The first picture that I have been thinking about for a while is circus folk ‘break’ a baby elephant by chaining it too a tree. The elephant is only a baby, so it can’t pull the tree down, the elephant remembers the powerlessness of being chained to a tree it can’t pull down, and as they grow they stay tethered to the tree by a chain, even though by the time the elephant is full grown they could easily uproot the tree and be free.
The animals captivity is not actually physical but psychological, the thing that hold him back isn’t really an inescapable obstacle but rather their own mind and memories.
What of us?
Are the things we think are holding us back actually holding us back, or is it mind-set, past experience and perception?
Perhaps, like the elephant, you have tried to be free before and now have just given up trying?
Jesus talks about setting people free.
The Gospel is a message of liberation, setting people free.
Paul talks in Romans about “being transformed by the renewing of your mind” -in Salvation our view of the world changes, we see things differently, we ourselves differently, we our situations differently.
Danielle Strickland talked about re-visiting the prison and our places of captivity but this time, re-visiting them with God.
It enabling the elephant to see that that which bound him before, no longer has the power to control him.
His fears we based on lies and illusions.
His memories of the past were inhibiting the freedom he was experiencing in the present.
Are there things from our past, that makes us feel like we are a baby elephant tethered to a tree unable to pull free?
Revisit them, and realise that maybe the tree that tethered us, isn’t insurmountable but with Christ can be overcome.
“If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed!”
For freedom to take root and flourish in our lives, we need to let it liberate our hearts, transform our minds and restore our eyes in how we look at the world.
How you were, how you have been, in Christ is not how you have to stay, nor is it how you will be forever.
That’s a message a world desperately needs to hear.
(Notes from the Morning session at New Wine, from a talk by Danielle Strickland)
The image of God imprinted on humanity beautiful potential, the danger is many of us have grown up with a theology of our badness, where we start with human depravity in Genesis 3, although it is undoubtedly true that the human condition is broken, yet we need to remember the story doesn’t start there. We need to start the story with the sacredness of life. The story starts with creation, and a creation of humanity in Gods image, be breathes his life into us.
God says something first before depravity can speak.
God speaks a word of beauty over your life.
Freedom needs to start from the inside of us, as we can rescue people put them in a safe place with new stuff yet unless something changes within the core of our humanity this remains just a cosmetic change.
The perspective shift.
The from Danielle Strickland putting her child to bed.
Putting a child to bed:-
“Who made you?”
“God made me”
“How did God make you”
“He made me good”.
What the word the society says is a distortion, an untrue word, we need to tune into the voice of
How you see yourself really matters.
It is an infectious word, a world that can speak louder than a prevailing and dominant culture.
God speaks a deeper word, a word which Is actually knitted deep within us.
Moses has become so assimilated with the culture he is described by his future wife at the waterhole as an Egyption, yet when God speaks he hears Gods voice and returns to Gods first identity of the Israelities, returning as a shepherd.
Repentance means not just to say sorry, but a new perspective, to see things different, in fact to see ourselves differently.
Do we see people with the world’s eyes? Or the eyes of Chrust.
Moses confronted Pharoah not as Egyptian had dressed him as, but as he truly was as an Israelite, a shepherd (as Joseph’s family were 300 years earlier,a return back to the beginning, the original story)
We need to see ourselves differently, and then see other people differently., the way God sees us and the way God sees them.
But God doesn’t see us as a them and us.
God doesn’t see people as the other.
The oppressor wants to divide us from one another but yet God wants to unite us with Ibe another.
For you to participate in oppressive behaviour you must believe lies and distortion, remember that Satan is a liar, the Father of Lies.
Let’s tune out the distorted oppressive lies over ourselves, over others and even of God.
Have we distorted our image of him?
What needs to change for us today?
I’ll be honest I’ve quoted Mother Teresa’s line about people crossing the world to recieve a blessing but not crossing the road to be a blessing a number of times, and there is so much truth in that statement, but recently I have been challenged by the first part of the quote.
Would I fly half way around the world to receive a blessing?
Would I of my own volition have got into a car and gone to Reading or Cwmbran?
I used to have a very smug and slightly superior attitude of “God can come to me” I’m not going to some Church somewhere to pick up a blessing, God’s everywhere so why do I have to make the effort…
It was a mix of pride, cynicism, jadedness and some heart-protection from disappointment.
I was listening to Pastor Yenka last Friday say exactly those words, I used to say “God can come to me”, but God was calling him to go and see what God was doing else where, calling him on a journey, often we need (even just for a short time) to sometimes come away from the familiar to hear, find and encounter God.
Sometimes, we need to connect afresh with the passionate as they fire us up.
