Encouarge, Endurance, faithfulness, Intentional, inter-dependance, Journey, Life Together, Ministry, Mission, Partnership, presence, Self Care, Spiritual Health, Strength

Running Mates…

Yesterday I met up with my old prayer triplet from college, most weeks we would meet up, and chat and pray for each other and all that’s going on in our lives, and since college we have kept on meeting up (so I guess we’re on our 13th year!).

It is good to share with other people who are running a similar race to you, to remind you that the gospel and the Kingdom is best served lived out and proclaimed faithfully day in and day out alongside real people who don’t yet know Jesus.

we need friends that will encourage and inspire us.

we need people that help us stay focused on Jesus, we need people to help lift us up when we fall, and support us when our confidence gets knocked (and sometimes our confidence gets knocked in him too). we need others to keep us on track.

I have been working in various Churches and Christian organisations now for 20 years, and as I look back God has placed some truly wonderful people around me at various stages of my journey. we need one another. The Christian life can be a lonely one and we need those people to spur us on, to encourage us to keep going, to run the extra mile, to reach for the prize, to not quit but go on for the gold.

we need friends to pick us up too when we fall down, to support us when it is tough.

we also need friends to be honest with us, sometimes (and this needs to be the right people in the right context) be brutally honest.

we need to at times “confess your sins to one another so you maybe healed”, and I know from experience that I find being vulnerable difficult and the acute shame when I’ve messed up is wonderfully relieved when shared with a brother in Christ.

It takes courage to be vulnerable, I remember in Poole I was in a lads prayer group and we’d been meeting for a while, and then one of the guys admitted that he’d been struggling with lustful thoughts, and all of us admitted we did too. Yet none of us had been brave enough to say this, and we were in an accountability group.

Later when I was at college I discovered one of my theological heroes, Dietrich Bonhoffer, who talked about two fellowships “the fellowship of the righteous” and the “fellowship of sinners”, the first the fellowship of the righteous where we all pretend to be fine, sorted and stiff upper lip. whereas the fellowship of the sinners, is being honest about the struggles and the strains of our walk with Jesus.

It is so easy to let one another off the hook and keep everything nice and superficially pleasant, but then we don’t grow in our faith, we get stuck and stagnate, and don’t become all that Christ wants us to be.

It feels scary and risky admitting the things we struggle with, and I can’t guarantee that every Christian grouping will respond well or appropriately when we share, because when we share it challenges them too, and as people we know that going deeper is good for us, but being shallow is less costly and painful.

Yet God rejoices when Christian communities go deeper.

If Churches are not changing lives than why are we opening our doors?

we need to be people that have one another’s backs, and hold one another in prayer “because your enemy, the devil, wanders around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour”.

It is a tragedy that in our individualistic, consumerist and complacent culture that sadly has crept into the Church that we want people to have our backs and pray for us, but are we doing that for someone else.

A great question is “have you got a mentor?” but it should be followed by the question “and who are you mentoring”.

If I ever get to be on an interview panel for a Christian job one of the questions I’d ask is who are you accountable too, how regularly do you see them, and how ruthlessly honest are you?

we are called to bring the best out in one another, but that does mean challenge and sometimes conflict. I love the verse “iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another” but I am reminded that when iron sharpens iron there are often sparks that fly off and it can be perilous.

If someone asks you to pray for them as they go into a tricky situation for them, not only pray for them, but check up and see how they got on, and if they have asked to be accountable then be full of love and grace but seek to bring light and truth into situations.

The problem is all this sounds good in theory, but to put it in place isn’t easy, and then to set the level that actually gets a real and authentic honesty is hard, and also trust takes time to be built up too.

Yet this is what I feel Church ought to look like.

I remember talking about my time working in rehab and seeing how people were so honest with each other, how they were ruthlessly blunt too with their questions and also wonderfully loving and gracious -and saw peoples lives changed and transformed.

