acceptance, brokenness, community of grace, Compassion, ethics, grace, Holiness, inclusion, LGBT, love, truth

It’s a SIN?

I recently blogged about the Church needing to be loving in its attitudes towards people especially those in the LGBT community.

I deliberately didn’t blog about where I personally stand on the issue, as normally that normally means that only the people who agree with you read your post!

I long for all sides of Christ’s Church to become more loving, to read the Bible together in loving, God-honouring, humbling, respectful exchanges.

People talk about grace and truth being held together, and I think much of our Christian theology is about holding some difficult things intension in a Godly way (which is hard at times).

For some this is primarily a debate about the authority of scripture, what authority does scripture have over how we are followers of Christ live our lives? Does scripture say what we think it does, are we reading things the same way? Let’s talk and seek God together about authority of scripture and then about what it says within it?

For some this debate is about pastoral theology, how do we live out our faith together in community?

For others it is about how people make sense of their story and the story of God that captivates us, and the fundamental question of “who am I in Christ?” And for some, how do I make sense of “who I have discovered I am” with “who I have discovered I am in Christ?” and is there a tension with the two, and if so, how do I authentically deal with this under the Lordship of Christ.

The question people often say is “is it a sin?” as it seems be saying “if it is a sin, then the gloves are off and we can treat them how we like”, pastorally, even if it is a sin we are still called to love people and to “love our neighbour as our-self”.

Some think unquestionably the answer is yes.
Some think unquestionably the answer is no.

Some distinguish between desire and inclination and the practice.

I think the problem is we want a ‘clear cut’ discipleship and yet I have discovered that most pastoral theology is often complicated, messy and often not as clear cut as we’d like it to be.

I know many people in different places on the spectrum.

One Christian I have spoken about this, is an amazing Godly person and this person has chosen to be celibate rather than living out her sexual desire.

I know other Christians, gay and straight, who genuinely have really studied, prayed and sought God and believe the opposite.

Much ink has been spilled in the “nature/nurture” debate, yet irrespective of this Jesus is a God that meets us where we are at, and this is true for all people regardless of gender identity, and yet loves us too much to let us stay that way. we all need transformation, and we are all fallen, broken people. The straight person is not superior to his gay neighbour, as before the foot of the cross it is level ground, we all come from any and all walk of life, empty handed before a loving God who died for us.

I worry we have re-written the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector to the “straight and the gay person”, and I don’t want to be on the wrong side of the parable.

Christ’s grace and love extends to every area of our lives include our sex lives and inclinations, as does his Lordship too.

As I said in my previous blog, the only way we can see these rifts within the wider Church and individual fellowships be healed, is in love journeying together prayerfully, seeking God and seeking him honestly through scripture (which can be immensely challenging for us all whatever perspective we hold, as scripture always shapes and challenges us profoundly to the core of our being).

Even if we don’t agree and may never read the Bible the same way as someone else our challenge remains to love them and to ensure that our conduct towards them reflects the Christ we serve.

It is a difficult call, and groups like synod will make stands some of which we will applauded and others of which leave us perplexed, yet rather than walk away, lets keep engaging, praying and seeking God with those who see things differently by reading his word together.

It is hard being in conversations about things that are deeply personal and important with people that don’t agree with us, and the Bible can feel incredibly sharp on occasion, yet even though it is difficult it is the cost of being a disciple to be a loving community, gathered around Christ and his word, and to seek together to follow Christ, which is often more complex, messy and ambiguous than we would like it to be.

As we seek to share our journey of faith with our brothers and sisters from many different walks of life, we need to let God work in us and shape us, and these things are often costly, “Iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another”.

The Church in the U.K looks like it might split over this issue, which would be a tragedy for us all. There have been many big and important issues that have threatened to tear the Church apart, but we need to remember the heart of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane that prayed “let them (the Church)be one as you and I are one”, Christ wants his bride to be united. To stop fighting and prayerfully gather around scripture takes bravery from all sides, and even more courage to stay praying and sharing around the Bible when it gets challenging, but worth it, to show the world that Christians can disagree in a Godly and honourable way.

The Church needs to heed the words of murdered MP Jo Cox that said “there is more that unites us that divides us”.

I believe the Church can and should be an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, and I believe it is worth fighting for, because you are worth fighting for, because we are the Church of Jesus Christ and we will not let’s not allow Satan to divide us.

Keep loving.
Keep meeting with people who we disagree.
Keep praying.
Keep sharing.
Keep reading scripture.
Keep on seeking God together.

