Authenticity, Discipleship, incarnation, Spiritual Health

Discipleship 2: louder.

“I can’t hear a word you are saying, your life is shouting too loud!” Anon.

This quote I find immensely challenging, I don’t want to be responsible for people not hearing about Jesus, I don’t want who I am to get in the way of the greatest message on earth being heard.

Yet there is a lot of truth in this quote, for me, who said it matters as much -if not more than what they said.

when David Cameron, the multi-millionaire Prime-Minister whose tenure saw the rich get richer and the poor get poorer talk about “all being in this together” it sounds different to when someone like Mother Theresa who gave up everything to live amongst the worlds poorest in Calcutta, talks about sharing her life with those in poverty, we hear a different message. Their lives speak louder.

I have been working for Churches for 20 years now, I have worked for some amazing preachers and various Churchy people but I can’t remember much of the great talks and studies I listened too, but I do remember them as people and how they made me feel.

I remember too their lives, whether I saw Christ in them, whether their life challenged and inspired me in my walk with Jesus.

Often it is the funniest bits that speak the loudest, I saw a supervisor have a row with his wife, and then come back and apologies to her afterwards, and I was so challenged by his keen-ness to put things right, really challenged me.

Another time, seeing the same placement supervisor, praying with tears in his eyes before a reasonably difficult PCC meeting, again deeply challenged me.

Another time, I ‘busted’ the Team Rector here cleaning the toilets after an event, rather than tell the cleaner off, he knelt down and scrubbed… Yet there are people who aspire to leadership who I’ve never seen roll up their sleeves and wash/dry up.

I’ve also seen emails, or over heard bits of phone-calls, or seen behaviour in meetings, or seen colleagues rip into each other which if I’m honest has left me thinking a bit less of them.

I know too there have been times when I’ve known I’ve not always acted very Christ-like too, I know there are certain situations and if I’m really honest people that do manage to push my buttons. I want to be the type of person where Christ is seen in me, but too often I know that the me in me can become to visible too often.

You see what we are really like, and how we behave really matters, what you do matters much more than what you say you do.

You see I believe discipleship is ‘caught rather than taught’.

I want to hang out with Christ-like people, I’m not into putting people on pedestals but the truth is we do need role models, and probably when we think of our Christian life, there are those people along the way who have shaped/fashioned/developed and grown us in our walk with Christ.

“Iron sharpens Iron as one person sharpens another” we are called to journey together and to be a community that gets the best from each other, pulls us up, when too often communities can do the opposite and drag us down.

The Christian faith needs to be seen and experienced with flesh on it, lived out in real life, it’s got to work on Monday morning not just sound great on Sunday night.

I used to hear the phrase “don’t look at me, look at Jesus” and there is truth in that, but if people can’t see Jesus they might look at you to get an idea.

The Apostle Paul says many uncomfortable things, one of which was “follow me, whilst I follow Christ”, he knew that if he was trying to live his life following Jesus, then people would watch him and emulate him, and so he wanted to be a good example.

Sometimes too, knowing that people are watching you can spur us on, I know as a dad that my daughter watches how I treat people, and I’ve told her it is rude to ignore people and one day I tried to avoid a big issue seller, and she spotted and challenged me, now I always speak or acknowledge them for two reasons, 1) it is the right thing to do and Jesus wants us to treat everyone with dignity 2) I don’t want Hope to see me ignoring anyone ever again.

So, I’m not knocking Bible-studies, blogs, books and I’m all for preaching and teaching but primarily our main work is not spent with our head in a commentary and concordance, nor is it about what or where our theology degree (if we have one) came from, but actually the greatest and toughest work is not saying the words, but in the day in day out strive and struggle to be an authentic follower of Jesus all the time and in all situations.

I’ll close with the quote that challenges me deeply every-time I hear it: “The Greatest cause of Atheism in this country is Christians who confess Christ with their lips but deny him by their lifestyle, that is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable”.

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consumerism, Enculturation, incarnation, Post-modern-culture

Enculturation or Incarnation?

On Thursday we had our Mission Shaped Intro Course, and we had a debate “Is Consumerism a Friend or a Foe to the Church?”

In many ways it is obviously to say there are flaws in this culture, materialism is not something that sits comfortably with the God who had “no where to lay his head”.

