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The Chocolate Palace.

Today I met up with some friends both of whom got recently baptised for a Bible study and a chat in a local Coffee shop.

I was working through the story from Matthew 7.24-29 about the story of the wise and foolish builder:

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

As Ky read this, he said it sounds like this scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW9Zvzhf_Rg.

A prince who has a Palace built of chocolate, a dream come true, all you’d want, and yet the sun came out, and melted the palace of chocolate (see clip).

In many ways I can see the parrel, it is like a house built on sand, it looks great, it is a dream come true, and the Prince thought life was going to be wonderful, and yet this dream drips away and evaporates, it’s not a dream of substance.

It made me think do the things we build our lives on melt when exposed to the sun?

Are we building our lives and our dreams on chocolate on a warm day?

Perhaps we dream of being rich, popular, famous, learned, successful or whatever it is for you?

Interestingly, the chocolate palace or the house built on the beach, might look vastly superior to the house built on the rock. Yet foundations are essential, but normally pretty invisible

Yet, all of these things might look good on the surface, might bring some momentary pleasure, but often leaves us in a sticky mess. Interestingly, most major lottery winners wish they hadn’t won. The experience about having everything you could dream of actually has become for many a nightmare.

Jim Carey once said “I wish everyone could become rich and famous so they could see how empty it is”.

Jesus, tells another story, not of a melting palace, but of a house that stands firm. A house that stands firm, firm on the rock, with deep and stable foundations.

A house that with-stands the strains and stresses of life. Remains steadfast in the face of the wind and the rain of troubles, difficulties and adversity. A house that does not fall with the floods and hurricanes of pain and disaster.

Jesus is described in the Bible as a firm foundation. The only unchangeable thing in a changeable world. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Always good.
Always faithful.
Always longing to forgive and to restore.
Always trustworthy.
Always true.
Always loving.
Always abounding in grace and in mercy.

A hymn-writer put it like this “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand”.

Jesus starts this story with the words “if anyone hears my word and puts them into practice, they are like a wise-person”…

As I thought about this, so often as Christians we hear Jesus’ words, we read Jesus’ words, we even highlight them in our Bibles, memorise them, even learn them in Greek (or Hebrew) but sadly too many of us fail to apply them to our lives.

Sometimes when the storms of life hit, I’ve realised that perhaps I’ve been living too much in the wrong house.

I’ve been getting too much of my self worth and value from the chocolate palace and am lost when it starts to melt. Rather than bedding down in the truth of the stability of the rock-solid place of security and safety that is dwelling within the truth of God’s living word.

Perhaps our home dwelling started off built on the rock solid foundation of Christ, but maybe we’ve added a sand-based conservatory… Or maybe a chocolatey guest room?

Perhaps there is some stuff that needs under pinning?

Perhaps even some stuff we need to move out of and return back to our rock solid home?

Interestingly too the sunny image melting the chocolate reminded me of a truth I discovered researching for my degree, people are just as likely to walk away from their relationship with Christ when things go well as when things fall apart.

Both success and failure can be used by the devil to derail our relationship with God.

The questions I want to leave us with is what are we building our lives on?

Does our life need some underpinning and work on the invisible -but vital- work of our foundations beneath the surface, the unseen part of us.

Don’t let success or failure cause you to build your life on anything other than the rock that is Christ Jesus.

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The Contemplative Pioneer Evangelist.

At a recent meeting I was at, I was hearing about how we need more “risk takers” and in some degree I agree that as the Church of Jesus Christ we can sometimes be risk adverse. Again the conversation progressed with we need more entrepreneurs too, and again we do need people with ideas and creativity and the ‘can do’ attitude to make things happen.

Yet the thing that I found was missing was the question of where is God in all of this? Surely the key to all mission is stepping out in faith with what God is calling us to do.

Surely a good pioneer has to be someone who is prayerful and is actively seeking what is God’s will for this place at this time with these people.

I know many risk takers, and I admire their courage, but risk in itself is neither positive or negative, the question is whether or not it is the right thing to do, the thing you are called to do.

I remember in “Only Fools and Horses” Rodney saying of Del, that he’s read a book where a modern man makes bold and entrepreneurial decisions “which is why we have half a dozen Russian Betamax Video recorders and a whole load of horse riding helmets painted red” -In other words he’d bought a right load of old tosh!

Scripture reminds us that “Zeal without wisdom is folly”.

