Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Plan to make the most of summer

Making the Most of Summer
Summer can and should be a good time.  It’s warmer and lighter and brighter.  For lots of us there is annual leave and holidays and time with friends and family memories made.  That is good.  But don’t let your soul become parched.  In fact, summer can be quite the opposite – a time our souls and hearts also become warmer and lighter and brighter.  Why not also make it the time you spend in extra prayer or re-establishing fuller habits of church attendance or private Bible reading?  Often our time with family, children and friends is more relaxed – round some tins & a BBQ, or a causal game of cricket, or a robust walk.  There is unique opportunities to share our faith and talk deeply.  Grab the chance.  Those of us who are parents should be mindful at best we get 18 summers with our children as children.  Make the most of that. What about books - read something you don't usually have the time to read.  Savor it.  Learn.

Before summer fully kicks in stop, reflect and think.  Make a plan to make the most of your summer, however that is.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Hearing God


As a church we believe God’s voice is heard when God’s Word (the Bible) is taught.  It is one of our values: Bible Saturated.  Yet often it makes us bored, fidgety and unable to remember anything we heard (except perhaps a humorous story told by the speaker!). What can we do?  How can we listen to talks from the Bible so we really do hear from God?

This was the question asked by a number of different people in a number of different ways follow Sunday’s preaching.  Peter told us that the Bible is a ‘living and enduring word’ (not dead, dying, temporary or passing!) and is laden with miraculous potential to cause change so radical it’s like being literally ‘born again’!  (1Peter 1:22-25)

To answer those questions, and you may have them as well, I have reproduced the six hints and helps I think the Bible points us toward.

1) Expectantly
We are to listen to talks on the Bible expectantly because Jesus gives the authority of God himself to the speaker who teaches the Bible accurately, prayerfully and obediently. Of course it is good when people who can, study the Bible themselves privately or in smaller groups, but it is vital (if you want to hear from God) that you hear the Bible taught publicly. According to Peter the living and enduring word of God is the word that was preached to you (1Peter 1:23-25). He goes on to explain that if anyone speaks (and the context is the Bible being taught in church) he should do it as one speaking the very words of God (1Peter 4:11). In the Old Testament Bible teaching is described as a face to face meeting with God (Deuteronomy 5:4-5). Therefore when the Bible is reliably taught we should expect that God will speak and that we will be changed by his Spirit.

Action Point: We do not instinctively hear preaching as the voice of God. Our natural reaction is to take it simply as the voice of people and disregard it (especially if we don’t like them or what they are saying). This is why praying is vital: for the speaker during their preparations; for ourselves and others as we listen; for God’s Spirit to change us as we obey what we hear.  Did you know we pray from 9-10 every Sunday morning, not least for God’s voice to be heard as we gather – why don’t you join us?

2) Alertly
It is not always true that when we hear the voice of the preacher we hear the voice of God. Whether we hear the voice of God or not depends on one thing – is the speaker reliably teaching the Bible? Are they saying what the Bible is saying? Is the speaker’s main point built from the passage or are they just using the passage as a springboard for saying what they want to say? We are not asking how well or poorly the speaker communicated, but whether the message came clearly from the Bible.

Action Point: We should be looking at our Bible and asking the question ‘where did they get that from?’ and ‘is that really what the Bible teaches?’  That is why we have Bibles readily available in our gatherings and encourage people to have them open themselves.

3) Humbly
If a speaker is teaching the Bible reliably then at some point it will hurt! We all come to God with our lives messed up; with prejudices, wrong beliefs, and confusion about God. This is true however long you have been a Christian. I come to the Bible as a thoroughly broken person who cannot think straight, act as I ought, or speak right. Therefore the Bible is going to tell me to do and change things I don’t want to do and change. I need to recognise that God knows best and should be obeyed. I need to listen humbly, admit the Bible is right, and that I need to change, to get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly except the word planted in me (James 1:21). I need to be ready to listen and obey.

