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Exeter: Living and Telling Mission.

Following our School of Mission weekend my boss Dave and I went to Exeter for the launch of a course he had written/re-written with a friend “Living and Telling” under the banner of Agape.

Dave had been a youth worker in Exeter for fifteen years so knew the city well and this mission weekend had evidently had happened regularly each summer with mainly students and young people.

The venue we used was unlimited Church, this Church was born by James and Liz Greer who got out and did detached youth work with signs and wonders and grew a church in a redundant church building. Exciting Missional DNA in the bricks and mortar! Also, something in this inspired me, here was a job within the Church of England that was actually doing the things I’m passionate about, sometimes when you feel disillusioned it’s good to see Jesus’ people doing his stuff.

The conference was amazing thinking about mission and particularly evangelism, looking at things like telling our story or asking good questions, on the following day we went out in pairs to chat to local people about Jesus with three questions to help facilitate a Jesusy chat…

I was paired with a young guy Josh, we ended up chatting with a really nice guy who was really open to thinking about faith, and had a good 10 minute chat til his phone went off. We then had some banter with a couple of teenagers before wandered around and ended up chatting to another young guy who was a mental health nurse who was getting married in the summer, but was pretty anti-faith and then we ended up chatting to a girl who was lovely but wasn’t what she thought about Jesus and faith, they all took some flyers for a local church and a little booklet on knowing God personally.

Success Living and Telling said was “talking about Jesus in the power of the spirit and leaving the results up to God”.

Great to be part of this and excited to what God is doing equipping ordinary people to talk about Jesus…

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Bournemouth School of Mission Part2

So, turning up on Friday night, I had a few people who had said they were coming, admittedly we only wanted a few, but I was still feeling a bit disappointed as it is really hard sometimes to get volunteers for things especially mission stuff, inviting people to talk to people about Jesus shouldn’t feel such hard work, but it is.

Yet most Church mission takes it for granted that Christians are relaxed and confident about gently and normally talking about their faith, run a café and staff it with Christians to talk to the customers, start Street Pastors and go out onto the streets and talk to people…

Yet, in my experience this is rarely actually the case, most Christians feel very uncomfortable talking about their faith, yet this is in some ways understandable as it is rarely taught and nor is it modelled; indeed the feedback from some at the Bristol School of Mission Day was about the desperate need for Missional Mentors, someone to help listen, advise, encourage and support them to grow into mission.

Dave who was teaching us this first session talked about how he wanted a missional Church which encouraged all of the people there to be actively sharing their faith, somewhere where people couldn’t hide away, that grew through evangelism not simply by attractional methods of Christians swapping Churches to the lastest place with the biggest buzz. This reminded me of my original home Church, the original All Souls (Eastbourne) which in my dads time used to talk about “growth through evangelism”, local people finding Christ, something which has been lost in what appears to be a desire for “growth at any cost irrespective of where they have come from”, which creates another danger consumer Christianity which has a list of expectations but doesn’t want to serve in roles that are costly, uncomfortable and sacrificial which mission and outreach often is.

Dave talked of their vision to see “strangers become friends” which chimed with me because at All Souls (Southey Park) our motto was “where strangers become friends and friends meet with Jesus” too often we wont let our walls down enough for strangers to become friends, evangelism at arms -length, and often we feel more awkward talking with our friends or family about Jesus than strangers. Yet here we were up for talking to strangers, getting to know them, maybe meeting them for a coffee or a chat?

One of the visions behind “Bright Idea Church” is for the Church scattered to learn to be effective and fruitful in taking the opportunities to make Jesus known in the normal everyday life of being a Christian, not just on a Church recruitment drive but to genuinely make friends, get to know people and in a normal everyday way talk about our faith naturally and approachably.

Sadly only three of us came to the training, which was excellent, Dave had three great questions to ask people as a bit of a ‘tressell’ something to help hang a conversation on and help it progress, these were:

 “What do you think life is all about and what do you want to achieve?”
 “What do you think Jesus was about and what do you think he was trying to achieve?
 “If it were possible to know God personally, would you want to know him and why?”

We were offering sweets and the questions were a form of a survey, also we were partnering with a Christian kids dance school (dancing to worship music, but not cheesy stuff) -and they were very inclusive lots of other kids joined in the dancing that afternoon, including some random teenage cheer-leaders!

Faye who was leading this dance school was talking about the different ethos they had which is more about nurturing their souls and their self-expression, rather than the kids becoming ‘really stiff’ trying to get the dance moves right, loosing confidence and esteem, and removing the competitive elements from the dance with no grades etc, making the kids feel like ‘successes and failures’.

I thought about evangelism and thought this probably is applicable, people feel ‘very stiff’ about doing it wrong, feel often like failures and loose their confidence and knocks their esteem.

We had a good afternoon with some long and positive conversations with people, I chatted to a lady who was an atheist from Poland who really softened by the end of the conversation, a guy who was a Christian but had recently lost his wife and asked if I could pray with him, a guy who was a big fan of Francis Bacon and a lovely Christian guy in a wheel chair who I think was quite lonely. Dave and Rachel ended up having a couple of much longer conversations with a couple of guys, and we all gave out a number of invites to Bright Idea Church the next day, one lady came who we had invited a Muslim lady who was someone we thought less likely to come, but she loved her morning and there is a lovely picture of her dancing away loving her time with new friends (made me realise afresh too how lonely it must be being in a new country and people who welcome and love you must feel very special).

