5 Things I’m learning about Jesus

cropped-cropped-945837_10153574358695408_1845862021_n.jpgThere is an immensity about the person and work of Christ which means we’re always learning or rediscovering something about him.  We never ‘graduate’ from Jesus.  There is no end to the depths of him.  Here’s what I’m learning/rediscovering about him at the moment.

1.  He’s a servant.

In prayer I’ve had a number of ‘visions’ recently.  I return to the same middle-eastern type of room and Christ is always there.  He comes to me there.  Sometimes I place my head on his shoulder.  Sometimes he is preparing a meal.  Sometimes he’s washing my feet.  And I’m in tears.  He is continually offering me the invitation to come an rest with him.  He understands.

2. He’s a King.

This is an ‘image’ of Jesus that has blessed me, humbled me and given me a sense of awe in worship of late.  A sense of Jesus risen and exalted in the throne room of the Father.  I come, I bow, he lifts my head.  He invites my allegiance to His Majesty.  I’m invited to announce his enthronement to the world beginning in my own life, where I am, and to whoever will hear.

3.  He turns up in unexpected places.

I recently was outdoors getting fresh air and having some time for reflection.  I was asking him if he would simply give me a sense of his peace over a particular issue, if it was right.  Immediately a Robin flew straight onto a branch next to me and looked me square in the eye.  He stayed a few moments then flitted off out of sight.  He knew what I needed and sent an errand lad!

4.  He majors on grace.

Why is that always so surprising?  Why is it always so shocking?  He counters my endless  strains to perform and please him with a knowing look and a gentle shake of the head.  It is all given freely.  No striving.   I turn up for prayer with a concerned frown, and immediately I know ‘I’m not meant to be carrying *this*’.  And sometimes I come thinking ‘oh man, how many times do I have to come carrying this same confession again and again?’ and immediately there’s a sense of ‘no records kept’ – ‘no condemnation’.  Just grace and mercy to spur me on into a deeper gratitude that may mean that one day I stop tripping up over that thing.

5.  He majors on truth.

I can trust him to say it like it is.  He doesn’t beat around the bush.  Oh, he’s surprising and he blows my small answers out of the water, but there’s nothing untrue about him.  I was reflecting on this today.  He was preaching back to me a message I gave somewhere recently and he reminded me that he was the Key of David and that his Kingdom is more real than the kingdoms around me and that I should remember that in no uncertain terms!  No problem, Jesus.  I believe you.  And then went on to confirm in my mind the idea that he displays this Kingdom glory and authority in a particular way among his Kingdom community when we’re gathered together as ‘living stones’ maybe in a way I don’t always see when I’m doing it on my own.  Struck again by the miracle of new creation that he is beginning in his people, his Kingdom of priests, his royal nation.

What are you learning about Jesus?

I’m not for a minute suggesting that this what Jesus is showing you right now, nor that there is anything ‘new’ or revolutionary here.  What I am asking is ‘what is Jesus revealing to you?’  Is your relationship dynamic, challenging, active and life-giving?  Do you have an intimacy with him that goes beyond what felt yesterday, last week, last year, last decade? Basically, are you losing yourself in him so that, day by day, it is no longer you who lives but Christ in you?  May he grant this grace to us all.

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Spirituality on Sunday: Stir up Sunday…

Today is ‘Stir Up’ Sunday – the day that people are supposed to stir up their Christmas pudding ingredients and let them settle before cooking the pudding for Christmas.

In the wider Christian church it is ‘Christ the King Sunday’, and the last one before the Christian ‘new year’ on the First Sunday of Advent.  The church at large (with the exception of some churches I know, lol) focus on the ultimate reality that Christ is seated on the throne, victorious, interceding, having done all that was required of him.  There’s more to it than that, but that’s the essence.

Today, the idea of being stirred up and being at the behest of Christ the King have rumbled around in my heart and mind.  I’ve been carrying an ache, or ‘a burden’, to use older language, but which maybe describes it better.  A spiritual longing.  And how can I articulate this longing by any other way that talking about how it is challenging me?