Too often I think we think of discipleship as being able to regurgitate Bible verses (and it is good to know scripture) but actually what we want and long to see in our own lives and the lives of our Church family is real, lasting, deep change at the core of our being, that we become healed, restored and shaped into all that God wants us to be. Sounded more spiritual has some benefit but it cannot be at the cost of the true business of the Church which is Kingdom transformation.

we need one another, and they need us. The Africans have a proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”, and I think that is true spiritually too, it takes a village to raise a follower of Christ, we need one another to be all that Christ wants us to be.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is how can we be real, honest and vulnerable?

Are we brave and courageous to seek the help and support of others?

People say “I don’t need to go to Church to be a Christian” firstly we don’t go too Church we are the Church, but the truth is that people need us, and we need them, and God has placed other people around us as a gift, a wonderful resource to bless us, and us them.

So, lets gather our running mates, and keep on running together, discovering that running in a team helps make us faster and travel further and more quickly than we could do on our own.

“let us not forsake meeting together, but let us spur one another on towards love and good deeds, ever more as we see that day approaching”.

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call, challenge, Church, cost, Discipleship, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, obidience, perspectives, priorities, vision, vocation

we don’t need more Churches, rather we need Churches doing what they are supposed too!

Recently I had a sad experience, we had started a small congregation meeting next door to the main Church in the Community centre, mainly to allow the children’s work to flourish but unfortunately it didn’t work as we had hoped. I remember doing the last service there, which was a damp squib, as I tided up and walked out the door, something of lump appeared in my throat, although only a very short era, it was still and end of an era.

I did in my spirit wonder if maybe we (as in the Christian Community) will be back here reaching out to the people of Kingswood.

Then as I thought more about this I began to ask myself the question “does Kingswood need more Churches” actually Kingswood is choc-a-bloc with Churches yet few that are reaching out beyond their four walls, few seeking to reach out with the good news of Christ Jesus, few trying to raise up discipleships that are ‘nation transformers’ and praying in the Kingdom of God.

We also have new Churches planted into Kingswood, and yet sadly, they come into Kingswood, people drive in and drive out, some don’t even get around to investing in a “welcome sign” by their front door. Yet all that happens stays within the walls, and they never even send the other Churches in the area a email saying “hey”.

Yet we know that God is wanted his deeply divided Church to be unified in him, and in seeing his Kingdom advance and grow, impacting local communities and transforming lives, as we think of the Pentecost season, we know the need of the Spirit of God taking his Church back, breathing fresh and new life into it and blowing open its door to reach the community for Christ.

We don’t need more congregations and Churches, but actually for the Churches to do -or at least try to do- that which we are called to do.

The challenge is that the Church, is not some faceless institution, but rather you and me, we need to be people filled with his spirit, living his way, and seeing as individuals to shape and transform the corporate body of believers to keep us following Christ in courageous obedience.

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Kingdom, Ministry, Mission

Equip the Saints…

Equip the Saints for works for service”…

The whole vicary thing is something I have been thinking about a lot recently, partly I guess as Sam is going through the same process as I went through about a decade ago (which makes me feel very old!)…

As you probably are aware I think that the role of a minister is to “equip the saints for works of service” as in other words it is you guys who are on the front line in your office, work, social, family environments, probably in a month meeting shed loads of people who don’t yet know Jesus… The question I think we need to ask is what can we (us weird vicary types) do to help and equip you to be more effective and fruitful in working out the ministry God has called you to within the place he has set you.  This isn’t a rhetorical question, we really want to know?

I read an interesting article from a friend of mine, Kevin, who said he was told to be the Vicar of the parish and not a chaplain to a small bunch of old people left in the building; it is an interesting paradox that those inside the Church can easily take up all your time, and they feel that as ‘their vicar’ you are somehow ‘their staff’ -true we do serve them, but there is something about the number of ministers/vicars/pastors who come with a passion to see the world come to know Christ and end up mediating between the crisis of the flower rota or some such triviality.  Bishop Nick was saying to Kevin, you’re job is to equip the saints for the works of service, but let us not forget that the Church actually is the only global institution which exists for its non members.

