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An Attitude of Gratitude…

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

There was a time (hopefully less so now) a few years ago when I was a teenager where everyone was paranoid about contracting the AIDS virus and so anyone with HIV was treated with fear and people kept their distance.

If you remember those times this could give you a small insight into how the culture of Jesus time treated those with leprosy.

If you contracted leprosy it was a death sentence, you were completely ostracized -no one who have anything to do with you-, you had to leave your home and family and live outside the city. You were considered religiously defiled and not allowed into the Temple. You had to ring a bell to warn people of your coming their potential peril of coming into contact with you. The only people you could associate with were other people with the disease.

If you had leprosy you were literally a dead man walking!

So, here come these guys and ask Jesus for healing, literally asking for their lives back and their whole identities to be restored.

Jesus heals them, and they run off delighted at being healed, and yet only one comes back to say thank you and he was someone from a tribe that the Jews thought “didn’t do God properly”, the last one they would expect to be the one who did the right thing.

He literally had given them new life.

Jesus had restored their identity.

Jesus had taken defiled outcasts and transformed them into people who were ceremonially clean!

It made me think about gratitude.

Gratitude is not something we really seem to value in our culture.

True, we teach our kids to say their “pleases and thank you’s” but are we really teaching our kids gratitude.

Gratitude -heartfelt thanks- real authentic and expressed appreciation.

It is hard to believe that these guys took their healing, cleansing and restoration so flippantly without giving thanks to Jesus, and then I thought of how often I often take my salvation for granted, skip over all the great blessings that I have in Christ and focus on the bits of my life which I find difficult.

Children get so desperate for presents, like fidget spinners, and then just weeks after getting one, they are soon begging for something else some other craze.

Our culture is one of scarcity and unfulfilment, we have more than we have ever had before and yet we are neither satisfied or grateful, we forget all the things we have been given and just long for the next spiritual blessing, focusing on our half empty cup rather than seeking to look at what Christ has done.

Recently having both moved and done a little more work with the homeless I have realised how much I have, and have been given, and how little gratitude I have within my heart and character.

Too many of us rush at life as though it is an all you can eat buffet and stuff our faces, rather than taking time to savour life, to appreciate all that we have, to take a moment to enjoy the moment, to learn what it means to be satisfied.

As we said grace today, I wondered how much of this has become a habit and how much of this is really and truly “giving thanks for our daily bread”.

I then wondered if I was in the story would I be one of the 9 running off excitedly about my healing rather than coming back to Christ with thanks, praise and gratitude on my lips?

Then I thought of the Samaritan in the story, and I realised that often our deepest spiritual lessons come from the most unlikely places and the most unlikely people. I am always challenged when I work with those who have very little how extraordinarily generous they are, and often those who have so much can be tight fisted!

I then thought, what am I grateful for, I did a bit of a list in my head, and realised it was a bit like that crazy scene from “Life of Brian” where the people say “what have the Romans ever done for us…” -there is a massive long list that keeps going on and on…-

I remember praying “Lord I don’t want to be like the 9 who went away without thanking Jesus, I want to be the one overwhelmed with gratitude”.

When we come to Communion, sometimes called the Eucharist -which literally means “Thanks Giving” and we (may) say these words “Feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving”.

This attitude of gratitude ought to be one that we nurture as Christians, as so often I come to praise times and I am often overwhelmed by my own worries and stresses, perhaps discovering a great depth in worship I need first to be reminded of all that I want to thank God for, and then thank him. Gratitude, praise and worship are so often closely held together, and perhaps to go deeper in praise and worship I need to cultivate a greater depth in my expressions of gratitude.

I then began to think about all the other people who I am grateful too, do I thank people often enough, do I acknowledge my appreciation for all that they do, do I encourage and affirm those who bless me, or do I gobble it up and forget about it.

The 9 Lepers may have missed the opportunity to return and thank Jesus, be we can always turn to him and give thanks.

So, let’s learn to nurture and cultivate within ourselves an attitude of gratitude, seeing all that God -and those around us- have done and given us and be people who savour life, and our thankful.

