5 Fold Ministry -Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (Eph. 5), Anger, Boldness, Bravery, Courage, Ephesians 6, Leadership, love, Pastor, prayer, Protest, shepherd, Spiritual Warfare

The Angry Pastor Prays.

we often have this idea of being pastoral as being weak, wet and woolly.

Interestingly people often seem to pride themselves on being rude and obnoxious and try to justify their behaviour by saying “I’m not pastoral, I’m prophetic/evangelistic/apostolic”…

Yet I think this show not only a misunderstanding of the role of the prophet, evangelist and apostle, but also an acute misunderstanding of the role of the pastor.

The word Pastor or Shepherd are often inter-changeable.

It is easy to think of the Shepherd as gently nurturing sheep on some idyllic hillside somewhere nice and peaceful. Yet the reality is more of a challenge, sheep are easy prey, the shepherd has to fight of robbers, wolves, lions and bears.

There is nothing wimpy about the shepherds in Biblical times, it was a tough and often bloody role, killing of wolves and scaring away predatory beasts.

It is a costly role. Jesus himself said “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”. Many of us in Pastoral ministry may not have been killed but we certainly have had to cope with some incredible spitefulness.

Yet sheep are not particularly grateful, in fact sheep need saving from themselves most of the time, often getting themselves lost, stuck on hillsides and sometimes -especially the rams- they can be violent towards the shepherds too.

There is a picture of Jonny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow running from a group of wild people armed with spears and the caption says “Be a Pastor they said, it’ll be fun they said”.

The shepherd has to preserve the sheep, protecting them from the dangers outside and the dangers inside. A thankless task. A task that requires us to be pro-active. A task that calls for courage and bravery.

So, as we re-think this role of Pastor as not being weak and wishy washy, but a person of action, going where angels fear to tread, “someone fighting for you and for your spiritual growth”.

In fact much of the imagery around the Christian life is that of battle and warfare.

Even images such as God shielding us under the shadow of his wing, are actually more violent than we like to think, just think of how protective of her young a swan or wild goose is? Yes, it’s an image of shelter, but it is also an image of protection against all that can wage against us.

I want to think for a second about our emotions, so often we are so British that we think of the only emotions that are healthy in the Christian life is a serene gentleness.

Yet I would suggest that one of the most pastoral acts we see Jesus doing is throwing the tax collectors and the money changers out of the temple, he’s angry.

I5 is right to be angry at injustice, at wrong behaviour within the Christian family. Scripture doesn’t prohibit anger but rather it says “in your anger do not sin”.

It is not fashionable to talk any more about the wrath of God, but I don’t believe that God is impassive and emotionless about the horrors that are carried out in his world, and sometimes in his Church. God’s anger is righteous, but it is still anger none the less.

And lastly let’s think about “angry prayers” -the Psalms is full of them (and many written by a shepherd). It is right and proper to be honest with God about how we are feeling, and if we feel angry at something it is good to tell him.

Often in the west, especially in the Anglican church, our prayers can be a bit placid and bland, but perhaps we can pray with a passion knowing that God loves us and wants to hear our hearts.

In fact if we are angry because of our zeal and fire for the things of God.

Our prayers too can be warfare, can be violent -scripture uses the image of destruction- tearing down strong-holds, standing firm in the full armour of God… Yet the opposition too sounds fierce and scary “your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour”.

Our prayers are powerful and offensive to the “powers and principalities of this world”, as an old adage goes “Satan scoffs at our plans, laughs at our schemes but trembles when we pray”.

Martin Luther talks about grasping our hands in prayer as an act of warfare on all that is evil or destructive. In the book of Zechariah, we hear of the Devil being rebuked “the Lord says NO to you Satan”.

Prayer is a defiant action.

The Angry Pastor prays for brothels to close and people to be set free, for drug dealers to cease trading, for violence to cease, for gossip to stop, for relationships to be healthy and for the Kingdom to advance.

The prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much.

Scripture warms us we have not because we ask not, so let’s take the ground and ask for more and more of the Kingdom to become here on earth as the gospel is proclaimed and lives are transformed.

The angry pastor does battle on her knees, fighting in the heavenly realm, fighting for less of sin, the world and the devil to have influence and control over those whom we love and serve.

