call, cost, priorities, values, vision

More than just keeping the show on the road?

I remember the Vicar who is leading one of the Churches my dad used to lead, telling a story of his previous parish in the leafy Sussex Countryside which went something like this, :

“Treasurer:- Unless we sought out our giving this Church will shut!
Vicar:- Unless we sought out our evangelism, mission and outreach people will go to a lost eternity”.

We often get obsessed about keeping the lights on in our Church building, rather than our calling of “seeking God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven” as we fulfil the great commission and “make disciples of all nations”.

Jesus never promised to keep open our particular building, but he did say “I will build my Church and even the gates of hell won’t prevail against it”. Jesus told us to “seek first the Kingdom of God”.

Too often we neglect the “seeking first the Kingdom of God” to worry and stress about our building, our constitutions, our processes and 101 trivialities, which from an eternal perspective are cul de sac’s, diversions from our main focus.

Paradoxically, I have seen on many occasions, when we focus on the Kingdom of God the things we so often stress about are resolved -unexpected legacies come in, or people with needed gifting come out of the woodwork.

When we put Jesus first, he sorts out the rest, in fact that is what he promises “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you”.

You see it is not the Church that has the mission of God, rather it is the missionary God who has the Church. We collaborate and partner with the ‘Missio Deo -the mission of God’, yet too often we become curators of dusty buildings.

As I thought more about this tragic picture I remembered the story of Mary and Martha, Martha was busy making Jesus a sandwich he didn’t want (in fact the one who fed the 5000 probably wasn’t that worried about missing lunch!), how often are our Churches stressing and wasting our time stressing on things that God himself will sort.

Ironically too, the best way of ‘keeping your building open’ is by keeping in step -living in obedience- with the Holy Spirit of the Living God.

The often stated phrase of “keeping the show on the road” is only a laudable aim when the show is orchestrated and choreographed by the Holy Spirit of the Living God, otherwise it is simply re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We forget the warning in scripture that reminds us that “unless the Lord builds the workers labour in vain”.

Often people are very keen on keeping their buildings open, but the question has to be asked, is there anything in this building that is worth preserving? Are we being a Matthew 25 Church? Are we being an Acts 2 Church? Are lives being transformed by Christ?

To me, it seems like much of the Church in the UK has the telescope the wrong way around distancing us from what should be close at hand, a false perspective -a distortion- that brings complacency.

So, let’s ask God to transform our vision to coincide with his vision.

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call, Democracy, Politica, trust, values, vision, vocation, Vote

Voting is a lifestyle…

Today people will be voting in the general election, for who they want to represent and govern them. It is really important to vote, so if you’ve not done it already go and do it!

Yet democracy ought to be more than marking a bit of paper every four years? As I began to think about it, we actually vote all the time, often a vote for the status quo, but a vote none the less.

It has been said that every pound you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in, scary when we think that if we have the internet in our homes we are in the top 4% of the worlds richest people. How we spend our money shouts loudly to this capitalist world.

Interestingly if we look back to the 80’s when many banks wanted to invest heavily in South Africa at the height of the apartheid they stopped doing so when people -mainly students and the now infamous picture of Jeremy Corbyn getting arrested- boycotted their banks.

As consumers what we think really matters, if in any doubt look at the millions that are spent devising algorithms to match our viewing habits to commercial sales.

So, although it might be only a baby step even a facebook share or twitter comment at least does make something of an impact.

The lie we are fed is that we are too small or insignificant to make a difference.

Yet as Confucius once said “Too small to make a difference? Try spending the night with a mosquito”. -He also said, that “A mosquito on your testicles teaches man that not every problem is best solved with violence”-.

The problem is that we are often don’t make a stand about anything much at all. A great question that has always challenged me is “would my bank manager know I was a Christian by the way I lived and spent my money?”

What are my choices when I buy, do I seek to be an ethical consumer? Do I value fair-trade? Do I enquire about sourcing? Or animal welfare? Do I ever do any on-line research about company ethics? Is there anything I boycott due to ethical grounds? -How does our (honest) answers on this chime with our response to a position of God entrusting us with the responsible stewardship of creation?

Yet, I think that we can do more than spend wisely, read labels and write strongly worded tweets on social media.

I passionately oppose the sale of weapons especially to states with awful records on human-rights, but yet I have never been on a protest, or picketed and arms faire, if I care about this issue I need to step up to the plate and make my protest felt.