And as I wonder about gratitude I feel that this is such an attractive and so massively counter-cultural, another way our lives can gleam out a Christian distinctiveness, that’s radically and beautifully different from the word around us.

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An evening with Occupy Bournemouth.

“I have a home, I just haven’t got a flat or house to put it in” -A phrase I saw written up at the Occupy Site in Bournemouth, whilst I swigged a cup of tea, around a warm fire.

I was struck by the welcome, they didn’t know us from Adam and yet they welcomed us as friends.

I’d come up to meet them with my friend Chris, these guys had commandeered some land, and making a make shift camp, a safe place for the homeless to go to, with warmth and community, and yet unsurprisingly the land owners are already trying to evict them.

The truth is that we have a massive homeless crisis in this country, and rather than trying to deal with it many councils say “not in our backyard” in fact councils are trying to do C30(?) orders banning homeless from our town centre, “out of sight out of mind”.

Wandering through Poole with my dog the other day my wonderful wife said: “Poole Quay is really dog friendly…shame they can’t be quite so welcoming of the homeless” -our society sometimes gets things very muddled!

The cold wetness of the sleep out etched into my most recent memory made me think I would wish homelessness of my worst enemy. Chris and I were telling our new friend about our sleep out when he asked “what we do?” -Chris is amazing and does tons, but I felt a bit like a fraud as I’ve done a bit of justice stuff: foodbank/Street Pastors, but sat here it feels like a very small drop in the ocean, a tiny sticking plaster on a huge wound.

Our new friend who was making us a brew was chatting, he wasn’t actually homeless himself but is standing in solidarity with those who are, he’s an activist.

He chatted about ‘non violent direct action’, about the need for civil disobedience and protest. We chatted about faith, about human value, about Jesus throwing the tax collectors out of the temple (not exactly a non violent action!)

He talked of the original occupy movement, where camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral the huge crowd of protestors made a stand against at corporate greed and exploitation of the ‘invisible’ poor, and the doors of St. Paul’s where locked shut. The protestors rightly pointed out that they probably had more in common with Jesus than the middle-class institution that the Church has morphed into -but should never have sold-out and become!

He spoke of art, and power of localism -about invest in our local communities rather than lining the pockets of large corporations and fat cats.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about art, ideas, blogs, faith -especially that night wide awake on the increasingly wet concrete at St. James’ -Poole Civic Church in the middle of the conservation area. Wonderful site for protest.

I have come to realise that the truth is I want to change the world, I want to make a difference.

I believe that Jesus holds the key to all of this, and yet so often the Church seems so caught up on a wheel of self indulgence that doesn’t feel very world transforming.

The conversation moved on to Churches and their resources, and sat here drinking the tea of those who have next to nothing, and realise how much our Churches have but how tightly some grasp it with a scrooge like stingy iron-fist not willing to release their resources or buildings for the sake of the most marginalised. I remember the regular clashes with our treasurer, and wonder could I have done more to see the finance of God used for the purposes and pleasure of God.

The words of Shane Claiborne rang in my ears “how can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and then ignore one on Monday” -for Jesus said “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have their nests, but the son of man (Jesus) has no where to lay his head”.

Too often our mission and justice work can feel far too tokenistic, like its a hobby and real work is keep and institution grinding on, but I think its the wrong way around, the institution such should serve the mission, the raison d’etre of our being on earth I believe is to see the Kingdom break in, and see so much of the values of the Kingdom exhibited here in a way that the depth of my being yearns to see more of in the Christian Community -love, compassion, justice, fellowship, carrying one another’s burdens and self sacrificing love.

I once wrote an essay at college being profoundly moved by my years placement within the Priory Rehab thinking this looks and feels like how I believe Church should feel, and yet I’ve never seen a Church like this, but one again I yearn for.

Chris and I popped out to get some strepsils of a lad with the flu and as we returned we bumped into Sam a friend of Chris’, chatting away to the guy there and seeking to bless and serve. It made me think about the power of doing what we can, with what we have, and how warmth, love and welcome makes such a difference.

