Wednesday, 26 August 2009

End of Year Report

Well I'm only an Intern for another 5 days so I thought i'd better get a post up before I change the name of this thing. Apologies for the lack of traffic - I spent July posting on the student blog and August galavanting across various parts of the globe. New leaf blah, blah, blah...

Waaaay back last August (2008) I posted a list of goals I had ahead of my internship. I thought I'd have a little reminisce and see how I got on...

1. To serve: God, the church, our students - to practically live out the knowledge that my life should be a living sacrifice and that next to knowing (and therefore responding to) Christ, I can count all else as loss. I want to be living exclusively for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

I definitely feel like I've served this year. It was kind of a non-negotiable really! Whether my heart's been wholly pure in service, who knows? but regardless, I definitely think I've pulled a good few shifts and tried, at least, to put others before myself. As for "living exclusively for the advancement of the Kingdom of God".... Hmmm... I wish!! Still got to be the target tho.

2. To encourage all our students to be closer to God and live lives of radical discipleship.

I reckon I've encouraged our students to invest in church, whether that's actually developed their respective relationships with God, well, you'll have to ask them! But that's one thing I'm being challenged about at the mo - to inspire people (myself firmly included) to live as children of God in the real world, not just to create a nice group of Christians.

3. To see an increase in 'unchurched' students across the city getting to know Jesus.

Well we've definitely seen people coming in their ones and twos, and for that I rejoice as the Angels have been up en el cielo, but there is massive room for improvement in this area - we'll be hunting for bigger game this year!! I'm believing for a big harvest coming soon. It's been really encouraging to hear stories from other churches who are seeing lots of people saved and long may that continue.

4. To develop my gifts as a leader through practical experience, observation of other leaders and in commitment to the leadership training material.

I can say without dount that I have had all of the things mentioned there: practical experience, observation of other leaders, and commitment to leadership training material. And as such my gifts must have developed somewhat - again, it was kind of a non-negotiable!! But in all seriously, I definitely feel like I've learned a lot, even down to little things like trigger words I use when doing notices all something. But my overriding emotion when considering how I've development is one of (enforced) humilty and that actually I bring very little to the table other than a pair of (usually) willing hands. Praise the Lord for regeneration - He's everything that's good in me.

5. To have a stronger and more intimate personal relationship with God; one that is not sacrificed on account of doing too much 'church stuff'.

Hmmm... honestly, this is the thing I've found hardest this year. I've had lots of good times with God this year but there have also been many times when I've neglected my own relationship with God. It's served as a sobering warning really - that if I can drift towards disillusionment after only a few months in the game then I really need to keep a much stricter eye on my spiritual health. When it comes to God, being, rather than doing, is definitely of uppermost importance.

6. To 'see what the father is doing' and go and do it!

This is definitely an ongoing task and one which I can only ever get better at. Have I done so this year? We'll find out in heaven, I guess...

Sorry if that was all a little self-indulgent. I found it quite helpful and I'll be winging at new set of goals your way in the very near future.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

New student blog

Greetings!

Just a short post to let you know about a new blog I've set-up - Students @ Vinelife.

It can be located at vinelifestudents.wordpress.com and over the summer months will feature loads of stuff designed to help people stay connected with God while they're back home (or wherever). Hopefully it'll be of some use.

Have a little look if you get chance.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Understanding the Times

Relevance is an interesting concept. Here are a few definitions...

..."the relation of something to the matter in hand"
..."a term used to describe how pertinent, connected, or applicable something is to a given matter"
..."having a bearing on or connection with the subject at issue"

Relevance is measured by impact. Something is relevant to something else if it has an effect on it - if it has a bearing, a connection, an application to it.

So it's an active concept. You can appear relevant in any situation, but unless you are actually engaging with that 'matter in hand', and therefore having some kind of an effect on it, then you're not actually relevant at all.

But you can't engage with something, or someone, without first understanding it (or them). 1 Chronicles 12 recounts the story of the army that assembled around David following his banishment from Saul. These were the men who would help protect Israel's anointed king and would see him take eventually take the throne and so usher in the nation's 'golden-age'. Among them were counted the men of Issachar:

"men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do..."
1 Chron 12:32

This is relevance in action. The men of Issachar recognised that David was the future and they needed to invest in him. They saw the way society was moving (under God's direction) and sought to engage and involve themselves with it, rather than sticking to the status quo (Saul). What's more, because they understood what was going on they 'knew what Israel should do'. Their relevance had a bearing a bearing on their actions.