A few weeks ago, visiting my spiritual director, I was challenged with the question as to how I am tending to the presence of Christ in my life.  Am I noticing him?  Am I paying attention to him?  Am I responding to Him readily?  My honest answer was that, in part, I’m generally spiritually lazy, truth be known.  Yes, I pray.  Yes, I engage in a regular way with scripture.  Yes, I worship.  Yes, I witness and engage in mission.  Yes, I sense him especially close at times, but mostly I can be unattentive. It’s all got so casual.   It is tempting to start looking at others in order to point out the malady that plagues me in the ways that are more obvious in others, but any follower of Jesus is invited to look at the log in his own eye before attending to the speck in his brother.

And so, I find myself pleading that God ‘would rend the heavens and come down’ – into me: casting aside any casualness; over-familiarity; carelessness in prayer; and in mindless wandering in communion with Him.  I’m reminded of the words by Andrew Murray, who said to a group of preachers/pastors ‘Your people’s greatest need is your own personal holiness.’  The only way for this longing to be shared and fulfilled in the church is if it is fulfilled and addressed in our own lives as spiritual leaders.

Now, on one hand, this is serious business.  We’re talking about our access to the throne of Grace.  We daren’t stumble in foolishly unaware.  On the other hand, I’m not talking about legalistic piety, or ‘holier than thou’ that translates in to ‘we don’t spit, we don’t chew, nor do we go with girls who do’ – you know what I mean, right?  I’m from a holiness movement background…and there, so often, ‘holiness’ is just behaving good.  But, that is holiness misunderstood or at least incomplete.  Holiness is the work of the Spirit in us that, yes, will probably produce changed behaviour, but which is ultimately a change of heart.  It’s renewal, blessing, perfect love, Christlikeness…and it certainly isn’t dour or miserable.  It’s joy and peace from knowing Christ and his reign in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

I am reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy:  ‘fan into flame the gift of God that is within you’, referring, of course, to Timothy’s anointing for the task of ministry, but which I think is applicable in many aspects of our lives pertaining to magnifying the gifts and presence of the Spirit in us, and of our lives magnifying Christ.

I pray with this ache for me: my spiritual poverty. I pray for the wider church, for the congregation I serve, and for you reading.  God, would you stir us up?  Lord, would you alert us to the presence of Your Majesty and Glory?  Lord, would you leader us deeper into you, by whatever means, that we might more worthily magnify your holy name?  God…would you stir us up again?

Missional Thursday: Obliged, eager and unashamed…

I felt a call to study through Romans in my personal study time recently – not for the purpose of preaching anything or preparing anything from it, but just for building myself up in the study of God’s word in a focussed way.

So far, I’ve been unable to get beyond the challenge of 1: 14 – 17.  These were big verses for Luther, of course, in the beginnings of the Reformation in earnest, but it was not so much the theology of Paul (amazing though that is) but his undeniable passion for the gospel, and particularly in his calling to take the gospel to the Gentiles, that struck me.

15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’

There were three particular phrases that caught me:

‘I am obliged…’ (v14)  The word here, I understand, is akin to ‘I am indebted’ or ‘I am a debtor’ to both the people and the gospel to be shared.  Of course, one can never ‘pay God back’ for the gift of salvation he has given us, but there is that sense of, having been gloriously saved, of wanting to give our life to it.  Paul’s call to mission, of course, was almost synonymous with his call to faith in Christ.

I am reminded of my own experience.  For me, the call to give my life in ministry of whatever form came almost exactly alongside my conversion to Christ at the age of 15.  The overwhelming sense of being saved left me with no other desire in the world but to give my life to the sharing of the gospel.

Now, 22 years on,  I question whether I still possess that same sense of compulsion, call and duty.  On one level, of course I do.  But deeper in the heart, I can’t say that there hasn’t been, at times, a waning or a reticence to the unequivocal call to engage fully.  I’m not going around debating this in my head…I’m getting on my knees about it.  Lord, renew the urgency and passion for your gospel.

‘I am eager…’ (v15)  Paul was eager to get to Rome to preach the gospel amongst the people there.  This is of no surprise.  He had an unshakeable calling as apostle to the Gentiles (1:5) and Rome was, undoubtedly, the Gentile capital of the known world…this was the apex of his calling – to impact the Empire at its very heart.  So, we understand his eagerness in these terms.