So, let’s reclaim biblical pastoring to look like that of Christ the good shepherd, bold and brave, fighting for us, our defender -seeking our welfare, but prepared to even save us from ourselves. The person of courage and boldness, but motivated by love -love for the person and love for the Shepherd King and his Kingdom.

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Leadership, Phillippians 2, Strength

Strong and Stable…

This election seems to focus on leadership more than any other in recent years, I wonder if students have developed a drinking game yet where they have a vodka shot every-time Theresa May say “Strong and Stable”, which to me seems to be trying to make a virtue of having little personal charisma.

Interestingly, the question of character has come up a lot in this election, which I think is odd, as (unusually) the three party leaders I would say are all principled people of integrity, and although I believe that Theresa May is misguided in her right of centre views I do believe she is genuinely intending to make the lives better of people in the UK.

Yet it made me think about leadership and character.

Is Jeremy Corbyn a strong and stable leader?

Actually yes!

This is a man whose views haven’t shifted with focus groups and popular appeal, a man who wasn’t bullied by the whips into going against his conscience, in fact he has been arrested for protesting about apartheid in South Africa when Maggie Thatcher was keen to take their golden Rands.
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Nor has he stood down when he faced opposition and conflict, to keep going amid all he’s faced shows he is a man of immense courage and strength, stable and reliable, you can trust him to do what he believes is right.

The issue is not that he’s not strong or stable but rather he’s not doing what the crowd wants him to do, anyone can lead when there is broad consensus but leading when people are trying to pull in different direction is much more challenging.

As a Christian, to sell out our principles for popularity is a constant temptation for us all.

One of the bravest stories I ever heard was Maximilian Kolbe, a monk in a concentration camp, who volunteered to swap places with a prisoner due to be starved to death with other unfortunate prisoners, the man protested as he had a family, and Kolbe offered to die in that man’s place. They sealed these men in a bunker, and normally the prisoners killed each other, but in this case peace reigned and the Nazi’s ended up killing them by lethal injection. This little Monk was brave enough to do the greatest act of bravery giving his life for another, and his non-violence spared something of the suffering of his fellow prisoners.

Strength doesn’t always look like Arnold Swatzeneggar but a shuffling monk with glasses, a nun from Calcutta not giving up, a missionary in the toughest gang controlled slum of china’ walled city, an Indian Politician suffering at the hands of the British Army, a hippie from the American South choosing to live in the toughest areas of Philadelphia.

These people show more strength than any “He-Man” or “wonder woman”, or politician with a vast army, or a bully with a gun.

The Greatest Act of Human Strength is described in the Garden of Gethsemene when Jesus says on his knees with sweat like drops of blood “Yet not my will but yours”.

The Greates Act of Human Strength is spoken about by St. Paul when he said “(Jesus) Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”

Our idea of what strength looks like should not be dictated by what the media tells us, but rather how we see Christ live his life, bravely and sacrificially.

As a Christian leader doing what people want you too will make you popular for a short time, but ultimately you will find that you can’t please all of the people all the time, and you have to make a choice, and even when you don’t make a choice, often that is a choice in itself. Jesus knew what to do and when to do it, and wasn’t pushed around by the ‘good ideas’ of the disciples who often tried to force their opinions on him like Saul’s Armour that simply didn’t fit the calling he knew the Father was calling him too.

Day after day for three years, he got up and spoke to the people, often rejected, ridiculed and walked away from, he never chose to stay in a nice appreciative village and make a home there, but instead kept on going often to villages which were so hostile even his disciples wanted him to reign down fire from heaven.

The toughest choice when things are tough and difficult -the thing that often requires the most strength is not giving up, getting back up from a knock-down and getting back in the ring for another fight, getting up on the road to another village.

Some of the strongest people on this planet are those who didn’t quit despite unimaginable opposition.

So I think Corbyn is strong and unchangeable, and Theresa May might be too.

Yet I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn is strong enough to change his mind on something? To say he was wrong when he was (he might well be), sometimes we confuse strength with stubbornness which comes from pride, when have we ever heard a politician say “I made a U turn because I was wrong and I made a mistake??” -sometimes admitting our failures, faults and flaws takes enormous bravery, whereas arrogant boasting takes no bravery at all.

