Category: Articles

Riding the Next Wave

This post by Joth Hunt was originally published at Seventy Two

I’m not a surfer but I did grow up by the sea and I have always enjoyed riding a wave by body boarding. I understand that the best surfers are those who know which are the best waves to ride. They patiently watch the horizon to learn the language of the sea before choosing the largest and best waves. Missional listening and leadership is partially about watching the societal and cultural waves on the horizon and then, with the help of the Spirit, getting ready to ride those waves in the best way possible.

No one saw the wave of COVID coming, and if they had, they probably wouldn’t have realised what a huge impact it was going to have. It was like a wave that understandably caught even the best surfer unawares! However, as we see the vaccines roll out and the potential of life returning to some kind of normality, it is worth looking out to the horizon and asking what cultural waves might be heading our way and whether it is possible to missionally serve our communities by riding some of these waves.

I can’t say with great certainty what these waves might be, but I do want to suggest three possible waves worth considering:

Mental Health

The first wave I think worth highlighting is the potential for a wave of mental health issues as people come out of lockdown and restrictions. Many of us are aware of how lockdown has challenged our own mental health and wellbeing. Some of us have been quite surprised by how we have reacted to the challenges that we have faced. Personally, I have yearned to get out of the routine space of home and find a new scene. During the winter months this, of course, has been much harder to do. I have found myself become restless, frustrated and very tetchy and my sleep at times has been inconsistent. If we are aware that our own mental health has been challenged during these times, it can’t be too difficult to imagine the amount of mental strain there has been for others.

As we slowly come out of lockdown, I find myself wondering how the Church will be available to others in society to help them find their way out of this tough period. I’m fascinated that before COVID hit our shores the Wellbeing Cafe movement was well underway. My understanding is that during COVID a number of communities have begun virtual Wellbeing Cafes. Spaces for people to just be and to be listened to. Ruby Wax, the founder of Frazzled Cafe, once said, “Being heard, to me, has always been half the cure.”

I’m encouraged when I hear of churches that are beginning to consider how they might respond to this need through ‘Wellbeing Cafes’, listening services and support groups that will give people time and space to process what has happened but also rediscover their feet through new rhythms of health and wellbeing.

A Time to Grieve

One of the most difficult things during this time for many people has been the lack of opportunity to mourn and grieve the consequences of this pandemic. I am wondering whether there might be a wave of unexpressed grief both individually but also corporately. The vast majority of people will have known at least one person who has died of COVID or passed away during this time when a full and ‘proper’ process for giving thanks and the availability to comfort each other just hasn’t been allowed to take place. I fear that it would be very easy for this lack of formalised grief to be forgotten as we celebrate the easing of lockdown and restrictions. Churches could have a key role to play in giving people time and space to give thanks for those who have passed away and to grieve together in an appropriate and respectful manner.

We could also prepare ourselves to be available to pastorally support those who have lost loved ones during this period and who are still dealing with their own grief alongside the guilt of having a funeral process that fell below their expectations and needs. Churches again could be playing a key role here in revisiting those who are grieving and giving space and time to allow this extraordinary and unprecedented grief to be expressed and comforted.

A Time to Re-evaluate

The third wave that may be on the horizon is one of re-evaluating all that has happened and how that has impacted the things that we hold as being important. I can’t imagine that there are too many people who have not stopped during the past year and asked themselves some very deep and fundamental questions about their lives, values and beliefs.

I have been encouraged in recent months by a number of churches that have been hosting ‘Alpha’ type events online and found a good uptake of people wishing to engage. I have just heard from one of our pioneers of a number of people that have sought him out for conversations during this time of lockdown, wanting to find a person to reflect with and process their thoughts and emotions. This seems to me a real opportunity. Moments of disaster and crisis will always create a desire to question and to review.

I’m not sure how large this wave might be or how long it might last but I think it might be significant enough for those churches who dare to ride it to discover opportunities to share the story, values and beliefs of the Christian faith with people who are keen to re-evaluate.

Of course, I might be wrong about all these potential waves and there may be others that are heading toward the coastline but I do think all three are worth considering and possibly attempting to ride as we come out of this long period of lockdown.  The period of COVID that we have experienced has been unprecedented and challenging but the season that we are about to enter into may be one that brings waves of fresh and new opportunities. May the Spirit of God prepare his Church for such a time as this and lift us up onto each new wave, enabling the good news of Christ to be seen and shared with all that will hear.