Although Christians statistically are good citizens when it comes to doing their civic duty and vote, we perhaps need to be better at protesting against injustice, do we sign petitions? Do we write to our MP’s? Do we go on marches? Do we campaign for a better world?

The truth is that if the people of God don’t step up for the things that are upon the heart of God then who will step into that void?

So a call not just to vote, but live a life that seeks to usher in and advance the Kingdom of God, voting as a lifestyle each day, choosing to be a campaigner for the Kingdom of heaven and the cause of the heart-cry of Christ.

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call, challenge, Church, cost, Discipleship, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, obidience, perspectives, priorities, vision, vocation

we don’t need more Churches, rather we need Churches doing what they are supposed too!

Recently I had a sad experience, we had started a small congregation meeting next door to the main Church in the Community centre, mainly to allow the children’s work to flourish but unfortunately it didn’t work as we had hoped. I remember doing the last service there, which was a damp squib, as I tided up and walked out the door, something of lump appeared in my throat, although only a very short era, it was still and end of an era.

I did in my spirit wonder if maybe we (as in the Christian Community) will be back here reaching out to the people of Kingswood.

Then as I thought more about this I began to ask myself the question “does Kingswood need more Churches” actually Kingswood is choc-a-bloc with Churches yet few that are reaching out beyond their four walls, few seeking to reach out with the good news of Christ Jesus, few trying to raise up discipleships that are ‘nation transformers’ and praying in the Kingdom of God.

We also have new Churches planted into Kingswood, and yet sadly, they come into Kingswood, people drive in and drive out, some don’t even get around to investing in a “welcome sign” by their front door. Yet all that happens stays within the walls, and they never even send the other Churches in the area a email saying “hey”.

Yet we know that God is wanted his deeply divided Church to be unified in him, and in seeing his Kingdom advance and grow, impacting local communities and transforming lives, as we think of the Pentecost season, we know the need of the Spirit of God taking his Church back, breathing fresh and new life into it and blowing open its door to reach the community for Christ.

We don’t need more congregations and Churches, but actually for the Churches to do -or at least try to do- that which we are called to do.

The challenge is that the Church, is not some faceless institution, but rather you and me, we need to be people filled with his spirit, living his way, and seeing as individuals to shape and transform the corporate body of believers to keep us following Christ in courageous obedience.

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Ephesians 3, love, Paul's Prayers, Power

LOVE in 4 Dimensions.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I 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.

Ever heard the kids song, Jesus love is very wonderful?

It’s chorus goes “So high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under it, so wide you can’t get around it, oh wonderful love!”

Yet with my literal understanding as a child made this love sound like some form of impenetrable wall, until I had an epiphany when I heard another children’s story/song ‘I’m going on a bear hunt’ which has the chorus “you can’t get over it, you can’t get under it, you’ll have to go through it”.

It’s based on the end part of Paul’s prayer for the Church in Ephesus which talks of God’s love being a love in four dimensions.

God’s love isn’t a wall, barrier or constraint but rather it needs to be experiences as an ever present reality that surrounds us, the psalmist says “where can I go from your presence, if I go to the heavens you are there, and if I make my bed in depths of the earth you are there too”.

The love of God is an inescapable reality for Christian, God’s love for us is eternal and ever present, it is beyond our understand and comprehension “a love that surpasses knowledge” and although this love exceeds our understand, our experience of it can grow and grow as we walk on further, longer and deeper with God. The image Paul uses here is of the Christian putting the roots of their life down deep down into God and his love for us. Interestingly in times of draught a plants roots dig down deeper in the hope of finding water, this is the image Paul is using become more firmly embedded in the love of God, for finding ourselves in him is where we gain our identity and purpose.

John reminds us that “God IS love” -not just God is loving, or God feels love, but God is the very embodiment and personification of love- God the Father uniquely revealed in Christ the Son “if you have seem me you have seen the Father”, Jesus is “love with skin on.

Yet although Paul’s prayer is that we are transformed by experiencing God’s love but this love is also backed by power and authority as children of God, God who is at work in us, and in his Church “more than we can ask or imagine”. God not only loves us but is able to help us and work through us the book of Romans reminds us that “God’s ear is not deaf to our call or his arm is not too short to save”.

Often our prayers become limited by either our belief that God is not actually good, or not actually powerful enough to make a difference, yet here Paul’s prayer makes it clear both our true. God is All powerful and All Loving ,Omni-powerful and Omni-loving.

