Wednesday, 26 August 2009
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
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
..."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..."
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
"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."
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 clichés in there but I think it's a really simple, yet really important, thing to keep in check.
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
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.
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
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
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.
Monday, 30 March 2009
"He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD,
and he will reward him for what he has done."
So when we give to the poor, essentially we're lending to God. We give, they receive, he gives its back - no doubt with plenty of interest!! I love how the whole bible weaves together to display God's character. He promises to pay everyone's spiritual debts because he's a loving, mericful, generous God. And so, because he is such not just sometimes but all the time, he also steps in and pays material debt too. The not only does it demonstrate his heart to bless the poor but also backs up everything he tells us about it being better to give than receive. Not just from a moral point of view, in that it's a jolly good thing to do, but in an actual, tangible sense too - if you show kindness, God will show it back; if you give, even just a little, so much more he'll give back to you! Why? 1. Cos he loves to see his kids doing his will and 2. Cos he's just better at it than us!! I love Jesus.
While I've got you, check out this extract from friend-of-the-blog, Eugene Peterson:
"An understanding of people as sinners enables a pastoral ministry to function without anger. Accumulated resentment (a constant threat to pastors) is dissolved when unreal - that is, untheological - presuppositions are abandones. If people are sinners then pastors can concentrate on talking about God's action in Jesus Christ instead of sitting around lamenting how bad the people are. We already know they can't make it. We already have accepted their depravity. We didn't engage to be pastor to relax in their care or entrust ourselves to their saintly ways... We have come among the people to talk about Jesus Christ. Grace is the main subject of pastoral conversation and preaching. "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom. 5:20)."
Thursday, 26 March 2009
"Those who control their tongue will have a long life;
opening your mouth can ruin everything."
Maybe more like expensive ones.
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
It dawned on me that often I can be far too concerned about knowing the right things, or being up with the latest arguments, or being able to present a water-tight theology. Translation: looking the part. Then, i reason, I can be a great example to people for how to live the Christian life. And if nothing else, you couldn't label me 'wooly'. Sorted.
But you know what? The people who I look up to and think 'yes!' to are people who don't necessarily talk a good game (i'm sure they could) but actually get on and live it. They don't waste time theorizing but let what they know about who God is affect their attitudes and decision. As such, they hit a great balance between knowing the truth and living a magnetic lifestyle that is relevant to those outside of God-club without compromising their integrity.
Jesus had this nailed. He didn't fight theology with the Pharisees, he pointed out their hypocrisy and told everyone else to get on with sacrificing themselves for God and others. And he had that element of danger too, he was exciting, people wanted to be around him, he wanted to be around them. He didn't care about the little stuff. He taught when we wanted to. He partied (evangelical translation: "had fellowship") when he wanted to. He maximised his life from a position of complete acceptance as a son of God.
I want to be like that.
"All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas... Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious...
..."The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else...
..."Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill."
Bits of Acts 17
Monday, 23 March 2009
Saturday, 21 March 2009
Deeper is Vinelife's gap year opportunity that I've been tasked with redeveloping and over the past few months I've been putting together a week-by-week overview of how it'll all look. Personally, I think it looks great and if i wasn't going to be leading the thing then I'd want to be doing it myself. (honest - i'm not just on a sell)
Now we have all the graphics and a rough infrastructure in place we can finally unleash it on the (un)suspecting reach congregation. So hopefully over easter a few people will really consider taking the challenge on and I can spend the rest of my intersnhip tying up loose ends and getting ready to hit it hard in September.
Part of me is worried that we won't have any takers, yet since I've started working towards it in earnest I've had the same phrase rattling around my head which I really believe is prophetic encouragement...
...If you build it, they will come.
Well the front door's in place so let's see what happens!
Monday, 16 March 2009
I'm not going to try and fill in all the gaps since my last post as I'm not sure there are enough characters left in this here window to do so. I will, however, tell you that things have been progressing very nicely. We had both the Youth and Reach weekends away, as well as putting on the second 'Gathering', so it's been a busy time but then I wouldn't want it any other way! Reach itself is going great and we've continued to see new people coming along as well as seeing those who've been around for a few months getting connected with lifegroups and starting to move towards involving themselves with the myriad of ministries that we have at church.
One thing that God is irking me with at the moment re: gathering new people is that we do so with people who aren't Christians yet. It would be really easy for me to look at numbers and say "we've gathered x amount of students. great. job done." but that just won't cut it. 1) we're dealing with hearts and minds, not attendance figures and 2) the vast majority of the growth we've experienced at reach this year hasn't been so much growth as transfer - i.e. settling in those who came to Manchester already as Christians. Don't get me wrong, it's been amazing to have been blessed with so many students and it's so important that we do our best to stop them from falling away from God when they come away to uni, but I'm also really conscious of the need to not rest on our laurels and think we're a healthy, growing church because we've got more bums on seats. We need to be doing all we can to see the lost saved, people coming from death into life! So that's one of my main foci at the moment - working out what I, as student worker, can be doing with our students to get out there and "do the stuff". So watch this space!! It's so encouraging tho as it's something that God's really put on our heart as a church and Phil & Sarah and James et al are doing a great job in challenging and facilitating us in living as partners in that there Great Commision.
There are a couple if things it would be great you could pray about if that's your style:
- I've got a few 'preaching engagements' over the next few weeks and would appreciate being covered going into those - Man Met CU on 17th March, Reach Exchange seminar on 22nd March and then Salford CU on 26th April.
