Discipleship, Giving/Generousity., justice, love, Matthew 25., Servanthood., welcome

Making Disciples Jesus way… P3.

I almost entitled this blog “A little less conversation” because that is what discipleship sadly so often has become, people talking, and yet discipleship needs to be lived out, the world needs to see what following Jesus actually looks like in real, authentic everyday life.

I remember reading in Philip Yancey’s book “what is so amazing about grace?” of a story of a woman who really messed up big time, and she was asked about going to Church, to which she replied “I feel bad enough already, Church would only make me feel worse”.

Somehow this seems a million miles away from what Jesus said “by this will all people know you are my disciples, that you love one another as I have loved you”.

Discipleship I believe is about being that community that loves one another, and loves and welcomes in the broken, marginalised, ostracised and disenfranchised… A Church that welcomes the last, the least and the lost.

People talk a lot about creating an Acts 2 Church, but I wonder whether we need to create a Matthew 25 Church?

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Mother Teresa describes this as “Jesus in his most distressing disguises”, in serving the hungry, homeless, imprisoned or hurting, we are in fact serving Christ.

This has always been on God’s heart, in the book of Amos, God says he is fed up of all this religious activity and events whilst people were corrupt, unjust and lacking compassion…

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

In  Isaiah 58.6:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

In the book of Micah it says:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God”

And in the first letter of John it says:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children,let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Discipleship is not about sitting around pontificating.

Too often western discipleship fills the head but does little in the heart, and even less to make the world a better place. I would argue that Discipleship should not only bring about transformation in us and out lives, but we are actually practically partnering with God in (to quote Bishop Stephen Conway) “turning this broken and upside down world the right way up for Jesus Christ”…

Christ reveals the priority of heaven when he encourages his people to pray “may your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, we know eternity is where peace and love reign and where violence, corruption and hatred have no place, and we are called to see this translated onto the earth.

we read in Luke of his mandate -taken from Isaiah 61-

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”

I believe that we over spiritualise these passages, thinking Jesus is talking about the Spiritually blind, or the spiritually imprisoned, but I think he actually meant those who were actually blind, broken hearted, imprisoned.

Certainly extravagant love for people was how the early Church took the words of Jesus, now sadly it feels like we are far too selective in our use of scripture, preaching on Paul’s letters and John 3:!6 and omitting all this talk of justice, transformation and the Kingdom of God.

So few of our Churches practice radical hospitality, feed the hungry, help with housing, visit people in prison. John wimber once asked when the Church ‘did the stuff’ meaning signs and wonders (and I’m really, really up for that) but I think the same question could be asked for acts of love, ministries of mercy and the pursuit of justice.

The book of James says that “worship (although some versions mistranslates as religion) that God finds pure and faultless is to look after widows and orphans in their distress…”

One evening instead of doing our normal Bible Study I took my home-group out into the city to feed, bless and talk to the homeless… It was one of the deepest and most spiritual evenings we shared together as a group.

So, lets look at what is on the heart of Christ, lets not just talk a good game on comfy sofa’s, let us get out and partner with God in ushering his Kingdom in, and we start by welcoming Christ in his most distressing disguises.

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Bravery, justice, Mission

Just One More…

I really want to see the up-coming film, Hacksaw Ridge about the pacifist who won a medal for gallantry and bravery for saving the lives of many people as a medic carrying them from the battlefield to safety.

This morning we went out into the community to talk to local people, and a lady called Sofia was saying about having seen this film and was struck by a scene when every-time this skinny guy brought another person to safety he kept saying “just one more” and went out and brought another person to safety.

I wondered whether we need a bit more of a this thinking within the Church and the Christian Community?

I wonder if we get too satisfied with what we already have, rather than constantly wanting to push onto the ‘more’ that God has in store.

This in-quitting perseverance, that keeps on going with a wonderful spirit-filled tenacity I find inspiring. Echoes of Nehemiah on rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, or S/Paul keeping on proclaiming Christ even amid massive persecutions.

Reminded me of a more modern Saint William Booth who said:

“While women weep, as they do now,
I’ll fight
While little children go hungry, as they do now,
I’ll fight
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now,
I’ll fight
While there is a drunkard left,
While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!”

Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis, was once asked what his greatest gift was to which he replied “I’m a plodder”… What he meant when he elaborated on this was “he just keeps going and didn’t quit”.

I remember Bill Wilson (leader of the worlds largest Sunday School in Brooklyn New York), who said something that once really challenged me, “Christians so often quit before the miracles kick in”.

So, a challenge, to keep on going, keep on building, keep on fighting… and saying whilst there is still one person who doesn’t know the love of Christ say “I will go”, “just another one”, never complacent, never satisfied with where we are at, but looking to God’s glorious future.

“Forgetting what is past, I press on towards the goal, to win the prize, which Christ Jesus has called me too”.