Action Point: Work hard not to fall into the trap of criticising the speaker as a way of avoiding the Bible criticising you. Don’t spend lunch lamenting the speaker’s inadequacies or commending their excellence. Rather discuss the Bible truths and life-changes you are going to focus on from the talk.

4) Communally
The normal place for hearing the Bible taught is your local church. God’s purpose is not to shape a collection of individuals, but to form a community of his people. There is no such thing as a ‘virtual’ church. Though it is great that technology means we can access talks on the Bible from renowned teachers, this must never replace our being regularly in our local church (even if our pastor is not quite as good a speaker as those online!). When we listen to a talk online we are not really listening to what God wants to say to us, but to what God had to say to someone else. It is an echo. When we listen to a talk together we are accountable to one another to listen well. It is more difficult to doze off in church than at home alone. And of course at home, if the recorded speaker starts to address a topic we find uncomfortable, we’re in control to switch them off. That’s why Hebrews 10:24-25 says ‘let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good works. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.’ Though it can be supplemented, nothing can replace hearing the Bible taught in your local church.

Action Point: Make being at church a priority. Regularly going to church to hear your pastor speak to you as part of your community is vital to hearing God’s voice.

5) Obediently
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22). We need to be those who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering, produce a crop (Luke 8:15). We must not be those who hear words but do not put them into practice (Ezekiel 33:32). A great threat to obedience when it comes to talks in church is entertainment. We live in a world of entertainment and many of us come to church with an expectation to be entertained. Yet the role of the speaker is not to entertain you but, by God’s grace, to change you.

Action Point: Avoid asking questions about how the speaker could change to be more engaging. Instead ask questions about how you should change to become more like Christ.

6) Demandingly
It is one thing to listen to good talks – and the major part of choosing a church is to make sure whoever does most of the speaking reliably teaches the Bible. But how are we to listen to bad talks that do not explain the Bible reliably, or are so dull it is almost impossible to listen? Good listeners demand and encourage excellence from their Bible teachers.

Action Point: Encourage the good. Focus positively on aspects you want to encourage (which will be far more successful that a long list of complaints). Gently ask for clarity about things that were said which you could not see in the Bible passage. Earn the speaker’s confidence by regularly listening to them, obeying the Bible, and encouraging them where you can.  When was the last time you helped one of our regular preachers by giving considered feedback?  Or encouraging them in the task by showing how it has made a real difference to you?


*based on a blog post from October 9th 2012 and again in May 2014


Thursday, 7 July 2016

Thankful for preachers of the living and enduring Word

This is the word that was preached to you
Peter describes God's word as 'enduring', 'living' and containing all that is needed for for us to be 'born again' (1 Peter 1:23-25).  'This is the word that was preached to you' he says.  This Sunday I will be unpacking this at our Sunday morning main meeting.  It has made me think of a few of those who personally have most helped, encouraged and corrected me as God's Word first took root and continues to endure and live.  

Who has most helped you?    Mine include:

Peter Guinness
Available and Integral
Peter was the first preacher I never heard before, as and after I became a Christian at University.  At its most basic preaching needs to be available to be heard.  I was at University in the town Peter led a church.  That church was open and welcoming of students (not least it had a service starting at 9pm in the evening for us!).  Peter stood up week by week and spoke about Jesus from the Bible.  He made that Word available.  But he was also integral.  When he wasn't preaching, after three earlier services, he would still be at that late evening gathering, usually in T-shirt and teens handling the tech desk.  I knew he didn't just come to preach.  He came because it matter. 

John Piper
Intellectual and Emotional
Preaching should be both deeply intellectual and wonderfully emotionally satisfying.  Preaching should both fire neurons that have lain dead and blaze bright cavities of the heart left too long darkened.  Preaching should be both.  Piper does this.  He taught me God wanted to brith new life in heart and head by his Word.

Graham Daniels
Winsome and Faithful
Preaching should be both winsome and faithful.  Preaching should both be enjoyable and enjoyed (the listener can find pleasure in preacher and preaching); and rigorous and true (God must be pleased with our faithfulness to his Word).  Preaching should be both.  'Dano' taught I didn't need to sacrifice truth on the altar of attractive but preaching God's Word could and should be both.