Then that evening we had our School of Mission training evening on living missionally, it was really hot and a Saturday night, deep down I had this fear that no-one was going to come. I got to the Church and helped AJ set up the venue, it looked really cool -was so grateful for this Churches blessing-. Despite being a warm evening we still had people come and engage and AJ said “you could ‘live-stream it Mase!’” -I nodded like I was up with the technology and he went ahead and did something with my mobile and people could watch it from elsewhere (135 of them to be exact, not sure what God did with that but pray that this will have ripples of blessing from whoever watched it). I was all stressing, but soon as John Wilson began to lead a bit of worship I chilled out a bit and felt God say “Mase, I got this!” and despite the heat and everything people were engaging and getting into the presence of God and he was doing what we can’t do touching and transforming lives. Hilary came and spoke powerfully about prayer and intersession and about how our everything needs to be birthed in prayer and our relationship with God -If its not birthed in prayer is it birthed in pride? Talking too of “mission being finding out what God is doing and joining in” -yet too often we rush to the joining in end of this spectrum rather than the “seeing and finding out” end which is revealed out of that place of intimacy with the father, she taught of “contemplative activism” -which is actually what we are exploring as Poole New Monastics- but this was truly holding the two intension -too often people talk about contemplation but they never seem to actually engage in the salt and light transformation activism stuff, but this was different this was prayerfulness with ‘dirt under the nails’ prayerfulness that is not retreating from the world, but rather in our prayers drawing closer and deeper into the world and our connectedness to it.

This was followed by John Good speaking who shared about thinking of new ways of living out our faith in our daily lives rather than just reciting faith-statements but rather trying to live out a faith that actually makes a statement that is not all hypothetical head knowledge or endless rhetoric from our mouths, but practically living out our faith as embodied people -the phrase that one of the overseers of the School of Mission Chris Harwood uses a lot faith is about “embodied not espoused” -you are what you do rather than what you say you do -or what you intend to do one day! His final thought was about freedom coming from our closeness to the King, seek first the King and the Kingdom. In the discussion time afterwards AJ and I talked about this idea of being handcuffed to Jesus and how that would take you to different places -where would you go and not go, what would you be doing, which caused something to burn within us.

We worshipped and then spontaneously people began to pray for Bournemouth and for the Church it was beautiful. We ended by talking about wanting to be a catalyst, helping the Church to think seriously about mission -a call to be the grit in the oyster- but also a call to community, how can we do all we can to see God’s Kingdom coming here in our conurbation on earth as it is in heaven, suggested a 4 times a year meeting up.

I also mentioned the forth coming tour, which is feeling scarily close now, and felt God say “the Kingdom often comes in inches not miles” but each step I have discovered not only Gods faithfulness but also his missional heart, longing to partner with his people again and dream with our eyes open of the coming of his Kingdom, dreaming with our eyes open -not asleep- as something is being birthed in reality amongst us and in our nation.

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Bournemouth and the School of Mission… How we got here?

Since leaving paid Vicaring trying to find where and what God has been calling me to has been a slow (and quite painful) journey of seeking him and his call on my life, as we returned to Poole (with God’s remarkable provision) we have seen something of his great providence with being local for my wife’s mums unexpected passing and my Father-in-laws poor health, and in this time I have learned so much more about being a husband and a father which I neglected in the obsessional drive to be the best Vicar I could, perhaps God saving me from the worst of myself?

It has been wonderful to see how the Poole New Monastics Project has flourished from just a couple of random dreamers to now a small fledgling community where God is doing something exciting.

Yet alongside the New Monastics there had been another thing bubbling up within me “the School of Mission” the dream of which: “To encourage every Christian in the UK to feel comfortable in sharing their faith in Jesus through deed and word with wisdom and sensitivity and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit” has been something been wrestling with for a while in fact it has been gnawing away for years within my head and heart. The phrase is reasonably clear, but the question I have kept on asking God is “yeah, but how?” I wish God had given me a funky strategy and even better a whole series of podcasts, rather than just taking a tentative step which sets us off on a different direction from where we first thought, and now about to take the next step really not quite sure what God’s doing (and not even quite sure how we got where we have) but believe that God has and is within it all.

Alongside this the dream and the word that God gave me about doing a trip from Cornwall to Carlisle which filled me with faith now makes me feel slightly sick with nerves, it’s as though somehow I’ve erected a massive great diving board and now I have to jump off it! How did I get here! I wondered if Moses felt like this when the ark first started to float from the land and after seeking to step out faithfully a dream becomes a reality, the fuzzy safety of a fantasy controlled within the safety of our heads develops that life of its own.

So, somehow, we ended up with a weekend in Bournemouth, first starting with volunteering to help a friend with outreach/invitation for his newly planted Church “Bright Idea Church” on Saturday afternoon. I remembered our last School of Mission day in Bristol where we spent a day thinking really deeply about mission -and God did some wonderful stuff- but I wanted not just to be another ‘talking shop’, rather I wanted to roll up our sleeves and getting ‘dirt under our nails’, learning to be contemplative activists and reflective practitioners. So, with some outreach by the square as the ‘centre part’ of the sandwich we ended up with a training event before it, and what was initially planned as reflection after it (and local Bournemouth mate also got involved with his Church hosting the Saturday night bit).

