call, cost, Deep, Discipleship, Discipline, faithfulness, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, obidience, priorities

“There is nothing remotely sissy about the women’s auxiliary balloon corps”.

A quote from Blackadder from Captain Darling, both trying to work out ways of avoiding death in the first world war by trying to escape the trenches, yet neither of the two men wants to admit that actually they are afraid of fighting and dying.

Captain Darling, manages to get a safe job behind a desk, and Blackadder tries (and fails) to be posted elsewhere.

This picture reminds me of uncomfortable (and maybe uncharitable) thoughts and conversations I have had with Christians about mission and evangelism.

The truth seems to be they’d rather be doing something nice and pleasantly Christian rather than the costly and sacrificial following of Jesus.

Interestingly, we were doing an outreach on Easter Saturday, and the Church was full of people doing flowers, but only one person came out onto the streets to do outreach with us.

I remember once we were desperately short of people to help with out teenagers and one person emailed to say she couldn’t do it because she was the only singer who could sing soprano (or something like that) in the choir.

The problem is this is it is majoring on the minor.

Prioritising the trivial over the transformative.

Our will being done, not Christ’s will be done.

Discipleship cannot be conditional discipleship, following Jesus only when we happen to be going in the same direction.

Christianity lite.
Decaf Christianity with extra milk foam.

when I was at college there was a cartoon that said “God I will go anywhere you call me too” and underneath it said “provided it is in Surrey”.

It made me think, is the problem with discipleship in the west that it is discipleship on our terms?

A phrase that often challenges me is “If Christ is not Lord of all, is he Lord at all?”

I think all of us find it easier to serve God when it is fun and rewarding, it is harder when it is seemingly making little progress.

Rather than being a backseat driver I fear when the call looks costly, or it is hard-work and a slog, we wrench the steering wheel out of God’s hand or pull up the handbrake and rush for the nearest cushy and consumerist gathering and end up seeking out roles of maximum kudos for minimum cost, the safest option.

The truth is following Jesus is either about obedience and faithfulness or disobedience and sin, the problem is that too often we try and give sin and disobedience a sugar coating of religiosity and respectability.

Blackadder sought glory but not the danger, wants recognition without risk, medals without cost, honour without achievement, and reward without sacrifice.

Yet Christianity has never been safe.

Jesus talks of picking up our cross and following him.

Following Christ will cost us everything we have, it is an “everything or nothing choice”.

As I thought about this blog, I wondered about getting David Beckham to make the squash at football matches. It is a job he could do, but it is substantially short of what he is capable of, and leaves the wider body deprived and should short.

Too many are full of potential that they leave deliberately untapped, because -as a proverb says- “many opportunities are missed because they come in overalls and look like work”.

Lets not give God the fag butts of our time, energy, gifting and resources rather than our first fruits.

So, let’s not be like Captains Darling and Blackader trying to slope off the battle-field, but instead bravely give all that we have, our best efforts and richest resources in the service of King Jesus.

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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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call, Depression, Discipleship, Fear, Guidance, Kingdom, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, obidience, Pioneer, vocation

Don’t stop Pioneering!

I remember walking (or rather floating) to work having just made a re-commitment to God, I was excited, I knew God had changed my life, I longed to see more of him at work, I was hungry.

Later I went off to work for a Church in wakefield, I saw their leader step out in faith and God doing wonderful things.

For the last 20 years I have worked for various Churches and I worry sometimes that I’ve lost my fire, or at least that fire has cool, the lion has lost something of its roar!

I am at a Church where although I’m one of the clergy nearly everyone there is older than me, and when I talk about stepping out in faith I get hit regularly with this bucket of cold pessimism and defeatism, one guy in particular seems to champion the “God will never do it here” corner, which is really tough.

The last 7 years have been unbelievably  tough -people who call themselves Christians can be just so mean and inch by inch you feel more and more deflated by this critical spirit tapping away all the time.

I have been crying out to God for break through, more recently if I’m honest I have been crying out to God for rescue.