Perhaps this is another ‘tightrope’ we have to walk, where we need to be people who equip each other not just for ministry on a Sunday Morning, but a Monday morning too… (we’re all in full time Christian Ministry, I say that ‘your in full time Christian Ministry if you love Jesus and have a pulse!’)… I think too often our Churches have become places where people escape from the world, rather than places that equip us to impact and transform the world. Sometimes I think with some of these seminars and courses knocking around, that this actually keeps us from being out and about and sharing our lives with not yet believers.

Interesting stat is we in the west  spend 75% more on Church growth stuff (course/books/conferences etc) than the developing world and yet interestingly where is there substantial Kingdom growth, in the developing world.

I think some questions need to be asked about why?

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Church, Discipleship, mentoring, Ministry

Growing Younger

Growing younger seems to be the aim of everyone.

As Church this is actually our aim, it’s an aim which goes back to the very roots of our faith in Judaism, which talks on “one generation will tell another of the glories of the Lord”, and themes such as ‘passing on the baton’ resonate with what we see in Scripture.

The Book of Acts (in fact most of the Epistles too) speak of Jesus handing us his baton, passing his authority to each of us, who in turn passes it on to the next generation.

A business adage says “Success isn’t success without a successor”… Barnabas’ ministry was successful because S/Paul picked up the baton and ran with it, Paul did the same for Luke and Timothy… Over the centuries various people have done this right up until now, to the time when the baton has been handed on to us.

So, the question is are we handing this on to our children, and grandchildren.

I heard one person saying about Church “well, it’ll see me out!”, which is not the attitude of the Spirit of God, reaching out to every generation in turn so that they can know the wonders of God.

In our culture we have lost what it means to be mentored, and in turn to mentor.

Often, we worry about our jobs and roles which maybe we hold onto a little to tightly? It is easy to blame another generation for not wanting to do things our way. Yet I am often brought back to Saul trying to place on the young David his Armour and yet David and a new way for a new time.

The Ordinal talks about “Proclaiming Afresh for every generation” but in fact what we so often do is simple “proclaim again” for every generation.

Maybe we need to look at what is the dust of a by-gone age, and what are timeless spirit inspired truths that transcend generations.

So, today, what can we do to help “grow Christ’s Church younger?”

 

 

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1 Kings 19, Carrying burdens, community of grace, Depression, Discipleship, Ministry, self awareness, vocation

Success or faithful obedience….

Some more thoughts from the prayer room yesterday…

I was feeling really sorry for myself, perhaps a bit of post Christmas blues?

I did feel a bit rubbish, the prayer room was empty, struggling to get teams out with Street Pastors as often as we’d like, Church has been particularly challenging over the last term…

It’s probably not on the same level as Elijah in the cave following the firey show-down on mount Carmel with Ahab and Jezebel wanting to murder him (1 Kings 19) -but I wasn’t feeling great.

As a side thought, I was chewing over a friend -Kevin Lewis’- Blog who talked about not being “disillusioned or disappointed” but rather deflated, because if we are ‘deflated’ we can be ‘inflated’ again…

And another side thought, I also, was thinking about ‘restoring the joy of our salvation’ somehow in real life, real ministry, with real people, I want to know the real truth of the “Joy of my Salvation”.

Anyway, into the prayer room walked Derek from Carmel whose fire for the Lord was infectious, little guy but with big heart for God, and then walked in my friend Paul Mundy… and as we prayed together I felt my Spirit lift. It reminded me of a picture from the Bible which used to hang in my dad’s study, which has Moses sat on a rock, with two guys holding his arms up. The story behind it can be found in Exodus 17, Moses is praying with his hands raised whilst Joshua is fighting a battle bellow, and whilst his hands are raised in blessing they have victory and when they fall they are losing, so two guys support him and hold his arms up when he tires and is unable to stand anymore Sometimes we need to encourage of re-encourage one another. Sometimes just being, our presence alongside, there can really help, encourage and inspire someone else.