John Stott
Word and World
Preaching should be both saturated in the Word and intelligent about the world.  In Stott's own analogy preaching holds in one hand the Bible and in the other hand the newspaper and has delved the depths of both.  Preaching should know Christ and know culture and shine the former onto the latter.  Stott, a remarkable man of God, taught me their dual importance.





Thursday, 30 June 2016

Wrestle, brawl, scrap, fight - Pray like Paul

Prayer is not peaceful.  It is not content, gentle, easy, laid back, safe.  Not here.  It is bloody, bruising battle ground.  It is not a place of retreat. It is the frontline.  Here the fighting is fiercest.  Here the battle is won.  Everything else is just picking up the pieces.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favourably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” (Romans 15:30-33)

1.    We should expect prayer to require at least as much from us as an exhausting fight with a large, sweaty mammoth of a man.

I urge, brother and sisters…join in my struggle…

‘Urge’ is call to arms.  It means graft and effort and striving for a difficult task requiring grit and determination.  Like Paul uses it in 12:1 (“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…”), and 16:17 (“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way...”)
Struggle means to wrestle, brawl, or scrap.  That is how prayer feels to Paul and he calls us to take up arms and join him in that fight.

2.    We need to cultivate the dual motivations of awe at Jesus’ supremacy and love for Jesus’ people if we hope to see that battle through.

…by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit…

It is driven equally by a vertical awe (Jesus is our Lord) and a horizontal love for those around.  A supernatural love for others from the Spirit. 

3.    We starve our lives of vital nutrients if we are too proud to ask for prayer for ourselves.

Paul asks them to pray very practically for himself.  The great missionary hero and divinely called Apostle lives up to his self-given name Paul, which means small, tiny, the little man.  He is not too proud.  If Paul knows he needs prayer can we imagine, for a moment, we don’t? 

Why might we not be asking for prayer?

·         We think our struggles are just a flesh wound and it is more faithful to battle on alone.
·         We are too embarrassed to ask.
·         We have no one to ask.
·         We ourselves don’t pray so we assume other people don’t.
·         We’ve shared something in the past that has been misused by another.
·         It shows an underlining uncertainty about God and our faith.

Find a friend; ask a pastor; tell your spouse.

4.    We should be practical & explicit with our requests, not vague and ambiguous.  Real life should trump spiritual fluffiness.

Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favourably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed.” (Romans 15:31-32)

Paul makes three practical and specific requests.

·         Kept safe from angry unbelievers
·         Favorable received by the church
·         Arrive in Rome with joy

There is no crisis or disaster.  It’s normal life – please pray for me he asks.

5.    We save ourselves a whole lot of anguish by knowing God answers our prayers in the way he sovereignly sees and not always in the limited perspective we have.

Of the three requests, one is answered as Paul requested and two not.  Paul is not especially ‘rescued from unbelievers’ and he arrives in Rome but as a prisoner (so potentially not with the joy he hoped)!  The church welcome him though.

God is sovereign – pray details then trust him.

6.    We will find our prayers more aligned to God’s answers the closer we saturate ourselves in the Bible and therefore pray his will.

The essence of all Paul’s requests are answered, though not in the detail he envisaged, because they are prayers aligned to God’s will.

·         The gospel is not stopped by the unbeliever’s anger.
·         Paul is received well by the church.
·         He arrives in Rome and will look back from eternity with great joy.

He knew God’s will because he knew God’s words.  Jesus says the same – the more we remain in his word the more our prayers, aligned to that word will be answered.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

God speaks to us in the Bible, and we repeat back to him his own words made specific to our situation, in prayer.