Yet consumerism has at its heart people searching for something, there is a restlessness within the culture, knowing that they are not complete and happy as they are. I know my need of something that try satisfies is the ‘holy grail’ of this culture, which I think gives the Church an amazing opportunity to give people “the bread that truly satisfies” or “the living water when we never have to thirst again”…

Jesus’ conversation with the woman at Jacobs well resonates powerfully with 21st century culture wanting something more, and something real and something that satisfies.

Perhaps being part of a consumerist culture that promises so much but delivers so little has caused wide dissatisfaction, and a desire for something different and real, perhaps this is why we have seen the rise of things like the occupy movement in London, or Bernie Saunders narrowly missing out on being a Presidential candidate, and saw Jeremy Corbyn elected (and re-elected). The message of the Rich Fool -who built bigger and bigger barns only to die- begs us to ask “what does it profit a person to gain the whole world but loose your soul?”, instead I believe there is a real sense of people wanting to do something positive to make a difference, to make our lives count, the Bible talks of “building with Gold, Silver and Costly Stones not with hay, wood or straw which is burned up and does not last”, I think our culture knows that too much we do is fleeting and transitory and not permeant, lasting or significant.

Yet consumerism can be something of an enemy of the Church, I want everything done my way, “I want the things I like… give me great coffee and comfortable seats”, “I want old hymns that I remember from school” and I want a sermon not too long and not too challenging (and certainly not challenging my lifestyle too much!). You give me what I want and if I don’t like it I will go to a Church that does”.

The problem we become so used to being a consumer that we consume Church and spit out discipleship.

Church has become massively consumerist, just see how many books, music, conferences and silly tat like rulers and pencils etc get consumed by Churches, the Christian market is a multi million dollar industry. Ironic as its founder was so poor he had to do a miracle with a fish to pay his tax on one occasion.

The problem often with us and consumerism we have become some enculturated with it that we barely notice it. I remember hearing a guy attacking consumerism at a Christian festival with a brand-name hoodie on, with lights, smoke and a funky band, and I wondered whether we have a bit of a blind spot in this area. The same could be said for a Church where the Vicar is wearing expensive vestments and costly challis speaking in middle of the talk about living a life of poverty.

As I thought more of consumerist enculturation I thought this is the opposite of being incarnational.

We are called to be Christ-like where-ever we go, and to impact where-ever we go for Christ; yet I wonder if the reverse happens we become enculturated in consumerism and end up spreading this where-ever we go. I want to spread Kingdom DNA, to stand out in my culture, not to blend in, not to sell out or morph into the same as the world around us, consuming the Church.

Instead, Church of Christ arise, and know that what we have is a mirror to consumerism, “and the things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace”.

 

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Acts of Service, Authenticity, incarnation, prayer, welcome

Prayer Meeting with Jeremy Kyle.

On Mondays for a while, some of us meet up and pray for our local area (if you are a local reading this, do join us, 9:30-10:30 at Chasers). We use a local pub/coffee lounge to meet up in, on the walls are tv screens normally play Jeremy Kyle.

I used to see this as a distraction, an annoying interruption, I used to get them to ‘mute’ the sound on our nearest screen. Yet something about this has challenged me profoundly.

We have for a long time tried to have prayer meetings and other such meetings out and about, we don’t want to be Christians hidden away in dark corners of invisible Church buildings.

So, we pray whilst somewhere in the background of the room we hear the shriek of “he’s not the Father of my baby”.

Yet last week, I was struck by how nice our prayer room is, with wonderful coffee, and so often the rawness and brokenness of many peoples lives never creeps into our prayer rooms.

Too often we assume that everyone’s life is like ours, and yet for many people the things we are just ‘normal’ and take for granted would be a very alien way of life for many.

Too often we as human beings steer ourselves away from the mess, brokenness and pain of life, when is Church intersessions does anyone ever pray openly about domestic violence, abused children, traffic refugees caught in the sex industry, depression, self harm, sweat shops exploiting their workers so we can have cheap clothes?

Shane Claiborne says “It’s not that folk are hard-hearted toward the poor, but often simply that they don’t know the poor… we fear what we do not know”.

Our Churches are too often too clean and sanitised, and yet we have a God who left the glory of heaven and dwelt with us in poverty and brokenness.  Christ did not steer past the crap of dysfunctional lives, but rolled up his sleeves and embraced hurting and broken people and saw transformation.

