Discipleship, Giving/Generousity., justice, love, Matthew 25., Servanthood., welcome

Making Disciples Jesus way… P3.

I almost entitled this blog “A little less conversation” because that is what discipleship sadly so often has become, people talking, and yet discipleship needs to be lived out, the world needs to see what following Jesus actually looks like in real, authentic everyday life.

I remember reading in Philip Yancey’s book “what is so amazing about grace?” of a story of a woman who really messed up big time, and she was asked about going to Church, to which she replied “I feel bad enough already, Church would only make me feel worse”.

Somehow this seems a million miles away from what Jesus said “by this will all people know you are my disciples, that you love one another as I have loved you”.

Discipleship I believe is about being that community that loves one another, and loves and welcomes in the broken, marginalised, ostracised and disenfranchised… A Church that welcomes the last, the least and the lost.

People talk a lot about creating an Acts 2 Church, but I wonder whether we need to create a Matthew 25 Church?

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Mother Teresa describes this as “Jesus in his most distressing disguises”, in serving the hungry, homeless, imprisoned or hurting, we are in fact serving Christ.

This has always been on God’s heart, in the book of Amos, God says he is fed up of all this religious activity and events whilst people were corrupt, unjust and lacking compassion…

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

In  Isaiah 58.6:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

In the book of Micah it says:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God”

And in the first letter of John it says:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children,let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Discipleship is not about sitting around pontificating.

Too often western discipleship fills the head but does little in the heart, and even less to make the world a better place. I would argue that Discipleship should not only bring about transformation in us and out lives, but we are actually practically partnering with God in (to quote Bishop Stephen Conway) “turning this broken and upside down world the right way up for Jesus Christ”…

Christ reveals the priority of heaven when he encourages his people to pray “may your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, we know eternity is where peace and love reign and where violence, corruption and hatred have no place, and we are called to see this translated onto the earth.

we read in Luke of his mandate -taken from Isaiah 61-

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”

I believe that we over spiritualise these passages, thinking Jesus is talking about the Spiritually blind, or the spiritually imprisoned, but I think he actually meant those who were actually blind, broken hearted, imprisoned.

Certainly extravagant love for people was how the early Church took the words of Jesus, now sadly it feels like we are far too selective in our use of scripture, preaching on Paul’s letters and John 3:!6 and omitting all this talk of justice, transformation and the Kingdom of God.

So few of our Churches practice radical hospitality, feed the hungry, help with housing, visit people in prison. John wimber once asked when the Church ‘did the stuff’ meaning signs and wonders (and I’m really, really up for that) but I think the same question could be asked for acts of love, ministries of mercy and the pursuit of justice.

The book of James says that “worship (although some versions mistranslates as religion) that God finds pure and faultless is to look after widows and orphans in their distress…”

One evening instead of doing our normal Bible Study I took my home-group out into the city to feed, bless and talk to the homeless… It was one of the deepest and most spiritual evenings we shared together as a group.

So, lets look at what is on the heart of Christ, lets not just talk a good game on comfy sofa’s, let us get out and partner with God in ushering his Kingdom in, and we start by welcoming Christ in his most distressing disguises.

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Acts of Service, Authenticity, incarnation, prayer, welcome

Prayer Meeting with Jeremy Kyle.

On Mondays for a while, some of us meet up and pray for our local area (if you are a local reading this, do join us, 9:30-10:30 at Chasers). We use a local pub/coffee lounge to meet up in, on the walls are tv screens normally play Jeremy Kyle.

I used to see this as a distraction, an annoying interruption, I used to get them to ‘mute’ the sound on our nearest screen. Yet something about this has challenged me profoundly.

We have for a long time tried to have prayer meetings and other such meetings out and about, we don’t want to be Christians hidden away in dark corners of invisible Church buildings.

So, we pray whilst somewhere in the background of the room we hear the shriek of “he’s not the Father of my baby”.

Yet last week, I was struck by how nice our prayer room is, with wonderful coffee, and so often the rawness and brokenness of many peoples lives never creeps into our prayer rooms.

Too often we assume that everyone’s life is like ours, and yet for many people the things we are just ‘normal’ and take for granted would be a very alien way of life for many.

