Nice work if you can get it!

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Sitting on the beach going through some edits with a colleague last week: ‘I don’t feel like this is work, it feels more like a holiday.’ ‘hmmm, it is work, we are working right now.’ ‘yes but we are on the beach!’ Nice work if you can get it! So last week the European leaders […]

God’s not schizoid….

Its nice to be back to blogging. In the break  I have moved house, relocated office, been to Rome, viewed my Mother’s prospective new home and attended 4 different churches. From all that and much more I have plenty to reflect on and share with you!

One of the things I appreciate about the movement that I am part of is that there are very few decisions of importance and wide reaching consequence that anyone gets to make on their own. Over the last few weeks I have been involved in a number of important decision making processes, many of which will have consequences that will be felt right across the international movement.

As a Christian mission movement we believe that God has an opinion and a say in our life and the decisions we make. In a discussion recently I found myself saying ‘God’s not schizophrenic’. My statement was a reflection on the current complexity we were facing brought about by the fact that not only do we believe that God has a say in what we do, but we do NOT believe that any one person or group has the monopoly on revelation from God as to what he wants; but rather that ‘together we have the mind of Christ’. So what happens when different ones seem to have opposing notions (equally felt to be of God by the respective proponents) of the right way forward?

In this situation, in our movement’s context, we would have one of three main options; the first and easiest is to assume that one person or group does have the monopoly on ‘God’s truth’ after all – they’re the more spiritual ones or they prayed longest and hardest, or they know the bible really well or … whatever. The second is that God is in fact ‘schizophrenic’, and in one setting he said one thing and in another he said something quite different; so really it doesn’t matter which we choose, opt for the one we like best, its all just a game of roulette anyway. The third is that God has indeed spoken to each of his children who have asked and listened, what each have shared is a complex mixture of personal agenda and divine inspiration, but the joyous task is for us together in grace and mercy, with Holy Spirit’s continued help, to discern the whole of what God is saying as we piece together the different parts… separating out the stuff that we threw into the mix of ourselves.

If I am honest, I reckon we go for the first two options more often than we would like to admit! However when we do go for the third, I reckon heaven celebrates and the powers of darkness are stricken with terror. Because I believe that the third option is an expression of Trinitarian unity in action, it is humble disciples with their master, seeking first his Kingdom. The third option is extremely ‘unnatural’, it requires all those concerned to yield to the others, it asks for an unusual level of humility, it demands an acknowledgment that God is as much at work in others as he is in you (and vise versa), it relies on each party articulating what they see and demands that the group take the necessary time and action to create the environment where all these things are in fact possible.

Its easy to see that there are no end of factors that make that third option so difficult to achieve. For me with my back ground in Soul Survivor and Vineyard, one of the most important things I learnt was to say ‘I could be wrong, or only partly right, but I think God might be saying ….’. this not only acknowledges my fallibility as a human being, but it also welcomes fellowship in discerning God’s voice. (it was a bit of a breath of fresh air from the more classic Pentecostal style I had grown up with!) The down side is that I now react when people say things like ‘God said… ‘ or ‘God’s spoken very clearly and therefore we should ….’, the closedness that communicates to me then becomes a hurdle to me stopping and hearing what God might in fact be saying in what they bring.

As a movement we have chosen the hard rout in this area and one that not all Christian organisations would choose they choose the harder routs in other areas. It’s not a superiority thing, it’s simply about staying true to your organisation’s mandate and mode of operation. As we do the work to go for option three even when its really tough and time is short, we experience his favour and blessing because I believe that when all the things that make that option possible are in place, we are much more in line with God’s nature which means that his kingdom is able to emerge a little more in us and through us.

‘The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure (uncontaminated). It is also peace loving (shalom) and gentle at all times and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favouritism and is always sincere.’ (James 3v17) I think that’s what we’re talking about!

Head stuck in the trunk

I remember running a community building festival in a northern town of rural Ghana a few years ago. There were hundreds in the centre participating in games and races and another couple of hundred having a go at the various activities that encircled the games. To the untrained eye, it was utter pandemonium, to those aware of social processes in crowds things were going well; either way that sort of setting can be fairly stressful. I recall a particular moment where I needed one of my colleagues to direct the centre games, as I scanned the crowd, I eventually found him rummaging through the trunk of one of our vehicles whilst things unravelled in the centre! Some of us react to stress of chaos by burrowing down deep into some detail that we can manage, others of us take a step back trying to contextualise the mayhem and catch the patterns by viewing the big picture. The trouble is that if we get stuck with our heads in the trunk we may find what we were looking for but have missed the real danger that was approaching and is now upon us!

