Authenticity, encounter, Worship

worship: A balanced diet.

“God doesn’t have a ‘faltering ego’ that needs propping up by your praise. God doesn’t have a lust for worship. He is not like Kim Jong-un. God created you because He loves you. You were created to love and be loved. To celebrate and to be celebrated. To walk with God with mutual enjoyment and pleasure”.

“We worship because we can’t help but worship this radical God of love. The God upon the throne is a lover, not an egomaniac. He may have our allegiance, but does He have our hearts. That’s a true worshipper, and the ones the Father seeks”.

These were the quotes on facebook by a guy I sort of know, Ben David, but it made me think afresh about worship, as celebration, I think for all of us when someone we love responds with love to us it brings a joy to our heart, it’s like a Father delighting in their child is God delighting in us.

I was reminded of the words of the Westminster Catechism “the chief end of man is to worship of and to enjoy him forever”, the idea of enjoying God was an idea I liked with worship.

I remember several years ago chatting to Bishop Stephen Conway (awesome man of God -Now Bishop of Ely) who I think describes himself as a sacramental, evangelical, charismatic which he described as “Loving God and having fun”, interestingly we don’t think of worship as fun -especially as an outsider looking in at more anglo-catholic forms of worship- et watching these guys splashing each other with holy water and wafting incense around maybe even though it is not something I fully understand I saw something of the fun -or perhaps Joy might be a better word.

I began to think about worship and realise that so often I have had a narrow view of worship, like a child who only eats the same two or three things, worship is singing songs with sound reformed theology with gusto!

Yet I have discovered that worship can encompasses all range of human emotions, musically it can be loud or quiet, exuberant or reflective, standing up on kneeling down, perhaps the song was written within the last few days or perhaps it is several thousand years old or maybe there are no spoken words at all, maybe its is said with movement like a dance, or in oils/paints/crayon or felt-tipped pens or a tear falling down your face.

Someone (I think it is Matt Redman) once said: “worship is all I am responding to all God is”.

Yet how can we respond to God adequately, all that we are can never be enough or a fitting response to the awesomeness of God.

Two of my favourite worship quotes come from a very old hymn and a much newer song: “when I survey the wondrous cross” which ends with the lines “were the whole realm of nature mine, that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” and Matt Redman’s ‘I will offer up my life’: “Jesus, what can I give, what can I bring to so faithful a Friend, to so loving a King? Saviour, what can be said, what can be sung as a praise of Your name for the things You have done? Oh, my words could not tell, not even in part of the debt of love that is owed by this thankful heart”.

As when we respond to God our everything simply isn’t enough, perhaps the varieties, styles, traditions are ways that maybe help and enable us to encounter God afresh in a wider, deeper way.

Maybe, as we encounter God in different ways, we discover more of ourselves and more of God too.

I have encountered God in everything from Soul Survivor to Taize, from art to stillness, in fact as I have gone on, the more I have realised that a wider menu of of worship styles to draw on actually enhances not diminishes my faith, and frees me from the desire to say “you should worship more like me”, rather let us praise God together and discover more of him in new and exciting ways. Also, different people discover God in different ways, in the same week I remember talking to someone who wanted lively worship with some ‘oomph’ and someone else asking if we did a service that was more or less silent, it is okay to find a way that is authentic for you, and maybe too if maybe a way that did work is less helpful than it once was and something else is more helpful now, that is okay too, just as with food our taste buds change and develop so sometimes our spiritual lives change, I remember the Church I made a re-commitment in -I think I would struggle there now but at the time it was what I needed and I praise God for the blessing it was into my life”.

So, let’s worship God, encountering him, in whatever works for you, enjoying him, knowing he loves you, and wants to share this moment with you.

All of who we are responding to all that God is…

As we worship we discover that nothing can ever squeeze him into a box, we can never get bored of worship as there is always more to discover, to encounter and meet with, and perhaps in that encounter the journey might be different too.

Discipleship, Extravagance, Fear, Worship

Undignified Worship.

So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancingbefore the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it,and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty….

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour.”

Just to put this passage into a bit of context, the Ark of the Covenant had departed from Jerusalem, which symbolised the absence of God’s Presence with his people. It was a bad sign. So, imagine the joy of the Ark’s return to Jerusalem, more than just “we’ve got our treasurer back” but rather a symbol of God’s returning presence, blessing and splendour to the capital city at the heart of the nation.

David is over-joyed, he is uncontainable, he orders sacrifice of bullocks every few feet, it was messy, it would have been costly to the countries economics, but David wasn’t skimping on the pennies when he was showing God his adoration, love and loyalty.

David, get’s carried away with his worship too, he is dancing before the Lord with all of his might, so much so that he looses his Kingly robes and is dancing in his Ephod (Hebrew for boxer shorts). He is worshipping unrestrained and uninhibited in his worship of God, and then his wife tells him off, she is scornful and shames him, she tells him his being a disgrace and being unkingly, setting a bad example.

How often are we passionate about something, and then someone pours a bucket of cold water over it, the bubble is burst, we are deflated? Yet, not David, he wont be dissuaded from the worship of God.

It made me wonder whether we let “what people think of us?” influence our worship, praise, discipleship and generally our walk following Jesus?