I was excited too, that this event was happening anyway, we were just blessing a friend -as so often there is so much silly politics around whose doing what with mission, rather than just working together with a Christ-like, Kingdom mentality; rather than the sins of egos, empires and entitlement which we know from scripture that such behaviour ‘grieves the holy spirit’, but where there is unity God commands a blessing.

It was funny the next School of Mission happening in Bournemouth, as Poole is really on my heart, but perhaps it was right to not blur this work of encouraging mission/evangelism alongside my current work in schools and with the new monastics, anyway Bournemouth felt like a door which God has opened and it felt right to walk through in obedience. I wondered perhaps maybe God likes alliteration Bristol, Bournemouth -where next Birmingham/Bognar/Bradford??

From this we ended up doing a training session for anyone who wanted to help with this outreach, and then from there we ended up with an evening afterwards exploring about how to live in a way that draws people to Jesus, or at least that was the initial plan. Although, it ended up feeling more like a buffet than a sandwich with different people expressing an interest in the Friday training evening and the Saturday outreach (although actually it was only three of us who ended up coming to the training and going on the streets).

My friend AJ who is a youth worker in Charminster who with his Church were fantastic with hosting our Saturday evening event, and talked with him a lot about street level outreach, he is involved with a YWAM mission that comes down each year and work with his young people to go into Bournemouth and share their faith by giving out “home-made-friendship-bracelets” with a green bead for creation, a grey bead for sin, a red bead for Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, a white bead for the cleansing and new start he gives us and a yellow bead for the glory of eternal life that Jesus brings; and was surprised to see people listen, accept the bracelet and “pray the prayer” -although he did realise that praying the prayer and going to continue on to live a life following Jesus. We spoke about how short-term missions can be problematic as it can make mission feel a bit ‘tick box’ but how these missions can be a catalyst as doing mission with/alongside people normalises talking about Jesus, talking about how we long for mission to be a life-style rather than an event, with the key question being “how to talk meaningfully about Jesus without behaving like a muppet” -which echoes Peters challenge to “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect” (2Peter.3.15).

It was this theme that caused us to refine our theme (I was wanting to do something about “Words, Works and Wonders) but instead about mission as lifestyle (everyday, all the time and completely normal) and two speakers God seemed to highlight for us, the first Hilary was talking about intersession and about how in prayer we are not hiding from the world but entering into it and its mess/beauty/pain/suffering/reality/cost/sacrifice and I realised that at the heart of mission is our relationship with God and our deep connectedness both with him but also with those real people all around us whom we are called to pray for. The other was our friend John Good the new Baptist pioneer in Hamworthy who has become a mate and I’ve wrestled these questions with him and found real rich seem of God’s wisdom flowing within him.

So, the planning had come together with place, programme and people.
But what would happen in reality on the day?

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Sam Sheppard speaks at the start of Mental Health week.

So I’ve been trying to think of a funny way to lead into this talk. As anyone who’s heard me speak a few times will realise, certainly anyone in my own church will realise I like to lead in with something funny, something interesting, something to kind of ease us in. I just like having a laugh with it really I like it more, I think you like it more I think it makes this bit where you sit and get spoken at. Basically a lecture, if we’re honest. I think it makes this whole religious lecture experience more enjoyable for everyone and I want us to feel relaxed and I want us to enjoy ourselves.

The problem is its kind of hard to find something funny to lead into mental health disorders. Because I suppose you could say illness isn’t funny, and that’s probably a reasonable opinion.

Most of you who know me will know that I suffer from anxiety.

But I thought there was one story that was pretty funny that gives a good sense of what living with anxiety is like for me.

A month or so ago I took a wedding for St Michaels and All Angels in Windmill Hill, tricky place to get a good picture of by the way. I was covering for Andrew their vicar who’s a mate of mine.

And they were a great couple. Couldn’t of bin easier, and they had a gorgeous baby girl who was brilliant through the whole service. Everybody read well, everybody did their jobs really well, even me in spite of myself. And it just couldn’t have gone better, I loved it.

So after they’ve all gone and the church is tidied up and locked up I go get in my car and I sat there for a minute and thought that was brilliant. That was the best wedding i’ve ever done, that couldn’t have gone better.

I sat there taking a moment feeling pretty please with myself.

And then it occurs to me, what if thats the best wedding I ever take? What if every wedding I take sucks compared to that one what if I never do a good wedding again? What if i’ve peaked? Was it really that good? Did I actually mess up the whole thing? Maybe they hate me now. Maybe they’ve always hated me maybe they’re talking about how bad I was what if I did the paperwork wrong. maybe they’re not even married. I’m a terrible priest.

It’s not always that extreme. I wasn’t having a good week.

That was the same week that in a meeting with other clergy in the deanery, friends who I trust, I concluded they all actually hated me on the grounds that the coffee machine was making weird noises. See what I did there, grounds, coffee.

Its not rational.

And some people say you have to laugh or you’d cry I’m not sure that’s true I think I have to laugh because its funny.

It’s not an exact science but in very broad boxes I would say that I have generalised anxiety disorder, which basically means I can become irrationally worried or frightened.

And Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Which basically mean I think I’m fat and ugly. Regardless of whether I am or not.

For the most part I’m able to manage mine. It’s not constant it comes in waves, sometimes its worse than other times, and most people don’t notice there’s anything wrong when i’m bad, unless i’m really bad but thats really pretty rare.