 

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The Ark Easter Children’s Service March 2021

Welcome to the Easter Ark!

Title and incidental music: www.bensound.com Blessed be the Name of the Lord: Clinton Utterbach Words and Music: (c) 1988, 19898 Polygram Music Publishing Ltd

All About Easter – A Resurrection Rhyme: Read by Bob Hartman, written by Bob Hartman, illustrated by Mark Beech.

Thank You Lord For This Fine Day: © 1975 Celebration/Kingsway’s Thankyou Music

Did you Know: Hillsong Kids

I Know Jesus Loves me: Ishmael

We are holders of CCLI streaming licence no: 48626

Leadership in the Wilderness: Am I willing to embody what I’ve previously been unwilling to accept?

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

Exodus 3:7-14

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’

‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey – the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’

But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’

And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’

Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?’

God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”’ 

We’ve all been there. You discern God is calling you to do something, ‘but’ …!

Forty years previously Moses had a gut feeling the Lord wanted to set his people free from Egypt, but his feelings ran away with him, literally. He took things into his own hands, killed an Egyptian and then buried the evidence (Exodus 2:11-12). We have no real idea how clearly Moses either heard or saw God at work in the forty years which passed, until he hears the voice of God calling him at the burning bush. Forty years without any headlines, profile or leaps of faith. Forty years when, to the outside world, nothing significant was going on in the life of Moses. Sound familiar?

It’s always a huge mistake to assume nothing significant is going on simply because we don’t see the immediate evidence before our eyes. Remember Jesus, concludes preaching his manifesto of the kingdom of God in Nazareth, where he grew up, by quoting Isaiah and saying, ‘today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’. This episode ends with his old neighbours and fellow Nazarenes ‘furious’ and they ‘drove him out of the town’ (Luke 4:1-30). What was going on in the life of Jesus during those thirty years?

For forty years in Moses’ life; for thirty years in Jesus’ life; they lived in relative obscurity, but we can be sure of one thing: I AM was working his purposes out. This is because the primary desired way for God’s purposes being worked out are in us, before they flow through us. The pandemic has pulled back the curtain on our reality, the spotlight is on. Now is the time to ensure what’s on the inside and the outside match up. Am I living on purpose?

No mistake these are big questions, but we all need to answer them. I need to answer them for myself. Here’s where I am with this one:

I want to pursue every step of the purpose of God

These are the kinds of words I pray … in my best moments! There’s a recognition here I must act. If God calls me in a particular direction, my job is to follow. If God calls me to stand up and be counted, my job is to step up.

Jesus’ all-embracing call is ‘come follow me’. [1] Paul tells us we have an ‘obligation’ and ‘those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God’. [2] John reminds us ‘we know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands’. [3] Peter comes straight to the point ‘just as he who called is holy, so be holy in all you do’. [4] I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the biblical imperative to avoid compartmentalising Christianity and driving a wedge between doing and being, but I do need to remind myself. I find it interesting it is James who, I believe was the earthly brother of Jesus, warns us: ‘do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says’. [5]

‘Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God’ (Exodus 3:6). This is not very present day is it? We live in a day when the primary appeal to the world appears to ‘come and find a new best friend called Jesus and walk together with him’. I’m not suggesting that is an invalid basis for first encountering Jesus, but if we don’t get beyond this to recognise more of the character of God, we don’t end up following the Jesus revealed to us in our Bibles.

I’ve needed to face again, whilst I am influenced by and sometimes carried along by the cultural tide of post-modernity, so my feet don’t feel as if they’re on the ground, that God has called me to faithful obedience, or as Eugene Peterson put it, ‘a long obedience in the same direction’.

Mark Sayers makes me uncomfortable, because his words resonate so deeply within me when he writes about:

The disappearance of a mode of church engagement characterized by commitment, resilience, and sacrifice among many Western believers. In its place a new mode of disengaged Christian faith and church interaction is emerging. This new mode is characterized by sporadic engagement, passivity, commitment phobia, and a consumerist framework. [6]

When I boil this down to my ordinary life, pursuing the call of an extra-ordinary God, the daily time when I both listen and seek to discern my next steps, beyond listening, has become again the wellspring of my life. Covid-19 if nothing else has provided a wake-up call to the UK church: this is not a game; eternal issues are at stake; ‘apart from me you can do nothing’ [7] Daily, a step at a time, incremental change is what I’m committed to. If unforgiveness, bitterness, or any particular kind of sin is what I need to attend to, then that’s my next step.

