Authenticity, Fear, Life styles, Listening, Mission, Naaman, Pride, Risk and Change, Salvation

word on the street

Today I went to the Turning Mission happening in Bristol.

I felt a bit awkward going in as I had missed the last couple of days, and had to log in on this computer that kept crashing, before grabbing a disposable cup of coffee (actually not too bad coffee for Church coffee!).

I scanned the sea of faces for a face I recognised before spotting my friend Geoff, another Vicar, who works with us sometimes, it was his first day too.

I wasn’t wearing my clerical collar, normally when I do outreachy stuff I’m normally in Kingswood, and I wear it as have found it often helps the conversation get started. Often too when I do outreach I’m either doing School or Street Pastors with lots of practical help to offer (not to mention the large florencent jackets!). Other times when doing Chaplaincy work we are giving out creme eggs other chocolate, but today, it was just me, no props, no costumes, nothing to hide behind, just me (and God).

My friend Greg Sharples once spoke on Jesus sending out the 12 and the 72 without anything extra for the journey and his main point was simply: Jesus is enough… we don’t need the gimmicks.

Anyway the worship started and I tried to look Holy whilst trying to surreptitiously drink my coffee.

Although the worship was just a random dude on a guitar there was a real sense of God’s Holy Spirit anointing on our worship together, reminding me afresh of importance of God’s presence. 

Also reminded me just how complicated we have made Church life, let’s just worship together, share life, open the scriptures, pray and eat together.

The Turning is based on two very simple ideas, soak in God’s presence and go out into the community in pairs following a very simple script as we talk to the people we meet.

I felt nervous about using a script, I wanted to sound authentic not scripted, would I sound false? Also, if I’m honest I was a bit proud, I’m not sure I need a script I thought… then I had a pang of guilt/regret as I thought how few people I have seen make a commitment: “Lord Jesus, I pray I’ll be humble enough to learn what you’ve got to teach me” I prayed silently.

I was reminded of the story of Naaman, the Babylonian Commander with lepracy  who was told by Elisha’s servant to wash seven times in the Jordan river, Naaman was offended, his pride was hurt, because he thought he was too good to wash in the dirty old water of Jordan. Do we think we are too good to learn from other Christians?

And then we were off. I was in a of team of five, and we had been told to go to the M shed, as we set off we saw a guy sat on the grass, with his bike. My friend Harry and I went up to talk to him. (I’ll be honest I felt nervous, I felt like 14 at the school disco asking a girl to dance). we introduced ourself, we told him God loved him and had a plan for his life. The next part of the script talked about if he died tonight  did he know if he would he go to heaven (all the pastoral-ness in me was cringing a bit, feels pushy and don’t mention death its an uncomfortable subject), I did make a joke about “we hope you don’t die tonight by the way” -not a great joke, by he smiled, and said he’d been thinking a lot about this sort of stuff recently, probably not fair to blog his conversation with us, but as  conversation moved on and was able to pray with him, and lead him in a prayer of commitment.

we came down the hill, and then realising that the rest of the team were all engaged in conversations too, quietly prayed for them, and then began to grin at passers by trying to get another conversation, I think I was over-eager as people refused to make eye contact with this over-grinning bearded scruff.

Later ended up talking to a couple who had already been chatted to, but they were smiley and chilled, so began to relax a bit, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Something however was rattling around my brain, the previous night my friend Jason and I had been talking to a lady in the pub with our PINTS OF VIEw event, and she had said to me “I really like the fact that you don’t come in here and preach to us”…

Last night I had taken that as a compliment, but then wondered whether sometimes I’m too worried about listening well,  caring and saying the right and helpful thing that maybe I should be more bold and tenacious with the gospel.

I remembered hearing Ricco Tice talk about the pain barrier in spiritual conversations, often the great fruit comes as we leave our comfort zones and are bolder than we’d like to be.