Often people (probably well meaningly) talk about how they did great exploits for God when they were young too, I think this is meant to encourage me, and I praise God that they were on fire and did do “mission England” or the “decade of evangelism” but I look at them and think I don’t want to believe my faith in believing in God’s ability to transform is simply “naive youthful exuberance” and “jaded cynicism” is somehow spiritual and actually maturity. At my interview someone said “no one expects miracles in Kingwood”. I believe this is a lie, a demonic lie, maturity in Christ is not youthful naivety.  I don’t see “settling down and being comfortable” as part of the call of God on our lives, we are called to follow him ALL the days of our life, not just those reckless early years or at the start of our walk with him.

This is meant to be our daily reality, not just a nostalgic dream.

At this time of struggle, it is a time to pick up and ‘pioneer again’, to not settle for simply what we already have, but to push onto God for more of him, more of his Kingdom.

He may have given us stories we can dine out on and sound spiritual in the past, and I’m sure they will continue to be used for blessing, but like the manna the Israelites ate yesterdays manna does stale and there is plenty for each day.

As we get older our energy can decrease, and we value comfort more.

Do we have the energy to start again? To keep on following Jesus where he calls us? To the new challenge? To the new role? To the new mantle? CS Lewis reminds us “You are never too old to set a new goal or dream another new dream” -especially when that dream is put inside you by the spirit of the living God.

“But gradually the worries of life and the decifulness of wealth constrain the bloodrush of youth, we tame the wild and call is wise”-Pete Greig.

It is the nature of the human condition to pioneer and then too settle, yet God is calling us not to be settled, this earth is not our home, instead we are citizens of heaven.

we have responsibilities too, what of my wife? what of my children? These are valid questions, but God is able to take care of them, he is able to be faithful with them.

“But is he?” I ask myself, we are struggling here, it seems like the water is rising up and up, and hanging on to the promise that he wont let us drown. I remembered the story of Joseph, and God was faithful to Joseph, but before Joseph got to the Palace he first had to go through the Pit and the Prison.

The problem when we are in a pessimistic environment it can become so corrosive to our faith, to believe differently from the people around us is tough, sometimes being a Christian really does feel like swimming against the tide, and somehow it feels harder to swim against the tide within Churches because it feels like they ought to get it, but sadly they don’t, or they choose not too, and that can be a really tough place to be, it’s the place of Moses with the people of Israel, it was a really tough 40 year desert journey, and he only got to glimpse the promised land, but when he did I know that he would have thought that none of this was done in vain.

God is faithful and is with us even when it doesn’t feel like it, and maybe this side of eternity we will never understand why God led us on the path that he did, why he closed some doors and allowed other doors to open. Yet despite it all, and sometimes through gritted teeth, I still choose to believe that God is good..

Sometimes the place of pain traps us and paralysis us, leaving us unable to move on, Abra(h)ams Father Terah was on his way to the land of Canaan, yet he settled in Haran, the place he names after his son -also called Haran which is clearly not a co-incidence- Haran  died, and Terah settled here in his grief.  I believe God is saying to us all today not to let pain stop you in your tracks.

Pete Greig says this “It is easy to pioneer when you’re too young to know what it will cost you, when you feel immortal and invincible and the whole of life is an adventure waiting to begin. but Pioneering a second time is hard”.

Yet let’s be Spiritual Abraham’s, never settling for what we have, but pushing on despite the challenges and not getting entangled in the comfort, for the more of God and his Kingdoms. we are not called to be settlers but pioneers.

Don’t stop pioneering, keep going, let’s persevere, let’s see the new thing, the new dream that God has for each one of us.

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Luke 1.26-37., Mary, obidience, Zachariah

9 Months until Christmas

Its 9 months ’til Christmas today!

Which traditionally anglicans call the annunciation…. For me this feels pretty apt during Lent, as I think that the message of Christ’s Birth and the message of Christ’s birth we too often separate, but actually they were all part of God’s awesome rescue plan for his creation.

If you have seen the film the passion of the Christ, the most moving it for me, was watching Mary watching Jesus stumble with his cross and it flashed back to him falling over as a child and she went and picked him up…  

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end.’