7.    We should say thank you when people have prayed for us.

“The God of peace be with you all” is a polite way of saying thanks!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

It's still all about Jesus

It’s all about Jesus

Again as a church over the next few months we have some 'larger' decisions to discern together.  Where is God calling us?  How is Jesus leading us?  What will it mean?  Jesus continues to be our good shepherd.  God is our father, the head of the family.  The Holy Spirit continues to empower and free us to live for Jesus.  As we journey with God it seemed another good moment to remind us of our values.  This four core realities we have agreed to aspired to and live out together.  Four values which we felt both accurately described us as a church and which we long to become more true of us.  Four values which direct us to continue to be all about Jesus.  Four values which will protect us from losing sight of Jesus as the main thing.   

Loving People

We want to be a place where everyone, whatever their background, culture, experiences, age, education, or faith feel welcomed, embraced, accepted and that they can belong.  A place that, even if we cannot fully endorse someone’s behaviour or belief we can entirely embrace them as a person.  We long to be people with big hearts and wide hugs that are truly inclusive.  After all Jesus not only says ‘love your neighbours’ but ‘love your enemies’ too!  (Matthew 5:43-44)

Courageous in Mission

We want to be a place that so loves the good news of Jesus and so loves the people around us we take all sorts of risks so people might know and grow in Jesus.  To be courageous, brave, and bold.  To be audacious and undaunted and gutsy.  To be ready to fail, daring to try and attempt new ways of being church and doing mission that come with uncertainty and danger.  To be that as a church together.  And to be that as individuals.  To be that locally and to be that globally.  ‘Go and make disciples of all nations…’ says Jesus.  (Matthew 28:19)

Bible Saturated

God speaks.  We want the Bible (the place God speaks) to saturate everything we are – not just how we preach (though essentially there), but what we sing, and how we make decisions, and through our conversations, and in the work place and family life.  That the Bible might be precious and delightful and meaningful and profound to us in everything.  Jesus says we ‘do not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’  (Luke 4:4)

Spirit Dependent

God has not left us alone, but given us his Spirit to guide and strengthen and lead.  And he has made us a team, giving each member an essential gift to share and complete the whole. God’s Spirit reforms and rejuvenates so we become more fully who he made us to be as he makes us more completely like Jesus.  So we want to be dependent not on our own strength, wisdom or resources but on his Spirit.  As individuals and as a community.  Jesus promises ‘another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.’  (John 14:16)

Thank you Jesus.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Fathers' Day 2016

What is the heart of 'fathering'?

Though Fathers’ Day is a relatively new phenomena without the historical heritage of Mothers’ Day; and though like all these celebration days is a commercial minefield; and though I am conscious it invokes painful memories or realities for some; I think it is a God-given opportunity we need to grasp.  Not for the warm, pleasant feeling of being given/giving gifts but with a resolute focus on God.

God is our Father
349 times across the 27 books of the New Testament God is explicitly called our Father.  Add in references to us as his children or family and we’ve reached a staggering 905 references to God as the perfect, loving, protective Father. He has ‘adopted’ us as his children.  It is a remarkable act of gracious kindness and as any adopted child will tell you – overwhelmingly transformative.  (cf: Romans 8:15, 23 & 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).  Through Jesus (our perfect big brother) adoption as one of God's beloved children is open to us all.  Jesus made space for us when he voluntary choose to be forsaken by God so we could be welcome by God.

God is the good Father
There is a risk that we view God through the lens of our human fathers – and for many that is not positive and for none of us is it perfect.  Absent, abusive, distracted.  Or perhaps simply trying hard but imperfect.  The best human fathers are just a glimpse of God the Father.  He is strong and king and presence and directive and patient and....and...and...

God calls us to father like him
If you are a dad, granddad, or father-like to others the main thing you are called to do is image what God the Father is like through your fathering.  Is it tough and tender?  Is it protective and releasing?  Is it strong and gentle?  Is it creative and directive?  Is it generous and restrained?  For those we father (biologically, through fostering or adoption, through influence) – what impression of God are they receiving?  Not perfect but accurate.