The 21st Century church needs more men of Issachar. We need to understand our times, see a need, and go an meet it effectively. We need to relate to the matter in hand - see slavation reign in a decaying world.

The need is obvious - Jesus. And just as David's rule was announced before it came into being, so the Bible announces that all men will ultimately come to confess Jesus as Lord. But we're still not being that effective. The problem, I think, is often our warped sense of relevance. We think that if we look right, act right, talk right a.k.a. be "cool" then eventually everyone will come to embrace our faith because we're really cool, and not old and boring, and actually just like everyone else but with a little less sex and violence (but still really really cool). But the problem is, as far as my experience goes anyway, this just doesn't work! (because it's a Gospel based on ourselves and not on Jesus.) We might think we're being relevant, but if we're not actually positively affecting the thing to which we're trying to relate, if we're not understanding and doing (and doing well), then we're not actually relevant. Period. No matter how many Ramones t-shirts you own, or how skinny your jeans are.

Maybe, then, we haven't quite understood the times as well as we think we have? I guess the proof will be in the pudding. The men of Issachar witnessed David take control of the kindgom he was promised, will we be able to say the same about our generation? I hope so!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Burn Like The Bush


"There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up."
Exodus 3:2

The preach at reach the other night about Moses. While the main thrust of the message was about him being available, what resonated with me the most was the reference to this particular part of the story - the burning bush. (apologies for the picture - I thought it mildly amusing...)

The passage quite clearly says that although the bus was on fire it did not burn up - i.e. there was something else fuelling the fire: God. Had it been the bush that was fuelling the fire then eventually it would have burned out and the fire would have been extinguished.

This is a really useful picture for Christian life. If what I, as a Christian, use to fuel my 'fire' is myself - my good intentions, my own effort etc etc - then at some point sooner or later that fuel is going to run out. But if I let God fuel my 'fire', through the Holy Spirit, then it won't and I will be able to burn (in the spiritual sense!) without being consumed. Now there are a lot of cheesy Christian clich├ęs in there but I think it's a really simple, yet really important, thing to keep in check.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

"Let the little children come to me"

I've heard that late-night blogging is a dangerous task, especially when dealing with emotion, but hey, sometimes danger is cool.

Today has been an odd day. I've been preparing for a talk I'm doing at Salford CU on Monday, and as such I've spent the day with my nose in some books trying to work out what Paul's cracking on about in Romans 5. The actual studying bit was a lot of fun. I enjoyed working through some commentaries and comparing a few translations - it reminded me of being at uni - but it was when I came to actually formulate it into a message that I began to stumble.

Now, this in itself is no big deal, but it just seemed to really rattle something inside of me. Everytime I tried to go down one route it just felt like I was toeing a party line, or filling in the blanks of an equation. Now on the one hand that's fine, as all the stuff I was writing is true, but on the other it just felt like something was missing. So, having tried to think of some clever interpretations/models, I left the house with the following words written down: "Preach Jesus." Sounds like a plan.

I then spent the next couple of hours stuggling my way through a meeting; struggling for no other reason than feeling sorry for myself and not really knowing why. These bouts of self-pity, to which I can be oft prone, are not a favourite pasttime of mine, but it especially annoys me when I start to become cynical and negative towards people who are in the opposite place - i.e. people who aren't sweating the little stuff but are just wholeheartedly enjoying Jesus (which, incidently, is what Romans 5 is about).

So I think my problem is this: I'm no longer child-like enough. I've started to get more settled into the 'business' of life and faith, and have lost some of that joy and freedom which I think used to really characterise me. To continue down the bible analogy, I'm probably more like the disciples telling the kids to scarper than those little ones who Jesus said we all need to copy if we want to get involved in his Kingdom. They probably only shouted at them because they were jealous of the intimacy the kids had with Jesus.

