Monthly Archives: October 2016

Listening For God in your Life

When considering what God wants you to do, how you might be used to further the Kingdom of God, we must think about listening to God.  It may seem obvious and perhaps it is at first glance, but listening to anyone is a challenge at times. it takes attentiveness, quietness as well as speaking.

People have been listening to God for centuries and God seems to tell people all kinds of things, from the deranged to inspired and all the shades in between. Understanding how God speaks and what God might say is important for us to have perspective on the nature and personality of the one we follow.

If for a moment we step back from the stories in scripture and instead look at the vista, the overview of what it tells us, what do we see? We see a big picture of God’s action in various kinds of interaction with people?  With you and I? There are some things about being in and outside God’s kingdom.  There is a need to share the message, to all, believer or not, there is a need to liberate humanity and challenge oppression.

So when we are acting on Gods command in what ways does that offer hope, liberation, and challenge? Or perhaps in the words of Jesus, how does what we hear lead us to love our neighbour more?

When we are tuning into God’s broadcast, let’s fact check it, so that there is more of God and less of us, less of our agenda.  If when we walk with God we think He agrees with us 90% of the time, it may be time to check how well we are listening.

When we listen to people, being attentive is so important, it enhances the back and forth of the conversation, it shows we care about their opinion. It is too easy for our heavenly communications to become one sided.

When we speak to God let’s take the time to be attentive to what we might be listening too, not just to fact check, but listen in a way that deepens our walk with God and ultimately increases our faith in God.

So how we listen is important.  I expect God sounds different to all of us, perhaps he sounds like a man, women or child. How God sounds is influenced also by how we view God, either as a friend or benevolent dictator.  Our image of God affects how we listen. In the same way, I listen to a policeman differently than that of my own child or my wife.  (Though she may question if I listen at all lol!)

We know that God is omnipresent, in every moment, where you are is a moment of potential interaction with God, a point of communication. God may communicate to you audibly, or situationally, or in a myriad of ways. Let us be open in our conversations with God for God to speak to us in whatever way works.  That means we hear properly what he is calling us towards when we are unfiltered by our agenda.

The Church Isn’t In Decline

The church is not in decline if you are talking about evangelical, modern churches such as the vineyard network and some fresh expressions of church, though some would say they are just benefiting from the shift away from traditional church structures.

Facing the truthfulness of church decline is tough, and not at all pleasant. It causes us to wonder about Gods faithfulness, and even our own sense of call is brought into question. Articles around church decline can make for pretty depressing reading.

I tell a story sometimes in church about a boy, a sand pit and a rock. In the boy’s sand pit there is a big rock, which the little boy doesn’t want. So the boy tries to get rid of the rock, he shoves it in every way imaginable, but it doesn’t move. Finally after some time, he sits defeated, the rock is still there. The boys chin wobbles a little and then big tears begin rolling down his cheeks.

His Dad had been watching to this point and runs over picks up his son and hugs him close. The little boy tries to explain through tearful gasps what he was trying to do, and his dad replies:

“You didn’t use all your strength.”

his son responds, telling his dad how hard he tried. His dad gently replies, “you didn’t use me.”

The Church is in decline, and we can’t find the solutions alone, like the kid in the sandpit, who had to face the reality he needed help. The sooner we face our reality, the sooner we can do something about it. The church in the uk numerically is in a free fall at the moment and has been for years, the  collective numbers of decline hides where growth is happening, and it is in scattered places. Mid weeks, messy churches and such are proving that there is still an appetite for spiritual engagement in our country.

“Cancer patient who chose road trip over chemotherapy dies aged 91” 39164c3800000578-0-image-a-87_1475583459836

Like Norma Bauerschmidt we need to be brave, we need to at some level accept the reality of our situation and then be willing to do something about it. She made the best of her situation by going out into the world. We must do the same, rather than retreating into our enclaves, huddled together waiting for the inevitable, now is the time to listen to God anew, learn from others and grow.

If we know of churches who are experiencing growth numerically and spiritually. Why not put our pride to one side and take the time to learn from them. We must see such places not as threats against our survival, but rather, as places of teaching and learning. That we might draw into our own context, wisdom and fresh focus. Such places become like teaching hospitals, helping us serve the living God and the needs of others.

There is of course the chance it is time for some congregations to reform as something new. I have been involved in leading two such communities. The building might have gone, but the worshipers didn’t. The structures of that church life, might have passed into history, but God leading his people hasn’t. There has been and will be still more to experience and do in the will of God, wherever the Lord has moved you too.

Be brave, as God calls us to new places or new ways of being church together. Be brave, acknowledging or own desire to hold on tightly to the comfort blanket of the past, instead rejoicing in what was, we step into what is new. Holding the hand of our heavenly parent who was, who is and who will always be.

The Church maybe in decline, may our efforts cause it to slow and turn around. Not because we love church but because we are listening and loving God, who doesn’t leave, or disappoint.

Lets get to it.

