Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Wake Up to New Ways of Being

Times change. And with those changes the way people associate and work together change. As Christians we need to recognise these changes, and be led by the Spirit to adapt with them rather than find ourselves stuck. Being stuck implies an innate resistance to movement - yet the Spirit is moving all the time.

In the ministry of Jesus we don't see him creating a whole lot of fixed structure. He related to his heavenly Father, gathered followers around him, and sent them with the promise of the Spirit. That was about all the structure he needed. Yet he did teach Kingdom and also work Kingdom within structures of the day - in the local synagogues, for example.

Was Jesus able to operate structure-light because he was smarter than us? Possibly!

But it was probably because Jesus was incarnational - God come in the flesh. He was therefore able to inhabit the structures of the day, teaching and working Kingdom within them. Since the Kingdom cannot be contained by any human structure Jesus was also perfectly able to teach and work Kingdom outside in the street as well!

So as we follow Jesus let us learn to be incarnational and inhabit structures that are relevant to our day. If those structures subside and new ones come to the fore, then let us not be afraid to let go of the old - led by the Spirit to teach and work Kingdom in the new ones. And let us not think Jesus is bound by either old or new structures - we can teach and work Kingdom outside in the street too ...

Friday, 2 June 2017

Mission Reformation

We know how to talk mission plans. We know how to talk about them, around them, through them, and so on. Hopefully we can also put our talk into practice, and get out there on the mission field. Otherwise we risk being all talk and no action!

Hopefully we also know that to stop and pray is a necessary component of our mission plans and activity. Yet in there may be another lurking problem ...

Our prayers might be fervent and well intended. They may well be spiritual. But in reality they may amount to little more than talk (albeit directed to God) about your mission plans. Good to pray of course, reluctant to knock it ... but take a step back?

Jesus seemed to take a step back (actually a step out, very early in the morning) in Mark chapter 1 verse 35. When the others caught up, expecting to get Jesus back on track with the obvious mission plan in the town, Jesus surprised them with an alternative venture. Jesus was still on mission, but it was curiously re-formed, leading to other destinations.

The example to learn from here is not 'pray and ditch what you are currently doing', but 'make space before God, allowing the possibility of re-forming your plans as God sees fit'. Too easily our well intended plans become the thing, whereas they were only ever supposed to be an expression of the mission of God.

It may be time to continue, tweak, or expand existing ... or it may be time for different ventures. How will you know unless you make it your regular practice to return to quiet time in prayer for potential mission reformation?

Friday, 26 May 2017

Watch and Pray

We of course encourage people to pray. Newcomers to the faith and established Christians. But do we explain how persisting in prayer can be shear hard work? Do we spell out the loneliness, the possibility of abandonment, or the potential feeling of the concrete ceiling?

"Could you not watch with me for one hour?", Jesus asked the disciples he had called to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Three times he went a little farther to pray, and three times he came back to find the companions sleeping.

In this garden sequence (e.g. Matthew 26) we should first learn from Jesus' prayer resolve: he knew that his toughest times were just ahead, and that this was the (gruesome) task both agreed with and required by his heavenly Father. With all these thoughts and emotions flooding his human system Jesus still deliberately & purposefully chose to seek his Father and spend time with Him. No sulking, no denial, but continuing in relationship!

But in entering this zone of prayer Jesus wanted to take people with him, to have companions in prayer. Sadly this wish was not fulfilled. The disciples came with him but didn't have the capacity to see it through - they fell asleep. How lonely did Jesus feel as the minutes mounted and the realisation that he was on his own sunk in? How abandoned did he feel when he looked back to discover that the disciples were asleep again.

Praying - going deep with the Father - can be a lonely enterprise. Don't assume that everyone will go or stay with you into the process. Yet persist anyway - seek the Father, forget the additional personnel count.

His prayer naturally looked for different answers. Was there another way? Could this be sorted via a different route. That is only human, something we all do. Our anxiety triggers a thousand internal queries 'what if this, or what about that?', some of which we express in prayer. Yet as Jesus turns these to prayer maybe he was met with those classic feelings of 'is anyone listening - am I really getting through here?'. I say 'classic' because it is such a common experience for us. How many times have we felt disconnected, as if there is a concrete ceiling separating us and God?

Yet Jesus persisted, and regardless of hearing/sensing/feeling any answer he handed it back to the Father with the 'but your will be done'. His anxieties were real and valid in his humanity, but he would hold his own humanity in its proper place in relation to God.

Praying is not always easy. In fact often it is plain hard. But keep perspective - God is God and we are not. Persist in prayer even if your humanity tries to tell you otherwise.

Jesus finishes ready for action 'Let us rise ... they are almost here'. He kind of sounds encouraged! The disciples duly respond and rise to meet the foe with him. From the very real loneliness & abandonment in prayer he emerges into the next episode both joined by his friends and with a Godly resolve to forge ahead.