Mike Pilivachi wrote an amazing book on worship which was called “for the audience of one” the idea that we live primarily not for human approval but (to quote a book title by Andy Hawthorn) living our life for the “smile of Jesus”, living primarily to bless and please him.

I wonder too, am I sometimes like Michel, David’s Queen, do I ‘cut people off from worship’ by my attitude and the baggage -her view of ‘propriety’.

David is not being dissuaded from his worship with his line “I’ll become even more undignified than this”.

David is holding nothing back, he’s not playing at worship, not just going through the motions. David is for real.

He is being authentic in his response, just as David is equally authentic in his response when he is struggling and writing psalms of lament, he is sharing his heart openly and publicly with God, and in doing this he is actually leading his people in worship, he is showing true surrender to the greater King, the Lord Almighty.

This is a shocking image, rulers don’t humble themselves in public, but here David is humbling himself before his God, saying to his people “I might be you King, but I am bowing my knee before God”.

I remember Sam, who used to work with me, saying “just imagine Queen Elizabeth II in her pants”. It is a shocking image. It says to the people, “I’m the King, and I know I am not greater than God, however great you think you are, you are not greater than him either!”

Too often in Britain we have become too influenced by the Victorian period where we struggle to express any emotion -either happy or sad- and a more extreme emotion makes us feel uncomfortable.

Yet here David is showing extravagance in worship, too often we try and tone everything down so as not to cause offence, yet here David was unashamed, perhaps we need to discover afresh something of this unashamedly passionate about the presence of Father God for the Church to thrive in the 21st Century.

There  is a phrase in the Bible about being a “Fool for Christ” -although perhaps from the view of eternity a good question might be to ask “who is fooling who?”

The Bible talks of our whole lives being a Spiritual Act of worship (Romans 12) and I wonder  “Am I prepared to be a fool for Christ?” -Am I prepared to risk it all -my pride, my reputation (or whatever it is for you)- for the sake of Christ?

The Band Delirious sand “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel, I am not ashamed of the one I love” -but perhaps maybe sometimes we do get a little ashamed?

Maybe when we hit these moments, perhaps we need something of the cry of David within us, spurring us on and leaving comfort and mediocrity far behind, as we  say “I’ll be even more undignified than this”, or in other words “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Perhaps that is the phrase for this generation, if you think we are too bold, to out there, to radical, too noisy, too non conformist, too revolutionary, to Jesus-like then let’s echo the Spirit of David and say “we’ll become even more undignified than this! In you are looking at my discipleship following Christ, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Acts 2:42-47., Church, Worship

Hopelessly Devoted…

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This morning we read through this passage again at our Blokes Breakfast… I asked people to see what word or phrase God ‘highlighted’ and interestingly the word ‘Devoted’ was the winner.

Conversation moved to talk about the number of Churches that say they want to be an Acts 2 Church, which normally means a desire to see signs and wonders, and God growing his Church (Acts 43 & 47).

Yet to be an Acts 2 Church isn’t simply about desiring the signs, wonders or even growth, these are symptoms of something much more important, they stem from our devotion to Christ and to the things of his heart.

We explored the word devotion, a word not used much today, it means both unwavering commitment and the ultimate of dedication but coming from a place of sacrificial love.

Seeking an Acts 2 Church is not like pursuing some Holy Grail, where we have to ‘tick the boxes’ of things listed in this passage (good things though they are) but primarily about (as my friend Paddy says) “Our hearts, touching his heart”. Unless these things stems from our love relationship with the Father, then they simply become good works, without love they are simple “a ringing cymbal or a clanging gong).

Are we people like David who was a man after Gods own heart?

Perhaps we need to grasp Augustine’s idea of “Love God and do whatever you please”? this isn’t a licence for any behaviour we fancy, but rather when we truly love our God, our will becomes entwined with his, and we love and long for his Kingdom.

Unless we seek God for himself, seek his face not just the works of his hands, we never fully know what it means to be the Church as God intended us to be.

Is perhaps the struggle the Western Church stems ultimately not from its lack of resources, but actually its lack of devotion.

Perhaps like the Church of Ephesus we have forsaken our first love?

Perhaps like the Church of Laodicea we are not as devoted to our Saviour as we should be an have “become neither hot nor cold”?

So, when we let God have our heart, we will long for his word -the apostles teaching, the words from the mouth of our Saviour, when we love God we love his people too, when we love God we remember his good news and his sacrifice made for us all, when we love God we come to him in prayer.

This isn’t a new commandment, earlier in Scripture we read “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.

Jesus instructed his disciples to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” -which means to first seek the King and his Kingdom, treasure him before all else.

Too often we seek the treasure (as in the gifts) but we neglect that pearl of great price (Christ himself).

If we truly want to be an Acts 2 Church, it starts within us, in our hearts, with our devotion…

It starts with “Loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and strength” and from that overflow enables us to “Love our Neighbour as ourselves”,

Acts 2:42-47., Church, Worship

Acts 2:42-47 (Part 2).

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

“I want to be an Acts 2 Church” seems to be something most Vicars/Pastors/Church leaders say.

I agree I want to be an Acts 2 Church  as well.

Yet what does this actually mean?

Sadly, it often seems to mean playing Hillsong songs from an expensive PA system (a PA system which we wouldn’t share with anyone).

For the Acts 2 Church, Church was a lifestyle relational community, nothing about an hour a week on a Sunday, it’s a daily thing, a whole life ‘all the time’ commitment.

