Debating British Values … Why bother?

Last week I took part in a survey by the Evangelical Alliance on British values. The survey was in response to assertions by the British Government on what the Nation’s values are. This subject is one that is close to my heart so I thought I would share three short reflections.

Values don’t just happen, they come from somewhere. The children’s charity Barnardos has a value never to turn away a destitute child. If you were to ask a member of the charity why this was so, they would tell you how in 1870 an 11-year old boy, John Somers (nicknamed ‘Carrots’) was turned away because the shelter was full. Two days later Carrots was found dead, the cause malnutrition and exposure.  From then on Barnardo vowed never to turn another child away.

Sociologists have defined values as ‘self limiting choices that we express at least 80% of the time’. To never turn a child away is a costly commitment, at times inconvenient and often stretching beyond current means. But because we know why we do it, we know the story (and we have reflected on the outcomes from alternative course of action), we keep making the choice.

The second thing is that values aren’t just things we aspire to, they determine how we act and shape the culture within which we exist. This one value of Barnardos’ would have had a huge impact on every area of the work from the day to day running of shelters to fundraising and training of staff; it will impact policy and procedure at every level. Values aren’t just nice ideas they shape current and future reality by determining the choices we make. As a nation, in thinking about what values we want to hold, we need to consider what kind of a culture we want to create; our values will (and do) permeate every area of public and social life.

One of the many issues we face as a nation is the weakening of some core values which we have held for generations. This in part is because we have stopped telling the stories that remind us why we have those values. I do not believe for a moment that we need to ‘go back to the good old days’; but I do believe the nation needs to have a conversation about what is important and why.

Which brings me onto the third thing. Values cannot be imposed, they must be chosen. It is strange indeed for any unrepresentative group to come up with a list of ‘values’ for the nation to subscribe to. To review or shape our nation’s values requires not a directive but a movement; storytelling and reflection: we need the space to seriously consider what the outcomes will be a couple of generations down the line if we adopt or drop certain values. Only after all that will come the decisions and policy making…


How far is too far?

I just finished reading the gospel of Luke again, I read it over a few days, several chapters at a time like a novel. It was great!! As I read the last chapter I was reminded of a challenge from Holy Spirit that I had felt recently. It’s a small phrase in the account of the walk to Emmaus. Jesus and the two disciples come to the place they were to lodge for the night and Jesus makes as if he is carrying on. The disciple’s response is to beg Jesus to stay.
This moment reminds me of the interactions between Moses and God in Exodus 33. The chapter starts out with God laying out his plan of action. He’s going to send an angel with Moses and the Israelites into the Promised Land, the angel will ensure their complete success; that way he (God) doesn’t have to go with them since he would destroy the people because they are so infuriating! We are then painted a picture of the relationship between Moses and God and given a sample of one of their conversations. In this interaction Moses basically says ‘no deal’ to God’s plan not to go with him and the Israelites.
In the stories, Moses and the two disciples both press God until he relents and stays.
Here’s the thing. In both cases God is delighted with the process and the outcome; in fact it seems to have been precisely what he was looking for. My problem is that if it had been me, I would have simply gone along with things, lived with the disappointment but not thought to challenge God. How many times have I been in God’s presence, sensed him stir and lift away, and my response has been just to move on? What if from the depths of my heart I were to pursue him and beg him to stay?
Now, I know that God is with us all the time, he is everywhere. There are however moments and places where I am more aware of his presence – with my body, soul and spirit – one on one times between me and God. There is too a question of desire, how much do I want to meet with him? What if meeting him does mean I die or at least am changed for ever? Is that too high a price to pay? For Moses it wasn’t, he knew what the risks were, and yet…
And the two disciples, I hear you say that they didn’t realise it was Jesus at the time. Quite; but they themselves reflect on the resonance and connection that took place in their hearts as they walked with Jesus. There was something about this person; something inside them felt that they must be with him as long as possible… and so they begged him to stay.
Through his relationship with Moses and the relationship between Jesus and his disciples, God models something to us. He reveals his ultimate desire for relationship with you and with me; relationship where there is mutual trust, friendship and the simple desire to be in each other’s company. He looks for that desire and he is quick to respond. This in no way minimises his Holiness and the consequence for sin entering his presence. But as with Moses and the Israelites we can have two responses to that reality: The Israelites declined the chance to meet with God, sent Moses in their stead and opted for a relationship based on external rules and action that would keep God at arm’s length. Moses on the other hand went into the lightning storm opting for a relationship based on personal encounter and first hand acquaintance with his God.
How much do I desire to be with God?

From seed to full grown tree

This gallery contains 5 photos.

A couple of weeks back I experienced two days that I think will change my journey of discipleship forever. It wont take long but I’d like to share what I experienced with you. The Monday was my team’s usual prayer and supporter day and as I spent the first half of the day alone with […]

Prayer for the Nation.

