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Passing on the Teapot…

John Coles, the former leader of New Wine, used to say “Success isn’t success without a successor”.

This last few weeks/months have been a funny time of saying/trusting people to “look after my babies”.

In many ways obviously the ‘babies’ are God’s babies, the dreams he has left us to custodian for a short time that need to be passed on to someone else, some also called by God to be a custodian of the outworking of God’s vision -someone who almost certain will add different things and priorities from us.

Yet, we can’t hold these things without developing a deep love and concern for them and the people connect with them. We care, and it is right that we care deeply, and so to pass on something that is hollowed and precious to us is difficult. Will they care for this as we have? The fear is that they may not treasure it as we have, not invest time, energy and love like you have into it…

Can we trust them with it?

Can we trust God with it?

In trusting people to take stuff on we become very aware of the fallen-ness that sometimes damages the fragile and vulnerability of it all; yet alongside this also we become acutely aware too of God’s faithfulness and the security of his hands and his heart.

Sometimes too fear can creep in and we try to keep hold of that which we ought to lay down.

CMS was born around tea of the eclectic society meeting at 4:00 for tea (how very English!). They gathered, discussed, dreamed, prayed and wonderful things were birthed that transformed not only global mission but also social transformation closer to home -the Shaftesbury society in its work outlawing child labour, Dr Barnado’s in caring for orphaned children, Wilberforce in the abolition of slavery and many others. They asked the question “What can we do to see the unreached heathen come to hear the Gospel of Christ Jesus?”.

They gathered, they dreamed, they kept meeting and they put their dreams into practice, as they gathered for tea from their now infamous teapot!

Yesterday in ASDA after writing my “Teapot” blog I felt compelled to buy a teapot or two as a prophetic gift, asking who is going to be the teapot holders in Kingswood and Hanham once I have gone. Who will hold the teapot of re-thinking mission and discipleship in our area (or wider area)?

Who will gather people? Who share their God inspired dreams with other people and let them fly? Who will pray and serve to see these new dreams become realities birthed in and amongst communities?

Wondering too, perhaps the custodian of a teapot, might be a gatherer?

There are many people who might be visionaries but they do gather people well, maybe God is calling you to be a teapot holder that in gathering people in the meeting and encounter(s) form calaysts that blesses and over-flows.

Perhaps too your an ideas person, and God is calling you into a community, the fuel for Christ’s inspired spark within you?

Maybe the teapot is you gathering the momentum around the vision and dream Christ has put within you?

Yet, for too long perhaps we have neglected the power of the teapot, of dreaming together, of gathering, of sharing ideas.

We have not allowed ourselves too ask those uncomfortable questions too, that challenge and yet inspire and can spring board to new and wonderful places.

So, I’d love to give you a teapot.

I’d love to see people gathering together and seeking the dream that God has placed inside of them to be birthed in their context transforming our communities, cities, nation and world.

So will you take the teapot, gather and dream, share and pray, and see the Kingdom come more fully on earth as heaven.

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The Bindi spot.

I was at my induction at CMS yesterday and heard someone tell this amazing story.
This group of pioneers were there, a danger of feeling a bit smug and self-assured as they talked animatedly about “mission on the edge”, “Pioneering Evangelism” and “Fresh Expressions of Church”, it was at a Bishops garden party(!) Just then a little old lady came and chatted to one of the group saying “I know what you mean?” The guy smiled not wanting to be patronising.
The little old lady told this story.

She was a missionary in Nepal. In Nepal there was a large wealthy ex pat community. They lived in English style houses, with gates and walls around them, with flushing toilets. The Nepalese people lived just in simple mud huts.

This lady realised she would never reach this community from inside the colonial clique of middle class westerners hidden away in a gated compound.

If she wanted to reach the local people she would have to go to them, and meet them where they were at.

She began to dress like them too, and tried to do all she could to meet them on a level place.

This was tolerated but not really approved of in the white middle-class encampment.

One day she took the bold step of adding the ‘bindi spot’ to her forehead.
She was taken aside by the other missionaries in the encampment and scolded.