It can be brought on by stress or tiredness or by things in my life upsetting me but sometimes it just happens, nothings wrong nothing seems to provoke it.

And I’ve always been like this, as far as I can remember. I can’t remember a time, even back to when I was five six years old, when I wasn’t like this.

And i’m not telling you this because I want your sympathy or because I want you to treat me differently I really don’t. I’d be quite upset if this caused anyone to treat me differently.

I’m telling you this because I’m trying to break something.

I’m trying to break the silence that I’ve experienced in Church. I’m trying to break the image of good Christians being mentally healthy. I’m trying to show you a church leader with a mental health disorder.

And it surprises people when they find out, because I don’t seem anxious. I seem big and loud and charismatic and thats because I am. My anxiety doesn’t define me its not who I am. Its something I have not who I am. I don’t want you to treat me like someone with anxiety. I want you to treat me like Sam.

Love me or hate me or think I’m an idiot I don’t really care. but whatever you’re opinion of me I want it to be based on who I am not a condition I have.

One in four people suffer from some sort of mental health disorder at some point in their lives. Which means that roughly a quarter of this room have experienced it personally, and probably pretty much

everyone will have experienced it second hand, a friend or family member. Its a statistical inevitability.

So pick four people in the room. At least one.

You might not know about it, they might not talk about it. They may never admit it to anyone. They may be one of your closest and oldest friends and have never told you.

I think that’s particularly true for Christians because Christians often feel like they’re somehow failing in their faith by having a mental health disorder.

I never spoke about it because I was embarrassed, because I was ashamed. Because I was worried about how people would react, that it would call my faith into question.

I certainly never spoke about it in church. Because in Church you feel like if I admit this i’m admitting that i’m not doing christianity properly. Like i’m admitting some sort of sin, like I don’t trust in God or i’m failing somehow.

I felt like my anxiety was sinful.

And it may seem ridiculous to you, I hope it does. You may think that that’s ridiculous that no one would ever say that. And in most church’s you’d be right. They’d never say that, but by not saying anything its implied.

One in four people have a mental health disorder yet the Church doesn’t talk about it.

This leads to Christians not talking about their mental health, feeling embarrassed, ashamed, like they’ve failed God.

Our silence implies sinfulness, our silence on the topic implies that something is wrong. The fact that nobody says anything made me feel like everybody thought it was sinful, weak.

I can’t remember a single time i’ve heard a sermon on mental health. A single time I’ve heard it from the front.

I can only think of one church leader who I’ve ever seen publicly admit to a mental health disorder and he did it nervously and quietly, timidly really. And I don’t mean that as an insult because I’m talking about a man I love but he felt ashamed of his depression, he was frightened of talking about it. Why?

We don’t think its sinful. We don’t think that people with depression, or anxiety, or anorexia or anything have failed God.

We don’t think that do we?

But the fact that nobody spoke about it, the fact that it was a secret something I felt I couldn’t talk about made me feel I was doing something wrong.

We don’t think that.

If you do you’re wrong.

And frankly its bad theology.

If someone breaks their leg we don’t think that they’ve failed God. If someone gets cancer we don’t say that they’ve failed God.

If someone has to take statins to lower their cholesterol we don’t think they’ve failed God.

So why would we think someone has failed God because they have to take serotonin to manage their depression? Why would we think

someone has failed God if they’re brain is lying to them about their body? Its the same. Its illness, and the theology is the same as any other illness.

So I want to say to people here who don’t suffer a mental health condition, treat a mental health disorder in the same way you’d treat any other illness. Be sensitive, be kind, pray for them. Love them.

One of the best things about being a part of a Christian community is that we support each other through the difficult times. That we hold each other up when we can’t hold ourselves up. You get me through when I can’t get myself through and that’s what we’re supposed to do.

1 Peter says above all love one another. The Apostle Peter telling us that above all other priorities and activities, more important than everything else we should love one another. Thats what this community is for and when people are going through mental illness they need your love not your awkward silence.

The Christian community should support people through mental illness not make them feel like they’ve got to hide it.

So talk about it, ask how someone is. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be awkward. Just be kind.

And to those who do or have suffered with mental illness I want to say something to you directly.

You are not broken, you are not worthless, you have never been forgotten. You have not failed God. You are not unreachable.

Sometimes it doesn’t feel very good, sometimes its difficult, but Gods always gunna be there no matter what. In our reading today, even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Sometimes it’s going to hurt, but thats okay, its okay to hurt. Its okay to not be okay. It’s okay to struggle. Some days its hard to get up and go to church, believe me I know, and on those days, you got here. On days like that you got here and that’s enough. You made it, well done.

And if you don’t make it, that’s okay we’ll try again.

If you’re able to manage without medication well done, you’re brave you’re strong God be with you, I don’t take the pills I have reasons for that ask me later if you’re interested. But if one day you decide you need the pills, well done, you’re brave and you’re strong, God be with you. May he bless your pills, because its by his grace that we have them. It takes a lot of strength and bravery to admit that you need help.

You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to be ashamed. We love you. God loves you.

I don’t know why it hurts, I don’t know why i’m like this. I don’t know why you’re like this. Maybe its because of trauma or experience, maybe its not. I don’t know.

But I know God can make good out of pain. God is a God of resurrection and restoration. God is a God who meets us in our weakness and in our lows.

And God can use your wounds. God can use you, not in spite of your pain but because of it. He can use the scars.