I ask myself not only ‘do I sense my duty to preach the gospel’ but ‘am I eager and more than willing to do it?’  That means going beyond my comfort, my fear of rejection, my own easy/cosy plans, my own ‘busy schedule’, and my own habits and preferences, to be BURSTING to do the will of the Father who sends me.  I’m tired of the patterns of ministry I’ve experienced over many years which seems to allow the inclusion of time for everything barring the very bare essentials of witness, mission, evangelism and sharing with people everywhere the good news about Jesus.  Only my eagerness and, I guess, determination to carve my time for the gospel will adjust this.  Eagerness involves desire, passion and sheer determination.

‘I am not ashamed…’ (v16)  At first, this might seem odd…it might seem that Paul is answering some sort of self- or outside-accusation that he has had shame with regards the gospel.  Who knows?  Haven’t we all faced times when we’ve felt like pulling back from sharing?   I think the general context of Paul’s ministry, however, shows that even with fear and trembling he hasn’t been one to shrink back.  He does say in his letter to the church in Corinth that for many, especially Greeks/Gentiles, that the gospel is foolishness…a nonsensical, weird, upside-down message, which is also a stumbling block to the Jews.  Paul certainly has had his experiences pre-conversion of opposition to the ‘ridiculous message’ and tried to snuff it out.

No, I think Paul is saying that in spite of what people think about the message, he knows its truth and is passionate about it because he knows it to be ‘the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…’ even the ones who think its garbage!

For me the question is ‘do I have confidence in the gospel of God’s saving grace?’  I know he has saved me well and good.  I know he has saved others.  But, do I translate that into confidence that he will continue to do the same?  Also, in a cynical and disparaging age, am I willing to press on with confident gospel witness regardless of how it is received?

I just sense in many areas of my own life and of the church’s life a sort of divestment of power and emphasis from the heart of the gospel.  It is amazing how our mission can carry on with the heart ripped out of the centre of it.  It is amazing how many churches are content to plod on and see little fruit, not because the take up is just slow, but because there is an unwritten embarrasment about the strength of the gospel message and so it is watered down.  It makes me weep.  I weep for the church and for my own self.

Now, this is not saying that we should become pains in the neck shouting out angry words everywhere…I think that’s what has been a turn off in gospel passion/preaching/proclamation/sharing, and rightly so.  The gospel can be offensive, but that doesn’t mean to say that we are to be offensive!  We see in Jesus, Paul and the others, the heart of the gospel being shared in times of pressure and also in times of sensitivity and gentleness.

My point is whether we actually feel confident in the message enough to dare to share it, regardless of what comes back at us.  Paul invites us to preach just twice:  in season and out of season.  We have the impression that the gospel and the things of God are out of season sometimes and so we speak less, but this is a lie straight from the pit of Hell.  The missionary Spirit is as active as ever in the lives of people but he invites our particupation….how shall they hear unless someone tells them?

In writing this I mainly write to myself.  It is the source of repentance and turning for me.  It is the source of needful hours in prayer.  It is at the heart of a needful refuelling and recovery of ‘first things’.  It is the hope that God re-envision me and the people I serve for gospel work.  Lord, help us.

Casually I come…

Casually I approach the eternal throne,
and view the prize which I think is my own.

That is not what Charles Wesley wrote.  It’s what I wrote just there after some time in prayer this morning.   I’ve become sick of my own lazy spiritual self, taking Christ for granted and my salvation as a given.  Sauntering into the presence of God now and again just to give an update on how its going with me, and sauntering back out again as if I was talking to the barista at the local coffee shop.

Where is the sense of taking off my shoes for I’m on Holy ground?

Where have I been so moved by the presence of God that I’ve fallen on my face in the light of the glory?

What fear of God is there in me that treats his Word so lightly and his grace so cheaply?

And who is it I have in mind when I come in and dare to speak to Him?

I bring nothing before him.  Nothing but Christ in me, and how easy it is to grow complacent of that.  The huge risk we run as Christians is that we’re surrounded by a mainly lovely safe and cosy Christian culture, reasonable exposure to the Bible or the latest spiritual fad, or the latest church growth strategy that will ‘do it this time’.  It is easy to take on the name Christian, be in Christian ministy of some desription and yet still have the world think the sun shines from you and even start to believe the hype!