That is where prayer leads. Not necessarily into an easy episode, but with resources and strength around you to do what needs to be done. Remember that the journey through prayer may be lonely and tough, but God is listening and responding. Time spent with Him sets things up for the way ahead.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Following the Spirit

Jesus told Nicodemus 'The wind blows wherever it pleases - you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit'.

The Spirit blows freely. It doesn't follow our set patterns, pre-conceived ideas or agendas. As such it can seem to us that it flits from one place to another. We talk of keeping in step with the Spirit ... but for us to truly do that will surely require us to walk in a way that qualifies for the ministry of funny walks!

Today I was out walking and had the pleasure of following a butterfly along the trail. It kept flitting from one place to the next, stopping and then moving on, settling and then off again. Since I was in prayer anyway, I resolved to track its movements, letting it be a guide for my own movement: when it flew forward I would walk forward, when it settled I would slow, stop and pray.

Eventually it settled on the path just ahead, so I stopped, knelt, and prayed right there. Some while later it took off, and so I set off once again.

Are we prepared to do similar in ministry? Sensing when the Spirit is going forward, to the left or right, and be sensitive to when it has settled on some place or some one? Will we stop and pray right there at the settling point for as long  as the Spirit is settled? Or do we march forward no matter ...

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Worship First

The people start to return back from exile. They assemble in Jerusalem and see the ruins, as captured in Ezra chapter 3. On coming together the first thing they do is sacrifice offerings, bringing their worship to God - picking up again a God ordained sense of celebration.

This is done without the foundation of the temple yet being (re-)laid. In other words, their first instinct is to worship. Temple in ruins - no matter. Barely one stone standing square on another - give to God in any case. Exposed to the outdoor weather - still worship anyway.

These returners had it correct: worship first no matter the circumstances. With the semblance of an altar they were able to bring their offering and open their hearts to God. You see we don't need super-smooth finished buildings to worship, nor dare I say the latest whizz-bang equipment. Just a realisation that God is God, we are not, and He is to be worshipped! That will do, that gets us started.

Whatever is set in our minds to do, be it great or small ... worship first. Do it regardless of the circumstances around you.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Witness to Freedom

Recently someone asked me the classic 'How much should I give?' question, pondering the just as classic 'ten percent tithe' approach. I think there is a simple answer:

Make it your habit to give generously, even extravagantly, as the Spirit liberates you.

If you are sitting there calculating, then you probably haven't found a liberty in the Spirit that is surely possible to discover. People seem to think that it is a percentage of their income, yet many of us in the West enjoy an excess so why not give generously from that excess and live off just what you need? For some with ample means that may translate to keeping 10% and giving 90! Again it is not the percentages that are the point, but your Spirit-enabled ability to image God's generosity in your own life.

Proverbs chapter 3 verse 28 tells you to give to your neighbour straight away rather than delay, so a further principle is to give promptly as soon as you have the money at your disposal. So if, for example, you are made redundant and receive a lump sum - then given generously from that as soon as you have received it and allow yourself to trust God for your own ongoing means.

Adopting this simplicity witnesses to the freedom that comes in becoming a follower of Jesus. You are not taking up adherence to rules, percentages or the like, but discovering the enabling liberty that God always intended. Your attitudes to these things, and the habits you adopt to work them out in practice, will be directly linked to this freedom.

It surprised me afresh that when Noah dis-embarked from the boat the first thing he did was worship through animal sacrifice. He did not calculate or hoard - for if he had then surely he would have kept the animals 'just in case'. No - he worshipped and freely gave them up, trusting in God for the outcome in the long term.

Find the same ability to 'give up' in worship, and witness to freedom!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Snares and the risk of Ministry Trophies

Gideon does pretty well in his story in Judges. The Lord reveals to him his commissioning, which he takes on. When the Midianites up the ante, Gideon does some discerning to be sure and then goes off to do battle. He allows his army to be whittled down, understanding that it is God's strength that will win through rather the raw military might.

Co-operating with the Spirit's lead he goes into battle and wins victory, and then goes on to mop up a few others. Blood and gore aside, Gideon is the victor that the people now look to as their leader. Gideon refuses this again understanding that the people should be a theocracy, ruled by God, rather than having any human king. All good for Gideon!

There is just one flaw though. Gideon asks for a wee share of the plunder. In itself surely not a big deal - they all took some plunder and that was okay right? Yet Gideon turns his gold into an ephod which became a religious symbol and object of worship. We are told the people worshipped it and it became a snare to Gideon and his family (Judges 8:27).

Now Gideon lived long and prosperous, but the ephod thing was unhealthy for him and all the people. How easy is it for us to inadvertently collect ministry trophies, which might become a snare to us? We don't need to say that we can never celebrate victory or success, but we must recognise that the line between God given success and something that actually replaces God in our worship is so very thin.

If in doubt, don't cast an ephod!