In the world of Pioneer Ministry there is much talk of leading, but surely the key is being led by the Holy Spirit.

In my context of Kingswood, there are a million worthwhile ventures that I could be doing -filling the diary up has never been the problem- but rather what is God calling us to do? What is God’s plan and purpose of the people I serve?

My friend Mark Rich talks about “the devil seeking to cause us maximum weariness for minimum fruitfulness” -after all the most dangerous thing is not failure but succeeding in things that don’t matter. Scripture talks of building with “Gold, Silver and costly stones” -imperishable- rather that “wood, straw and costly stones” -perishable-, our own ideas might sound impressive but it is only the ideas that stem from the heart of God that have lasting eternal fruitfulness.

To discover God’s plan and purposes I believe can only be discovered by being a good listener, listening to God in the quiet place -seeking his Kingdom on our knees- and listening to the community.

Often people come to me with a great idea, and they really try to sell me their idea, and often there has been some brilliant and wonderful creative thinking, yet the question I want to know is “do you believe you have heard from God on this? Is God calling us to this?”

For “if the worker does not build the house then the labourers labour in vein” and what is more even Jesus said “I only do what I see my Father doing” -we need reminding that “Mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in” (as former Archbishop Rowan Williams said).

Whilst I was at college one of our lecturers described the best ministers as ‘reflective practioners’.

We need people to be practioners as so often we can ‘navel gaze’ being so reflective that never get around to being productive! Yet we can be so activist in being ‘practioners’ that we never prayerfully reflect or evaluate anything and thus miss out on the fruit that God wants to give us.

We need to seek God for the right way forward and build it. Yet as we build something new, we need to be self aware, critical in our thinking and with open hearts and minds to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly a wise and Godly friend gave me this advice on starting in Kingwood which was “pray, pray and pray some more… Spend the first year just praying” -advice I wish I had heeded more.

Yet, although it is great to “hit the ground kneeling” and begin embedded in prayer, we also need to continue on in this vein. Not just birthing a vision in prayer, but nurturing it prayerfully, sustaining it prayerfully and continually evaluating it prayerfully too.

So, let’s learn afresh to be people who live deeply with Christ, whose rhythm of life is “the ancient art of breathing” -receiving from Christ (breathing in) and sharing it with the world around us (breathing out).

To conclude, for me the most important gift with any Kingdom work is the ability “to hear and discern God’s voice and the courage and obedience to put it into practice”.

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The Contemplative Pioneer Evangelist…

At a recent meeting I was at, I was hearing about how we need more “risk takers” and in some degree I agree that as the Church of Jesus Christ we can sometimes be risk adverse. Again the conversation progressed with we need more entrepreneurs too, and again we do need people with ideas and creativity and the ‘can do’ attitude to make things happen.

Yet the thing that I found was missing was the question of where is God in all of this? Surely the key to all mission is stepping out in faith with what God is calling us to do.

Surely a good pioneer has to be someone who is prayerful and is actively seeking what is God’s will for this place at this time with these people.

I know many risk takers, and I admire their courage, but risk in itself is neither positive or negative, the question is whether or not it is the right thing to do, the thing you are called to do.

I remember in “Only Fools and Horses” Rodney saying of Del, that he’s read a book where a modern man makes bold and entrepreneurial decisions “which is why we have half a dozen Russian Betamax Video recorders and a whole load of horse riding helmets painted red” -In other words he’d bought a right load of old tosh!

Scripture reminds us that “Zeal without wisdom is folly”.

In the world of Pioneer Ministry there is much talk of leading, but surely the key is being led by the Holy Spirit.

In my context of Kingswood, there are a million worthwhile ventures that I could be doing -filling the diary up has never been the problem- but rather what is God calling us to do? What is God’s plan and purpose of the people I serve?

My friend Mark Rich talks about “the devil seeking to cause us maximum weariness for minimum fruitfulness” -after all the most dangerous thing is not failure but succeeding in things that don’t matter. Scripture talks of building with “Gold, Silver and costly stones” -imperishable- rather that “wood, straw and costly stones” -perishable-, our own ideas might sound impressive but it is only the ideas that stem from the heart of God that have lasting eternal fruitfulness.

To discover God’s plan and purposes I believe can only be discovered by being a good listener, listening to God in the quiet place -seeking his Kingdom on our knees- and listening to the community.