I don’t think God is a monster in the sky.  I believe he is love, grace and mercy…but he is also holy, righteous, just and not to be mocked.  And it is for this purpose that Christ opens the door for us to enter, but woe to us if we get so spiritually sloppy that we forget just what we are doing.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking God is nice.  He is dangerous and we dare not be careless.

Only by grace can we enter, only by grace can we stand.
Not by our human endeavour, but by the blood of the Lamb.

Before I can think about attempting any sort of leadership of others I need to get myself to the place of deep consecration, deep into him.  I need a fresh perspective of who God is and what he demands.  I need a fresh understanding of the height from which I’ve fallen and the depths from which I’ve been raised in Christ.  I need to hear again the call to holiness and surrender to the will and purposes of God and to count my life as nothing compared to Christ and care not what anyone else thinks about that.  ‘But don’t you have assurance, Andrew?’  Oh yes, God is entirely faithful and able to keep me…what I often lack is the desire to respond as I should.  And that grace to respond comes from God too, and so we seek it, it is why we are so needful of prayer but so lax in appropriating it.

I write, asking if you are in a similar place.  Let us kneel together before Him and ‘ponder anew what the Almighty can do’ in us and through us.

Mission Thursday: Missional Prayer

Ideas-Make-or-Break-Your-BusinessI guess most people still think of prayer as a relatively passive event which happens behind closed doors.  Heads bowed, eyes closed sort of idea.  It is certainly not always the case the the church isn’t praying for the world, for its communities or people involved.  We even pray for missional outreach – which is great too.

Prayer in itself, however, can be mission in a very effective way.  I just thought I’d jot down things I’ve been involved in and things I’ve heard of or seen about busting prayer out of the church and out of our closets and onto the front line.  Let’s be honest, all of this takes some ‘guts’, but more than that it is a matter of faith that God wants us to engage with people out in the community.

 
1.  Healing on the Streets  I haven’t been involved in this, but have supported members of previous congregations who have been an active part of being out simply offering prayer for healing on the streets.  It is not like we have no example to follow in this – Jesus did it all the time!  Funny how we edit out some of what Jesus did, isn’t it?

2.  Prayer Tree  In Newcastle we had an annual summer BBQ giving free burgers to passers by.  As part of that there was often a prayer outreach.  One year we used a tree inour grounds to enable people to write up their own prayer requests on the tree.  We promised to pray for those things afterwards, but we also offered prayer in the moment to those who wanted.  It was the thing that verbalised our Christian witness in the context of the burger freebies.

3.  ‘I will listen’  Chris Duffett, former president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and Baptist evangelist, is a great inspiration for evangelism ‘out there’.  He often paints pictures for people, does free hugs and various other creative stuff….but on of the things he does which I love is he gets a big sofa out into the city square with a big sign saying ‘I will listen’ and people are invited to come and have a chat.   Genius.  Look here at more of Chris’ stuff:  Chris Duffett  I just love the creativity!

4.  Prayer as Protest  I’ve joined a fair few protest prayer meetings over the years in various places…outside parliament, companies, etc seeking to pray for justice, peace, righteousness.  Being peacemakers is not about being passive but taking our case to the highest Courts of the Kingdom

5.  Prayer Marches and Open Air Worship  Maybe not a surprise to you that I’ve spend many hours worshipping, praying and marching outdoors, especially around residential communities.  I believe the proclamation of Christ changes things and areas spiritually.  We recognised back in Bristol that the Sally Army open air maybe wasn’t going to get anyone ‘saved at the drum altar’, although not ruling anything out, but that there was a spiritual dynamic to being a public witness.  This included taking part in gala parades and the like.  Great fun, positive witness, and great opportunities for mission!  Some of my most precious memories were street services on the soup run…singing, sharing, and some of the most raw and heart-rending prayer requests you’ve ever heard.

