Thursday, 10 December 2015

Go Viral

We are into the season of colds and sniffles. You can't help pick up an infection ... and as soon as you have it you'll be sure to pass it on!

Missiologists who have studied again the Gospels and the book of Acts have realised the same principle at work with the Good News. The Good News is told or demonstrated, people catch on and find faith for themselves. As soon as they have, they start passing it on. Epidemiology and gospel mission are related subjects!

The internet and social media have also taught the general public the same concept, with 'gone viral' now in everyday vocabulary. Inadvertently the Church of England benefited when their proposed paid cinema ad was blocked and then went viral on the internet, probably giving free exposure to many many more people!

John's gospel shows the principle straight away in chapter 1 (verse 41). The woman at the well does the same in chapter 4. The spread of Christians out of Jerusalem in Acts 8 was the exact opposite of infection control: when you want to control a disease you quarantine and curtail movement of people (as happened in Sierra Leone with the Ebola virus), but here the people were scattered ... leading to gospel spread wider and wider. The Spirit knows His epidemiology!

So the question for us is do we inoculate, or do we make the gospel 'sneezable', so to speak? Can we see the gospel truly go viral once again?

Friday, 23 October 2015

Leadership Resolve

As noted previously, to go with a God idea instead of a good idea can be an unpopular route. Even the closest among you might be adamant that you have got it wrong ... yet forward you must go.

Of course a key skill in leadership is gauging the pace of progress - not so fast that many who were supposed to come with you are left behind. Not an easy task, and one we most likely often get wrong.

Yet we should note that after the Mark 8 episode with Peter, Jesus still went on to Jerusalem in accordance with plan A. He didn't seem to say: "Fair enough - let me press the 'pause' button and go into a holding pattern while you guys get it". For Jesus (presumably benefiting from 100% accurate Spirit given discernment!) the time was right and it was now.

Similarly Paul got to the point where he was Spirit-led to journey back to Jerusalem on a trajectory that he knew would entail hardship and limitation. Acts 20:25 has him telling the Ephesian church leaders 'you will never see me again'. They wept and embraced him ... and then he set sail.

Both showed a resolved to pursue their knowledge of God's plan. They did it with their colleagues as much as possible, but overall the journey was onward.

Let us discern the God idea, and with it a suitable sense of God's timing, and then on top ask for a God infused resolve to journey forward.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Talk Jesus

This week I read an article that challenges Christians to 'Talk Jesus' more than they 'Talk God'. The missional logic being that across the world in our pluralist cultures 'God' can mean loads of things to different people, whereas 'Jesus' is specific.

The author has a point: just this week I talked with a friend who quite clearly believes in God of some sort, because his own life story is one of miraculously being brought back from the brink of self-destruction. Yet God of some sort is where it remains for him. He is a 'firm believer', but his firm belief is in a very wishy washy concept! My job was to proclaim this God of some sort to be none other than Jesus Christ (much like the Acts 17 Athens scenario, I guess).

It is interesting to look at Peter's development of Christology (understanding of Christ) in his first sermon in Acts 2. Through much of the sermon his Christology actually seems quite weak: v22 Jesus is a man, albeit accredited by God. In v24 he is a man raised, not held by death. Okay, now clearly a very special man ... but arguably still just a man.

In v25 Peter starts to increase the heat: could this man be Lord, as spoken of in the Old Testament? V31 talks of the promised Messiah, who would not be abandoned to death. Yet at this point arguably still we have Jesus a man who by God's vindication is not held by death and thus proved to be the Messiah.

At last Peter's argument reaches its climax in v33-36. By Peter's own witness (v32) this Jesus is exalted to the right hand of God, able to receive the Holy Spirit and pour it out. I sense Peter saying to the crowd, "Tell me, who can do that other than God Himself?". King David saw it long ago, and now let us all see it: this Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. To see God let us see Jesus - a 'strong Christology' in theological jargon.