Often people come to me with a great idea, and they really try to sell me their idea, and often there has been some brilliant and wonderful creative thinking, yet the question I want to know is “do you believe you have heard from God on this? Is God calling us to this?”

For “if the worker does not build the house then the labourers labour in vein” and what is more even Jesus said “I only do what I see my Father doing” -we need reminding that “Mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in” (as former Archbishop Rowan Williams said).

Whilst I was at college one of our lecturers described the best ministers as ‘reflective practioners’.

We need people to be practioners as so often we can ‘navel gaze’ being so reflective that never get around to being productive! Yet we can be so activist in being ‘practioners’ that we never prayerfully reflect or evaluate anything and thus miss out on the fruit that God wants to give us.

We need to seek God for the right way forward and build it. Yet as we build something new, we need to be self aware, critical in our thinking and with open hearts and minds to the guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly a wise and Godly friend gave me this advice on starting in Kingwood which was “pray, pray and pray some more… Spend the first year just praying” -advice I wish I had heeded more.

Yet, although it is great to “hit the ground kneeling” and begin embedded in prayer, we also need to continue on in this vein. Not just birthing a vision in prayer, but nurturing it prayerfully, sustaining it prayerfully and continually evaluating it prayerfully too.

So, let’s learn afresh to be people who live deeply with Christ, whose rhythm of life is “the ancient art of breathing” -receiving from Christ (breathing in) and sharing it with the world around us (breathing out).

To conclude, for me the most important gift with any Kingdom work is the ability “to hear and discern God’s voice and the courage and obedience to put it into practice”.

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Don’t rip up your L plates.

When we are learning to drive we put L plates on our cars to warn other motorists that we are learning, and then when we pass our test we rip up the L plates and can drive normally.

Yet I think we learn most about driving safely when we are actually driving, and so often the worst crashes are caused by people who think they know it all and sadly discover with dreadful consequences that they don’t know it all.

Too often I think we have this idea that learning is only a temporary thing until we pass a test, or master a technique or skill, or gain a certificate.

Too often we are too eager to tear up our L plates, all of us long to feel competent, knowledgeable and learned.

Yet, I would suggest that it is folly to believe we ever fully reach this destination, it is a sign of immaturity and pride to think we know it all.

Instead, let’s be Christians still with our L plates on, people that are life-long learners, going through life humbly seeking to find God and to grow through the circumstances we find in life.

A great question to ask in all we go through is to say “Holy Spirit, what is it you want to teach me in this situation?” Looking and seeking God’s voice in the chaotic and crazy world around us.

Let is never thinking we are experts and have nothing left to know, as not only does this puff us up with pride, it is folly to think we can ever put God and his creation in a box.

“My ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts” says the Lord is Is.55

Part of our humanity is knowing that we are not, and never will be, all knowing but we surrender to a God who knows all things, is loving and can be trusted.

It is knowing that we as humanity aren’t at the centre of the universe that gives us wisdom… Perhaps that is why it is written “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”?

Paul urges the Christians in Rome to “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you”.

Yet, knowing the limitations of our humanity is not a reason to give up even trying to be a life long learner.

Bill Hybels says “Armed with enough humility leaders can learn from anyone”.

I would add that armed with enough prayerful discernment every circumstance can teach and shape us in our discipleship, sanctification and our walk with Christ.

James says “if anyone lacks wisdom they should ask God who gives generously”.

The question is not “are there opportunities to learn and grow?” The truth is these are all around us, but rather do we have a teachable spirit, a humility to learn, a desire for growth and discipleship?

Our discipleship depends on our openness to hear God’s voice with soft rather than a hard heart.

The humility to hear God’s voice sometimes in places that we ordinarily might choose to avoid, to seek God in the places of discomfort, and to be real and honest in hearing truths we might prefer to remain ignorant of.

In the Bond film Casino Royale M (the boss) says to Bond “Arrogance and self awareness rarely go together”.

I believe that self awareness is at the heart of discipleship, knowing what we are actually and really like rather than some self delusional view-point.

As the Psalmist urges us:
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting”.

So, let’s keep the L plates on, and be open to all that God wants to teach us.

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The search for perfection…

We live in a consumeristic world.

We live in a virtual world, where every image we see is air-brushed, lit and positioned to look as attractive as possible…

Those who say the camera never lies have clearly never heard of photo-shop!