Today as a Church we went off to Clevedon and met Michael Eden, who was also talking about Moses, who also had times of struggle in his life and ministry when in the middle of the desert and his people turned on him and grumbled, and Moses must have felt pretty low.

Yet Michael reminded us that when Moses encountered God in the burning bush, God was the one who was moving but the invitation for Moses was to partner with God.

We forget we are partnering with God and think it is all down to us, we rate ourselves and our self-worth from the successes and failures we face, and if you are like me we are often unduly harsh with ourselves.

Moses must have found it a longish and tough call going through 10 plagues and umpteen rejections from Pharaoh until eventually he saw the people of Israel freed, but the success wasn’t down to Moses but rather it belonged to God, Moses wasn’t responsible for the success of failure of the task,  no, his call was simply to be faithful and obedient.

 It is a liberating thing to know that our call is simply to be faithful to the call of God, because this sets us free from comparisons, looking and watching other peoples’ race -often we play our blooper reel over someone else’s highlight reel- and feeling like a failure.

Yet the call is not about apparent success but about faithful obedience, the fruit rests in the hands of God, sometimes we don’t see the fruit we are involved in birthing -Philip probably never knew the extent of the Ethiopians Eunach’s gospel endeavours- but just because we don’t see the fruit doesn’t mean it’s not there, and even if we have a Church crammed full of people listening to us preach doesn’t actually mean that anything fruitful and worthwhile is actually happening.

Ultimately the fruit, the growth, the success rests with God, our call is to be faithful. Sometimes that call to faithfulness can be feel tough, Jackie Pullinger the missionary from inside the walled city of china, slogged for 7 years without a convert, and yet broke through and thousands have been blessed by here, but if her emphasis had been on her own success she wouldn’t have hung on in there and seen the blessing.

Bill Wilson who leads the worlds’ largest Sunday School talks about Christians often quitting before the miracles kick in.

Often God makes us hang on for a bit that maybe we know our dependence on him, allows our pride to be dealt with and our desire for fruit for no other reason that to bless and bring joy to God.

The truth is that if we want to have fruit, and fruit that will last, the only way of achieving comes from our ‘remaining in him’, he is the source of all life. Success is God’s job and we’ll only see much of what God has done through us the other-side of the grave.

Victory only comes through faithfulness and obedience, doing it God’s way, ultimately the only way to be fruitful comes from the path of surrender, the saying “not my will but yours” and seeking to be faithful.

So let us encourage and bless one another to keep on seeing Christ glorified in what we do, lets seek him and follow him, worrying more about whether we are in the centre of Gods will, surrendered to him, rather than just doing our own thing and hoping God blesses it.

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cost, expectations, Falibility, Ministry, Mission, Uncategorized

Our Response When the Storms Hit…

Matthew 8…
23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

In many ways I feel this is a picture of the Church in the UK.

It is a picture too of our own individual Christian walk with God too.

We’re okay when nothing much is happening, but can’t cope when it stops being comfortable, nice, and safe…

The Disciples are with Jesus, Jesus is in the boat (albeit asleep), and a storm hits…

They look at the size of the waves and they panic.

The strength of the wind makes them fearful.

Their hope is undermined, probably one of the disciples said something like “we’re going to die…” and this fear was infectious and spread.

The disciples problem they were focused on the problem (the storm) not the solution (the Saviour).

What are we like when storms hit us? (Afterall life throws us plenty of rocky moments).

Do we PANIC? Or do we PRAY?

Our are our hearts, minds and lives filled with FEAR? Or are our hearts, minds and lives filled with FAITH?

I was thinking about how fear is debilitating, a rabbit caught int the headlights of a car is frozen…

Fear makes us (like Jonah) run in the opposite direction from where we should be…

It’s okay to be nervous and not understand what is happening or why, that is a fairly normal part of being a Christian and being a human being, but fear is something we often choose to invite into our lives which God does not want in their.