She realised that to engage with the new culture she had to turn her back on her old culture, which she did (and that must have been painful).

Yet in stepping into their lives and their culture she began to be accepted and welcomed into the new culture, and because of her bravery and faith, many people came to know Jesus.

It made me think too often we set out to sea, but never leave the harbour, or at least the sight of land, the challenge with mission is to push out deeper, to have the faith to see the familiar shore disappear onto the distance.

CMS brought new ideas to the established ideas of mission, mission which had become a career, a project, a short term thing.

The early days of CMS missionaries, they packed up their belongings in coffins, a symbol that they were going for good and their expectation was they were going to live and die in the new community God was sending them too. Their tickets were one way.

The call of Christ is an “all in call” a place of total surrender to him, a turning our back on our old life, dying to our old ways of being and being alive to live our lives Christ’s way from here on in.

I want to have that wonderful old ladies crazy missional heart that gave up everything for the one who also gave up everything for her.

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Let us Teapot together!

I’ve recently signed up to do an MA with the fab guys at CMS.

It was through them that I heard this amazing story of the teapot!

A group of Godly guys had formed a group together called the Ecclectic society used to meet up each week at 4:00 for tea, gathering around a tea-pot they would discuss things together.

On one afternoon at 4:00 (the perfect English time for tea) in 1799 a number of them debated this question: ““What methods can we use most effectively to promote the knowledge of the Gospel among the heathen.”

The question is an interesting one, this had some personal responsibility attached to it, it wasn’t just bad mouthing the Churches that are trying to do things, rock slinging spectators from the side-lines. Yet their questions demanded a response from themselves.

The question is interesting too, although couched in the language of the time it is the most important questions we as Christians can and should ask, echoing the call and cry of Paul who says in Romans “how will they call on one in whom they have not heard?”

Interestingly I have been engaged in so many Church or leaders meetings and too much of the time we have been ‘bitching and bragging’ about what has been going well/badly, or perhaps swapping anecdotes about weddings, funerals and baptisms and yet too rarely actually tackling the question: How will the people of the area we serve hear about Jesus in a way they can understand?

I have tactlessly tried to shoe-horn such discussions and this often ends up in a pity party about the state of our Churches. Yet why isn’t this the question stamped across item 1 of every agenda of every meeting we as Church have?

Sometimes too, I have been in great meetings that talk about changing the world, the problem is their good intentions and fired up ideas are always ‘jam tomorrow’, the ideas and discussion is great but somehow the enthusiasm and fire never translate into transformation on the ground.

Yet I would urge us all to dream again, to ask questions afresh, to seek and press into God, to wrestle to understand our culture and to hear and heed the call of God.

Why don’t we gather around the tea-pots and dream again.

The Eclectic society bore out the Clapham Sect that outlawed child labour, birthed the Shaftsbury society and Banardo’s, and birthed CMS, Church Mission Society. A society that has been at the forefront of proclaiming Jesus Christ here in the UK and to the ends of the earth, making Christ known in word and action and seeing the gospel change lives.

It was all birthed over some blue sky thinking around a tea-pot.

Perhaps we should all gather around teapots with one another and dream again and see the Lord use us to change and transform his nation and his world.

I’ll close with a quote from Robin Williams from the film Dead Poets Society:
“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world”

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Pigs Might Fly…

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] 2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

14 Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

This is one of those stories I normally skip over thinking I know it all already, but realise how wrong I am.

There is so much fear here in this story, the disciples must have been pretty scared as they wouldn’t have wanted to go over to a gentile area. The disciples would probably been fearful of being ritually unclean as they walking in gentile territory, with pigs nearby and a man bleeding who had been hanging out amongst the tombs. Reading the passage, it doesn’t sound like the disciples even got out of the boat, probably hiding in the boat, watching all that is going on with great fear.

The Demons are fearful of being destroyed by Jesus.

The people of the town are fearful as they ask Jesus to go away and leave them alone. They have seen Jesus’ power and they are so scared of the disruption and danger that he brings.

Even the man himself wants to stay safe as a disciple following Jesus, he wants to get in the boat with the disciples probably still cowering in the hull.