The Acts 2 Church wouldn’t understand the language of “going to Church” instead they were the Church, Church is something we are, not something we go to.

Church is the people and not the buildings, in fact the only buildings mentioned in Acts 2 are the Temple and their homes.

So much of modern day Church is about programmes, about events and special groups. I remember a job interview I went for and they had a group for everyone, but I asked the Youth Worker ‘do people here ever just hang out? Go for a coffee? Have a beer?’ -the unsaid answer was ‘no but we have a lot of groups and do a lot of events, and we are good at hospitality’… I often say “I don’t want us to be a friendly Church, but rather a Church where people can make friends in”.

In our individualistic world we inhabit the strong emphasis on the communal and the corporate is very counter cultural, but also something I believe the world craves. To often as Evangelical Christians we emphasis the personal relationship with God, the vertical relationship, yet we have done this at the expense of the horizontal relationship, the relationship with each other is critical, yet we often sell fellowship short by pretending it is small talk over some mediocre coffee and a partially stale rich tea biscuit.

Bonhoeffer discovered much of what it meant to be Church during the Second World War when the Confessing Church in Germany was illegal, and being Church could cost you your life, suddenly this made the Christians see Church very differently. Bonhoeffer spells this out in his letters from Prison and his masterpiece “life together”, where he talks about Christians having “two fellowships, the fellowship of the righteous and the fellowship of the sinners”. Fellowship of the righteous is superficial and polite but the fellowship of Sinners, is real, authentic and costly, but it is this kind of fellowship that you would want if meeting together will cost you your life. “Iron sharpening Iron as one person sharpens another”.

Words within this passage “devoted”, “daily”, “everything” all sounds pretty fired up and passionate, and yet I find that often Church feels apathetic an lethargic.

I remember hearing a speaker asking us Western Christians “where is our fire”? -Not a question I think you’d ask the Acts 2 guys.

These guys aren’t apathetic or lethargic, nor is their shared life of discipleship together half hearted.

When Albert R. Broccoli (great name!) and Harry Saltzman made the Bond films they formed a company Eon Productions, which stood for “Everything Or Nothing”. In many ways this picture we see of the early Church is an “Everything Or Nothing” community.

This is costly and sacrificial discipleship and Kingdom living, it costs everything, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Yet this echoes the words of Jesus who said “anyone who puts their hand to the plough and keeps looking back is not worthy to be my disciple”, “let the dead bury their own dead”, “pick up your cross and follow me”, “count the cost” and we see Christ looking and loving the Rich Young Ruler but not lowering the bar of discipleship for him.

Yet I think there is something wonderful and beautiful about this community, I think people are wanting something real, costly and authentic.

We see Church trying to be culturally relevant we see people wander away, but when we see people like St. Francis of Assisi,John Wesley and more recently Francis Chan challenge us to a deeper and more sacrificial discipleship we see people respond, the depth resonates with us.

With the Acts 2 Church we see practical help, generosity and sleeves rolled up service alongside the miraculous and supernatural break through too. My experience is that often Churches major on either the social justice to the exclusion of the miraculous or seek the supernatural but struggle with the demeaning service

I look at Church in Acts 2 and look at what we do today in our Churches, so much is more about programme than people, events rather than relationships, attractional rather than incarnational, conference inspired ‘of the peg’ formulas rather than prayerful strategy birthed from prophet revelation.

A picture I have found helpful when thinking about trying to embrace this model of Church, is that sometimes we notice just how clunky and ineffective our old armour is, it is like David in Saul’s armour, which simply didn’t fit him.

Yet maybe we don’t feel like we have yet “become David” we know that the old way doesn’t work, but we haven’t yet mastered how to operate a sling shot.

The image of new wine bursting from old wine-skins is something all of us who work in transition have had the painful experience of, sometimes we think the newer old wine-skins can take it. We hear our people telling us that “old wine is better” but unless New Wine is produced and stored the next generation wont have any wine.

I long for Church to be different, but I find in my attempts to go back to the Biblical basics not only do I feel like I am swimming against about 1’500 years of history (since Constantine’s conversion and Church and State become bed-follows and the birth of Christendom, which sadly often didn’t look much like Jesus).

I long for Church to be different, but I realise that deep within myself I discover my own conditioning about what I think Church is based on my experience of it, rather than my beliefs and convictions of what it should be.

It is easy too to read the book of Acts with a wistful “if only” type sigh, but we only have to flick through the next few pages of the story which features Annas and Sapharia’s embezzlement, a major row between the Hellenistic Widows and the Grecian Widows and persecution causing Christians to flee Jerusalem.

The Church in the book of Acts was once that faced huge challenges, but remained faithful even in the midst of great difficulty, when we think of being an Acts 2 Church, the call is to be faithful to Christ in all we do, whatever obstacles are thrown at us.

Mission, Mission Shaped Church, Pioneer, Post-modern-culture, prayer, presence, Worship

Pints Of View…

We have been continuing our work with Pints of View, being available for people to talk to us, I go to the local pub the Kings Arms and Wetherspoon’s wearing my collar each Wednesday to make myself accessible to the local people who might want to chat.

The more Catholic end of the spectrum of the Church teaches us a lot about the power of presence, of the importance of ‘just being there’ and ‘being available’.