The Bible tells us that “Perfect love casts out all fear” -and the only one with perfect love is God himself.

The most frequent command is “Fear not”…

But then imagine being in a stormy boat, being powerless to save yourself (there is quite a Salvation message here, powerless and destined for death until the Saviour intervene’s!) and then your passenger speaks to the wind and the waves and they fall quiet and go silent…

The question I’d like to ask the disciples, were you more scared before or after JEsus calmed the storm… I think afterwards!

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, our starting point is the awesomeness of God.

 Today was meant to be the launch of our Church plant All Souls’ Southey Park, but there are problems with the lease and this is delaying us getting in there.  It would be easy to look at the stoms and the winds of things standing in our way, no key the the building, not much of a budget, very small team of people behind us. Sadly our Churches can be filled with scare mongers and prophets of doom, do with listen to their shouts rather than God’s still small voice whisper? 

Many of our Churches have dwindling numbers and are struggling, it is easy to see the wind and the waves and throw in the towel and give in and die…

Yet instead we need to look to Jesus, he doesn’t need waking up like he did in the story, but coming to him is always a good first response rather than a last resort, knowing he is more powerful than the wind and the waves, he is bigger than the problems and difficulties we face, nothing is too difficult for him.

So, who do we listen to effects what we do, thinking about the Church plant, I want to be like Caleb and Joshua who instead of being defeatist like the other spies who went to look at the promised land, came back saying that the land was good and God was able to deliver it into their hand… Yet the people chose to listen to the voice of fear rather than the voice of faith.

Fear took them into the desert to die…
Faith took Joshua and Caleb into the promised land to live.

Who do we listen too?
Who do we let speak into our lives?

Do we pray instead of panic?

Do we seek the Saviours Soultion rather than be pleplexed by the problem.

In your powerlessness remember that God is with you, who is able and mighty to save.

Encounter the storm stilling God, our starting point is an awesome God yet one who says “fear not”

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Church, Journey, Leadership, Ministry, vocation

A Decade on…

Today is the 10th anniversary of being ordained. I don’t think any amount of other ministry or theological college can prepare you for this unique role.

In many ways it is a privilege to do this role, to have so many wonderful opportunities to talk to people about Jesus is a fantastic thing.

I remain 10 years on as passionate about people coming to know Jesus, and growing in discipleship, but it has been really tough, and as I think back over the 10 years there have been some wonderful highs and blessing,  but a lot of it has been something of an uphill battle.

I remember I had to write to some emerging leaders with some advice, and my two bits of advice were to “keep the main thing the main thing” -and the main thing is Jesus; my second attribute needed wasn’t any great a glitzy gift like being able to preach like Spurgeon or have the faith of Smith Wigglesworth, but rather the perseverance of Nehemiah… just keeping on building despite the challenging’s, pain, difficulties, opposition and discouragements.

Two things I have come to learn (or at least tried to remember) is that first God is good and faithful even when we don’t understand his ways or his plan, and the second is that ultimately it isn’t about what people think of you and their opinion of you isn’t what defines you, actually it is what God thinks that matters most, live ultimately lived for that audience of one.

I spoke to a colleague of mine this morning, who shared at in one of his toughest and darkest points, he met an elderly clergyman in his 90’s, who said to him “keep on preaching Jesus”… echoing with my college motto, which was “woe to me if I do not preach the gospel”.

It is all about Jesus, and him crucified, the one who was faithful and obedient even to death on a cross.

It is ultimately not about anything else that being faithful to Jesus, who is faithful to us.

One of the theological colleges motto is “the one who calls you is faithful” -which today feels a good message to remember.

A poem I have found challenge, and one I have failed miserably at, but I want to close this blog with is this (it is written by Mother Teresa of Calcutta).

              People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

            If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

            If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

           If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

            What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

            If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

            The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

         Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

         In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

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