Instead Jesus calls him not to the safety of his presence but to go and share his testimony.

Everyone in this story -apart from Jesus- is trapped and not wanting to disrupt the status quo, yet we glimpse the immense pain this man is in, plagued by a legion of demons, self harming and living in an absolute living hell and Jesus refuses to leave him there in that state, he steps in and brings freedom, liberty and deliverance. Leaving him in pain and suffering was not something Jesus was prepared to do.

Jesus goes to a place that no one wanted to go to.

Jesus met someone no one wanted to meet.

Jesus did the unpopular thing that most people didn’t want him to do.

Yet the call of God causes us to go to the unloved places, to love unloved people and to do the things that won’t make us popular.

Was Jesus scared? Probably. Yet he does the right thing anyway.

He cares about the individual -this man is marginalised, disenfranchised and Ostracised and matters to no-one, no one that is except Jesus. This guy has nothing -he is naked- he is helpless. Jesus has nothing to gain by helping him and everything to loose, and yet he helps him anyway.

This demoniac is reviled by the crowd. Jesus is feared and rejected by the crowd yet too often we want to be loved by the crowd and less worried about individuals.

So let us follow the call of Christ no matter where he leads us, no matter who he leads us to, to what he calls us to do and no matter how unpopular it maybe.

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Crazy?!

Yesterday one of my friends, Patsy, described herself as a “mad Moravian” (her denomination).

I wonder though whether as Christians sometimes we just aren’t crazy enough?!

After all, Christianity is pretty crazy!

The Church was birthed at Pentecost with the sermon whose opening lines were “Brother and Sisters, these people are not drunk as you suppose”.

Jesus did some pretty crazy stuff, he instructed one of his followers to get a coin from a fishes mouth, he spat and made mud pies on the eyes of a blind-man and caused a load of pigs to ‘dive-bomb’ and he told them to “do everything I have commanded you!” said “you will do even greater things than I”.

So, by Jesus’ own words a continuation of the crazy, if not an escalation of it too!

…This prophecy seems to have been carried out in the book of the Acts of the Apostles with healings happening when shadows pass, and handkerchiefs and blessed.

Perhaps why the Acts of the Apostles is called the “Acts” is because they acted! -They lived out their faith, doing what the works that Jesus did.

In fact the crazy stuff was so spectacular that we read of the local witch-doctor-type fellow wanting to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit as he realised how much more power there was in Christ compared with his limply pathetic occultic curses (it didn’t end well for him).

Jesus, not only acted in surprising and unconventional ways, he advocated some pretty way out -truly bonkers behaviour- letting someone slap you on not one but two cheeks, loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, forgiving people and giving cheerfully (not letting your left hand doesn’t know what you’re right is doing).

John the Baptist said “if someone has two coats, give one to the poor”.

It’s a crazy call, the problem is I rarely see Christians living like this, in fact I rarely live like this.

It’s a call to what the world would call crazy!

It’s crazy to go on a mission without packing a spare coat and enough cash for your trip.

Paul captures this idea about being a fool for Christ, proclaiming a gospel that is a stumbling block for Jews and confusing for the Greeks. Jesus’ way is described as a narrow path where few travel on it that leads to eternal life, unlike the broad and wide road that leaves to destruction… A case of “whose fooling who?!”

Yet as I thought about it perhaps as Christians we are meant to be a bit crazy, yet too often our lives are mirror images of those we live amongst… by and large, safe, boring, predictable, uneventful… Yet Jesus promises to give us life in all its fullness, a life of abundance -life in technicolour!- where Jesus promises that following him is a white knuckle ride, that isn’t boring.

Shane Claiborne talks of the world longing (I’d say dying!) to see a Christianity that looks like Jesus. The world rarely sees real Biblical Christianity lived out, not some lukewarm inoffensive hobby portrayed by bumbling curates playing cricket on the village green in mid-summer murders. Let’s show the world something crazy that will blow their mind!

Too often in the west we have diluted what it means to be a follower of Jesus, to make it palatable to our neighbours, yet in doing that we bizarrely make it less attractive to them.

I believe people want a cause, a purpose to live for, a reason to be and they tragically don’t see it in us.