34 ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’

35 The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[b] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.37 For no word from God will ever fail.’

38 ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.

A few thoughts stuck me… Firstly the whole bit at the end about nothing being impossible for God, also the barren relative becoming pregnant and God bringing life miraculously as both great missional pictures.

I love Mary’s willingness to say “YES” to God (contrasted later by Zachariah a priest in the holy of holies who is sceptical about God’s ability to work miraculously)…

Which are we, Mary’s of Zachariah’s?

Sometimes if I am honest I creep a little close to being like Zachariah and need to keep reminding myself that “nothing is impossible with God”.

Yet sometimes it is hard to hang onto God’s faithfulness in times of tragedy, pain, confusion. When the angel promises Mary about Jesus’ greatness, with his great throne and unending Kingdom,  must have been hard to believe when he was on the cross.

I am reminded of Tony Campolo (who is very cool) who said: “It might be Friday… but Sundays a-coming!”

Often in our lives we live on Friday or Saturday but awaiting to see God’s promises fulfilled -waiting for Sunday- even when it feels tough at the time.

So, what of us, do we say yes to God?

Do we hang on to see his faithfulness break through.

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Humility, John 21, obidience, Pride, surrender

Letting Down Your Nets On The Other Side Of The Boat.

I was reading the other day the Bible passage about the miraculous catch of fish at the end of John’s Gospel.

The passage starts with the words they had been fishing all night and they were tired and they hadn’t caught a thing.

I empathised here, sometimes it does feel as though we have been fishing all night, we feel tired and discouraged and it feels as though we either haven’t caught anything, or the catch is so much smaller than we had hoped.

it’s not just ‘bad luck’ these guys are experienced fishermen, they knew all about fishing, they were “Fishing Shaped Fishers”, experts and yet they had caught nothing.

Often this too is how we can feel, we know we have read the books, been to the conferences, even had times when we have been part of the time when great catches of fish had been caught in the past… but now all night trying and nothing to show for it,

Then this non fisherman from the beach suggests letting the nets down on the other-side of the boat.

what does he know?

He’s not a fisherman?

why should we listen to him?

It made me ask myself, have I got a bit stubbon?

Am I a bit set in my ways?

Do I think I know best?

Am I teachable?

Does perhaps my pride get in the way of seeing God work?

Yet these fishermen, swollowed their pride and they let down their nets on the other-side of the boat and caught the greatest haul of fish in their career?

It reminded me of the story of Naaman, a commander in the Syrian  army with leaperousy for whom healing was available if he’d wind his neck in and wash in the murky river Jordan.

I wondered with mission whether I am reaching out in my way, or whether I am heeding his voice and reaching out his way?

Am I still attentive to the voice of Jesus calling out from across the water? Am I expectant to be guided? 

Am I putting my trust in my teaching or my teacher?

The thing I admire about the disciples is they are still trying to catch fish even though they have had no joy all night, how often have we heard someone say “we tried and it didn’t work so we gave up went home, put the kettle on,  and never went out again”… Yet they were at least still trying to fish.

How often do we feel like this, like we are tired, frustrated, disillusioned, run-down, broken and just wondering if all our work and effort was in vain? I know at times I do. Yet there is hope in this passage, that in the morning Christ calls out to us who are waiting and prepared and in the right place, a picture of faithfulness (ironically as they are here because they were faithless and deserted Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane) and we see the harvest reached and brought it, not by our power, might, expert knowledge but by heeding the words of our master.

when we hear new ideas do we think we know better, or do we ask ‘could God be teaching me something here?’

Do we need to be reminded afresh of our dependance of Christ?

 
Are we in the right place, waiting and prepared for the voice of Christ and the step of faith that ushers in the harvest.
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Discipleship, Life styles, obidience, priorities

Whole Life Discipleship…

There was a merchant who collected pearls, when he found one of such beauty he sold everything he owned to buy it.”

Jesus is the pearl of great price.

I think the awesomeness of who Christ is and what he has done is best described in the final verse of that great hymn, “when I survey the wonderful cross” which ends with the beautiful lines…

“We the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small,
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul my life my all!”