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Holiness, Lords Prayer., prayer

Harold be thy Name…

At our All Age Congregation, Kings Krew, we have been working through the Lords Prayer, last time we looked at the opening phrase “Our Father in Heaven” (see previous blog).

On Sunday we looked at the next section, which I used to think was “Harold be thou name”, although we explored this together we remembered it was “hallowed be your name”, but interestingly everyone knew the word, but no one actually knew what it meant (adult as well as kids!)

I was thinking of the question “Who Am I?”

-We answer by giving our name.

The name we are known by effects our relationship with them, Doctor Who, is known as the Doctor “the one who makes people/things better”.

God reveals himself as “Father”, the source of life, loving parent, head of the family, provider, protector and the one in whose image we are fashioned.

As we explored what Hallowed meant, we discovered that it meant Holy, “Holy is your name”, what does Holy mean? We got some interesting Churchy words for Holiness, but as we dug deeper we got, words like “precious”, “perfect”, “unblemished and untarnished”, “as it should be and without defect”, “completely right”, “as it should be”, “the best quality”, “flawless” this idea developed into the phrase (unintentionally quoting Tina Turner!) “simply the best, better than all the rest”.

In fact we though of the verse in Isaiah 6 which said “Holy, Holy, Holy” -which describes God, but the reason why the same word is given three times is because there is no word for “very”, so it is saying emphatically perfect, perfect, perfect, the best, the best, the best.

But then we wondered “may your name be Holy” is a funny phrase as God’s name IS holy, so perhaps this actually is a call for people to realise, acknowledge and honour the Holiness of God’s name. In other words “your name is Holy, and may it be honoured by all people”.

There are many names for God, but we can’t simply sum God up in one name, in fact one time when God is asked his name he describes it as “I am who I am”, which become translated to Yahweh, which was an unsayable name, orthodox Jews today consider God’s name to be so Holy they write “G-d”.

Knowing our name is too intimate for some people, teachers will introduce themselves as Mr or Ms, rather than by their first name, to be known by their first name would give a familiarity they don’t want.

Joan Osbourne asked “If God had a name what would it be? And would you call it to his face?”

Christians know that this God, whose name is too Holy to speak or write down, was given a name -a name which is above every name- -a name by which we are save- and that is Jesus, “the one who saves”, “Immanuel” or “God with us”.

Chris Cornell sung for the re-boot of Bond in Casino Royale, and sung “You know my name”, God who is Holy lets us know his name, let’s us know him, intimately, informally, personally and authentically.

May your name be revered and honoured, as people come to know you God. Amen.

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Authenticity, community of grace, Gospel, Holiness, justice

Another Letter, or maybe a Post Script…

Yesterday I wrote a few thoughts on what Christ might write in a letter to us, and my idea started of about our relationship with Christ as primary focus, on wanting a Church that primarily is in love with Christ, hungry for more of him, seeking him together in unity.

Yet I thought that maybe a post script might be needed, as I think that maybe we to think if we are people in love with Christ, then we become like those whom we love, we become like those who we spend time with.

what does it look like to live lives in love with Jesus and following him.

Here is Shane Claiborne thoughts on what the Spirit maybe saying to the Churches…

It made me think of Holiness not as avoiding sin, and sticking to a “do and don’t list” -although it is important to not engage in sin, but it is so so much more than that, it is actively doing righteous, beautiful and transformational living.

A deeper authenticity, where our words match our rhetoric, a life that reflects Christ in the big and the small, gospel living that is truly good news -good news not just good news for when we die, but showing Jesus is good news now today in our real and everyday lives.

A Christianity that isn’t superficial, a Christianity which isn’t just signing up for a set of programmes, but rather a missional family seeking first together the Kingdom of God, where Iron Sharpens Iron as one person sharpens another, carrying one another’s burdens,  and encourages us to be more more radically like Jesus in all we do, more dangerous to Satan’s plans as an ambassador of Christ, advancing a new and different Kingdom breaking in, one where the hungry are fed, those who smell real bad are embraced, those whose social skills are loved and listened too, the poor get are welcomed like Kings, the blind/sick/ill experience the radical power of God’s ability to heal, and the good news -the Gospel message- permeates everything we say and do.

Church that takes risks both corporates and individually -faith lived out in a way that makes us “gulp rather than yawn”.

It is easy to get all aspirational, but the truth is, that things can be changed by people like you and me with God’s help, it is a challenge, it is costly, it is violently counter cultural and calls for discipline, commitment and sacrifice but it is possible.

The world is crying out for a Church that looks like Jesus again.

