call, cost, priorities, values, vision

More than just keeping the show on the road?

I remember the Vicar who is leading one of the Churches my dad used to lead, telling a story of his previous parish in the leafy Sussex Countryside which went something like this, :

“Treasurer:- Unless we sought out our giving this Church will shut!
Vicar:- Unless we sought out our evangelism, mission and outreach people will go to a lost eternity”.

We often get obsessed about keeping the lights on in our Church building, rather than our calling of “seeking God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven” as we fulfil the great commission and “make disciples of all nations”.

Jesus never promised to keep open our particular building, but he did say “I will build my Church and even the gates of hell won’t prevail against it”. Jesus told us to “seek first the Kingdom of God”.

Too often we neglect the “seeking first the Kingdom of God” to worry and stress about our building, our constitutions, our processes and 101 trivialities, which from an eternal perspective are cul de sac’s, diversions from our main focus.

Paradoxically, I have seen on many occasions, when we focus on the Kingdom of God the things we so often stress about are resolved -unexpected legacies come in, or people with needed gifting come out of the woodwork.

When we put Jesus first, he sorts out the rest, in fact that is what he promises “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”.

You see it is not the Church that has the mission of God, rather it is the missionary God who has the Church. We collaborate and partner with the ‘Missio Deo -the mission of God’, yet too often we become curators of dusty buildings.

As I thought more about this tragic picture I remembered the story of Mary and Martha, Martha was busy making Jesus a sandwich he didn’t want (in fact the one who fed the 5000 probably wasn’t that worried about missing lunch!), how often are our Churches stressing and wasting our time stressing on things that God himself will sort.

Ironically too, the best way of ‘keeping your building open’ is by keeping in step -living in obedience- with the Holy Spirit of the Living God.

The often stated phrase of “keeping the show on the road” is only a laudable aim when the show is orchestrated and choreographed by the Holy Spirit of the Living God, otherwise it is simply re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We forget the warning in scripture that reminds us that “unless the Lord builds the workers labour in vain”.

Often people are very keen on keeping their buildings open, but the question has to be asked, is there anything in this building that is worth preserving? Are we being a Matthew 25 Church? Are we being an Acts 2 Church? Are lives being transformed by Christ?

To me, it seems like much of the Church in the UK has the telescope the wrong way around distancing us from what should be close at hand, a false perspective -a distortion- that brings complacency.

So, let’s ask God to transform our vision to coincide with his vision.

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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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priorities, values, Worth

Fools Gold.

On Friday I met up with my friends AJ and Chris, and we hung out for a couple of hours, consumed some saturated fats, shared and prayed together.

My friend Chris used a phrase “living from your guts” meaning living from your deepest convictions at the heart of who you are.

This is something I find hugely challenging (as well as incredibly inspiring) as it is really easy to say I am passionate about things, but living in such a way that my deep convictions are shown in my life is very different.

Chris has sat in the path of a tank whilst picketing and arms fayre, would I do that, or would I simply write a ‘strongly worded tweet’?!  -these things that make us feel like we are doing something, without actually doing anything, are dangerous for authentic discipleship that looks Christ-like.

Conversation moved to talking about discipleship, and saying about how we often listen to people because they appear successful, ministers of large Churches, and yet the challenge isn’t primarily for broad appeal, but rather depth of discipleship.

The Bible talks of building with Gold, Silver and Costly Stones, rather than with straw and hey which get burned up in the fire. The question behind this verse is asking if what we are investing so much of our lives in actually having any lasting or eternal value?

As we talked AJ or Chris talked about ‘fools gold’ -iron pyrites- it looks like gold but is worthless. Often sometimes we get so caught up with keeping the show on the road, delivering the product called Church, keeping everyone happy that we end up filling our treasurers in heaven with ‘fools Gold’.

It is very easy to build where Christ isn’t building, it is very easy to fill a diary rather than find ‘only doing what I see my Father doing”, “O let me see thy footprints  and in them plant my own, my hope to follow duly is in thy strength alone”.

Perhaps growing a large and comfortable Church, might look wonderful, but unless people are moving deeper in their relationship with Christ actually its fools gold.

It is easy to run around and keep everyone happy,  but unless people are changed and transformed by Christ -not just fobbed off and made to feel better- again its simply trying to build with fools Gold.

Or perhaps a Bible Study/Sermon filled with Greek and other pretentious knowledge which might sound truly wonderful, but if it has no results in making people more like Jesus then it is simply a waste of hot air, or fools Gold.

When we go along with everything anyone says and please people, although we may be a little bit popular, again we are chasing Fools Gold.

The World is full of “Good” ideas, but I want to do “God’s” ideas, Good is the enemy of great. Fools Gold might sparkle, but lets be discerning enough to see the fake Gold from the real thing.

“Good ideas might be good, but they will never be truly great, or truly fruitful”.

So lets build with Gold, real Gold, pure God and ignore the distracting sparkles of false God.

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Jesus, priorities

Keeping the most important thing the most important thing.

