Discipleship, Godliness, Spiritual Health

Gorging at the Table.

At the prayer room we have had some exciting words for the city come out this week, one word we had was “my people starve for lack of knowledge” which seems a crazy prophetic word as Christians have books galore, blogs, conferences, sermons and messages online but the problem is that we are just “gorging at the table” the Church in the West is spiritual Obese, the call is to turn the spiritual food we have in so much abundance into fuel.

Over-feeding causes us to become lethargic, often we see people who are wonderful “arm chair generals” they know it all, they can quote everyone from Kris Vallaton to Pope Francis and scatter their language with biblical quotations like linguistic croutons  and yet the problem is that we just feast and feast.

God calling us I believe not just to gorge at the table, but to turn our food in to fuel.

To dream again, and then get out bed and live it out.

“Awake O sleeper and rise from your slumbers”.

The phrase dream again, kept on coming to us in the prayer room, maybe we are lapping up other peoples’ dreams but they don’t satisfy because they are not Gods vision for us ourselves.

 A great quote that my friend Rev. Jackie Davies heard was that for too long the Church has been “waiting on a move of God” where Christ is saying “I am calling you to be the move of God”. It is that paradigm shift of moving from waiting to being.

Ghandi issued the challenge to “be the change you want to see”.

I was having a coffee with my friend Harry the other day and he said “we don’t need another course, Christians know what they should be doing, the issue is them actually doing it”.

The problem too, is our teachers are great at delivering sermons, I’ve delivered a few in my time too, but does our inspiring sermons lead to our changed lives and to other peoples changed lives, is the problem the lack of teaching or rather the problem of discipleship -actually doing it!

We were reminded too, of Lyn Green, who I believe is actually the Baptist “archbishop” who talked of 2016 being a year of “beacons of prayer”, and now 2017 being “beacons of hope” where people move from praying in their closets in their private space, to proclaiming in the public space, prayer is the fire that drives the engine.

God has given us all we need for life and Godliness, we already have the tools we need for mission and transformation, often snacking at the table, is delaying tactics -unable to speak because we are too busy chewing- keeping us from doing what we are actually called to do.

We probably know the stuff, and although teaching is good and important, the Christian faith isn’t just to feed our own heads but rather to transform this world for Christ.

So, let’s see 2017 being a year of the Church getting in shape, getting to be match fit, putting what we know into practice, letting our food become our fuel, as we leave the comfort of our nice warm cosy churches and living rooms, and return to the frontlines God has called us on.

Lunchtime is over, it’s now time to get to work.

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Discipleship, Godliness, Mission Shaped Church, paradigm shift, perspectives, Spiritual Health

Paradigm Shift.

Its a phrase that I read everywhere, and I used to think it was just one of those pretentious words that get glued onto new things by people wanting to sound intelligent, that was until I looked up what it meant!

Here is a definition: “A fundamental change in approach or underlying assumption”, in Phil Potters excellent ‘Pioneering a new future’ he talks of this ‘Paradigm Shift’ being like a swimmer being given a snorkel and goggles, -the swimmer sees the sea, the shore, the boat and the sky- but the snorkeler sees all that is under the ocean, their location is the same but the view is entirely different.

Vision is fundamental to what we do, “where there is no Vision the people perish”, yet the question actually is whose vision are we following, ours or Christ’s?

Do see where he is leading for the next step, often a step of faith and always a step out of out comfort zone and security.

In the Gospels Jesus heals a blind man who recovers his sight in two stages, the first his vision is unclear, before being restored completely.

It is easy to imagine this guy being pleased at having partial vision restored, yet Jesus plan was to completely open his eyes.

I believe that this miraculous story can also be a parable to the modern day Church, sadly we can become spiritually blind when we take our eyes off Christ, yet Christ wants to restore our vision but we often settle for seeing less than Christ wants us to see.

We need our vision transformed by Jesus, not just partially healed.

Wondering too if sometimes our expectations, experiences, history, disappointments and our egos  blurs our vision.

To see things with Christ’s eyes, see things as Christ sees them, ought to be the ambition of us all who follow Jesus, he saw not things as they were but as they could be.

Seeing God’s plan, his new way rather than simply second hand revelation and conventional wisdom, doing what we have always done. David saw God’s vision for defeating Goliath with a sling shot rather than the bulky over-sized armour of King Saul.

Yet to many of us are trying to fight a Goliath shaped battle in debilitating Armour from a past generation, rather than asking if this is something he is still calling us to do?

Often our vision is smaller and more timid that I believe God wants to give us rather the vision his vision is huge and audacious, as if it a small vision achievable with our own resources where is the need for faith? Faith John Wimber reminded us is “spelled R-I-S-K”.

Yet revelation and vision from Christ is scary, it shakes the status quo, it pushes boundaries, defies expectations and stretches and strengths our faith and often means us laying down and surrendering our preferences and understandings. “If we always do what we have always done, we will get what we always have”…

I believe God is saying “I have seen your vision, now do you want to see my vision?”

