Carrying burdens, community of grace, Discipleship, Godliness, Partnership, Paul's Prayers, Phillipians, vocation

“Don’t just ‘SUPPORT’ me, ‘PARTNER’ with me” (Updated).

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Can you say a little prayer for us Vicar?

Would you mind if I said a little prayer for you?

I don’t want to pray a LITTLE prayer!

A “Little Prayer” sounds as though we lack confidence in Gods power to transform lives and circumstances.

I want to be like Paul praying big, hairy and audacious prayers rendering heaven.

I’ve been thinking too often we have dumbed down our language and expectations of prayer, mission and discipleship.

Recently, I came across (via Jackie Davies) a William Booth quote: “I’m not waiting for a move of God, I am the move of God”.

This is God’s plan for the transformation of his world, you and I living for him, stepping out in faith, and partnering with him.

This was reinforced for me recently with two things that happened this week…

The first when I prayed for someone to be healed, and they were, and I was more shocked than they were, which led me to have an interesting discussion with myself afterwards!

The second when I was sharing at a Church meeting the work I am doing in the community, and quite frankly it was pretty obvious they couldn’t care less…

My experience of this healing miracle made me think about living out my calling to partner with Christ (if you are a Christian, that is all of our callings!) and wondered am I really pulling my weight here, am I working with him, alongside him, or doing my own thing.

My experience of the DCC made me feel unsupported, certainly not feeling like we were in any real sense ‘partnering together’.

I was talking to another minister type mate who and said about supporting him, he said “I don’t want people to support me, I want people to partner with me”.

The same is true the other-way around, I don’t want to just support my congregations in mission, I want to partner with them.

The word SUPPORT conjures up images of sitting there with a sympathetic and slightly constipated look, offering milky coffee and making polite noises for a few minutes until the conversation returns to something less uncomfortable and more superficial.

Whereas the word PARTNERSHIP conjures up both people investing heavily in something, standing shoulder to shoulder, battling together amid blood, tears and sweat.

Partnership is a word about mutual investment, were the outcome really matters to those involved.

Support, sounds more like offering a hand, lending a fiver, giving someone a lift, making a cuppa (all good things, but has the image of superficial investment and involvement).

Paul wasn’t after support from his fellow Christians, he didn’t want “Oh Bless him” platitudes, he wants the disciples partnering with him to carry on fighting for the Kingdom cause as fearlessly as he did when he was on his missionary endeavours -especially as now he is in prison, in chains, for talking about Christ.

Paul’s prayer shows his aspiration for his team.

This left me wondering, is this the kind if thing we pray for ourselves? Our Churches? Our home-groups? Our friends involved in Christian Unions at work? Our Kingdom allies locally doing things like work based Alpha, Street Pastors, outreach work or whatever it is God is calling them too?

Or do we pray that God would just “help” them or “bless” them…

Over the next few days I’d urge us to grow our intersessions vocabulary, and realise that as we pray we are doing something bigger more amazing, more powerful and beautifully supernatural..

So let’s rediscover afresh the awesome power of prayer, connecting us with the awesome power that comes from almighty God.

Let’s up our support of one another so that it feels more like partnership.

Let us review how response to God’s partnership offer, are we partnering with him, pulling our weight and keeping in step.

To the original readers of the scriptures the word partnership would lead people to think of Oxon partnered together under a yoke, journeying together, in step, both taking equal share of the weight…

Yet for us the Yoke is a three person yoke, shouldering our partnership with God, and with one another, a call to carry one another’s yokes or burdens -and let them carry yours- as we all partner together to fulfil the heartbeat of creation to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

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Discipleship

Christians On A Bungee Rope.

I remember as a youth worker going to an event which had a ‘bungee run’ where people were attached to this strong elasticated rope and the had to run as fast and as far as they can before the bungee kicked in and pulled them back to the start.

As I watched the kids having a great time on this, it made me think about my own spiritual journey, about how sometimes I left like a ‘bungee-rope-Christian’ whereby I’d be going reasonably well, making progress and then suddenly “Whooaa!” back to square one, down and out the game, left in a bundle on the ground, sat unceremoniously on my butt!

I don’t know about you, but does this sound familiar?

There are some sins, weakness and areas of brokenness that keep on catching us and we end up falling into sin and ending up flat on our faces.

What is your bungee rope?

What is it that will pull you back to your old way of life? What is the sin that so easily entangles?

What is our Achilles’ heel in our walk with God?

Perhaps it is our pride? Our inability to admit we are wrong? Our ability to heed wise council? Or misplaced trust in our own abilities? (Ego, could be an acronym for Edging God Out).

Maybe it is some unresolved personal stuff?

Maybe it is those reliably landmines of money sex and power?