I was thinking that in our culture we as so influenced by the media and advertising agencies that we are always in search for the perfect, but it is an illusive search. The world and all that is in it is fallen, somehow we can live our lives chasing a fantasy of the perfect life, the perfect job, the perfect partner, the perfect holiday and the children… and yet we forget that we’re not perfect either.

Our consumerist desire for ‘bespoke’ and our airbrushed unreality leaves people feeling dissatisfied.

Beauty is not about cutting ourselves off from reality in some pseudo-bubble-world for as long as we can keep the illusion going (the more money we have the more we can keep ourselves in a deluded state, but even then we know deep down its not real but actually incredibly empty).

Islam recognises this issue in its philosophy of beauty, which understands that only God is perfect and to try and achieve perfection is in their view idolatrous, that is why art from this culture sometimes has a deliberate mistake in it as a testimony to God’s perfection and human-fallen-ness.

Yet traditionally the Christian understanding of beauty is very different from Islam, where we believe we can see beauty in brokenness. Despite the fall God’s indelible goodness can still shine out of that which is broken.

In fact Jesus often calls us out of what feels beautiful and comfortable to discover a new beauty in a more broken area.

When I was at New Wine I went to a session with Gareth Robinson, a Church planter, and he described about how he and his wife had wonderful Christian gatherings in their conservatory with nice Christians friend on his planting team. Yet then they planted in the estate they felt called to be in, and it went messy with local kids running around and causing havoc and it all went messy. The seminar was called ‘birthing Church-plants’ and his opening remarks were that often birth is messy and costly. Yet many years on have seen many local kids become Christians and have seen Christ impact the estate.

I have worked in youth work and Church leadership for about 20 years and on occasions I have had to pray “Jesus let me see these people/community/group with your eyes and give me your love for them”.

Even gold looks unattractive when it is mined out the rock, but in the purification process its true beauty and value becomes more and more apparent.

Yet when we think of God at work in our own lives, sometimes people have noticed the gifting and potential in us -often deeply buried- within us and yet God and his people have had the wonderful privilege or drawing it out and enjoying and being blessed by us, and us being blessed by being a blessing.

The exciting privilege of partnering with God in his redemptive and sanctifying work in us and in the lives of the people we have come to love.

In fact the harder we look with the eyes of Christ the more we see of God in the most unlikely places, the smudged finger-print of the Spirit of God in the least likely places and the most unlikely people.

Our world tries to sell us counterfeit beauty but yet the beauty really end up appreciating is that which we have invested it, which is so much greater and deeper than superficial beauty that the world has tempted us by.

Often we settle for nice -like the lovely pleasant time Gareth had in his conservatory- but if you asked them would they swap it for the wonders they found in planting a Church amongst the broken and marginalised, I bet they wouldn’t swap! So lets press on for what is declared by the divine to be beautiful.

The greatest beauty we can see is something of heaven, the Kingdom of God, touching earth -or at least our bit of it- and this is a beauty we can participate in.

A beauty that maybe the world can’t always see, unless seen and felt with the eyes and heart of Christ.

And this beauty is investing in that which is eternal.

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Those who show up…

I am reading at the moment Andy Flanagan’s book called “Those who show up” the title is taken from a quote by John F. Kennedy “History is made by those who show up”, another facebook meme distorted the quote with the words: “History is made by those who are prepared to get their hands dirty”.

Yet I would suggest that it is more than showing up, but keep on turning up, as often gathering a few enthusiasts short term is easy but they soon drop off as apathy sets in.

Apathy is the greatest danger facing the Church of Jesus Christ in this nation.

We accept the unacceptable.

The call of Christ is to stand, it to be salt and light, to be Christ’s ambassadors, to turn this broken and upside down world the right way up for Christ, to seek his Kingdom to come here in the communities we live and work in on earth as it is heaven.

Fictional President Josiah Bartlett in the popular TV series “The West Wing” popularised the phrase -originally penned by Margaret Mead- who said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

The truth is most things aren’t changed by millions, but normally by a few people who dream the dream of a different and transformed future.

Yet this isn’t just a blog of a motivational pep talk about the power of the individual. We as Christians have within us the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave. He (Christ) that is in us is greater than he (the devil) that is in the world.

Part of the problem is our lack of vision, we fall for the lie that our actions cannot make a difference or change the world.