Too often we as human beings steer ourselves away from the mess, brokenness and pain of life, when is Church intersessions does anyone ever pray openly about domestic violence, abused children, traffic refugees caught in the sex industry, depression, self harm, sweat shops exploiting their workers so we can have cheap clothes?

Shane Claiborne says “It’s not that folk are hard-hearted toward the poor, but often simply that they don’t know the poor… we fear what we do not know”.

Our Churches are too often too clean and sanitised, and yet we have a God who left the glory of heaven and dwelt with us in poverty and brokenness.  Christ did not steer past the crap of dysfunctional lives, but rolled up his sleeves and embraced hurting and broken people and saw transformation.

I was struck by a Church I encountered once who did a lot of great work with disenfranchised people, a free meal on Sunday Night, a back to work thing on Friday morning, and yet I think sadly they do acts of compassion “to” the poor, it is a bit arms length. Like us with Jeremy Kyle playing on the TV screen.

I wonder are our prayers too removed because we are too removed?

Do just exercise safe compassion, great works but like Jeremy Kylie it’s clear whose who and where the power lies, where can always ask someone to turn the volume down a bit if we get uncomfortable.

Yesterday I was out walking and bumped into two friends, had a chat, pray, hug and talked a bit about life, one conversation had a bit of ‘story swapping’ -I was blessed by the encounter and I believe so were they, I wonder if this was more what real incarnational ministry ought to look like?

So, Jeremy Kylie stays on on a Monday morning, but rather than just to nudge our consciences as we pray, my prayer is that it is a reminder that the call is to be incarnational, living out our faith like Jesus did, not avoiding pain and brokenness, not having it as wall-paper remote and distant, nor at arms length, but in loving relationship embraced to our hearts, held in prayer not out of duty or obligation, but out of love, not people we serve (although we do) but people we call friends.

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Church, community of grace, welcome

The Local Church…

“The local church is the hope of the world.

There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right. 

Its beauty is indescribable. 

Its power is breath-taking. 

Its potential is unlimited. 

It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. 

It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused.

It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. 

It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed, and offers belonging to the marginalized of this world. 

Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness.

Still to this day, the potential of the local church is almost more than I can grasp. No other organization on earth is like the church.

Nothing even comes close”.

…Said Bill Hybels.

I find this inspiring.

Later on in his book Courageous leadership Hybels is sat next to a pompous army general… who was dismissive of Hybels being a Pastor, and said that Hybels couldn’t understand what if it were like to deal every day in matters of life and death. Hybels replied, ‘if only our stakes were that low!’

A reminder that we are not only dealers in life and death but echoes in eternity!

It is easy to get excited about the Church as a movement, and that is good, and there is truth in the saying from President Jed Bartlett on the West Wing who said “never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, indeed, it’s all that ever has”.

Yet I think there is a danger in this thinking, Justin Welby said “Church is more than the rotary club with a pointy roof”…

The reason why the Church is the Hope of the World is because she is the Bride of Christ.

The hope of the World, is that we have an awesome God who chooses to work out his purposes through his people. Jesus is the Hope of the world, but he allows us to be (to quote St. Teresa) his hands and his feet.

Christ is present in every community you set foot in.

You alter the spiritual DNA of an area, just by being there as Christ’s ambassador, walking in with the spirit of God dwelling within you.

So a message for today. Let us not just GO to Church, but BE the Church.

Let’s be agents of the Kingdom of God where he has placed us..

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

 pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

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Church, community of grace, Journey, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, Servanthood., welcome

Host, Servant and Pilgrim…

I had an interesting meeting with a lovely guy called Ben, he’s exploring New Monasticism and fresh expressions of Church, and was telling me about this expression of Church in Wales who talk about these three modes of being Church.