Maybe it is relational, some people just manage to bring out the worst in us, push our buttons, and we end up feeling like we’ve bungeed ourselves back to a crumpled heap on the flood?

I have had times in my Christian life, especially as a teenager and in my early 20’s, I used to feel like my spiritual life was a flourish and fail cycle, a continued and some-what depressing “hamster wheel” of sin, confession absolution only to sin again.

On one level, this is normal, we need to keep short accounts with God, we need to be continually reminded of our reliance and dependence on God, and to keep us mindful of our need of him.

Just because we are a Christian we are not immune to temptation, I often say that once someone has prayed a prayer of commitment that is often when the work starts rather than finishes, in fact once we pledge our allegiance to Christ we become more of a target for spiritual attack. The problem is we forget that we have a real enemy, and wrongly think our Christian life should be a walk in the park rather than a battle.

Having said all this we need to remember that we are “more than conquerors through Christ”, he is delivered us from the powers and dominion of darkness and those who the “Son sets free shall be free indeed”.

When we read the apostle Paul in Romans 7, we see that he sees himself as a ‘sin addict’, a ‘slave to sin’ –“the good I do I don’t do, and the wrong things I don’t want to do I do”, something that resonated with me whilst I did a placement at theological college at the Priory Clinic, the drug and alcohol rehab centre.  I discovered that addicts remain addicts all their lives, but yet many go on to live lives in active recovery.

Despite at times feeling like we are on the bungee rope, we need to remember that despite our current circumstances and how things may feel, we need to remember that that “sin does not have the final word over us” nor does sin have the final world over the world. The “it is finished” victory of Jesus changes everything.

Sin can be overcome, “he that is in us is greater than he that is in the world”, in Christ we are more than sin victims, bungee ropes can be broken, people can live lives of freedom and recovery, leapods can and do change their spots, Jesus not only changes lives but changes us too.

Often this is gradual and life-long discipleship shaping, sometimes we experience dramatic change other times we discover that God sneaks up on us and heals and restores us by inches, a little bit over a period of time so that although we don’t notice it, others notice the change in us.

Often this is not just a spiritual thing, but something practical too, we need to bring things into the light with other Christians, we need to help, support and be accountable to each other, supporting each other, ‘carrying one another’s burdens’, ‘iron sharpening iron as one person sharpens another’.

Like the addict in recovery, we need to remember where we come from and being diligent about not slipping back there, not playing fast and loose with sin, not placing ourselves in this those positions of vulnerability where we may get embroiled again in old, familiar and enticing sins and weaknesses.

 So, this 2017, let us be people who discover afresh what it means to be truly free in Christ.

Let us know that we can be free of those things that pull us back, often not easily, rarely a quick fix, and frequently an on-going battle, but with Christ a new and brighter future is ahead of us.

And what if you are reading this having been ‘pinged’ to the floor, sometimes getting up and running again is in itself an act of faith in Christ and an act of defiance towards the powers and principalities of darkness.

So, let 2017 be full of victories in our lives, and life lived in new freedom found in living for Christ in active recovery from our addiction to sin.

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Discipleship

Push out into the deeper water…

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.


 

At our Church we are working our way through the Gospel of Luke, it is wonderful reading again stories we know so well, and spotting new and fresh insights as we read (or re-read)them together.

Verse 4 struck me, the idea of pushing out into the deep water, a friend of mine (also called Simon) felt this verse was for him prophetic, a call to ‘go where the water is deeper’  (New Living Translation).

A challenge, are we keep going deeper in our faith, “pushing out from the shore”, yet too often Christians fall into the danger of “splashing around in the shallow end”, or perhaps staying within our comfort zone -maybe even with a foot on the floor.

Perhaps this is Simon might be feeling like this, at the moment Simon seems like a curious bystander, although one warmly disposed towards Jesus, having had him in his home.In the previous chapter, 4,  Jesus saved him from public shame by healing his mother-in-law so the hospitality culture could be observed, we see this hospitality continue as he allows Jesus to use his boat to preach from.

Then Jesus turned to Simon, and asked him if he had caught any fish, and he said “no” Jesus told him to try again, and Simon complied. He could have got stroppy and said “what do you know about fishing mate, you’re just a carpenter!”

How often do we think we know best? Too often our  pride stops us trying a new thing, or asking for help.

Or perhaps we have tried, tried and tried again and we just haven’t got the energy to try one more time, a challenge maybe God is calling you to try something one more time?

Despite mild protestations, Simon is obedient, and then suddenly he gets the best catch of his career, so much so that others have to come in and help him. In our discussion we pondered about this being a wonderful picture of the Church, called to help one another bring in the harvest together rather than working in isolation, and when the huge catch is brought in we don’t read about them squabbling over the fish!