The result of course was people 'cut to the heart'. Peter's audience was vast-majority Jewish, so he accordingly built on their Old Testament roots. Our audiences may be more varied ... but let us 'Talk Jesus' working towards the logical climax that Jesus is indeed God, and is ready to meet us, right here right now.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The Concerns of God

Good things ... God things.

Just one character, one byte of data, perhaps even an easily made typo ... but the difference between what can lead us away from Christ and His purposes and what can lead us with Christ and His purposes.

In Mark chapter 8 Jesus starts spelling out the plan A, which is the suffering and dying version. Peter thinks he knows better, he wants Jesus to surge forward as the successful hero-leader, and so tries to correct Jesus.

The response is stark, and perhaps one we need to be hit with ourselves from time to time: 'You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns'.

So many things may seem right, may have logic, legitimacy, and would most other times almost certainly be correct. Yet they reflect human concerns rather than God's own heart.

Can we tell the difference? That needs an ongoing closeness to Jesus, a desire to have our minds continually re-orientated to His concerns, to His plans, balck to plan A.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Love by seeing Christ

Peter echoes the other New Testament letter-writers in suggesting a progression in qualities of character that stem from faith. In 2 Peter 1:5 onwards he traverses all the way from faith to love. While Paul stops at hope in Romans 5:4, he puts love at the very top in the well known 1 Cor 13 passage. It is no surprise that love forms the pinnacle, because God is Love as per John's letters.

The emergence of these qualities correlates to our effectiveness, according to Peter (v8). Our knowledge of Jesus is not simply academic, to be privately kept in a box marked 'faith' in our minds, but has a purpose that will produce things.

Yet what is Peter's diagnosis for those lacking these qualities? It is not 'try harder', or 'get your religious or spiritual act together'. No - it is blindness, not being able to see Christ. Not seeing Christ straight-forwardly means that we no longer appreciate what he has done for us, the rescuing, the cleansing from our wrong.

Remember Jesus at the end of Luke 7 chides the Pharisee who could not appreciate the extravagant out-working of being forgiven with the phrase 'whoever has been forgiven little loves little'. Maybe with Peter he means 'whoever appreciates little (of Christ and his work achieved) loves little'.

We love not by trying harder ... but by seeing Christ, and realising to ever greater magnitude just how much he has already done for us. That adds to our faith, resulting in a greater quality of love in our lives.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Ten Percent Success Rate

Its easy for us to get to discouraged by low numbers. Whilst it is good to think through how many people have engaged (and get a handle on where where they have come from), we need to be wary of being obsessed with percentages fuelled by our target-driven culture.

I wonder what Jesus' target was when he was confronted by the ten men with skin diseases in Luke 17. They called on his mercy, and Jesus instructed them to check in with the priest (who would pronounce on their condition, if it had improved). They seem to go in faith ... with their healing coming through their action of going. So far so good!

Yet only one returns to give thanks and praise to God. So only one has connected the action of being sent to the priest with faith that then needs to respond appropriately to God and to Jesus through whom that faith came.

Its a 10% success rate - not very high! Quite discouraging in fact.

We don't have enough data to gauge Jesus' mood, but he does question the outcome. Yet nonetheless the one is sent on his way with blessing and commendation. Perhaps just that one is encouragement enough?

Monday, 29 June 2015

Too Comfortable Not To Pray

My previous post made a play on the book title 'Too Busy Not to Pray', suggesting that here in the West our problem is as much 'Too Comfortable to Pray'.

I think we can play on the words even further. Just as the original book points out that we cannot afford to not pray - using our busyness as the lead thought, I wonder if we should consider the same with our comfort too. It seems to me that Paul never expected to be comfortable, and saw oppression and direct persecution as the norm for us Christ-followers. In 2 Timothy, chapter 2 verse 3 and chapter 3 verses 10 to 12 are just two of many examples of this thinking.

