Carrying burdens, community of grace, Discipleship, Godliness, Partnership, Paul's Prayers, Phillipians, vocation

“Don’t just ‘SUPPORT’ me, ‘PARTNER’ with me” (Updated).

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Can you say a little prayer for us Vicar?

Would you mind if I said a little prayer for you?

I don’t want to pray a LITTLE prayer!

A “Little Prayer” sounds as though we lack confidence in Gods power to transform lives and circumstances.

I want to be like Paul praying big, hairy and audacious prayers rendering heaven.

I’ve been thinking too often we have dumbed down our language and expectations of prayer, mission and discipleship.

Recently, I came across (via Jackie Davies) a William Booth quote: “I’m not waiting for a move of God, I am the move of God”.

This is God’s plan for the transformation of his world, you and I living for him, stepping out in faith, and partnering with him.

This was reinforced for me recently with two things that happened this week…

The first when I prayed for someone to be healed, and they were, and I was more shocked than they were, which led me to have an interesting discussion with myself afterwards!

The second when I was sharing at a Church meeting the work I am doing in the community, and quite frankly it was pretty obvious they couldn’t care less…

My experience of this healing miracle made me think about living out my calling to partner with Christ (if you are a Christian, that is all of our callings!) and wondered am I really pulling my weight here, am I working with him, alongside him, or doing my own thing.

My experience of the DCC made me feel unsupported, certainly not feeling like we were in any real sense ‘partnering together’.

I was talking to another minister type mate who and said about supporting him, he said “I don’t want people to support me, I want people to partner with me”.

The same is true the other-way around, I don’t want to just support my congregations in mission, I want to partner with them.

The word SUPPORT conjures up images of sitting there with a sympathetic and slightly constipated look, offering milky coffee and making polite noises for a few minutes until the conversation returns to something less uncomfortable and more superficial.

Whereas the word PARTNERSHIP conjures up both people investing heavily in something, standing shoulder to shoulder, battling together amid blood, tears and sweat.

Partnership is a word about mutual investment, were the outcome really matters to those involved.

Support, sounds more like offering a hand, lending a fiver, giving someone a lift, making a cuppa (all good things, but has the image of superficial investment and involvement).

Paul wasn’t after support from his fellow Christians, he didn’t want “Oh Bless him” platitudes, he wants the disciples partnering with him to carry on fighting for the Kingdom cause as fearlessly as he did when he was on his missionary endeavours -especially as now he is in prison, in chains, for talking about Christ.

Paul’s prayer shows his aspiration for his team.

This left me wondering, is this the kind if thing we pray for ourselves? Our Churches? Our home-groups? Our friends involved in Christian Unions at work? Our Kingdom allies locally doing things like work based Alpha, Street Pastors, outreach work or whatever it is God is calling them too?

Or do we pray that God would just “help” them or “bless” them…

Over the next few days I’d urge us to grow our intersessions vocabulary, and realise that as we pray we are doing something bigger more amazing, more powerful and beautifully supernatural..

So let’s rediscover afresh the awesome power of prayer, connecting us with the awesome power that comes from almighty God.

Let’s up our support of one another so that it feels more like partnership.

Let us review how response to God’s partnership offer, are we partnering with him, pulling our weight and keeping in step.

To the original readers of the scriptures the word partnership would lead people to think of Oxon partnered together under a yoke, journeying together, in step, both taking equal share of the weight…

Yet for us the Yoke is a three person yoke, shouldering our partnership with God, and with one another, a call to carry one another’s yokes or burdens -and let them carry yours- as we all partner together to fulfil the heartbeat of creation to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

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Discipleship, Godliness, Spiritual Health

Gorging at the Table.

At the prayer room we have had some exciting words for the city come out this week, one word we had was “my people starve for lack of knowledge” which seems a crazy prophetic word as Christians have books galore, blogs, conferences, sermons and messages online but the problem is that we are just “gorging at the table” the Church in the West is spiritual Obese, the call is to turn the spiritual food we have in so much abundance into fuel.