God calls us to father the fatherless
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…’ (James 1:27)

God the loving Father who has adopted us as his children calls us to find ways to father the fatherless.  Formal ways. www.homeforgood.org.uk is a useful place to start thinking about adoption and fostering.  There is also a thousand informal relationships. 

A moment’s reflection means we realise we do not need to be a biological father to do this – single men, men without biological children, men whose children are grown.  We can and we should all be fathers.

What capacity to embrace others into your fathering do you have for those who find themselves fatherless?

Could you foster?  Could you adopt?  How could you father a fatherless one?

*adapted from a earlier post in 2014

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

I am praising Jesus - Annual General Meeting Report

I AM PRAISING JESUS
Church “Annual General Meetings” are not dry, dusty and dull.  No!  They resonant with life and vibrancy and energy.  Why?  Because they are a moment to celebrate what God has done and to seek God together for what he will do.  I hope you will find twenty minutes at work or in a slow evening at home or while the kids slouch in front of the TV to pause, enjoy, and praise God as you read through these reports. [Note: this blog post is only my introduction and not the whole, exciting pack of information!]

Our values remain loving people, courageous in mission, Bible saturated and Spirit dependent.  What this annual moment allows us to see is how God has moved us forward from a tentative sense last May to a reality of being ‘beacons’ (in Chris’ image); of a response to Ali Boulton’s question (‘Is God calling us to move from a local church to a regional movement?’); of a fulfilment of Sue and Ruth’s word ‘pioneer’.

I am praising Jesus!

Making Jesus Known
The Apostle Paul writes: …I have made myself a slave to everyone to win as many as possible.  To the Jew I became a Jew to win the Jews…To those not under the law I became like one not under the law…so as to win those…To the weak I became weak to win the weak.  I have become all things to all people so that by all means possible I might save some.  (1Corinthians 9:19-23)

We do not compromise ‘keeping his Word nor accept ‘denying his name, but we do courageously and together walk through the doors ‘he opens’ willing to compromise our preferences and comfort for his glory (Revelation 3:7-8).  It’s our value of courageous in mission.

This year God has quite amazingly created the resources to purchase ‘Beacon Church House’ on Marston Grange, working to provide us with a house bigger and better than we planned ourselves!  On May 8th Kevin and Wendy Mills ‘preach with a view’ to join our staff team as our ‘evangelists’ leading our mission there.

I am praising Jesus!

As I write (Thursday evening April 28th) our first ‘core group’ gathering of those potentially called to reach the Highfields Estate are meeting and praying together.  The seed is sown on a remarkable journey.  God has opened doors into some of the most resistant families on the estate; into Castlechurch School (185 children came into the centre for ‘Easter Explorers’); and in terms of unexpected but welcome funding.  It was only in September Matt was formally ordained and called, partly to lead this mission.

I am praising Jesus!

This Sunday (May 1st) is the third week of ‘Simply Church’, our new Sunday afternoon meeting at Sandon Road with a solid core group establishing themselves ready for mission.  Our mid-week activities at Sandon Road are at new ‘highs’ with the transition of pre-school to full time hours with almost 60 children (around half from the MOD) executed excellently by Ruth and her team.  Brigades and Marching band are filling the space; BFG is growing into a permanent home; and our Tuesday Stay and Play is planning for a new ‘mission’ focus for its growing numbers; plus countless other activities and programs too.  Our links with John Wheeldon remain fantastic and plans for ‘phase 2’ and a completion of the building are underway.  I also remain a governor at John Wheeldon Primary Academy and Western Road Academy.

I am praising Jesus!

Our morning service at Beacon International Centre continues to grow, perhaps most excitedly with the 12 and 13th baptisms of the last 12 months on May 1st, with more already scheduled for July.  (Should we think about a second morning service?).  Our business operations, led by Andy Oxlade, and our mission here, led by Matt, are both strong – bolstered by newly introduced ‘chaplains’.  Mid-Week Connect is now well-established with its own distinct group of people meeting weekly and Chinese Church is healthy and strong.

I am praising Jesus!