Often walking away from the homeless feels hard a bad, but it felt nice walking away as you could hear laughing and chatting as the guy put the kettle on. It made me think that the mission of transformation is at its most beautiful when it is a body ministry, not just a couple of keenies but community pulling together and creating something so much bigger than ourselves.

In the car on the way home Chris and I talked, and he said “I’d rather spend a week with those guys than at New Wine (a Christian festival) as I reckon I’d probably meet Jesus much more there…

I don’t know what my future holds, but I want it to be more than the odd guesture every now and again, I want to be someone who turns this broken and upside down world the right-way as we seek to see Christ’s big idea “the Kingdom of God” break out more and more fully.

Let’s not be jaded, let’s not give up, but believe that with Christ in us by his spirit another world is possible.

Let’s grasp that Jesus is just as passionate about life before death as he is about life after death.

As I think about my Christian life having met some of these remarkable activitists, I look in the mirror at myself and the Church -the Bride of Christ- and long for us to up our game.

“Church it’s boring” we hear so often -perhaps this is because we aren’t prepared to grasp the pain, cost of the rollacosta that Christ calls us to when he promises “life in all its fullness” -life spent with friends -all with our brokenness- and as we serve one another in the mess of life we discover that “what you did for the least of these you did to me!” and see the face of Christ.

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Leadership lessons from Esther.

How many people have heard a sermon on Esther? Probably very few of us which is a tragedy as Esther is a great book, with the sex and violence of Game of Thrones and the cunning and intrigue of the House of Cards! I can’t believe Hollywood hasn’t made it into a film!

The story starts with a sleazy King wanting his wife to dance got humans his nobleman, she refuses and so the King raged and sought a new wife. The ultimate beauty pagent with the ‘prize’ becoming the Queen. One of the girls was called Esther, who was Jewish, raised by her uncle Mordeci, and it is she who the King chooses to become Queen.

Alongside all of this the villainous Prime Minister Haman has a spat with Mordeci -who somewhere in the midst of all this manages to save the Kings life- Haman manages to persuade the King for embark on ethnic cleansing genocide against the Jews (massively abridged version of the story).

Esther herself was probably safe in the palace, no one there knew she was Jewish. Here we see here a biblical theme of personal alignment, Nehemiah was safe as a cupbearer to the King and yet he chose to align himself with the suffering of Jerusalem, Moses was safe as a Prince in Pharaoh’s palace and yet chose to align himself with the Israelite slave people and here Esther could have use her privilege of self preservation but instead chooses to stand alongside her endangered people.

Esther knows where her loyalty lies, but in our individualistic, capitalist and fragmented society we are in danger of loosing belonging and loyalty.

Esther could have shrugged her shoulders and said “there is nothing I can do!” because in that patriarchal society she appeared no have no formal power or influence.

Yet, she does the most vital and crucial thing any of us can do when we are confronted with a situation bigger than we can manage in our own strength, she fasts and she prays, in fact she gathers others to fast and pray too, in fact she called the whole Jewish community to fast and pray for three days and nights.

She is one of the best biblical examples of what Stephen Cotterell describes as “hitting the ground kneeling!”

Prayer for Esther is not the last resort once everything else has failed, but rather it is her first response.

The Bible says “we have not because we ask not” -these guys were banging on the door of heaven and imploring God in their prayers, fasting for three days (which is really tough) this is serious prayer, not going through the motions prayer, crying out to God in desperation for him to act and save his people.

She boldly went to talk to the King. It was a courageous act, no one was allowed into the Kings presence uninvited, and intruding would probably result in execution.

“When this is done, I will go to the King, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish!” (Esther 4.16).

Yet she courageously went to speak to him, risking her life for the sake of her people, as she approached the King held out his sceptre welcoming her into his presence.

Choosing danger of comfort, risk over security, Esther knew that she was doing a dangerous thing for the sake of her nation, she must have been terrified, and yet she still went and did it.

In times of crisis we have a choice to either step up, or back down; courage or cowardliness.