I believe people want to lead a good life, and as followers of Christ we have the best example of life -in fact life’s author and creator- to follow and to dwell with (and he dwelling in us too).

Too often I believe we are too ashamed of Christ, too proud, too allow ourselves to look foolish, to risk loosing face, as we live our lives swimming against the tide or marching to the beat of a different drum.

Christianity is meant to be seen and experienced as it is lived out in the lives of the followers of Jesus.

I wonder if we worry to much about being relevant and less about being different!

Christianity is meant to be seen and experienced as it is lived out in the lives of the followers of Jesus. Although we are IN the world, we are not OF the world.

This life is inspiring, when we grasp something of this, we are energized (its not always easy) but it does feel like we are living the life we were destined for.

Here are some of Pete Greig’s extract from his prophetic modern liturgy “The Vision”: “Don’t you hear them coming? Herald the weirdos! Summon the losers and the freaks. Here come the frightened and forgotten with fire in their eyes. They walk tall and trees applaud, skyscrapers bow, mountains are dwarfed by these children of another dimension… People write their addresses in pencil and wonder at their strange existence… The vision is holiness that hurts the eyes. It makes children laugh and adults angry”.

It made me chuckle, and then thoughts actually as Christians maybe we all ought to be a bit more crazy!

Jesus calls us to be Salt and Light, a challenge to stand up and stand out, but yet we want to blend it.

Paul challenges us to shine out like stars in the darkness.

Shane Claiborne wrote that the Christians have had many symbols “Doves, Fishes etc but never the Chameleon”.

We are called not to conform any longer to the pattern of this world -Eugene Peterson describes it as “not let the world squeeze you into its mould but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”.

I’ll close with a quote from Rob Siltanen: ““Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

So let’s be crazy and change the world for Christ.

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No more spectator Christianity…

“My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.
33 “When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 33:31).

I’m sure any Minister who reads this will smile at themselves as most of us experience week in and week out preaching our heart out to little or no reaction, and sadly however passionately we preach too often we see little or no change in lives and behaviour from those sat in-front of us.

Shane Claiborne talks of Church attending whereby people come and sing “Just as I am” the problem is they leave us as they came, and they behave as they always do.

So often we get obsessed by Churchy numbers, but the number of bums on seats is not the same as the amount of lives that are transformed.

A great quote I heard once was “A successful Church is not judged on the numbers who come, but rather on how they live having been there”.

Here Ezekiel is pulling a crowd, people are listening to him (to be fair when you read some of the other bits of the book of Ezekiel I’m not surprised people came along to see him and hear him, he’s quite “out there!”). Yet the problem isn’t people hearing the message but rather not putting it into practice.

Francis Chan joked about Christians being like 7 year olds who are told to “Go tidy your room”, might write it out and highlight it in their bible, maybe even learn it in Greek, but never actually tidy their room.

Listening, hearting, and even dare I say preaching the word of God is not the same as actually living it out day by day.

Too often we hear stuff, and it sounds good, in fact if we choose we can have theology coming at us all day everyday from web-pages, I-sermons, books and all sorts -yet feeding our heads is not the same as touching our hearts.

Scripture urges us not to just be hearers of the word, but doers too.

A friend of mine said that she thought that those who came and ignored the sermon were worse than those who stayed in bed on a Sunday morning, because one has heard and chosen not to be obedient to Christ.

Too often too, we listen to things with very selective hearing, our hearts guarded against the real and deep challenges, and yet when we expose ourselves to God’s word it will challenge us, for the word of God is “living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword, that cuts through bone and marrow”… Yet can this “double-edged sword” cut through an icy and stony heart? -It can, but will we let it?

So, Ezekiel, someone who preaches faithfully, and yet the people come along just for entertainment, novelty and possibly habit.

Too often in our Churches they can feel more like spectator events, than family sharing together, learning together and from one another.

Too often people are Church critics, spectators assessing what they like and dislike, rather than people going with the humble attitude of hearing God’s voice and being changed to be being more like him.

There are some people who have sat under thousands of sermons, but whose lives are actually considerably less-Christ-like than people who have never sat through any Christian talk.