Jesus said “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”, this is the mission of God’s Spirit in his world, because the local Church is the hope of the world, that is me and you together doing our bit can bring world transformation. It doesn’t just mean watching Christ build his Church and us huddle inside it as some kind of remnant whilst the gates of hell bang on our doors, no for too long we as Christ Church have behaved like victims, playing small and playing defensively in the minor leagues, yet we are more than Conquers through Christ, the Gates of Hell don’t bang on our doors, we bang on theirs, and ultimately they can’t prevail against us.

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Father God, grace, Holiness, Humanity

Approach Boldly.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

I was at the Living Acts Bible Study/Men’s Breakfast this morning and we were thinking about prayer.

Thinking about Coming to the Father, through Jesus the Son, in the Power of the Holy Spirit. My thoughts wandered to that amazing picture of the temple curtain ripping in two, from the top to the bottom, as Jesus cried out eith his gi so breath whilst dying on the cross the words “It is Finished”. The way to God is open. We can approach God with confidence because of the death and resurrection of Christ that cleanses us from our sin.

I was reminded of a story I read of JFk jr walking into the Oval Office, and climbing in the presidents lap at the heart of the Cuban Missile Crisis, this child was able to enter the heart of the most powerful office in the land, approaching the most powerful man on the planet not because of what he had done, but rather who is was, the child of the president, which meant he had access at all times to his Father. No one is allowed to just walk into the Oval Office, no one is allowed to call the President anything else than Mr. President (or Sir) yet JFK jr was allowed to call the President “daddy”.

We can approach our heavenly Father, because of his great love for us, that whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us, the righteous for the unrighteousness to bring us to God. His throne room is a billion times more powerful than America’s Oval Office. What is more we can call he Lord Almighty creator of heaven and earth Daddy, our Father, Abba. “See how the Father lavishes his love upon us that we may be sallee children of God”.

The problem is we don’t approach God with the boldness of beloved children. Often for whatever reason, we shrink back fom approaching our Heavenly Father. Often our prayers our two small when we know the awesome power and great life he has for us, perhaps we don’t realise Gods extravagance and deep desire to bless, not confident to pray with boldness and ask for what is really on our hearts. Often we feel too self concious of our sin to approach God, knowing we are sinful people but not remember than we are sanctified by the precious blood of Jesus, as the opening hymn reminds us that “there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus”.

So let’s approach Our Heavenly Father with boldness shouting out “Abba Father”.

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Acts of Service, Bravery, Church, community of grace, Compassion, Discipleship, Giving/Generousity., Holiness, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, prayer, self awareness, Unity, Worship

A Dream for the local Church…

I wrote this in 2012, which was a time when nearly all the Churches in Kingswood had different leaders, All Souls hadn’t been planted yet and nor had some of the more savage ‘sheep bites’, but even so, it is still the picture that I long to see God do in this area… Although now where it says Kingswood, I think we’d have to say BS15 as we now work in Hanham too… In places, there are signs of this vision becoming reality and in other places there is still a fair way to go… (Anyway, hope it blesses you!)

Kingswood High Street might be littered with church buildings, and true they do have their own congregations and their own unique quirks, habits, funny ways but in one sense they really are one Church because they are all sold out on loving Christ and making him known.

They are all wanting to be filled with the spirit of the living God, they cry out for the lost in their prayers, they seek to seize every opportunity that Christ gives to make him known -pray and proclamation go together here, woven together with a beautiful seemlessness.

The Christian’s here  are deep and authentic about their faith and uncompromising in Holiness but awash with grace.

They pray together with such love that which congregation they belong to is hardly noticeable, they pray so passionately, and listen intently, and as they worship Christ in spirit and truth, the Church in Kingswood carries the very heartbeat of God.

It knows its identity, it is a holy and pure bride, but it is salt and light, wise as serpents but innocent as doves, it holds out the word that gives life, it shines out like stars in the darkness…

The church is attractive, marked as distinctive because of the hope that we have, filled with vibrant life, and deep authentic life shared together, this isn’t an hour on a Sunday morning  and an otherwise disparate community, but these are the men and women of God, ambassadors of Christ, solider called to take the ground of Kingswood for Christ.

They are living sacrifices.

They chose Christ in all they do through out the week.

The seize the moment never missing an opportunity to bless and seek and see God’s Kingdom break in.

They are  Church that hears God and has the courage to follow in obedience.

It is growing.

Ordinary people are meeting with an extraordinary God all the time, Kingdom encounters are normal part of our spiritual DNA.