6.  Prayer Tent As simple as it sounds…getting a tent or gazebo out at fairs, events, in the town centre and simply offering prayer, either directly or in the form of setting up some ‘prayer stations’ where people can write, paint, draw or do something else to symbolise their prayer or need.  You know what?  People really get this…there seems to be a residual ‘go to church and light a candle’ type thing in the English mindset.  With all that is an opportunity to connect people with the Lord.  There are less atheists out there than we actually think, but many tap into a sort of ‘folk religion’ with an Unknown God who needs to be named in our towns and cities.

7.  Prayer Walking An old favourite.  Simply getting out and praying in situ.  Over the years so many opportunities have come out of simply getting out and getting praying.  We had a team at Trinity in Newcastle who loved to head out and anoint stuff with oil tosymbolically set it apart for God’s blessing.  I loved their faith, their heart and intention and I’m sure God honoured their faithful prayers for their neighbourhood.

8. Blessing I’ve blessed many a house – important spaces for people.  All sorts of stuff goes on there for good or ill and much of me wonders if the church is missing a missional trick in this regard.  I think the same is true about blessing people and children.  I’ve often asked parents if I can pray a blessing on their children…sometimes they say no, sometimes they say yes.  All that changes is whether I pray there and then aloud or quietly in my heart!  I often offer a verbal ‘bless you’ – people sort of expect it, especiallywhen I wore clothes that sorta singled me out, whether thats a uniform or a collar.  But in any case, its not what people understand when you say it, its a verbal prayer over a life in situ…not to be reserved for sneezing, although thats a great opportunity too!

 

The thing I love about prayer as mission is that there is absolutely no hidden agenda.  It’s bold enough to say ‘we believe God can do something in your life’ and to dare to offer the direct link to our Father who loves to hear from us.

What ideas have you been involved in getting prayer on the streets?  Would love to hear them!!

It’s a heart issue…

I felt unwell recently and took myself to the doctor.  They are doing tests to check my heart is ok.  I’m glad about that – would rather they check and find out than not.  No one wants an untreated heart issue.

And that’s what I want to talk about today.

I’m not overly concerned about the tests.  But I’m concerned we attend to the heart.  This is a totally unashamed way in to talk about the real stuff of life – not our physical hearts, as important as they are, but what is going on in the essence of our own lives – at the heart of things.

You see, I think it is perfectly possible to perform all the squeeky clean duties of a religious/spiritual person but to remain cut of from the heart of our own lives and the challenges that our own hearts are either decieving us with or presenting to us if we’d listen.

A few months ago I sat for a long time and listened to a young man in a cafe.  I didn’t know him, but he shared with me the innards of his life (I have that effect on people at times!).  His opening gambit was ‘I am lonely.’  He talked about his behaviours towards his friends, how manipulative he was being, how much he wanted to control them, get back at them for hurting him, and how his behaviour was becoming addictive because he enjoyed the power over people that he could exercise.  He says he was a Christian and went to such and such a church, involved in various ministries and stuff.  He was performing perfectly…but there was rot at the very heart of his being that he wasn’t letting Christ the Liberator near.   He was a deciever…of others, and of himself, but not God.

And, God went to the trouble of engineering a chat with him and me. For him, the good news of Jesus wasn’t ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’ however true that is.  The good news for him was attached to the bad news…you’re a liar, a deciever, and there is no truth in you …but, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit who will come and lead you into all truth (Jn 16: 13) if you forsake your sinful patterns of behaviour.  Freedom is possible.

The key to opening this up was to ask ‘and is this behaviour really serving you well?’ – to which he confessed that he knew that he was hurting himself and others, that he needed help and that he needed to reevaluate the kind of religious system of thinking that meant he could happily continue to behave in this fashion.  He didn’t need me to ‘convict him’ at all…the Holy Spirit was already doing that, I just happened to agree with the Holy Spirit!

And so to my point:  the gospel is not good advice.  The gospel is the arrow to the heart of the soul in order for transformation to be made possible.  But, if we treat the gospel as a plaster and hope for some mystical healing whilst we cover everything up to look respectable, we’ve missed the point entirely.  And, if we don’t deal with the heart issues in our conversations, preaching, ‘evangelism’, pastoral work or anything else, we’re not doing the Holy Spirit any favours.

