Humility, Pride, Servanthood.

Everybody gets to load the dish-washer.

At New wine Gareth Robinson said “In our family we have a rule that everyone gets to load the dish-washer” and then went on to explain that it was true for their Church family too.

Following on from yesterdays blog about the discipline of secrecy is our need to be people who serve.

No one knows who replaces the toilet-rolls, nips to the shop to buy milk so you can be welcomed with a nice coffee, cleans the floor after your kids have splashed paint everywhere and many more unseen jobs within the Church.

Often too, no-one notices the person that tirelessly visits our housebound members (some are delightful and some can be a real act of love!).

So much of what really matters about Kingdom Ministry is rarely the bits that show. -Ironically when Churches do job interviews they seem primarily concerned about the bits that show which actually I think are the bits that matter least, I’ve known poor preachers facilitate wonderful moves of God, and great preachers be utter rat-bags behind the scenes.

My friend David white once said “it is easier to find someone that will preach in the pulpit that it is to clean it” -to be fair he did spit a lot when he talked!

Yet the act of service is so vital for the health of any Church, but it is also vital for our own spiritual health.

when I was a teenager I got accused of “treating this place like a hotel!” but when you serve you are actually investing in the Community, not coming as a guest or a consumer. when you serve you feel part of the family.

Yet serving is so counter cultural now, and perhaps sometimes human beings are just a bit lazy, I was laughing in the leaders lounge at new wine about the people who will talk to you (and I’m sure they think what they are saying is important) and watch you working (moving tables, doing dishes, scrubbing floors) and they will talk and talk at you, but won’t lift a finger to help!

Yet serving reflects Jesus style of leadership, the God who took a towel and washed his disciples feet. The Servant King. The God who came “no to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many”.

I read a facebook statement that said: “If serving is beneath you, then leadership is above you”. -It is true, at the heart of leadership in the economy of God is service.

Interesting too, I have seen people talk about believing God has a call on their life, even in some cases frustrated that God hasn’t opened the door sooner, but they won’t roll up their sleeves and serve, perhaps the key to opening up their destiny is a lot simpler than they think, and yet this also might involve a change of heart which might be a tougher call than they think.

when I think of service I am drawn to the story of Naaman a leader in the Babylonian army, a leader covered in the dreaded skin disease lea that Elijah’s servant told to bath 7 times in the river Jordan, he refused thinking he was too grand and the river was too murky, yet it was in humbling himself and submitting that he gained his healing and transformation (and deeper than his physical healing he realised that the God of Israel was the only Lord to be worshipped).

Scripture tells us (repeatedly) that “God opposes the proud and yet exalts the humble”, it is the humble that serve, it is the humble that seek the glory of God rather than boosting their own ego. Servanthood is a revolutionary act and choice in defiance of our egocentric self glorifying world.

So, lets grasp the discipline of secrecy and learn to lead less like Alan Sugar in his board-room and more like Jesus washing the disciples feet.

The call of Christ in my experience is downwardly mobile, it is an upside down Kingdom where the first are last, and the last first and the meek inherit the earth.

And I’ll close with another facebook meme that says “we often miss God’s great opportunities because they turn up in overalls and look like work”.

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Humility, Matthew 6. 6., relationship with God

The Discipline of Secrecy.

we live in a world where secrecy always is portrayed as sinster, but yet Jesus seems to think there is a lot to be said for it.

“But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”.

But we live in a world where most of our lives -including our dinners- get plastered all over social media, and nothing is secret, nothing is discreet, and nothing is done anonymously.

I love the idea of living for the audience of one (God himself) but our human nature wants to be thanked and appreciated. I love the idea that sometimes people are blessed and no-one knows who the person is that is blessing them, seems to me to be a natural extension of “the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing”.

As I began to think more about this “secret history” of people in the quiet place receiving and encountering God and made me wonder whether the loudest and most flamboyant in our congregation that maybe waves their arms most in the worship time, or the one who dominates Bible studies with an answer for everything may not necessarily be the spiritual giants we might think they are, and the unassuming person in the corner is actually our greatest warrior leading the battle secretly from the hidden place of their prayer closet.

