Humility, Pride, Servanthood.

Everybody gets to load the dish-washer.

At New wine Gareth Robinson said “In our family we have a rule that everyone gets to load the dish-washer” and then went on to explain that it was true for their Church family too.

Following on from yesterdays blog about the discipline of secrecy is our need to be people who serve.

No one knows who replaces the toilet-rolls, nips to the shop to buy milk so you can be welcomed with a nice coffee, cleans the floor after your kids have splashed paint everywhere and many more unseen jobs within the Church.

Often too, no-one notices the person that tirelessly visits our housebound members (some are delightful and some can be a real act of love!).

So much of what really matters about Kingdom Ministry is rarely the bits that show. -Ironically when Churches do job interviews they seem primarily concerned about the bits that show which actually I think are the bits that matter least, I’ve known poor preachers facilitate wonderful moves of God, and great preachers be utter rat-bags behind the scenes.

My friend David white once said “it is easier to find someone that will preach in the pulpit that it is to clean it” -to be fair he did spit a lot when he talked!

Yet the act of service is so vital for the health of any Church, but it is also vital for our own spiritual health.

when I was a teenager I got accused of “treating this place like a hotel!” but when you serve you are actually investing in the Community, not coming as a guest or a consumer. when you serve you feel part of the family.

Yet serving is so counter cultural now, and perhaps sometimes human beings are just a bit lazy, I was laughing in the leaders lounge at new wine about the people who will talk to you (and I’m sure they think what they are saying is important) and watch you working (moving tables, doing dishes, scrubbing floors) and they will talk and talk at you, but won’t lift a finger to help!

Yet serving reflects Jesus style of leadership, the God who took a towel and washed his disciples feet. The Servant King. The God who came “no to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many”.

I read a facebook statement that said: “If serving is beneath you, then leadership is above you”. -It is true, at the heart of leadership in the economy of God is service.

Interesting too, I have seen people talk about believing God has a call on their life, even in some cases frustrated that God hasn’t opened the door sooner, but they won’t roll up their sleeves and serve, perhaps the key to opening up their destiny is a lot simpler than they think, and yet this also might involve a change of heart which might be a tougher call than they think.

when I think of service I am drawn to the story of Naaman a leader in the Babylonian army, a leader covered in the dreaded skin disease lea that Elijah’s servant told to bath 7 times in the river Jordan, he refused thinking he was too grand and the river was too murky, yet it was in humbling himself and submitting that he gained his healing and transformation (and deeper than his physical healing he realised that the God of Israel was the only Lord to be worshipped).

Scripture tells us (repeatedly) that “God opposes the proud and yet exalts the humble”, it is the humble that serve, it is the humble that seek the glory of God rather than boosting their own ego. Servanthood is a revolutionary act and choice in defiance of our egocentric self glorifying world.

So, lets grasp the discipline of secrecy and learn to lead less like Alan Sugar in his board-room and more like Jesus washing the disciples feet.

The call of Christ in my experience is downwardly mobile, it is an upside down Kingdom where the first are last, and the last first and the meek inherit the earth.

And I’ll close with another facebook meme that says “we often miss God’s great opportunities because they turn up in overalls and look like work”.

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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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5 Fold Ministry -Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (Eph. 5), Humility, identity, Isaiah 6, Pioneer, Pride

Words, Language and Titles…

A week ago I was at a really thought provoking meeting at the Diocese thinking about pioneer ministry.

Yet the thing that struck me  is the language, words, names and labels we use actually acts can be really unhelpful.

Gideon was called by the angel as a “Mighty Warrior” and didn’t see himself as Israels military leader after-all “I am the least in my family and my family is the least in Manasah”… Yet Gideon was a Mighty Warrior as he step out in faith (after a fair bit of encouragement from God) he stepped into the Identity that God had called him to, the gifts, skills and talents that lay within him, unseen and unrecognised.

Some of us at times can be a little like Gideon struggle with self doubt, and doubting of our calling, or other times we have our own ideas and expectations of ourselves. A type of false humility can easily exist and we can mistakenly think as virtuous but actually keeps us from becoming all that God wants us to be.

I wonder how many pioneers -or perhaps apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets exist within our Church but would rule themselves out, or not be confident in embracing who they are before God?