The Churches are good incubators, people are loved, encouraged, mentored and walked with, we make disciples together as we all learn what following Jesus actually looks like.

People take risks on each other, leaders rise up from unlikely places, discipleship is organic and indigenous, and yet real and authentic with people being truly them and truly shining out Jesus.

Church looks funny, choatic even, but it is growing, it’s a movement of God in relationship, with people following where God leads, and it snowballs, it doesn’t play it safe and get comfortable, instead every group and sub group in Kingswood can hear about Jesus in a way they can understand..

This is the Church of Christ in Kingswood.

It is good news for all who are lost, hurting, marginalised, disenfranchised, ostracised, broken, it is good news for all. It is a community that reflects Jesus to the wider community.

It is a loving community, filled with compassion, and it is by this that all people know we belong to Christ, that we love one another…

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Authenticity, Discipleship, Holiness, Leadership, Life styles, obidience

Some Lessons from Puppy Training…

We have a new puppy Teddy.

The world of Dogs and Puppies is a new world for us, but one we are beginning to enjoy exploring.
Learning to nip our bad habits in the bud.
The first thing is that dogs need training, they need to know what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.
Most young animals bite and explore using their mouth, it’s normal, but as no one minds a puppy gently chewing your finger but no one wants a Great Dane munching your arm.
If the puppy is never taught not to bite, the problem will grow and become worse.
A great rule is, let’s deal with things early, let’s challenge minor stuff before it grows and grows; better to deal with a chewy puppy that face the jaws of the hound of the Baskervilles!
 
Obedience.
A dog needs to learn to hear their masters voice, and are trained to leave their distraction and coming running. Wow! What a picture, I want to hear my master (Gods) voice, leave any distraction and come running.
Puppies however would much rather be eating your slippers than running to your side.
They learn however that obedience is something which brings reward and blessing.
A lesson I need to learn as do I not heed the Fathers call when I am too busy simply chewing a slipper?
 
But the hard work happens beyond the Puppy Class.
The other lesson I have learned from puppy classes is about “putting the work in at home”.
Just sitting in a class for an hour a week is not going to train our puppy for life.
Yet sadly many Christians think partaking in a religious service and sitting politely through a sermon, will somehow transform us, without us having to put any work in ourselves.
Its easy to know the theory with training puppies, or living the Christian life, but making the theory our default setting is a much tougher, longer and more challenging journey.
 
Conclusion:
Let’s be brave and sort things out early (saving us problems long terms!)
Let’s learn to hear our masters voice (learning to avoid those distracting slippers and learning the joy and reward of obedience).
Let us take our discipleship seriously not just for an hour a week at special classes.
What do you reckon?
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Holiness, Journey, Kingdom, Life styles, Spiritual Health, vocation

Don’t Run & Don’t hide…

There were a group of early church leaders who got so worried about sinning that they hid in the desert so as to try and run from temptation. The problem is it didn’t work because sin actually isn’t just our reaction to external forces but actually comes from the fallen-ness of what is inside us, so even away from everyone these guys still sinned. So they tried to do things to keep their heads and hearts pure, one guy sat on a spike for years.

Yet I don’t think this sounds much like the life in all its fullness that Jesus promised (Jn.10.10)?
These guys were running from the world, trying to flee sin, yet discovered that such things are inescapable, we always take ourselves and our sin and baggage with us.
For me it poses a bigger question however of why are we here?
I don’t believe that our purpose once saved is to sit tight and wait for heaven.
Our call is not to escape the world but rather to transform it for Christ…
Let’s take a minute to look at a bit of the Bible:-
“You are the light of the world… No one lights a lamp and hides it under a bowl… a city on a hill cannot be hidden… You are like stars that shine in the night sky in a crooked and depraved generation… You hold out the word that gives life… You are Christ’s ambassadors…”
The Christian was never meant to be hiding in churchy bubbles, lurking behind closed doors and retreating from the world.
I remember interviewing for a schools worker who once said she had no non christian friends, her whole life was wrapped in the cottonwool of churchyness…
We get so worried about being contaminated by the world, that we forget we are meant to be the ones doing the impacting.
We need as Christians to grab hold afresh of the truths that “he that is within us (Christ) is greater than he that is in the world (Satan)”… “We have the same Holy Spirit within us that raised Jesus from the grave” and he can (and does) “do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine).
Instead of hiding from the world retreating into our comfort zones of churchyness lets live out our lives in the real world building real relationships with real people, let’s be confident in who we are and who God has called us to be, knowing that he shines out of us, as we seek to be a blessing, beautiful, Kingdom advancing people.
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