Prevenient Grace

Those of us who find oursevles on the ‘Wesleyan’ side of the fence when it cmes to theology have a beautiful contribution to make on the theme of God’s activity in the world.    Its not exclusive to Wesleyans of course, its biblical but the Calvinist would roughtly define the same idea as ‘common grace’ – that which sparks within the human being and which enables them, for example, to love and do good.  The concept of prevenient grace would take a whole lot of unpacking un its fulness,  but there are some really interesting implications for mission.

Firstly, prevenient grace recognises that God, first and foremost, is a missionary God.  Even before his people, he is absolutely out there whispering his presence in peoples lives, relentlessly presenting himself before them, pursuing them and opening the door of response.  Yes, people are sinful, they have lost their glory in its fulness, and there are many who shun Him, but God is out there active as the real missionary in the world.  The Father send the Son, the Son sent the Spirit and they all send us.  So wow, when we go out into the world in response to the missional-incarnational impulse place in us by Holy Spirit, we find that God has indeed prepared the way.  He is ALREADY active in the places where we have not yet had the courage to go.  God goes to the pub more often that  you do.  He does to the strip club more often than you do.

I remember one evening after a Street Pastor session encountering a young lady who had just finished a shift at a lap-dancing club in the town.  She stood before me, expectant that I had a message for her.  I delivered the message that God gave me there and then and whilst there were drunken brawls going on around us, we stood with tears in our eyes as we experience the tangible presence of Holy Spirit amplifying Jesus and his radical grace towards her, even her.  She subesquently left her line of  ‘work’ and returned to full time education with a part time job, (so she told me some weeks later).

It is out of some sense of moral superiority that we perhaps imagine that there are places he won’t go.  A sort of spiritual superiority, a modern day phariseeism that says ‘God won’t be seen amongst those people.’  My colleage, David, preached about the 10 lepers on Sunday evening from Luke 17 where Jesus slams home the truth of grace amongst the foreigner in the healing of the lepers, without strings!  Hey….God broke into my life when I was just as sinful, just as depraved and as far away from God as any other ‘sinner’ or ‘foreigner’ to God.  Why should I assume that he will only meet me in the sanctuary.  Indeed, everywhere that the God encounter can be had is the holy place.  And thank the Lord I’ve been in some pretty dank Holy Places in my life!

The second lovely aspect of prevenient grace is, as I’ve mentioned partly already, the idea that even in the very worst of person, not only is there something worth redeeming, but there is (however marred) the image of God.  This, I believe, is a crucial aspect of belief that will help us in mission in these post-Christendom days especially with regards to reaching people who the typical British church struggles to link up with.  People with radically alternative lifestyles.  We are quick, and I have been so quick, to judge others.  After all, some people’s sin is very obvious and its easy for us to condemn it or point it out.  Our concept of holiness means that we can’t cope with ‘such people.’  Again, we only need to look to Jesus.  The pharisees wandered around trying to keep themselves pure and undefiled from the filth around them yet here is Jesus, Messiah, Son of God, Alpha and Omega mixing with sinners, tax collectors, prostitues, lepers and all other sorts of societies outcasts who would only dare call on Jesus from afar due to the pharisaical religious attitudes they had faced.  Jesus is the one who leaps over all their walls and speaks into their lives.

He extends grace…favour, attention, time, love, care, mercy, forgiveness, wholeness, healing and salvation that they don’t deserve.  Yet is that not what he has done for us?  How then, as followers in the way of Jesus, engage in this grace-filled ministry?  Might it begin by being able to recognise even in ‘the worst’ that there is, within that person, the stamp of God – Father, Son and Holy Sprit – in that very being?  And might we realise that holiness is not so much about maintining an outward ritual purity as much as it is extending the radical grace that has transformed us to those who need it most.

A former Archbishop of Canterbury once noted ‘everywhere Jesus went, there was a riot.  When I go places they make me cups of tea!’

Prevenient grace and the theology of the missionary God (the missio Dei – as the sophisticated like to call it) go hand in hand and we find that God himself not only calls us to be missionaries, but in the person of Jesus, who is the perfect representation of the Godhead, shows us how to operate in radical grace.  It transforms ‘Go for souls…and go for the worst!’ (William Booth)

‘Here I am.. SEND me!’

I’ve been a passionate student of revival and a pretty consistent pray-er for revival for a long time.  For years, what I’ve meant by that is that the Holy Spirit would come and zap the church, there would be conviction, there would be salvation and salvation in numbers.  Now, I think its still fairly safe to say that any sort of ‘revival’ will always have certian things in common.  There seems to be a common thread.  Firstly, there is usually a re-focus on God’s word, or a re-discovery of a neglected truth.  Or, there is a new appreciation of the cross.  Or thirdly, there is a different manifestation of the Spirit (eg Toronto etc).   Most of these have lead to changed lives, changed churches, and salvation.  We’re certainly at the stage now where we’re Christianity seems to waiting for the next big wave.  The recent Florida thing seems to have been stemmed by some immorality somewhat, and certainly wasn’t the ‘next big thing’ everyone expected.

So whats going on with this?  Thing is, typically when the church has been at low ebb, thats when people get desperate and call out.   So, there is a degree of seeking God to be done.   But thing is….in these days, the church is more open to the Spirit quite possibly than it has in most of its history, we understand and have access to God’s word more than we did before and yet we’re not always finding ‘the magic’ happening in our churches.