Bravery does not mean feeling no fear, but rather despite the fears still doing the right thing.

Esther was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of her peoples safety.

The “No Fear” marketing team once had a poster which said “if you haven’t found something worth dying for you haven’t found something worth living for”, Esther knew what mattered and what was worth giving her life for. Too often we live in a comfortable, apathetic world devoid of passion, commitment and fire.

Too often we lack the courage of Esther, to do the right choice even -or maybe even especially- when the right choice is not the easy choice, but the costly and more difficult path, knowing the dangers, knowing the consequences and still being brave and doing the right thing, because it is the right thing to do.

In many ways Esther’s bravery echoes with Jesus’ in the garden of Gethsemane choosing to sacrifice safety, comfort and security out of love for God’s people, the “not my will but yours” words of Jesus could have been spoken by Queen Esther.

Esther approaches the King, and he holds out his sceptre to her, bidding her to come to him, she takes time to build a relational connection with him, before pleading the case for her people.

Esther’s bravery saved a nation, and saved her Uncle too (and also saw an evil Prime Minister get his comeuppance!).

Esther a leader who knew where her loyalty lay.

Esther a leader who chose to place herself in harms way.

Esther a leader who prayed and fasted.

Esther a leader who called people to pray.

Esther a leader who made the courageous choice even at the risk of great personal cost.

Esther a leader who build relationships, that allowed her to ask the difficult question.

Esther the leader who bravely plead for her peoples salvation.

A leader who could have said “what can I do?” a leader who appeared powerless and yet saved a nation.

So, let’s embrace the story of Esther and learn these great lessons for an amazingly brave and faithful follower of God.

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A Dickensian Christmas…

I love Charles Dickens.

I love his crazy characters -who can forget Ebenezer Scrooge counting his money, or Miss Haversham perpetually dressed in her wedding dress from when she was jilted many years ago or maybe the evil Fagin collecting stolen treasures.

I love his twisty turny plots and darkly humorous scenes.

This Christmas a film is coming out called “The Man Who Invented Christmas” telling of Dickens writing a Christmas Carol.

Much of our thinking of Christmas stems from the quill of Dickens, but often been re-enacted somewhat selectively, as not everything in Dicken’s Christmas was good cheer, snowy streets, mistletoe and holly, good humoured mutton chopped sideburns and “God bless us everyone”…

Yet much of his story-telling is to comment on the injustices and evils in his society, as an uncomfortable mirror shining a light on all that was wrong and ignored with the world in which he lived.

Yet in many ways we are returning to a Dickensian land again, the money lenders like Scrooge are now replaced by loan sharks like Bill Sykes, 1 in 6 of us are in debt. Most of us are just two pay cheques away from visiting a foodbank. Draconian rules on benefit sanctions passed with no compassion or empathy (or even common sense on occasions) blight the lives many causing children to go to bed hungry. Our NHS forces many suffering in acute pain to wait and wait for an appointment, and many have died shortly after being ‘declared fit to work’.

The capitalism so brilliant ridiculed in Hard Times is as pervasive now as it was then, where the might of institution grinds down at the Bob Cratchett’s of this world on 0 hour contracts attacking him as lazy and lacking aspiration rather than simply doing all he can beneath a broken system just to provide food for his family. Sadly the sweat-shops exploiting worker to work in to make ends meet exist today in most major cities -and across the world, in fact probably an item of clothing you are wearing at this very moment was made in a sweat shop somewhere in the world, possibly even using child labour.

Sadly children still run away from children’s homes where horrific abuse has occurred, sadly run-away children are still exploited by people like Fagin for evil purposes, with the Nancy’s of this world forced into prostitution.

Too often we try and romanticise and airbrush out of Christmas all pain, misery, suffering and sadness. Forgetting that the first Christmas, the one ‘invented’ by Christ featured an unmarried pregnant teenager in a country where barbaric religious fundamentalism could stone her to death, Roman oppression, homelessness, refugees fleeing genocide.

Dickens understood the fallenness of humanity, that the world is not as it should be, nor are people as they should be.