I watched a film once called “Shallow Hal” where a misogynist only saw peoples inward beauty not their external appearances, and his view of the world was transformed. I wonder if we could see one another’s own spiritual lives, the behind closed doors lives, whether we might be surprised, both at those we might have written off actually being great players in the advancement of God’s Kingdom winning those crucial battles on their knees? And perhaps the reverse is true, that people that “talk the talk” aren’t “praying the prayers”.

A discipline of secrecy, living for the audience of one, building that deep relationship with God when no one sees and know one knows just you and God.

If we are to see this nation changed, then probably it wont be through loud events with smoke machines, but rather through ordinary men and women -like you and me- prioritising the unobserved, discreet time spent just with God that no one else knows about.

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Humility, Listening, sin

Speaking for Me, Myself and I…

James the brother of Jesus urges us in his epistle: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak“, yet my experience is that sadly we are all to quick to speak and too slow to listen.

In Parliaments Politicians are so keen to talk but not so keen to listen that they have created a word “filibuster” where they “speak without pausing” to hijack a potential law they don’t want to see reach the statute book.

I was at a Churchy meeting recently and the phrases “I”, “me”, “we” and “us” were used a lot.

At New Wine one of the speakers said “when I hear these words spoken in Churches it cuts God out of the conversation entirely”.

Now I’m not saying it isn’t good to know what people think and feel, but primarily what we want actually doesn’t matter that much.

What actually matters is what Christ is saying to us and whether are being obedient to command?

Yet often we are so keen on sharing our opinion, rather than seeking God’s will on a situation.

We are so keen to have good ideas, but less keen sometimes to know if the idea is Gods idea. Although God’s ideas normally sound crazy, they also work better than ours!

A set of ladders would be a good idea for taking the city of Jericho, but Gods idea was marching around worshipping.

We often debate ideas in a way that assumes we have a silent God, yet scripture has never given us any reason to suppose that God does not speak, but human experiences shows us that we sadly are often less inclined to listen.

The Book of Hebrews says: “today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts”, and John the book of Revelation says “let him who has ears listen to what the spirit says to the Church”.

Yet I believe too often too much of our Church hears the opinions of the most opinionated, rather than necessarily hearing the ‘still small voice’ of God’s direction, often missed and over-looked in hubbub that is so many of our Churches meetings, meeting where people want to be heard, but not always want to listen.

Interestingly are the people who have the jobs within the Church people who are known for their worldly wisdom, or their deep prayerfulness.

Stephen Cottrell talks about “hitting the ground kneeling”, if we want God to speak deeply through us, then we need to walk deeply with him, learn to hear his voice -not to show off and look all prophetic- but to be attuned to God’s heart-beat and his ways.

Often the heart of hearing from God is humility, is that often we have to turn down our own internal, personal volume -our own need to be heard, our own egos, our view on the person speaking, our experiences (both good and bad) and seek God himself, listen for his voice.

Yet rather than “having all the answers” and coming before God with empty hands is both a worshipful display of sacrifice and in vulnerability is a statement of faith and expectation in the generosity of God.

We don’t like not knowing stuff, and would rather tell God what to do, than get on our knees and seek him.

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” Anne Lamott.

-I’d suggest that if your faith causes you to hate anyone, then you’re not following the Christ who said “father forgive them” whilst hanging and dying on a cross- but the idea of God is thinking what we think on every issue is a dangerous one.

“If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself” Timothy Keller.

One of my college lecturers John Kelly used to talk about the danger of sharing our opinions with a deep booming “thus sayeth the Lord” type voice.

Yet someone is bound to say about the Bible about this point, and God’s written word is a wonderful gift to us. Yet sadly scripture is too often used a little too selectively, to try and back up our point of view rather than seeking God’s heart. I remember David White, Vicar of St. Michael Le Belfrey in York, once said “Think of the Bible as a lamp post, do you use it for illumination, or like a drunk for support?” Recently I read Harper Lee’s New(ish) book “To Set A Watchman” and was scary how many “sound protestant Christians” were playing fast and loose with scripture to justify their horrific racist views so prevalent in the deep south in the 1950’s. We need people not just cherry picking scripture, but prayerfully seeking God, wisely with our hearts and minds open to what his Spirit wants to say to us, tested, weighed and shared honourably with integrity.

Hearing God’s voice is at the heart of discipleship.

The little boy Samuel heard God’s voice call him in the temple, which started a life of fruitful obedience (the beginning of the chain reaction which brought about the birth of Christ many centuries later)…

May we be a Samuel generation, that hears the voice of God, and echoes his famous prayer “speak Lord for your servant(s) are listening”.