So if we are 'comfortable' (so for example we don't feel a pressing need to pray for our own survival) then perhaps we should wonder if we are actually on the right track? A wonder that itself might spur us to pray! In other words, perhaps the phrase we need to grasp is 'Too Comfortable Not to Pray', just like the original book.

I'm not saying that we should wish on ourselves trouble, nor that we should go looking for it. But if we can bounce along comfortably, perhaps we are in a state where we simply cannot afford to not pray, lest we simply end up too complacent.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Too Comfortable to Pray

I have always loved Bill Hybels' book 'Too Busy Not to Pray'. The title says it all - when we are pressured and busy, we must pray in order to survive/overcome those pressures. I have often had occasions myself where my To-Do list, or the pressures of the day ahead, seem to have no room for anything but the doing ... yet I have deliberately still carved out time or at least paused to pray. Somehow the priorities or the tasks themselves then adjust to allow things to work out.

Yet I now wonder if a more relevant critique for our culture would be to have a title 'Too Comfortable to Pray'. Are we in the West simply too comfortable to make prayer together (especially calling on God with respect to His ministry and purposes) a priority? Too comfortable to make the effort, to schedule, to be there?

In our relative comfort have we lost the urgency that Paul seems to have, with his expectancy of Jesus' imminent return, the desire to pray Kingdom realities into the now,  the compelling and hope to see the Gospel breaking in to places or areas where it is absent? Have we become disconnected from God's mission imperative, and therefore ambivalent when mission opportunities seem to be blocked, threatened or unable to progress?

Of course as Christians we all pray. I also don't think we only use prayer as a crutch, when things are particularly bad. Yet when it comes to making a deliberate point of praying together, are we simply too comfortable to make that kind of effort?

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Immense Patience

This week I was struck by the concept of 'immense patience' that Paul figured Christ had displayed in himself (see 1 Timothy 1:16).

Fact is Paul had lived much of his life active as a deeply religious Jewish scholar, and yet ignorant of the real grace of God. Fact is also that Paul had ventured out to persecute believers and recipients of that same grace. Only through God's gracious intervention did he come to see it as well, and turn things around. How long had Christ waited for that moment, the right point to challenge Paul for persecuting him (Acts 9:4)?

How long had Christ waited for me? The eighteen years before I accepted him personally as Lord and saviour? Plus the numerous times beyond that (and still) where I try to have things my own way? How much do I still test His patience?

And what about our witnessing and working with others, praying and longing for them to accept the message? For their embracing of His transforming work, their long awaited growing in discipleship? If we are to be Christ-like, do we need to find in ourselves at least a slice of this same immense patience?

That does not mean that slip ups, mess ups, and downright wrongdoing should simply be over-looked or left un-challenged. There is place for this, and needs to be rightly done. Yet in the grand scheme of Christ's work, perhaps sometimes this need for us to wait to see the results may just be a further expression of Christ's immense patience being worked out.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Pray for the Workers

When Jesus said 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, ask the Lord to send out workers' he wasn't kidding! There is opportunity in just about every direction, and in an area like the one I live in alot more housing is being physically built adding to the local possibilities.

I am convinced that our biggest need is workers. People who can live 'given lives' in the communities where they reside. With a rhythm and diet that weaves mission into their weekly routines, they will at the very least quietly bless the areas, but over time likely do much more.

It seems to me that we don't necessarily need buildings, nor do we need great top-down organisational structures (if we do things well), but we do need people overflowing with Christ centred hope, who have orientated their lives to be available for the task. People who know their calling, and confident of being sent.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Essential Ingredient: The Prophetic Voice for Today

Today, for anyone who is at least mildly bold, there is more opportunity than ever. Just take mission as one area: there are opportunities for mission short term, long term, locally, nationally, and abroad. Now in all departements life comes to us, bringing possibility and yet more opportunity. Couple that with an ever deeper sea of need, it is easy to see why we seem to feel exhausted much of the time!

