Whatever it takes

We were encouraged to take a moment this morning. To read the words of the song we were about to sing. To realise that whatever our situation, the words applied to us. The song was Mighty to Save by Ben Fielding and Reuben Morgan.

“Everybody needs compassion

A love that’s never failing

Let mercy fall on me

Everyone needs forgiveness

The kindness of a Saviour

The hope of nations.”

It’s true that it is all too easy to perform ‘Christian karaoke’ on a Sunday morning. The songs are often familiar, the words simply trip off the tongue, we sing them, and move on. Interestingly it was while singing the second verse that God let me know that He was speaking directly to me.

“So, take me as you find me

All my fears and failures

and fill my life again.

I give my life to follow

Everything I believe in

Now I surrender”

The words that hit me like a tonne of bricks were “I give my life to follow, everything I believe in.” As I sang these words, God asked me a question. He asked if I really meant it. These words are so easy to sing, but would I really give my life.

I was reminded of the John Mark McMillan song “How He loves us.” There has been a lot of talk in Christian circles about that song, and one line particularly. The controversial line wasn’t what ran through my mind though. I thought instead of the story behind the song. It is a song written about a youth pastor who met Jesus. He had been at a prayer meeting one night and prayed “If it would shake the youth of this nation, I would give my life.” A simple prayer, but one that had eternal consequences. He died in a car crash that night. The song was written by one of his friends.

I don’t think that God is asking for us all to be martyrs for the faith. It wouldn’t be a great message to preach to the world if it was. I do think He wants us to consider how seriously we are about being willing give everything. I have had words spoken over me, promises of God that I am yet to see fulfilled. I have chosen to believe that God wants to heal. I believe that there is more of Heaven yet to be seen on earth.

I say that I would give anything to see these promises fulfilled. God asked me this morning if I meant it.

I believe that He is asking you the same question. What has God promised you? What are you believing Him for? What are you really prepared to offer to see that which you believe in come to pass?

Do you qualify?

When applying for a job one of the key ways to ensure you are invited for interview is to read the job description carefully and make sure you meet all the criteria listed. I’ve applied for a few jobs over the years. I haven’t always got the job, but generally if you remember to explain why you fit the criteria the employer asks you in to find out more about your suitability.

I read a job description the other day for a foodbank manager. It was a reasonably large population that it was to serve, so they were actually looking for a number of people to fill the role.

The job description read “Wanted, someone to help distribute food to some women from ethnic minorities. Successful candidates must already be well thought of by those in the society that they will serve and by others generally.  Candidates must be wise, and full of the Holy Spirit. Miracles may be required. It should be noted that not everyone will be pleased that you are able to do your job well. This may result in stoning.”

This was the job that was described in Acts 6, to which Stephen (amongst others) was appointed. Recognised as being full of the Holy Spirit, Stephen was known to perform miracles on a daily basis. He wasn’t a church leader, just someone who had encountered Jesus and followed Him. There were those who didn’t like the fact that Stephen was good at his job and conspired against him. After a speech which infuriated them even more, he was stoned to death.

I suppose my question isn’t would you apply for the job given the possible end point. The question I want to challenge you with is would you qualify for the position? You see, Stephen was simply a follower of Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit doing an everyday job. Miracles, signs and wonders were normal. Tim Keller wrote, “We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order. Jesus meant them to be a restoration of the natural order.”

If we call ourselves Christians, each of us are called to live peaceably with our neighbours. We have the ability to be wise. (James 3:17 – “but the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”, James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach and it will be given to him, but let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” All we need to do is ask, and the wisdom we will receive will assist us to do our job, whatever that might be. I don’t think this is necessarily a one off thing. Sometimes we ask God for wisdom and assume that we have then received all we are going to get for a given situation. If we are to believe James, God’s desire is to give generously. I would suggest that God’s generous is significantly more generous than we are expecting.

That Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit was demonstrated by his wisdom from above, and that the community thought well of him. It is all to easy to stop there, and gloss over the daily signs and wonders. Is that a part of your life? I know that it isn’t yet part of mine. I want it to be though. For too long we have dismissed this part of being filled with Holy Spirit. Part of the reason for this is that we are worried that we may offend people. We are so consumed with being accepted that we try and fit in with the world. The world doesn’t possess the power we have through the infilling of the Spirit that we try and contain Him and tell Him where and when He is allowed to show up. Life has become too easy for us, particularly in the West. It is all too simple to do church these days without any involvement of the Holy Spirit. First Century Christians did not have that luxury. I find it interesting that church growth was significantly better in the early days of the church, where signs and wonders were freely demonstrated than it is now where we try to contain Him.

The New Testament is full of verses that tell us that the preaching of the gospel isn’t just to be an intellectual exercise. It is to be accompanied with power, and a demonstration of that power. (Matthew10:7-8 “and proclaim as you go, saying ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, case out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.”) We can’t do the second part of that verse without Holy Spirit.

