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.

 

Fresh Guidance?

Last week I wrote about some of the keys to fruitfulness in life and ministry. Here’s a question I have engaged with a bit recently: ‘if things aren’t going well, does that mean we are doing the wrong thing?’ Good question, hey?! I know that I for one don’t want to be wasting my time flogging a dead horse, trying to make something work if God isn’t in it!

This is the exact journey I have been on over the last few months. This year has been pretty tough, both for myself personally and for us as a ministry. As I came up to mark 10 years of full time ministry my question to God was; ‘look, if you want me to continue in this, you need to speak clearly because from where I stand it’s not really working all too well for me and it’s time for things to change’. My assumption was, things weren’t going well, God had removed his blessing and I was really supposed to be doing something different, somewhere different. Thankfully as I drew this line I also set aside three weeks to spend almost exclusively with God, praying, listening, laying everything down at the foot of the cross and waiting on him.

This side of the summer, I realise that it was me drawing aside to be with God that moved him, not the rather misguided line in the sand that I boldly drew!

I can see from my own journey and as I look through scripture that when fruitfulness dries up or God’s blessing and favour seems to depart, if there is a message from God in it, it is usually that he wants us to draw aside to be with him and seek his face. When we do that he delights to meet with us and speak to us. It’s not so much that we are doing the wrong thing or in the wrong place, the task is not to look for fresh guidance, but rather to come back to our first love. It’s not so much what we do, as it is that we are doing it from a place of genuine friendship with God, authentic fellowship with others where we can abide in his love, and wholehearted obedience to him. From that place we can ask God for anything and he will do it so that we can be fruitful and ‘bring him much glory’.

A friend and I were reflecting the other day on why we often do land ourselves in this particular pickle. I think it’s because often God says ‘A and B’ and we go ahead make it ‘A, B, C, D, E’. Then as my friend described, it’s a little like God smiles lovingly and watches over us, waiting for us to figure out that we may have left him behind. As soon as we realise and come back he is ready to let us in on the next phase. Which brings me onto an aspect of God’s nature that I am finding fascinating at the moment. He really enjoys relating to us! Fruitfulness, blessing, favour, direction, intervention – he brings it all to us, but in the context of friendship and relationship. That seems to be a major priority for him.

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. I am enjoying getting to know him more.

not yet good….

We are currently in the midst of a mission/training/pilgrimage program called the Fusion UK Summer Experience. As part of this we are following a daily journal that myself and my colleague, Anika put together. The psalm on Friday was the 84th psalm – a classic pilgrim song. I was struck as I read it on Friday night by one of the last verses:

‘No good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose walk is blameless’

I have struggled over the last months, coming to terms with the feeling that God has withheld some pretty important, good, things from me throughout my life and also in recent times. Some of them things which I have felt he had promised. Does this mean that his word and even his promises cannot be trusted? Does it mean that God is not kind and good? These are just a couple of questions I have been living with.

As I read that verse, something stirred within me, the part of me that knows that God is good, he is kind and above all he is God ….. absolutely trustworthy. It occurred to me that things can be blocked and withheld from us in many ways, and for many reasons. But if it is God who is withholding something from us, we can be certain of one thing – the thing withheld is not good, or not YET good. Moreover, its not even a matter of doing and saying the magic, right things, our blamelessness has been taken care of in Jesus – if we trust and receive his gift of redemption.

So as I consider my wrestling and making sense of life’s happenings and non-happenings, I can be sure that in the fullness of God’s purposes, no good thing will he withhold from my life. If I feel something is being withheld by God himself, I can be certain that it wouldn’t be good if it were released in this moment as I would wish. When it’s not God who is withholding and in fact he has given us the promised land, there is often a very real sense of us needing to step in and lay hold of it.

What things has God freely given to you that you need to access and lay hold of? Are there things that he is withholding from you? … perhaps they are not yet good….

Gifted Citroen

It is such a relief to recognise God’s favour and his hand at work in your life! I don’t doubt that he is always at work and showing us his favour – actually if I am honest I do go through times when I doubt, but usually the difficulty is that I just haven’t seen or recognised it. Anyway, two things have happened recently that I want to celebrate.

The first was a couple of months ago now, I was needing to replace my car. It had been given to me, and I had been very grateful for it, but it had come to the end of its life, certainly for what I needed of it. I had decided to put the remainder of a small bit of inheritance money towards getting a replacement.  I put the word out that I was looking and within a short space of time friends of a friend got in touch. They had been missionaries in Tanzania until about 5 years ago, on their return from the mission field, they had been given a car by an old missionary friend of theirs who was unable to drive any more. With three strapping teenage boys, they were now in need of a larger car. Since their citroen had been gifted to them, they wanted to pass it on to someone else who was in full time ministry. A few weeks later I went and picked it up! It passed its MOT with flying colours and hasn’t missed a beat since, even at 12 years of age it is a joy to drive. The funny thing is that this is the third car I have been gifted since being in full time ministry – it seems to be something that God likes arranging for me.