Henry Nuowen said “Nobody escapes being wounded. We are all wounded people. Whether physically, emotionally mentally or spiritually. The main question is not how can we hide our wounds? So we don’t have to be embarrassed, but how can we put our woundedness in the service of others. When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing we have become wounded healers.”

Your wounds don’t make you less valuable. You’re wounds don’t change how God see’s you or make him stop wanting to use you.

God takes weakness and makes it strength. He’s the God of weakness.

And he showed that through his ultimate victory, God’s victory was in his greatest moment of weakness on the cross. His greatest victory the world saw as defeat. And after his resurrection he had to prove to one of his disciples his legitimacy. He had to prove he was really the messiah. Do you know how he did that?

He showed Thomas his scars.

He showed him his scars from his crucifixion.

Jesus wasn’t embarrassed by his weakness. He wasn’t embarrassed by his scars. Because his weakness was used to redeem the world.

Our God’s a God of weakness.

God can use your weakness to help others. He can use your weakness.

I don’t know why it hurts. But I know God still wants us, I know God’s still there when it hurts.

I know God loves us, even the bits that hurt.

I know that the Church is meant to hold us up and love us in the hard times. I know that your illness doesn’t make you a bad Christian. But it has to be okay to talk about these things/

Don’t hide, don’t be embarrassed. And don’t be ashamed of your scars, because Jesus isn’t ashamed of his.

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Sam Sheppard writes on Mark 8 & Identity.

I wonder if you’d agree with me that there’s something quite compelling about someones driving license.

Whenever someone gets there license out, there’s always a little crowd of people trying to see it, they get passed around quite a lot for people to see. People seem to be really interested in other peoples driving licenses.

More specifically I think its probably the picture people want to see.

How many people are embarrassed by the picture on their license or passport or whatever.

My driving license does prove on thing about me, it proves that I’ve looked thirty five since I was seventeen.

It also gives you a good idea of what I’d look like in a serial killer line-up.

The information on a driving license tells you about a person but it doesn’t really tell you about them.

My driving license can tell you that my name is Sam Sheppard. It can tell you that I was born on September the thirtieth Nineteen ninety two. It’ll tell you about me but none of those things really tell you anything.

We can take it a little further and give you more facts I could tell you my Fathers name is David Sheppard, my mother is Mary Foxwell. I was born in Chippenham. That I grew up in Kingswood. My heritage is Scottish and Irish.

I’m six feet and two inches tall, I have size eleven and a half feet.

It still doesn’t really tell you about me. Because these are my statistics, these are what I am. They don’t tell you who I am.

Thats because i am not the sum of my statistics. There’s something deeper, something more a divine spark that makes a person more than numbers. I’m pointing I think to something bigger that I’m calling identity.

Who a person is. Not what a person is, you can get that from a driving license. But who a person is their identity. What makes them them.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about identity and talking about it a lot this summer.

More specifically about Jesus’ identity. And I’ve been in Mark 8. In Mark 8 Jesus says to the disciples who do people say i am. They say some say John the baptist some say Elijah one of the prophets. Then Jesus says who do you say i am. And Peter says for the first time what they’d been thinking for a while.

“You are the Messiah”.

This is the first time the disciples articulate who Jesus is, but Jesus’ identity is made clear throughout scripture, he’s called Emmanuel God with us. I’m sure you’ve heard before about Jesus saying I Am, using the socially unspeakable name of God to refer to himself.

Son of Man, Prince of Peace, in Matthew 16 Peter even calls him “Christ, Son of the living God”.

He speaks and fulfils prophecy about the messiah left right and centre.

C.S.Lewis said “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher; he’d either be insane or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God or else insane or something worse. But don’t let us come up with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He hasn’t left that open to us. He didn’t intend to.”

Jesus is the son of God, God incarnate that is his identity that is who he is.

And i’m telling you this because it has a huge bearing on your identity, but more than that it has a huge bearing on the identity of every human being.

Because when Jesus says I no longer call you servants but friends. That is God saying you are my friend.

When Jesus says he has a special place for you God says I have a special place for you.

When Jesus showed his love for you on that cross, God showed his love for you on that cross.

Your identity and the identity of every single human being is wrapped up in the identity of Jesus and his love for you.

That identity and the identity of every one else in the whole world is summed up for me in one sentence.

Child of God.

That is your identity and the identity of every other human being a child of God.

And you’re identity, and that of every single human being in the world is precious, unique, and utterly irreplaceable.

I listen to a lot of audiobooks i’m not the strongest reader so I listen to books in the gym. One of my favourites is a call to conscience. The landmark speeches of Martin Luther King.

Martin Luther King is one of the greatest people in human history a huge inspiration to me and many before me and I’m sure many after.

One of the things I find fascinating about Martin Luther King is his insistence on his citizenship. At the beginning of his speech at the montgomery bus boycott, he says we are here first and foremost because we are american citizens. His identity as an american citizen was important to him, he talks about America and his love for it passionately, refers to it as this great nation. His identity as an American citizen was a huge part of his campaign for civil rights.

Because I’m not an expert, or even really anything but it seems to me that in his campaign for civil rights he didn’t believe he was asking for something new, but rather he was asking, or demanding his rights as an american citizen, he was demanding what he was already entitled to as an american citizen, freedom and equality.

He believed those views were in-keeping not only with his religious beliefs but with his nations constitution.