Theresa May keeps telling us how strong and stable she is, but I have come to realise that those people who keep telling us about their character normally are insecure about it, the young person that always was talking about Alpha male stuff turned out to be struggling with his sexuality, Shakespeare says “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much”.

Strength is something that our actions will speak louder than our words.

Some of the strongest people I know I have never heard raise their voice.

Strength is not shouting at people, or making jibes into a microphone, sometimes dignity takes more strength than ranting, raving and sly digs and cruel jokes.

Strength sometimes in not putting the boot in but instead showing mercy.

Strength sometimes shown in non-retaliation is tougher than to retaliate.

Strength is to keep on negotiating for the common good even when it seems futile, it takes strength to stay at the negotiating table, strength to keep talking. It was this strength that saw the signing of the Good Friday agreement, and it is this kind of strength we need for Brexit.

Strength to forgive and shake the hand of someone who has wronged us is sometimes really hard, and then to keep our heart soft takes more strength than to let it become hard and callous.

A wonderful story of Corrie Ten Boom, another Prisoner of the Nazi death camps who survived (although her sister Betsy tragically died there) Corrie met a guard in prison guard in a Church she was speaking at, and she was able to shake his hand.

So, whether Theresa May is a Strong and Stable leader is not something I’m so sure on, but I know as Christians maybe our idea of strength may look different to the rest of the world.

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Leadership, vocation

Abhorrence of the vacuum…

The is a phrase “Nature abhors a vacuum” is one we probably have all heard, it means that when something moves something else will fill its place.

Another phrase that I often quote is “for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing” and I think this is very true in this context, if goodness, grace and righteousness don’t step up to the plate the evil, sin and darkness will willingly jump into the gap.

A friend talked of youth work provision in his village, the Church felt it was “too much effort” to get around all the rural villages with their youth bus so had one central youth club, yet the drug dealers thought driving around the rougher bits of rural communities was worth-while, so the Christian community diminished but the drug problems escalated.

Last night I went to Woodlands Church and heard the new Mayor of Bristol -Marvin Reese- talking about his faith and his work in politics.

Marvin spoke of his life, and it is a picture I have seen a lot in my time, people who stand on the edge of Church/politics/community work and pass lots of comments “I wouldn’t do this or that” from the side-lines. He spoke how this was him, a back seat driver, a grumbling spectator, a moaner from the side-lines until one day he was convicted by the Holy Spirit, and realised that anyone can moan from the edge, but God was calling him to build something, to get involved, to roll his sleeves up and make a difference -not just a noise!

He talked about how toothless love can be if we don’t harness it with appropriate power, I can empathize and sympathise and say how we “feel their pain” but unless we have the power to help then all the warm feelings in the world wont fill a belly, warm a body, or change a situation.

Power -in terms of influence, opportunity, involvement or governance- is neutral not good or bad (just like money and sex, but  -like money and sex- when it is misused it has the potential to cause pain and hurt, but when used properly and righteously they can be wonderful and beautiful things).

So, power is not to be avoided, but rather to be used prayerfully in a wisely and in a Godly way.

In fact so often the Christian voice is lost in politics, journalism, the arts, music, education, community development, social science or justice because Christians haven’t stepped up to the plate and got involved with where they have opportunities to speak.

They haven’t seen these critical areas of human life and interaction as the true God-given vocations, ripe with possibility, filled with potential and potentially ministries of  transformation and fruitfulness.

Sometimes people think that somehow a Churchy calling is superior calling, as though God can only use Vicars, but I have come to realise our only influence is limited to what one person can do, and often means being surrounded by Christians, where-as those who aren’t involved in Church leadership often have a much more diverse mission-field.

In fact the best thing I can do as a minister is not to encourage you to be faithful in doing the things I do, but rather encourage you to be faithful and fruitful where God has placed you on your front-line.

Too long the Church has stood back from active involvement, yet I think God is calling us to jump in and seek to be a blessing in the midst of the complexity of life, being salty people where things might be decaying, being light where it may be bleak and people that love, hope, care, fight to see the world become more like heaven and less like hell.

So, a challenge, get off the side-lines and serve.

No more back-seat driving, instead get on the navigation team.

The Kingdom calls for us to get up of the couch and roll up our sleeves.