We need discernment more than ever before. As well as having our eyes opened to possibilities, we need to learn to discern amongst those possibilities.

Fortunately God has promised to not leave us in the dark and speaks today. The Spirit poured out brings prophetic revelation (Joel 2/Acts 2). Amos 3:7 reassures that the Lord's plans will be revealed.

An oft-quoted verse is also Proverbs 29:18. Given in old translations as 'where there is no vision the people perish', but better translated in recent decades as 'Where there is no word from God, people are uncontrolled', or as The Message puts in 'If people can't see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves'!

The point is that we need prophetic revelation, God's word for us today. We need it at the level of the whole of society, to guide people's behaviour and stem the worst excesses. We need it together in the church for our direction and purpose. And we also need it as individuals, for leading in our own God-given calling.

Discernment, God's leading, God's voice. The New Testament makes a big deal out of prophetic gifting, even prioritising it over other gifts (1 Cor 14:1). When we think of the myriad choices we can make day on day, that this is an essential ingredient should not surprise us.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Connect the Grass-Roots to the Big Picture

We need grass-roots activism. It gets things done, it helps people in practical ways and in so doing makes a worthwhile point. Yes grass-roots activism is good.

We also need an enduring sense of the big picture, the overall direction, where it is all headed. This provides the underlying energy, the thrust, the drive that the grass-roots activism surely needs as its fuel.

The trick is to connect the two: grow the grass towards the light! Without that big picture vision the activism may win some victories, but down the line will be stunted and will not grow further.

I recently read how Martin Luther King did this connecting so well. Rolling up his sleeves he joined and led grass-roots actions that made very real difference on the ground. But he did it with a keen sense of Kingdom vision that he preached seamlessly with his rallying calls for action.

We are activists, with un-tiring energy, because of who we are in Christ - a Kingdom people attracted to Jesus and His Kingdom. So eager are we for this Kingdom that we will join Him in seeing it happen in our lives and neighbourhoods right now.

Soon Jesus will return in all His Kingdom glory, yes very soon. With it His ultimate perfection will land, making good every promise and finishing the transformation of every thing that delights to wait for it. Our grass-roots activism right now lights the very landing lights for this wonderful occasion.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Overcome Evil with Good

We live in a risk averse culture. So much so, that even Christians in their faith tend towards risk averse decisions, which potentially could curtail what would otherwise be good outreach.

The risk calculation is a complex one with many inputs and variables. A good question to ask is 'are we doing something that is basically good, simply blessing people'? If the answer is 'yes', with no strings attached, that ought to be good enough to trump a number of other factors.

The problem is that there is alot of bad out there. People and the general cultural perception may have been stung in the past by bad people doing bad things. This leads to restriction going forward: it can both make people averse to receiving that which is good, and also make us averse to trying to offer that which is good. The restrictions (explicit or implicit) factor into the soup of our risk calculation ... but sadly it means we might calculate and come to the wrong conclusion on a proposed activity.

The reaction to evil is to not be overcome by it, nor to simply bound it by living with restriction upon restriction. The answer is to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:2). Dispensing that good will mean taking a risk ... a risk in the face of both past evil and present evil. But if you are basically dispensing good, it will be a risk ultimately worth taking.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Front Covers

This week a muslim outreach group has boldly put a 'full sleeve' ad on our local paper (and others across the region/country I guess) which gives them a big front page splash inviting people to ring or visit a website for information and a free Koran copy etc. The main grab of the ad is 'find out about the real prophet Muhammed'.

The first point to make is of course they have every right to do this - religious freedoms have been fought for long and hard over the centuries, with the first English baptists petitioning the king not just for themselves but also for Jewish and Muslims in early 1600s England (they were way ahead of their time!).

Secondly, Christians use similar strategies. Websites like have been effective in helping people discover Jesus, along with radio and TV stations, posters, tracts, and adverts across the decades. All these things have their place.