When I think about my leadership of others, I have to recognise I’m limited in what I can achieve. I need to regularly work through in the presence of the Lord, my own issues (for which I need to take responsibility) and others’ issues, which are not my responsibility. However, sometimes I can shine a light, just a little ahead, to help another’s next step.

Evangelicals were criticised a lot when I became a Christian in the mid 1970’s, for making people feel guilty if they missed their daily quiet time and for not providing much guidance beyond ‘pray and read your bible’ to new Christians. I must admit, my experience wasn’t like that. But please take some time out to reflect on:

  1. What pathways do I/we encourage new Christians on today?
  2. What is the cultural framework new Christians are most influenced by today?
  3. How can I more clearly reveal the pathway of Jesus, ‘the way’?

Today I am called to be braver, truer and kinder than ever before. My conviction has never been greater: I can trust the word of God and I can trust the Holy Spirit. Both are true for me, so they must be true for others too.

I want to align my whole life with the purpose of God

Will I allow God to sift my heart, so the purposes of God are not eclipsed? ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ (Exodus 3:11) Where did Moses’ reluctance come from? Is he merely recognising who he thinks he is? Was it low self-esteem, a lack of personal ambition or a lack of leadership capacity? My hunch is probably a blend of all.

Contrast this day with the day he killed the Egyptian forty years before when outwardly he didn’t appear to be struggling with any of these (Exodus 2:11-14). As I ponder this, two conversations come to mind, this week: one where the person in front of me tried their best to convince me what a great job they were doing, which included a demolition of their predecessor. The other, with someone who appeared too keenly (in my opinion) aware of their own limitations but was determined to press on in pursuit of God’s purposes. To other people, what they see of me, tends to be the edited version I’m prepared to reveal. I know sometimes my weaknesses can sound like strengths and my humility can sound like arrogance. The truth is the Lord sees me, like Moses, for who I really am, plus who he’s called me to become. In his presence, I need to allow him to search my heart, because I find it too easy to allow either my strengths, or my weaknesses, to distract me from pursuing God’s best for my life, which turns out to be his purposes too.

I want to guard my heart, to make God’s purpose, my purpose

Will I recognise God has equipped me to follow him in my life? I am learning from Jesus to live my life as He would live my life if He were me. Plenty of people have said these words before me, but I don’t put them in quotation marks because I’ve made them my own. What has the pandemic revealed to me? Following Jesus is about following Him! It’s his way, not the Church way, I’m looking for.

‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it’ (Proverbs 4:23). I keep coming back to this one and I marry it up with what Paul says, in Philippians 4:7 when he says ‘the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’. This is how it actually works. Everything does either flow or get dammed up, depending on my heart before the Lord. It is the reality of our relationship with Jesus: it’s ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you’ versus if you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers’ (John 15:6-7)

If we fast forward through next forty years of Moses’ life, we see he comes up against two particular challenges time and time again: himself and the people of God. (oh no, this really is acting like a mirror). The reality is Moses’ journey was far from straightforward – ‘wandering though the wilderness was more than a metaphor! But then, when I stop and think about it, why wouldn’t it be? Here we have a human being, trying to lead other human beings.

What keeps Moses on track, or keeps bringing him back on track, is he keeps stepping into the presence of God. Moses does get drawn away by busyness, He does moan again and again about the people of God. He does get down, he does allow his reserves to practically run dry. But note this, it’s not so much the Lord has an answer for his every question, more his presence is the answer.

‘I will be with you’ (Exodus 3:12). God’s call is God’s enabling.

 

[1] Mark 1:17

[2] Romans 8:12-14

[3] 1 John 2:3

[4] 1 Peter 1:15

[5] James 1:22

[6] Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience.

[7] John 15:5

 

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Truth and the Absence of Relationship

This post by Rob May was originally published at Seventy Two

People love a conspiracy theory. Lockdown has outed a few more.

So, to Covid, the vaccines and Christians.

Most of our church members have been positive about the vaccine celebrating, with those already vaccinated and encouraging those not yet vaccinated to go for it. But there are a few who struggle. Some are uncomfortable with how quickly it has been developed and are worried about its safety. Others struggle because of a similar vaccine developed some years ago linked to aborted foetal tissue. Then there’s a third group. These are people suspicious the vaccine is part of a global conspiracy. End times indicators are everywhere possibly involving Bill Gates, the mark of the Beast, the complete fabrication of Covid 19, one world governments and the involvement of almost the entire global health care system. Neither mainstream medical science nor majority theological opinion accepts this view and cannot seem to sway this small group. I probably should ignore it, but it’s got me thinking. I am increasingly bothered by it.