 

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5 Fold Ministry -Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (Eph. 5), Humility, identity, Isaiah 6, Pioneer, Pride

Words, Language and Titles…

A week ago I was at a really thought provoking meeting at the Diocese thinking about pioneer ministry.

Yet the thing that struck me  is the language, words, names and labels we use actually acts can be really unhelpful.

Gideon was called by the angel as a “Mighty Warrior” and didn’t see himself as Israels military leader after-all “I am the least in my family and my family is the least in Manasah”… Yet Gideon was a Mighty Warrior as he step out in faith (after a fair bit of encouragement from God) he stepped into the Identity that God had called him to, the gifts, skills and talents that lay within him, unseen and unrecognised.

Some of us at times can be a little like Gideon struggle with self doubt, and doubting of our calling, or other times we have our own ideas and expectations of ourselves. A type of false humility can easily exist and we can mistakenly think as virtuous but actually keeps us from becoming all that God wants us to be.

I wonder how many pioneers -or perhaps apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets exist within our Church but would rule themselves out, or not be confident in embracing who they are before God?

I wonder too how many pioneers, -or perhaps apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets exist within our Churches  but the Church communities sadly often don’t realised, acknowledged and embrace these gifts… (I think those with a pastoral gift most churches are reasonable at recognising, but often sadly many are less good at recognising the other characteristics).

Intestestingly both Isaiah (Is.6) and Jeremiah (Jer.1), both prophets who really needed Gods help to find their voice, Isaiah even has a vision of a cereph touching his lips with a burning coal… I wonder how many of us need Gods help to find our voice, especially our prophetic voice? Often the prophetic feels scary, we say things that other people don’t alwyas “get” or “understand”, sometimes to give a prophetic word takes a lot of courage of bravery.

Yet sometimes labels aren’t always helpful, one of my friends who was  evangelist, was told he was a good evangelist and for a few weeks went tactlessly crashing into conversations bible bashing in the most to-curling way imaginable, a million miles away from the normal  conversations he had been having. Sometimes Gods call on our lives can get limited when our egoes get over-inflated “pride coming before a fall”.

I don’t think these gifts, calling and ministries were meant to be given so that we can strut around like peacocks, and I’ve blogged before at how uncomfortable I am when perhaps there is too little walking deeply with the spirit and too much ego and testosterone flying around. The Growing Leaders Course sas “Charisma and Competence without Character creates Catastraphy”. A verse that don’t quote often enough but occurs repeatedly in scripture is “God opposes the proud but lifts up the humble”.

Humility I believe can be best be described as “coming into agreement with God about ourselves”, Paul’s epistle to the Church in Rome urges us “not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought” in fact Paul urges “to think of the needs of others”, God doesn’t give gifts to massage our egos but rather to build up the body of Christ.

To move in the call that God has placed on us we need to come to a place of maturity, not just letting God work through us, but more painfully and more challenging is letting God work through us. Often too, God gifts us but we have to get ourselves prepared to be used by God, we won’t be effective as a Bible teacher unless we delve deeply into Gods word, nor will we ever move in the prophetic unless we pray and become used to listening to Gods voice, and we never be trusted with leadership of Gods people unless we learn how to serve faithfully.

Too often I fear too many Chritians stay too much in the shallow end of their faith, nor are prepared to invest in the walk with Christ to really know what the potential God has placed within them, like the tragic  tale that Jesus told of the foolish man  who buried his talent in the ground. Potentially great evangelists  who never really talk about their faith, teachers who haven onthing to pass on, prophets who haven’t attuned their ear to the voice of God, apostolic leaders who’ve never learned that the first come last and a biblical model for leadership involves a towel and a bucket washing crap of the foot of disciples who may dessert you, and may betray you.

So, let’s think about how we can be the culture in the soil of discipleship whereby people can be empowered, grow and thrive in their faith, where the people of God are built up and Gods Kingdom grows and flourishes… Counting ourselves in to Gods plan and purpose for his plan in our lives in his world.

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Humility, John 21, obidience, Pride, surrender

Letting Down Your Nets On The Other Side Of The Boat.

I was reading the other day the Bible passage about the miraculous catch of fish at the end of John’s Gospel.