 I have now run seven discussion workshops in various parts of the country looking at discipleship, mission and transformation of society. It’s been a chance to step back and get a bigger picture (more of a thumb-nail sketch!) of where things are at. To start us off I get participants to pair up with someone they don’t know and share their story with each other focusing on those things that have helped them in their discipleship journey as well as those things that have been a hindrance. I also get them to reflect together on what a mature Christ follower looks like. Just 10 minutes of this yields some rich fare for discussion and reflection in the bigger group!

 With varying strength, and through different stories the following things have come up each time:

1.       Something significant, hopeful and strengthening happens in the process of sharing and hearing each other’s story, even for just a few minutes.

2.       Having others to share the journey and encourage us in our walk is the single most significant, almost universal thing that contributes positively to our discipleship. This is closely followed by spiritual disciplines (prayer, bible study, worship etc) in the context of the church community.
3.       The biggest hindrances to our journey are isolation or negative relationships (especially when life is challenging) and Christians who lived a double life.
4.       Maturity as a follower of Christ is more about living out our faith in everyday life, than about knowing all the right stuff.

A few minutes of reflecting on our own and each other’s narrative enables these and other pretty simple patterns to surface. We then move to Jesus and his disciples and see the same things echoed there. They shared life together for three years and when he left he told them to keep on sharing life together with him in the centre. It was only after he left that the disciples begun to understand the truths, and doctrines started to fall into place, and by this time the doctrine was simply an articulation and explanation of all they had experienced and heard in their three years with him, and now, with his Spirit.

It is then an odd experience to engage with the question of how the church is ‘doing’ discipleship and what it is we are inviting people to in mission. Because it’s quickly obvious that what we are doing bears little relation to what our own narrative tells us is important, what Jesus himself did and what we intuitively know works.  Much of what we call discipleship focusses instead around teaching people stuff, we have our series of courses that people do in a particular order, failing that, Sunday sermons might suffice. Then there are a bunch of external behaviours that serve as measuring sticks of maturity. These externals will vary depending on the church and tradition…. the list and hoops and yard sticks grows and changes but keeps going on. And what does it all produce? Well that’s a whole other discussion!

It appears we got stuck in the trunk and forgot what we were really trying to do. If we come out and look at the bigger picture, is there another way?

Perhaps there is another way that’s at least worth giving a go. What if it is the shared life of disciples that revolves around Christ himself, that in turn, makes disciples?  If faith happens and grows where the rubber hits the road, as life comes at you, then let’s embrace life in all its complexity and pain but with each other and Christ – and if we don’t know how to do that, let’s work out how to do it! Isn’t that what discipleship is? This then becomes a faith that is relevant whoever you are and wherever you are, it’s not just a fair weather faith, it’s a gutsy, earthy, courageous faith with a real life, gutsy, compassionate, just and present God at the centre, with his sleeves rolled up, face leathered and gentle hands roughened. And that there, that group of brothers and sisters doing real life together with Christ at the centre, that there is what’s going to change the world.

Are we really ready?

 

SO last time I mentioned about the massive job that seems to be becoming clearer for all of us Christ-followers. At some point soon God’s going to start doing something new across the country, and the number of people actively looking for him and wanting to meet him will rise significantly. Churches are getting pretty excited about this, and rightly so. Often what happens when this change occurs is that the number of opportunities for people to gather at church goes up significantly, which is great. This is when gatherings learn to host God’s presence, people are learning to worship and wait on God together and lives are being touched, its really good!

But I suspect that this time there is more that God wants to do, more that’s going to be needed.

The job now is to equip today’s Christ followers so that wherever they are, not only are they able to help people meet God, but they are able to actually mentor them in following Christ, living in grace and applying their faith. It’s going to be all hands on deck! The church gatherings, though vital, aren’t going to be enough. The depth of transformation that I suspect God has in mind is going to require people in every workplace and sector, in every street and council estate, in every corridor of power, to be ready. Ready to see what God is doing and walk in step; ready to disciple a nation.