Over lockdown I received links to two YouTube videos from two different church members. One video was from a group of ‘medical experts’ claiming Covid didn’t exist and the vaccine was not what we thought it was. The second video presented by a ‘theological expert’ put the biblical case for the rise of a one world government, the coming of the anti-Christ and the imminent outbreak of the persecution of Christians.

Now neither church member had any direct personal relationship with either ‘YouTube expert’ yet they trusted their perspective and promoted their argument. And all of this despite the fact they also have access to their own ‘experts’ who they already know personally.

Like many churches, we have a number of ‘medical experts’. These include a consultant at the Royal Marsden, a professor at King’s College, a retired GP and a doctor training in public health. We also have some ‘theological experts’. A vice-principal of a theological college, two other ministers with theological degrees and a couple of church members with graduate level theological education. Now, our ‘medical experts’ in the church would be the first to point out their expertise is limited and they are not specialists in viruses. Our ‘theological experts’ are also aware of the limits of their expertise. But together they are more than capable of guiding anyone in our church through the complex ideas and conflicting arguments. They would also all disagree with the ‘YouTube experts’. The virus is real. The vaccine is necessary and as safe as any other vaccine. We are not entering the Great Tribulation and Bill Gates is not the anti-Christ.

But what bothers me is not which group of ‘experts’ is right or wrong. My concern is an ecclesial one and a distinctively Baptist one.

The church members who sent the videos worship every week with their own ‘experts’. They share communion together, say the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed together, have watched their children grow in faith together, shared fellowship together over coffee, pray together and have committed to being church members together. To my knowledge none of the ‘experts’ in church have ever sought to do them harm, to lie or to deceive them. I am not aware there has ever been a significant falling out.

So why would you trust the views of someone you have never met rather than the views of someone you not only know, but are supposed to be in covenant fellowship with? Why are real Christian relationships abandoned?

Sadly, and in very simple terms, it’s just easier. It’s threatening to dialogue with someone who knows what they are talking about, who knows more than you know but who you also know disagrees with you. It’s hard listening to someone who is not going to make it easy for you to go on believing what you want to believe.

But what bothers me more is not so much that ‘they’ do it but that I also do it. We all do it. The issues may be less obvious and we may have clever strategies for hiding our differences but it’s still the same issue. We struggle with one another in church but it’s just easier to avoid the difficult conversation. We know we are a community of sinners with very different experiences of life. Conflict in church life is surely inevitable but for most of us we avoid it. The one community on earth who should be extraordinarily good at this kind of thing is far too often not very good at it at all.

In chapter 3 of Dan White’s Subterranean: Why the future of the church is rootedness, he explores the disconnect between the transfer spiritual information and the relational health of the local church.

‘Our current unquestioned approaches to transferring spiritual information are brutal on the virtue of practice. Practice is the inner quality of being formed and informed by the bumps, bruises, and baptism of application. Practice is at the soul of being a Jesus-follower but more so it becomes the material for credibility for the people of God.’ (p.35)

A serious disconnect has been created between spiritual knowledge and spiritual formation. Church members spend years together listening to sermons and sitting in Bible studies without the need to actually get to know one another, let alone truly love one another. White calls this the absence of ‘immersion’. ‘Immersion’ is a ‘full-bodied participation and practice in the information we encounter.’ Thankfully, many people do get to know one another and we have seen the depth of love shared between church members during the pandemic. But this has not been universally shared. It means that I can believe an ‘expert’ I have never met without any awareness that at the same time it says something deeply profound about how I understand the nature of my relationship to another ‘expert’; the one whom I worship with and who is my sister or brother in Christ.

The internet has made the world an extraordinary place. The freedom and availability of information is mind-boggling and much of it is to be celebrated. But it is a complex world in which we benefit from ‘experts’ to help us navigate these complexities. In a world increasingly suspicious of ‘experts’, who do I trust? But the ‘experts’ I need most are not those who know more than me but the ones who love more than me. Not the ones who are the first to tell me what is right and what is wrong but the ones who choose to walk with me in a broken world.  Who will help me when I am tempted to avoid differences rather than to embrace the differences, that I might become more Christian and we might become more like the body of Christ.

