Faith When it’s Subzero

Freezing Highland cow

 

 

 

 

 

 

December is here, this Highland cow was shot in subzero temperatures. It is standing in the sun thawing out after a long cold night, and he doesn’t look too impressed at having his picture taken. A reminder perhaps that in life so often, and behind the beauty of this shot as been a long cold and dark ni

A reminder perhaps that in life so often,  as in behind the beauty of this shot, life takes hard work. But it’s worth it to keep going, the sun always rises.

Prayer: God keep us going when the nights are long and cold that we may bask in your beautiful light. Amen

 

 

 

Were Has Jesus Gone?

When we listen to what’s happening in Syria, when we listen to the news stories of mayhem, shattered lives, broken people, communities and nations, you may well ask where is Jesus?  In the midst of church decline, gossip and back biting, we may ask where is Jesus?

The lyrics to the popular christian chorus, I’ve Found Jesus… I love this song, its an old chorus from my teenage years, that brings back memories of when I became a christian back in 1992!

Just for fun you might like to google the where’s Jesus book, its a cheesy version of where’s Wally!

We need to find the Jesus who is more real than words on the pages of Scripture, who is more then the one who raised the dead, healed the sick and rose again on the third day. We need to find a Jesus that is perhaps bigger than our religious proclamations from the pulpit.

For so many where is Jesus is not even a question that occurs to them! Jesus is some renegade from mythical times. Where is Jesus? Who cares, people today have a enough to think about, worry about and to be concerned about. For so many Jesus, never raised their dead, healed their sick, and probably didn’t raise from the dead. That may be the sentiment of people in church as well as outside.

If the church can’t find Jesus, then how can we expect others to find him, know him, listen to him. Perhaps a conversation and journey with the community needs to look at the historical Jesus, leaving to an up-to-date real living experience of Jesus. John Wesley would say of his discipleship groups that you could not tell a testimony, any longer than a week.

So how are you being in communication with Jesus this week?  How have you listened and what have you heard? Certainly the conversation is multifaceted, one of hearing with the spirit and heart as well as with the head, but that doesn’t make it any less real and living.

As we go about our business this week, as we encounter all that life has for us in the days to come,  where do we find Jesus?  From the warm comfort of church worship, to the hardest days where all it seems to do his rain trouble down on you, where do you find Jesus?

If we are really serious about this relationship with Jesus being real and living, let it be more than soundbites and glib phrases. Lets journey with the idea that it is living and real. Listen once again to the stories of Jesus in scripture, and look for what God might be doing in your life and the lives of others. Encounter Jesus in your own discipleship and walk, as well as through the kindness, grace and love of others.

So when we look at the broken world around us, it might not seem so broken, we as a church might hear with fresh understanding, Jesus calling out to us, to go, to be, to do. To become the body of Christ that feeds the least of these, because they’re feeding Jesus, that comforts the most broken because we’re comforting Jesus, who bring healing to hopeless situations, because in doing so like so many actions we might conceive, we are doing it to and for Jesus.

Have a good week.

Is Your Church Changing To Much?

Working with a range of ages, from the very young to the very old, it is interesting how attitudes to  new things change.

For children change is part of their existence and indeed survival, as they are propelled towards adulthood. They are constantly growing, developing physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Whether that’s losing teeth, growing out of shoes, taking on new responsibilities such as making themselves a cup of tea or walking to school.  Change for children can be nerve-wracking but also confidence building, as they are enabled to take increasing control of their lives so that they’re ready for adulthood!

Yet as adults some of us have slipped towards resisting change more than others whereas some of us are always excited by change, for others it breeds uncertainty and anxiety.

So we cling on to what we know, what we understand about God and church. Finding it difficult to be open to the possibility of thinking or doing differently. We may quote scripture that says God does not change. Certainly his love never changes for us, but God does not build a wall around his kingdom. It is an open gate, a low fence easily stepped over, there is welcome and fellowship for all who come, whoever you are and regardless of where you been.

God doesn’t change in all of the right ways, but steps into our journey, allowing us to change to become more like him, to see things differently to what they are.

Let’s not build walls around our hearts and churches, walls that keep everything just as it is on the other side. That protect those inside, from the ticking clock of time, so that everything remains just as they remembered it or just as it was when they first encountered Jesus.