Keeping the rumour of God alive. Putting a human (and smiling approachable) face on the faceless institution of the Church.

Over the years’ I have been here much of my thinking and efforts has been about learning to be good guests on other peoples’ turf, being prepared to meet people where they are at, where they go and where they hang out, rather than our somewhat naïve and arrogant idea of expecting them to ‘come to us’.

One of the project I have worked hard with is the setting up of the Kingswood Street and School Pastors, where Christian volunteers wander around our local communities where we try and make it as easy as possible for those who want to chat to have a conversation with a Christian. Friendly, accessible, warm approachable, sadly not words we always associate with Church.

Yet, we want to offer more than just a conversation on a street corner, but the opportunity for a longer conversation if people wanted, being in the same place at the same time regularly, so that people if they want to can join us. We soon discovered that for most people -even if we’d had a good chat with them- never came to a Church service on Sunday (despite many saying that they would), maybe it was just too bigger jump for them? Perhaps having a chat in a pub was more of a manageable step for people.

 This is something we have been doing regularly in some form for the past 4 or 5 years, in different pubs, and trying different things. Sometimes I have been joined by another Christian friend -or two-, and sometimes just on my own, sometimes no conversations with anyone at all, other times have birthed some wonderful kingdom opportunities, and some new friendships -this week was invited by a couple of guys who aren’t Churchy to join their team for the pub quiz, which was a lot of fun even if we didn’t win!

Recently we changed or format again, my friend Mike who runs the pub called the Kings Arms (what a fab name for a Church!) has let us use a side room to meet up in, so we have started our evenings with a bit of prayer and one week my friend Wes brought a guitar and we worshipped a bit (if you are interested in hearing more about it, do check it out here….).

Interestingly God has been speaking to Wes about the power of worship, somehow worship seems to alter the spiritual DNA of the place. In the summer at an outreach event, Wes and his team had some worship on the streets, with preaching and flyers, the manager of the shopping centre stopped the flyers and the preaching, but allowed the worship to continue, yet it was through the worship which led someone to pray a prayer of commitment. Worship is powerful, worship changes things, worship changing us.

So, we decided to do a service in the little room, with the hope that people could drift from the bar and join us, in many way this was doing a service almost as a prophetic action to say we believe that Church will be birthed here. I’d asked my friend Regan to do a bit of a talk.

I’d sent out emails, put it on facebook, but still was worried that no one would come.

Regan was the first to arrive, which made me feel more worried, if no one showed up it would feel more awkward, especially if Regan had spent ages preparing this would be uncomfortable.

Yet gradually a few people came, in fact there was about 6 of us. My friend David led some worship songs on the guitar with the words printed out on a bit of paper. I looked around, we were quite a broad mix really, mix of ages, from different Churches, everything from AOG to Roman Catholic.  

It felt somewhat self-conscious knowing people could hear us praying and our worship, it felt a bit like a step of faith stick our neck out for Christ.

Although we just singing a few songs accompanied by a couple of guitars, but there was a real sense of God’s presence, everyone there was hungry for more of Gods Kingdom to break into our community.

Was this Church? -Yes! Rowan Williams defined Church as “an intentional community centred around Christ Jesus”.

It made me wonder:

Do we make Church too complicated?

 Do we make Church too static and inflexible?

Are we far too bound up by our buildings?

Our we too wedded to our history of the hallowed Sunday morning hour ideology which has no scriptural base?

My heart longs to be a simply Church, flexible, deployable but still being authentic church community moving into the heart of our community.

As we worshipped a sense of God’s presence was tangible, perhaps in this season God is longing to be encountered rather than just explained?

Then my friend Regan shared a few words, mainly his testimony, was reminded afresh of the power of our story, interestingly this is the most common question I get asked? “What made you go religious?”/ ”Why did you become a Vicar?” -people want to know our story.

When we encounter people and they see that in many ways we are both Christians and people like them, that brings an unsaid challenge that ‘people like me can be Christians’.

Perhaps part of the failure our Churches is they simply don’t look like the communities in which they are situated?

Within his testimony, Regan spoke about his journey of faith, he spoke of how one of his relatives in Zimbabwe used to pray for him regularly, and I wonder how many of the people in the pub that have anyone who is praying for them? I was reminded too, by Regan’s story of the centrality of Christ himself in the role of mission, who would have thought that a struggling, middle class church of largely elderly people would mainly reach and disciple a young 20 something Zimbabwean? Yet, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, the impossible -or at least the highly unlikely- happens.

This reminded me of that wonderful verse “They overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony”. The power of our story placed here by John the author of Revelation side by side with the blood of Christ.


Regan then shared about a wonderful older saint at his work, who came up to him once and offered him a Bible, which he declined (somewhat rudely!). Yet, I hope that this side of eternity, this lady will come across Regan doing what he does best telling people straight about Jesus. Maybe this lady felt like a failure at mission because she was given ‘short shrift’ by Regan, but he bravery and almost certainly her prayers echoed in eternity and have had an effect she could have only dreamt of.

My friend Kaja shared how she was so angry at her sister for having the disrespect and audacity to talk to her about her new-found faith, and yet several hours later Kaja herself said she was on her knees inviting Christ into her life.

Sometimes we don’t know the fruit that God brings to birth, often what feels like failure could be slower birthing fruit. Maybe when we step out in faith, we need to remember that “one plants, another waters’, but God makes it grow”, remembering too that “God’s word does not return to him void”.