He said that “If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong.  If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.  If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie.  Love has no meaning.”

Because of they’re identity as american citizens they had certain inalienable rights, a certain inherent value.

The civil rights movement in america is to me not just the story of an oppressed minority rising up, though it is that.

But its the story of people, and most of those people were Christians, standing up in Gods name and saying no to oppression and injustice, saying no prejudice and racism, saying human lives matter. Period, full stop. End of discussion human lives matter.

A mantra that has come to live in me, that God has placed somewhere deep in my heart encouraged and influenced by reading about people like Martin Luther King who took a stand for people.

I think stories like the one we heard from New Zealand a few months ago.

A New Zealand man drove to a mosque and fired indiscriminately at men women and children. He then drove to another mosque and opened fire again killing anyone he could see. 48 people were shot dead. And he live streamed it on facebook.

I’m sure you’re aware of this, it was in the news a lot.

It upset me but its not the thing that upset me most that weekend.

Because the truth is i’ve become quite cold to stories like this.

How many times have we woken up to news of mass shootings in america. How many terrorist attacks do we hear about every week.

No the thing that upset me most was after Church. I went to Broad Plain club like I do most weeks. Its a sort of gritty, dirty working mens club you know the sort of place.

When I first went in there it was as a sort of outreach, I was trying to connect with local people, the sort of local people that would never come to church. But over the last two years i’ve become fond of them, I have mates there, I quite like going in.

That weekend people were talking about it and I man i’d known for a year and a half, someone I get on with someone I would call a mate said about the shooter.

“I admire him for what he done.”

But before you dismiss that man as a monster I want to tell you he’s not a monster. He’s a good guy. I like him. He’s kind, he’s generous, he’s a loving partner and father. A hard worker. In fact I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think he’s an all round top bloke.

Because to label him a monster would be far to easy.

The truth is that sentiment is widespread.

And I want to tell you that that man, my mate, would consider himself Church of England. He considers this to be a Christian country. He never comes to Church, perhaps most of us wouldn’t consider him a Christian but he considers himself one. Christian on my estate is basically code for not a muslim.

Racism and prejudice are widespread in this country, I read an article on BBC news that said experts believe all the components that led to the New Zealand attack are present in this country.

There are Muslim people who are afraid right now, people who haven’t done anything to hurt anyone who are afraid of being attacked in the street.

I want to say today that it is never okay, whatever you think of someones beliefs, whatever you think of someones lifestyle, it is never okay as a Christian to treat anyone with anything short of love dignity and respect.

I believe that our Christian faith compels us to fight against prejudice, to fight for the rights of those who would never agree with us, to fight for the rights and the safety of all human beings because that identity that you have as a child of God, beloved and unique, utterly irreplaceable. That identity is also in every single human being, every single human being. No exceptions.

Every human being is made in the image of God, every human being is loved unconditionally by God and God stands against oppression and prejudice wherever it is found because all people have a claim to that identity as children of God.

Andrew Ollerton author and presenter of the bible course said wherever there is oppression the God of Exodus roars let my people go.

It is because of his identity as God that all people have the identity child of God whether they believe in him or not.

And just like Martin Luther King believed that they’re identity as american citizens entitled them to certain rights so does everybody’s identity as a child of God entitle them to certain rights.

I am so convicted of this fact that I would paraphrase Martin Luther King If i am wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong.  If I am wrong, the Constitution of Great Britain is wrong.  If I am wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If I am wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. If I am wrong, justice is a lie.  Love has no meaning.”

People matter. I was asked here today to talk about mission. And I suppose you could argue that I haven’t done that. And if that’s what you think i’m okay with that.

Because I knew I was asked here to talk about mission but I also knew I was going first.

And I knew there’d be people after me who’d say all I could say about mission, and I’m sure Jackie can do it better.

So today I wanted to say something else. I wanted to set a pace. To set a tone.

As we go on to talk about mission and outreach, I wanted to set a tone by saying why we do mission and outreach.

I believe that mission is important because people matter.

Because people matter.

At St Barnabas we do a lot of stuff, we’re a busy church, we’re a growing community.

And if you were to ask me why we do what we do at St Barnabas that is what I would say.

Because people matter.

And if you were to ask me why mission and outreach matter, thats what I’d say. Because people matter.

People matter.

Glorious messy catastrophic people. Every single one of them. No matter what, no exceptions, whether you agree with them or not. Whether they ever come to church or not. They matter.

They are children of God whether they believe in him or not and they matter.

When you meet a person they’re identity, who they are is wrapped up in who God is. So treat them accordingly. Treat people like children of God wherever they come from, whatever they look like.

Whatever they believe. Because that person is a child of God and they matter.

Because I don’t believe the world is changed in parliament. I don’t believe that the world is changed by politics, I believe that you have the power to change the world. The world changes in our homes and in our streets, the world changes by regular people standing up and saying no to hatred and prejudice and yes to love.

I believe our Christian faith compels us to say yes to love.

To treat people with love and respect, not to be silent when we here people say hateful things.

I believe our Christian faith compels us to defend the rights of all of Gods children, to stand for equality, to stand for justice, to stand for freedom, to stand, above all else, for people.

I believe we can make a better world, I believe that we can end prejudice, that we can end inequality, that we can end terrorism.