I wonder too how many pioneers, -or perhaps apostles, evangelists, teachers and prophets exist within our Churches  but the Church communities sadly often don’t realised, acknowledged and embrace these gifts… (I think those with a pastoral gift most churches are reasonable at recognising, but often sadly many are less good at recognising the other characteristics).

Intestestingly both Isaiah (Is.6) and Jeremiah (Jer.1), both prophets who really needed Gods help to find their voice, Isaiah even has a vision of a cereph touching his lips with a burning coal… I wonder how many of us need Gods help to find our voice, especially our prophetic voice? Often the prophetic feels scary, we say things that other people don’t alwyas “get” or “understand”, sometimes to give a prophetic word takes a lot of courage of bravery.

Yet sometimes labels aren’t always helpful, one of my friends who was  evangelist, was told he was a good evangelist and for a few weeks went tactlessly crashing into conversations bible bashing in the most to-curling way imaginable, a million miles away from the normal  conversations he had been having. Sometimes Gods call on our lives can get limited when our egoes get over-inflated “pride coming before a fall”.

I don’t think these gifts, calling and ministries were meant to be given so that we can strut around like peacocks, and I’ve blogged before at how uncomfortable I am when perhaps there is too little walking deeply with the spirit and too much ego and testosterone flying around. The Growing Leaders Course sas “Charisma and Competence without Character creates Catastraphy”. A verse that don’t quote often enough but occurs repeatedly in scripture is “God opposes the proud but lifts up the humble”.

Humility I believe can be best be described as “coming into agreement with God about ourselves”, Paul’s epistle to the Church in Rome urges us “not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought” in fact Paul urges “to think of the needs of others”, God doesn’t give gifts to massage our egos but rather to build up the body of Christ.

To move in the call that God has placed on us we need to come to a place of maturity, not just letting God work through us, but more painfully and more challenging is letting God work in us.

Often too, God gifts us but we have to get ourselves prepared to be used by God, we won’t be effective as a Bible teacher unless we delve deeply into Gods word, nor will we ever move in the prophetic unless we pray and become used to listening to Gods voice, and we never be trusted with leadership of Gods people unless we learn how to serve and follow faithfully.

Too often I fear too many Chritians stay too much in the shallow end of their faith, nor are prepared to invest in the walk with Christ to really know what the potential God has placed within them, like the tragic  tale that Jesus told of the foolish man  who buried his talent in the ground. Potentially great evangelists  who never really talk about their faith, teachers who haven onthing to pass on, prophets who haven’t attuned their ear to the voice of God, apostolic leaders who’ve never learned that the first come last and a biblical model for leadership involves a towel and a bucket washing crap of the foot of disciples who may dessert you, and may betray you.

So, let’s think about how we can be the culture in the soil of discipleship whereby people can be empowered, grow and thrive in their faith, where the people of God are built up and Gods Kingdom grows and flourishes… Counting ourselves in to Gods plan and purpose for his plan in our lives in his world.

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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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Humility, Pride, Samson, Temptation

Samson

Samson is one of those stories we often over-look, it is a bit of an uncomfortable read to the 21st Century audience (actually the whole of the book of judges has some challenging bit in it (Judges 13.1 – 16:30).

Samson, is a guy whose birth is foretold (like Samuel, John the Baptist and Jesus)

He is a man of great gifting and anointing, filled with the holy Spirit from birth, a person of charisma and with clear leadership skill.

He is successful as a warrior leader, scaring off the enemies of the people of Israel (at least for the first part of the story at least).

I think Samson probably set out like most of us with good intentions of being a good judge, but we seem him drift through out the story.

Interestingly when I did my discertation into ‘backsliding’ for my degree, very few made a conscious choice to make a ‘reversal in Christian Commitment’ but just drifted away from God inch by inch, degree by degree until they realized just how far they had got.

Often it was these small sin holds that didn’t seem too bad, after all everyone struggles with stuff right? The flaws in our character, often end up being our Achilles heel, that let us down and shipwreck us, yet we can gloss over these with our gifting.

Yet Samson shows us that gifting and character are two different things.

Samson takes his anointing from God for granted, and is reckless with the gifts God has entrusted too him.

A while ago people used to wear those WWJD bracelets –what would Jesus do? (Or We Want Jam Donuts!) Yet later their became a bracelet with the words “FROG” on them, which stood for Fully Reliant On God, you see actually Samson fell for the lie that he was an independent individual, where as actually all of us are totally dependent on God, in fact every breath we take is actually a gift from him.