Then as we wandered talking to people in the Kings Arms and Weatherspoon’s, Kaja and Wes met a couple of people ended up bumping into a Christian and sorting out some exciting stuff to do with the local foodbank in Fishponds -made me wonder when we intentional give God time and space he will uses our offering for his glory and sometimes divine and Kingdom advancing appointments.

It was good to chat to one another too, it made me think about how formal Church is and we rarely spend time with one another, ironic as one of the Churches I lead has its tag line “where strangers become friends and friends meet with Jesus” but perhaps we stay a little too much like strangers? I used to say “I don’t want to be a Church that is friendly, rather I want to be a Church where people can make friends in”.

I ended up chatting to my new friend John, a Catholic, and was so encouraging to hear what the Holy Spirit is doing in the Catholic Church, it makes me realise that although we come from different places, and do different things, that the Spirit of God is not confined by our differences and is bringing glory to Jesus through all those that seek him.

I had a brief chat with a guy I’d met at the foodbank, who came up to me and shook me by the hand and said that “although I’m not religious, I want to thank you for what you do”, which was a massive blessing, as I have recently felt really discouraged of late and this meant more than he could know (in fact I see it as a mini miracle as -sadly- this very, very rarely happens!).

On our way out of the pub, at the end of the evening, we ended up having a conversation with two guys about the Street Pastors project, Church, life, compassion although we never gave them a ‘full gospel message’ it again felt like this was again a Kingdom advance life blessing conversation.

So, why not join us, on a Wednesday, 7:45 for some worship and prayer, followed by a drink and being open to meet whoever we meet, giving the evening to God for his glory and see what happens, making new friends, going deeper with one another, perhaps conversation too which may change peoples’ eternal destinies?

God offering each of us the opportunity to partner with him, not hidden away in some Church, talking churchy stuff with already churchy people, often naval gazing. Let’s step out and meet him where he always has been in his world longing to meet his people who don’t yet know him.

Discipleship, Worship

The Great British Breakfast.

There was a Pig and there was a Chicken sat together in a field, when a bus drove past with a poster emblazoned on the side of the bus saying “Eggs and Bacon, the great British Breakfast”.

The Chicken said to the Pig “doesn’t that make you feel proud?”

To which the Pig replied “For you this just requires a contribution but for me it costs me everything”.

There is a real difference between making a contribution or an offering, than making a sacrifice.

An offering or a contribution rarely causes us pain, where as a sacrifice is painful.

In the story often called the widows mite, we see one poor widow give two coper coins, all she had to live on, a real acute sacrifice, giving what she couldn’t afford, where the rich people may have given more but there was no element of sacrifice, because they gave out of their abundance of what they could afford.

The more I have gone on as a Christian the more I have discovered that when the call comes to make sacrifices that is where God reveals what is in our hearts and how our hearts look towards him.

I was reading recently the latest book by Phil Potter (Archbishops advisor on Mission and Fresh Expressions) who spoke of the former working title for the Mission Shaped Church report was called “dying to live”. That idea that in order to live we must die to ourselves, die to our personal preferences, die to consumerist church is the only way the Church can live. Jesus said  “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds”. Later in his book Potter says“A Church that refuses to sacrifice will die” and uses the illustration of a marriage where if there is no sacrifice within the relationship the marriage it will flounder and die.

Sacrifice is at the heart of who Jesus was as he left the glory of heaven to come to earth, suffer and die for us.

Yet too often we want to just give a contribution.

Was at a meeting today and there is a mission planned across the city over Easter, and one of the questions was ‘will we be able to get Christians out on bank holiday’, which made me wonder what kind of discipleship are we conducting if we can only get Christians to do something as long as it isn’t costly. It is why I love the Street Pastors vision so much, it is a “deep calls out to deep” type call, it is costly and sacrificial, but actually that is what it means to follow Jesus. We have to follow on his terms and not our own… The Rich Young Ruler who was told to go and sell his wealth before following Jesus, wasn’t able to dictate with Christ what following Jesus would look like, he walked away sad and Jesus didn’t run after him, but let him go, but with tears in his eyes. Jesus said “if anyone wants to follow me they must forget self, pick up their cross and follow me”.

Following Jesus is both a free gift, but also something that will cost us everything.

Let’s be ‘Pig’ Christians who sacrifice it all for the sake of Christ, rather than ‘Chicken Christians’ who just make a contribution.

I’ll close with a quote from Martyred Missionary Jim Elliott who said “He is no fool, who gives up what he cannot keep (our lives), to gain what he cannot lose (eternity with Christ)”.

Discipleship, Extravagance, Spirituality, Worship

Where is the extravagance?

One thing I noticed when re-reading the gospels recently is something we don’t often associate with Jesus is the word extravagance.

Yet feeding 5’000 people with just 5 loaves and 2 fish yet having 12 baskets left over can only be described as extravagant!

Filling the nets with fish until the nets started to give way with the miraculous catch of fish was extravagant, as was filling the huge stone water jars with the finest wines again was not only extravagant in quantity,  but it was also extravagant in quality too -“you saved the best til last”.

Yet there was extravagance in Jesus teaching too.