I was struck by a Church I encountered once who did a lot of great work with disenfranchised people, a free meal on Sunday Night, a back to work thing on Friday morning, and yet I think sadly they do acts of compassion “to” the poor, it is a bit arms length. Like us with Jeremy Kyle playing on the TV screen.

I wonder are our prayers too removed because we are too removed?

Do just exercise safe compassion, great works but like Jeremy Kylie it’s clear whose who and where the power lies, where can always ask someone to turn the volume down a bit if we get uncomfortable.

Yesterday I was out walking and bumped into two friends, had a chat, pray, hug and talked a bit about life, one conversation had a bit of ‘story swapping’ -I was blessed by the encounter and I believe so were they, I wonder if this was more what real incarnational ministry ought to look like?

So, Jeremy Kylie stays on on a Monday morning, but rather than just to nudge our consciences as we pray, my prayer is that it is a reminder that the call is to be incarnational, living out our faith like Jesus did, not avoiding pain and brokenness, not having it as wall-paper remote and distant, nor at arms length, but in loving relationship embraced to our hearts, held in prayer not out of duty or obligation, but out of love, not people we serve (although we do) but people we call friends.

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brokenness, Christmas, incarnation, Pain, Servanthood., Suffering.

In the Poo.

At our nativity service I got everyone to come up and put newspaper headlines into the manager with baby Jesus as a prayer activity but also as a sign and symbol of Jesus coming down amid and amongst the brokenness of this world.

to illustrate this I really wanted to bring into Church a bucket of manure, a really stinky bucket, to show the smell that the Creator of the universe was born into, Jesus was literally born surrounded by crap.  Jesus was born how he lived, surrounded by the world at is vilest, messiness and most broken, and yet amid all that he wasn’t tainted by it, rather he overcame it, he brought beauty out of his brokenness, bringing hope to the hopeless, bringing salvation, restoration, tranformation from gutter right accross every stratosphere of human divide, with even the Roman Emperor, the most powerful man on earth came to bow the knee to the babe of Bethlehem.

As we think about the image of crap, I was struck by two images:

Firstly, from my time working in a nursing home, whereby if a patient soiled themselves we came in with rubber gloves, plastic aprons and air freshener… Arms length and trying not to gag.

Secondly, of seeing many babies and their mums at our parent and toddler group, dealing with horrific smells from down bellow, with crying babies held close, comforted and loved despite the stench.

Love does not hold back at arms length, but embraces amid the filth and stench and sees beyond it all the person who is loved more than anything.

Jesus is the latter, the second image, drawing close and loving even when the world was at its most vile and disgusting.

All the way through his life Jesus “touched untouchables with love and washed the guilty clean”… A women with “an issue of blood” ritually unclean, defiled, banned from the temple touched the hem of his garment and rather then her defilement tainting Christ as she touched him but she was both healed andcleansed no longer unclean, untouchable and defiled, instead purified, his holiness was bigger and greater than her condition.

We don’t need a lecture here to know the world is not as it should be, the newspaper headlines scream it out to us all the time.

Nor do we need a rant here talking about how people are screwed up and broken, we probably know this too loud and clear.

We know the problem.

We know the world is defiled and full of crap, our lives are at time much the same, the good news is that there is a solution and rescue amid the mess, the baby Jesus who grew up to take all the vilest depravity humanity could throw at him, and carried them on his shoulders as he was crucified for you and for me.

He took the crap for you and for me.

All my sin, the junk and the skeletons in the closet, brought into the light and washed away by his death and resurrection.

Jesus once spoke to a guy with leaprocy and asked him “What do you want me to do for you?” And the guy replied “I want to be clean” and with that Jesus reached out and touched him, again like the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus was defiled but rather his touch made the leaper clean.

In many ways we are like that leaper before Christ, he asks us “What do you want us to do for you?” Will we echo the leapers statement of faith and say to Jesus, I want to be clean?

In the book of Isaiah it talks of our sins being like scarlet but becoming as white as snow, let’s come to him afresh for cleansing, we can’t pretend there isn’t a problem anymore like the stinking teenager trying to mask a ton of BO by spraying their clothes with Lynx deoderant, instead it is saying “I know my need of cleansing for God, I know you are a God who meets me in the gutter at my lowest point”.