After a wonderful trip I was privileged to make in December, in June 12 of us head to Smile in Nepal to support and learn from Nawaraj and Vidya’s incredible work there.

I am praising Jesus!

It’s also been a delight to be released to preach at two University missions and around a dozen outside ‘evangelistic’ preaching opportunities this year as well as offer some support to fellow-ministers and churches in our HEBA network.  Later this year we will have some ‘ministers-in-training’ spend a month or so learning with us and a number of ministers from our region and beyond continue to visit and share ‘best practice’.  Later in May our ‘General Sectary’ who oversees the 2000 odd churches that are BUBG has asked to visit and explore our ‘model’ of church.  All this is a great way to ‘partner in God’s grace’ with other local churches.

I am praising Jesus!

Knowing a few people well
It’s about making Jesus known (our value of courageous in mission) but also about knowing one another – realistically a few people well.  Of sharing life in all its complexity.  To this end we remain committed to growing in such a way that no ‘main meeting’ (a church service in the traditional language) is ever much more than a hundred regular adults (yes, I know Sunday mornings are already past this!).  It means they can be relationally high (no one feels lost or overwhelmed and people are quickly able to contribute); specific in their mission (meeting at lunchtimes, or speaking Chinese, or for a particular estate); but supported and resourced by the wider, larger body.  But alongside this in January we focussed on our smaller groups, launching a number of new ones and creating further opportunities to get to know a few people better.  Our weekends away this year I hope will prove another great way to get to know and love each other well – and how fantastic to have two for the first time!

I am praising Jesus!

Trellis to support the Vine
God has moved us from last May when we articulate a vision of being ‘beacons’ – perhaps in four local communities (and what an outrageous, gospel ambition that was) – to very really if tentatively and initially being one church used to grow God’s kingdom from within four local communities.  Alongside our established ‘main meetings’ of distinct groups of Mid-Week Connect (Wednesday), Chinese Church (Thursday); Sunday Morning at 10.30am and Sunday Evening at 6.30pm, we now have Sunday Afternoon at 4.00pm; a Highfields core group meeting; and later this year every expectation God will have begun something more than just bricks and mortar on Marston Grange.
I am praising Jesus!

But this needs ‘trellis’ to support and enable the vine to grow.  A trellis partly made of money, staff and leaders.

Over the last three years God has moved us from a £25+k deficient to this year an expectation of around £4.5k deficient.  This is remarkable. 

As a church we are responsible for 17 remunerated staff across church, pre-school and businesses.  Three church (Alex, Matt, Roberta); nine pre-school; five business.  I directly have the pleasure of line-managing Matt, Ruth and Andy who then oversee their own teams.

Our leaders are exceptional across the church in a 100 ways.  Chris and Lawrence personally for me are fellow-elders of the highest calibre and their leadership is used by God to bring liberty, creativity and courage to my ministry personally and our mission corporately.  They are not, by far, the only leaders we have but they are deserving of ‘double honour’ as 1 Timothy commands.

I am praising Jesus!

Challenges
The year has of course had challenges. 

Though in some ways our engagement with the MOD has increased, the formal ‘OCM Chaplaincy’ role I have had for the last few years is being made nationally redundant later this year.  There may actually be some advantages to this as we work on a new mechanism to allow me access. 

As we grow I have expected to find a challenge to some of my primary focusses – will I neglect praying or become casual about preaching or disengaged pastorally or fail to offer a God-discerning lead?  I hope I have served the gospel well by maintaining a right focus on ‘prayer and ministry of the Word’ (Acts 6:4).  I think I have, not least because of the leaders who encourage, enable and insist on that!   

I am praising Jesus!

And next
On the latest ‘Pray Continually’ my favourite day is 30th.  It’s a great way to launch you into the pages that follow:

Pray for new ventures, steps of faith and ways we could be used by God to initiate new mission or rejuvenate stagnated churches.  Pray we would have open ears and obedient wills to God’s calling.  ‘It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known…"  (Romans 15:20)”

Not to us O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory…’  (Psalm 115:1)


Alex

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