Something is drastically wrong.

Something drastically needs to change.

That change is to do with me and you and our hearts response towards God.

What about us? When we hear God’s speak -hear his voice- do we harden our hearts?

Is our faith more about rhetoric than reality in everyday life?

Is it more talking the talk rather than walking the walk?

DC Talk said: “The greatest cause of Atheism in this country is Christians who confess Christ with their lips but deny him by their lifestyles that is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable”.

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Mind the GAP.

Recently I came across this Bible passage and it profoundly challenged me, I hope it does the same for you too!

“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one” Ezekiel 22:30.

It is a passage about intersession.

God looking across the nation(s) of Judah and Israel to find someone who would “stand in the gap” -be a person of prayer and petition, a person who will intercede on behalf of the land, a person that takes God’s opinion of his world seriously and personally.

The problem with so much of our prayers is we think Christ being made known and transforming our community is someone else’s problem.

Yet God is wanting to find someone who will take it personally.

Someone who is prepared to step up to plate and take personal responsibility for the land and seek to transform it in prayer.

…And yet found no-one.

Sadly, so often we often huddle together in victimhood, often moaning and yet no one is prepared to ‘stick their head above the parapet and change things, and create a different future’.

Sometimes our pessimism and defeatist attitude paralyse us from changing and transforming the future and so sadly they become self fulfilling prophecies.

Sometimes too, everything goes wrong and is falling apart and we somehow stick our heads in the sand, like some form of Ostrich refusing to believe the situation around us.

Sometimes too we refuse to believe in a God who judges, a God who shuts faithless and disobedient Churches, a God who withdraws his active presence and hand of blessing as he is pushed out of our lives and land?

God is saying “ask me about it?” “Call on me about it!”

-In the TV show Blackadder, Blackadder is going to be shot by firing squad and his friend and Lieutenant’s uncle had been made minister of war, and yet it doesn’t occur to him to contact him to get Blackadder released.

We have the power of heaven, our Father created the Universe, and yet we fail to call on him to intervene in the world he created, loved and died for.

I took a wedding recently of some football fans and used the example of God wanting to be a player on the pitch of their married life together, and yet the danger is we leave the author and creator of life and love sat on the subs bench.

Too often we seek transformation, we seek it by our own efforts, we try all our scheme’s, efforts and gimmicks -some of which work better than others- but we leave God out of the equation, we fail to stop and to pray.

I once heard a talk where the speaker described most of the Church in the U.K as being “Functioning Atheists” -in other words although they talk a spiritual game” they don’t actually behave as though God is real and able to make a difference in their lives and their communities.

David Hathaway told a story once of a missionary who refused to let a Church pray for him, when they asked why he responded that “you don’t seem to believe in your prayers!”

Yet scripture tells us how powerful prayer is.

In Genesis we see Abraham pleading and negotiating with God for the Salvation of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God wants us to ‘stand in that gap’ and take it personally.

James reminds us in his Epistle of Elijah: “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops”. -Elijah’s prayers deeply impacted that nation, he was prepared to stand in the gap between God and the city, imploring God for the sake of the city.

Nehemiah too, another who ‘stood in the gap’ he was on a cushy deal in Babylon, far away from his home city, and yet he was personally effected by the troubles in Jerusalem, so much that he fasted and prayed for the city, and ended up being sent by the King (and by God) to the city to rebuild it’s walls. He prayed and then was used by God to become the answer too his own prayers (to often we pray and then abdicate all future responsibility, but that’s probably a different blog!).

Are we prepared to see our communities, our homes, our front-lines, our schools, offices and factories and say to God “Here I am send me!” and to faithfully get down on our knees and pray for God to transform, redeem and save our community?

Martin Luther describes us grasping our hands together in prayer as defiance of the status quo, believing that by prayer all can and will be changed.

My friend Mark Rich says “Satan laughs at our schemes and scoffs at our plans, but he trembles when we pray!”

So, where is God laying on your heart?

Are you prepared to stand in that gap, to say “here I am send me” and will you faithfully pray and petition and intercede for it?

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