As I type this I am reminded of a old hymn which says “Foul I to the fountain fly wash me saviour lest I die”… Knowing that the stench of our sin is more than just a bit unpleasant, but is actually fatal, and our cleansing and purification is not just life saving but life giving and life transforming.

Yet Jesus’ decent from heaven to the gutter is I believe actual a model and a picture we as Christians are supposed the emulate.

Jesus called us to be people of salt and light, light that drives away darkness and most most needed in the darkest placesm and salt that combats decay. In fact the Romans used to put salt on their poo to combat the smell and the germs, so when Jesus is talks of being the salt of the earth, it is a call to the darkest, smelliest, vilest places that need the transforming good news the most.

So, Jesus descended into the worst of the world’s crap, we are called to do like wise.

Mother Teresa once famously challenged of us as CHristians to “find their Calcutta” -I believe there will be somewhere we are called to serve, to wash off the dirt -the crap- of the feet of that place, and rather than letting it change and taint us, instead lets be the ones bringing the change and the transformation, for the glory of God which is unstoppable despite the unmentionable things this world throws in our path and I’m our way.

 

 

 

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5 Fold Ministry -Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (Eph. 5), call, Carrying burdens, Discipleship, grace, Guidance, identity, incarnation, inclusion, Life in the Spirit, vocation

“Everyone Gets to Play”

“The term “laity” is one of the worst in the vocabulary of religion and ought to be banished from Christian conversation”. -Karl Barth.

I think Barth is right. The Clergy laity distinction does create an unhelpful them and us image of division.

It is translated into some peoples minds as “the called and the uncalled” -which is rubbish we are all called people, we just are called to different things and different roles within the body of Christ.

Or the qualified and the unqualified, but actually although it is an amazing privilege to study theology at degree level the under-pinning idea that ordinary everyday Christians aren’t “qualified” to do the works of the Kingdom is simply ludicrous -most of the original disciples were unskilled men!

Or perhaps you feel like the ‘elite’ and the ‘plebs’ which again isn’t helpful, because I think there is no such thing as a  super Christian, as we all stand on level ground before  the cross of Christ in our need of salvation, and ultimately all good works come “not by might, nor by power but by my spirit says the Lord of Hosts”.

In fact I’d go further and point to two pictures within scripture which I think are more helpful:

i) The first is that of the body of Christ, where every bit is interdependent on each other, each bit is needed, no bit can claim a greater importance in the body as each is doing a role or function that only they can do.

ii) The second is the ‘priest-hood of all believers’, not the few elected holy people as under the old covenant, but everyone able to approach the throne of grace with boldness.

That is not to say that there isn’t an important role in leadership within Christ’s Church, although I fear that to often Christian leadership looks more like Lord Sugar than the Lord Jesus’ Christ, the board-board rather than the upper room where Christ washed, dust, sweat and camel crap of his disciples feet.

Jesus said “The Son of Man (a term he used to describe himself) has come not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

I think Jesus showed us leadership that looked very different, it looks like sacrificial and costly servant-hood because that is what it is.

A friend who is a vicar, once asked a Church about a Biblical character they thought of when they thought of leadership, their response was of Moses coming down the mountain clutching the tablets of stone under his arm and saying “thus sayth the Lord” -an image I find very uncomfortable, and no wonder if this is your starting point is leadership abused. Instead this friend talked about the leadership picture he prefers which is that of John the Baptist “I must decrease so he must increase” -the path to fruitfulness is humility, prayerfulness, finding strength in weakness and these are entirely the virtues of the upside-down Kingdom of God.

I think we need to go back to scripture and see afresh what leadership is meant to achieve, from my reading of scripture it is meant to “equip the body of Christ for works of service”.

We often think this is about the 5 fold ministries in Ephesians, “Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Teacher and Pastor”, where someone comes and does Evangelism, or moves in the Prophetic, but surely the role of the Apostle is to teach other people to think apostolicially -looking for those kingdom opportunities, the prophet to hear other people to hear from God for themselves, the teacher to enable people to learn and grow for themselves, the evangelist to help other people in evangelism, and the pastor to help us love and care for one another”.

It’s not about building ourselves up, but rather it is about building up the body of Christ.