In fact Simon’s reaction completely ignores the fish! He says to Jesus “Get away from me Lord, I am a sinful man” he realises that Jesus is no ordinary man, and seeing something of God’s power and undeserved generosity towards him causes Simon to be convicted of his sin, he realises that Jesus is Holy and he isn’t.

An encounter with the glory of God often leads people to realise their unworthiness and their sinfulness, Isaiah saw God’s glory in his vision and said “woe is me, I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live amongst a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King”…and like Isaiah it was this point of realisation of their spiritual health that came the point of commissioning as from Simon’s realisation of his sinful state he is then invited to partner with Christ in his mission of “becoming a fisher for people”.

So, Simon, has this miracle, something personal, an amazing revelation that the God who made the universe cared passionately about his livelihood. What of us? Do we realise that God cares about every aspect of our lives.

Simon has a massive haul of fish, probably enough to keep him financially stable for the medium term, and yet he leaves it all, -leaves it all, all of it, everything- as he responds to Christ’s call as he goes and follows Jesus.

Often I have noticed that God often call us on from something not from the point of failure and desperation when leaving is no sacrifice or challenge, but often from the place of strength, when leaving feels more like a costly sacrifice.

Jesus says in Matthews Gospel “no one who puts his hand to the plough and keeps looking back is worthy of being my follower”.

The call to follow Jesus is an “all in deal” too often we say “yes” to Christ but don’t leave behind our old lives.

Saying “yes” to Christ is a one way ticket and can’t be a foot in  both camps, baptism talks of being “dead to our old way of life”, powerfully illustrated earlier in the Bible when Elisha -who earned his living plough fields with a yoke of Oxen- responded to God’s call and took up the Prophet Elijah’s mantle. -and sacrificed the Oxen and used their Yoke as the timber.

A challenge to us all, Are we going to heed the call of Jesus afresh to come and follow him? To keep on following him, follow without looking back, following without a safety net or a contingency plan.

Are we going to heed his call to “push out into the deeper water” -Or do we have one foot on the floor of the shallow end.

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Discipleship, Journey, Leadership, mentoring, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, paradigm shift, Spiritual Health, vocation

James Bond and Redundancy…

God’s been speaking to me a lot recently about redundancy, something I have never experienced but sadly a reality for many people who I live and serve amongst.

We often live as though its all about us, as if we are irreplaceable, and we will live/serve for ever… Yet even my Biblegateway verse for today challenges that…

“For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24.

I re-watched the Bond film Skyfall over Christmas,  and made me realize they wouldn’t have been able to do a film like this if it wasn’t for those who have gone before, and rumours are circulating about a Bond actor taking over from Daniel Craig…

Jonathan Ross called Daniel Craig, the custodian of the role of Bond, a phase I liked, he doesn’t “own” Bond, but a dual responsibility both to safeguard the role and a responsibility to carry the franchise to the next generation, and yet someone else will take the series on after him maybe even to places as yet undiscovered, and unrealised.

The series was financially lucrative under Pierce Brosnan, and could have carried on in the same vein, many were sorry he left the role and for some he will always be ‘their’ bond, and yet if he hadn’t have left the series wouldn’t have had its reboot and wouldn’t have had its two biggest and most successful movies.

Okay, we may never be offered the role of playing Bond, James Bond…

Yet we are God’s people here as his Church for this generation, and like Bond there is a call to safeguard that which has been entrusted to us the good and unchanging news of Christ, yet we have to do more than just safeguard the role, we need to bring the good news of the Kingdom to a new generation. We might have to ditch things we like but become barriers to a new culture, or do things in ways we may find uncomfortable or alien to us… We may have to let go of the okay and the good, risking it all, for the best and the greater…

We need to see ourselves not as indispensable parts of the picture but simply custodians, links in a bigger chain of the picture of God’s call in this place… yet the question is will we leave the place better than when we found it?

I believe the call to pass on the baton is a continual call, we should always be looking for people to encourage, to hold things loosely knowing that they belong not to us but to Christ and not to cling on in an unhelpful way, in fact this clinging often leaves cracks and bruises where hands that should no longer have been holding it have hung on longer than they should.

I believe God is calling me, and us all, to look for redundancy, to lift other leaders up to take our place, to constantly be trying to do ourselves out of a job, so that we can pick up the next thing that God has for us, and then to do the same again.

I often wonder whether God has had amazing things for all of us, which we never get near picking up as we have never put down the first thing he gave us?

A journey where all things become new, cycles of fresh and new, where people are constantly being led on to new and deeper, the body of Christ is being strengthened and built up, as people (in Christ) end up doing (through him) more than they could ever believe possible.

Redundancy sounds scary, and it is, but in passing on batons our hands are free for the next thing God gives us

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