I’m convinced that the next ‘revival’ will be different to the previous ones.  Yes, people will get saved, the Word will be real, the Spirit will be present.  But I think the context and the catalyst will be different.  You see, I think the church’s biggest need isn’t more Holy Spirit tongue-fests ( please note, I’m not anti-Toronto or anti-charistmatic, but there has been some insular stuff amidst all that).  I don’t think the need is for more bible knowledge and the whole ‘bring the bible back into schools’ and all that sort of stuff.  Nor do I even think that it is some moral crusade to re-capture Christian Britain, as if somehow to capture a wonderful golden age.

When I think of the early church, they had a whole raft of things going.  Yes, they had Jesus, the living word as their focus.  That’s key.  Second, they had ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Yes!  And, many many were saved.  Yet, the key in the spread of the church wasn’t just these things….it was because these things thrust the disciples of Jesus OUT from the places they were keeping themselves to engage in the lives of people.  They were thrust out from the walls of the synagogue (God even allowed persecution to come in order to make sure they were truly out there) into the places where, like Paul, he had to eat and live and become like a Gentile in order to save the Gentile.  These original disciples are thought to have been thrust out to the edges of the then Roman Empire, carrying the gospel with them where they went.  It was the going that brought the ‘recipe’ for transformation.

God acted as he has done in previous revivals to bring the people of God to an awareness of the word, an awareness of the things of the Spirit and to spark the ‘evangelical’ passion of his people.  Yet, if we are all ‘Word’ and all ‘Spirit’ yet forget to go, it bears little fruit other than that we can enjoy for ourselves.  Isn’t that what gluttony is??  Its clear to me that God seeks to mobilise a mission people who will take upon themselves a missionary stance with regards the micro and macro situations God puts them in.  People who have a mindset that is about carrying the Word and Spirit, the Blood and Fire, to the people instead of expecting people to flock to church in revival.  There will indeed be a coming in, there will be an equipping of the new disciples, and of course, there will be increased size in Christian communities etc but the focus will be on the going out.

There is a place for repentance, for spiritual warfare, for ministry in the power of the Spirit, for a great grasp of the Word of God and for a heart for the heart of God and the Kingdom.  Its all needed, all necessary.  But the next revival in the church will come when we ditch our old wineskins of ‘come to us’ religion and see every believer living provocatively, unapologetically and intentionally where God has placed them.  I sense that God wants to break his church out of the walls, not just physical ones, but the cultural ones we set up.  This is not an ‘if you build it, they will come’ mentality…its a ‘go into all the world….’ starting right where God has placed you.

What does it mean to live provocatively, unapologetically and intentionally at work, school, even in church?  What will it take for the Word and Spirit in us to take legs and get out to meet that which it is supposed to meet?  How will people in our communities touch and feel the truth and power of the gospel unless they can tangibly meet it in people who will show them and who by their following Jesus will make people take note?

I still sing ‘Send revival, start with me’ regularly.  But rather than me sitting waiting for God to do all the stuff, I choose to partner with him and choose to recognise that in actuality, he’s given us all we need to see the world saved.  We have a gospel that we can share by the power of the Spirit.  The next revival will be a revival of the ‘sentness’ of  God’s people.  This is truly a ‘neglected truth’ we need to discover if our world is going to be changed.



Welcome to Kingdom Conspiracy

Welcome to Kingdom Conspiracy!  I hope you’ll join the ride here and be inspired, challenged, maybe educated a wee bit and most of all encouraged in your Jesus following.  I hope as time goes on, through conversation and interaction, we’ll become co-conspirators to lift up the name of Jesus and his kingdom in this new ‘post-Christendom, post-everything’ age.  In a day where ‘the left’ and ‘the right’ of Christianity seem equally unappealing, I’m convinced that Jesus is the way.  Re-calibrating around the Lord Jesus, I suspect, will be the uniting and strengthening of the church in this time…giving him his rightful place as the head of the church and living out our call to be his body.

The last few months, since last October really, have probably seen the most radical shake-up of my own life and ‘ministry’.  I set myself the task, after nearly 10 years leading Salvation Army churches of asking the big questions that had been appearing again and again in my heart and mind.  The long and short of it, is that I have around 5 weeks left as a Salvation Army officer.  My exploration of leadership, discipleship, ‘churchmanship’, the theology of mission and the incarnation have brought me to a place that The Army could see working….so I ‘resigned’ on the premise that there was so much of the journey that I could neither dismiss nor fully reconcile with where I was at.  In any case, leaders in the Army couldn’t see how there was a place for me so even the ways I thought might work weren’t going to happen.

Truth is, I’m a Salvo at heart and Salvo thinking and people will probably continue to shape my life but there is something bigger at stake for me.  In my old blog I put out a bit of a confessional about the ways I’d become side-tracked, almost institutionalised by the role I was in.  It was starting to feel as if something else, other than Jesus, was becoming central and so I felt I had to strip away.  One of the other titles I thought about for this blog was ‘The Naked Salvo’ – because I really want to look at the bare essentials of fleshing out Jesus faith in my life.  (However, I really didn’t want to constantly inflict the image of me without a shirt on…so thought of something much more suitable!)

The author Frank Viola, in his book ‘Finding Organic Church’ advises that no-one should embark on any form of Christian leadership until they are thirty.  It sounds weird at first, and even slightly “Jesus-was-thirty-when-he-started-his-ministry” type of statement…like a sort of ‘What would Jesus do?’ gone mad.  I read on and discovered that it was little to do with that, but more about the cycles of life which we all go through.  Psychologists suggest that pretty much every person, when they reach 30, gets to the stage of re-evaluating all that they did in their twenties and truly start to know what they want their life to be about.  Maybe the first of the mid-life crises!  I’m not ashamed to confess I’m in that place still.

I want my life to be about empowering others to follow Jesus above all else.  I want to live out kingdom conspiracy ‘to the ends of the earth!’  Hope you join in.