call, challenge, Commitment, cost, Cross, Determination, Discipleship, Discipline, Endurance, faithfulness, Fruit and fruitfulness, Grit, obidience, pperseverence, steadfast

Grit, the missing Element.

I had a breakfast the other day with my friend ‘Pastor Benson’ it was great to catch up with him. He arrived in Kingswood with the instructions from his Church leader to “plant a Church in Bristol”, and that’s how I got to know him and become friends.

He tried planting in the conference room of the Soundwell Swimming Baths, before moving into the city centre into the Holiday Inn as a venue for their Church.

He now has a small fellowship meeting regularly there, interestingly I asked how his Church started and he had on e word “grit”.

Keeping on going.

Each Saturday they went out onto the streets and invited people to come (anyone doing much Street work knows what a hard and thankless task it can be!), each Sunday there were there, set up, with tea and coffee waiting for people, as they prayed, worshipped and sought God. It took 7 or 8 weeks before anyone other than his family to come and join them, yet they kept on going, they didn’t quit, and the Church was born.

He said to me on Saturday “it doesn’t say well done and gifted servant, or well done successful servant, but well done good and faithful servant” we just had to be faithful.

My mind wandered back to my Greek lessons at College (not exactly my finest hour!) and remembered a phrase (actually normally used of being filled with the Holy Spirit) which is “go on be being filled”, but wondered if “go on be being faithful” perhaps might have the same idea, faithfulness isn’t a one off, but something we are called to be in a continuous cycle of repetition, remaining actively faithful.

Yet as I thought about this, it is amazing how quickly Christians scarper from the battle-field, they may all be noisy in the barracks before the battle, and maybe be around for the first charge, but faithfully having the grit and determination to ‘stand firm’ or ‘stand fast’ keeping going with what God has called us to do. Holding the line in obedience not wandering off in distracting vanity projects, not fleeing the battle front-line for a safer-option.

Let’s be people of grit, of determination and perseverance.

Scripture is full of heroes that kept on going, that remained faithful, gritty characters that persevered, Noah building the Ark, Moses leading the people through the desert, Esther in prayer, Ruth in her commitment to her mother-in-law Naomi, Daniel in righteous living, Nehemiah in re-building the wall and Paul in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Yet our greatest example of grit and deterination is Jesus “who for the joy that was before him endured the cross and scorned its shame”. Jesus did quit on his Fathers Mission even when his sweat fell like drops of blood, even when it cost him everything he had including his life. Jesus remained faithful unto death “even death on the cross”.

I believe the “secret” to transformation in mission is not more courses, or new programmes and ideas but rather greater grit, more steadfastness, keeping going and pressing in to see the harvest.

Bill Wilson of metro-ministries the worlds largest Sunday School in New York said “Christians so often quit before the break through”.

So, a challenge for us all is to not just start new things but have the grit and see them through and come to fruit.

Patient endurance is tough, but often the key to fruitfulness.

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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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Disappointment, Discouragement, encounter, Eternity, Evangelism, expectations, Fane Conant, Gospel, Message, obidience, Opportunity, Organic, Pioneer, pperseverence, Repentance, spontaneity, word -speaking/preaching/teaching.

Yesterday was a funny old day…

We have been doing a mission this weekend.

An evangelist friend of my Dad’s, Fane Conant, had come up to help us, following a brief chat I had at a evangelism/evangelist conference.

We started the mission with a small group of us gathered together on Hanham Mount -where John Wesley had preached to the Kingswood Miners-. The Kingswood Miners were considered to be the toughest and roughest of people, normally people fled from them, yet here we see a small group of Christians choosing to make them the priority. Following the actions of Christ that prioritised the marginalised, disenfranchised and ostracised. Yet here had been an incredible harvest that transformed not only Kingswood but also our nation, and the world.

“Lord we have heard of your fame, we stand in awe of your deeds renew them in our day” (Hab.3.) We prayed bold and audacious prayers nervously and worshipped, there were only 12 of us, and the city looked vast on the horizon as we sung in faith “greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city”.

The next day we had a Men’s breakfast, sadly a few of the not yet Christian days didn’t show up, and 3 out of my 5 Churches weren’t represented, there was about 13 of us, and we’d reserved 30 places, so Fane’s presentation happened to rows of empty seats, although lots of people in the pub must have over heard the presentation too.

The next event was meant to be a coffee morning, but as I arrived no one else was there, not a single person had turned up. I felt bitterly disappointed. There were some guys in the hall painting. These guys were on Community Payback (the new name for probation).

Then an idea hit me, although God had probably been shouting it for a while, why didn’t I get Fane to talk to the Community Payback guys?

Swallowing hard and trying to appear chilled, I asked if Fane might be allowed to speak to the guys, talking about how his life had been turned around, message of hope and inspiration and I carried on in this vein.

The supervisor said “yeah, I’ll bring them all in”.

Fane (being wise) stopped him and said “you do realise I’ll be explicitly Christian?” (At this point I was expecting the guy to change his mind, and had already in a faithless way prepared my “well at least we tried” speech). The guy grinned and said “I don’t mind, I’m a Sikh by the way”.

So, here we were 8 guys sat around listening to Fane speaking about how Jesus turned around his life.

The last two talks Fane had done had been amazing, but here there was an even greater sense of God’s anointing, as Fane preached the Gospel in a wonderful and faithful way.

At the end Fane prayed a prayer and asked others to say it in their hearts, and then wandered around chatting to the guys, it turned out that two lads prayed the prayer giving their lives to Christ and are keen to be followed up.

Others were asking really deep, real hungry questions to Fane, Paddy and myself, the conversation fizzles and crack with God’s hand upon it.

As I left to take a wedding and Fane and a guy Harry from our Church went to chat to people on the High Street (and saw another guy come to faith)…

I smiled as I thought God is on the move, he is turning up in unexpected places, but he’s drawing people to himself, and what a privilege to join in with that.

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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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