 

 

 

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

Jesus for President.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Biblical world view talks about sharing our wealth with the poorest and most marginalised, the parable of the Good Samaritan works for nations too, and we need to heed the words of scripture that says “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bible, justice, Salvation

The Wrong J.C

Although I am a massive, massive fan of Jeremy Corbyn -and my socialism and faith are very interlinked- I am passionate about social justice, fighting inequality and poverty irradiated I belive that Jesus Christ offers people more than socialism ever can.

Theologian, Karl Barth, once suggested that CHristians should read the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, and I agree that the word of God needs to rooted and grounded in everyday reality, yet I worry whether sometimes whether we sometimes ignore scripture and just stick to the newspaper.

The current bishop of Manchester was asked what his priorities were to which he said something like housing, immigration and someother important social justice issue… and although it is fantastic that Bishops are fighting passionately over issues of justice, but I did wonder surely our highest priority is proclaim Gods awesome message of Salvation through Christ.

Although I love liberation theology, we need to realise that our gospel is so much bigger than just liberation theology.

There have been times when I have sat in the pew and although I feel fired up to make a difference in Gods world I worry that sometimes Jesus isn’t mentioned much, nor the cross, or redemption from sin.

The Church is more than a social justice club, or a toothless spin off from the Green Party, important though these issues are we have a hope to proclaim that is beyond the grave, transformation that is not just of our external circumstances but of our hearts.

I once heard someone say “You have fed me, clothed me, loved me and listened to me…and yet you let me go to hell because you never told me about Jesus!”

Shane Claiborne said to the American Evangelicals that Jesus had plenty to say about life here and now rather than beyond the grave, I wonder sometimes whether in the West we need to remember the vital importance of eternity won for us with his blood soaked broken body on the cross.

Social Justice is a massively important part of the advance of the Kingdom, it’s obidience to the commands of Christ and I am delighted that the Church of the 21st Century has grasped its importance, but this can not be at the neglect of Gods Salvation message.

The Gospel, I believe needs to be proclaimed by words and needs, Paul tells the Church in Phillipi that “we hold out the word that gives life”.

I love the Salvation Army they realised that God was calling the stuffy, pompous and smug Victorian Church to roll up its sleeves and meet the people God loves who were in the gutter, but they didn’t just recognise their physical needs, people are whole people with a spiritual hungers, they needed to know about Christ, his death resurrection, forgiveness from the past and power to live a transformed life in the future.

Danielle Strickland, a Salvation Army Officer, who spoke at New Wine about how there are prostitutes coming out of their old lives, living free from drugs in flats and yet they keep returning to destructive past behaviours because although their external circumstances have changed, but God is into internal change, transformation and healing on the inside.

Let’s continue to be Christians passionate about Social Action, but don’t let out works become a replacement for seeing the eternal Kingdom of God breaking into real people’s lives.

I love Jeremy Corbyn and think he could be the best Prime Minister we have had, but let’s not get confused with with which JC it is actaully all about!

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cost, ethics, Giving/Generousity., justice, Kingdom, Money

Kingdom Economics 2

So yesterday we thought that Money itself isn’t intrinsically evil, but we need to have a right attitude towards our money. Yesterday I quoted Bishop Mike Hill who said “Money should serve but never rule”, I would go further and say “money is makes a good tool but a lousy God -Money is a God which takes everything, and promises much… and yet gives nothing of any real or lasting value in return”.

So, in the second of this series I am exploring what it looks like to have a Godly attitude to money…

Are we Generous?

Generosity and extravagance is part of who God is, he is a God who gifts lavishly and abundantly and calls us to live the same way… I love the contrast between the expensive perfumed poured on Jesus’ feet and Judas sulky comments about where the money could have been spent better (how many times have we experienced the same poverty spirit in much Church stuff? -more of this later!).

Scripture says “those who sow generously will reap generously”… and you “reap what you sow”…in fact when Jesus once said “if someone takes you coat, give them your shirt too!”

Are we pursuing justice? -Are we seeking his Kingdom?

Sadly, money is power -and as people living in the 5th richest nation on earth our wealth carries with it responsibility. Did you know if you have a freezer you are in the top 10% of the world’s richest people and the internet puts you in the top 3%? We have a responsibility to ask if our purchases are ethically sources… The problem is that many Christians still think that the ethical consumptions means occasionally drinking fair-trade tea at Church rather than whole spirituality and life style.

Every pound you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in? If this is true (which it is) what kind of world are you sponsoring, one of abused children in sweatshops or where the world’s poorest get a fair day’s work for a fair days pay.

Jesus said in Matthew 25 what you did for the least of these (the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty and those in captivity -slavery?) you did for me…

Do we just chuck a few quid at the vicar and the busker to feel better about ourselves and go on with our lavish lifestyle, or do we use what God has given us to bring transformation in the name of Christ.