Keeping Faith: With the World

How we act as people is influenced to a greater or lesser extend by the expectations, of society, family or even our employer.

So understanding what the world outside our church doors, and stain-glass windows should be of importance. Keeping faith with the world means understanding its expectations. Means that we should resists isolationism and seeks better engagement and understanding.

Called To be Hermits?

It maybe that the lord has called you to the life of a hermit or to closed religious orders. If God has, you have my admiration.  Yet for many more that is not what the Lord is calling us too. Instead God is calling us to create a church that is  a place for rest, reflection and healing. A stopping place on your journey, or somewhere you regularly visit, like a bench with a particular view that lifts your spirit, and offers light into your life.

How we Engage

The bible calls us ambassadors for christ, and that is what individually and collectively we are.

ambassador noun: ambassador; plural noun: ambassadors

1 an accredited diplomat sent by a state as its permanent representative in a foreign country.”the French ambassador to Portugal” 2 synonyms: 3 envoy, diplomat, ambassador extraordinary, ambassador plenipotentiary, plenipotentiary, consul, attaché, chargé d’affaires, emissary, legate, (papal) nuncio, representative, deputy;

Building on this definition, whilst we have the agenda of the kingdom, and are emissaries of Christ, we are in a foreign land and therefore treat that land with honour and respect, engaging with it carefully, prayerfully and lovingly.

How to be an ambassador

An ex British diplomat wrote in his blog that, “One of the arts of diplomacy is to find solutions to problems that depend not on trust but on (mutual) interest” this is quite a provocative statement about working in a foreign land from a blog about ambassador training.

What we might take from it for our missional context, is the importance of engagement, even if we are not sure or who we are working with. Instead we come together for a common good and purpose to build something bigger than ourselves.

The stories or parables Jesus tells are ways people can connect with what the kingdom of God is about. Jesus is the embodiment of the living God, the fullness of the coming Kingdom.

In our engagement let’s remember we are in a foreign land, not in some super spiritual, theologically narrow way, but one that reminds us to take care. Like we do if we are on holiday somewhere  abroad, we carefully listen and try to communicate, we may even try to learn some of their language, but we are careful in how we handle ourselves not wanting to inadvertently offend or be misunderstood.

Yet be confident in who you are and what the Lord is calling you to be. Be assured of in whose name you stand, in whose ways you are living out your life. Just as the ambassador to the UK has the backing of the Queen, you and I have the backing and support of the King of the universe.

A parting thought

As we keep faith with the world, in all of its diversity let’s be relevant up-to-date, kind, loving and embody all that it means to be a citizen of heaven. In what we do, let’s offer hope, not ridicule, challenge corruption, and the demeaning of the other. Live full and brilliant lives in the light and love of the one who puts air in our lungs and knows the number of beats our hearts will make today.

Keeping Faith: With The Church

The Bible tell is that the Church is to be the bride of Christ, spotless perfect, transcendent. If we are asked to describe the church we may use words like; nation, building, group of people, disciple. The nature of this church in its activities are sometimes inward looking,  as well as sometimes outward looking. Although more commonly churches are a bit of both.communion table

Throughout its history church has been involved in liberating people, and tying people up in bondage, it is a vehicle for change and also keeping everything the same. It is a place where all types of people can be found… moderates, left wing, right wing, racists, paedophiles, saints, young and old all attend church. Should it be a surprise to us if sometimes we don’t get on!

The church is an awful, incredible, inspiring and crippling place. It is not the image we see in the book of Revelation, not yet anyway! So why attend, why put yourself through an hour of church when its not great? Because when it’s good and we get it right, it is amazing and life changing. There is nothing on earth like it. It’s the one place on the Earth when done well, you don’t need a drink or drugs to lift your mood, you find do you need less therapy not more, that healing is multi dimensional and Jesus is still doing that ministry, today, now.

At some point or another we might want to leave church, for many different reasons. Certainly shouldn’t stay in an abusive situation, or a place where you are not growing in God. However let’s not make the mistake and think that the church is universally the same;  or even believes exactly the same thing about God, society or the universe all of the time.

The church is a living organism, it ebbs and flows and makes mistakes, sometimes horrific ones. It seeks forgiveness and offers redemption. It can be dry and vibrant, both narrow and wide in its thinking of how it should view society and what God wants us to do about it.

tree in bloomThe church is alive and she is a living entity many of us are part of. Our being part of it reflects and shapes how she is viewed by others in and outside the church. We are ambassadors of Christ, we are God’s people. How we live out the life of the church matters to the liberation of others, socially, emotionally and spiritually.

So perhaps next time we get angry in a meeting or want to judge someone without removing the plank from your our eye, remember who you and I represent, who you and I are speaking on behalf of. The person you want to put down for some indiscretion or mistake, is at some level your brother or sister in christ, no matter what they wear, say, or how they live their lives. love them, show them mercy. After all in Matthews gospel we read, if you do to to the least of these you do it for me.

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