There is another kids song I know which asks the question “Have we made our God too small, too small? Have we made our God too small? For he made the heavens above and earth and sky and has the time for you and I, have we made our God too small, too small?”

So, let’s rediscover God’s awesome love and power, that transforms our identity as we pray to him, we discover afresh who we are, we are because he is “for this reason I kneel before the Father from which every family on earth derives its name” -a joke about two similar words in Greek, but making the point that without God we are nothing, as Corinthians (and the marriage service) reminds us “without your love our deeds are worth nothing” or as St. Francis said “without you we cannot please you” but in him “we live and move and have our being”. This is a reminder of our total dependence, fully reliant, on God who made us, sustains us and has through Christ redeemed us.

So, let us echo the words of Paul in our prayers for ourselves that we are transformed by having this fresh and fuller revelation of who God is, that in turn transforms us by the revelation of who we are.

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You Are Most Welcome…

This is probably going to come out as a bit of a jumble.

I’m on holiday, but really struggling to switch off.

Read Paul Merton from “Have I Got News For You” fame, he writes movingly in his autobiography “Only when I laugh” about his partner Sarah’s breast cancer (which ultimately took her life).

“I walked to St Augustine’s Church, which was only a few minutes away . It was the Church in Fulham that I used to be taken to as a child. The Church was empty inside, I sat down three rows from the back. I relaxed my shoulders, and let out a deep breath. A moment of quiet solitude. Within moments, the mood was broken by a bustling woman rattling keys. “The Church is closed, there is nothing for you here, the church is closed. She was right about that, I left without a murmur”.

Deep within his subconscious he was seeking for God and yet the Church threw him out, thinking of how the rest of the book could have looked of a loving supporting community caring for Paul and Sarah through the last days of her life and comfort in the pain of bereavement.

So often we see so many missed opportunities within the Church and maybe missed opportunities in each one of us with our daily walk.

As I thought about this some more, it made me think of the amazing gift that is our time, and I think if I had a time machine I would be more generous with giving it away, and somehow need to translate this into practice into the present and the future.

Thinking today about welcome and acceptance, whilst seeing the horrors of the terrorist attack on London bridge across the TV screen, Allana texted back home to ask how Kings Krew (our All Age Congregation) went, and it turned out that some Muslims as the start of their Ramadan visited the Church and gave us cake. I wonder would we as Christians do something like this for them, at Christmas or Easter? -Sadly I doubt it.

These guys also give regularly to the foodbank, and allowed us to come to their mosque as a visit.

It also made me think afresh that sometimes accepting someone’s generosity is part of hospitality and welcome, allowing someone to serve us can be a really humbling experience to be a blessing to them.

As I was challenged by their warmth and hospitality.

As I scrolled down Facebook and saw posts from a Christian suggesting we put Muslims in interment camps.

I’ve been at Churchy events with the homeless and disenfranchised and been told loudly (in front of the people) to not leave your coat lying about as “they’ll nick it”, struck again by our suspicion of those not like us, and how fear shuts down our welcome and hospitality.

Also stereotyping and suspicion will spoil relationships if we ‘tar everyone with the same brush’ “all muslims are murders” or “all homeless steal” cause us to build walls between us, seeing people as groupings rather than individuals.

Then when we think of welcome and hospitality I realise afresh that we reflect our God who welcomed us when we were his enemies, dead in our sin, and yet welcomed us like the loving Father in the story of the prodigal son who runs to meet us, embracing us when we smelt of the pig sty were penniless and destitute, and whose welcome was extravagant throwing a party and causing the fatted calf to be slaughtered, cooked and shared.

Too often however our relationships are never formed as we don’t realise the potential they have o grow. If we go to the Paul Merton story, the lady was focused on the task -locking up- and missed the person. I wonder how many relationships are there all around us but never allowed to flourish, I’ve discovered the great network of little relationships when walking the dog or dropping my daughter Hope off at school or Rainbows. I believe that every opportunity for human interaction can be also be a catalyst for an advancement of the Kingdom of God.

I remember hearing many years ago now from a tutor at Moorlands college about how she did some coaching on relationships and she shared this idea that every human encounter can be an opportunity for Kingdom advancement with some guys on a short weeks course at a Methodist Bible College. The students took this idea and ran with it as they went off to lunch, they chatted to the people serving the food, and at the end of the week they got the catering and house-keeping staff a box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers. The head house-keeper cried and said she had worked at this college for 14 years and had never even had so much as a card to say “thank you” for all their efforts.