We owe the world and encounter. Let’s ensure we give them all that God has for them, not just part. How different would our ‘ministries’ be if we did?

Focusing on what’s important

I had a dream. I was at a “generic” type church meeting. We were asked to get into small groups to discuss how we could encourage more people to come to our meetings, how to get people to engage with us, and what sort of things would build church numbers. The media is full of statistics about how church attendance is declining. What can the church do to combat these figures?

The discussion seemed to go round and round in circles. I cannot remember the sort of things that were suggested, but I was aware in a way that is only possible in dreams, that the ideas not only were going to be ineffective, they may in fact be harmful to individuals and to the body of the church as a whole.

As I woke up, I was struck with a realisation that the problem was that “how do we boost numbers and get people to come to our church” was the wrong question entirely. The question we should have been asking was “how can we effectively and consistently host the presence of God in our midst?” If we can be successful in that, I believe that one of two things would happen. Either the first question would be answered, or, it wouldn’t matter.

I recently bought a book by Francis Chan called “Letters to the church.” In it, Chan asks the reader “Imagine you find yourself stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a copy of the Bible. You have no experience with Christianity whatsoever, and all you know about the Church will come from your reading of the Bible. How would you imagine a church to function? Seriously. Close your eyes for two minutes and try to picture “Church” as you would know it.

Now think about your current church experience. Is it even close?

Can you live with that?”

Try it. I did, and it scared me. There are so many parts of church life that I love. I find comfort in knowing how things will generally happen on a week by week basis. I like to know that I am safe. I suppose if I’m honest, I’ve put God in a bit of a box. I feel happy with the fact that the box I’ve put Him in is a bit bigger than some others I know, giving Him a bit more room to move, but it’s a box none the less. Am I willing to break down the walls of the box completely? My usual response to this is “yes, but only if others will too – I don’t want to do this on my own.”

I think that this answer is both wrong and correct at the same time. You see, I can’t allow others journey with God to dictate mine. The relationship is personal, and just between God and me. Yet, I don’t believe that God intends us to walk alone. He designed us to walk together towards a common goal, each with our individual parts to play, but in community.

Jesus tells us that we should “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” We really don’t have to worry about how to get people to come to our services. I believe that the only thing we should be focusing on, both individually and corporately is how we seek first His Kingdom. I don’t think that worrying about programme is the answer. Are we ready to tear down the  sides of the box and pursue Him, only Him? Are we willing to wait, patiently asking Him what He wants to do, and then partner with Him to do it, even if it means we don’t make it home by 12:30 on a Sunday? Are we prepared to say that to rest and enjoy His presence is more important than ensuring we tick all the boxes in the “church service” template?

Can we honestly say, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand spent elsewhere”? When we say, “I rejoiced when they said, let us go to the house of the Lord”, do we mean it, or is church just something we do on a Sunday morning?

It’s time for change.

The time is now.

I’m ready to seek First His Kingdom.

Are you?

Spiritulising our unbelief

The following was written by my good friend Sasha. I love her uncompromising conviction that “there is more of the Kingdom to be seen and experienced while here on earth” and her unfailing pursuit of this. I’ve written about mystery before, but believe that Sasha captures something here that has “something of heaven” on it, that is well worth a read. Read more of Sasha’s thoughts here www.whenheavencomes.com

Mystery is part of the Kingdom, of things not hidden from us but for us. Mystery is defined as something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain. There are powerless ways of thinking, believing that God may or may not act and that the outcome is entirely down to His sovereignty.

Within the culture of a community of believers who are intent on bringing the realities and resources of Heaven to every place they go I believe that there is a subtle but just as troubling ‘sovereignty’ trap. It is the powerless action of throwing everything we don’t understand into the mystery pot and leaving it there rather than continuing to seek these things out.

I see a danger of moving from mystery being part of life in the Kingdom and an invitation to grow in faith to it being a label we put on things that don’t seem to be working out as expected or promised, a way of spiritualising our unbelief.

It is the language of disappointment, abdication and pessimism which is the bedfellow of hopelessness. The truth is we are not called to settle in that place, we are to continue to grow in faith, to adventure further off road into these realms.

To grow in faith means to relinquish the right for the need to understand, accepting that mystery is part, sometimes painfully so, of life in the Kingdom. The Comforter will do just that and reminds us that if all things are to work out for our good it should follow that if it’s not good it’s not the end and therefore we may need to shift our perspective.

We live from a place that has no end, from eternity, whilst at the same time physically existing in a realm called time. We have the joy of going on adventures with Holy Spirit as he leads us further into the realms of wisdom and revelation. He equips us to delve deeper into what is available and fills us with courage to take risks to see more of the reality of the love, power and goodness of God released to the world around us.

We are invited to more than we can possibly imagine …… let mystery be the fuel for the journey ahead.