Over-feeding causes us to become lethargic, often we see people who are wonderful “arm chair generals” they know it all, they can quote everyone from Kris Vallaton to Pope Francis and scatter their language with biblical quotations like linguistic croutons  and yet the problem is that we just feast and feast.

God calling us I believe not just to gorge at the table, but to turn our food in to fuel.

To dream again, and then get out bed and live it out.

“Awake O sleeper and rise from your slumbers”.

The phrase dream again, kept on coming to us in the prayer room, maybe we are lapping up other peoples’ dreams but they don’t satisfy because they are not Gods vision for us ourselves.

 A great quote that my friend Rev. Jackie Davies heard was that for too long the Church has been “waiting on a move of God” where Christ is saying “I am calling you to be the move of God”. It is that paradigm shift of moving from waiting to being.

Ghandi issued the challenge to “be the change you want to see”.

I was having a coffee with my friend Harry the other day and he said “we don’t need another course, Christians know what they should be doing, the issue is them actually doing it”.

The problem too, is our teachers are great at delivering sermons, I’ve delivered a few in my time too, but does our inspiring sermons lead to our changed lives and to other peoples changed lives, is the problem the lack of teaching or rather the problem of discipleship -actually doing it!

We were reminded too, of Lyn Green, who I believe is actually the Baptist “archbishop” who talked of 2016 being a year of “beacons of prayer”, and now 2017 being “beacons of hope” where people move from praying in their closets in their private space, to proclaiming in the public space, prayer is the fire that drives the engine.

God has given us all we need for life and Godliness, we already have the tools we need for mission and transformation, often snacking at the table, is delaying tactics -unable to speak because we are too busy chewing- keeping us from doing what we are actually called to do.

We probably know the stuff, and although teaching is good and important, the Christian faith isn’t just to feed our own heads but rather to transform this world for Christ.

So, let’s see 2017 being a year of the Church getting in shape, getting to be match fit, putting what we know into practice, letting our food become our fuel, as we leave the comfort of our nice warm cosy churches and living rooms, and return to the frontlines God has called us on.

Lunchtime is over, it’s now time to get to work.

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Discipleship, Godliness, Mission Shaped Church, paradigm shift, perspectives, Spiritual Health

Paradigm Shift.

Its a phrase that I read everywhere, and I used to think it was just one of those pretentious words that get glued onto new things by people wanting to sound intelligent, that was until I looked up what it meant!

Here is a definition: “A fundamental change in approach or underlying assumption”, in Phil Potters excellent ‘Pioneering a new future’ he talks of this ‘Paradigm Shift’ being like a swimmer being given a snorkel and goggles, -the swimmer sees the sea, the shore, the boat and the sky- but the snorkeler sees all that is under the ocean, their location is the same but the view is entirely different.

Vision is fundamental to what we do, “where there is no Vision the people perish”, yet the question actually is whose vision are we following, ours or Christ’s?

Do see where he is leading for the next step, often a step of faith and always a step out of out comfort zone and security.

In the Gospels Jesus heals a blind man who recovers his sight in two stages, the first his vision is unclear, before being restored completely.

It is easy to imagine this guy being pleased at having partial vision restored, yet Jesus plan was to completely open his eyes.

I believe that this miraculous story can also be a parable to the modern day Church, sadly we can become spiritually blind when we take our eyes off Christ, yet Christ wants to restore our vision but we often settle for seeing less than Christ wants us to see.

We need our vision transformed by Jesus, not just partially healed.

Wondering too if sometimes our expectations, experiences, history, disappointments and our egos  blurs our vision.

To see things with Christ’s eyes, see things as Christ sees them, ought to be the ambition of us all who follow Jesus, he saw not things as they were but as they could be.

Seeing God’s plan, his new way rather than simply second hand revelation and conventional wisdom, doing what we have always done. David saw God’s vision for defeating Goliath with a sling shot rather than the bulky over-sized armour of King Saul.