The welcome home of the prodigal son embraced and restored with the slaughter of the fatted calf that would have probably fed the whole village was excessive. Or the Good Samaritan did more than just let the wounded man ring his mum on his mobile, but rather went that extra mile with a smile, we read that not only did he stop, but he looked after the man, took him to safety and paid for his care.

We see extravagance in the worship of the sinful woman who poured a pint -A PINT- of pure Nard over Jesus (this was probably about a years wages, think £22’000 pounds poured out over one individual). It is an excessive, extravagant act of worship and adoration of Jesus.

Jesus’ life showed the extravagance of the Father in giving his one and only Son, not just to live among us, but to die at our hands. God is a God of extravagant generosity, as is seen in the wonder and the beauty of the awesomeness of creation where not even one single snowflake is the same as the one before.

King David understood something of this extravagance in his worship and response to God, his wife thought it was outrageous -and it was- but surely worship can, and should, be outrageous at times. King David danced before the Lord in his under-garments with the line “I will become even more undignified than this!”. Yet just prior to that as he returned the Ark of the Covenant back home, he killed a bull every few paces, such extravagance in sacrifice would have had a real dent in the countries economy, yet David wanted to give God a pleasing sacrifice, asking in the Psalms “Can I give you a Sacrifice that has cost me nothing?” -Clearly David thought the answer to that question was no.

Yet extravagance is not a word we think of when we think of discipleship or life together corporately as Church, in fact we often appear to value frugal-ness above generosity (yet God is not a frugal God!)…

We often seem to value fasting above feasting, and yet there are actually more mentions of feasts than fasts in the Bible.

Recently I came across a wonderful (Christian) Cafe in Wareham (called Not Just Sundae’s) where people buy coffee and wonderful cake on account for people to go in and get blessed, they also have a group working with young people with esteem issues and they let the kids choose whatever they’d like from the menu to eat and drink for free (how often in our Church do the kids get cheap and nasty squash with soft and stale biscuits). The ethos of this Cafe was to offer people “outrageous hospitality” which is something when I heard it resonated with my spirit, this is something so often missing in our Churches and our lives together and yet when it is seen it is so beautifully and wonderfully Christ-like.

Today I was talking with a lovely saint -who has blessed me so much in the past- telling me how his wife and he are going to foster displaced children and teenagers, another clergy family I know have a Syrian Pastor and his family living with them and not only do they share meals with them, the dad (a posh older vicar) was telling me about how he enjoyed water fights with the kids in the summer, not just welcomed into the home, but clearly loved as part of the family. Extreme love and generosity.

The Church, Barnies, I was on placement at in Derby paid for an asylum seekers family to join him from the Congo to Derby.

In Salisbury the Soup Run was called the “Banquet Run” because they wanted to give out nice home-made soup, because if you take Matthew 25 literally you are giving Jesus his evening meal and therefore you’d want to give him the best you can offer.

When I worked in Poole/Bournemouth I discovered that one of my friends, Jon, the Nightclub Chaplain bought ‘his’ Big Issue seller a Easter Egg, but went to Thornton’s and got a big egg and had his name written on it in icing (and didn’t tell anyone, we found out from the Big Issue Seller). Yet doesn’t that sound like Jesus?

The foodbank the other day were wrapping up Christmas presents for people to put in their food bags, yet each present was being wrapped so carefully and with so much love it moved me, and again I thought, this looks like Jesus.

Recently I had an email from someone who mentioned about caring for his wife with dementia and I thought actually there are so many unsung heroes here whose wonderful love is truly extravagant and Christ like which often is not recognized enough in our Churches, yet it is outrageous love for another human-being that reflects Christ in its patient on-going sacrificial love.

Yet sadly we see so often in our own lives, in our lives as Church together, in our discipleship that often we have such a poverty spirit, tight fisted generosity which is many things but cheerful it often isn’t.

I think when see this lifestyle challenge, we are scared of the cost and the challenge, the pain and the sacrifice. Everyone wants this in theory, but the challenge to actually do it in reality is a bigger call .

Shane Claiborne said once “Everyone wants revolution, but no one wants to do the dishes!”






Church, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, prayer, Worship

The Kings Arms.

On Wednesday night we did something different with our on going project “Pints Of View” where we make ourselves available to chat to anyone who wants to chat in our community by sitting in Weatherspoon’s wearing a clerical collar!

We went along to the Kings Arms, pub next door to Trinity, and borrowed one of their rooms and myself and another guy prayed and worshipped for a bit (we did invite a whole load of other folk, but it was just the two of us who came).

Part of me felt why didn’t I just meet next door and pray and worship there, surely God doesn’t mind where we pray anyway? -And worshipping, especially singing, makes me feels a vulnerable and self conscious, especially when there are only two of you there!

Eminem’s lyrics rang out in the bar and a few “F&*$#!” rang out from the loosing team at pool, whilst we prayed and sung out prayers for Gods love to be made manifest in that place…

Wes lead us in an old worship song “Hallejuah my Saviour” which featured the lines “knowing we would bruise him and strike him from the earth”  -for some reason the image caused a lump in my throat. I then though of some of the guys they all have something in front of their name “Vicar Andy”, “Beardy Mike”, “Sleepy Al”, “Dancing Paul” and “bruised Christ” seemed to resonate yet in a way, being in the midst of real lie for many people, this felt more Jesus-like that hidden away on our own in some great religious building,

Humanly speaking prayer and worship don’t seem like very worthwhile or productive activities yet seen from heavens perspective they are crucial.