God says “Behold I am doing a new thing” and yet too often we are munching on yesterdays stale manna.

I am a fan of the recent Church of England’s Report “Mission Shaped Church” but realise we have tried to turn this around to Church Shaped Mission, lowering the challenge and moving the goal posts closer to a more comfortable and achievable game.

We forget that God’s plan is bigger than simply his Church and our programmes and ideas within that, rather God’s plan is for the whole world. Rowan Williams famously said “It is not the Church who has the mission of God, but rather the Missionary God who has the Church”.

God can’t be placed in a box, the curtain ripped from top to bottom proves that the Spirit of God is uncontainable.

So, let us pray as we begin 2017, to expect the unexpected, to think big and look at the world with God’s eyes, through the eyes of Christ, praying for new and restored vision for us both as individuals and corporately as Church. Looking with bold eyes, not for a small God stuffed into a box of our expectations and understanding, but rather with to see “what God is doing in world and joining” remembering that our God exceeds our wildest imagination and can “do more than we ask or think”.

Let us see things with the fresh eyes of faith.

 

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Carrying burdens, Discipleship, Journey, Spiritual Health

Heavy Laden or Travelling Light.

 

On Sunday I had an over-loaded car with some stuff for the homeless from Hanham, a whole load of stuff form Soul Café and some other stuff I probably should have taken out the car after our holiday.

It made me think about what we travel with, some of us travel pretty heavily laden.

It reminded me of what I was younger and single how I could travel pretty light with just a couple of things thrown over my shoulder in a ruc-sac, but when I was married with a child the bags just accumulated.

I began to think about perhaps we carry stuff we don’t need, not just physically we become so dependent on stuff, but emotionally and spiritually.

When Jesus said “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will refresh you” he’s actually understanding something profound about human nature.

Some of us find it harder to travel light, used to travel light but as time has gone on we have lost that gift and now the world weighs heavily on our shoulders, but do we really need to carry all that we carry?

Are our burdens our own or should we be sharing them with one another?

Often I think our burdens that weigh heaviest on us, probably should be share with others, I wonder sometimes whether we are shouldering too much responsibility because others aren’t shouldering theirs?

Perhaps, we need to learn a new of doing life together, which prays, loves, encourages, supports and empowers each other, this is what I believe Church should be like, each being who they were created to be, but doing so in community that compliments each other.

Scripture calls us to “carry one another’s burdens” but the problem is too often we don’t because we feel “we have enough burdens of our own”, or perhaps we take on everyone else’s burdens, but don’t allow anyone to help us with ours. Sometimes it takes great courage to allow someone else to bless us and to carry our burdens with us, sometimes it takes more strength to be “be served” than to serve.

Sometimes we are carrying things which Christ is calling us to lay down, particularly those ‘roots of bitterness’, resentments, unresolved conflicts and grievances we have. I know for me personally, I have laid these down in prayer only to pick them back up again moments later. The prophet Micah talks of hurling these iniquities into the depth of the Ocean, and I think a wise addition would write ‘no fishing’. The problem with these burdens they are like scabs, they bleed easily, it doesn’t take much for them hurt again, and so we find ourselves laid low under the burden of them.

Satan, wants us burdened, laid-low without the energy or capacity to take on what God is calling us to do, he will keep an old burden weighing upon us until we take that active and on-going choice to not just let Christ set us free, but to walk onwards with him in freedom.

“Those whom the Son sets free are free indeed” is a truth, but freedom is something on going, let to our own devices we will soon become entangled again, or possibly re-tangled again. Walking free is a choice, we need God’s help to be free and stay free, but also need the help of our community to stay free.

Yet too often our burdens are often kept hidden like dirty secrets, the power of shame often makes our burdens heavier, especially as Christians we feel we should think or struggle with some of our burdens

Yet inviting Christ into our shame brings liberation, and inviting trusted brothers and sisters into strengthens community but grounding it in authenticity.

Bringing things into the light literally lightens the burdens upon our shoulders.

Sometimes our baggage can come expectations that other people place on us, sometimes these are completely unreasonable, my friend Kevin Lewis wrote a poem called “I am the Vicar I am” which joked about all the expectations people place on clergies shoulders, although more obvious with the clergy, we all live with other peoples unreasonable expectations on us, perhaps also we place these on ourselves, perhaps too people have long gone their expectations still weigh heavily -perhaps parents, perhaps teachers, perhaps someone we once looked up to… Yet are these expectations from God? The one whose “burden is light and his Yoke is easy” -not saying they are of no weight but a crippling or crushing  weight. Is what we are carrying life giving -life in all its fullness/abundance- or life draining?

So, as we start 2017, perhaps there are things that need to be left at the foot of the cross, and left in 2016, expectations, shame, pains and bitterness, leave them there and not to return to them.

Invite God to take the baggage and burdens from your shoulders that he never meant for you to carry.

Invite others to share your journey, trust others to help you carry your burdens as you help carry theirs.