Instead let us walk alongside the other, the outcast, those that don’t yet come.  Allow ourselves to be changed by that relationship in a way that allows us to speak the things of God into their reality. So we can build the kingdom, at their feet, rather than those of our own. In that way faith in the God who is and was and will always be can find new fertile soil in which to grow and flourish and become what the church needs to become and begin to look like.

I do not know what the church will look like in 20 years, but it needs to look different than it does now, for now we don’t see full churches, for now conversations about faith are rare. That needs to change. Perhaps today allow yourself to remove the walls around your heart and your church and allow the light to enter in, that we might have new vision and a new awareness of where God is leading us.

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.

Keeping Faith: In Celebration

What do I mean keeping faith in celebration? Is it about coping with others who are in a celebratory mood? Holding onto God when you are struggling and all your friends are full of faith, Godly expectations, and stories to support the awesome richness of what the Lord is doing in their lives?

Well I would like us to explore a different idea today.  One that is about keeping faith when faith is easy, when it’s fun and struggle is minimal or non existent. I am not sure we ever settle in those moments, but perhaps we don’t push as hard to deepen our walk with God? Discuss.

I am not saying struggle is good, but that some struggle helps us to strive for more of God, a deeper walk, a greater awareness of the presence of the Lord in our own lives. To be clear, I mostly struggle rather than find being a disciple easy!

You are probably familiar with the story in Luke’s gospel when Jesus heals ten blokes who have leprosy. This was a disease that meant you were socially excluded from your community and ended up living together with other Lepers.

So when Jesus heals them, not only are they physically healed, but also socially healed and reunited with their families. Pretty awesome right, and these ten guys are pretty jubilant, who wouldn’t be. If you have just been healed from a crippling disease and have not seen your family, for who knows how long what would you do next?

Well as the story goes one bloke, yes that’s right one bloke, turns back to Jesus. Perhaps he had no family to see, or no friends, or just no better place to be. But like Mary in the Mary and Martha story, he chose right.  The others chose to be preoccupied with, and understandably so, celebrating with fa
mily and friends and being reintroduced into society.

But this bloke knelt at Jesus’ feet and worshiped, he somehow recognised the enormity of what was happening around him, turning back to worship.  He didn’t sing a few hymns or read scripture, he laid himself out before Jesus, acknowledging who it was who had healed him, who saved him from the incarceration that is this disease.

tebow-2-620x362We have all seen the athlete who takes a moment in a stadium of thousands, kneeling on the ground and point their finger in the air or sign the cross.  There is a need when life is good, when life is amazing, to take a moment, to recognise, to honour God, for the talent, opportunity, air in your lungs, or whatever, that has come your way.

Remember to take a moment in whatever way is comfortable, like the Samaritan in the story of the 10 lepers did. To be vulnerable before God, recognising whilst you might be blessed or honoured or lifted up, there is one who is greater still, creator of all that is and is to come, author and perfecter of all that makes you, well you.

Sometimes we may think we can only speak to God when our chips are down and life sucks? We may think that we can only ask when we are in need, we can only follow Jesus when we are broken.

If we truly believe we are in a relationship with the living God, that is a two way thing. Let’s not be the friend who is always saying what’s wrong or focuses on the darkness, but also speak to the Lord of what lights up your life as well.

Tell Jesus about cherished dreams that get fulfilled, thank him for the prayer that does get answered and ask him to seal it in your hearts and memories, for when we doubt and when faith doesn’t come easy. So when those times come, when we get a little lost and distant from God, we can remember how good God is and can be, and may that light bring us home to a God who knows our name, who we are, and loves us tremendously truly, and eternally. A God who puts things in our way more than we could imagine or ever have hoped for.

Keeping Faith: In Brokenness

Twenty three years ago my family were burgled and then again 15 years ago while on a year out mission all my computer gear got stolen while I was working for the church. This had a profound effect on me, one that I still struggle with today.  I laughingly call it my ‘bit of crazy’. I know this is not very politically correct, but it helps me acknowledge that sometimes my thinking and fearful thoughts are just crazy and I should not give them airtime in my head; instead I need to get some perspective.