Yet the best front cover will be the shared life of an existing disciple. When people see us do they see the real Jesus, and in our interactions with people do we help them find out about the real Jesus?

All the major stats indicate that people come to faith through the significant influence of one or more Christians in their life. It was the way Jesus did it, it was the way Peter and Paul did it!

Let us ensure our lives our 'full sleeve ads' for the real Jesus, bold font proclaiming the good news that those who 'read us' can discover him too.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Christ Enabled Relationships

Ephesians 5 is often a favourite passage for preachers at a wedding. Yet many pick up at verse 22, which seems to me to be an important mistake. The previous verse 21 calls for mutual submission out of respect for Christ - in other words let your relationship with Jesus be the basis of respect for one another.

Scholars agree that this passage is effectively a 'holiness code' for relationships (akin to various other codes available at the time). The difference is that this one flows from relationship with Christ. Take Christ away (or skip verse 21) and what do you have: just rules and regulations (and therefore almost inevitable strife!).

The whole passage, including wives/husbands but also parents/children and masters/slaves (and I'm sure in Paul's mind all relationships in fact) is controlled by that initial verse 21, echoed (and rounded off) by chapter 6 verse 9 which refers again to Christ as Lord ('Master in heaven').

As a side order, the wives/husbands bit is really about Christ and the church (see verse 32) ... but at least that gives the wedding preacher a potentially useful way of jumping across to an evangelistic address (which in a UK wedding is a great opportunity!).

But the real relevance of this passage for our 21st century mission perspective is what we model in our significant relationships. Whether it is in marriage, in family, or even in boss/subordinate scenarios, we can model a positive Christ enabled alternative. Lose verse 21 and you will typically portray a graceless scenario - Paul urges us to something much better.

Friday, 30 January 2015

The Follow / Free-Will Dilemma

Jesus said 'Come follow me'. He calls people to discipleship ... to following. He commissions us to 'Make disciples', i.e. bring others to a maturity whereby they are also following Jesus.

Yet all the while Jesus honoured and respected the God-given free-will that we are given. We can, at any time, simply say 'no thank you' and wander our own way. In fact in some clearly recorded occasions in the gospels thats exactly what people did (e.g. end of John 6).

Ultimately Jesus honoured the gift of free-will to the point of letting people cruelly execute him.

In mission we lead. Whether it is just one person to Jesus-discipleship, a group, a whole church, or even to speak missionally into society, we find ourselves as leaders. Since the direction of our leadership is towards-Jesus, we rightfully hope that all will journey together. We want to take as many with us in that Spirit-led direction as possible.

Yet we are limited, and it is not solely dependent on us. Each person must make their own decision, exercising their free-will. Even if we are leaders gifted with the strongest Christ-like message, we must recognise this fact. Romans 12:18, in its call for living at peace with those around us, reminds us that we can only do that as far as it depends on us - i.e. there are limitations.

The skill of Jesus' mission that we pursue is therefore to call people towards Jesus as best we can, yet simultaneously laying down any sense of coercive power. We must call people to follow Jesus, completely honouring their free-will.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Moment of Burn

Waiting on God, an openness to the Spirit, a welcoming of the moment of God's choosing. That was the pattern set by Jesus at the beginning of Acts leading to Pentecost and that fantastic moment of burn that set the disciples on their way.

Like a high speed download from God, things suddenly moved forward. From that moment as mission history unfolded there were other Pentecost-esque moments for new believers. Acts 18 and 19 is instructive - it had been possible to know of John the Baptists call to repentance, and even to know the teachings of Jesus, yet still be lacking. A moment of burn was required, their own individual filling of the Spirit.

Why think that it might be any different in our time? Each of us, to move forward, also needs a moment of burn ... enabling forward movement.

In previous posts we have talked about slow burn, and the need to continually burn. Both get started in a God timed and given moment of burn, our own Pentecost.