The passage starts with the words they had been fishing all night and they were tired and they hadn’t caught a thing.

I empathised here, sometimes it does feel as though we have been fishing all night, we feel tired and discouraged and it feels as though we either haven’t caught anything, or the catch is so much smaller than we had hoped.

it’s not just ‘bad luck’ these guys are experienced fishermen, they knew all about fishing, they were “Fishing Shaped Fishers”, experts and yet they had caught nothing.

Often this too is how we can feel, we know we have read the books, been to the conferences, even had times when we have been part of the time when great catches of fish had been caught in the past… but now all night trying and nothing to show for it,

Then this non fisherman from the beach suggests letting the nets down on the other-side of the boat.

what does he know?

He’s not a fisherman?

why should we listen to him?

It made me ask myself, have I got a bit stubbon?

Am I a bit set in my ways?

Do I think I know best?

Am I teachable?

Does perhaps my pride get in the way of seeing God work?

Yet these fishermen, swollowed their pride and they let down their nets on the other-side of the boat and caught the greatest haul of fish in their career?

It reminded me of the story of Naaman, a commander in the Syrian  army with leaperousy for whom healing was available if he’d wind his neck in and wash in the murky river Jordan.

I wondered with mission whether I am reaching out in my way, or whether I am heeding his voice and reaching out his way?

Am I still attentive to the voice of Jesus calling out from across the water? Am I expectant to be guided? 

Am I putting my trust in my teaching or my teacher?

The thing I admire about the disciples is they are still trying to catch fish even though they have had no joy all night, how often have we heard someone say “we tried and it didn’t work so we gave up went home, put the kettle on,  and never went out again”… Yet they were at least still trying to fish.

How often do we feel like this, like we are tired, frustrated, disillusioned, run-down, broken and just wondering if all our work and effort was in vain? I know at times I do. Yet there is hope in this passage, that in the morning Christ calls out to us who are waiting and prepared and in the right place, a picture of faithfulness (ironically as they are here because they were faithless and deserted Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane) and we see the harvest reached and brought it, not by our power, might, expert knowledge but by heeding the words of our master.

when we hear new ideas do we think we know better, or do we ask ‘could God be teaching me something here?’

Do we need to be reminded afresh of our dependance of Christ?

 
Are we in the right place, waiting and prepared for the voice of Christ and the step of faith that ushers in the harvest.
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Humility, Pride, Samson, Temptation

Samson

Samson is one of those stories we often over-look, it is a bit of an uncomfortable read to the 21st Century audience (actually the whole of the book of judges has some challenging bit in it (Judges 13.1 – 16:30).

Samson, is a guy whose birth is foretold (like Samuel, John the Baptist and Jesus)

He is a man of great gifting and anointing, filled with the holy Spirit from birth, a person of charisma and with clear leadership skill.

He is successful as a warrior leader, scaring off the enemies of the people of Israel (at least for the first part of the story at least).

I think Samson probably set out like most of us with good intentions of being a good judge, but we seem him drift through out the story.

Interestingly when I did my discertation into ‘backsliding’ for my degree, very few made a conscious choice to make a ‘reversal in Christian Commitment’ but just drifted away from God inch by inch, degree by degree until they realized just how far they had got.

Often it was these small sin holds that didn’t seem too bad, after all everyone struggles with stuff right? The flaws in our character, often end up being our Achilles heel, that let us down and shipwreck us, yet we can gloss over these with our gifting.

Yet Samson shows us that gifting and character are two different things.

Samson takes his anointing from God for granted, and is reckless with the gifts God has entrusted too him.

A while ago people used to wear those WWJD bracelets –what would Jesus do? (Or We Want Jam Donuts!) Yet later their became a bracelet with the words “FROG” on them, which stood for Fully Reliant On God, you see actually Samson fell for the lie that he was an independent individual, where as actually all of us are totally dependent on God, in fact every breath we take is actually a gift from him.

Samson’s problem is that his ego, Edged God Out, he didn’t realize the depth of his reliance on God, and we see no evidence of Samson being grateful to God for his gracious provision bailing him out time and time again.

In fact we see him flirting with danger, getting closer and closer to revealing his secret to his wife Delilah, until eventually the inevitable happens (Judges 16.17).

I think one of the big dangers the Church has is we flirt too often with secularism, we try and be just like the world, and then wonder why we fall in and end up loosing the power of our Christian distinctiveness.

