Tag Archives: Faith

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 Faith That Inspires

As a fan of watching England play rugby (at least when they are winning) I would look forward to whenever Jonny Wilkinson walked onto the pitch, or prepared for a kick. You knew the other team would be nervous. He was a game changer or a play maker, in the league of other sporting greats, like David Beckham, Usain Bolt, Roger Federer, Jessica Ennis-Hill, and Paula Radcliffe.  Their presence and talent would raise the game of others and the expectation of the crowd.

Their actions could change not only the dynamic of the game or a race, but also the team. There are players like that in all sports.  They are the fans’ heroes, going onto the field of sport carrying our expectations on their shoulders as well as their own hopes of sporting glory.

We may be able to name our sporting heroes easily or perhaps we have heroes in other areas of our lives that we are fans of and that we follow on twitter.  But what if we are in the same field of life as them, involved in the same sport or the same area of academia or research?  How does our hero inspire us?  How do they move us to be more that the sum of our parts?  How do they cause us to raise our own game?

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Starting Over With God

There are moments for all of us when we need to, metaphorically speaking, press our restart button. This might be because of the day we have had, a decision we have made or something that has been done in our name or to us.

When we press restart on our tablet or computer the logo of its maker appears briefly as it boots into its operating system. As a person, I wonder what the logo in your reboot procedure looks like when you press restart

Mine is the cross like the in the image above. In amongst the chaos of a day littered around me and in the business of life I came to the Holy Cross Chapel to pray.

To restart for me at least, the cross is where I rebuild from, recognising my need for Christ’s love, hope and above all grace-filled forgiveness.

As you restart, wherever you are and in whatever way is helpful, may my God be with you and made known to you.

God bless. Andy

Discovering Your Happy Place

If there was a place in the world where you can guarantee  that you would laugh more, feel more content, where happiness and positivity would be your companion more consistently than they are today.

Are you feeling, downcast, oppressed? Is it a struggle to remember the last time you smiled or laughed?

Would you want to discover where that place is and in discovering where that place is, would you move there? Or at least want to  learn from their way of life that would help us be more happy?

img39972-Iguazu-Falls-ParaguayBecause ‘they’ have found the most positive place on the planet, for real! This location is sunny, hot, its people are friendly, content and happy.  To live there does not cost a lot in terms of finances. It has history, ancient monuments beautiful vistas, incredible waterfalls, this place teams with life. It has earned itself the right to call itself the most positive place on the planet.

The most positive place on the planet is the small, beautiful landlocked nation of Paraguay scores and amazing 89/100 in terms of national feeling of positivity and well-being.

The Science Bit:

Let me explain how this has been defined. Questions were asked of people across the globe, simple and basic questions about their general state of well-being and happiness.

The Gallup poll asked such questions like, “did you feel well rested yesterday? Did you learn something it’s interesting or did you smile all laugh yesterday…”

The people of Paraguay are simply happy, their country is not wealthy by any standards, in fact is ranks 111 in global financial rankings a couple of points above Jamaica and next to the Ukraine. Paraguay finds itself 100 points behind the United States of America.

It’s economy is predominantly rural and focused around a mining, it is a fledgeling democracy having endured years of harsh dictatorships and 30-50% of its population are defined as poor.

Yet it’s people are predominantly happy, happier and more positive than its US neighbour in North America which is 10 points behind, the uk is 14 points less happy. Moreover the index tells us the next nine places after Paraguay that are the most positive, are filled with countries from south America.

These are countries that are predominantly Christian, (93%) and these are countries that remind us, that money does not bring happiness.

The Bible tells it to us over and over again, that material wealth does not, cannot, make us happy, earn us true love, or indeed eternal salvation. Lessons that these countries in South America seem to intrinsically understand, they have a wisdom about life that we do well to listen to.

What might we learn from these nations of positivity? I suggest you do that journey, dig deep into their culture and way of life, discover for yourself what it is that makes them tick. And then when you’ve found it, that nuggets of wisdom that offers you peace. Hold on to it, share it if you like, but hold on to it  and allow its light to change you.