As we start 2017, allow God to free us, refresh and renew us, taking off those burdens that are not of him, so our hands are able to take on all that he has for us in 2017, ready and able to serve, match fit and ready to go.

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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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Discipleship, justification, Spiritual Health, Theology

Justified.

The Bible uses the phrase “justification” a lot, by faith in Christ’s one full sufficient, sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction we are justified thought Faith, justified means that we are put right with God, our relationship with him is restored, in fact some have commented that being justified by Faith in Christ we are before God “JUST-IF-I’D never sinned”.

I began to think of the whole concept of justification, when we mess up we try and justify ourselves, I was tired, it’s everyone else’s fault, I’m misunderstood or whatever… Yet self justification often is our way of not taking responsibility for our actions, not owning up to our share of blame or culpability.

Yet this is why “confession is good for the Soul” as when we confess our sin to God we can’t fob him off with excuses or bend the truth in our favour, he’s not fooled by us, nor can we pull the wool over the eyes of the all knowing God.

The Anglican liturgy say “we confession that we have sinned against you and against our neighbour in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness and our own deliberate fault”… It is owning our sins, taking responsibility for our actions and behaviour and when it falls short of the standard we know the Father wants from us and coming before him with the bravery to say “I sinned, I did wrong”… scripture say “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves (self deluded) and the truth is not in is, but, if we confess our sin God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

Honest confession to God is showing a self awareness of our life and our spiritual walk, it takes bravery to admit to ourselves and to God when we haven’t got it right and done all that we should have done, or done what we ought not to have done.

This isn’t a flippant thing, or at least it shouldn’t be…

Yet we are called not just to be honest with ourselves or with one another, but also requiring that level of honesty and authenticity with one another, we can’t confess and say sorry to God, we can’t just know our own faults in our own heads and not let that effect our relationship with one another. We need to be people brave enough to admit we are wrong, to say we are sorry, to acknowledge our imperfections, fallenness and our humanity, in a world where nothing is ever anyone’s faults this is radically different and counter cultural.

Yet people might be saying I’m not apologising for things that aren’t my fault, there are times when people hurl accusations at me which aren’t justified, sometimes the right and honourable thing is to justify yourself and argue your corner?

I think that is a broken and messed up world, people do sadly tell ties and embellish the truth and try and re-write history and point the blame elsewhere.

Yet when we are faced with criticism what do we do? Are we able from our place of security in God to wade through what might be a tough challenge but one we might need to heed and what is slander, even if someone is 90 per cent wrong there is still 10 per cent we could learn from.

At college when I was training to be a vicar we were urged to be reflective practitioners, stepping back and reviewing situations and often ourselves within the situation, a great question to ask is “what can I learn from this?” Or “what is could God teach me through this?”

We have a rational and logical reaction after we have had an emotional one, yet too often we speak from a place not of prayerful reflection and wise review but from the pain of raw emotion. Criticism too often hurts us deeply as often it is levied at something we have worked hard at or invested a lot in, and sadly all of us to some degree struggle too with the sin of pride which often blinds us to our own faults and failings but conversely helps us to see the flaws and failing of others far more vividly, pride distorts our vision and dulls the voice of Gods still small voice whispering in our ear.

Our justification of ourselves comes from our own identity and self worth, yet as someone once wrote “the person who kneels before God can stand before anyone”, we are justified by God, made righteous in his sight.

Our identity doesn’t rest on the shifting sands of what other people think of us, instead let us be secure in who were are in Christ.

That doesn’t mean we never apologise for getting it wrong, in fact quite the reverse, but it shows strength is showing the “weakness” of apology, but in admitting our faults is liberating, it reflects a beautiful integrity and authenticy to a world desperate to but fearful to experience such a thing. More over it frees us from the slavery of our value being dependent of what other people think of us.

Yet in the cases of slander and vilification, it’s trusting that one day God will justify us, knowing that ultimately what matters most is not what those around uaa think, but living for the audience of one. God is a God of vindication and justice, his spirit is the spirit of all truth, he sees and he knows what is true. He is a faithful God. When I felt hurt about something when I felt unfairly treated on one occasion I was given this “the Lord will fight your battle you only need to be still” -the problem with this was that everything within me wanted to justify my behaviour and fight back, yet this shows my heart that at times our reputation can matter more that Gods opinion of us, God who sees the heart.

So, let’s us come humbly and openly before the God  who justifies, let us know the power of his forgiveness spurring us on to live differently, not seeking our own justification from ever situation but rather letting even our critics teach us lessons.

Knowing we are justified by God gives  us the bravery to let the walls down with others, be vulnerable and willing to say the word “sorry” the hardest word to say to others and the hardest word to say to God, the reason it is so hard is because it means we have looked at ourselves and have had the bravery to see ourselves not as we want to be but actually as we are, removing the rose tinted glasses.

Let us with Gods help take this brave look at ourselves as we come to the God who brings his forgiving, restoring grace, in whose redemptive work upon the cross we are justified.

 

 

 

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