I reckon I've just not been delighting myself in God enough which is probably why I'm feeling quite dissatisfied with a lot of things (Ps 37:4 - Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart). And dissatisfication is a horrible attitude as it starts to breed that negative and cynical mindset that robs us of the freedom that is in Christ. There is so much of that about in the world, the devil is really waging a psychological war, but we, starting here, need to be renewed by the transforming of our minds (Rom 12:2).

So that's the plan - stop moping around, stop trying to 'play the game', stop belittling the faith of others that I'm actually probably envious of, and just start loving Jesus again! Properly. Not just cos I think I have to, but because he's awesome. Literally.

I think I know what I should probably talk about on Monday.

Good night.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

An Existential Funk?

Easter weekend has been pretty awesome. I spent the Friday and Saturday in London with Liz and Pete from my Cuba team, Sunday with family, and yesterday with friends at the beach - a tiring yet highly enjoyable mix!

London was especially good. I always enjoy visiting (especially as more often than not it's to do exciting things/see exciting people) but this was the first time that the thought of living there genuinely crossed my mind. I'm very settled in Manchester and plan on being here for at least another year, but the idea of moving to the capital does seem very exciting. I guess it all depends on jobs really and where God wants me to be ministering.

Which leads me onto my next muse.... I think i'm becoming a lot more theologically/ecclesiologically conservative in my old(er) age. It's probably as much to do with the people I associate with such a position but sometimes it just seems really appealing! I love my church, and am so grateful for the spiritual growth I have experienced therein, but I really don't won't to neglect more traditional aspects of Christianity solely because they are traditional. I am a very strong believer that relgion for religion's sake is unhelpful and unbiblical, and I see a lot of irrelevant things in the church that only continue because 'that's what we've always done'. But at the same time, I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are often things that more charismatic-y type people (of which I firmly count myself one) can neglect in the fear of being 'religious' that actually are funadmental Christian practices/disciplines and need to be outworked and developed.

So my goal is this: get that balance between operating in and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit, and having a solid and disiciplined lifestyle that delights in the word of God and lives it out in a uncompromising, radical and relevant way. My limited experience seems to suggest to me the following sweeping generalisations: Conservative Christianity seems to provide an exceptional foundation and grounding for believers, primarily through biblical study, yet suffers from an outside perspective for being stuffy, irrelevant and elitist. On the other hand, charismatic Christianity excels in freeing people to worship God wholeheartedly and see the outworking of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and ministry, yet sometimes lacks the strength of foundation of spiritual discipline that is greater honed in the conservative church.

As far as I'm concerned, there shouldn't be a division between conservative and charismatic - we need to be a new breed of Christian that communicates the grace of God in a powerful ways to a generation that has become so greatly disenfranchised with 'church'. I shouldn't be worrying about which 'camp' I lean towards, I should just be out there living wholeheartedly for Christ - in all its fullness. Easy.

I picked up an old F.F. Bruce commentary on Romans from an Oxfam on Portobello Road at the weekend. I've read the start of the introduction and loved this quote, so I thought I'd share!:

"But it cannot be too strongly emphasised that Paul's theology was not based primarily on study and speculation. It was based primarily on his own experience of God, who 'revealed his son' in him (Gal 1:16) and flooded his inner being with divine love by the impartation of His Spirit ( Rom 5:5)"

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The journey continues! Step 4...

In case you're new to the 'diaries, I started a project back in the summer whereby I wanted to create a poetic response to each of the chapters of the book of Romans. I called it '16 Steps from Rome.'

Having done three way back in August/September, I have finally got back on the road and taken that fourth step (as it's based on Romans chapter 4). I don't profess in any way to be a poet, but big Eugene told me pastors are like poets so I figured I should give it a crack! Coincidently, we're studying poetry and prayer in psalms at the mo so I thought it would be especially timely to get back writing. Enjoy....

--

Decaying bones and a barren desert
Signal the end for this progeny. That is,
Where things are as they are.
Life to the dead and future beckons.

"Credit where it's due?" Fat chance.
This needle of hope is found
Without the Mosaic stack even in sight.
Mighty, and willing, to save.

To exist is to define or be defined;
A vacancy that produces anarchy
Escape! For no rebellion goes unpunished.

Not by words and not by deeds, but
By that so incalcuable of qualities -
Faith in the "dead" man and his daily deposits.

Things are not as though they are;
Or really should be.