Under the tree

So, how does it all feel a few months the other side of the biggest crisis of my life since my conversion?  Tempting to say come back to me in a year and I’ll let you know.  But seriously, its still devastating.  There is no getting away from that.  The tempation to perform a post-mortem daily is always there as is the ‘encouragement’ of good friends to come back.  The reality is that I’m in a grieving process for something that was such a big part of my life and being.  Really miss the folks in Aberdeen and all God was beginning to do amongst us.

There is so much of the process of what happened which seems like such a blur now – it was a very confusing time that seemed to have been hi-jacked by so many other people’s agendas producing results which hit us like hammer-blows each time they were delivered.  We asked for time to reflect which we didn’t get.  For time out, which we couldn’t financially afford.  Even having effectively withdrawn our resignation it was accepted anyway.   We couldn’t help but feel the pain of being so violently shunted for having shared some vulerable things on our heart with regards to our calling and ministry.

Why am I saying all this?  I’m trying to make sense of the dilemma which is so difficult.  Like I’ve said already, I’m salvo to the core.  There isn’t a day that passes, to be honest, where I wish I could put on my uniform and go do the business.  Just sheer heartache folks.  Desperately trying to respond with grace and not to allow bitterness to take root.

Thats not to say, however, that the Lord hasn’t been gracious in blessing us with a new ministry.  Trinity have been truly welcoming.  We’re seeing good things happen and its great to see this vibrant Methodist/URC going about its day to day ministry.  More than that, in lots of ways I’ve been able to focus much on my calling to be a mission inspirer, Body equipper and just to break open the Word of life with folks.  We  have a great Alpha team, great developing men’s ministry, great potential in small group development, and quite literally new families turning up on a Sunday morning nearly every week.  So good and inspiring to see.   I don’t have to concern myself with buildings, fundraising, money, health & safety and the copious other aspects of officership like it.

Stephen Court recently emailed me a link to a previous article over at Armyrenewal I wrote some time ago about intimidation.  Its a pretty good word, if I say so myself!  You know, read it and be encouraged!  But here I am sitting under my tree.  My honest trouble is in discerning truly if where we are now is simply the next stage of God’s plan for us, in which case I need to have the discipline to choose it every day, or, whether because of the combination of events a few months ago we were tipped out of the boat and need to climb back in.

The biggest risk of sharing your heart is that you have some ‘Job’s comfortors’ line up to take a pop.  Friends, we just ask for your prayer.  Just prayers to the Great Healer on our behald.  Appeciated like you’ll never know.

Nomad Podcast notes – Mike Frost

Just some notes I took listening to the Nomad podcast where Mike Frost.
Purpose of church – not as simple as mission or being mission centred. At the very centre or core of what the church is is the responsibility to worship, build community, disciple people and serve the world all as part of mission. Mission organizing principle to steer the other purposes. Why should mission organize?

Worship has traditionally organized the church for years. Sunday focussed – evangelism becomes inviting others to worship. This is a christendom pattern. The current context demands that we let mission take over. Make mission the focus rather than corporate worship. Mission is a good cause to gather round – the mission context makes better disciples.

All equally important, but in a cross cultural mission context, we need to explore missions orangising principle. We must become or rediscover a sense of being sent. This is the function of mission. We learn as we are sent. Cf Lk 10.

Who are we sent to? We need to ask God. Which tribe, which network? Who is God giving us to as a gift. When worship is the organizer, the gateway to Christ is through the front door of the church, a come mentality. We must understand who we are sent to.

Can traditional churches be restructured? New missional churches will be easier but there will be a cross. Observation is that if a church has a burgeoning property and financial obligations, they are less inclined to move out missionally. Smaller churches are more in the place to do it. Worship, serving and discipleship happen better on the move. When something other than mission organizes the church becomes static. It can be difficult to break out of the invitational model – disempowers missional lifestyle.

Example of this in action? there isn’t a model for missional church. It looks entirely different compared to it’s setting. Not like a willow creek model. It will be shaped by it’s context whether slum or affluent suburb. Missional church, in a poor setting, it looks like health centres, schools, community innovation. Elsewhere is looks like biblical discipleship seminars for young professionals. It looks as different as there are people groups. Who is God sending us to?

Dangers and challenges? Biggest struggle is that church creates passive consumers. We go to receive, so we complain about the product. If these people are engaged in missional church, the danger is that they default to passive consumption. We are encultured consumers. Continuing to equip with training and teaching, missional practice, helps us work against consumption. Organisation can be messy in mission church where there is lack of money or buildings.

Where do we start? Who are we sent to? Hard to do mission at a distance. we need to move physically, but also socio-economically or culturally. Create missional practices.

Renovation of the Heart

Some of you will know the work of the author Dallas Willard.  My first confession is that I haven’t read any of his books this far.  I started reading Divine Conspiracy some time ago but never got anywhere.  He isn’t easy to read, even for seasoned readers.  I do, however, want to begin getting to grips with one of his books ‘The Renovation of the Heart.’  I have managed to find a book called ‘Renovation of the Character’ which Willard wrote with someone else, which is a distilled version of the previous book.  Maybe a good place to start.