Maybe it’s culture’s veneration of the autonomous self, society’s suspicion of ‘experts’, the collapse of truly meaningful relationships, the democratisation of knowledge all creeping into church life, hidden in plain sight. Maybe it’s not. But it still bothers me.

 

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Need some fuel for a Monday?

Following his “Hope in Uncertain Times” last year, Nigel Coles has teamed up with The Fuelcast again for a new 6-part series titled “Way, Truth & Life”.

This week, faced with a barrage of Covid statistics, Nigel asks “What on earth can anyone say that can make any difference?” And yet faced with their own crisis, Jesus said to his followers “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Who is this Jesus?

Twelve Steps Towards Freedom – Rewilding with Jesus

This post by Dave Gregory was originally published at Seventy Two

I like a bit of wildness!  I wonder what image that conjures up in your mind?  Coming into my 60th year, perhaps of an aging rocker doing air guitar while head banging to loud music!  But while rock music is part of my eclectic musical tastes, that’s not what I mean.  I mean wild nature.

As we edge towards the end of another lock down, perhaps like many, you have enjoyed being outside, although with the cold and wet weather of winter that has been more of a challenge than last spring when we had our first lockdown.  Many people have appreciated the natural world more over the past year, whether it be your garden, a local park or walking along local footpaths into the countryside wherever you live.

Different things in creation appeal to different people.  For some its bird spotting.  For others, its wildflowers or trees, or the wild animals that you might catch a glimpse of scampering through the hedgerows and woods, trying to escape your gaze.  For me, it’s wild places and wild landscapes.

I’m on sabbatical at the moment.  I had hoped to take some time walking a long-distance footpath, but lockdown has restricted me to some local walks out into the Hertfordshire countryside.  Very pleasant and refreshing, but you wouldn’t call it wild.  Very tame in fact.  Lots of farms, stables, and grassy field for grazing, although I am a still wary when I cross a field with cows in.  My mind keeps drifting back to my last sabbatical in 2013 when I walked St Oswald’s Way in Northumbria, from Lindisfarne to Heavensfield on Hadrian’s Wall.  There was wild coastline, wild moors and even some wild cows!!

Wilderness and wildness are not always comfortable places.  I remember walking alone through a particularly dark forest in Northumbria on a very damp day looking for a place to stop for lunch.  Having found a sheltered place with a few rocks to sit on, I decided against it.  It felt dark and oppressive and I moved on to a more open, lighter if wetter spot to take a break.  And another time, walking across the flat, featureless moors of Kinder Scout in the Peak District, becoming edgy as the path petered out and deciding to return to the security of the well-defined path around the edge.

Perhaps at the heart on the unfolding climate and environmental crisis is that we are not comfortable with wilderness and wildness.  We like to tame the world, reshaping it to our needs and security.  Wild places are disappearing.  Back in 2013, I visited BMS worker Laura-Lee Lovering who lives in the small town of Nauta in the Peruvian Amazon where BMS has a mission centre.  Looking in the forest one day she commented that local people preferred the ordered cultivated land to the wild jungle.  But that ordering and taming has an impact.  This week, I read on the BBC that half of UK wildlife has decreased over the past 50 years and their habitats have been squeezed by modern life.

This uncomfortableness with wildness is found in the Bible.  Richard Bauckham in “Bible and Ecology” suggests the Bible distinguishes between two different types of land – cultivated and wild places.  Places of security and places that are dangerous and full of threat, unfit for human habitation.  No wonder we want to tame them.  Yet, as we remember during the season of Lent, Jesus spent time in the wilderness;

“he was in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals.”  (Mk 1v13)

Jesus faced threats in the wilderness.  From Satan and his temptations, perhaps all about finding security and taming the wildness of God’s purpose for Jesus.  Do we face the same temptations today in our drive for security today?  Taming the wilderness so it fits our needs and lives.  Yet, in doing so, we ignore that this is a part of creation that God makes for the wild animals.  Many of the drugs that we use to treat disease such as COVID come from extracts of plants that are found in wild areas like the Amazon.  Cutting down the rainforests may seem to bring security now, but what might we lose that will bring us security later in the face of new threats such as COVID.  There are even suggestions that COVID skipped from wild animals to humans because we increasingly encroach on wild areas.