Again, I remembered hearing talk about dangerous faith, and felt God say that maybe I’d got a bit too comfortable just being the nice Vicar out an about in the community. Suddenly I remembered my walk to work on Easter Monday 1996, the day after I had made a re-commitment, I believed as I was about to commit social suicide by being different and telling my friends and colleagues I’d become a Christian (actually it was fine, and led to loads of great conversations, God is very gracious and faithful).

Anyway, I was brought back to earth with a jolt, I’d made eye contact with a guy on the bench. Another conversation followed with a young guy who wasn’t up for making a commitment but liked being prayed for and had a job interview later that afternoon and were able to pray for that.

The rest of our team had seen a couple become Christians early on, but now conversations were getting flat. I tried talking to a homeless guy sat on a wall but he told me to  “F*** off” -Something I’d been expecting a lot of today, but hadn’t really happened!

Then ended up having a conversation with some guys working for Amnesty international, a charity I love, they were a bit cold to the idea of God “yeah but is God a MAN, how do you know?” one sneered, I made some joke about God being bigger than gender -they laughed (a miracle it was a rubbish joke!) but the ice was broken. I tried doing the spiel ending with a “can I pray for you?” -“only if you let me recite you a poem” said the guy who was clearly the “big cheese” of the group, so I prayed my best and boldest prayer, and he recited his poem, interestingly there were images of the fall, of the worlds emptiness and some redemptive ideas within his sonnet, we ended up chatting about his poem and his world view, as we chatted he became  much warmer and did a two handed grasp when he shook my hand for the final time. It struck me that two of these guys with their dreddlocks and their tattoos were spiritual and seekers, the third was much more interested in trying to convert me than listening to what I had to say. Am I like this? I hope not, do I only listen to reply, or do I listen to hear what is being said? Street Pastors talk of “Double Listening” -hearing what God is saying, hearing what the person is saying (and by hearing I actually mean taking it all in, words, body language and everything else).

we were still no where near the M shed and it was nearly time to go back, the guys were talking to a busker whose English was bad, just then Harry started chatting to him in  Spanish, I didn’t know Harry knew Spanish! “Afterwards Harry said “I might have ordered a beer” but I hope I told him Jesus Loved him”.

Geoff came up to me and said that a dad and a daughter had just accepted Jesus which was amazing, and the lady in our group was having a fab conversation with a girl who was raising money for charity.

A guy walked past sort of stopping, and he said he was a Catholic, always an interesting one, is this a cultural/family thing or a real relationship with Jesus? He couldn’t stop, but did want a copy of the script. Two lads on the steps of the registry office eating hummus let us talk to them, polite but didn’t want us to pray for us. I did wonder, one guy seemed more open than his friend, I wondered if his friend wasn’t there might it be a different story. I thought about Street Pastors and how peoples mates can make them act totally differently.

Harry joked about having a 100% failure rate claiming that I did all the work on the first guy. It was one of those half jokes that often hides a sadness. Just then an old bloke struggled out of his mobility scooter with an empty disposable cup. I asked him if he wanted a hand, and he asked me if I could put his cup in the bin for him, so I did, the nearest bin was over-flowing so I went to the next bin down the road, and came back to hear Harry leading him in a prayer of commitment, the 100% failure rate had been broken, praise God.

we then headed back to hear testimony upon testimony of people accepting Christ, making re-commitments, or having prayer for healing or words of prophecy, one person met someone from Canada and they turned out to have a mutual Christian friend -what a divine appointment!

Praise God.

So glad I went along today, wished I had had a prophetic word for the Amnasty guys, as think you can bat ideas around for ages, but sometimes the prophetic cuts through everything. Still God is able to reach them, and even if it wasn’t through me today, he’s got lots of people and places to connect with them.

The last thought I had was remembering Rowan williams quote, “find out what God is doing and join in!” -when you find out what God is doing its always risky and a step of faith, but an adventure, which made me ask why so often is so much we do mind-crushingly dull?

