Lent 2018!

img_1160I came at Lent a little unprepared this year, coming as it did in the half-term week that I’d set aside for completing my Masters Dissertation.  I duly got the first draft into a decent recognisable shape that I’ll visit again before sending, to add bits here and there, but because of it, arrived at Ash Wednesday having given no thought to Lent.

I have, however, been trying to keep up with a small group of friends/acquaintances who are reading through the bible in the year, with daily comment and, seeing as we’re in the Old Testament for the foreseeable, I decided I needed a personal focus on Jesus’ life and message.  So, I’ve been reading Mark’s gospel over and over, and very much enjoying that encounter.

Lent doesn’t appear to be much of a focus in the church I serve in, and I understand that coming from a background that never gave it much consideration either.  I guess, over the years, I’ve come to appreciate Lent as a way of getting my heart/brain in gear for the Passion and Easter season and all that entails.  I used to find is so overwhelming to arrive at Easter almost ‘out of the blue’ without having had a time of preparation

Lent last year was a pretty big time.  It was a time of seeking God for our future having sensed the need to move on from St Albans, and we’d already begun conversations with Hertford Baptist.  Lent gave shape and focus to that discernment and listening, and it meant that by the time we’d received the call from the church, I knew how I must respond and was able to do so without further hesistation.  And, it was pretty unanimous from their end too…so here we are!

So, those two things are now tied up together.  I’m in my new ministry setting here in Hertford, the eventual outcome from last Lent’s discernment, and Mark’s gospel is accompanying me through this particular season, where I’m learning that Jesus ministry and activity is punctuated by a flow of availability to people, and seclusion to be with God.  Both are essential for a sustained presence in a community…and for every day sanity!

Having said that, you can’t come away from Mark’s gospel without a sense of the action, the urgency, the missional passion, and single-hearted focus of Jesus for the road ahead.  You can’t sidestep the joint partners of Kingdom proclamation and Kingdom demonstration, regadless of what was going on around him.  This too, is key.

Any church setting will give you plenty of distraction…that’s the reality everywhere.  Last year it was Homewood Road URC, this years it’s Hertford Baptist!  But the most important thing in it all is to keep the eye on the One it is all about and trust Jesus, who is the Head of this body of Christ and will lead it for his purpose of blessing, saving and redeeming the world.

If Lent does anything, it focusses us back on Him and off of ourselves.  God grant it.



Expectant Encounter…

Let me take you back.

Maybe it’s the late 90s.  I’m a teenager and I’m sitting at my place in the band at the Salvation Army hall.  It has been a great meeting.  Songs of celebration, worship, prayer, praise, testimony, and the Captain has just preached.

He’s preached about the intimacy of God, perhaps; about the immediacy and power of the Spirit; about the call to holiness; or, maybe he or she has preached the gospel; or maybe teaching through a NT letter;….or something.  Every Sunday night, I know that the whole meeting is going to head towards one particular point: the response.

The Word of God will have been preached, and we all know, without any doubt, that it asks, challenges, demands, calls, invites towards something.  Without fail.  We know that God loves us and has called us to be his, and that he invites us to partner with him through this week ahead as witnesses for Jesus wherever we are, whatever the hardship, whatever our circumstance.  And we KNOW, that next week, we’ll be able to come back to the same place and tell the stories of his working in our lives, and in the lives amongst those we’re living.

But, it’s shortly before 7pm.  The message has been preached, and the ‘prayer meeting’ starts.  And we’re in prayer, the whole meeting.  There will be singing, maybe sustained for a while…familiar choruses helping us sing, pray, know his presence.  And the Spirit would move among us and there is always opportunity to receive prayer of any sort at ‘the mercy seat’ – a place near the front of every Sally Army hall reserved for response.

mercyseat02A place of salvation; a place of prayer; a place of calling out; a place of repentance; a place of Spirit outpouring; a place of healing; a place of desperate expectancy; a place of equipping; a place of transformation; a place of commitment.  Not that the actual bit of wood was special, but special things happened there.  It was a constant reminder to all of us the God was in the business of meeting with his people and transforming them.