If the Holy Spirit is bringing a person to the point of some sort of conviction for real and needed change, but all we can do is offer them a verbal plaster and our own shallow avoidance, we’re in real danger of undoing the Spirit’s work.  Not a great place to be!

If we are to be agents of transformation we kinda need to create the environments where our own openness, honesty and vulnerability make it possible for others to access their own stuff.  We need to speak about the real ways in which God is tending to our own hearts and the ways in which he’s done so in the past in order to circumvent the ‘head’ – which just wants to argue, defend and deflect.

I think we need to turn our attention to the heart.  If your heart is diseased, it isn’t going to turn out well.  But, God is in the heart business!

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36: 26

Let’s give those arteries some attention!

Blog Extra: I need new stories…

It just dawned on me.

Speaking at the Seniors Fellowship at church, I decided, as it was my first time, that I’d tell them some stories from life and ministry thus far by way of intro.  You always get to know people truly through the stories they tell about themselves, so it was my turn.

I’ve got some great stories and I love telling them.  They’re beautiful marks of the grace of God at work as I’ve seen him active in the world during the years I’ve been in ministry.  Having delivered my stories in my usual fashion, and having finished up my tea and biscuit, I returned to the office to the clearest internal voice:  ‘you need new stories!’  And I was like ‘YES!  I DO!’

I realised in that moment that all the stories I’d told were at least 7 years old.  They were, of course, Salvation Army stories.  I am, at heart, as you all know, a Salvationist.  That experience profoundly impacted and shaped my life for good and ill: the people I met and worked amongst; the missional exploits; the thrill of tangible transformation in peoples lives; investing in the lives of those on the margins.  All yesterday’s stories.  Precious; part of the important memory bank; but, yesterday’s stories nonetheless.

Now, I’ll have to figure out why the stories of the last 7 years didn’t really figure as obvious ones to tell.  It’s not that nothing has happened.  Is it because my identity is still so wrapped up in who I was instead of who I have become?  Or is it, simply, that this ‘pastoring’ business simply removes us from the front line of battle as disciples where it really matters?  There will always be a sense of being called to train, equip, inspire release, but we’re definitely losing the plot if we’re not on the front line creating new Kingdom stories.  If I am not ‘going’, how can I dare ask anyone else to ‘go’?

I need new stories: ones that we’ll tell each other in Glory.  Stories of grace, transformation, love, Kingdom come.  Stories of victories, losses, stalemates and mysteries.  And the King on the Throne will say ‘oh, I remember that one…wasn’t that just beautiful?’

Yes, Jesus, you write them best.

Spirituality on Sunday: Godspeed

godspeed
Pastor Matt encountering the brilliant Alan Torrance…

I watched this lovely little video, ‘Godspeed:  The Pace of Being Known’ a few months ago.  It is a beautiful video featuring the experience of an American pastor moving to Scotland and finding a different pace of life.  I do have to say, as a Scotsman myself, that some of what comes across in the video doesn’t necessarily strike true about some aspects of culture in Scotland…its a bit rose-tinted in places, a bit tartan-romantic, but that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the message that Matt tries to get across.

In relatively sleepy Scottish parishes, Matt discovers the heart of ministry and mission:  people.  Seems obvious, eh?  He discovers that people aren’t just faces in a congregation but they are stories with lives, perspectives, understandings, prejudices and a whole lot of humanity.

It strikes me that a lot of what flows publicly from our pulpits (and I speak as a preacher) can fail to find real connection, especially if our theology remains on the idealistic plain rather in the nitty gritty of life.  Where is the theology that speaks directly to the human experience of people?  One of the treasures I’ve discovered in my MA studies in Celtic Spirituality and Mission is NOT the green Celtic patterns and twee poetic airy-fairy ideas which often passes as Celtic spirituality, but rather a spirituality which engages the real day to day experience of people.

Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the film for you, but Matt learns that the way to engage is to slow down, stop the professional pastor game, and get to know people in their kitchens, their farms and workplaces, the local pub…and learn there the rhythms of the people.  The most poignant moment for me is when Matt turns up to a church placement looking for his office only to find that he doesn’t have one….his ‘office’ is the community in which he lives!  He talks about doing ministry at God-speed….learning from the spirituality of Jesus who arrived in human history and walked the streets of his communities with real people.