I have said many times about how all great moves of God are birthed in prayer, and it is true, in fact the Hebradean revival as literally a small group of elderly ladies praying. We all know this and yet trying to motivate the Church to pray has been incredibly difficult. Interestingly prayer before our services is the last job we do after set up is done and often people say “I can’t join you in prayer as I’m doing…” I know set up in important but is shows our hearts that often prayer is not as central to our lives together as it should be.

I have been challenged many times, and I still get caught with this, that I run around like a headless chicken and probably need to spend more times simply on my face before God.

We prayed for our area, we prayed for the city, we prayed for more of God in our own lives,

Before wandering over to Weatherspoon’s, and we had we were joined by a friend Phil, and we had a nice chat… We didn’t see mass revival, but I think God was doing something, and I think he saw our hearts and I believe this small step of faith pleased him, yet I think that the next step of faith is about ensuring that this happens next week, and the week after, something of Jacob wrestling with God “we’re not going till you bless us”…

This is a intentional seeking of Christ’s face, rather than going through the tick box of a prayer meeting often attended out of a sense of duty but limited expectation…

I believe, that as we seek Christ, out of our comfort zone, in the heart of the community, offering ourselves and making ourselves available, we will see him becoming more and more known in Kingswood.

And  as I think about my time in Kingswood, perhaps I have spent too long in the rock soil of religious people who don’t always realise their need of a Saviour… Perhaps to find good soil we need to be here the F words are flowing, Eminem is playing on the Duke Box, people don’t try to looked suited and respectable and often are very often about their pain and the mess of their lives.

Jesus said those who are well don’t need a Doctor, but only those who are sick, yet we spend our time pandering to “healthy” people in our Churches dealing with their coughs and sneezes whilst out from our Church walls there is horrific epidemics breaking out.

It sounds harsh, but I wonder if for to long I pandered to the spiritual hypochondriacs rather than going on an aid mission to they dying, setting up field hospitals and outposts and seeking to bring the healing, transforming, hope-filled love the Saviour to the streets.

I mused the words of Eminem in contrast to our worship songs, one told of anger, hurt, loneliness and rejection the other of hope, love and acceptance.

I remember a quote which said “to change the world you need to tell a better story” and felt that in one sense this is what we are doing, being a prayerful presence, living out and showing a different and better story than the rant of Eminem with the love of God who stoops down to reach us from gutter.

Bible, Depression, Discipleship, Godliness, Journey, prayer, Spirituality, Worship

When You Are Just Not Feeling It.

Writers block… Normally I have 101 ideas I’m dying to share with the world about following Jesus, but today I can’t think of anything!

Sometimes we go through seasons when really feel Gods presence wonderfully close, other days God doesn’t feel so close.

Sometimes, when we read the Bible it really speaks to us and there is a wonderful connection, other times it can feel like a habit and your read some verses that aren’t bad but don’t really move you.

I’ve had times when I can’t put the Bible down, and I’ve had other times when I’ve struggled to pick it up.

Have you ever been in a church service of an event when everyone else seems to be connecting with God in a wonderful and deep way and we feel a bit jealous because we are just not feeling it?

Sometimes you sing some songs and you feel Gods presence and other times it just feels like you are singing songs, sometimes the words catch you, especially songs that are joy filled “…and I feel like dancing” which doesn’t always resonate with where we are at.

Sometimes it’s a choice, and in singing words it’s a faith filled thing, saying that the truth of God is greater than our current feelings, and I will worship despite my circumstance, mood, or whatever… Other times it’s a question of integrity, I can’t sing “I’m overflowing with joy” when God knows that I’m not, he knows I want to be, but for whatever reason today doesn’t feel like it.
I think there are times in our life when sometimes it isn’t easy being a follow of Christ.

I think that there is a false Americanisation of some worship styles that are often overly joyous and ‘sugary’ as though life is perpetually good and the only human expression the

Christian is allowed is a cheesy grin.

Yet in the psalms there are plenty of laments and even “where have you gone God?” Psalms, Jesus even quoted one of these (Ps. 22) on the cross, I long to see greater authenticity within our sung worship, that embraces rather than runs from pain, confusion and frustration.

I love (and am deeply challenged by) Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name, when the suns shining down on me and the world is all that it should be… Blessed Be Your Name when found in the Desert place, on the road marked with suffering, though there is pain in the offering, blessed be your name… You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, blessed be your name”.

I don’t think God ever intended human beings to live perpetually on the mountain, he knows that in real life we go into real valleys, and maybe even real deserts too.

In fact it’s the deserts where the most beautiful and powerful growth occurs.

Just as a rose bud develops its best scent when it is tightly compressed.

Yet it is in the mundane we discover something deep in our faith, just as in our human relationships it is easy to serve your spouse when you are totally loved up, but harder when maybe its not all rose petals and romance.

Yet what an amazing act of truly beautiful Worship when we Worship even through the tears.

I think we need a spiritual life that  is robust enough that know,and can cope with highs and lows, and when things are tough we learn discipline and gain strength.
Yet it is easy to serve when your heart is full of gladness, but harder when your heart is full of sadness, but in a way more beautiful and authentic, for we are saying to God that despite our internal and external feelings and circumstances, even so, we are going to rely not on our feelings knowing they are fallible, but instead place our trust on God and his faithfulness, which -despite our feelings- remains steadfast.