Last night our church gathered for an evening of prayer. It was a lovely time, prayer stations where people could engage with different areas and concerns were scattered around the building. I was running the station focusing on praying for our nation, especially in light of the elections coming up this Thursday.
Following on from my post last week, prayer is the vital core of community transformation. All our action must be birthed, bathed and followed in prayer, because prayer is listening to and hearing the voice of God and he has directions to give us if we care to find out.
Last night we used the Caleb Prayer:
Oh High King of Heaven, have mercy on our land: revive your Church, send Holy Spirit for the sake of the children and may Your kingdom come to our nation in Jesus’ might name.
And we used the Lord’s prayer:
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed (honoured) be Your name.
Your Kingdom come and Your will be done here in this land as it is in Heaven.
Give us (our people) today our daily bread. Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For yours is the Kingdom, all the Power and all the Glory –
Forever and Ever. AMEN!

Spending time in both these prayers can help us get in touch with the depths of God’s heart for our land.
We watched the following videos which I really encourage you to take a look at. This first one is a call out to the people of God to think practically about transforming our society and its culture. There are so many areas of our society that we aren’t fully invested in as a people of God, but that is exactly what is needed if we are to take part in seeing God’s kingdom come in the UK.

This second video helps us to see the amazing work that the church is doing to heal the wounds of brokenness in our nation. But it challenges us to take on the things, the systems that are currently in place and allowing that brokenness to persist.

When we pray with our whole selves we not only spend time conversing directly with Holy Spirit, but we also let those conversations flow out and impact our choices and actions. This week in the UK we have a chance and responsibility to vote. Across the globe today people live and die to have a voice in their nation’s policies. My colleague said last week, “Whenever there is an opportunity to vote, I take it, even if it’s just something at the local library! I always think, people fought hard and gave their lives so that I could vote; so to honour them, I will!”. We may feel that our vote wont make a difference, and I get that, but not voting simply reinforces the status quo, instead, let’s do the work to make sure our vote does count! Our responsibilities don’t end with voting, there is work to do next week to see God’s kingdom come and his mercy poured out across our land.

Pastor Nick

Last week my colleague and I got to spend an afternoon being shown round a community by a friend, the local Pastor. He had invited me to speak on community transformation that evening at the AGM of the local Churches Together group. As I reflected on what I saw that afternoon, my thought was: the most effective way to transform this community and others would be for this Pastor to mentor and coach others in what he was doing!

As we walked past the blocks of apartments he would tell us about the different individuals and families that lived there. It was school home time so we wondered down to the primary school to be greeted by parents and kids alike, some stopped to talk and share news. ‘Hello Pastor Nick’ was the call of most of the kids as they rushed by, free from school for the day! After some friendly banter with the Head, ‘Pastor Nick’ showed us round the school, stopping to greet and chat with various members of staff. We spent 15 minutes with a couple of teachers at the end of which we had a plan for dealing with the issue of kids turning up to school on an empty stomach and dehydrating through the school day. (When I say we, I mean Pastor Nick and the teachers of course!).

Pastor Nick is gently leading his congregation to reach out and welcome the local residents into their lives. They open up as a café a few times a week and recently ran a curry night in partnership with the local curry house: 80 members of the local community showed up!

What has all this got to do with community transformation and for that matter, what does it mean to transform a community? Traditionally we have focused on two areas in answer to this question, firstly ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to give their lives to Christ and secondly meeting the practical needs of the community. But is that enough? In our effort to build from these two starting blocks we have often tied ourselves in knots confusing discipleship with indoctrination or ‘house training for church life’. Then we get stumped over the ‘need’ to bridge the gap between social action and sharing the gospel.

What if we took Jesus mandate to us as our template for transformation? He told us to ‘go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey my teachings’. Jesus’ teaching was about living with God as the centre and Lord of life – your life and the world around you. Everything he did and taught was about living that way. He didn’t bring a set of rules or doctrines, he brought a revolutionary value system based on a relationship with our eternally loving Creator God, the saviour and redeemer of the world. Apparently Jesus expected us to teach entire communities and nations to live that way.

Not surprising when we recall God’s plan expressed in his promise to Abraham whereby all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. We are told in Hebrews that Abraham had a God given vision of a city or community that had God as the source and the centre of its design and very life. Or during the exile in Babylon when God instructed the people to work for the Shalom of the place where they had been sent. For centuries God had been calling his people out, pointing them to the things that would make for their Peace, then with Jesus he births and models this new order, this new creation. Which it turns out isn’t so new after all but is simply what God designed for us from the start.

So could it be that our mission therefore is to disciple our communities in the ways of Christ thus bringing about a transformation of our values, our way of life and so too the transformation of our culture?

Pastor Nick does life with his community; at every point of conversation, collaboration, grief or celebration, he brings a God centred (NOT religious) presence. As others join with him in this mission, gently but irresistibly a new norm will form as the community is discipled. Some may come to profess faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, many will not, but all will experience God’s action in their lives and learn those things that ‘make for our Peace’… and they will teach the next generation the same. In this way we will see our nation discipled and transformed.

