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.

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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.

Crazy thing called Church

I’m just home after attending a church service in which the speaker talked about the mission of the church and our passion for the church. This week I have engaged with a couple of conversations taking place on social media where the central themes are around the role and nature of church. Last weekend Fusion Y&C UK had our national conference during which we explored and celebrated God’s hand transforming our society on every level – from our own individual lives to our neighbourhoods and up into our nation as a whole; this too, I believe is the expression of church.
The church seems to be a slippery thing that people struggle to lay hold of and define. As I have listened to people this week I can see different models of church in operation behind what they say. Then as we engage in conversation, bringing different perspectives, the struggle ensues as we try to squeeze another insight into our current model.

I don’t pretend to have the answers but here’s what I have observed this week:

When we start from a place of defining church as the organisation that gathers to worship once a week, be it in different places and with different traditions; it’s hard to fit in each new thing we discover from the scriptures that the church ‘should be’. The church should be missional, the church should be equipping the believers, the church should be a place of worship, the church should be transforming society, the church should be a place of encounter with the living God, the church should be relevant, the church should be a place where healing happens, the church should be heaven on earth… and the list goes on! If the church is the agent of new creation in the world, what exactly do we mean when we say church?

My experience has sometimes been, as a member of a congregation, that for me to belong I need to be personally invested in the specific mission and vision of that congregation. There have been times when what God was calling me to coincided with the congregation’s mission – that was good! There have been other times when the two didn’t match – that was lonely. Twice, though, God’s call on my life was nurtured and celebrated, and although it didn’t exactly fit the stated mission of the congregation, it was embraced by them simply because I was part of the family – that was the BEST! I imagine our pastor in those days when asked to share the mission of the church, describing with great love and excitement all the various roles and callings that the different members of his congregation were expressing in the city! Church to him wasn’t a discrete organisation he was leading with a unique mission, church was something organic that was greater than, but made up of, the sum of all the members each with their unique gifts, brokenness and calling. He loved us and he loved what God was doing in, among and through us.

I think we have successfully made the shift away from thinking of church as a building. The problem is, although we now talk about church being the people, we are still referring to an organisation that we expect people to align themselves to; both ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. When the organisation’s mission becomes much narrower than living, worshiping, growing and gathering as Christ followers, we end up excluding members of our own body. I am not talking about different styles and traditions, I love that diversity when it is honoured and celebrated, it means that there is a place for everyone. It is one thing to connect to one congregation over another based on personal taste, it’s another thing to have to make that choice based one’s ministry. What if God decides to do a new thing in the congregation? What if he does it through members of the congregation… how will that go? As someone leading a service prayed recently ‘Father, we invite you to our church.’ ….a Freudian slip, and I trust not representative of that person’s theology, but sobering nonetheless!

Why Love works.

I listened to this song a few times this morning and it reminded me of a couple of key facts that set the Christian hope above all others. Firstly, this hope has its origin and driving force in what is sometimes known as Love. This Love defines both life and death. It is most perfectly demonstrated both in the life of the triune God and in his death on the cross.

In life, Love compels us to direct our strength, our mind, our heart and our soul, not for our own interests but for those of others. Love, by definition is the opposite of self interest. Love creates and honours boundaries that preserve the good of the other that it lives to celebrate. Love loves justice… for the other, Love liberates… the other. When Love is present, life flourishes. And so we see that Love is death (of many kinds) for the life of another.

The death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, on the cross, was an expression of Love at its height. The ultimate in substitution – a death of many kinds for the lives of all who will receive. The unique nature of this death, and the resurrection that followed, are just two of a myriad of signs that a new order has begun where death has been utterly conquered. A new order where all things are being made new and all that works against life is humbled.
Because of Christ who has overcome, and conquered death, we who love him can continue our war against all that opposes life with the most powerful force known to man, and the only weapon that we have, Love. In the face of hate, we must Love. In the face of fear, we must Love. In the face of murder, we must Love. We Love because death is not the final word; we have come to the city of the Living God where the Lamb who has overcome, and conquered death, is seated on the throne above every force in heaven and on earth.

Mount Zion, Jonathan Hesler

 

haunted by peace

‘If only you knew the things that would make for your peace’. These words have been haunting me over the last few days. They are what Jesus said as he wept over Jerusalem when approaching the city for the last time. He longed for his people to be at peace with themselves, their calling, with God and with life. The Hebrew notion of peace fascinates me. It is a blessing given from the start of the Judeo-Christian narrative throughout history to today, but the meaning has been somewhat lost in translation. Shalom (the Hebrew word for Peace) is a word picture of God’s dream and purpose to restore humanity and all creation to his original design … and more. It means everything coming into its rightful place the way God intended. It is about the Kingdom of God, that reality where God’s will is being done, its about him making all things new. Its about wholeness and life and healing and reconciliation, Joy and restoration, redemption, grace and right relationship with others, oneself, God and the created world. Shalom.

‘If only you knew the things that would make for your peace.’ There are paradigms that I have that take me away from God’s purposes, his good and perfect will that effects not only myself but those around me; and there is a paradigm and perspective that enables me to see things through his eyes and understand the world in his light and make choices from there. Both John the Baptist and Jesus called the people to have a ‘metanoia’, to change their paradigm and perspective so that they could recognise the Kingdom of God, in other words God doing stuff his way in their midst. They had been waiting for the unfolding of Gods plans for centuries, the danger was that now that things were moving, they would miss it because they were looking with blinded eyes… they needed to have a metanoia, a changed perspective. (the word in Christianese is ‘repent’).