I left thinking, why isn’t this my normal Christian life? I believe it could be, and should be… My prayer is God show me “what I can do to make my life like this not just on a mission, but on a normal everyday day?”

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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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Listening

Listening to the voice of God…

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’ Hebrew 4:7.

How can we follow God if we can’t hear his voice?

A few thoughts, firstly the Bible makes it clear that God speaks, and as he speaks we should take what he says really, really seriously.

“Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” 5:20-22.

But we’re human, we sometimes get it wrong, we need to test it was God not our own wishful thinking, or confusion, or whatever…

Yet God says “My sheep know my voice” and “If you turn to the right or the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, this is the way walk in it”…

He speaks, and he wants us to hear him, and he wants us to know him, and discover his voice.

Perhaps we need to echo the prayer of Samuel and say to God “speak Lord, your servant is listening” and wait on the Lord, Seek him…

Yet God does not always speak in a dramatic way, not always fireworks but sometimes a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12)…

I think we often miss the whisper of God in the hustle and bustle of life.

Sometimes we don’t want to hear what he’s got to say, as that might mean changing our lifestyles and that’s uncomfortable and challenging… A friend said, “I knew God was calling me but I put the answer-phone on and carried on as I was”… Give God space and time to hear his voice, check it out with the Bible, with other Christians and also with your guts… does it feel right?

Sometimes God guides with our feelings, particularly peace, have you ever heard someone say “I just didn’t have a peace about X?” Often our head is saying, it all looks good, but something in our hearts isn’t quite right…

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…” Phil 4:7

Just have a go, have a listen, give God space and time, pray to him to speak to you, listen to what he says, check it out with the Bible, is in line with his character and his word? Maybe check it out with other Christians…

And finally, God loves you and so is it honouring, up building, holy, righteous, truthful, beautiful, gracious, merciful and just the type of thing a good God who loves us would be saying to you…

He might be giving a message of repentance but he always does it in the context of love, for “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1

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5 Fold Ministry -Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (Eph. 5), Listening, Luke 15, vocation

Smelling the Sheep!!

 “You need to go out and sniff the sheep“! This was a phrase I’ve seen in a job advert for a vicar, it made me snigger as I don’t consider myself a sheep sniffer!

But did think about the image…

Where do we define what God is doing in his world, not from a safe distance in our comfortable churches, but in the midst of the vcommunity and listening to see where God is at work.

It reminded me too thst mission us actually about people more than strategy, and often the key component (which is so often missing) is relationships, we are in danger of knowing about our communities rather than knowing the people within the communities.

Smelling the sheep is a smelly and unpleasent job, something we’d rather not do, but when we do mission we encounter the poo and messy of broken and hurting lives.

Mission can’t be done from a safe comfortable distance away, the incarnation (Christ becoming human) shows the model which is becoming one of us, living ith, sharing our lives with.

 Too often we try and only reach out to nice people without lots of smelly brokenness, not realising that everyone is probably more smelly and more broken than we realise, in fact we might pong a bit ourselves too!

When we do Street Pastors I often talk about double listening, listening to the voice of Gods spirit and the voice of the culture around us…

I heard a tragic story of JJohns evangelistic event in a Cathedral, it was packed, and he asked who here attends Church regularly and almost every hand went up. We often do missional events to Christians to make us all feel better about ourselves, rather than trying to be Missional in amongst the stench of the farmyard, surrounded by the sheep.

I was thinking about being a Vicar as a shepherd (after all Bishops have crooks the imagery is there in scripture) and Jesus talks about a hood shepherd laying down their life for the sheep

The good shepherd in Luke 15, who goes to “seek and save the lost”…yet to often we act out the parable in reverse we have two or three fat sheep in churches wanting 100% of the shepherds time where the 99 are wandering the hills being devoured by wolves.
 The call is to be out there were it isn’t safe but dangerous, a place of sacrifice, after all the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

-Sometimes we are scared of the ‘sheep bite’ from within the sheepfold, that keep us from fulfilling our calling to help in the rescue mission we are called too undertake.