Thinking, as the primary school kids move from being the big fish in the small pond, to being small fish in the big pond, it is constantly good for us to go to hang out with the people who are going to stretch, challenge and inspire us, those who have learned, travelled and gone deeper in various parts of the Christian journey.
Yet too often we sit in front of the telly like Victor Meldrew thinking “I’m okay as I am” whilst dunking our digestive biscuit into our tea and we think of our Church and our Christian life as “okay as it is”, and yet God reminds us there is more, so much more of him and from him.
I worked at St. Michael le Belfrey in York, years after David Watson’s death, but heard a lot about his revival in the 1970’s (although he never used the word revival) and he used to say that people turned up at St. Mike’s and realised they were a screwed up bunch who didn’t have it altogether but God was doing wonderful things amongst them, and people were taking back to their Churches that in God there is more, much more.
The song that really has resonated with me over the past few years here in Kingswood is “there must be more than this” the cry out of God for more of him.
I believe that our evangelism so often is ailing and failing because our faith is often so dry and parched, where our energy is used up fighting battles about trivialities whilst communities go through hell and to hell… We need to find those places which will revive and refresh us, that will revitalise us and restore us, and maybe that is Bethel California or Hillfields Friary, let’s be respectful about our brothers and sisters desire for more of God.
We need to remember that what we have experienced is not all that there is.
We need to remember too that God is not finished with us, with his Church or this nation yet, and whilst we have breath in our bodies we should be (to quote Rowan Williams) finding out where God is at work and joining in.
People often ask “is this transferable” which is entirely the wrong question, because this is putting all the thought into the current thing we are looking at, a better thing to ask is “what are you wanting to tell and show us here?”
Ultimately we are not chasing the manifestation, the hands of God, but we a chasing him himself -his face- and he is always wanting us to seek more and go deeper with him. I think our desperation for more of him brings joy to his heart. I think he loves seeing Christians getting into the cars and heading up motorways because they long to see themselves transformed and Christ made known.
So, lets say, God we want to hear from you, we want to go deeper, we want to see you transform your Church and our nation, the lives of ordinary people, and we want to pledge ourselves to that cause… and lets seek him as hungry people longing for the bread of life.
David had two ways of looking at Goliath, either he could have said “how will I ever beat that giant?” or taking his sling shot “looking at the size of him, how can I miss him?”
I’m not talking really about being optimists or even pessimists I am thinking of being visionary dreamers. Seeing the world not as it is, but as it could be.
There is a quote, “You see things as they are and tell me why they are so, I look at thinks as they could be and ask why not?”
Nehemiah looked at the broken down walls and burned out bricks and saw a fortified city, Jesus looked at a bunch of no hopers and saw a global discipleship movement, God looked at the wimpy guy Gideon and saw a “mighty warrior”.
The more and more I go on in this job as a vicar the more jaded and cynical I have become, the more I have been disappointed with people the lower I expectations I have of them, the more I’ve picked up battle scars the grown tired the less of God and the more of me I see.
The Bible tells us where there is no vision the people perish, and I sometimes wonder if this includes us too? Does a part of us die with no vision, no dream of a different world, no motivating world view?
Do we get caught into what Pete Grieg calls “9-5 little prisons” blinded by monotony¸ the ordinary, the safe and the familiar?
Perhaps the verse could work the other way, that where there is vision there is salvation, wholeness, healing and transformation?
The truth is the sight and the vision I have is not the one I want.
I want to see things with different eyes, I want to see things with the eyes of faith, I want to see less cloudiness from my own lenses distorting my vision, focusing more on Christ and less on me, I want to re-discover that child-like (not childish, I think there is a difference) view of the world where the parameters of vision are reduced by the jadedness, cynicism, disappointments and frustrations.
I want to catch the eye of Christ more often, and see where his eye gleams.
I remember a kids’ song which asks “have we made our God to small?” -but it is a good question, have we allowed our vision to diminish and our view of God to be reduced?
Let us remind ourselves, and one another, of God’s goodness.
Let’s tell his stories, let us not play it safe, let us leave comfortable behind.
Too often we set ourselves a ‘spiritual challenge’ which we can easily do within our own strength and with our own means.
Let us combat disappointment but saying “do not grow over me my enemy though I am down I will rise and the glory of the Lord will shine on me” and although we might be down, let us not be out.
There are many stories of miraculous healings in the gospels, including one of Jesus healing the blind man, Bartemeaus, Jesus asked him “what do you want me to do for you?” and he replied “I want to see”.
Maybe too many of us need to realign our sight and vision?
Looking at the world with eyes healed by Christ.