So, going on into ministry with that formative experience definitely shaped my understanding of what meeting for worship was all about.  It wasn’t just performer-audience…it was a place of expectant encounter with the living God.  And boy did I need the living God in every breath as I figured out how to live this life of in a hostile home, work, and school environment.  I wanted the people I was leading and ministering to to have the same experience – a God who would meet with them, change them, empower them, and fill them for whatever lies ahead.  I remember many holy moments.  Powerful.

I still want the same now in ministry.  I don’t want to ever just turn up and go home feeling like I’ve gone through the motions.  And I don’t want the church to feel like that either.

And this all leads me to say that we all need to learn how to wait on God and give space for him to move.  In our own experience, we need to learn how to break out from under the umbrella and let God alight upon us by his Spirit.  We need to learn to come before God expectant that God will move, speak, impact, change, empower, transform.

We need to learn awe, humility, and how to submit in such a way that the Spirit of God can have his way with us in the thousand holy moments of divine encounter.  I’m not content just to have learned something interesting or caught up with people I know and love.  I want to come and know the power of God at work in and through his people.

Going back 20 years…there’d be the final song.  And it was usually one you could stomp to because, filled afresh with the missionary Spirit, it was time to march out.  It was one with a hundred choruses because the next movement was a step onto the battlefield of the world where we’d see victories and defeats, advances and retreats…but we’d go knowing that Christ was our commander and the battle belonged to Him.  ‘The World for God!’, the battle Cry.

On we march with the Blood and the Fire
to the ends of the earth we will go;
And the Saviour’s love will be the theme of our song
because we love Him so!

The nostalgia is nice.  But it’s not the wrapping I want.  It’s Him alone.  Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done.

Sinking the Ark…

When I explain my rather long-winded dissertation title that I’m currently working on, 9 times out of 10 I can see the eyes glazing over.  It doesn’t sound particularly jazzy or sexy.  Phrases like ‘critical discussion’, ‘contemporary monastic mission’, ‘societal engagement’, and ‘The Benedict Option’ don’t necessarily grab you.

But let me tell you what is at the heart of it.  I’m passionate about missional discipleship – that is, seeing disciples who make disciples, who make disciples, and thus take very seriously the Great Commission.  It is what seems to be at the heart of ‘your Kingdom come, your will be done.’   I’d like to see a generational legacy of the disciples that I help to make, going on to make disciples, who in turn each make disciples.  This is the beginning of movement and multiplication.  The by-product of transformed lives is a transformed church which can increase its capacity to do greater things.

I want to see a beautiful surge of Jesus-shaped lives impacting our nation and changing the world.  Starting where I am.

I don’t want to be content to keep the church running, open or focussed on preserving the status quo until the wind changes and the world storm recedes.  No!  ‘I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell‘, said C T Studd, and that’s what my heart bleeds for.    We are salt and light in the world, but only if the salt isn’t flavourless, the light isn’t dim, and it’s actually effective in touching the world.

The gentleman I’m arguing with (in the nicest possible academic tones) basically senses that the world is heading for Hell in a hand-cart, and so the church should simply withdraw into its 21st century Noah’s Ark and wait for the flood waters to reduce.  We can then settle on some mountainside and run around like Julie Andrews and all will be well.  The most surprising (or unsurprising) thing is that people seem quite taken with this gentlemen’s ideas, but it couldn’t really be further from the heart of Jesus and his intentions for his people in this time.

Inside the Ark, it is all about preservation of our purity; attention to our wants and needs; reassurance that we won’t have to wrestle with the world’s ideas; our prefferred ways of worship will be saved; our perspective on morality will go unchallenged; and we will cease from the hard, sleeves-rolled-up commitment to mission in a messy world.

No.  These ideas, wherever they might be found, are fundamentally at odds with the mission and call of the church of Jesus.  You don’t have to look much further than the life of Jesus himself – and that’s the key problem in Rod Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option:  for Dreher, Jesus is a moral authority to be worship and preserved like a relic in an ancient stone church, rather than a radical, missional-incarnational, transformational, Son-of-God, example to be followed and obeyed, in the cut and thrust of life.

The academic conversation is plenty fun.  But it serves to fire the heart on the essentials of what and who we are as a people of God.

Does your church represent an Ark?  Or, is it manning the lifeboats and heading out on purposeful rescue missions to our families, neighbourhoods, communities, nations and family of nations?

‘Go and make disciples of all nations…’ Jesus said.  And we have to start just where we are.

Who are you discipling?