Samson’s problem is that his ego, Edged God Out, he didn’t realize the depth of his reliance on God, and we see no evidence of Samson being grateful to God for his gracious provision bailing him out time and time again.

In fact we see him flirting with danger, getting closer and closer to revealing his secret to his wife Delilah, until eventually the inevitable happens (Judges 16.17).

I think one of the big dangers the Church has is we flirt too often with secularism, we try and be just like the world, and then wonder why we fall in and end up loosing the power of our Christian distinctiveness.

There are lesson here about wisdom, about good and wise council, but mainly about wisdom… but primarily I think this story teaches us not to put ourselves in the way of temptation.

A guy I know well was struggling with keeping his mind pure, especially on his own in his flat on an evening with the internet beckoning him towards the gutter… So, he and disconnected his internet.

Pride comes before a fall, yet wisdom puts in safeguards.

We need to acknowledge before God our weakness and ask his help.

Believing we are invulnerable and invincible is foolish, but we can fool for it easily when we forget our dependence on our God.

There are many in the Bible who ‘come to their senses’; Jonah sees sense from the Whales belly and the prodigal son ‘has a light bulb moment in the pigs field’  and Samson when he is a blind slave and a prisoner of his enemies, realizes his need of God and the call on his life which he seems to have largely ignored.

And in his last moments, with his hair somewhat re-grown, he pushes down the pillars of the temple and destroys the enemies of the Lord and his people.

When he is at his lowest, he is used most. His death achieved more than his life.

I don’t think it is heresy to think Samson as a life largely of squandered potential, somebody who had gifts, talents, anointing and talents but (like the story Jesus told) didn’t use them.

What of us? God has equipped us, given us by his spirit unlimited potential for transformation, we have the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead active in our lives, yet so many in our Churches are spirit filled, yet squander their God-given potential and their gifting is never fully utilized for the purpose God intended, God is calling but they are (like Samson) pursuing other agendas, dreams and visions.

Where are we in this story?

Are we the young idealist that needs to sort our baggage out? Bringing things into the gracious and loving light of Christ.

Perhaps we got confused gifting with character?

Do we realize the gifts and anointing God has given us? Are we grateful to him? Are we using them for his glory, or our own?

Do we realize his potential in us?

If so are we using our potential, or squandering it?

How seriously do we take our obedience to God?

Do we think it is all about us? Or do we realize it is all about God?

Do we think we are invincible and immune to the devil getting a foothold in our life

Do we flee sin (as Paul urges Timothy to do) or do we flirt with it

Do we think of ourselves as self made and independent? Or do we realize we are Fully Reliant On God?

And what happens when it all comes crashing down, do we roll over and give up, or do we like (Samson) seize the moment, even in the 11th hour, and seek to bring glory to God.

Amazingly despite a life of messing it up and getting it wrong, Samson’s name is proudly listen amongst the other heroes of faith in Hebews 11.

He stumbled and fell along the race, but he finished well.

What of us, how will we finish the race?

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Humility, identity, Pride, Servanthood., Worth

The unworthy servant of the most worthy God

got a letter through the post from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (as you do!) and I was struck by the writing around the crest of the Archbishop of York, which read “The unworthy servant of the most worthy God”…

This made me think.

Firstly I liked the humility of this, but then I began to feel a little uncomfortable.

When we see the worth and worthiness of Christ, we know that by comparison, “we are not worthy even to eat the crumbs from under his table”.

I think that too often we as Christians, and we as Church leaders, put up a veneer of being ‘sorted’, ‘holy’ and ‘righteous’, yet the truth is we all suffer and struggle with sin, all that happens -sometimes- as Christians is we get better at covering it up!

Our struggle with sin, is an on going an daily battle, not something we used to struggle with before becoming a Christian. Although this is never the message we actually say, sometimes it is the message we inadvertently give off.

We ALL sin, if in any doubt check out Paul’s struggles in Romans 7… We are all conflicted with the person we know we should be -and want to be- and who we actually are.

Ironically living up to peoples expectations of being sinless is more likely to push you into sin!

One thing I learned whilst working with drug addicts and alcoholics was that of leadership from a point of both brokenness and recovery, the councillors -former addicts themselves- were both messengers of hope and of struggle, beauty and brokenness. I love Henri Nowen’s description of Christian leadership as that of being a wounded healer.