Imagine from the grass roots up and the corridors of power down, little pockets of Christ followers wrestling with what it means to be both just and merciful; dialoguing about how their faith informs what choices they make; learning what God teaches in his word and how to apply it. Not only will our nation be changed but the global impact will be colossal.

As in the days of Wesley and his compatriots, the transformation of society will come in the wake of revival, this time, however, it wont just be our society that is transformed, the effects will be global. We now live in a global village. However it is still true that it takes a village to raise a child, its just that the village is bigger now. The values that drive our society now have a direct impact on the two year old in that remote village in the amazon. That child needs God to move in our nation, that child needs today’s church to get ready to work with God tomorrow on the transformation of society.

 

A Personal Pilgrimage

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  Last week was the grand finale of our summer experience, the adapted pilgrimage of Hope that we have been doing. We had a day in London on Monday exploring the reformers and then on Wednesday we made the journey up to the north of the country to join St Aiden’s footsteps onto Holy Island. […]

Brokenness, fellowship and growth

This morning I was thinking about how uncomfortable living and working with others can be! Its like the person who said ‘I have no problem being holy when I am on my own!’. Doing life with others, at least authentically, is kind of like living life under a massive magnifying glass so that all your blemishes and brokenness are made clear for all to see. It doesn’t stop there, in that place I then have a choice, I can protest, deny and defend out of my brokenness, and remain in my dysfunctionality, or I can surrender to the light and to the fellowship and hopefully find grace and healing.

Each week I meet up with two amazing women, one is in Tasmania and the other is in Perth Australia, we connect over skype for about an hour. In that context we can each share what life is like. In the light and love of fellowship I can share my frailties and how I rail against them. The interesting thing is that in the sharing and receiving we also minister grace and truth and life to one another. Sometimes things are explicitly said that call us back to the cross, other times we just talk, cry, laugh and pray, but every time I leave more aware of God’s love and forgiveness and more aware of how he continues to grow me, never giving up or leaving me.

When we have a physical wound we usually need to expose it to some extent so that it can take the journey of healing; it needs to be rubbed or kissed, cleaned, strapped or splinted, stitched or left open to the air. Sometimes for our inner brokenness to be healed, it needs to be deliberately exposed to the blood of Jesus. It appears that the way God meant that to happen was in fellowship with others.

 ‘If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we will have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness’. I have been pondering those words for a couple of years and I think I am understanding them better, slowly!

three days alive

The task was to locate and articulate the dream that would take us through the next 2 decades. After a pilgrimage of training, mission and reflection in the summer, followed a couple of months later by a week of ‘Foundations for life and mission’, we had three days together. We weren’t harnessing just any dream, not only was it be ‘ours’ but it was to be a dream for an entire nation.

working on the dream...

working on the dream…

Those three days with the Brazilianteam were the most exciting I have spent for a few years. We were so alive as we went on the journey together. They drilled down to find the gems, the finger prints of God in the history and people of Brazil, getting greater clarity as they shared with me and each other. ‘I’m not usually patriotic’ exclaimed one after a few hours of this work ‘but I LOVE my country!’ . We looked at the areas where God’s glory and presence was most absent in the nation today, and the conviction and call to mission between them took root. It wasn’t long before they came up with a vision for their work and lives in Brazil to take them into the next 20 years.

I felt so alive during those three days. To be part of a gr

oup of people who became friends… brothers and sisters on a mission, was like basking in the healing sun and letting the sea breeze blow away the staleness of ill health. As I look back on my life I have been incredibly blessed at several points to be part of a group like this; in Leicester, at Trinity in Poatina, in South Africa during 2009 and again in 2011.

Last week I visited a school in Cambridge with a friend who’s great, great, great grandfather was the founder. We went to the whole school chapel service and as the place filled up with junior and high school kids, I remembered the excitement of working and walking with teenagers who were on the frontier of discovery of life (and sometimes knowledge!).  Although there is something deeper for me about working with young adults and teenagers, there was this similar theme of being with friends on a mission, sharing life as we move into the future together. it is something I aspire to and for which my heart longs.

The Brazilians went away with a plan and strategy for the next few months, and they continue to meet and pray over skype, I am looking forward to catching up with them and sharing life with them again. One  thing is for sure, although they are separated by many miles from each other, they are alive and moving forward together.

team Brazil..

team Brazil..