We all have a level of brokenness. Mine is small compared to proper mental health issues, but we all carry a burden of some sort or another.

Sometimes the church can be amazing when dealing with people who are broken and sometimes shockingly bad, offering glib answers such as ‘it will be ok’ or ‘just pray/read the bible more’ and the one that trumps them all of course is, “is there some sin in your life holding you back?” This belittles and patronises the person who is suffering, as if they had never thought to pray more!

I don’t know why God allows suffering, and its top of my list of questions to ask Jesus when I get to heaven.  But there is something the church can do.  In fact, three things at least.

Love, even if it hurts

There needs to be a willingness for particular and called people to walk a mile in the shoes of those in pain, to really and deeply connect with people, to be willing to sit in the darkness with them and move at their pace; to offer respect and dignity that elevates their humanity; to continue praying, loving and hoping for that individual.

However, such people need the support of the wider Christian community as they sacrificially give of themselves.

Offer Hope and never stop.

Individually and as a community we must abundantly minister the gift of hope, always leaving a door open for those who are struggling, especially if they leave. Not offering hope that is a phrase but hope that has been tested and scorched by life. A hope that is real, visceral and life changing.

Jesus never gave platitudes to the sick, but met them face to face and eye to eye, always breathing new life into them, leaving them better off.

Hold tightly onto Faith 

I do not understand why for some there is a lifelong struggle with mental illness. I do not understand why God sometimes doesn’t seem to heal. However, in my journey of faith I have learnt that faith is more than an emotion but is an act of will. I have learnt that there can be nourishment in the desert places and I learnt to seek out those places and the people who can becomes as Christ’s hands and feet, to carry you for a while.

To you who are struggling, know you are in my prayers even if I do not know your name; we worship the same God who does.

A Church of Rainbows

Who we are as a church is full of contrasting ideas traditional, experimental, colourful and bland. The church can both engage with society and be isolationist.

It may be your opinion that it would be so much better if the global  church or denomination looked more like the one you attend. But we are not consistent, there is not one image of church or one way of being.

Even in our own denominations, whilst there is a level of conformity; there is still a difference. To me at least this should be celebrated, not belittled.

Globally the church appeals to people from all walks of life, all languages, all temperaments. Yet in our own denominational back yard, in our corner of the world, do we keep in mind that broad ecclesiological  reality. Or slip instead into the churchmanship that believes ours is the right way and yours is not?

Historically we find the church can be intolerant of difference, instead we are all to quick to press the conformity button. In some places that it is
changing now, praise the Lord.

 

Together with all our misshapen ideas of how the church should be and the correct way that faith should be lived out. Sometimes we forget that the bible doesn’t teach us that Jesus conformed to society, instead he always conformed to the will of his father.

Looking at church today I wonder if sometimes the yeast of the Pharisee is still as prevalent today as it was in Jesus time (not a good thing). We may know stories of that person who didn’t quite fit and what happened to him or her.

Anne didn’t fit in church because she had to have a special chair and rather than a welcome at the door, she received glances of disdain.unknown

Andy was asked to leave a small group because he was a church lay leader and it wasn’t appropriate for him to be there.

Martin watched his fellow students with academic credentials sail through college whilst his creativity and out of the box thinking was looked on with suspicion. 

Recently I have been reading the prodigal God, which is based on the story of the prodigal son. It argues that both sons felt they were entitled. But that the point was that they were loved regardless of their actions or attitudes.

No matter how they publicly disgraced their family name and their father. He still showed generosity, letting one son find himself and the other he begged to join in the party.

Do we love like that as a church or as disciples?  A love that is eternal, pure and harder than nails, that challenges us to change, and to rub off our ecclesiastical and personal rough edges.

That we might become the full vibrant, lively and broad church we think we want to become. Where all genuinely find a home, where all come before Christ as a disciple and find renewal of life, renewed purpose, and personal healing.

Final prayer

I don’t want to be part of a church that is the same, but instead one that helps all people find a home in God. I want to be part of the solution that brings a change that opens our doors not closes them. I want to put down my own baggage of how things should be, and pick up my cross with Jesus, that through all I do in his name I might die that others may have life in Him.

Amen

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