We often forget that leadership is actually about bringing out the gifts of God in others, it’s not a calling (to use a football analogy) to be a star striker scoring all the goals, but rather it is the role of the team coach who is called to invest, encourage, bless, challenge, inspire God’s people so they can turn this broken upside down world the right way up for Christ Jesus.

It’s not about building a big empire, with lots of people downloading your sermons and turning up to your services and putting on a great show on a Sunday, but rather sending people out to transform the world on Monday morning living out their faith in everyday life on their front-lines.

Too often leadership has been “you help me do what I think we should be doing” than asking “what is God calling you to do, and how can we help, bless and enable you to fulfil God’s call on your life”.

Too often we think of leadership about ‘press ganging volunteers’ to do our things -What can I get from them? Rather than thinking “how can be bless them” in what and where God is calling them.

I’ll close with a controversial Youtube Clip:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uikd5uoMdpk

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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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Church, Community, community of grace, incarnation, Ministry, Mission, Simplicity, Worship

Simple Church, or Simply being Church.

I’m loving our time at New Wine, but as our opening night ŵhen all the lights, power, tech all went down really made me think.

As many of you know we are trying to seek where God is calling us to best impact for Christ the area he has called us too.

One thought I’ve been wondering about is “have we made Church a bit too complicated?”

I also heard some else this week talk about how hard it is “doing Church”, now apart from the dodgy theology here –you can’t “do” what you already are!- it got me thinking.

I have long time been thinking that our current view of Church is very different that found in the book of Acts.

Rowan Williams the former Archbishop said “Church is the intentional community gathered around Jesus Christ” and more recently I heard a genius quote by Paula Gooder “The plural of disciple is Church”.

Do we make Church too complicated? Do we really need all the “stuff” –sometimes car loads of it!

As I began to pursue this thought in my mind, I remembered some of my greatest corporate experiences of God, “Church”, and I realised (other than the night I re-dedicated my life to Christ), all of them were spontaneous times with other Christian friends, often on beaches, hills, friends offices’, mates’ sitting rooms, very rarely actually in a special “Holy” building.

I wonder too, whether we get to worried about DOING Church and not enough about BEING Church, ordinary Christians met together and intentionally inviting Christ by his spirit to presence himself with his people (“where two or three are gathered together there I am in the midst of them” –Jesus).

Often we feel like we are unable to Ŵorship without the screen, words and music –rather than the overflow of our hearts thankfulness and praise expressed corporately…

Or perhaps we feel like we can’t pray out loud because we haven’t been to bible college and can’t make our prayers sound “proper”, but we can share our hearts with God with others, we don’t have to be some special holy person to simply love, pray and stand alongside our brothers and sisters…

Often we think that we can only share what God is saying to us and our hearts if we have been to Bible college, utter rubbish, go for it, if you think God is saying it why not share t and bless one another…

To often we have made Church too much come and watch the paid professionals lead, and just join in the singing bit… Rather, than Church equipping you to be the Church where ever you are and whatever you do.

I love the idea of a Church to spread the DNA of Jesus as widely as possible, and equipping the saints to be stewards ushering in the Kingdoms reign and rule, where gathering together and encouraging one another is just what we do when we meet other Christians we acknowledge the presence of the Lord with us, and listen to his voice and be expectant for his encounter and blessing.

Church is not about putting on services, but intentionally meeting together expectant of the presence of God to meet with us.

Perhaps, we ought maybe to intentionally seek out times not just to be with God personally, not just be with people who don’t yet know Jesus, but also intentionally seeking out time to be with our brothers in sisters in Christ to build us up and sharpen us in our faith (after all “iron sharpen iron as one person sharpens each other”).

Wondered maybe we need to be people who get together, bless one another and seek God and his face with expectancy.

Let’s learn to make our encounters with each other more like how Church should be.

And to do this we need to put aside our differences and love one another.

Too often we often just think about our vertical relationship with God when we have a service together, and too much about our horizontal relationships with each other when we aren’t in a religious building, but perhaps we need to mix the two up a bit, more of Christ in our relationships with each other, and maybe more of our relationships with each other in our encounters with God.

Let’s learn to be simple Church organically happening intentionally when we met up with other Christians, stoking the fire in one another for the sake of the glory of Jesus where ever we are.

Let’s just do it.
let’s just be it, everywhere we go and whatever we do.

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