I grew up in a Church that was very much focused on the cross, on sin, on the need for repentance and faith. Yet the problem with this form of Christianity was sometimes it didn’t feel like ‘good news’, it felt condemning, and the default setting placed the emphasis on my sin rather than on my Saviour.

Guilt, shame and unworthiness were part of my mind-set, which I thought was what God wanted me to feel, but verses like “there is now no condemnation in Christ” I struggled to personalise and allow to alter my own perception on myself.

Yet it was through the charismatic renewal movement that I really discovered that no only had the price been paid for my sin,  but that I -me-  was loved.

God saw me through the lenses of the cross and of his wonderful grace… God saw me as his beloved child, precious and valuable, my worth was extreme -that God himself would die for me.

This answered those real and deep questions of identity. A movement which talks a lot about our identity, about being anointed and empowered, about knowing the Father and his heart for us.

I stopped using words like unworthy, as although I know I am, I also don’t think it is helpful, I need more often to be reminded of grace, forgiveness and faithfulness, rather than living in a place of condemnation and almost self flagellation.

I think when we beat ourselves up, we say to ourselves that we are useless, we are failures and God can’t use us, the truth is that (although this is still true) grace speakers a louder and truer word that we can still be used despite our faults and failings, that no one is useless to a God who delights to work with his children.

Even at our worst and our most rebellious God’s love for us remains faithful and constant.

If I were redesigning the archbishops crest I would write “I maybe an unworthy servant, made worthy by the love omost worthy Lord Jesus Christ”.

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Church, community of grace, comparisons, grace, Humanity, Luke 18, Pride

A Community of Grace.

Last couple of weeks at All Souls the word humility and grace have come up a fair bit in the talks, and that’s cool, as they are great words….

Which brings me to this passage… one I love, but I find so so challenging every time I read it.

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Grace might be amazing, but it is hard at times.

Hard to receive forgiveness for things we feel bad about.
Hard to forgive others when we feel aggrieved (I struggle with this one myself if I’m honest at times).
Hard to build a community of grace that is also holy, one of those weird gospel paradox we have to wrestle with.

I think that the heart of understand grace is realizing we ourselves are sinners, we did nothing to earn our salvation it is a free gift, totally unearned.

It is human nature to do comparisons, -actually both ways, both are equally destructive.
“I’m not as good as XXX”
or
“At least I’m better than YYY”

Yet someone-elses ‘success’ doesn’t make you any less loved.
Nor does someone else’s failure doesn’t earn you brownie points and more divine love.

There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more.
There is nothing you can do that will diminish God’s love for you.

The problem with the pharisee is his pride has blinded him of his need of God, it is easy to maximise someone elses sin, whilst minimising our own, yet as some theologian once said, before the cross the ground is flat, we all come needing grace.

Sometimes we need to experience Grace to share grace.

Just as in the parable of the workers in the field, we all get the same reward of eternity with Christ whether we have been Christians for 5 minutes or 50 years.

It is only when we ‘get’ Grace does this not feel unfair.

The tragedy is (as we heard on friday) the number of “Lost Sons” who are actually like the older brother in Luke 15, who is keen to point out to the Father the failings of his brother, because he didn’t realise the extent of how much his father loved him… “You are always with me and all I have is yours” is how the father replies to him.

Grace felt unfair to the older brother as he didn’t know how loved he was by his father.

Grace is tough because people get what they don’t deserve and sometimes we don’t feel that is fair… well until we slip up and then we are so glad of grace!

I used to have an accountable relationship with my friend Jon in Bournemouth, and I was going through a tough time and did some silly things, and told Jon expecting him to kick my sorry butt (which I fully deserved) but he lent over and put his arm around me listened, (he even) bought me another pint of fosters; which has remained one of the most beautiful moments of my life. His grace and loved actually was the spur I needed to sort myself out. Grace, it’s beautiful. I want to see more of it.

As Paddy reminded us yesterday we let pride blind us to our own faults but point out the faults in others; echoing Jesus words about specks and planks.

I love the line about the woman who washes Jesus feet, those who have been forgiven much, love much…
She knew her need of Jesus’ forgiveness.

Grace and holiness can walk hand in hand, but only in the shadow of the cross of Christ.

Andy

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