I was sitting with a very wise sage the other day at a gathering of leaders from across our region. I was asked to share what was the area that I need I was feeling challenged in and needed to grow. A real heavy weight question!
I was at the annual Pioneer Leaders Conference the back end of last week in Southampton. It was a great time of catching up with good friends and striking up new ones. I also feel totally refreshed from hearing inspiring people talking about what God is up to across these Isles. Time and time again I come away with the over riding observation that God grabs hold of ordinary people and does extraordinary things. I find this such a comfort being fully aware of my own ordianaryness and more and more aware of Gods extrodinaryness.
Alan Scott from Causeway Coast Vineyard Church particularly inspired me. There were two things that leapt at me from his Saturday morning session. The first bit was refreshing for someone like me who is passionate about advancing the Kingdom of Heaven and rolling up our sleeves to get stuck in and be the change to our city. Alan shared that ‘we are not called as Churches to take the city for Christ but to wash the cities feet.’ I loved this! Its all about serving and not ruling.
‘I am a servant not a master’
The second thing was just really helpful to hear as a Church Leader. He encouraged us that our calling and role in leading Jesus’ Church is to ‘go make disciples’ (Matthew 28:19). Our role is not to build the Church. Alan reminded me that it is Christ’s church and his job not mine to build it! Jesus himself said ‘I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’ (Matthew 16: 18).
‘I am a maker not a builder’
You can download Alan Scott’s talk for free from http://www.pioneer.org.uk/allaudio.php
Sometimes I look at the call that God has for my life I feel a little worried about my delivery to deliver! When I look back at some of the words trusted people have spoken over me I get that sinking feeling. The need is huge and I am just one man!
As I approach the end of my Bible in a year plan (only a couple of months overdue!) I entered the book of Revelation. As a young man and someone new to Christianity I used to find this a book that bamboozled me. The more I read it the more it hurt my brain and confused me. The more years clocked as a follower of Christ the more I have grown to appreciate it and grown to understand it more and how it can encourage us.
I was deep in reading Chapter 3 with John’s vision and subsequent message to the Church in Philadelphia the other day and just got hijacked by it. I love it when this happens! This is the bit that got me….
“What he opens no-one can shut and what he shuts no-one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no-one shut.”
I was captured by these words. I loved the permanency of Gods work and the unstoppable power of his will for us. If he opens a door for us it will remain open, FACT!
Also I found a fresh reminder that the challenge of discerning Gods will for my life is not something to stress about it is simply looking for open doors to walk through and closed doors to walk away from. God sees our efforts and opens doors for us that are un-shut able.
I love it when it just suddenly grabs you especially when you are not expecting it! It’s like a bucket of cold water being thrown over your head on a hot summer’s day. I am talking about the Bible, the word of God, which soaked me when I was least expecting it this morning. We are told that the Bible is ‘alive and active’ as the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament exalts. This is exactly how it felt this morning.
I am on doing a reading plan taking me through the Bible in a year. Sometimes you find yourself reading through very familiar pieces of the Bible and at other times bits that are more alien to me. Today as I opened the Bible to find myself in Ezekiel 47 which is a prophetic vision which I am very familiar with. The vision that Ezekiel presents to us is of the water flowing from the temple and the man taking Ezekiel in his vision further and the water getting deeper and deeper until the flow of the river makes it impassable. I was excited to be on familiar ground and feeling a little ahead of the game knowing the story so well. I read the main portion of the vision but the plan took me further beyond. As I continued reading I got the bucket of water over the head!
The bit that hijacked my time was where the river in Ezekiel’s vision opens out and the fresh waters from the stream flowing from the temple meet the salt waters of the sea. It describes this as the place where the water swarms with life and in large numbers. The life is drawn to the
place where the fresh water meets the salt water and makes it fresh. Fishermen stand on the banks here as it is so full of life.
It got me thinking about the Church today which as I mused further about this part of the vision connected for me with the image of the Temple. My train of thought then went to where are those places where the churches fresh water meets the sea of this world? I thought of our City Angels Project, Toddler Tribe and Golden Angels to name a few of those places for us at Revs. This is the place where ‘life swarms’ where the Church waters our message and very heart beat intersect with the sea of life to create a bountiful estuary. It is incredibly vulnerable and turbulent but alive. This is where we have to invest our time and resources. How many estuaries does your church have?
I recently read of an incredible feat performed by Master Engraver, Graham Short. He took on the incredible yet micro challenge of engraving the names of every England goal scorer at the World Cup competitions from 1950 until 2010 (14 tournaments) onto a very small object. What made it amazing was the engraving was on the base of a football boot stud. It surprisingly totalled to 38 names and the iconic 3 Lions emblem.
Isaiah present the image of our names being engraved on the palm of Gods hands in chapter 49. This metaphor comes off the back of Gods promise of never forgetting us which is incredible considering the estimated 56 billion people that have ever lived. It makes Graham Shorts 36 names on a football stud look lame! That has always been an image that has resonated strongly with me.
So no matter what trends come and go in 2012 or where we end up both planned and unplanned let us be assured that God is with us. He cannot forget us as our names are engraved on his hands.
The worlds lowest ranked national football team American Samoa celebrated this week. They ended a run of 30 straight defeats, which stretched back over two decades. In doing so they also achieved there first ever victory with a hard fought 2-1 win over Tonga ranked two places above them (202nd) in the FIFA rankings list. American Samoa also holds the embarrassing fact of suffering the heaviest ever defeat at international football history when in 2001 they lost 31-0 to Australia.