Host, welcoming, hospitality, putting yourself out for the sake of someone else, think of other cultures of hospitality whereby they give to their guests sacrificially and beyond what they can afford (if you have ever done any oversees mission you’ll know what I mean!)
Servant, how can I help? How can be bless and serve you as a community, thinking of Church as a servant of the world, not wagging their finger and bossing it  around, but looking for opportunities to serve and bless, to bend down and wash its feet.
Pilgrim, that idea about being on a journey, following Christ, seeking where he is at work and walking together the journey of faith.
I love this idea of the modes of Church, as I am becoming more and more discontent with Church being an event we attend rather than learning to BE Church.
Church is not an event, or a series of events, but a radically community moving together to see God’s Kingdom breaking in.
Yet Church is not something disconnected from us, but is us ourselves?
What does it mean for me to learn to be Church?
How does this work in my normal day to day life?
Do I act as a Host? When am I acting as a host?
And when I host am I a Christ like host?
When do I act like a servant?
And when I serve am I like Christ?
And am I a pilgrim?
Am I seeking God?
Am I actually moving in my faith at all?
Am I moving on with him, or am I still in the place I was, or have become used to it and become too settled?
Who am I travelling with?
Where am I looking for God?
How diligently am I seeking him, and am I looking for him in the right places, am I seeking his voice?
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Barnabas, Leadership, mentoring, Nurture, Risk and Change, welcome, wisdom

Barnabas style leadership.

“To impact a moment tweet, to impact a season preach, to impact a generation -Mentor a leader” writes Rick Warren of Purpose Driven Life/Church fame.

As I think about mentoring, my mind goes to Barnabas, not a character well known in the Bible, his name means ‘encourager’ -the idea of mentoring is by helping and encouraging a leader they get better and everyone benefits.

Barnabas -one of the great unsung heroes of the bible.

We know that Barnabas is a sacrificial guy he sells a field and lays the money at the apostles feet (some people reckon that he is the unnamed rich young ruler who walked away from Jesus as he loved his wealth too much, if that were so it is a beautiful picture of it being laid at the disciples feet for the sake of the Kingdom).

He takes a risk on S/Paul, gives him opportunities to share his faith (everyone else was too scared of S/Paul because of his horrendous past) yet the risk paid off.

Paul became a fantastic evangelist and apostle.

In the Bible we see the narrator (probably Luke)  change from writing  “Barnabas and Paul” to writing “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 13) as Paul grew in spiritual maturity, confidence, gifting… going places far beyond Barnabas. 

Yet hen S/Paul began to excel, we see an amazing model of humility, Barnabas retreats quietly into the background. Echoes of John the Baptists statement about Jesus “I must decrease so he can increase”…

A great youth work quote is “to see our celling becoming their floor” -our wildest dreams their starting point-  

Paul mentoring the young Timothy, re-read Timothy and there is a real undercurrent of “step up to the plate and go for it”…

It is like a relay race, if Barnabas hadn’t taken a risk on S/Paul and S/Paul hadn’t done the same with Timothy, we might not be sitting here. 

Who is mentoring you?

-Are you humble enough to let people speak into your life positively? –It has to be done from a place of love.

“Iron sharpening Iron as one person sharpens another”. 

Who are you mentoring?

-Are you taking this responsibility seriously?

Are you enabling them to fly, or clipping their wings?

What happens when they over-take you in the race?  

Are you being mentored but not mentoring anyone? –sort it out, find someone to bless, encourage and support! 

Or mentoring without getting mentored? –find wise and Godly people and hang out with them, and invite them to speak into your life. 

If you are not being mentored and not mentoring anyone I would suggest that neither is God’s plan or best for you. 

Mentoring matters probably more now in the UK than any time since St. Augustine as we are (to quote Lord Carey) “nearly one generation away from extinction”… 

How can people be the leaders of the Church of tomorrow unless they are part of the Church of today?

I like the picture of passing on the baton, but interestingly statistics show that teams running relay races it isn’t normally the fasted who in, but rather those who manage the hand over best.

Too often when mentoring we keep hanging on to the baton and not letting our other leaders fly, or perhaps we just drop the baton and let someone else pick it up?

Perhaps we are being reluctant to take the baton that is being passed to us? Or perhaps we are inpatient and trying to snatch it from someone whose not finished with their race.

How can we receive and pass on well? –I believe at the heart of this all is the call to faithfulness in all things, a call afresh for our Churches to be filled with wisdom, or as the world calls it self awareness.

Too often we have a consumerist view of Church, where it is all about us and our needs and desires, but when we think of mentoring we realise that we are in fact custodians of the great truth of being the people of the Kingdom for a short season, and have been entrusted with a great treasure to pass on, yet we also have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants.