Why is it that when we take the highlighter pen to our Bibles we highlight Jesus saying to Nicodemus “you must be born again” but leave unhighlighted “go sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor”.

When John (the Baptist) tells his followers “if anyone has two cloaks, he should give one to the poor?” -do we overlook that verse?

I have heard many (normally evangelicals) say “we should not neglect preaching the word to wait on tables” and yet we forget that the early Church says “they had no people in need among them for everyone gave what they had”.

Are we building in faith?

Money is something we often place our faith in, someone once joked that the American Dollar should read “In GOLD we Trust” rather than “In GOD we Trust”, yet money is transient and its value is effected by much we can’t control. We are called to live by faith, putting our trust in Jehovah Jira -our God who provides… Just listen to some of those remarkable stories of George Muller, right here in this city of living by faith and discovering that when we step out of the boat, God is faithful and trustworthy.

Now this isn’t saying we need to be completely reckless with our money, probably all of us feel uncomfortable by American telly evangelists with private jets, yet the danger I feel with the Church in the west is not a gluttonous irresponsibility but often a grasping greed that knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

Our trust is in Christ, the God who owns the Cattle on a thousand hills, who made heaven and earth… this mighty God is not short of a bob or two, and doesn’t need us to lend him a fiver…

The problem often is found in the epistle to James “You have not because you ask not?” because we aren’t prepared to experience his faithfulness, to ask and open our hands to receive… Where our eyes are fixed on Christ and his call, rather than losing our faith in the balance sheets.

So the question should be, how in my life am I stepping out in faith, practicing the generosity of God, perusing justice and seeking his Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

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conscience, ethics, justice, Kingdom, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, priorities, values

What does it mean to be different?

My daughter has joined an ECO club…

It made me think that I am not as good on all things GREEN as I should be, and as I thought more about the whole Green issues I thought when was the last time I heard a sermon that mentioned things like carbon footprint, pollution, fracking and all those issues.

Yet when we think that we have a God given responsibility to be good stewards of creation, why is the Christian voice so hard to find on the national debate?

A while ago I was really challenged on my consumer ethics, the amount of clothes and other commodities (both high and low end of the market) that have been traded in an unfair and evil way, and yet it is a challenge to keep fairtrade teabags in our local Church.  In fact someone once said that often fairtrade tea-bags in Church often is more about a ‘sop to our conscience’ feeling like we are doing something, rather than really thinking about the ethics and power we have as consumers. A quote I heard once was “every pound you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in”… Lots of web-pages about how to be a more ethical consumer, yet how often do we talk about our power as consumers.

There is something really wrong when we are more worried about how much of our bodies is covered up by what we wear, than whether or nor it was made by a child in appalling inhumane conditions.

Then I began to think about politics and faith, something I am passionate about, but then as I thought actually as Christians we  seem to focus narrowly on one or two issues such as (in the states) Abortion or here in the UK Gay Marriage, but there are so many more issues where we have good things to say that are worth hearing on debates. It was great to see ++Rowan Williams step up and ask tough questions in the House of Lords  on the validity of the war in Iraq, or the Bishop of Portsmouth, Christopher Foster condemning the effect  of the austerity cuts on the most deprived and vulnerable in our society.

Yet I think as Christians and Churches we ought to be thinking how does our faith effect not only our view of political issues, but also our practices and behaviors on them.

Sometimes I think we a need a wider world view as I think the Kingdom of God is something that is all pervasive, challenges our view on everything, we are ‘alien ambassadors’, this world is not our home and we are living to point people to a different Kingdom, a Kingdom where Christ is King, a Kingdom where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Described by Bishop Graham Tomlin as “where what God wants happens here” as a definition of the Kingdom, this means where people are loved, where truth is spoken, where victims are comforted and lifted up, where sin is challenged, where power is rebuked, when darkness is driven back and good news is proclaimed.

And Good News has got to be good news for everyone, I believe that good news isn’t simply something awaiting us when die, but should be seen and visible in life now

Too often we have thought of Christian living and holiness as not saying naughty words, not smoking or drinking… rather than what my friend Si Hall described as “Dirty Holiness”, about intentionally rolling up ourselves and getting down where people are broken, hurting and marginalized. Holiness defined by what you DO rather than simply what you AVOID.

It is meant to look different from the world.

Bishop Tomlin again said that the problem with people coming to faith is they look at Christians and they seem almost indistinguishable from themselves.

Yet alongside this my friend Jonathan Dowman once commented that the greatest desire in many peoples heart is “I want to lead a good life and be a good person” and yet they don’t come to the Church for help with this as they so often don’t see us as Christians as different from them.

So, lets embrace the Kingship of Christ over all our lives.

I’ll end with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Live in such a way that makes Atheists question their disbelief in God”.

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