Sometimes when you feel you have nothing to say, sometimes that’s the most profound message of all.

prayer, presence, Spirituality, Worship

The Power of Presence…

I have recently been thinking a lot about worship.

I have suggested that those of us who regularly join together for Pints Of View ought to meet up and pray and worship first.

Something I am keen to suggest too for us as Street and School Pastors before we go out.

I think worship is the key to everything… yet when we worship because it is the key to everything we are missing the point, because to worship in order to get a key sounds more like playing Super Mario than living in a right relationship with God.

I think when we come to God in worship, we are reminded of who he is, he greatness and might, and also of our dependence on him, so often in our meetings although he is acknowledged with a prayer at the beginning our focus often remains very much on ourselves and our capabilities. When we worship we focus on him and his abundance, provision and power. His faithfulness to do all that he has called us to do through us is liberating, because we need to be reminded afresh that we don’t do what we are called ‘for’ God but rather ‘with’ him. The less we worship the more we get this wrong.

Worship is often an act of will, to be honest when life is tough, we are tired and stressed, often we squash our worship out of the agenda, yet often when we are feeling the least like worshipping, often it is when we need to worship the most. We discover that in worship there is a refreshing of the soul, a re-energizing of the will, a renewal of the mind that need, but don’t always need.

Yet not only does worship reminded us of who God is, and not only does it require us to shuffle of the thrones of our own lives and let Christ re-take his rightful place, it also affirms us in who we are in Christ. We are his beloved children.

I believe that because sometimes we live in worship poverty, that is a contributory factor in why so many Christians struggle with their identity in who they in Christ, and of the Fathers great love for them.

Worship shows us God, but as we worship God somehow we discover afresh something of God’s love for us, a divine exchange seems to happen, as we pour our love at his feet, he pours his love over us.

I’m struck by how we use our bodies in worship.

When our hands our  lifted up symbolise surrender, which is I believe at the heart of what worship is, even though we don’t understand what is happening around us, why it is happening, it is a surrender and saying to God even though I don’t understand, I still trust you with my life.

When come before the communion table with our empty hands, we are reminded that we come to God empty handed, but come before a generous God who will provide all we need as we seek to follow him.

When we are down on our knees we remember God’s might and majesty… his rule over our life, who he is, and us pledged to his service.

Yet worship isn’t just a need for us, but I do believe that when we spend time in God’s presence we become more like him, we become like those we hang around with, which is true when we are with God, we become like him, he shines from us.

I love the story of Moses coming down the mountain with his face shining because he had been in the presence of God, so much so he had to put a veil over his face… His encounter with God shone out to the people, who noticed the presence of God on Moses.

It’s a picture often picked up in scripture, the treasure shining from the broken clay vessels, gleaming out of the cracks, proclaiming “Christ in us the hope of glory”.

The presence of God with his people is so important and powerful that when God offers to let the people of Israel go into the promised land without him, Moses says “if you don’t go with us, how will we be different from the other nations of the world”.

God’s presence is beautiful… he’s the one who draws people to himself, but gives us the privilege of partnering with himself.

On twitter I came across a Catholic picture of the Communion Elements with the words above them “you are what you eat” -and although I’m not into transubstantiation-  I love the picture, the more you celebrate Christ in Communion, the more of him dwells within you.

I think that too often we approach God with functionality, e.g “we ought to pray”, rather than as a Father “I just want to be with you”… Yet when we are with him we are changed and the world notices. “They realised that they (Peter, James and John) were ordinary unskilled men who had been with Jesus”.

When we worship we realise that it is less about technique, or style and more about God’s love overflowing from us.

I believe that the “when Harry met Sally” quote “I want what she’s having” ought to be something that happens more regularly, that Christ is seen in us, not just that we have clever words, we have beautiful flyers or we inviting them to a great event.

If you were going on a long journey or doing something important most of us would charge up our mobile phone (if we had one) just as when we go out on mission (which is actually what any of us do the moment we walk out of our front door, or into work, or the kids playground) we can’t go out on empty, on drained and with the dreggs of God’s presence.

This doesn’t mean you have to turn up at Church all the time, it could just be encountering and worshipping God with CD in your car, or just taking some time out on a park bench before leaping into whatever situation.

My suggestion is that we need to be intentional about worship.

Worship not just when you feel like it, but actually probably more worthwhile when you don’t feel like worshipping that’s probably when you need to do it the most.

Work out times and places that will feed your soul with encountering Christ, engaging with the Father, rather than praying out of a understanding of its importance functionally.

God knows we need him, he loves to hear from us, but so often our prayer and our worship is often as a ‘warm up’ to doing something or for a sermon rather than simply because he is a good good father who loves you.

Sometimes I think we should stop all Churchy work, and just take time just to encounter Christ again, pursue his presence.

The key to it all is the presence of Christ, at times his presence has convicted and converted people without any words uttered, we carry the presence of God, but too often this wonderful light gets hidden under bushels.

I love the image of overflow, when we encounter Christ, the overflow of his presences in his people, splashes out to a hungry and thirsty world, who seem him in his people and the thirsty world is drawn to the one who quenches our deepest thirsts and satisfies our deepest hungers.