If you can see what is wrong, then I would suggest you are probably called to help make it right.

As the West Wing famously once said “It is harder to build a house than to throw stones at one”.

 

 

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Church, inter-dependance, Leadership, Unity

Team God

In the world of football, Bill Shankly -former Liverpool Manager-, used to win the league and each year, each year he would bring a in new people and retire successful ones, seems like crazy strategy yet his justification was “if I don’t do this we won’t win the league”.

Investing in people results in investing in the future.

Alex Ferguson’s genius was he was able to spot and nurture young talent and people of potential and bring them into the team. Without his eye for young talent the world might not have come to hear of David Beckham.

This should be a great picture of the Churches Ministry, continually investing in the next generation coming up, taking risks on young people and giving them opportunities in the squad and on the pitch.

Too often our human natures settle for what we have, rather than what we could have. We forget that so often when we stop pushing forward we end up drifting into reverse.

Leicester City, won league, but this was a bit of a blip as they now face relegation.

Although it is true they have lost a key player in their team.

I remember in the late 90’s when millions of pounds of expensive players were put in the Chelsea squad but although they had great and expensive players it took a while before they became a great team.

A team is not just a collection of gifted individuals, but rather the contribution of everyone produces something greater than just the individual components.

Some research was done into relay races, rarely is it the fastest group of individuals who win the race, but rather it is how well they manage the transition of the baton that causes them to win or to lose.

Church is God’s team for the world.

You and I are the Church, how do we work together to bring the best out of each other for the good and glory of Christ’s Kingdom being made manifest in his world.

Sadly, too often the Church in the west often we behave like a random collection of individuals, all doing our own thing, oblivious to each other. Often when a key person moves on, they Church really struggles, and things begin to grind to a halt.

I wonder with Church do we hang on too tightly to people and not let them move on from us to the next thing we have in store, although often we feel brutally pruned, for them and the Kingdom it could be the right move? Causing those in their shadow to emerge and flourish.

I wonder too as Church do we let people who have gifts that aren’t fully developed to can bud and to flourish, often these will only grow when due to God’s pruning they feel needed.

Do we work as a team to grow people in their gifts and enable them to flourish and thrive?

I have been struck with our Street Pastors teams that often people have been worried about talking about their faith on the streets and yet have seen as they have been part of a team, they have grown in confidence and flourished, some now who were nervous at the beginning are now leading the teams and encouraging other new recruits to ‘find their voice; in mission and evangelism.

As Church leaders, we want solid and constant growth and advance, but growth and life ebbs and flows often is season, sometimes we feel reduced, struggling and uncomfortable, which precipitates growth and Kingdom advance.

As I think of the whole pruning image, is a helpful image, as although short term the tree will keep going, eventually it becomes overgrown and unable to produce the fruit the tree is capable of.

As I read that uncomfortable passage in John’s Gospel, which talks of the branches which do not produce fruit being cut off, and those which do produce fruit are pruned. Pruning is inescapable.

The Gooseberry bush thrives best when literally its ‘heart’ is cut out, pruned back in such a way it looks as though it looks like it is fatal -and sometimes that is how it feels- but in doing so the bush buds again with a bumper crop.

This is a wonderful organic image, that is not about ‘keeping the show on the road’ but rather about investing in the future, a step of faith constantly leaving our comfort zones to invest in the (yet unseen) future.

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Discipleship, Journey, Leadership, mentoring, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, paradigm shift, Spiritual Health, vocation

James Bond and Redundancy…

God’s been speaking to me a lot recently about redundancy, something I have never experienced but sadly a reality for many people who I live and serve amongst.

We often live as though its all about us, as if we are irreplaceable, and we will live/serve for ever… Yet even my Biblegateway verse for today challenges that…

“For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24.

I re-watched the Bond film Skyfall over Christmas,  and made me realize they wouldn’t have been able to do a film like this if it wasn’t for those who have gone before, and rumours are circulating about a Bond actor taking over from Daniel Craig…

Jonathan Ross called Daniel Craig, the custodian of the role of Bond, a phase I liked, he doesn’t “own” Bond, but a dual responsibility both to safeguard the role and a responsibility to carry the franchise to the next generation, and yet someone else will take the series on after him maybe even to places as yet undiscovered, and unrealised.

