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

Running Mates…

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

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

we need friends that will encourage and inspire us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet God rejoices when Christian communities go deeper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership, Phillippians 2, Strength

Strong and Stable…

This election seems to focus on leadership more than any other in recent years, I wonder if students have developed a drinking game yet where they have a vodka shot every-time Theresa May say “Strong and Stable”, which to me seems to be trying to make a virtue of having little personal charisma.

Interestingly, the question of character has come up a lot in this election, which I think is odd, as (unusually) the three party leaders I would say are all principled people of integrity, and although I believe that Theresa May is misguided in her right of centre views I do believe she is genuinely intending to make the lives better of people in the UK.

Yet it made me think about leadership and character.

Is Jeremy Corbyn a strong and stable leader?

Actually yes!

This is a man whose views haven’t shifted with focus groups and popular appeal, a man who wasn’t bullied by the whips into going against his conscience, in fact he has been arrested for protesting about apartheid in South Africa when Maggie Thatcher was keen to take their golden Rands.
Nor has he stood down when he faced opposition and conflict, to keep going amid all he’s faced shows he is a man of immense courage and strength, stable and reliable, you can trust him to do what he believes is right.

The issue is not that he’s not strong or stable but rather he’s not doing what the crowd wants him to do, anyone can lead when there is broad consensus but leading when people are trying to pull in different direction is much more challenging.

As a Christian, to sell out our principles for popularity is a constant temptation for us all.

One of the bravest stories I ever heard was Maximilian Kolbe, a monk in a concentration camp, who volunteered to swap places with a prisoner due to be starved to death with other unfortunate prisoners, the man protested as he had a family, and Kolbe offered to die in that man’s place. They sealed these men in a bunker, and normally the prisoners killed each other, but in this case peace reigned and the Nazi’s ended up killing them by lethal injection. This little Monk was brave enough to do the greatest act of bravery giving his life for another, and his non-violence spared something of the suffering of his fellow prisoners.

Strength doesn’t always look like Arnold Swatzeneggar but a shuffling monk with glasses, a nun from Calcutta not giving up, a missionary in the toughest gang controlled slum of china’ walled city, an Indian Politician suffering at the hands of the British Army, a hippie from the American South choosing to live in the toughest areas of Philadelphia.

These people show more strength than any “He-Man” or “wonder woman”, or politician with a vast army, or a bully with a gun.

The Greatest Act of Human Strength is described in the Garden of Gethsemene when Jesus says on his knees with sweat like drops of blood “Yet not my will but yours”.

The Greates Act of Human Strength is spoken about by St. Paul when he said “(Jesus) Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”

Our idea of what strength looks like should not be dictated by what the media tells us, but rather how we see Christ live his life, bravely and sacrificially.

As a Christian leader doing what people want you too will make you popular for a short time, but ultimately you will find that you can’t please all of the people all the time, and you have to make a choice, and even when you don’t make a choice, often that is a choice in itself. Jesus knew what to do and when to do it, and wasn’t pushed around by the ‘good ideas’ of the disciples who often tried to force their opinions on him like Saul’s Armour that simply didn’t fit the calling he knew the Father was calling him too.

Day after day for three years, he got up and spoke to the people, often rejected, ridiculed and walked away from, he never chose to stay in a nice appreciative village and make a home there, but instead kept on going often to villages which were so hostile even his disciples wanted him to reign down fire from heaven.

The toughest choice when things are tough and difficult -the thing that often requires the most strength is not giving up, getting back up from a knock-down and getting back in the ring for another fight, getting up on the road to another village.

Some of the strongest people on this planet are those who didn’t quit despite unimaginable opposition.

So I think Corbyn is strong and unchangeable, and Theresa May might be too.

Yet I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn is strong enough to change his mind on something? To say he was wrong when he was (he might well be), sometimes we confuse strength with stubbornness which comes from pride, when have we ever heard a politician say “I made a U turn because I was wrong and I made a mistake??” -sometimes admitting our failures, faults and flaws takes enormous bravery, whereas arrogant boasting takes no bravery at all.

Theresa May keeps telling us how strong and stable she is, but I have come to realise that those people who keep telling us about their character normally are insecure about it, the young person that always was talking about Alpha male stuff turned out to be struggling with his sexuality, Shakespeare says “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much”.

Strength is something that our actions will speak louder than our words.

Some of the strongest people I know I have never heard raise their voice.

Strength is not shouting at people, or making jibes into a microphone, sometimes dignity takes more strength than ranting, raving and sly digs and cruel jokes.

Strength sometimes in not putting the boot in but instead showing mercy.

Strength sometimes shown in non-retaliation is tougher than to retaliate.

Strength is to keep on negotiating for the common good even when it seems futile, it takes strength to stay at the negotiating table, strength to keep talking. It was this strength that saw the signing of the Good Friday agreement, and it is this kind of strength we need for Brexit.

Strength to forgive and shake the hand of someone who has wronged us is sometimes really hard, and then to keep our heart soft takes more strength than to let it become hard and callous.

A wonderful story of Corrie Ten Boom, another Prisoner of the Nazi death camps who survived (although her sister Betsy tragically died there) Corrie met a guard in prison guard in a Church she was speaking at, and she was able to shake his hand.

So, whether Theresa May is a Strong and Stable leader is not something I’m so sure on, but I know as Christians maybe our idea of strength may look different to the rest of the world.