Yet to many of us are trying to fight a Goliath shaped battle in debilitating Armour from a past generation, rather than asking if this is something he is still calling us to do?

Often our vision is smaller and more timid that I believe God wants to give us rather the vision his vision is huge and audacious, as if it a small vision achievable with our own resources where is the need for faith? Faith John Wimber reminded us is “spelled R-I-S-K”.

Yet revelation and vision from Christ is scary, it shakes the status quo, it pushes boundaries, defies expectations and stretches and strengths our faith and often means us laying down and surrendering our preferences and understandings. “If we always do what we have always done, we will get what we always have”…

I believe God is saying “I have seen your vision, now do you want to see my vision?”

God says “Behold I am doing a new thing” and yet too often we are munching on yesterdays stale manna.

I am a fan of the recent Church of England’s Report “Mission Shaped Church” but realise we have tried to turn this around to Church Shaped Mission, lowering the challenge and moving the goal posts closer to a more comfortable and achievable game.

We forget that God’s plan is bigger than simply his Church and our programmes and ideas within that, rather God’s plan is for the whole world. Rowan Williams famously said “It is not the Church who has the mission of God, but rather the Missionary God who has the Church”.

God can’t be placed in a box, the curtain ripped from top to bottom proves that the Spirit of God is uncontainable.

So, let us pray as we begin 2017, to expect the unexpected, to think big and look at the world with God’s eyes, through the eyes of Christ, praying for new and restored vision for us both as individuals and corporately as Church. Looking with bold eyes, not for a small God stuffed into a box of our expectations and understanding, but rather with to see “what God is doing in world and joining” remembering that our God exceeds our wildest imagination and can “do more than we ask or think”.

Let us see things with the fresh eyes of faith.

 

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Discipleship, Godliness, Journey, Leadership, mentoring, Mission, New Year, Spiritual Health, vocation

I get knocked down…

Last night we went out to a friend’s house who played something of a nostalgic playlist. One song that came on was Chuwumba’s “Tubthumping” with the refrain of “I get knocked down, but I get up again ‘cos nothing’s going to keep me down”.

As I chewed this over, whilst busting some stylish moves on the dance-floor, I was stuck by the profundity of this lyric as a new year anthem (although the original song is about getting wasted!).

Sadly 2017 probably will knock us down at some-point, there will be disappointments, pain, challenges and difficulties; the Bible puts it well “just as sparks fly upwards are people born to trouble” -yet often it is not what is thrown at us that is the issue but rather our response to it, how we deal with it, that will define 2017.

Do we let disappointments floor us?

Do we let pain take us out of the game?

Do we let challenges cause us to give up or give in?

Do we let difficulties cause us to descend into sin?

The Youth Worker, Mike Pilivachi, described “perseverance as a missing gift for today’s Church”, as too often we get knocked down but the problem is getting back up again isn’t something any of us find easy.

The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatian Church “Do not grow weary in doing good for at the right time you will reap a (great) reward if you do not give up”.

There is a great verse in the minor prophets that says “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” Micah 7:8.

The question is simple “Where is God calling us in 2017” are we going to be faithful to that call, are we going to keep pursuing that call, despite the obstacles, challenges and difficulties?

I often feel like the New Year can feel like being the wrong end of the pitch with a rugby ball, and the whistle blows and we must run the length of the pitch with some hefty players trying to take you out of the game… Certainly this I think is the idea that the author of the book of Hebrews had when   talked in Chapter 12…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”.

Not a bad message to start the new year with.

My favourite story about being down but not out comes at the end of John’s Gospel when Simon-Peter thinks he is completely out of the game, he had run away, he had denied Jesus three times, and had returned to his life before meeting Jesus back at the fishing boat. Yet it was here in when Simon-Peter was down and at his lowest, this place of ‘back to square one’, that Jesus met him, and asked him the most important question of all time “Jesus: ‘Do you love me?’” reinstated him and gave him a new commission.