The phrase, ‘Renvation of the Heart’ is one that God has placed into my mind over these last months.  Part of that is to do with my own desire to take some serious spiritual rebooting, focussing on recalibrating around Jesus.  But it has come not only as a response to my desire, but an answer to prayer on leading, shaping and guiding mission.

I ask a lot of questions:  why is the church like this?  why have we lost our sense of mission?  why are we bound in institutions? God, what are you doing about this? Lord, what do you want me to do?  Where do we go from here?  why have you called me at this time to this place?  and for what purpose?  …and the answer to all of those has been ‘the renovation of the heart.’

The desire for mission and missional living will only flow from a heart that touches the heart of God and that pulses with all that God desires.  I believe that God is calling his people to look at him again and to follow him, not just to worship Him.  He wants our obedienace and allegience as much as our adoration.  To follow Jesus is to do what he says.  “If you love me, you will do what I command.” (John 14:15)  When we are in tune with the rhythms of Jesus, we will feel compelled to do what he asks of us.  Here is a little example:

1After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

5“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

8“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ 10But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.'”

John 10:1-8

Embracing Heresy

For centuries the reaction to heresy has been dealt with using some pretty severe reactions.  The Christendom church were particularly ‘efficient’ in some pretty gruesome punishments for any theological deviants.  Pretty much everything that threatened the system was quite literally banished.  Its easy to make the arguement that it was simply to protect the purity of the gospel.  How can this be?  When you look at the theological nuances of the dominant Roman Catholic church of the time (and even today) its harder to find more theological deviance from the gospel.  That, after all was the source of the Reformation.

Talking about the Reformation, even there we see the bitterest debacle.  The ‘new message’ challenged the fundamentals of the Roman Church in so many ways – the new heresy was dangerous.  Yet, lets go much further back in this brief exploration of heresy.  Was not Jesus himself accused of heresy by his Jewish brothers? ‘ BLASPHEMY!’ they cried out as they tore their clothing and hurtled him off before the nearest Roman official.  In the end, the hung him on the cross as a heretic.  Jesus challenged the system.  In fact, he indicated the end of a system which even killing him didn’t stop because as he drew his last breaths, the curtain in the temple was torn in two.  Within 40 years of his death and resurrection, the physical temple was gone.

Jesus shows us that truth often stands in the face of orthodoxy and indeed those who see themselves as holding the keys to orthodoxy.

If you were to ask me to define my 20s, I’d say that I probably spent them holding keys to what I saw as Salvo orthodoxy.  Anyone who has been reading me for any particular amount of time will be able to agree with that.  Thats not to say that there weren’t good and true things that I was championing.  What was concerning was not the way I’d champion ‘truth’ but reactions to anything opposing that.  I still believe all the doctrines all the way from the first ‘We’ to the last ‘wicked’ (great line to end your doctrine set on!)  Yet, thankfully, it was my desire to be true to Jesus which kept me moving through when I suspected that there may be more to discover and more critical things to lift up.  Where I began to become beyond the pale in Salvo circles was probably more with regards my theology of leadership…in fact, there is no ‘probably’ about it.  My final essay on leadership wasn’t looked upon kindly and it was made clear that there wasn’t going to be any opportunities for me to even explore new forms even if they eventually benefited the Army.  It clearly challenged the system to much.  There is, of course, some areas that I am probably not seeing the fuller picture, but all I knew is that I couldn’t go on as I was having been bowled over by something more.  If you haven’t read my thoughts on leadership, head over to either my old blog (Army Renewal) or to the Journal of Aggressive Christianity and search for my name.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we have to be aware of things which are inherently wrong or untrue. The Lord Jesus has a desire to move us into all truth, and if indeed we know him, we already have truth personified in front of us.   A search for truth will highlight error, of course.  Yet how we do that is important.  All that is needed to banish darkness is to light a match and in the same way, all that is needed to show error for what it is is to rejoice in the truth.  We need never be condemnatory of our speaking of a thing, and by the grace of God he’s helping me with that.  I pray that if I err, I’ll err on the side of grace.

So, how do we respond when we come across something that grips us and takes us beyond the pale with regards to the situation we find ourselves in?  I think the key, as I’ve said is to respond graciously.  I can assure that this is no easy thing to do when you start to feel the pain of the knife being twisted in your back.  I couldn’t think of a better way, I simply presented my thoughts on paper and in conversation and in the end, when it appeared that there was not going to be any space created for a different perspective, I chose to leave.  Someone close to us said ‘why should the Army make an exception?’  My initial response would have been ‘because we must never pretend we’ve arrived or cast our practices or patterns in stone’ but ultimately, I conceded the defeat with regards to the organisation because there clearly isn’t a critical mass with any will to forge forward. Yet, we live in hope.