So, let’s knock the walls down, lets take the risk on meeting people, let’s see the Kingdom advance and welcome everyone with the love and extravagance that God has shown (and continues to show) each one of us.

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Yesterday was a funny old day 2.

A second blog looking at the rest of our mission with Fane Conant.

Whilst Fane and Harry went off to the town centre to chat and share their faith, I was busy taking a wedding service.

Unusually it was a Christian wedding with the couple regular members of Bristol Vineyard Church. The wedding was a wonderful celebration where through the worship, sermon, prayers and the conversation the Christians there were unashamed of their faith and thought how attractive it looked, as they chatted to old friends and made new ones over tea and cake.

The couple had asked if we could help them by serving the tea, which just required a couple of volunteers to help us, to make people welcome… and yet to get people to help required me to have to beg on facebook.

Yet if we are to welcome people as we should, it will require sacrifice, and will be more costly that staying in our churchy cliques and bubbles, but in being this open and welcoming community we are “treating other people as we want to be treated” and we are forgetting that “a stranger is a friend we haven’t met yet!”.

It made me think for a moment about how much welcome and hospitality is such key part of mission and evangelism, making people feel wanted, appreciated and valued all resonate with the heart-beat of God himself, the God who runs to meet his wayward child with an embrace and a party.

As we came back I heard a great story of Fane and Harry and heard of a guy I know a little bit, who drops in occasionally to our very formal evening service. Harry told me (in his own unique style) to “make sure he gets followed up well!”

I wonder how much follow up fails because Churches aren’t as welcoming as they should be.

Interestingly a friend once said “I don’t want a “friendly” Church but rather a Church I can make friends in”.

The next day Fane was speaking at three Churchy services.

It made me think that how often do people wander into our Churches and yet not ever hear the gospel presented clearly? I remembered several instances where people who were yet to make a commitment (or had drifted away) came with me to Church and sadly it was a missed opportunity (and on some occasions a bit of an own goal).

Yet here three services got a clear gospel presentation, it made think that we talk so much of getting people “in Church”, but we forget that being “in Church” is not the same as being “in Christ”.

People who had been in Church for years took one of Fane’s books and seemed really interested in what he had to say, hungry for more of us talking straight about the cross, and the message that matters the most.

It made me think, do I preach the cross and the good news often enough? Am I clear enough?

If we want our Churches to grow and flourish, are we seeking the lost and welcoming them in? And maybe that welcome is wider than just a Church service? when was the last time you had someone around for a meal or invited someone for a coffee or to the pub?

As I thought further I realised that both of these components need to work together in becoming fruitful and effective for the Kingdom of God…

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Some reflections on evangelism.

Many years ago I was given a picture by a lady called Brenda Thompson of being a person banging away at the wall of a great big damn with a toffee hammer and feeling frustrated that I was making little progress, and then she said “but in reality the hammer is really a sledge-hammer” and the hole in the wall will result in breakthrough.

It is a picture I often remember, as often over the last decade of parish ministry I have felt like a little guy swinging a toffee hammer and feeling frustrated and disappointed at the progress.

The more I have pondered on this picture the more I have thought of the calling of God which is to simply “be faithful”.

This weekend we had a mission with a great guy called Fane Conant, and have been thinking about all that had happened, and more than that, about the importance of evangelism and evangelists.

Firstly I think this weekend helped “demystify” evangelism -as Fane was very humble he didn’t ‘big himself up’, rather he ‘bigged up Christ’ as he simply told his story and how he had met Jesus.

His phrase “just one beggar telling another beggar to find bread” is a good principal to have.

He wasn’t scared of speaking overtly about Christ, in a clear and unashamed way, too often as Christians we beat around the bush, sometimes even struggling to say the name Jesus often instead referring to him/the Father as “the big man” or “him upstairs”.

He explained it clearly without making people feel stupid, he owned his struggles -“and although I became a Christian it took me a while to be free of my gambling addiction” and shared some of his post-conversion struggles life with Christ is wonderful but it isn’t always a bed of roses. I think often we are afraid of being real, thinking it will put people often, when in fact honesty and authenticity actually increase rather than decrease its appeal.

