seen people who have the right words but have been some of the most spiteful people I know… this should not be so after all “by this will all people know that you are my disciples that you love one another”.
 
…Or rather than pray would rather do jigsaw puzzles, rather attack people doing mission than get off the sofa and help, won’t stop and acknowledge as a human being the busker, begger or big issue seller when they head off to buy their daily mail (just a thought, should Christians read the daily mail, I think not, but that might just be me!) “…by your fruits you will know them”. 
 
“The Greatest Cause of Atheism in this country, is Christians who confess Christ with their lips but deny him with their lifestyles, that is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable” DC Talk.
 
So a challenge today, let’s be ‘salt and light’, in other words, living it out in such a way that people notice the difference, be salty in such a way that people around become thirsty for the Christ in us the hope of glory. Bright and shiny lives that radiate Christ, was speaking to a lady yesterday who is unwell, and I was thinking she is someone who whenever I drop her off, she always leaves me smiling as she’s such a ‘Christ-like person’. 
 
You might be thinking, thanks Andy, just what I need on a Wednesday morning, a guilt trip with a side order of condemnation…
 
But the truth is, how we all have been at times doesn’t mean we have to stay that way, I love the story of Scrooge, just because he’d been a slave to money didn’t mean he had to stay that way… in fact where we’ve slipped up can become those cracks through which Christ can shine out most brightly as people notice the change from what we were to what we have become… I think this is what Paul was getting at with his verses about treasure in jars of clay…
 
“What if I stumble, what if I fall, will the love continue when the walk becomes a crawl?” (DC Talk).
YES IT DOES!
 
The great news of the gospel is that Christ not only forgives us our past, -and his mercies are new every morning- but fills us with his Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, to live  for him.
 
My prayer is that when we meet Christ face to face we are greeted with the words well done good and faithful servant.
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Discouragement, faithfulness, seasons

Tending Apple Trees in December.

“Tending an apple tree in December is discouraging but come May, June and July you’ll be glad you made the investment” -Geoff Waters.

In an ‘instant gratification’ culture faithful investment in something that doesn’t yield tangible results almost immediately is often soon dropped.

Yet spiritual maturity and growth in character and Christ-likeness often feels like tending an apple tree in the winter months, where the painful pruning hurts and its results are not seen straight away. It is often easier to ‘go easy’ on the tree, not do the necessary work, and then in May, June and July reap a small crop, massively under what the tree has the capacity to produce.

I think that where the December pruning has happened in my life (and to be honest I moaned and protested violently at the time) that has been the very place and area God has used to bring glory to him and blessing to other people.

The truth is many of us want to be fruitful for God’s Kingdom, but we also desire comfort and pain-free growth, the question is “which do I desire more?”

The idea of pruning or discipline isn’t something that is fashionable to talk about in some Christian circles as so many Churches seem to want to project this ideal of grinning perfection (which I actually think is really unhelpful) and yet scripture tells us that “God disciplines the ones he loves” and even the fruitful vine is pruned so it will be more fruitful (in other words, you can’t escape being pruned!) -Jn 15.

Yet as I continued to think along this image, I came to a place where I thought -although pruning scares me- the question that matters, is do I trust the gardener?

Do I believe that although it may be December, that May, June and July will one day come?

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faithfulness

How do you measure success?

How do  you measure success?

What does “success” look like?

Is this even the right word?

I was struck once by a twitter quote which said “we shouldn’t fear failure, but rather succeeding at the wrong things!”

As I wrestled with this question I came up with this definition of success “when the call of God is matched by my faithful obedience”, ultimately what is successful is defined by whether our achievements are in line with the desire, will and heartbeat of God… The ultimate accolade is “well done good and faithful servant” from the one who matters the most.

Mother Teresa once helpfully said “I don’t remember that the Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke of faithfulness and love. This is the only success that really counts.”

Faithfulness, doing what we are called to do. I once heard someone say “If you are called to be a Sunday School teacher, do not demean yourself by becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury”.

The problem we define ourselves often not by the audience of the one who ultimately matters, but by other peoples expectations of us, which can be reasonable and can be unreasonable.

The question is whether those who make expectations of us, are also listening to God or just the noise of the world?

We sometimes fall into the trap of defining success with grandeur and size, if it is big, spectacular and noisy then it is successful yet I have come to believe this is a really more measure of success, in fact God is God of the subversive often delighting in bypassing the noisy event to show up in a the small and seemingly insignificant.

Time and again God reminds us that “his ways are not our ways” and that it is “not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit says the Lord of Hosts” who urges us to “not despise the day of small things”, after-all it is sometimes the smallest seeds that give birth to some of the biggest and most beautiful trees.

Yesterday I saw a friend of mine who is doing marriage prep with a girl, who used to go to a youth event I used to run and ended up talking about Jesus, no evident fruit at time, she was just another young person, but thirteen years later God used something from the past to draw her to himself. Sometimes fruit takes a while to grow and to show, and we sometimes feel like we have failed, when in fact we have sewn seeds for eternity, they have just taken a longer time-frame to show forth than we wanted with our human eyes (we forget God is into building for eternity, we want/like plenty of encouragements along the way).

Another danger we sometimes fall into thinking is the lie of the “secular spiritual divide” (the secular spiritual divide was disproved by the incarnation of Christ) where we think the things we do inside Church matter more to God.  Although I am great fan of John Wesley, and admire him as an evangelist and Church planter, from his writings he clearly was not a good husband or father, and yet God calls us to be faithful in ALL areas of our lives (Am I a good friend? Am I a good son? Am I a good grandson? Neighbour? Colleague?).

Just as with Jon Wesley the call to be an evangelist do not negate the call to family life, nor vice versa.

I think is a danger sometimes in some misguided Christian thinking which seems to want a cost and sacrifice free faithfulness (although normally a bit more dressed up in religious language than this).

To be faithful in all our callings will be costly and sacrificial, it is a call to walk a tightrope and we may fall on one or both sides of the rope.

It is a challenge as there will be areas where being faithful to God’s call is easier than others, and times and seasons when juggling both calls together is a challenge. Yet no one ever promised us the Christian life would be easy.

I have mentioned many times the line about a friend who believed God was calling him, and he said he “left the answerphone on”, and have suspicions that sometimes people see God’s call on their lives, and run for what they think will be an easier job (although if you don’t receive the call, do you receive the equipping?).

I worry that when I die and meet with God and I say “God I built this for you!” and God replied “but I really wanted you to dig that!”

Yet, as I have become a dad, I have realized that sometimes even the wrong thing with the right heart can be pleasing, and a I believe that our desire to serve, be faithful and obedient pleases him.

So success is following the Lordship of the one who calls, faithfully and obediently.

It is about building with gold, silver and costly stones that will last for eternity, and success I believe will only fully be realized the other side of eternity.

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