I can honestly say that I have no desire to be a ‘member’ of a church again.  I won’t be, as the above cartoon suggests, church-hopping until I find the perfect one because it simply doesn’t exist.  There are as many challenges in the Methodist and URC churches as anywhere else.  I simply come alongside them as a brother to serve them, ask them the difficult questions, share my walk with them and they with me.  I fully identify myself with them…more than that, I submit myself to them out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

Card-carrying denominationalism is not the way of Jesus…not to the extent that it drives the wedge between followers of Jesus.  I have no desire to sign up to anything that requires me to practice (or not practice) something that doesn’t add up.  The truth, friends, is that the church is not something that can be defined in linear terms or by denominational approval.  The church of Jesus Christ is all those who are in Him, joined together by the Spirit of God through the blood of Jesus for the Glory of the Father.  What matters is the renovation of our hearts as recovering sinners and our particiation in Jesus.  I will always serve the Lord and his people.

One of the hallmark motto’s of the Reformation was ‘Sempre Reformata’ (Always Reforming) expressing the fact that the church, or anyone who is in Christ, must never think she has arrived at the final destination or that we should remain static.  We must never rest where we are but actively celebrate what we have already disovered and what is still to be discovered.  By God’s grace, as I enter my 30s, I pray he will help me to pursue him like never before.

Incidentally, for those who are curious, it is my intention to explore a relationship with the Northumbria Community which is a community of people, grounded in the roots of celtic Christianity with much to say to us as they embrace the ‘Heretical Imperative’ and who express their commitment to Jesus and the church by embracing a new monastic rule as Companions in Community.  I’m sure I’ll blog about that as things progress.  However, here is a quite from Bonnhoeffer:

‘…the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ.  I think it is time to gather people together to do this…’


For  further reading on this subject, look at ‘The Heretical Imperative, published by the Northumbria Community

Rumours around cold ovens

I remember, some years ago, preaching a sermon on Ruth….about the wheat famine in Bethlehem, her moving away, and upon hearing rumour of their being a harvest due,  she returns to Bethlehem (literally, the House of Bread)  with her new family.  My colleague preached on the passage a few weeks ago and it brought it to mind.

I remember reflecting on the fact that we often find ourselves in parallel with the situation of Ruth.  There can be seasons of barrenness spiritually…in our lives and in our churches.  And that barrenness often can produce the sort of ‘back in the good old days’ sort of talk….times of hampering back to when things we alive, fruitful and blossoming.  The rumours of God’s presence…a lot like you’d imagine that there would be rumours of bread in a place that had none.

I recognise that in myself too in years passed.  There can be a lot of chatter that goes on around cold ovens…a yearning for His presence but not an active pursuit of it like we see in Ruth’s case as she moves away from breadless Bethlehem.  You see, not everyone, like Ruth, moves away from the barrenness to find provision elsewhere.  They stay.  I can’t figure out whether that’s faithfulness or lack of faith.  You know, people stay because thats where they think they belong, they can’t see anything else.  Some people stay believing for the day that will come, even if they might never see it.  The reality is that they had run out of bread in ‘The House of Bread.’   I wonder to myself how many become so malnourished by the lack of nutrition that it wipes them out altogether. In some of our situations, are we Houses of Bread with no bread?  Do we have the presence of God, the aroma of God, the ‘bread’ of God amongst us?  Or do we just have rumours of His presences….lingering aftertastes of his Glory?  What is the response we should make?  Should we hang around the cold ovens or should we seek provision elsewhere?

The point I made those years ago is that when the rumour hit Ruth that there was a harvest due to come in, she didn’t hesistate to go back to Bethlehem.  The place of her home, where she felt she belonged.  Where she had heritage, heart and history.  And there, she finds someone waiting to provide all that she needed to make life possible in the form of Boaz, her ‘kinsman redeemer’ and restore to her the future that had been robbed by famine and death.   It strikes me that God provided for her away from home as much as He did when she returned.  Even through the pain of separation, God provides.  I can draw parallels in my own life and experience.  Can you?

The spirit of Jesus is so present in that story.  He is written all over the pages of it.  He is the One who is the opposite of the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy and instead comes to imbed hope, life, redemption and most of all, the bread of his presence where there has been fallow ground for so long.  In the ‘teshuvah’, (returning to, repenting,) Jesus is there to provide and restore the future.  We, at every stage, have the invitation to return our attendion to the Bread of Life, Jesus.   Ruth’s future was so important…her line of descendants leads all the way down the years to Jesus himself.  Our future is important…he appoints us to bear fruit for Him and he will not have anything stand in the way of that.  Neither height nor depth, angels or demons, death nor life so Paul reminds us.

There is something wonderfully missional in Ruth too.  Ruth, a Jewess, goes with her husband and sons to a foreign land, they end up with foreign gentile wives…people far off.  She loses her soul-mates, her husband and sons, those closest to her, and yet she is blessed by these two foreign daughters in law who want to be faithful to her and to her God.  God’s eventual blessing in the provision of Boaz, her kinsman redeemer, becomes a blessing for the gentile daughters in law too.  This is the grace of God who whilst we were so far off, loved us and gave His son for us, made provision for our redemption to usher us back into the presence of God through himself.

Praise God that it his word we can find all the hope and promise we need.  Whether you are chatting around cold ovens, searching for provision elsewhere or returning home to where you belong, I pray that in everything you’ll know Jesus as your all in all.