Simon-Peter had fallen big time, but he was raised back up by Christ is spectacular style.

The place of failure became the place of commission (or re-commission).

Whatever 2017 held for you, consider this to be a new start, a fresh page, a new beginning; perhaps you need to hear Christ asking you afresh the most important question “Do you love me?” -and lifting you from the ashes to your feet, brushing you off and saying “we’ve got work to do, want to join me?”

So, let 2017 be a year of getting ups, even if it is a year of knocks, a year of restorations even if it is a year of failing, a year of returns even if it is a year of disappointments.

Being knocked down is not fatal, but giving up makes it so.

Getting knocked down may be a tragedy, but getting back up is a victory.

Everytime we get back on our feet it is a victory for the Kingdom of God, as we say to Satan, I may get knocked down but I will rise back up again and I will continue what God has started within me.

Let 2017 be a year of victory, of keeping going, of perseverance against the odds, a year of the advancement of the Kingdom of God for the glory of Christ.

 

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Bravery, Discipleship, Godliness, paradigm shift, perspectives, Spiritual Health

Dont Drink the Pump Clip.

“I try to drink the beer rather than just the pump clip” said beardy Mike, my friend who runs the local pub.

Many people will choose a beer not based on what it tastes like but rather on the marketing plan around the pump clip, is it eye catching and memorable? Often an average beer can sell well because of its presentation, and a great beer is over-looked because of its lack of showy presentation, it’s only a real CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale) buff that knowledgable about beers than can look past the label, the pump clip, and choose a great pint.

It made me think of how as human beings we often are a bit like beer pump clips, try and put on a brave face, a good show. Often what people see is far removed from what people get. In some ways we all put on masks to show the world.

Yet The prophet Samuel said that “people look on the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart”. God knows the real beer rather than being fool by a fancy clip.

We live in a superficial world, where the external is often valued above the internal, where breadth often matters more than depth, which is the opposite of how Gods Kingdom world.

The world maybe impressed with our rhetoric, dazzled by the stuff we encircle ourselves with, the the wit and wisdom of our facebook posts yet God sees right through all of this and sees the heart of things.

The problem is sometimes we end up “believing our own press” or as a self protection mechanism become self deluded and choosing to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to self awareness.

Yet, God sees us above our brave faces and bravado, God sees us beneath our smiles, and knows who we really are, the “the we that we try to hide”, the parts of us we don’t like or even to acknowledge, the areas we try to govern he knows us better than we know ourselves, he knows the dark corners and the deep scars in our hearts, he knows the sin and the brokenness lurking within each one of us.

I think as we get ready to face a new year knowing God knows us through and through, knowing he loves us, knowing he’s for us and not against us, know too he is our healer and specialises in restoration, know too that he can see within us beauty and potential we may have missed –knowing what we and he can do together-.

The problem is not that God knows us, it’s not about being “honest to God” but rather honest with ourselves before him.

Although he knows us fully we need to give him permission to access all areas of our hearts and minds, just as the Holman Hunt picture shows the handle on the inside, God in his grace asks our permission to come through the various doors and areas of our life, knocking as he does on the door, heeding his voice, and opening the door (Rev.3:20).

He will bring his light into any shadowy or dark areas of our lives but only if we invite him too. As Graham Kendrick wrote in Shine Jesus Shine “search me, try me, consume all my darkness” or as the Psalmist writes “search my O God and know my heart and see if there is any offensive way in me” (Ps.139).

Allowing ourselves to see ourselves with Gods eyes is a brave step of faith and also one of surrender, where we have to deal with uncomfortable truths of our sin and fallenness.

Sometimes requiring us to open up those firmly sealed doors behind which lurk pain and hurt that scream out through so many areas of our lives but we often keep their control room locked and bolted and letting our gentle God, the God of all comfort, let his healing and restoring gracious spirit minister to that place of pain by visiting it together with us holding our hand and dealing with it together with us.