Let us learn as Christians, to follow the footsteps and be like our Good Shepherd.

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Listening

Give Them a Good Listening Too!

“Words, Words, Words” wrote Shakespeare in his play Hamlet.

People say that “a problem shared is a problem halved” or “confession is good for the soul” the act in physically saying something to another human being is I believe deeply spiritual, and an hour and a privilege that they have chosen to share something of worth and value with you, call it a precious gift, an invitation into their life.

Yet in our world we see this invitations to listened drowned out by a noisy world, the endless drone of the TV, or the tap tap tap of the mobile phone or some other  distraction occurring around us.

Social Media buzzes encouraging more talking, and again I wonder is anyone listening.

I believe everyone is talking, and their deepest desire is for someone to care and actually listen to them.

Perhaps this is why people are ending up having massively deep conversations with people on buses and on random encounters because simply no one else will listen.

This morning I talked to three people, all who were telling me stuff about their current situations, they are all situations I can do nothing to help with, but they clearly wanted to tell me.

It made me think of how important it is to listen to people.

To love your neighbour is to listen to them!

Perhaps loving starts with listening?

Perhaps, just being a loving and a listening ear is something we can do that actually is massively missional?

To have something you want to share  and no one who will listen I think is the worst type of loneliness.

Just read on facebook (so it must be true!) of this man in Australia who lives by a suicide hotspot and they estimate his conversation with people who are thinking of ending it all has saved 160 lives, over the 50 years he lived there.

Never underestimate the power of listening to people, it can -as this example shows- literally be the difference between life and death.

Yet sometimes we all fail at listening well.

Sociologists tell us that we mostly listen to reply, rather than listen to understand.

St. Francis of Assisi grasped something of this truth when he wrote “O Divine master, grant that I may never seek so much as to be understood as to understand” -in other words, I want to surrender my rights to be being understood in order to understand.

It’s massively counter our natural state where we really want people to “get it” -someone else to understand where we are coming from- as being understood is incredibly freeing and liberating.

When we are listened to, as in really listened to, it energises us, it makes us feel loved and valued, it is a massively affirming action, it is a freeing and liberating experience.

Listening to someone is something we can all do.

And getting better at listening is something we can all learn and improve on.

Listen to people as you yourself would like to be listened to.

We have a God who listens.

We have a God who understands.

A God who rejoices with us, and cries with us.

Perhaps in how we listen we can show the world something of the love of the Father.

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Life styles, Listening, love, Tolerence, Worth

Jesus never tolerated anybody!

I was speaking to a friend who is a  Christian and who is gay, who was  saying about not wanting to be ‘merely tolerated’.

To be tolerated is a very low ambition, and as Christians we are not called to just tolerate people, -we can do better than that!- we are called to love people.
Really love them.
Not just say we do.
Jesus didn’t say “by this all people will know that you are my disciples that you tolerate one another”, the Christian Community is called to be recognised not by its uniformed theology, or its denomination or traditions, but primarily according to Jesus, by their love.
Jesus calls us to “Love one another as I have loved you” -this is probably one of the most challenging verses in the entire Bible, knowing Jesus showed the ultimate in sacrificial and committed love for the people he had made. Jesus doesn’t just tolerate people, and neither should we.
The Church is a family, where people shouldn’t just be tolerated but celebrated. Families many different views and thoughts, sometimes too families can be feisty, but families are meant to be people from different generations bound together by love.
When I read comments in the press from different Christian groups, I sometimes want to shout “that’s your brother or sister you are talking about!”
Friendships ought to be robust enough for their not to be unmentionable subjects to be avoided at all costs but be able to be able to listen and respond and listen again.
Yet the truth is friendships too often aren’t formed because people haven’t cross lines to meet and embrace one another.
It is not a question of love, or even tolerance, but rather so often the absence of a real relationship with respect on both sides.
Can you really say you love one another when so often bits of Christ’s Church keep themselves intentionally separate from each other and don’t know each other.
Let’s build relationships that are real and strong enough, underpinned with Christ like love, that celebrates and not just tolerates people and drop our walls down (on both sides) enough to listen, respond and listen again.
Is it just me, or does this whole Orlando stuff make me think that God is calling his Church to up its game a raise the bar in terms of loving people, not just outside the Church but also inside it too?
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Church, Life styles, Listening

A Blog I found from Sam Sheppard (Too many events?)