I wrote recently about Church being US, you and me, living it out in community and relationship with each other, needing each other, and other people needing us.
The acknowledgement that we sometimes as individuals and community don’t get it right, but still with the challenge to seek to live it out. Ending with the prayerful challenge of John Wimber “Lord, Send Revival, Start with me!”
The sense of personal responsibility for the Church, our role within it, and our calling serve Christ and one another, to keep ourselves and our brothers and sisters sharp, as a friend once said “Contending for one another’s hearts”
I did the whole article without mentioning the words, Leader or Pastor or Vicar, because actually in one sense before the cross of Christ we are all equal, sinners in need of grace, we all have a calling, and I believe a calling to leadership is a call to serve, following the call of him who took a towel and washed his disciples feet.
In our culture Politicians talk about serving us, but really rule us, this shouldn’t be so for the Christian as the only one called to reign is that of Christ Jesus.
Christian ministers we are called to serve, as Jesus himself said: “I have not come to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many”.
Too often, as I have said before we have a model of leadership which looks more like Alan Sugar than Jesus Christ.
Yet we do need leaders.
I’ve seen Churches become leaderless, or their leader not step up to the plate, and an unlead Church doesn’t go anywhere,  the Church normally grinds to a halt… rust sets in, and the Church fossilizes.
Leaders need to lead.
If Moses had offered no leadership the people of Israel would still be slaves in Egypt.
If Nehemiah had not offered any leadership the walls of Jerusalem would not have been rebuilt.
If Jesus had not lead the Disciples you probably wouldn’t be reading this now.
Probably all of us lead in some form or another, but the key question is what and where are we leading God’s people in?
I did a course called the Arrow Course, A course designed for younger leaders, it’s strap-line was “To be LED BY Jesus, to LEAD like Jesus and to LEAD more too Jesus”.
Leadership centred in, through, by and to Jesus Christ is the kind of leader I want to be like. Christian leadership like everything in the Christian faith when boiled down to its key components should be totally and unapologetically ALL about Jesus.
If I wanted a biblical picture to try and sum up what I want my life to be all about, I’d choose the pearl of great price, a picture of giving up everything for Jesus, I’d like to be the kind of person who if I was a stick of rock has the words JESUS emblazened through my very core… I know I fall short of this many times, but that’s got to be the vision.
“The Vision is Jesus”, it’s not about me.
Yet we end up with the same problem we have with Church, we want something divine, and we encounter something very human, because his followers are people with treasures in jars of clay.
The joke in clergy circles is every Church wants the Arch-Angel Gabriel to come along and be their Vicar!
 We know that we as leaders are human, and are fallen, and yet almighty God does choose to work through you and me, when we come and make ourselves available to him.
To quote an old cliché “God is more interested in your availability than ability”…”God is not limited by your limitations”…
It is about following Christ where-ever he leads, as faithfully as we can, in partnership with one another, iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another.
Leaders need people like you and me, to pray for them, to bless and encourage them, to (in love) challenge and inspire.
Leadership is all about these questions, what is God doing now? What is God saying now? Where is he leading now? Will you go?
The Green Cross Code Hedgehog used to say “STOP, LOOK, LISTEN and STEP OUT“…
That’s what Christian leadership is all about, stopping and looking and listening to what God is doing and then taking the step of faith, out of the boat, to where God is leading…
This part that needs us to ask God for bravery and courage, faith spelled by John Wimber as R-I-S-K.
One of the greatest leaders in the Bible is King David who is described as a man after God’s own heart, the book of Ezekial talks about God giving us a new heart, his heart, of flesh not stone, a heart where God has put his Spirit within it.
A dangerous prayer is “God break my heart for what breaks yours”.
What is God saying, what is doing, where is he leading, will you?
And will you keep going no matter what is thrown in front of you?
The problem most leaders start of okay, but it’s not just how you begin that matters, being a Christlike leader is not just about starting well, but continuing well, walking in the footsteps of Christ.
Recently I re-read James Laurences wonderful book growing leaders and he talks about how leaders start off okay, but sadly many

Fade out

Fall out

Sell out
Burn Out
Fade Out, ‘loose your first love’ end up from longing to see heaven invade earth and God’s Kingdom advance, to plodding on keeping the flower arrangers happy, not quitting but  that spark has gone, the fire has petered out, and nothing is happening other than a disillusioned show on the road shuffle towards retirement.
Sell Out, compromising truth for the sake of popularity and comfort,  bowing to pressure when society and biblical values part company or bending to whatever theological pressure group shots the loudest. The Civil Service talking of breaking a new government minister with the phrase “house trained”… Let’s not be house-trained!
Fall Out, how many leader do we hear who cash and burn, sex/money/power takes another scalp of someone who started off in love with Jesus and seeking to serve him, but whom the enemy has taken out the game, because they didn’t realise their vulnerability and take precautions.
Burn Out… Similar in many ways to fall out, but without the sex/money/power scandal, but crash and burn through exhaustion, depression and disillusionment.
The truth is that all of us can in our faith can FADE OUT, FALL OUT, SELL OUT or BURN OUT, just as our leaders can.
I’ll close by something I came to see when I worked in rehab about leadership, the group was lead by an alcoholic in recovery, he was a ‘wounded healer’ but yet he’d  been sober for many, many years but still didn’t take his recovery for granted.
We may be broken people, yet God’s power is bigger than our brokenness, in fact our weakness enables and strengthens our dependence on the only one who truly is faithful and trust-worthy. He is only one that can ‘keep you from falling’… ‘he who will not let your footslip’ -the one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
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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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priorities

Home Group or Footie?

Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of you mind, with
all of your Soul and with all of your Strength; and love your neighbor as
yourself”.

Maybe I over think things. In fact I know I do. But this has been going through my head for a few weeks, someone from home-group asked if they could miss because of wanting to watch a key footy match, and of course I said ‘yes’… but, then I thought about why he asked permission?

Probably just good manners!
The question isn’t really whether or not the Vicar lets you off, but what is the Holy Spirit saying?
What does Christ think?
(I’m not saying that Jesus minds people missing home-group for football,  and think too often people feel to condemned by Church and feel they have to go to everything , but its an interesting question when placed with a
choice: what is Christ’s call in this situation? Where is the Spirit leading?)
My friend Jackie has a phrase “you don’t need to drag a disciple” and she’s right, Jesus didn’t need to drag Peter and Andrew, James and John from their fishing boats, but they willingly left everything to follow him.
I guess we need to recapture something of the parable of the pearl of great price, see who God is again, what he has done, and when we gaze on Christ in this way our hearts shift from our to do lists to following in his footsteps.
I am reminded of the final verse of ‘when I survey’ which ends with “were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all”.
A job I hate is when I have to ask favours from people to do things… but when I thought about it, I’m asking Christians to serve Christ in trying to build his Kingdom, and yet why do people say things like “I’ll help you
out”… no, actually your not doing this as a favour for me, its about Jesus.

Or when people put themselves out for the Kingdom, I always say thank you,
and that’s a good thing to do, but actually they haven’t done  it for me,
they’ve done it for Jesus. (Although I think you can say that I believe this
really blessed God’s heart tonight or something like that).
Or when people throw their toys out the pram and tell the Vicar “I’m not
doing XYZ anymore”, the attitude should be, well, you weren’t doing it for
me anyway, you were doing it for Jesus.
Too often we get personal and forget that actually everything we do is about
Christ “for me to live and to die is gain”, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me, the life I now live I live by faith in the son of God who died for me!”
I wondered if we thought of calling differently and less about ‘helping
people out’ rather than service Christ in or through any situation, whether
our actions, lives and choices would look very different.

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priorities, trust, vision

Force 10 from Navarone…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDXTTBfZUsw

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One wet Sunday afternoon when I was a kid I remember watching the film “Force 10 from Navarone”, it is set in the second world war, and a group of English Officers and some Americans have to join forces to assassinate a double agent and blow up a bridge.

Spoiler alert, blowing up the bridge doesn’t go according to plan, it looks indestructible, they only have a small amount of explosives, the problem seems insurmountable.

As the story progresses, the team end up coming across a dam, and they realize that if they blow up the dam, then the bridge would be hit by tons and tons of water enough to bring it down…

By blowing up the dam, the bridge fell and the mission was fulfilled.

Often we look at a problem and we can’t see a solution,  because we only can see what is in our vision, what is in front of our  eyes, and don’t see the fuller and wider picture that God sees.

Sometimes, like the guys in the film, we think we know best -we think we know how to blow up the bridge- and yet so so often our ways don’t work, and yet God’s ways does.

Sometimes, when we serve God, the areas he seems to be stirring don’t seem to match up with where we think he should be working, where the obvious need and problem is, yet with hindsight I have looked back and only later do I understand.

Even when I don’t understand, sometimes it is a case of trusting that despite what we can see, what we think God is still on the throne, God  is still in control and (even when it doesn’t feel it) God is still good.

When the wine skins were empty looking at the foot washing jars seems crazy, yet it worked, I can imagine the servants looking at each other when Mary, Jesus’ Mother, saying “do what ever he tells you”, thinking “this will never work” -but it did!

Scripture calls us to “walk by faith and not by sight” -and the wisdom of Mary (“Do whatever he tells you”) remains good advice. Neil, my former prayer partner, used to have a phrase about the Christian life, where he said “you live life forwards, but understand it backwards”.

As we think of this crazy upside down world, I remember a story from a local youth and community worker, who began working in this Church (which was big step of faith for him) and he felt God call him to play football (which he enjoyed) and felt very self conscious that playing footie wasn’t proper community work, surely God should be calling him to start a youth club or something like this. Yet whilst playing football he made friends, people came to faith, and through this work a youth group was formed with Christian volunteers, and went on to thrive.

What is the bridge in your life you  would like to see God blow up?

Where is God calling you to work, what is he calling you to do?

Do you trust him to know what he’s doing and to see the bigger picture?

God bless,

Andy

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