Last week I was in Windsor for a gathering of leaders of some of the churches that are in the Pioneer Network (www.pioneer.org.uk) we are part of at Revs. It was as ever great to see friends from around the nation who are trying to build the same thing we are here in Chichester. Some of the stories of what God building are truly incredible. Whoever says the Church is dying and irrelevant would not have been able to maintain that position for longer than a few minutes in that room in which we gathered as the stories flowed. It stirred me to keep building what God has called me to do.
As I drove to Windsor, a place I have never been before I was guided by a Sat Nav system which I asked to take me their as quick as possible. As I realised that I was entering the outskirts of Windsor I could not help but look to see if I could see the world renowned Winsor Castle. I had no idea where it was in relation to where I was. Then all of a sudden I glanced right to see the huge castle through an avenue of trees. Although brief it was an awesome and dominating sight. Hundreds of years of history stood in this monumental building of which I was sure I could only see a small section.
When I got in my car to come home my thought was to get out of Windsor ASAP as rush hour loomed large. I asked the Sat Nav to take me home via the shortest route. This meant weaving through the suburban Windsor. As I seemed to be getting to the edge of Windsor I approached another round about. As I glanced right to see if I needed to give way I realised I was at the entrance to Lego Land! At the entrance was a several massive Lego blocks stacked together looking like the start of a Lego tower being built.
I smiled as I unintentionally got glances from my car journey of the two places Windsor is known for. They were so different yet both captured my imagination the ancient and modern living in the same town. One was about ancient crafted stone work built by skilled masons. The other was a modern take on building that anyone could have a go at piecing together.
My thoughts then darted back to moments in my day talking about the growing partnership between Pioneer and the Methodist Church. The older and newer complimenting each other in the same space.
But more than that I had the challenging words of a parable from the end of Luke 5 shared as part of the day doing laps in my mind. It was about wine and its skins. In the new Church movement of the last two decades I have been a part of this has often been used to justify our existence and plans. However we often (as was shared with the leaders) conveniently leave out the punch line at the end because it is uncomfortable and requires a large dose of humility! ‘The old is better’. New wine is for new skins but the old is better. I love the co-existence of both the old and new in the same town complimenting one another.
I have been recently reading of the amazing Exodus of Gods people from the plight of the Egyptian enslavement. The scale and extraordinary super natural moments of the Exodus from captivity on the journey to the promise land and all its freedoms never fails to stir me. The story of freedom turns sour quiet quick though as the very practical matters of food and water become scarce.
It seems to only take a matter of hours from the dramatic escape as God lead them out of captivity to freedom to slip from the minds of the people of Israel and the latest challenge facing them to dominate the headlines. I can so resonate with this, I am pretty sure I would have been one of the biggest moaning thirsty mouths present! Like the Israelites I all to quickly forget the major markers of Gods promises that act as milestones along the path of my life. I am so busy looking for the next one that I forgot how God showed up and set the marker of freedom down last time and the one before it etc.
In trying to read Exodus with an open heart to the Lord and I stumbled across a small piece which has not really captured my attention before. At the end of Chapter 15 where the moaning starts God makes a decree that if his people obey his commands and listen carefully to his voice he will keep them safe from disaster and disease. He will provide for them. He reminds them that it was he who brought them out of captivity. Once the refocus following Gods pep talk they arrive in Elim to find 12 fresh water Springs and 70 Palm Trees.
If I can keep my focus on obeying God and listening to his voice the provision for all I need will come.
I was at my friends farm over the weekend and as usual witnessed a lot of wildlife. Now I am no Rolf Harris as I am not really into animals of any sort but the farm does fascinate me. The fine line between life and death is always close at hand on the farm. As we were relaxing the children came dashing across the field to let us know that the puppy and caught one of the geese from and had it in his mouth. My friend (and owner of the dog) dashed in the direction the children had just emerged from to try and save the goose. The goose in question was released by the dog eventually unharmed if not a little shaken.
Later on in the afternoon I was taking a stroll and saw the puppy on the prowl again! He walked nonchalantly towards the gaggle of geese feeding on the grass by a lake. They noticed him about 15 meters away and started to walk slowly away. He then gave chase. To my absolute surprise the gaggle just started to walk a bit faster. As the dog closed in this turned into a fast waddle. I could not believe that they did not take flight to escape the advancing dog! Eventually they tried too but it was too late. The closest goose just sat in submission as the dog arrived. The puppy had his second jackpot of the day and it was all to easy.
I could not understand why the geese did not fly earlier. After all it was what the were anatomically designed for and the dog was not! This would have lifted them out of the danger of the dog. It was their ultimate defencive move to the dogs offence.
It got me thinking about how often I act like a 'stupid goose' in the face of danger and challenge. I don't see I am struggling quick enough and retreat to safety. Isaiah in the Old Testement paints a picture of Gods people 'soring on wings like eagles'.
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:31)
I am done with being a stupid goose!
I read another bit of the Bible today that got me thinking! I was reading of Jacob’s life in Genesis. Laban is in furious pursuit of his son in law, Jacob who has taken off without notice with his daughters and grandchildren. He wanted to have it out with him but once more God intervenes and speaks clearly to Laban with some simple words “Watch Yourself!” God warned him. “Don’t say anything to Jacob, good or bad”
Laban had every right to speak up and request an answer. God was getting involved to protect Jacob in his rash choices driven by fear. But God spoke clearly saying keep quiet! I so find it hard to keep quiet especially when I feel wronged. I felt challenged thinking how often does God steer my response to silence and I miss it?
In my Cell Group this week James hard hitting words from his letter in the New testament was quoted ‘Be quick to listen, Slow to speak, slow to become angry’ James 1: 19. I can’t help but read this and make a quick personal assessment that usually goes fail, FAIL & FAIL!
I am feeling challenged to keep my big mouth a bit more shut!
"Jesus strategy turns spectators into participators, consumers to contributors, audiences to armies, members to missionaries"
This quote is taken from the Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren. I absolutely love it, I do! As Rick Warren points out Jesus has a strategy and a plan always involves participation. He puts this strategy into place time and time again we see not only recorded in the Bible but is illustrated throughout history. God transforms us which means that ordinary people can do through him extraordinary things . His Kingdom advances as the audience turns into an army.
It blows my mind that God chooses to use regular people like us to be a part of his master plan. He could quiet easily achieve this on his own such is his omnipotence. Father God though chooses to engage with his children and lavish love upon them (1 John 1: 3). In Matthew 18 Jesus makes it very clear. It is HIS Church and HE will build it. He is the builder and it is his building, we are purely key holders (not just to the Church but the whole Kingdom) who wish to steward it well and ultimately put a smile on his face.
This is what Jesus Church should look like. It functions as the body as spectators become participators, consumers to contributors with each unique part contributing to the whole.
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?