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Ministry, Mission, welcome, wisdom

Excuse me does anyone here speak Christian?

I wrote a blog yesterday asking whether sometimes we drift too far away from talking about the cross, repentance, sin, holiness…

I’ve had comments that perhaps it’s not just an issue with what we say, but how we say it?
Recently I came across a vicars car with “I was blind but now I see” written on it in 6 inch letters accross the back windscreen (genuinely true! which out of context must terrify other motorists).
It made me cringe.
I’ve seen so many really awful puns on t shirts or DayGlo bilboards outside Churches that make me feel slightly embarrassed.
And have had times of feeling really uncomfortable inside when someone ends up talking at someone about their faith in a tactless monologue without pausing for breath.
I really, really want people to talk about Jesus, to live missionally, to share their faith intentionally, but sometimes I want us all to do it well and be fruitful.
I used to feel bad about being ebarrassed about people who were clearly sincere doing wonderful things for God.
“At least they are doing something” I used to think.
However, the Bible does talk about “Zeal without Wisdom being folly”, to “be wise how we treat outsiders”… “(Always be prepared to give an account for the hope that you have) But do so with gentleness and respect”.
The Bible really values wisdom, in fact James says “if anyone lacks wisdom s/he should ask God who gives generously”, often in our desire to share our faith we often lack wisdom, we don’t have empathy with those we are talking too, sometimes we make people feel like they’re ‘a scalp’ or a ‘project’, something I never get the impression Jesus did.
Are we more interested in “selling” the Gospel than building a relation or launching bible bombs at a distance rather than actually getting to know a person as a person.
A great question to ask ourselves would be “if they never became a Christian would I still love them?” -We need to love people to be saved, rather than love them just to save them.
Love them no matter what.
Learn to talk their language, and understand their world…
Yet Churches etc often expect the person who is seeking faith to learn our Churchy Langauge and understand our (very weird) world.
If we want people to listen to the thing that matters most to us, do we listen to what matters to them?
How easy is it for people to talk about Christ with us? Do we have our walls around us which make it hard to talk to us about certain subjects, particularly the awkward area of faith.
In the anglican ordinal we commission people being ordained to “proclaim the gospel afresh” and yet so often we simply “Proclaim it again”, not thinking how the people of our time and culture can hear it in a way they can understand and relate to.
When we look at the Bible, we see in Acts 2 Peter talking to the Jewish people about who Jesus was and Acts 15 with Paul in Athens explaining the message of Christ via the altar of the unknown God, very different messages but the same gospel revealed by the same Holy Spirit to people from differnent culture, language and world view.  A friend described this method of sharing our faith, as “look, listen and step out” -which I quite like.
Learning how to listen both to the whisper and nudge of the Holy Spirit and listen to the person we are with and the wider context of the environment they inhabit.
People often say they don’t know what to say evangelistically but we are promised that the Holy Spirit will give us the words. Yet, I also believe that study and personal devotion and daily discipline actually is at the heart of being a good evangelist. One of my college lecturers once said “to explain something simply is to understand it deeply”, if we are immersed in the deep things of God, studying and growing in faith, then we find that “understanding deeply explain simply” can be Gods preperation in us, for building his Kingdom through us.
As we think about God at work in us, not only will we be better about speaking of our faith, but also the more time we spend with God the more he shines out from us, people need to see the reality of the difference Christ makes in our lives, shining out from us, like treasures in jars of clay, gleaming in our lives, Christ in us the hope of glory being a visual reality.
And maybe your reading this blog wincing about past mistakes (if it helps I have made many mistakes with sharing my faith!) yet I also know God can redeem our mistakes, use our failings, and often I believe our feble attempts at sharing our faith echo with the tremendous “Amen” from heaven.
So to conclude lets cry out to God for wisdom, let’s learn to listen to the Spirit of God, the person and to the environment, let’s meet them where they are at, serving and loving them irrespective of their response, making it as easy as possible for them to talk to you about Jesus if they want to… investing in our own relationship with God that we are able to share well because we’ve let God be at work within us and to transform us.
And lastly are we people who are praying and eagerly expectant for God to act to be at work in the hearts and lives of those we meet, finding out what God is doing and joining in.
If we are joining in and partnering with God, then we need to be seeking to do this as well and as best we can because this is an awesome privildge.
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community of grace, Discipleship, inclusion, love, welcome

What we are and What we should be…

Marg Simpson asked her son Bart if he had had a good time away at Church camp, he said “I had a great time learning to be more judgemental!”