The first Christmas shows that God himself understands the fallenness of humanity.

Dickens despite the suffering and pain woven within his great works his novels still have hope within them, hope that people can change, hope that the past does not necessarily dictate the future, hope that love can overcome hate, and goodness overcome evil. Dickens like that first Inn Keeper understands the immense power of human kindness to bring transformation.

Dickens wrote believing another world was possible and sought to inspire his readers to live different and changed lives seeking to combat cruelty, callousness and greed.

Yet the Christmas Story -despite the poverty and pain interwoven within the narrative- is a message of hope, good news for all people. The Christmas story, God with us, God our rescuer and redeemer being born as a vulnerable baby. It is a message the people can change (as Christ has transformed the lives of millions of people) and Jesus incarnation shows us that another way of living is possible, his cross shows love destroying hate, goodness overcoming evil, light defeating darkness.

It is a story that captivates and changes, not to just be left in the book, but as we read it we are inspired to live a different way, being ambassadors and agents of transformation -bringers of a different Kingdom-.

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Two Prophets…

My favourite of the prophets is Elijah.

I like Elijah as he has moments where his humanity is plainly visible such as when he is exhausted and depressed after his time on Mount Carmel challenging the prophets of Baal, and he’s burned out and hiding in a cave.

Yet Elijah exhibits two strands of the prophetic nature which I have been reflecting on lately.

Firstly he speaks truth to power boldly and bravely. Elijah was deeply political and his rebuke to the King caused his life to be threatened and is real perilous danger. (1 Kings chapters 18-21).

Secondly Elijah speaks prophetically words from God into situations beyond what he could know in the natural by his own abilities. He steps out in faith and expectancy with signs, wonders and God’s glorious and mighty intervention into situations.

Over the last few years some of my thinking has been stretched and challenged by two friends who have really blessed my spiritual walk.

The first is a guy called Andy “Bidds” Biddlecombe, I’d say Bidds has a real prophet gift, he’s someone who listens to God and seeks to speak his word into real peoples lives.

Bidds challenges me to be expectant to see and hear God at work in peoples lives and situations, to pray with faith and boldness, to be a person that seeks the Kingdom to break out where we step out in faith and obedience.

Bidds hero is Smith Wigglesworth, a man full of faith and expectation of the Kingdom breaking in to the present in a wonderful and tangible way.

Alongside the prophetic Bidds is some who seeks to see signs and wonders break out into normal everyday life, naturally supernatural, where praying for healing and speaking prophetically are normal part of everyday life as a follower of Jesus.

The other is a guy called Chris Harwood, Chris is I believe also a bit of a prophet, Chris speaks truth to power, protesting at arms fares, sleeping outside to raise the plight of Poole’s homeless and actively lobby those in power to remember the poor, marginalised, disenfranchised -the people Christ prioritized. Often Chris does symbolic acts such as recently giving all the Councillors some bracelets and other craft work with hearts on reminding them that they and those they serve are made in the image of God and loved by him.

I went out for a pint with Chris yesterday evening, and I was talking about my friend Bidds, about that as Christians we should be actively expectant and moving in supernatural Kingdom power as part of our daily walk.

Chris rightly pointed out too, that all of us as Christians should also be involved in our communities and in “Doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly before our God” and in seeking the Kingdom of God which is righteousness, joy and peace.

As he spoke I got excited as I began to dream, what if normal Christianity really took seriously our call to be ambassadors of a different Kingdom?

What if we saw signs and wonders as we picketed arms fayres? -missiles malfunctioning so as not to kill civilians.

The jeering of the Police playing mind games trying to stop the protesters hearing a prophetic word of life for them and realise that God knows and loves them.

What if pornographers, loan sharks and drug dealers hear the call of Christ proclaimed and like Matthew the tax collector left their lives of exploitation and followed the one that gives life and life in all its abundance?

Perhaps the prophetic challenge and rebuke that the Church has always historically brought might not just be “with words, but with demonstrations of the spirits power”.