All this happened at the time when I was about to leave my home and didn’t have anywhere to go, I still do not have a permanent solution for a place to live, but I recall thinking at the time that the car was a bit of a squeeze of the hand reassuring me that God has everything in hand and can be trusted to care for me. I come and go from trusting still, but there is a quiet confidence growing back and each day as I get into my car I am reminded that God is able and willing to provide all that is needed.

A bit like Mary

Easter this year was different from me. I am not really sure how to explain the last few weeks, partly because I don’t think the journey is over. This year, on Easter Sunday as I was part of the worship service at Oxford Community Church, listening to the account of Mary Madeleine at the tomb, I realised how strongly I identified with her. Cushioned by the presence of other believers honouring Jesus and all he has done for us, I was able to hear His voice of love and encouragement through the haze of ‘my world at the moment’. I am grateful for that moment.

I don’t know what it must have been like for Mary. She had encountered Jesus and found healing from spiritual and emotional brokenness. She had connected in and found family with the disciples and other followers of Jesus – I don’t think she had had a sense of belonging with anyone before. Perhaps she had even begun to experience hope in of all this.

Then she had watched, helpless as her only family scattered and her rescuer was tortured and put to death. She was stranded in a city that had turned toxic and hostile. Now in her bereavement she has to wait more than 24 hours to perform the burial rituals essential for her to express her grief. I don’t know what it was like for her, immersed in the trauma of a violent bereavement, feeling utterly alone and helpless.

I wonder what reality felt like for her? What were the angels like that she met at the tomb? Did they just look like regular guys or in seeing them was she unable to distinguish in that moment between normal and not normal? Or perhaps she was so emotionally depleted that she simply didn’t have a response to them?

And then Jesus, who she knew so well and longed desperately to see and be with again… she didn’t recognise him though he spoke to her and stood before her. I used to think ‘Wow! she must have been really messed up!’. This Easter I realised that actually if that is the case, then I am pretty messed up too… and so be it. I too have longed desperately to see and be with Jesus. I have cried out to know God’s presence and hear his voice. I have known hot tears fall in anger at feeling alone in the shadows of life; desperate to know that I am not abandoned, longing for his presence. And then, unexpectedly his voice breaks through, ‘Beloved, I am here.’ and I see that he is there, he was there all the time, right in front of me… its just that I didn’t recognise him.

Thank you Mary for your story that tells me that Jesus is right here, he knows us, he loves us and he places us in a family… even, especially, when I cant see that reality.

when the shadows come

Its been a while since I posted on my blog. The last couple of months have been challenging but the shadows seem to be dispersing a little, which is encouraging. We are about two thirds of the way through the Foundations course we are running in Balham. Over recent weeks I have had the privilege of facilitating the group we engage with the truth of Jesus our kinsman redeemer and ransom, and in a couple of days we will continue the journey through eternal life.

I have appreciated once again trying to get into the shoes of the disciples during those last weeks and days of their time with Jesus. This morning I realised that I currently identify strongly with Cleopas and his mate walking to Emmaus on the Sunday after Jesus death. They were bewildered. They had expected to see Jesus’ messiahship expressed in specific and tangible, temporal ways – for them it was a revolution and the toppling of Roman oppression of the Jews. But it hadn’t worked out that way. And to make matters worse, events were still unfolding that made no sense at all being completely outside of their frame of reference – the women, and Peter and John all coming back from the tomb with stories of angels, stones rolled away, visions of Jesus himself…. it was all a bit ‘out there’. And, anyway, none of it made up for the fact that their hopes of freedom from oppression had been dashed.

I too from my temporal perspective look to see God’s kindness and grace expressed in life-living every day ways. Often times it is but very often it isn’t and I can find it tricky. In most of these cases all that’s needed is a quick double take and readjustment and I am off and away again, but sometimes my belief can be shaken to the core, or that’s what it feels like, and that’s not so comfortable to live with.

Jesus responds to his disciples with two things, he helps them see reality from God’s eternal perspective. This isn’t simply an intellectual excercise but a process of the heart and mind where revelation leads to understanding. The second thing he does is to breathe on them, imparting his very Spirit and nature into them. Now that he has paid the ransom, the process of redemption unfolds as God himself presences himself in them saying ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’. Here is the eternal grace and kindness of God entering our temporal existence, ready to reveal the myriad expressions of his life and love, his unfolding redemption, his action in the waiting times. Walking with us and transforming our bewilderment into understanding, belief and hope.

In January I posted my reflections on Capital ‘H’ Hope and I think this is what its all about. Relief comes and their are nice feelings when God’s grace and kindness find expression in ways that I can see and experience as goodness; but when those two things dont line up I need to cling to him and trust him to help me see him again.