Yesterday I put up on Facebook/Twitter a quote from Steve Chalke who said: “Church is designed to be a community of friends, where people are not judged, but loved, accepted and welcomed home”.

Yet someone asked a great question, what about 1 Cor. 5:12 “Expel the immoral believer”

The question I think is asking is there a place for ‘judging in the Church’?

Can judging ever be loving?

Or is this a misunderstand of love?

Billy Graham once said: “God’s job is to Judge, the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict and my job to love”. -Often the problem is when I try and do God’s job for him!

‘Love bade me welcome but I drew back full of guilt and shame’ wrote Hymn-writer George Herbert, just like the dad in the story of the prodigal son love welcomes in irrespective of past sin, so our Churches ought to welcome people no matter what.

Yet those who need love, grace and mercy most are those who fear our judgement and so stay away from the Community of Christ and that is a tragedy.

I remember being taught about how Jesus called people first to belong, then to believe and then they became disciples.

As I pondered this I was reminded by a quote by Philip Yancey “God loves us just the way we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay that way”.

As Church I believe we are called to be a community of grace, but also realise that Church is -or at least ought to be- a ‘transformative community’.

Zacchaeus began a dinner with Jesus as dishonest, unscrupulous crook and by the end of the meal was transformed giving away half his cash and repaying back four-fold those from whom he had stolen from. -In one conversation with Christ he went through the “belonging” – “believing” -and “becoming -a disciple”.

Shane Claiborne once said the problem with Church is we come and we sing “Just as I am, but the problem is we leave just as we were, and carry on as we always have”.

Church ought to be a community which loves and accepts us, irrespective of what we do, or don’t do (I believe) but yet it should never leave people unchanged, in fact it should be a community which inspires and spurs us on to me more Christ like.

Yet what we ought to be, and we actually are, aren’t the same thing!

The problem we have in our Churches is people come and be part of us and yet aren’t changed and transformed, and their behaviour carries exactly the same…and that is a tragedy.

Whilst I worked in rehab, I saw amazing gracious and long suffering love shown to many of the clients there, yet it was a tough love, it was a risk taking love, love isn’t always letting everyone do exactly as they want, after all, we love our children, but love isn’t letting them do exactly as they want.

As Church leaders, often we have to be ‘guardian of the culture’, which means ensuring that Church is a safe place for everyone and enabling people to flourish and grow, to do this will inevitable involve conflict, challenging conversations and heart break.

I remember as a youth worker, someone once asked, “are you prepared for your heart to be broken on a fairly regular basis?”

Yet I believe that to be the most Christ like Church this is by being a community of grace, with accountability and mentoring rather than a place that evicts sinners.

If we become a Church which habitually evicts sinners, I know I’m heading for the door, as I know I am a Vicar, but I am also a sinner in massive need of God’s grace.

I am reminded of Christ’s words which say “let him without sin cast the first stone”…

Yet alongside this, I also have a responsibility as an “under shepherd” to protect the sheep God has given us, and although I have had many a ‘sheep bite’ and am scared of what is called “heavy shepherding” sometimes we have to fight the cause of the broken, marginalised and disenfranchised (sadly too often Churches and clergy seem to side with the bully and the powerful and blame the victim, which is disgusting and again is a tragedy) but on those occasions we need sometimes to step in and sometimes, although it must break God’s heart, people walk different ways and paths.

The last resort, and never the first option.

…I believe too that, where possible doors must be left open, and people welcomed back with love and grace.

…Broken Church communities are not God’s plan, but then we live in a very fallen world which is not as God intended.

…Sometimes, Churches being full of broken people who makes mistakes and get things wrong and in that the community of Christ which is meant to bring healing end up causing hurt and that too is a tragedy.

When I think of what Christ calls us to be as Church, it makes me realise afresh how we can’t be this community without him empowering help…

So, somehow let us seek to be who we are called to be, and not what we sometimes sadly become… will you join me in the revolution of trying afresh to be the Church that Christ wants.

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