In the wilderness, Jesus was “with the wild animals”, but I wonder if he was threatened by them?   Or does this express the freedom that God in Jesus wants to bring between the whole community of creation, between human and non-human?  Freedom that Isaiah speaks of as he looks for God’s future where;

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.  (Isa 11v6-9)

What knowledge might we learn from Jesus being “with the wild animals”?  And how can we put it into practice?  That will depend upon where you live, or where your church building is placed.  Many people put out food for the wild birds in the gardens.  Perhaps you could sow some seeds that will attract butterflies.  Or make a simple “bee house” for your own or church garden to encourage these insects that play such an important role in sustaining plants that we rely on for food.  If your church has land or a graveyard, how might you manage it to provide a home for wild animals.  Or you could ask questions about new housing developments locally; how they might provide a home for wild nature as well as people.  Maybe there are conservation projects you could support locally or further afield – check out the BMS World Mission Carbon Offsetting tool that supports tree planting projects in Northern Uganda.

This Lent, take time to rewild yourself!  Spend time with Jesus in the wilderness, with the wild animals.  Take a walk around your garden, in the park or out into the countryside.  As you go, you could pray this prayer – it’s also available on the Baptist Union Environment Network (BUEN) YouTube channel – seeking God’s peace for the whole of his community of creation.

A Prayer for Lent – Wilderness and Wildness

Jesus, we are not comfortable with wilderness;

it’s wildness; its otherness beyond human imagining.

We seek order, control, taming it to fit our imagination, needs, our security.

 

Yet, you were in the wilderness.

Lord of all things in heaven and earth,

In whom, through whom, for whom all things were created;

Tempted by, yet overcoming our fear of the wilderness and

wildness of God.

 

Jesus, we are not comfortable with the wild animals.

We cage them behind bars or within documentaries;

Push them to the margins by our urban life,

trapped in ever decreasing wild reserves.

 

Yet, you were with the wild animals.

The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,

yet not its wildness, lying with the wolf;

Living the harmony of the community of creation

that God brings through you.

 

Jesus, of the wilderness and

the wild, tame our fears;

May we be made anew,

in you, through you, and for you,

seeking God’s shalom between the

whole community of creation.

Amen

 

This blog is part of a series from Dave Gregory. To see previous blogs in the series, please click here.

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Is there enough evidence to convict you?

This post by Michael Shaw was originally published at Seventy Two

I remember a few years back, I assisted at an Alpha course. We had the usual big first session, which included a meal and a testimony. The Testimony was a businessman who had come to faith. The location was in the commuter belt, so many of the guests would probably understand. His testimony was a powerful one of rejection of God, until a final acceptance BUT he ended by saying what a difference God had made to his life. He said he still had all the things he used to have – powerful job, sports car, money, home and even his yacht but he also had God as well, the icing on a very abundant cake.

Now this may well have gone down well with his audience, who of course would be unwilling to give up their wealth. But I left feeling slightly disturbed; didn’t Jesus tell a rich man who loved his wealth to give it all up? This was what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”, it is not the sacrificial lifestyle of Jesus, it is a ticket into heaven, without having to pay the cover price! And sadly, many Christians have fallen down this trap, Jesus and church community have become a bonus to their lives, rather than something that shapes their lives.

I was reading the Northumbrian Communities “Celtic Daily Prayer” as I do most days, one of the morning sessions was a reflection on Acts 4:15-21, where Peter and John are put on trial. The reflection quoted from a book by Arthur Burt and he said, “if you were arrested for being a Christian, is there enough evidence to convict you?”. This phrase stopped me in my tracks!

If I were arrested, what evidence would there be? What witnesses could they call, what would my bank statements, my browser history tell them. If they were to do a stake out, with hidden cameras around my house, what would they learn? Would my life present enough evidence to make a case, to take me to court to convict me?

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel there is a court case, a trial. The goats and sheep are separated. They seem to be unaware of any difference, but Jesus knows! He divides them along simple lines. Not about were they moral enough, did they lead good lives, were they good church attenders, did they try to convert people, but simply – how did they treat the “least of these”. Were they genuinely good news to people who are mostly used to being excluded or ignored? (ps I am fully aware of the hermeneutic that this is about how non-Christians treat the “brothers”)

In the Gospel of John, when we read the story of the calling of the first disciples, what impressed them most was that he was a “man of complete integrity” (John 1:47 NLT). Christians are called, like the disciples, to not just believe in Jesus but follow him. The evidence of following Jesus, is not in whether we believe the right things or say the right things, but whether we live in the right way.