Coming back from holiday today has made me think about how we view things, do I have a ‘work’ head on or a ‘holiday head’ on?

Which made me think about how we/I view the world.

Work life balance is a bit of an oxymoron, as if your not alive you aren’t working!

Just like the spiritual and secular divide, surely everything is spiritual as the Holy Spirit is everywhere and always at work within his world.

I do think sometimes we have too lower view of work, when I have not been working it has been really tough, I think as human beings we need to work, not just to pay the bills, but as part of being human, we need to DO something.

We are at our most alive when doing what we love and are good at, which I believe brings the Father joy. 

One of the early Church fathers Erasmus described ‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive’.In the care industry we think of holistic care, looking after the whole person.

A compartmentalised life isn’t biblical as God incarnate lived his whole life for the glory of the father.

Jesus Christ cares about every area of our lives, not just the ‘Sunday best’ bit.

Too often we make following Jesus all about propping up the institution of the Church rather that allowing the Spirit of God to work in and through every area of our lives.

What has Jesus got to say about how we are faithful to our marriage covenants (those of us who are married), or how we bring up our children, or the faithful way we care for elderly relatives, or (as I rediscovered whilst off sick) the importance of just being a good friend.

I have been massively challenged about the quote which says “don’t worry about failing worry more about succeeding at things that don’t matter”.

It made me ask, are my priorities the same as Gods priorities for my life, am I being unfaithful to some callings, vocations and commitments  because I am wrongly prioritising others. As Shane Claiborne once said “is my dream the same as he dream of God”.

Is Jesus Lord of all, or just the bits that show?

Is my commitment to Christ have my vocation head on, to be forgotten when ‘real’ life kicks in. I want my faith to be more than my hobby.
Take a moment and think of your life, your callings and commitments, your character gifts and opportunities, and invite Christ to come in and surrender all to him, giving him access all areas.

Then take a moment and think is there any areas of my life which are a bit ballooned out of proportion, or others which matter to God which I have neglected and need to put right with his help.

Come Lord Jesus, and take your place.

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comparisons, obidience, vision, vocation