Seeing the extraordinary possibilities in the everyday opportunities, and the impossible being made possible by the one who can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
One wet Sunday afternoon when I was a kid I remember watching the film “Force 10 from Navarone”, it is set in the second world war, and a group of English Officers and some Americans have to join forces to assassinate a double agent and blow up a bridge.
Spoiler alert, blowing up the bridge doesn’t go according to plan, it looks indestructible, they only have a small amount of explosives, the problem seems insurmountable.
As the story progresses, the team end up coming across a dam, and they realize that if they blow up the dam, then the bridge would be hit by tons and tons of water enough to bring it down…
By blowing up the dam, the bridge fell and the mission was fulfilled.
Often we look at a problem and we can’t see a solution, because we only can see what is in our vision, what is in front of our eyes, and don’t see the fuller and wider picture that God sees.
Sometimes, like the guys in the film, we think we know best -we think we know how to blow up the bridge- and yet so so often our ways don’t work, and yet God’s ways does.
Sometimes, when we serve God, the areas he seems to be stirring don’t seem to match up with where we think he should be working, where the obvious need and problem is, yet with hindsight I have looked back and only later do I understand.
Even when I don’t understand, sometimes it is a case of trusting that despite what we can see, what we think God is still on the throne, God is still in control and (even when it doesn’t feel it) God is still good.
When the wine skins were empty looking at the foot washing jars seems crazy, yet it worked, I can imagine the servants looking at each other when Mary, Jesus’ Mother, saying “do what ever he tells you”, thinking “this will never work” -but it did!
Scripture calls us to “walk by faith and not by sight” -and the wisdom of Mary (“Do whatever he tells you”) remains good advice. Neil, my former prayer partner, used to have a phrase about the Christian life, where he said “you live life forwards, but understand it backwards”.
As we think of this crazy upside down world, I remember a story from a local youth and community worker, who began working in this Church (which was big step of faith for him) and he felt God call him to play football (which he enjoyed) and felt very self conscious that playing footie wasn’t proper community work, surely God should be calling him to start a youth club or something like this. Yet whilst playing football he made friends, people came to faith, and through this work a youth group was formed with Christian volunteers, and went on to thrive.
What is the bridge in your life you would like to see God blow up?
Where is God calling you to work, what is he calling you to do?
Do you trust him to know what he’s doing and to see the bigger picture?
“You will need to go out and sniff the sheep!”
This was a phrase (I kid you not!) I saw for an advert for a Pioneer Minister in Portsmouth.
It made me snigger as I don’t consider myself a sheep sniffer!
But did think about the image…
Where do we discover what God is doing in his world? I’d suggest not from a safe distance in our comfortable churches, but in the midst of the community and listening to see where God is at work.
It reminded me too that mission us actually about people more than strategy, and often the key component (which is so often missing) is relationships, we are in danger of knowing about our communities rather than knowing the people within the communities.
Smelling the sheep is an unpleasant job with lots of sheep poo to encounter. Something we’d rather not do! Yet the only way of understanding a community is by being immersed into it, being among and alongside, it’s about seeing, smelling, hearing and tasting life in that community.
Yet I believe that is the Kingdom way of discovering where God is calling as we get into a community rather than standing and looking at it from a distance from the touchline.
When we do Street Pastors I often talk about double listening, listening to the voice of Gods spirit and the voice of the culture around us.
I think Christians should be running too the smelly places, the dark places, the places of hurt and brokenness, as surely this is where Christ’s love, hope and transformation is needed the most.
In many ways, this type of mission is what Jesus did, he came among us as one of us, and wasn’t shielded from the horrors of a broken humanity.
I heard a tragic story of JJohns evangelistic event in a Cathedral, it was packed, and he askd who here attends Church regularly and almost every hand went up. We often do missional events to Christians to make us all feel better about ourselves, rather than trying to be Missional in amongst the stench of the farmyard, surrounded by the sheep.
I was thinking about being a Vicar as a shepherd (after all bishops have crooks the imagery is there in scripture) and Jesus talks about being a good shepherd laying down their life for the sheep.
The call to be missional and to seek where God is calling in your community will be sacrificial, costly and probably for the long haul… Its a costly call.
The Good shepherd in Luke 15, who goes to “seek and save the lost”…yet to often we act out the parable in reverse we have two or three fat sheep in churches wanting 100% of the shepherds time where the 99 are wandering the hills being devoured by wolves.
So lets get out of our Churches and our comfortable comfort zones, and lets immerse ourselves into the communities that God has placed us, listening and learning, seeing and sensing, hearing and absorbing as we discover deeply what Christ and the community are crying out for?
Are we going to be good shepherds seeking out the hurting and broken?
Are we going to be good shepherds prepared to sacrifice our lives for those God has called us to serve.