I don’t think this is a message just for the ‘professionals’ – this is for all of us as Christians.  Is our theology a neat ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die’ affair, or does it have something to say to 21st century life, its pressures and about the transformation that walking with Christ brings?

Check out the video and see what speed you’re walking at.  Incidentally, there is a website with resources to help you engage with the ideas in the video with friends.

Mission Thursday: For the least…

I stood up in front of the couple of hundred people in the regional mid-week SA worship service and told them that the cost of just one of the new tubas behind me would could feed 300 families for a week. *mic drop*

I don’t think I made many friends.

Young. Idealistic. Out of a background of hardship on a West Scotland council estate, with a key saving grace of loving, caring grandparents. Fast forward and I was standing on a raised platform in one of Glasgow’s poorest communities with probably more than £30K worth of musical instruments sat behind me, with hundreds of Salvationists in their £200 Sally Army uniform suits and I felt the seeming injustice of it all.

Twenty years later, the elevator effect has lifted me too. Lovely family. Decent job. Respectable member of the community: minister, no less. Nice new car. Bucket of Apple products. Kids that don’t want for much. I’m not ungrateful but the inequalities of our society scream loudly if you listen.

I’ve heard all the ‘views’ about how families get into poverty traps. I’ve seen many of the realities over the years in my work. I know the underbelly of the fight for survival in the benefits culture. And I think of the children.

Always.

I remember the faces and the stories of the children of Glasgow and Aberdeen and Newcastle and Bristol and…

Born into families through no choice of there own. It’s not their fault as if fault should be the first thing that is apportioned anyway.

And then you listen to the preoccupations of governments and churches…and the cymbals clang and clash because the hearts don’t bleed enough for the cause of the poor and the oppressed among us. And God hears the cries of the people.

‘Remember the poor’ is a key theme of mission and it’s where I start this Thursday Mission-featured Blog. I believe Jesus primarily resides among ‘the poor’ – those on the peripheries of things. I know that because every time I’ve been there he never fails to appear…in the eyes of the child, or the beaten mother or the out of work father or the grandma trying to keep 8 grandkids afloat. I remember all the ways he appeared to me in the kindness of others in my childhood.

‘Whatever you do for the least of these’ says Jesus, ‘you do it for me.’

I’ve yet to find an alternative, more comfortable, way to interpret that which might just ease the weight of it. But no. The passage goes on to say that it will even be some sort of plumbline measurement someday. Serious stuff.

Pure religion takes care of widows and orphans. It leaves food at the edge of the field for them that can’t pay for it. It cancels the debts of the debtors, it heals the wounds, it binds the hearts and it restores what the prisoners are banished for and it bestows beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning.

At one point in the brilliant film ‘Angela’s Ashes’ the school master tells the boys off for teasing one kid who has no shoes.

‘Do you see the Lord Jayzus hangin’ on the Cross sportin’ shoes?!’

 

‘No sir!’

 

‘What don’t you see, children?’

 

‘You don’t see the Lord Jayzus on the Cross sportin’ shoes, sir!’

 

Jesus is the 10 year old daughter of a depressed single Mum, living on £30 spare to feed her kids for a week, who cries herself to sleep clutching her teddy.

How do you worship that Jesus? I think you know. I do.

New Blog Posts

blogpostHaving recently discovered that I managed to miss nearly 3 months of blogging over the summer, I thought I’d have a think about regulating my blogging frequency!

Back in the heyday of the blogging thing I was writing, along with several others in the same kinda community, on average of 3/4 times a week.  That’s a little bit more challenging to keep up with these days and maintain any kind of blogging quality.  I guess I used to do more sort of ‘here’s what happened today’ type stuff – I don’t do that so much now.

So, I’ve been doing a bit of research about people’s blog reading/writing habits and decided that I’m going to work towards two posts a week!

On Sundays I will be blogging on an aspect of spirituality and discipleship.  The inner journey; what goes on in the heart of the disciple!

On Thursdays I will be blogging on an aspect of mission.  The outer journey; the things concerning our way of being in the world.

I hope these will be practical, useful, and will give some inspiration and encouragement.

Hope you’ll tune in!