To allow God to see us and help us to step up -or step out- into the new things that he has in store for us, the things we don’t thing we can do on our own or by ourselves. Knowing God is for us and not against us, knowing that he chooses to work in partnership with his fallible and broken creation.

Know that God is a healer, who loves us whose plans are to “prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future” and know that he wants the best for us, know that with all that hurts, causes fear and is broken within us can be laid at the foot of Christ’s cross knowing he can be trusted with all that is within us if we are brave enough to let go of it and give it to him.

The phrase that prompted this article was hearing Coldplays song “Fix You”… My prayer is that will be our experience of the healing restorative power of Christ “fixing us”…

And in letting Christ work in us we may show a much better and more beautiful “Pump Clip” to the world.

 

 

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Bible, Depression, Discipleship, Godliness, Journey, prayer, Spirituality, Worship

When You Are Just Not Feeling It.

Writers block… Normally I have 101 ideas I’m dying to share with the world about following Jesus, but today I can’t think of anything!

Sometimes we go through seasons when really feel Gods presence wonderfully close, other days God doesn’t feel so close.

Sometimes, when we read the Bible it really speaks to us and there is a wonderful connection, other times it can feel like a habit and your read some verses that aren’t bad but don’t really move you.

I’ve had times when I can’t put the Bible down, and I’ve had other times when I’ve struggled to pick it up.

Have you ever been in a church service of an event when everyone else seems to be connecting with God in a wonderful and deep way and we feel a bit jealous because we are just not feeling it?

Sometimes you sing some songs and you feel Gods presence and other times it just feels like you are singing songs, sometimes the words catch you, especially songs that are joy filled “…and I feel like dancing” which doesn’t always resonate with where we are at.

Sometimes it’s a choice, and in singing words it’s a faith filled thing, saying that the truth of God is greater than our current feelings, and I will worship despite my circumstance, mood, or whatever… Other times it’s a question of integrity, I can’t sing “I’m overflowing with joy” when God knows that I’m not, he knows I want to be, but for whatever reason today doesn’t feel like it.
I think there are times in our life when sometimes it isn’t easy being a follow of Christ.

I think that there is a false Americanisation of some worship styles that are often overly joyous and ‘sugary’ as though life is perpetually good and the only human expression the

Christian is allowed is a cheesy grin.

Yet in the psalms there are plenty of laments and even “where have you gone God?” Psalms, Jesus even quoted one of these (Ps. 22) on the cross, I long to see greater authenticity within our sung worship, that embraces rather than runs from pain, confusion and frustration.

I love (and am deeply challenged by) Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name, when the suns shining down on me and the world is all that it should be… Blessed Be Your Name when found in the Desert place, on the road marked with suffering, though there is pain in the offering, blessed be your name… You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, blessed be your name”.

I don’t think God ever intended human beings to live perpetually on the mountain, he knows that in real life we go into real valleys, and maybe even real deserts too.

In fact it’s the deserts where the most beautiful and powerful growth occurs.

Just as a rose bud develops its best scent when it is tightly compressed.

Yet it is in the mundane we discover something deep in our faith, just as in our human relationships it is easy to serve your spouse when you are totally loved up, but harder when maybe its not all rose petals and romance.

Yet what an amazing act of truly beautiful Worship when we Worship even through the tears.

I think we need a spiritual life that  is robust enough that know,and can cope with highs and lows, and when things are tough we learn discipline and gain strength.
Yet it is easy to serve when your heart is full of gladness, but harder when your heart is full of sadness, but in a way more beautiful and authentic, for we are saying to God that despite our internal and external feelings and circumstances, even so, we are going to rely not on our feelings knowing they are fallible, but instead place our trust on God and his faithfulness, which -despite our feelings- remains steadfast.

Sometimes when you feel you have nothing to say, sometimes that’s the most profound message of all.

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community of grace, Discipleship, Godliness, Life styles

Grey and Grace?