We forget that we are not powerless victims tossed around by events, but rather children of God filled with his spirit and with his authority to see his Kingdom come.

Shane Claiborne says “Everyone wants a revolution, but no one wants to do the dishes”.

Yet if we are to see vision becoming a reality this often requires us to roll up our sleeves and humble ourselves. If we are to change the world then we can’t be half hearted and expect it to be cost free.

And as we think about being these people that change the world, we remember that we follow in the footsteps of the worlds greatest revolutionary, Jesus Christ.

A God who showed up.

A God that stepped into his world.

A God that chose to make a difference and to intervene, even though he knew he would be rejected by many.

A God committed to changing his world, and the lives of those within it.

A God that was prepared to humble himself and serve in the most unglamorous.

A God that paid the ultimate sacrifice.

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Peace…

“Grace, Mercy and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you”.

We have thought about Mercy and Grace over the last few days, and as I thought about these wonderful gifts I realised that these are part of an upside-down Kingdom, these are mighty and wonderful gifts, and yet they are massively counter-cultural.

Mercy is not something our culture respects, it is something requiring incredible strength but one which paradoxically is often viewed as a weakness.

Grace, that extravagant generosity, giving people what they don’t rightfully deserve, is often viewed as foolishness… “Your crazy they’re just taking advantage of you!” is what the world will tell you!

And today we think about Peace. Yet most of our heroes of history have been people of war. Culture adores the fighter, yet very few statues are erected for the peace-makers.

Yet Jesus is the greatest broker of a peace-deal of all time.

Jesus made peace between a fallen world and a righteous Godhead, he took on the evil of the world and the wrath of God (the need for justice to be done)in what was from the aggressor an act of violence met by the ultimate non violent peaceful protest that shouted “Father Forgive Them!” whilst gasping and dying for breath.

Jesus brokered the peace-deal between humanity and divinity, people and God. He calls us to carry on his ministry “ambassadors of reconciliation”.

The call of following Christ is to be at peace with God and at peace with one another, the horizontal relationship and the vertical relationship.

Yet Jesus says “blessed are the peacemakers” and the prophets urge us to seek the day when God turns spears into pruning hooks and swords into ploughshares.

Peace isn’t just the absence of war, but of harmonious relationships one with another. Yet our human nature often likes a bit of drama, we like a ‘robust debate’ and sadly our Churches aren’t the places of peace that they’d like to be, this doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with everyone all the time, but the issue I feel is are we disagreeing in a Christ-like way.

Peace, is a word that covers so many other ideas, welcome, acceptance, hospitality, openness, honesty, integrity, trustworthy, compassionate, calm, wisdom and love.

Peace is one of the fruit of the Spirit, and yet one we don’t always appreciate enough, nor one we know how to apply to our lives.

We know that a gentle word turns away wrath as the proverbs tell us. Many of us have seen ugly debates where we may have won an argument but lost the person.

The Apostle Peter urges us when talking evangelistically “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have but do so with gentleness and respect”.

Jesus prophetically teaches into the Church that is yet to be formed that “a house divided will not stand” -interestingly most of our parliamentary democracies work on the opposite principal, although in the second world war the parties came together to work together for the sake of the nation).

When we are squabbling amongst ourselves, the hurting world needs to healing of the gospel.

Jesus says that “blessed are the feet of those who bring good news”, Paul talks in Ephesians about having our feet ready with the Gospel of peace.

Jesus urges his Churches to be founded on the ‘people of peace’ with his mission strategy to find these people and around then build his Church.

Sadly, although the reformation brought with it many good things at the heart of Protestantism, is the idea of protest, and sadly we have seen Churches split, and split again. One of the reason I am an Anglican is a belief that these splits grieve the heart of the Holy Spirit.

Are we celebrating tensions and controversies in an unhelpful or a helpful and productive way?

Are we seeking broken and damaged relationships to be healed and restored, or are we nursing those pains and bad-feelings?

Are we seeking the advanced of the Kingdom, or is it more important to be right, and by being right do we often mean ‘the loudest’.

I had a friend that described his position on stuff as “being pretty orthodox” and then added “but I also think God calls us not to be a prat about it!”

“Wise as serpents but innocent as doves” -living a life where truth and love are held together in such a way that our life and doctrine compliment one another rather than contradict each other.

Let’s choose peace with the bravery and courage that the Price of Peace chose and embodies.

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