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.

Advertisements

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.