I was reminded on Sunday Morning by our readings about God calling us to be “witnesses”, -giving testimony-, sharing our story and then began to think “we over-came by the blood of the lamb (Jesus’ death) and the word of our testimony. Interestingly our testimony is what connects what happened 2000 years ago on a hill 2000 miles away with the here and the now, good news for our time and our context.

As we chatted one of my friends shared a little more of his story, one I’ve not heard him share before, but one which would be great if he would.

For me, I used to think my testimony was a bit dull, largely despite my best efforts of being a bit of a wally I owe my faith primarily to amazingly Godly and prayerful parents and a colleague at work who had the bottle to consistently keep inviting me along to her Church (and of course to the relentless loving pursuit of the wonderful Holy Spirit of God). -I didn’t used to share my story because I didn’t think it was much of a story, until I was doing schools work and my boss Danny, Danny Brown helped me see that every story of God at work in us is worth-telling, but also will connect with other peoples stories too.

For my friend with the more dramatic testimony I’ve heard him say “I’m not that person anymore” and often the devil hides some wonderful redemptive stories of salvation beneath a blanket of shame. Don’t let our embarrassment of past failures rob Christ of a wonderful trophy of grace that can bring hope to other people.

People are interested in other people, people are often much more interested in spiritual things than we think they are. Too often we think “they wouldn’t be interested”, but as Bishop Lee Rayfield says “give them the opportunity to make their choice of whether they hear or not, don’t make the choice for them”.

Evangelism creates a culture of expectancy, and a culture of intentionality, we expect God to be at work with the preaching of his word, and we are intentionally do all we can to share this message with as many people as we can.

Evangelism ought to be about partnership, very rarely does someone come to Christ purely by the work of one person, the colleague at work who shared a little of their faith, a Neighbour who invited them along to something, a family member praying faithfully. For a person to come to faith I believe often requires multiple Christians to be acting in obedience.

When we see these Billy Graham style crusades everyone says how amazing he is at speaking (and he is), but yet rarely does any credit go to the army of faithful anonymous saints that have got the person to the stadium in the first place.

Evangelism is like worship insomuch as it reminds and realigns our priorities, if we are focusing on “ordinary people meeting the extraordinary Jesus” then some of the squabbles we have cease to have the same weight or importance.

Reminding us that Jesus is the pearl of great price, wonderful and good news to share. Evangelism challenges us to explore our own faith and to see it as something worth sharing.

Lack of evangelism I believe leads to Churches becoming inward-looking and dying. We need to hear those stories that remind us that God has not abandoned his world, he is at work in us and through us, and is drawing people to himself. Again testimony of God at works keeps us expectant for him to be moving amongst us, and this gives us courage and boldness to take those golden Kingdom opportunities the Lord lovingly scatters in our path.

In Fane’s testimony he talked about Christians having something he didn’t, our lives speak louder than our words, our lives should make people thirsty for Christ. Yet too often we seek to blend in with everyone else. In order for people to realise their thirst for Christ his followers need to be “salty” perhaps when evangelism is a tough struggle it is call for us all collectively and as individuals personally to “increase the salt”.

This weekend we saw a young guy pray a prayer of commitment, Harry -one of my friends- warned me not to just let him flounder in a Church that doesn’t take discipleship seriously, we are called to make more than converts but disciples, not just getting people to pray the prayer but to live for Christ for the rest of our lives. I remember hearing at the Mission Shaped Ministry course a lady say she’d been converted about 20 years, and had just started to realise that Christ’s calling on her life was more than being on the tea rota at Church.

Seeing people move from “milk to meat” is at the heart of the Kingdom of God, and this is the other thing I learned from our weekend with Fane, it was great to talk to someone who had been doing evangelism for a lot longer than me.

I have learned what little I know mainly by picking stuff up along the way, in the field of mission and evangelism there seem to be few mentors, and maybe to we who have a heart for mission often are so keen to investigate the new things that we don’t sit with the older and more experienced and learn from them.

I long to have a school of mission where we have plenty of mentors to nurture and invest in young evangelists, and equip Churches to be bold, intentional and faithful in obedience to the missional and evangelistic heart-beat of God.

So, at the end of a mission as I curl up on the sofa, despite any progress made the fields are white to the harvest but the workers are few (or to quote Pastor Yinka) “…the workers are YOU”, the question is about getting up tomorrow as we continue the partnership with Christ in his glorious mission to his world.

A job that is never done, but remains the most wonderful privilege we can have.

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