But I do not believe that that end will come in parliament, I believe it will come from you. Living out your faith with every human being you meet and by the way you treat people showing the world that whoever you are you have rights, you matter your life is significant, you are a child of God and he loves you.

By showing the world in the way you live your live that whoever you are you matter. Whoever you are you’re important.

I want to say one more thing.

Segregation in America didn’t end because of government, it didn’t end because of programs. It didn’t end because of organisations. It didn’t end because of day conferences.

it ended because ordinary Christians were brave enough to love.

And that’s what this comes down to.

Be brave enough to love.

Its scary as hell but I believe in you. I know you can do it.

Be brave enough to love.

End prejudice with love. Stand for equality, stand for justice, stand for freedom, stand for people.

Be brave enough to love.

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Reflection from the School of Mission Launch.

I’ve been touched by the people who’ve sent messages asking about how our launch event for the school of Mission went on Saturday.

Actually I think God was very gracious with a really blessed time but what probably scared me the most about Saturday is that it was a dream in my head and heart now becoming a reality which is both exciting but scary. The dream that “one day I might…” is an exciting but comfortable fantasy the reality wakes me up at night sweating!

The dream seems crazy when I write it to see every Christian in the UK comfortable and Confident to share their faith with wisdom and sensitivity both to the person/context and to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Self doubt creeps in and my answers of loving and praying together to seek God for your context seem “not enough” I need a clever message, a PowerPoint (or at least a flip chart) be selling a “how to” book that is thicker than a telephone directory. Yet friendship, love, prayers and my own bumbling journey with bruises and graised knees seem not enough, but it is all I’ve got.

As I embark on this launch -and the subsequent journey from Cornwall to Carlisle- I feel like Naaman as he was told to wash in the filthy river Jordan (rather than do something difficult, complex and dangerous) -he had to loose his pride, ego and humbly surrender to the downward mobility of a God who is strong when we are weak. Facing the unknown with the simple belief that love and seeking a Missional God who speaks (and loves) is all we need feels like David standing before Golliath with 5 small stones.

Anyway, back to the launch Saturday -or rather a few months before this when the idea that had been conceived many years before began the gestation period, the embryo began to take form, flesh and grow.

I remember thinking where to launch this and Bristol felt right as I’ve spent the last 8 years crying out to God for this city it had to be there.

I also knew some great Bristolians that are deeply committed to the city they know and love and are seeking to see “the Kingdom come here on earth -in Bristol/Knowel west/Hartcliffe/Hanham as it is in heaven”.

When thinking about the context of ministry we need those who live it and breath it, what the African Christians refer to as “someone who knows where the shoes pinch” but we also often need a friend from outside “who can see where the roof is leaking” -the fresh eyes see what we on the inside are oblivious too, our blindspots. Yet, who to ask for this role?

Who to have as a keynote speaker? My first choice was a lady called Jackie Leswell who I’d worked with projects such as Town Pastors and the Poole Youth conversation, one of the wisest /Godliest ministers I know. Yet she had just moved to Norfolk, she’s not going to travel 5 hours to help me out, would she? Indeed because of this I nearly didn’t ask her! Yet, so glad I did as she brought such gentle prophetic wisdom to the people that day. I was reminded of a phrase Bishop Lee (Bishop of Swindon) once said: “don’t say someone else’s ‘no’ for them!”.

The day came, and the day opened with some beautiful worship led by my friend Wes, and then Sam, my former intern a 26 year old Anglican ‘Priest’ from Knowel West gave a word. A passionate plea for us to be embedded in our communities, to realise not only how much God loves us but those we are speaking to, to have/be theologically robust enough to keep on loving people even when one of his friends from the working man’s club said: “I admire what he did” when referring to the far right murderer if Muslim worshippers in Christ Church (New Zealand) and not to take the lazy/easy option of simply labelling people as “monsters”.

A challenging word, I smiled as one of our accountability group, Chris Harwood, would have given a similar message if he had been there.

I also felt pride in Sam, as I remembered the 19 year old I first met 7 or so years ago, and the privilege it is seeing him grow into this amazing man of God, I look across at Regan another guy I walked with in a mentoring relationship and again felt proud, I may have left the city but there is something wonderful about playing a part (even in a small way) in helping to rise up this new generation of leaders.

This is idea was something we reflected on afterwards, as felt from conversations afterwards about this need for Missional Mentoring of people, and explored how often our leadership in Churches often is more “cork” than “catalyst” and how the Kingdom is about enabling people to thrive in who they are and what God has called them to do.

Wes played the song which featured the line “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours”. -Which was part of Sam’s call.

Jackie spoke next about “uncovering wells” I think this is probably a blog on it’s own really but the idea of realising that which God has put within you and maybe we need to discover/rediscover/resurrect this. The image (which appeared later too with my friend Mark) was of an artisan well which is more like a fountain or spring coming from that deep place and bringing life.

She called us to think about mission as a way of life lived out in everything we do, say and how we pray, “where is our field” where has God placed us?

After Jackie’s talk we had the awesome privilege of anointing everyone who came and praying for them, which was amazing and there were many prophetic words -including one gentleman who was reminded of a word that had been given to him 25 years ago.

In the afternoon, my friend Tom did an advert for CVM (blokes ministry) and this was fantastic. Tom had not spoken much before in Church and it was great to give him an opportunity as he is stepping into this new role as regional co-ordinator for Bristol, and in many ways was a living embodiment of what he was praying for.