And perhaps this can work the other way around too? John Wimber talks of “the meat being on the street” and his protégé David Pytches talked about the “meeting place being the training place for the marker place”. Yet sadly too often people get stuck in the meeting place and the signs and wonders never actually reach the market place.

Signs and wonders in the Gospels traditionally most healings happen on the street not hidden away in a religious building.

I believe the call of God is to take the light of Christ to the darkest and most broken of places, and to show God’s love not just with words and arguments but with the signs of the Kingdom too.

Chris shared that at the start of the Arms Fayre protest, a Vicar did an exorcism over communion, praying against the demonic powers that sell brutal weapons of slaughter often to regimes with a evil disregard for civil liberties and human rights (interestingly the protestors weren’t arrested and the Arms Fayre ran into trouble when the Green MP Caroline Lucas came and discovered the illegal sale of electronic batons which is a breach of the convention of human rights so no protestors got prosecuted).

Lets be people unafraid to go bravely into the darkest places, to protest, to speak out and to see signs and wonders performed for the glory of Christ.

So, my prayer is that we see a new generation of Elijah prophets, that are bold in speaking truth where it is needed and be people displaying the miraculous signs of the Kingdom of God.

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A night at St. James…

Over the years I have been in or around St. James’ but last night was the first time I’ve slept in its grounds (although it did cross my mind when I got myself locked out of my parents house when dad was vicar there).

We were sleeping out to raise money and awareness of homelessness in Poole. The fab charity we were raising money for was -Routes to Roots, the Churches response to homelessness locally, with various Churches running a ‘soup kitchen’ everyday, and two drop ins again with hot food,

One of the things I used to love about Routes to Roots is that it served people without the smug swagger that unfortunately plagues many churchy projects.

Also, I remember when I did some shifts with them before going off to the Vicar factory wss the wonderful sense of love, compassion and concern that greeted everyone who walked through the door. Moreover it was one of the few places where the church served together as the Bride of Christ rather than worrying whether each other was a “sound and proper Christian” showing the fruit of the spirit in seeking to bless.

So anyway we were meant to be doing a sleep out, that evening… but earlier I was involved in another new project, the launch of Town Pastors, an initiative similar to Street Pastors but earlier in the day on a Saturday afternoon. A fab local ministry Jackie, a lady called Lizzie and I chatted to homeless people, kids hanging out at the bus station and anyone who wanted to chat. I met s lot of homeless people and chatted to them. Which meant as I set up my sleeping bag for the sleep out, as the rain started to gently patter, the homeless weren’t a faceless group of unfortunates, but people I’d met with names and faces.

When I arrived I was met by Chris and a friend of his who is on the streets, I was deeply touched by how concerned he was about our welfare.

Chris, my friend who was organising the event was worried about the weather. I made some foolish comments about being sure everyone will be okay, probably trying to convince myself as much as him.

Gradually people gathered, a selection of people of a variety of ages, backgrounds (some would call themselves Christians and some might not).

I was impressed by the numbers who came, in a culture where comfort and apathy is rife here people were choosing discomfort for the sake of others.

Chris gathered us together, thanking us for coming and reminding us that although we can have an uncomfortable and cold night before returning to a comfy bed and a hot shower, the homeless can’t do this, if they get cold and wet they stay cold and wet.

We were also very aware of the shameful actions of the local council wanting to ban the homeless from the town centre, treating people like they are just mere objects then can be moved around, dehumanizing people and labelling people as s problem. Moreover it does nothing to solve the problems these people have rather it just hides them away.

A couple of mates popped into say “hey”, two of them bring ex military they spoke of how many people in the armed forces end up on the streets unable yo cope with civilian life.

Chris says that he will get a photo of us all send it to each of the councillors as a Christmas card.

he Christmas story chimes with tonight’s prophetic action, the first Christmas saw a young pregnant teenager forced to give birth sheltering in a make do bed for the night off the streets. The creator of everything born homeless, and later said that he had “no where to lay his head”. This homeless child became a refugee fleeing genocide before his 3rd birthday.

I am torn from my theological musings as a huge raindrop hits my head, and another, and another. My bed looks pretty pathetic and a young guy offers me some plastic sheeting.