When Heaven Delegates – Part 2

Is it just me or do others find themselves stuck sometimes, not knowing quite how to get to where God’s called us. It’s like we can see the Promised Land over in the distance but it’s all we can do to stay alive let alone make the journey over there… and do battle. We know what God has called us to but we are stuck in a cycle of survival that often has us swinging between feast and famine at a heady rate. I heard Bill Johnson quoted recently contrasting heaven’s intervention in the wilderness with the miracles of the Promised Land: ‘in the wilderness, the miraculous was for the Israelites’ survival, but in the Promised Land, the miraculous was for the advancement of the kingdom.’ Perhaps sometimes we live as if we were still in the wilderness thereby recreating the reality of that place, when actually we need to start living by the ways of the Promised Land, which is where we actually are. I know that’s true for me.

Last time I shared a little about poverty, simplicity and heaven’s lavish resource. There are three more principles I have seen from Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s writings that have to do with stewarding the resources delegated to us. Discovering them again has been a series of light bulb moments – I’m a little slow so bear with me!

The first was the most surprising to me; when heaven gives something to us, heaven expects us to work with it so that it increases. We live in the blessing and favour of our Father, we are Children of the promise, walking in fellowship with Him in the Promised Land. This seems to be the basis of this expectation from heaven. When God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land he blessed them to work the already fertile land so that it would produce all they needed. For us this increase can come I think by two main routs: either through literal investment and enterprise or as a result of giving be that tithes, offerings, or ‘seed giving’. Either way, the idea and expectation is to take what God has given and put it to work so that it increases.

The second is similar and has to do with what we put these resources to work on; that is God’s rule and will being expressed on earth. Each of us is a member of God’s family with a role to play in bringing heaven to earth. Whether as individuals or ministries, we have been given special ministries, callings, tasks, jobs to do that will cause him and his ways to be known and experienced by others. That’s what the resource is for, whether we are applying the first principle of increase or simply making use of it. It could be your own ministry, or maybe it’s another one that cares for the fatherless, or protects the weak, one that clothes the naked or feeds the hungry. Anything that bring God’s rule and his Kingdom into everyday life.

The third principle that governs the stewardship of those resources that heaven has delegated to us is simply expressing the nature of God. Using our gifts and resources to show mercy, to lavish grace, to express forgiveness, and of huge importance, to demonstrate the generosity of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. In this area we are likely to be on the receiving end; but as soon as we receive we are able to give! Sometimes we have a need and what we receive is to meet that need but if this becomes perpetual and life and ministry become driven and drained by need, something is not right – most obviously we are not managing to increase the resources we have been given.

I have decided to try, with God’s grace, and use these three principles as a sort of checklist as I manage both my personal resources and those of the ministry I steward. I am looking forward to seeing what changes as a result.

When Heaven Delegates

Why is it that as individuals and ministries, we Christians can sometimes find ourselves trapped in a cycle of poverty, scrounging around for the resource to do life? I think there are many reasons, possibly as many as there are people and ministries in this situation! For some us though, we get a quirky sense of enjoyment and even take a little pride in ‘making do’ despite our poverty. If this is the case, and even if not, a fresh encounter with our gracious God might be called for! For me, in hearing God on my particular situation and wrestling with the issues, I have discovered some themes that I want to start applying.

Firstly it has been important for me to clarify the difference between poverty and simplicity. God calls many of us to the life of simplicity whereas I don’t think he calls us to what we would today call poverty. He calls us rather, to care for and be with the poor, and to address both the roots and the results of poverty. Sometimes our beliefs, the way we make decisions and manage our resources can perpetuate a state of lack that then hampers us in that very ministry. I have found that it is far too easy to mistake faith for presumption. A wise person gave me this advice recently – “God is never in a rush! So if in doubt, don’t! Wait for godly confirmation.” Sometimes our choices, even those we feel were inspired by God, routinely lead us into lack or debt. We then reassure ourselves that God is keeping us dependant on him but perhaps we have mistaken self-imposed poverty (that has come as a result of presumption and flawed stewardship) for dependence on God. A life of simplicity and dependence on God is not defined by lack.

The monastics of old took vows of poverty, I wonder if poverty in that context is what we would now call simplicity? Whatever the case, our living and lifestyle must not deny the nature of our God, his Kingdom, his power and his glory – all of which are beyond anything we can imagine. Simplicity is not the same as lack. Our attitude needs to be like Christ, neither grasping his identity, nor denying it but in humility walking in intimate fellowship and obedience to the Father. He knew no limits in his ability and resource to express the Father’s kingdom in the ways the Father directed; he was simply obedient and walked in harmony with the Father.

There is no doubt in my mind that heaven gives generously, resource of every kind to each of us often according to our ability and experience. What happens after that is determined by us. We are citizens of heaven, there is no secular – sacred divide in reality, life is all about God’s Kingdom here on earth. All that I have and all that I am, all that I own and all that I can do is a gift from heaven. I exist purely because God makes it possible! Thank you God! Everything he gives and everything he does is so that we and those around us can know him more, experience him and his rule, and respond to him. Sometimes we can forget the source of what we have and also the task for which it was given.

I am discovering a new freedom in knowing how utterly indebted to God I am, for the very air that I breath. And as I draw closer to him, I realise that he really is my Shepherd and I lack nothing; I have access to all that I need and so much more. Although the poor have a place of honour in His kingdom, and Jesus came especially for the poor, the broken, the captive, the down trodden…. poverty itself is not part of his design.