- Next year! It's still up in the air as to what's happening after my internship finishes so if you could pray that God's will would be done but, more specifically, that if I'm to stay at Vinelife he would make the required resources avaialable.
Friday, 2 January 2009
Throughout the last term at Lifegroup we've been looking at the theme of 'Radical Disipleship'. In essence, we as Christians are a people called to lives that are both radical - in terms of our rejections of a 'worldly' life, and disciplined - in that we adhere to the patterns God has set out for us instead. We looked at a variety of topics - namely: forgiveness, time, love, money, evangelism - all of which were rooted in the challenge of Romans 12:2: conform or transform? Blend into society or allow the Holy Spirit to transform you into the person God destined you to be?
Anyway, it became increasingly apparent over the weeks that God was putting his finger on a couple of foundational issues that seemed to permeate, in my mind at least, every discussion or study we had. Hence my desire to engrave them somewhere a little more permanent that my short-term memory. If others benefit, great, but my main motive here is a selfish one - to put these challenges in front of my own eyes to inspire me to step up and meet them. Otherwise I've just spent the last few weeks spouting a load of hot air.
Ok, so here are the two (main) things:
- At a foundational level, Christianity is incredibly simple.
- Generosity, or 'open-handedness' as i like to call it, is the key to honouring God with the gifts that he gives us and the tasks that he calls us to.
Essentially the guide to living the Christian life is presented clearly by Jesus when asked what was the greatest commandment:
"Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Simple. Love God with everything we've got and do likewise to those around us. Now I know that the outworking of that is anything but simple, but the blue print for how to live couldn't be any clearer. The key thing is recognising the assumptioms behind Jesus' statement and also understanding what love is. I'm sure everyone's heard the chat about the different kinds of 'love' in Greek, but the distinctions really do help us to depart from a 'candles-and-roses' perception of love - an emotion, and one which, more often than not, is associated with weakness as much as strength. No. This agape of which Jesus speaks is not so much a request that we dote on God but that we, like he himself would later demonstrate, sacrifice ourselves for him. And not just partially either - but with all our heart, soul and mind. Everything; no half measures.
Furthermore, this isn't just about how we interact with God; it extends to how we interact with everyone (including ourselves). The sacrifcial love that God calls to is a full-time vocation: it is as much about our horizontal expressions of love (i.e. to those around us) as it is our vertical expressions of praise, adoration and obedience to our creator.
Here comes the crux. The only way to be able to actually walk this out is by coming to truly recognise who this God is who asks us for everything. For if we don't have that, then ultimately every attempt at self-sacrifice will be doomed from the outset - we'll be doing it because someone else told us it was a good idea, not in response to the sovreignity of God. But if we do recognise that Jesus is Lord, that everything comes from him, and that ultimately everything is for him, then not only will we be able (in his strength) to lay down our own desires in favour of his, but we won't want to do anything else anyway. Once we loosen our grip on theses 'lives' of ours and start to see them purely as time, opportunity and talent given to us by God, the only thing that makes sense is to use them for his glory.
If everything comes from God (James 1:17; Colossians 1:16) then our response should be thus: give back, obey, give away! I.e. respond to what God has given us by giving back in return - time, money, energy, future plans etc etc; obey his commands - not to earn his love but because he already bestows it upon us; and share what he has given us with all those around us - if what we have is so good and so needed, why don't we want others to get some too?!
This whole concept of 'giving' is what I'm talking about when referring to 'open-handedness'. It's about saying that it's not just about me - i'm not just going to take everything that God's given me - gifts and abilities, money, my eternal salvation! - and keep it to myself. I'm going to recognise that God gave everything for me and that he wants me to give everything back in return. And that doesn't happen in a vacuum - it involves choices, and changes in patterns and behaviours that will effect and impact others; hopefully in a way that alerts them to the fact that God has got all this great stuff for them too!
Not only is this a challenge from God, it comes with a stark warning for any ignorance towards it, most notably in the shape of the parable of the talents/minas (Matt 25; Luke 19). God gives us gifts, yes. In fact, everything is a gift from God. Yet he calls us to be good stewards of these gifts. And the way we do that is quite clear - invest in them. I.e. don't just admire them, but use them to further the kingdom. Otherwise, we're no different to the "wicked, lazy servant". Now I'm not talking about stuff like playing in a worship band because you're kick-ass on the guitar, although that concept does come into. I'm talking about everything. Money's an obvious one to mention, but for me the biggest area is that of evangelism, and with this I will close.
Our salvation is a gift from God. Fact. We don't earn it, so we must have been given it. Therefore, like any other 'talent' we need to be open-handed with it. That means we don't just hide ourselves away in 'God-club', patting ourselves on the back because we've accepted God's gift of grace, but that instead we give of our ourselves in order to help others recognise this awesome truth - we make God's love real to people by showing that it is really in us. In order to invest this gift, we'll need to sacrficie certain things - it might be time, it might be money or a career, it might even be our attitude towards our non-Christian relationships. One things is certain, though: if we are generous with our gifts, God will honour that. If our heart is for him and for his glory, even when it hurts, then he will take our 'not enough' and make it 'more than enough'.
Read this passage from 2 Corinthians and look beyond the context of money.
"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
"He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever." Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!"
2 Cor 9: 6-15
It speaks plainly about a spirit of generosity - a generosity that produces results. By giving of ourselves, by being open-handed in all areas of our lives, "men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies our confession of the gospel of Christ, and for our generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else." I'll have some of that!