There are lesson here about wisdom, about good and wise council, but mainly about wisdom… but primarily I think this story teaches us not to put ourselves in the way of temptation.

A guy I know well was struggling with keeping his mind pure, especially on his own in his flat on an evening with the internet beckoning him towards the gutter… So, he and disconnected his internet.

Pride comes before a fall, yet wisdom puts in safeguards.

We need to acknowledge before God our weakness and ask his help.

Believing we are invulnerable and invincible is foolish, but we can fool for it easily when we forget our dependence on our God.

There are many in the Bible who ‘come to their senses’; Jonah sees sense from the Whales belly and the prodigal son ‘has a light bulb moment in the pigs field’  and Samson when he is a blind slave and a prisoner of his enemies, realizes his need of God and the call on his life which he seems to have largely ignored.

And in his last moments, with his hair somewhat re-grown, he pushes down the pillars of the temple and destroys the enemies of the Lord and his people.

When he is at his lowest, he is used most. His death achieved more than his life.

I don’t think it is heresy to think Samson as a life largely of squandered potential, somebody who had gifts, talents, anointing and talents but (like the story Jesus told) didn’t use them.

What of us? God has equipped us, given us by his spirit unlimited potential for transformation, we have the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead active in our lives, yet so many in our Churches are spirit filled, yet squander their God-given potential and their gifting is never fully utilized for the purpose God intended, God is calling but they are (like Samson) pursuing other agendas, dreams and visions.

Where are we in this story?

Are we the young idealist that needs to sort our baggage out? Bringing things into the gracious and loving light of Christ.

Perhaps we got confused gifting with character?

Do we realize the gifts and anointing God has given us? Are we grateful to him? Are we using them for his glory, or our own?

Do we realize his potential in us?

If so are we using our potential, or squandering it?

How seriously do we take our obedience to God?

Do we think it is all about us? Or do we realize it is all about God?

Do we think we are invincible and immune to the devil getting a foothold in our life

Do we flee sin (as Paul urges Timothy to do) or do we flirt with it

Do we think of ourselves as self made and independent? Or do we realize we are Fully Reliant On God?

And what happens when it all comes crashing down, do we roll over and give up, or do we like (Samson) seize the moment, even in the 11th hour, and seek to bring glory to God.

Amazingly despite a life of messing it up and getting it wrong, Samson’s name is proudly listen amongst the other heroes of faith in Hebews 11.

He stumbled and fell along the race, but he finished well.

What of us, how will we finish the race?

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Humility, incarnation, Phillippians 2

The Attitude of Christ…

I never cease to find Phillippians 2 an incredibly challenging passage… it starts with the phrase, “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” -that’s a big challenge, as I know how often my attitude falls short of Christ’s.

The whole passage is full of counter cultural words such as “humbled himself” -“became nothing”, “emptied himself”, “taking on the form of a servant” -in fact slave us a more accurate translation- “he was obidient to death -even death in the cross”.

I realise my attitude is far far from this most of the time, and yet I do want to have a Christ like attitude, and although it us is painful, costly and will be sacrificial it is still something I want.

Yet I also know I can’t have a Christ like attitude unless Christ himself helps me, unless I am part if a body of Christ-like people challenging, encouraging and sharpening me…

It also makes me realise how missional this whole attitude is, because it is not self seeking, nice demanding its own way but is seeking first the Kingdom of God, and is putting other people’s needs before our own wants, desires and preferences.

This passage is the complete antidote of what I was writing yesterday about the dangers of a consumer Church… It is s Spirituality that gives good stuff away rather than hording it for ones self.

On Saturday Si told the story of people wanting Church to be how they liked it, a consumer attitude, and yet Church and the Christian life is not about us, it’s about Jesus.

To pick up our cross and follow Christ is the ultimate act of surrender to God.

When we say “I didn’t get anything out of the Ŵorship today” -we need to remember that Ŵorship isn’t for us, it’s for God, and even if we didn’t get blessed did other people encounter God through it…

Sometimes in serving others and putting their needs before our own we find a blessing that is more greater and more beautiful than simply having things within Church done as we would like it, we discover the joy of the Father saying to us “well done good and faithful servant”.

I’ll close with a verse that always challenges me when I think of surrender and following Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, the life I live in this body I live by faith in the on of God who loved me and died for me”.
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