Okay, I’m going to be very controversial here…

When John Sentimu was Bishop of Birmingham he said “XXX number of children are going to die today due to unclean drinking water and you don’t give a ****, what is more you are probably more offended by me swearing in a Cathedral than the shocking statistic.”

Imagine you were standing behind your house-group leader in the queue in tescos, and you saw them buy unfair traded coffee, would we even notice?

What about if they bought  copy of the Daily Mail?

How about if they bought a copy the book  Fifty Shades of Gray?

Or perhaps the Game of Thrones Box set?

What about a lottery ticket?

Or a copy of the Gay Times?

Or a ton of booze?

Or perhaps they posted something from Britain First on their facebook page?

Or bumped into them shopping in Primark (which often uses child labour and sweat shop labour)?

Or they dropped their purse/wallet and said the F word, or maybe even said “Jesus Christ”?

Or when the Church is doing a Mission you see on facebook that they went to the pub?

Or missed a prayer meeting because they were tired after work?

Perhaps every week they turn up to Church wearing a new Armani suit or a different pair of mega bucks shoes?

And then as we watch our home-group leader doing whatever, do we suddenly ask ourselves the question “Are we being judgmental towards him or her?”

Some of those things might have registered no reaction at all from you, some might have got you a bit hot under the collar?

-Probably for some of them might have had a pang in your tummy, thinking ‘I do that!’ (health warning: I’m not necessarily saying everything on this list is sinful, certainly different people would draw the line in different places, but floating them to get us thinking, What really are our priorities? Where are our hearts? )

I was talking to a lady on Sunday who said “Christians are obsessed about sex, but what would the world and the Church look like if their obsession on sex was directed towards mission and justice?” (on one level she’s right!)

At college someone coined the phrase (excuse the crudeness) about “more worried about wallets than willies” but I’m not sure I agree with them having seen terrified teenagers discover they were pregnant and heard their stories, I think it is right we take sex seriously but surely it’s a false paradox, can’t we take sexual ethics seriously as well as issues of mission and justice?

Yet is it easy to pick on the sin we are  least likely to commit and make a big deal about that whilst ignoring our ‘minor indiscretions’ claiming everyone does it, and after all no one is perfect’?

I’ll lay my cards on the table, I can be pretty judgmental about rich people as we don’t have much cash so turning up to Church in an Armani suit probably isn’t going to be my downfall, whereas there are plenty of other things which might well derail me.

Yet it made me think a bit about where we get our values from, do we simply reflect the culture around us, what everyone else thinks is okay we go along with?

If we ask “what would Jesus do?” do we assume its the stuff we do and not the stuff “other people do”?

Lets’ maybe ask that same question more critically.

Many of our choices we don’t even really think about what God’s opinion might be?

Sometimes we don’t realize that our choices have consequences for people we might not see (but are very much real people).

Are our values, hang ups and priorities those of the spirit of God?

Do we have more grace and love towards brothers and sisters who struggle with different things to those we struggle with?

Do we have the courage to stand up and say “this is wrong”, shining a light on injustice?

And (at  the risk of being really controversial) when I think about how vast parts of the Church in Nazi Germany just simply rolled over and accepted Antisemitism simply because it is the norm and everyone was doing it.

Are we blinded to sin because we are so used to it being everywhere in our culture.

Lets’ be people who love and stand up for truth.

I saw the film Cinderella with my daughter recently and was struck by two quotes; “courage and kindness in all you do” and “Just because it is how it has always been done isn’t how it always should be done”.

A very challenging comment I read on facebook was “In 100 years time it will be seen as shocking to own possessions made in sweatshops and slaves, than it is now when we think of the historic slave trade”.

At All Souls we are doing a series on discipleship, and I think the question has got to be ‘what does a life look like that is infused by Christ’s Holy Spirit in every part’, is Christ Lord of all? Or just the Lord of the bits that show?

Is God telling some of us to sort out areas of their lives?

Is God challenging some of us about our attitudes to people who struggle with different things?

Is God asking some of us to think where do we get our values from and asking God to realign our thinking with his spirit?

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