I write this sat up on my bed this morning (I’m up and dressed don’t get excited) and I find my mind wondering and myself dreaming about the amazing things we could be doing in Jesus’ name.

So for today’s message I’m not really going to try and teach anything or give any insights, there’s some stuff I’m trying to get my head around and I want us to explore it together, so I’m really eager to discuss this and wrestle with it if you have comment please don’t hesitate to send it.

I believe in the authority of the bible as Gods word and I believe at least most (though I’m think possibly all) of the prayer network hold scripture in very high regard and feel much the same as I do. And so I look at the scripture as the example of how we should conduct ourselves, in regards to the Church I look at the Gospels and Acts in particular as an example of how we should be.

But when I look at these scriptures they don’t match up with the church I’m a part of. And I’m not referring to any of the churches in Kingswood Team Ministry I’m referring to the wider Church, the collective disciples here in Kingswood; I don’t think our individual churches are that relevant right now.

In Matthew 10 when Jesus sends out the twelve it says he gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and heal every disease and sickness (Matthew 10:1) again Luke 4:6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.”

Jesus is clear that we have a great deal of power and when we move on to the book of acts we see that the first disciples believed his words because they do it. Lets look at one particular scripture that has always caused me some discomfort Acts 3:1-10

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

I want to look briefly at what this actually says to get a grip of the circumstance. This guy is put out every day to beg, and I imagine everybody would have been asked for money, so Peter and John weren’t that special, they probably weren’t (as I’ve always assumed) put on the spot, because they could easily have just ignored him and kept walking like I imagine many others did, and I doubt this man was the only beggar so they probably walked past at least one already (though I am being presumptuous there) So the healing that we’re all familiar with is preceded with and interesting event, Peter and John get his attention not the other way around they looked straight at him and said look at us they put themselves in this position. Then to a complete stranger on the street, with no relationship or long prayers Peter says in the name of Jesus walk. And he does.

Here’s why this scripture makes me uncomfortable. When was the last time on of us did something like that? Surely we have the same authority Peter and John had, don’t we? And we see plenty of sick people.

I can pull out plenty more examples but I wont because I believe the point is made. These early disciples believe in the authority they are given, and they are concerned with doing what they were commanded to do. But what are we concerned about?

We spend our time running events, when we do healing it’s a special healing event (like the one many of us have been involved with this weekend). But to the early disciples this stuff was normal day to day behaviour.

There is a legitimate argument that the culture we are in is different to theirs, and that as a result we need to do things differently to them. But I wonder, have people changed that much? It seems to me that we’re the same basic human beings with better toys.
I appreciate my point is being evasive so my question is, are we doing this right? Our faith is very structured, but there is little structure in the church described in Acts (though there is some before anyone gets carried away and being accountable to other disciples is important and not to be scoffed at) and there is no obvious structure to Jesus’ ministry.

Some years ago I gave my life to Jesus, and I didn’t fully understand at the time that when I gave him my life it was in fact my whole life, every minute of every day. Are we restricting ourselves to a structure of events and our worship to organised services? I think so and again I’m not actually talking about us as an individual (though most of this I believe is relevant to the individual)  I’m talking about us as the fellowship of saints, as the bride of Christ. Are we corporately living the life we were called to live? Exercising authority and spontaneity together,  or is our structure the only way we can function together? I don’t think so but I want to know what you think.
Sorry for the lack of structure in this message but I suppose that’s kind off appropriate.

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