Sat by a street lamp that stayed on all night and with a Church clock behind us that chimed the hour, the clock struck 11.00 -7 hours to go. The rain drums pretty hard on our plastic sheeting, but for the moment it remains okay.

Some guys come past from the pub, realise what is happening and tip toe past. Sadly not always the case, my friend Jo in Kingswood had some lads try to set her alight as she slept in a bus shelter and as week later torched all her possessions. Another friend I worked with years ago told me how he was kicked around like a human football whilst he slept for the amusement of some drunken lads.

1:00 struck and I was beginning to feel the dampness underneath me. 2:00 struck and I was feeling quite uncomfortable and cold. The police strolled through tslikin to one of our group and then left us alone, had we really been homeless we might have had to pack up our stuff and find somewhere else to sleep.

3:00 struck, I was feeling groggy, I remember silently praying that the clock woildbbe striking 4:00 not 3.00.

My sleepless mind wandered all over the place in that dark hour sometimes we find those times of deep challenge, of resurfacing pain and sometimes a great epiphany moment, sadly not tonight, but I did feel have a judgemental thought about how often as Church are we just gathering together and naval gazing, or pontificating in at Starbucks when we ought to be changing the world…

Someone near me was snoring. When you are desperatly longing to sleep, hearing someone snore creates in me all sorts of unhelpful jealousy.

By now I realise I am more or less trying to sleep in s puddle. Other people around me start whispering. Clearly they are waterlogged too.

Eventually realise that sleep isn’t going to happen, although I do wonder if maybe I might have had been asleep briefly as discover that one guy in the group has been really ill with a migraine. A few of us start getting up, Chris suggests that perhaps 5.00 is the new 6:00. I stand with my friend Lewis looking at the clock on the church tower waiting for it to strike 5.00.

Over the next hour of whispered conversations, people soggy and tired but all good honoured, begin to throw away sodden cardboard they’d been sleeping on, band pack their stuff down into their cars. Some people have busy days today, and I do wonder his they will cope on barely any sleep.

One lady tells me about chatting to a homeless person earlier who wanted to give her her tarpaulin, such a touching story reminiscent of the widows mite reminds me of stories of over seas missionaries who share about how people with nothing are often so incredibly generous, and we who have so much often can be a bit stingy.

Another guy got up absolutely soaked to the skin but amazingly cheerful, and spoke about how he had had a hip operation and had to dose himself ok with ibruprofin to do tonight. It often challenges me that as a moderately healthy 40 year old my discomfort was probably less than some who had chosen to come out, and something in me was deeply touched by this wonderful Christ like gents throw away comment. He also drove back to pick up his friend who had been unwell, again I was challenged that he could have legitimately gone home, but chose to stay out all night. It made me realise that sometimes the most heroic actions aren’t the dramatic posturing but costly sacrifices that are met with determination in a humble and often unnoticed way.

A couple of hours later I squelch into my house, trying unsuccessfully not to wake the dog… my body exhausted but my mind racing…

I reach for my iPad and think let’s write this all down…

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Straight talking Christanity Vs Polite Church.

Sometimes as Church we are all to neat and tidy, polite and ve don’t mention anything controversial, messy, offensive and are perfectly well mannered and inoffensive.

Church if it were a colour would be baige, and if it were a biscuit would be rich tea!

I worry that Church as institution makes “not rocking the boat” a vitue (although my spell check suggest virtue should be replaced by virus!) as is this idea of “keeping the show on the road”, again seen as a virtue -rather than asking “Is this ‘show’ roadworthy?”

Recently I read of a brave follower of Christ and church leader challenging his congregations sinful and unchristlike behaviour and is now on a forced sabbatical.

Yet do think that on occasions Churches need a rebuke and a challenge, one of the roles of a Church leader is a custodian of the culture and to call the Church to act as they should. This is clearly modelled by Jesus who rebuked his “right hand man” with “Get behind me Satan”, who called the monarch (Herod) a fox, and the powerful religious elite a “nest of vipers” and “white washed tombs” and drove the traders from the temple with force.