Having potentially stopped the rot with their first ever victory coach Thomas Rongen said the result would now be "part of soccer history". Talk about over statement of the year!
As amusing as this story is I managed to find a strange encouragement in it. It pointed me to the fact that you can be the worlds worst and still even occasionally succeed and taste victory. As a Christian this is a mighty relief! I defiantly fail more than I succeed and sometimes it can feel a long time between successes. However if I keep plugging away sharing the love of God with all those around me and those whose life I cross paths with I will eventually see success come my way. I propose that we could name this principal the ‘law of American Samoa’.
As followers of Jesus we have set in our hearts and minds an eternal and undeniable hope in Christ in what he has done, is doing and his return. Lets keep going for God and celebrate the victories no matter how few and far between knowing they will come as certain as he will return.
As a Christian of 20 years I feel like I have seen and heard quiet a lot about the faith. Mostly great stuff that has challenged me and caused me to grow deeper in my relationship with Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Somethings though have sounded very complicated and I am someone who does get a little uncomfortable with formula driven faith whilst as an evangelical acknowledging a formula and mechanism to salvation in Christ.
I love simplicity and in many ways the call to follow Christ is a very simple one. Often cunning stratergies, plans and programmes can add layers of complexity to our simple faith of following Christ.
Last week I came across a stunning piece of simplicity found in the Old Testement book of Micah. It was preceeded with a large profound but simple question about walking in the ways of God. In Chapter 6 we hear Miciah take on the question of "what does the Lord require of you?". I guess at this stage a long detailed list could appear which would need to be followed up with a stratergy of implimentation. His reply is thankfully crisp, brief and to the point.....
"To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Micah 6:8 NIVUK
I love love this. I enjoy the published book series KISS (keep it simple stupid) and would be intregued to see a 'KISS Christianity'. I am not aware of it being done yet so I am going to endevour to KISS Christianity Micah style!
My youngest daughter Jaime who is three has recently started to ask me about my day which I love. She will sometimes ask at breakfast what I am doing that day as well as asking me what her day holds. A couple of times as I have walked in from work or sitting at the dinner table with her she has asked what I have done too. It is all very sweet as she is learning how to engage with others. Recently she has really made Kathryn and I laugh as she asks about my day at work.
The conversation starts, “have you been to work today Daddy?” to which I usually reply, “yes I have.” She then asks “did you have a nice time at work” and then comes the punch line of “Did you do singing and ‘glory in the highest’ at work today.”
Although she has been into the Church office where I spend the largest single percentage of my working time she still does not see that as what I do. Her understanding seems attached to our family Sunday morning experience of Church and one particular song by Phil Wickham that she has latched onto. She genuinely thinks that is what going to work is all about for me. Standing in our building singing songs to God and praising him all day.
After the first few times of finding this very funny I moved from laughter to feeling profoundly challenged by her assumption. I started to wrestle with the fact that maybe that is what I should be doing as a Pastor of a Church. I recall chatting with my good friend Steve Harding about how he sees it. He said as a very experienced worship leader in all sorts of settings that he does see the Pastor/Priest/Minister as the primary leader of worship in a Church. So my conclusion has been more singing and less desk time. Can someone hold me to that please!
I was so encouraged and felt very excited last week as I was invited to attend the launch of ACT Sussex (Active Communities Against Trafficking) at Windlesham School. A really eye opening evening was punctuated with contributions from Sussex Police, Nick Herbert MP and Stop the Traffik (www.stopthetraffik.org). My eyes were well and truly opened to the huge problem we are facing with Trafficked people now the second largest global illegal trade only surpassed by the Illegal Arms Trade. I also learned that people are enslaved within countries to including our own. I learned the tell tale signs and what we need to be looking out for to be the Polices eyes and ears. Sussex Police are committed to exerting the full measure of the law on this abhorrent and most cruel of crimes. They are also aware of reality of the issue in our own county and deploying significant resources at the crime Stop the Traffik’s slogan of ‘People Shouldn’t be Bought or Sold’ was ringing in my heart, mind and soul. There was an encouragement that came from the evening to me though. As I scanned the room of 250 people other than the impressive Police presence across all ranks was the amount of Christians, Churches and Christian Organisations represented in the room. The Clapham Sect would have been proud I felt with people motivated by to bring the literal freedom to the captives as Jesus exalts in his earth shattering manifesto in Luke 4 drawn from Isaiah’s words. Jesus was the fulfilment of the Prophets words and now we are called to likewise to be that fulfilment.
You can imagine the red mist that descended on me less than a week later when I saw the shame of a breaking scandal ‘ninos robados’ ,the ‘stolen children’ on the BBC. The scandal is breaking over mass trafficking of Children around and out of Spain in the 1930’s until as recent as the19 90’s. To our shame it is looking like the Catholic Church played a big role in this. It is estimated that 300,000 babies were taken and then sold. Their parents being told they had died shortly after birth.
From glory to shame in one fell swoop for the Church. I was spitting with rage as the Church in moved from Pioneer and agent of change to accused and seemingly imminently to be convicted. I was so angry and ashamed it made me cry.
Having reflected a few days on I feel the only way forward is to continue to try and be that fulfilment of Isaiah words. Whilst acknowledging anything we do will be imperfect but runnig towards being part of the answer not the problem. The anger, embarrassment and frustration are still there but I feel driven even more to crack on 'set the captives free' and at the same time bringing the Bride of Christ back to glory.