 

Does Hope Have A Chance Today?

You turn on the news or read an article in a newspaper hoping to find lots of positive, encouraging stories that communicate the best of humanity, offering a balanced diet of hope rather than overwhelming negativity.

Certainly this would be great to experience, rather than the information diet we get.  The BBC, like other news outlets, argues that essentially it is our fault! Positive news doesn’t sell well for some reason.

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“…newspapers and TV broadcasts are filled with disaster, corruption and incompetence because we’re drawn to depressing stories without realising”, says psychologist Tom Stafford.”

What Hope is Up Against.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for the news corporations, a recent Gallup poll tells us that the world actually is marginally more depressing and has been on an increasing downward slide for the last 9 years! This is especially true for people who live, you guessed it, in the Middle East.

Respondents were asked, “Did you experience the following feelings during much of yesterday? How about physical pain…sadness…stress…anger? 

“People living in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region report the highest negative emotions in the world and have done so since Gallup began tracking this index in 2006”

It’s more than just negative situations.  The tone and narrative of some of that reporting of the way people speak of each other, or indeed presidential candidates speak of other people, seems to be increasingly aggressive, pursuing a negative agenda and fear mongering along with ostracising the outcast.

“The voices of moderation and grace are too often drowned out by the diatribe of misinformed accusations and negativity. “

never_lose_hope_by_cre8art4life-d6btr4r

Even if the information is informed or there is a grain of truth in it, it is said with such venom that you just hear it as an angry rant, from people (sometimes leaders) who frankly should know better.

Grandma Could Tell them About Hope

My Grandma would say in her rich and warm northern accent, whilst wagging her bony finger at you, “If you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all.”

These words have the same truth today. Imagine a world in which people were more thoughtful in what they say to one another, where each syllable was seasoned with grace rather than malice or disinterest and where we were willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Seek Kingdom Of God

Matthew 6:33 Seek First the Kingdom Of God

The Church Stands For Something More.

If the kingdom of God stands for something, it is the value of upholding the best in each other. As people made in the image of God, it is the place where the widow, orphan, foreigner and sinner are welcomed.

It might be a perception of the church that we are all holy saints that dwell within its walls. Well I am not a saint. Are you? I sin. Sin is defined as whatever separates us from God.  It is less about a list of ‘do nots’, rather it is about what breaks the relationship between you and God, what gets in the way.  Whatever that is, it could be defined as sin.

The hopeful reality that the church can remind society of is beautifully summed up in the lyrics from the song Same Love.

When I was in church, they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t anointed
And that Holy Water that you soak in is then poisoned
When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless
Rather than fighting for humans, that have had their rights stolen.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Same Love Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Let’s not be a member of the voiceless. The rights of all are at stake so let’s not be ‘OK’ with the status quo, but be willing to stand for something deeper, better and holy.

For a God who calls neighbours to love one another, that justice might be done for all; that people have the right to live, love, and be free; that the only limitation to human life is not what’s in their wallet, but instead the limit of imagination, within the will of a God in whose image we are made, cherished and loved.

I wonder what it takes for news corporations to give us a more balanced diet of news. I wonder what it might take for the Gallup world negativity index to fall.

It begins with us…

Get Your Faith Lift Here!

Has your faith become sanitised, tame, lukewarm? Is church ‘run of the mill’, no more challenging than what you might pick for breakfast in the morning? The video below that reminds us otherwise; the sheer challenge of the gospel, the agony of the early mission leaders to choose Jesus every single time.

Today in ISIS held land Christians are facing the kind of hate these early missionaries experienced. And just see what God does with that. The story is based a long time ago, but it could be a story and narrative that happens today. Not in our comfortable, westernised lives perhaps, but where people live in fear from those who would have them killed for their faith, this story is real and relevant.

Be warned, the story in this video is not for the faith hearted!

Finally, what does your faith mean to you?  How far would you go?  What would you give up for the sake of the gospel?  As you listen to the words, the story alongside blows you away.

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