Paul’s “Pastoral Epistles’ are straight talking, uncomfortable reading and deeply challenging, and if sent out now would probably get some traditional church goers and odd bishop rather hot under the (dog) collar.

Yet, it might not be popular but the call and the footsteps of Christ has not been a call to ‘people please’, but to be a radically different community, a Church that should be a foretaste and outpost of heaven, but sometimes tragically resembles the other place!

I see nothing Christ-like in condoning and colluding with the bad behaviour that sadly exists within some Churches.

What our Churches, and as Christians, do/behave really matters.

We as Christians and the Church gathered locally are the shop window to the community around us. We are Christs ambassadors, he makes his appeal through us.

How we live can bring glory or shame to the name of Christ.

This brave man of God showed a more “light and salty” path, he could have turned a blind eye, not rocked the boat and gone through ministry motions, but no, he called behaviour that was “off side” off side (which sadly happens too often across too many Churches, and probably is responsible for repelling many seekers from Christ).

He should be commended not punished.

I have tragically seen and know many people who know and love Christ but because of their Church experience are no long in active fellowship.

I’m not advcating bullying or abusive behaviour, but I don’t thing there is anything Christlike about biting our tongue when we should be speaking up.

A wise friend who had been battered by some toxic church politics and stood up to them also said that he didn’t want sink to their level.

Sadly in the complex nature of human interaction hurt people end up hurting people, sin can and does become cyclical, cycles which need to be broken and new ways of living, loving and serving together needs to be found.

I had difficult parish in Kingswood, and some challenging relationships to manage. I am not naturally a lover of conflict, in fact I actively dislike conflict. Nor am I saying I always handled it as well as I could have. Yet in the words of Catherine Booth “to change the future you have to disturb the present”.

As Desmond Tutu said that “if you remain silent in the face of sin and justice, then you have sided with the oppressor”.

Jesus never sided with the oppressor, nor turned a blind eye to wrong doing and sinful behaviour.

Light drives back darkness and salt -killing bacteria- can sting, but we are called to be salt and light in our communities, a call to live different, being that “City without walls blazing with the glory of God” a “City on a hill that cannot be hidden”, being the hands a feet of Christ.

On one occasion dealing with one of our more difficult congregational members I was told “leave him he’s not worth it!” and that “people like him wont chsnge”.

Yet Jesus never said anyone wasnt worth it, even washing Judas feet.

The gospel says that even the most unlikely people seeped in sin can change, whether that is the sinfulness of spiteful and toxic church politics or rampant debuchary!

Sadly in one of our Churches in Kingswood my wife and little girl stopped going to one of the 5 Churches because it became the kind of environment we didn’t want our little girl exposed too.

Our Church leaders talk a lot about growth, but surely we need instead to talk about health, being a Christ like community.

Healthy things grow, unhealthy things die, we need to nurture communities that reflect and are full of the Holy Spirit embodying and replicatimg the DNA of Jesus.

A call to follow Jesus and turn from our sin is at the heart of gospel. If the people of our congregations, refuse to listen and respond to the call of Christ to be changed and transformed, then perhaps we need to knock the dust from our feet? Something painful, but actually biblical.

To deal openly, honestly and courageously to see us all become transformed into the likeness of Christ is at the heart of being a Christian. Iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another. Carrying one anothers burdens. Spuring one another on towards love and good deeds.

The call is to love, even to love those who persecute us, and sometimes it can really feel like persecution, and although love forgives and turns the other cheek, it calls us to the tougher and braver path, not of looking the other way or shrugging our shoulders and saying “that’s just how some people are” but bravely try and build a different community that acts different and is a beacon of hope both to those in the Church -another way is possible- and to those who don’t yet belong, to show them what a Christian community should be.

A Christian community reflecting Christ will need to be defended, Satan will attack it, but let’s not give up trying like Nehemiah in the face of the onslaught from Sabbalats and Tobiahs continuing to build (and rebuild) or the glory of God.

Yes, we will rebuke out of love, as we seek to see God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

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