Eyes On The Road…

Where your eyes go the rest of the body follows, that is why people put blinkers on horses to stop them being distracted from what is all around them and keeps their eyes focused on the road ahead of them.
I wondered how often we get distracted by looking to the left or the right of where we are being called that pulls us off track and even a few degrees can end up on the long term pulling us miles of course.
In the Bible at the end of John’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus “what about John?” jesus told him to mind his own buisness and worry about his own calling and journey. The problem is we compare our calling and race with those around us, the problem is when we focus of the other runners we end up running in the wrong lane, comparisons are the theif of joy.
James Laurence (an author, evangelist and leadership guru) said that the problems with comparisons   is we run other people’s edited highlights we our blooper reel, it’s a false comparison which normally only causes us ourselves harm.
So, keep your eyes on what you are being called to, keep your eyes focused towards the prize, don’t get distracted, don’t look at those around you the wrong way.
Yet I am calling and challenging us to have a wider view, playing our part, but seeing the breadth of what God is doing around us, where do we fit in the wider picture of Gods Kingdom, have the wide view, see and seek what God is doing in the city.
Too often Christians are focused on their little bit, but have no concept of how their little bit works with the other little bits of those around us, which actually creates a disunited team, we all want to hit the goal but not everyone is called to be a striker.
When I first arrived in Kingswood, I put on a course about sharing our faith, as did the Church next door as did the Salvation Army up the road, yet none of us were currently doing Alpha… Crazily by our own blinkered vision we doubled up the work load and could have freed us up to something else.
I often wonder that we fill our time with good things, but because our diary is full of good things, we miss the great and the extraordinary. It annoys, angers and hurts me to see how often churches put so much time effort and resources it to Competing against each other when we should be complimenting each other. Jesus calls us to seek first the Kingdom of God, to see is all thrive together, together is always better than fracture, factions and disunity. In the Psalms we are reminded that God promises “where there is unity God commands a blessing”.
We often misread the passage in Corinthians to think it is simply about our own fellowship of congregation, however, I think it is actually refering to the body of Christ -the Church- in the city.
Sometimes we are too close and need to step back and see the big picture of the call of Christ missing by being too blinkered. I am reminded of the story of a great conductor conducting a wonderful orchestrar, during their rehearsal he stopped them and said “where is the picalo” the vision of the Church is like that orchestrar where everyone should be contributing to the beautiful and wonderful harmony of the music, each part, no matter how small, adding melody and beauty. Yet narrow-mindedness, sinful competitiveness, and just thoughtless disobedience just creates discord, jarring and ruins the beauty of the harmony that God seeks.
Tommorrow we will think a little bit more about the dangers of looking back rather than having our eyes focused on the prize ahead.
My message for today, is to play your part, but see yourself as part of the wider part of the local team of God, let’s compliment not compete, playing the part we are called to play not the part we think we should play, after all a skilled violinist probably isn’t so good on the tuba, when they do what they are called to they shine and everyone benefits.
Where your eyes go the rest of the body follows, that is why people put blinkers on horses to stop them being distracted from what is all around them and keeps their eyes focused on the road ahead of them.
I wondered how often we get distracted by looking to the left or the right of where we are being called that pulls us off track and even a few degrees can end up on the long term pulling us miles of course.
In the Bible at the end of John’s Gospel, Peter asks Jesus “what about John?” jesus told him to mind his own buisness and worry about his own calling and journey. The problem is we compare our calling and race with those around us, the problem is when we focus of the other runners we end up running in the wrong lane, comparisons are the theif of joy.
James Laurence (an author, evangelist and leadership guru) said that the problems with comparisons   is we run other people’s edited highlights we our blooper reel, it’s a false comparison which normally only causes us ourselves harm.
So, keep your eyes on what you are being called to, keep your eyes focused towards the prize, don’t get distracted, don’t look at those around you the wrong way.
Yet I am calling and challenging us to have a wider view, playing our part, but seeing the breadth of what God is doing around us, where do we fit in the wider picture of Gods Kingdom, have the wide view, see and seek what God is doing in the city.
Too often Christians are focused on their little bit, but have no concept of how their little bit works with the other little bits of those around us, which actually creates a disunited team, we all want to hit the goal but not everyone is called to be a striker.
When I first arrived in Kingswood, I put on a course about sharing our faith, as did the Church next door as did the Salvation Army up the road, yet none of us were currently doing Alpha… Crazily by our own blinkered vision we doubled up the work load and could have freed us up to something else.
I often wonder that we fill our time with good things, but because our diary is full of good things, we miss the great and the extraordinary. It annoys, angers and hurts me to see how often churches put so much time effort and resources it to Competing against each other when we should be complimenting each other. Jesus calls us to seek first the Kingdom of God, to see is all thrive together, together is always better than fracture, factions and disunity. In the Psalms we are reminded that God promises “where there is unity God commands a blessing”.
We often misread the passage in Corinthians to think it is simply about our own fellowship of congregation, however, I think it is actually refering to the body of Christ -the Church- in the city.
Sometimes we are too close and need to step back and see the big picture of the call of Christ missing by being too blinkered. I am reminded of the story of a great conductor conducting a wonderful orchestrar, during their rehearsal he stopped them and said “where is the picalo” the vision of the Church is like that orchestrar where everyone should be contributing to the beautiful and wonderful harmony of the music, each part, no matter how small, adding melody and beauty. Yet narrow-mindedness, sinful competitiveness, and just thoughtless disobedience just creates discord, jarring and ruins the beauty of the harmony that God seeks.
Tommorrow we will think a little bit more about the dangers of looking back rather than having our eyes focused on the prize ahead.
My message for today, is to play your part, but see yourself as part of the wider part of the local team of God, let’s compliment not compete, playing the part we are called to play not the part we think we should play, after all a skilled violinist probably isn’t so good on the tuba, when they do what they are called to they shine and everyone benefits.
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