The series was financially lucrative under Pierce Brosnan, and could have carried on in the same vein, many were sorry he left the role and for some he will always be ‘their’ bond, and yet if he hadn’t have left the series wouldn’t have had its reboot and wouldn’t have had its two biggest and most successful movies.

Okay, we may never be offered the role of playing Bond, James Bond…

Yet we are God’s people here as his Church for this generation, and like Bond there is a call to safeguard that which has been entrusted to us the good and unchanging news of Christ, yet we have to do more than just safeguard the role, we need to bring the good news of the Kingdom to a new generation. We might have to ditch things we like but become barriers to a new culture, or do things in ways we may find uncomfortable or alien to us… We may have to let go of the okay and the good, risking it all, for the best and the greater…

We need to see ourselves not as indispensable parts of the picture but simply custodians, links in a bigger chain of the picture of God’s call in this place… yet the question is will we leave the place better than when we found it?

I believe the call to pass on the baton is a continual call, we should always be looking for people to encourage, to hold things loosely knowing that they belong not to us but to Christ and not to cling on in an unhelpful way, in fact this clinging often leaves cracks and bruises where hands that should no longer have been holding it have hung on longer than they should.

I believe God is calling me, and us all, to look for redundancy, to lift other leaders up to take our place, to constantly be trying to do ourselves out of a job, so that we can pick up the next thing that God has for us, and then to do the same again.

I often wonder whether God has had amazing things for all of us, which we never get near picking up as we have never put down the first thing he gave us?

A journey where all things become new, cycles of fresh and new, where people are constantly being led on to new and deeper, the body of Christ is being strengthened and built up, as people (in Christ) end up doing (through him) more than they could ever believe possible.

Redundancy sounds scary, and it is, but in passing on batons our hands are free for the next thing God gives us

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

I get knocked down…

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

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

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

Do we let disappointments floor us?

Do we let pain take us out of the game?

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

Do we let difficulties cause us to descend into sin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a bad message to start the new year with.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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authority, challenge, John the Baptist, Leadership, prophetic

John the Baptist… The Campaigner

I was thinking about John the Baptist the other day, in many ways John as the last of the ‘Old Testament Prophets’ calling people to repentance and righteously living with his message of “Repent for the Kingdom of God (or Heaven depending on your translation!) is close at hand”.

A voice of challenge.

A call from religious nominal-ism into baptism symbolising death to an old way of life and resurrection to living life God’s way.

A call ignored by the religious establishment but a call heeded by the broken and the sinful.

John is a campaigner, especially at this time with the presidential election happening we hear the voice of the critic saying “it shouldn’t be like this”.

Many of you have seen the film with Robert Redford called “the Candidate” who wins an election and the last line of the film is “what do we do now?”

I have read Tony Blair’s autobiography (twice!) and the thing that struck me is how he writes about being the most successful Labour leader of the opposition to being Prime Minister. The call was still to see what was wrong, but now the call is backed by the authority of the monarch who asked him to form a government, now he has the authority to do something about bringing the changes that were needed.

A time of major transition for the disciples, Pentecost drove them from making suggestions from the sidelines to playing on the pitch on their own two feet.

A major time of transition for the Labour MPs as none of them had ever been in government (apart from an elderly Gerard Kauffman) and yet they had real power and authority that they had to learn how to use wisely. It was different being in Government from opposition, here is the opportunity to put it into practice, here there were consequences.

In the West Wing President Santos invites a feminist lobbyist to join the team, saying “it is easy to throw stones than to build the house”, the challenge is that of being given the authority not just to see what is wrong, but to build what is right.

The institution has made most of us feel disenfranchised and unable to change anything, often we feel like John the Baptists shouting in what often feel like the wilderness about the coming of God’s Kingdom, yet we actually are people who live after Pentecost, people ho have received power and authority from the King to be agents of change and transformation.

My friend Geoff Waters talks of the Lollipop person, wandering out in front of cars with nothing but a sign and a hi viz jacket, and yet the authority they have stops the traffic.

We often are so used to being ignored, belittled, attacked, overlooked, patronised that we forget God has given us authority to change the world and advance his Kingdom, and we end up feeling like we are shut out of the party, when God is inviting us in.

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