However, Jesus said those words to a city, a community, a society; not to individuals. I look at Britain today and I hear his words – if only our nation knew the things….. but wait, we do! We have been there before. We do know the things that would make for our Peace, its just that we have forgotten and lost our way. Centuries before Jesus spoke these words, God sent a message to his people in exile instructing them to ‘seek for, pray for and work for the peace of the place where I have sent you’. I believe those orders are still standing orders for us today. Our job is to help our nation re-discover its God given purpose to live and chose and lead in the world according to his design; that is with justice, kindness, mercy, honour and compassion; caring for and defending the poor, the orphans, the widows and the refugees. We need to turn the hearts of this generation to our past redemptive heritage, inspire them to stand with courage for the things that goodness demands of us today… for the sake of the generations to come, so that they in turn can live those things that would make for their Peace.

Come on, its time to change the world.

Hey, leader, stop blending in!

What do you do when you find squatters on your property? I don’t have property and I certainly am not facing this dilemma in a literal sense, however I am realising how much it features in so many ways, less literal but just as destructive.

A couple of months ago a friend was sharing how she was told by a church leader that she could only really belong if she was committed to this leader’s vision. There was more, but to preserve the honour of those involved I will leave it at that. Just this week a colleague shared how a discussion amongst the leadership of a church pitched commitment to God against commitment to the details of the church constitution; the discussion went in favour of the constitution.

There are so many ways in which we as Christians blend in seamlessly with the system and values of the environment around us.  In the area of leadership and authority, great swaths of the Christian community have embraced the values and practices of the business world and other systems; often our efforts to be relevant and attractive in our world has resulted in us looking very much like it. It was a sad, sad day when Israel asked for a king, the reason they gave was so that they could be like all the other nations. It didn’t go so well for them even though God redeemed the situation through David and ultimately through Jesus. Yet I know that the church tradition that I grew up in modelled so much of its life and structures on this and other similar aspects of the life of Israel. But actually, was this God’s intention?

In current discussions around how small groups can be a vehicle for effective discipleship, mission and transformation, questions around leadership and authority rise, quickly followed by those around ‘who’s in and who’s out?’. The assumption is that one person knows more than the others and leads the way for the group; the groups’ role is to follow submissively. That’s what we have been doing in the Christian community for a generation, and it’s part of what we need to rethink and redesign if we are to be part of God’s mission of grace and mercy into the future. If we look down the corridors of history we will find that this monarchic structure didn’t serve exponential growth or the transformation of society’s values very well. On the other hand models where God not man was central (really), where leadership was service to God and his people, and accountability was mutual with a shared passion to know God better and follow him better… a theocratic model… these had great effect.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn’t have leaders. I myself am a leader. What I am saying is that we need to make sure our models of leadership reflect God’s heart and nature much more than the systems around us. I am becoming more aware of the assumptions and habits I have that come from a value system that is different to the one I say I ascribe to. Like squatters who have taken up residence and become ‘part of the place’, it doesn’t matter how long they have been there and how entrenched they have become, they don’t belong. Like enemy strongholds in a newly conquered territory, until the stronghold is removed, the territory will never be fully conquered.

The Christian community is here to help with the great rescue plan of God on the world, we are here to help make all things new, to help bring mercy, compassion and justice, reconciliation and shalom. We cant do that if we simply melt into the background and become part of the problem.

Just saying…

Building with precious metal

This morning, someone referred to the passage of scripture in first Corinthians 3 about building on the foundation with gold, silver and precious jewels or wood, straw and hay and it dawned on me that I have invariably thought of this in terms of individual growth and narrative. Perhaps it’s because I have been mulling over the subject of discipleship and what it will mean to ‘be church’ in this next few decades here in the UK. Perhaps I just had a rare moment of clarity, I don’t know, but I realised that Paul was actually talking about the growth and narrative of a community, not of an individual.

There is coming a time when church as we know it just isn’t going to cut it when it comes to the job of being the incarnation of the Father’s heart to our nation; disciples making disciples in and of families, communities and sectors – society unable to dismiss the transforming love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If this is the task, I think we have some work to do and I wonder if Paul has given us the key.  I wonder if the job isn’t to recognise where, in the church, we have been building with wood, straw and hay, and to embark on a deconstruction of our edifices. Then with new eyes to find the gold, silver and precious jewels with which we need to build.

Gold and silver are precious metals that undergo the intense furnace of purification to reach their pure identity. Precious jewels are made in the intensity of prolonged pressure, stress, irritation and pain. Will we as the church have the courage to enter into the pain of the world around us, armed not with the pat answers of the indoctrinated but the long suffering, faith and hope that come from the Holy Spirit who is willing to travel to the depths of despair with us? Will we sit with the doubts, live the real questions that dwell in the depths of our hearts? Because I think it’s in traveling this ‘road to Jerusalem, the city of suffering’ that we are able to find the gold, silver and jewels with which we will build the cathedral that will inspire hearts to rise to the creator of heaven and earth.

The more I reflect on the nature of discipleship the more I think it has little to do with answers and everything to do with living real life fully engaged with the questions it embodies. For too long we have been stressing about having the right answer to ‘the questions’, too anxious to take the time and listen deeply enough to the questions in our own hearts let alone those in the hearts of others. The people in my street need a church that is built of gold, silver and jewels, indeed they have their own stores of gold and pearls that belong. Perhaps as I learn to bring precious metals from my life, I can stand with them as they bring forth their own. I wonder if the very things I try to shut out are the treasures designed to build for eternity, whilst the easier things I thought were so important, simply straw and hay?

Can I, can we, can the church become a movement of the Father’s disciples making disciples seeking and bringing treasure from the furnace of real life, treasure that will build a new tomorrow worthy of our Lord Jesus, our firm foundation?