We asked Jackie to pray for him, and this was a profound moment as we were celebrating the vital role women play in leadership of our Churches and also our need to think afresh of how we meaningfully engage with guys with the message of Jesus.

After this my friend Regan gave his testimony, which was incredibly moving, and is a great reminder that it is God who is the primary agent in mission, but we get to participate within it -and there were great examples of where God worked through his people to see Regan become the man of God he is now.

After this I shared a little of the vision of the School of Mission and our desire to travel from Cornwall to Carlisle over the summer, offering people the opportunity to join me in this journey and adventure, and join us as we seek to be a blessing to encourage mission and discipleship.

I shared the picture from my previous parish about the need to “encourage missional DNA” and to help build “good incubators”, and challenged us to think about our “words, works and the wonders God can do through us” -living for God’s glory every day in what we say, do and how we pray.

Mark and Jackie closed with some powerful declarations of truth, praying blessing over us all and upon our city and ending with worship.

It was a wonderful day and really grateful to God for his faithfulness, but the challenge moves from having done a successful event to being part of a Kingdom movement, to catch the wind/wave of God’s spirit and to ride it to the shore.
I’ll end with an idea Jackie shared about us living in the 29th chapter of Acts (it finishes in chapter 28) this is our time, story and call responding to the greater story, call, plans and purposes of God who seeks to work in partnership with us.

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The Decimated Cathedral.

As I blog about Notre Dame I feel a bit like I’m jumping on the bandwagon with people saying “how much?” -noting that the money could feed, clothe, educate and provide clean drinking water for millions of people.

I often find it ironic that the followers of a nomadic rabbi who had “no where to lay his head” have erected immoveable, grand mausoleums in stone.

Jesus whose only item of worth is was the cloak that was mockingly placed on his shoulders by jeering guards for which the soldiers rolled dice for.

Jesus cares more about the hungry, thirsty, homeless, lonely, cold, frightened, disposed, marginalised, disenfranchised and ostracised. The man who lived on the margins glorified by religious castles of imperialism.

Also doing the rounds on Facebook are the ‘green memes’ with pictures of our destructions of wonderful habitats asking: “What about these ‘Cathedrals?’” -these places of natural-beauty that declare the glory of God?

Which begs the question why we care about our history rather than the future of our planet?

The ancient vast cathedrals were built as an act of worship to celebrate the wonder and the vastness of God, yet God has already done this with the wonder of his world “that mankind is without excuse”, and we know that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands” (Acts 7:48) but inhabits all of creation and is uncontainable in his splendour and glory.

I have worked in several Churches over the last 20 years, a couple of which were genuinely architecturally beautiful -and also places that have some of my precious memories for held there too, but aesthetics and nostalgia should not stand in the way with the plans and purposes of God.

I wonder if at times our buildings have become idols? Even with the newer churches that have been birthed creatively in wonderful indigenous locations seem to have an abnormal hankering for their own building -Interestingly Hillsongs one of the largest Churches in the UK has chosen not to own any buildings because they believe it would hamper what they feel called to do! Churches are often undertaking expensive building projects, and so much of our thinking is building centric. Ironically many Churches remove pews only to replace them with chairs which are barely ever moved!

Churchill said: “we shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us!”

For some the building and God become synonymous in people’s minds; even the disciples were praising the temple in the presence of Jesus and he reminds them that was ultimately matters is not the temporary bricks and mortar of a building (as if God lives in buildings built by men?) but rather the death and resurrection of Jesus which is soon about to occur (Mark 13).

We have forgotten why we exist! I preached a Christmas day sermon using the example of how my baby daughter was more interested in the wrapping paper than the present, which has become the mindset of many in our nation. We glorify something that is simply a tool of the gospel and the Kingdom.

I worry that for some the allegiance to a building and perhaps a small group of insiders has surpassed their allegiance to the crucified and risen Christ?

Whilst I worked in my last parish people spoke of my role to “bring people into Church” -meaning the building (and the type of service that they themselves liked!). Yet, if the point was to ‘fill the Church’ then if we dish out free beer and burgers then we could pack the place out, but instead of being ‘in Church’ we called to be ‘in Christ’; engaging in the bigger call of seeing ordinary people encountering the extraordinary living God and being supported by the Christian community.

The Church as described in scripture is not the building but rather the people. The phrase “going to Church” is an oxymoron because we ARE the Church, we are called to BE the Church, the body and bride of Christ -his hands and his feet- living under his Lordship as the head of the body.

This confusion caught St. Francis of Assisi who had a vision of Christ at San Damiano telling him to “rebuild his Church” and started to repair the walls before realising that the call was to make disciples. Perhaps, the burning cathedral is a call not to restore a building but to realise that the body and bride of Christ is sick and suffering in Europe, which has become the darkest continent, and France was of the most secular and religiously intolerant of nations. The call is not to repair building but transform lives, speaking the truth in love, bringing hope and living out ‘salt and light’ existences under-pinned by prayer.

So, as we mourn the tragedy of a grand building in need of renovation perhaps we need to allow our hearts to be broken over those who do not know Jesus, those who go to bed hungry, those who do not believe they are loved or valuable and are desperately lonely or those with material wealth but spiritual poverty.
Yet, this is not just a call to re-see things, but a call to action, grasping the priority of partnering with Christ who promises that he will build his Church and even the gates of hell will not prevail against us.

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