So , “if you were arrested for being a Christian, is there enough evidence to convict you?”

 

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Leadership in the Wilderness: Am I willing to uncover what I’ve previously tried to bury?

This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.  Exodus 2:11-15

If you’ve read my previous episode, rooted in Moses and the burning bush, you’ll realise I’ve gone back in time. The journey back to the future however, has been essential in my life on occasions as it was for Moses and maybe yours? Although only one chapter, it represents forty years of Moses’ life. [1]

We’re all in this thing called ‘Ministry’, I may have been involved for many years, but then something pops up from the past, my past. What I do next is crucial. It never changes the past, but it has the potential to transform my future and also impact my present. What I’m always tempted to do is … anything, which avoids digging up what I thought had been buried, with time, with layer upon layer of avoidance, barriers of defensiveness, or just using the easiest excuse in my repertoire: ‘I’m too busy’!

Moses life falls neatly into three equal sections. He lived to be 120 years old (Dt. 34:7); the first 40 years of his life were spent in Egypt, learning first from his mother about God (12 years) and then learning from Pharaoh the skills needed to run Egypt. This particular episode in Exodus 2 takes place when he’s 40 years old. There’s a lot going on here, not least I imagine, in Moses heart and mind. Charles Swindoll called this episode, ‘God’s will, my way’ and that’s something I can identify with rather too much. [2] Moses then spends another 40 years working as a shepherd for Jethro in Midian. God needed to teach Moses patience and trust. It’s not until he’s 80 God calls him specifically to return to Egypt to free the people of God from slavery. The period in-between, (‘wandering in the wilderness’ and/or ‘en route to the Promised Land’) marks the third slice of 40 years.

One thing I do enjoy about reading Moses life is I feel relatively young, after all, I’m only 62! Other elements are scarier … I’d been leading churches for 14 years before I was 40 … before Moses had learnt patience, trust, or what Hudson Taylor spoke of: ‘God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply’ … before I’d learnt too many things to highlight here!

When the pandemic hit, in the aftermath of the panic to get online whatever we’d been doing offline, it was clear to me the virus was revealing, not creating, reality. Some of us thrived. Some of us love a crisis. Some of us simply went up a gear. Some of us were paralysed. Some of us dived for cover. I love the way someone put it early on, it’s as if ‘God has pulled back the curtain on our reality. (I wish I’d thought of that one first!) However, my question today almost a year on is not simply, how did I respond then, but also where am I now?

I remember a conversation with Ray Brown, who was Principal of Spurgeon’s College, the very first week I began studying there. He’d wanted to have a conversation with me about a mutual friend who’d left Baptist Ministry and almost split the church in the process. I came away thinking and committing myself to learning from other people’s mistakes, so I didn’t need to make them myself. Ray Brown taught me so much, not solely from his preaching and lectures, mainly from how he spoke and his posture. I’m still trying to learn, not simply from my own mistakes. I’d encourage everyone to do the same. The leader in the church down the road from you won’t get everything right first time, so remember that the next time you’re tempted to simply duplicate what appears to be working well for them. Use their experience as your experiment. It’s easier to notice anyone else’s reality, than our own, but don’t stop there, take a look. Look and learn.

Whilst there’s something to be gained from the above approach, it will never genuinely nurture your own growth in leadership unless you act on what you think they’ve got wrong (more often you think you could do better) yourself. After all, I can watch Liverpool playing football and, as I do frequently, shout at various players, deplore missed opportunities and goal scoring chances, but have never come anywhere near their performance levels myself, even when I thought I was a half-decent player. Leadership is a series of behaviours rather than a role for heroes or a place for spectators.

That idea is so fantastic. Stop talking about it and do it. Simon Sinek from Together is Better (with pictures!)

The virus has revealed the lack of fruitful evangelism, as well as the shallowness of our discipleship across the UK church. Our realities have become clearer than ever. When we’re leading a larger church our realities can become less obvious. We have, by definition, more people around than most churches (across the Baptist union for example, there’s only around 100 out of 1900 churches who have a formal membership over 180 people). What’s the biggest reality the virus has revealed to you?

It’s easy when we see our buildings full to overflowing on a Sunday, to make assumptions everyone who turns up is growing in their lives ‘in Christ’, pursuing the mission of God wherever they’re placed during the week and demonstrating the fruit of the spirit in all their relationships. But as the number of ‘views’ to our sermons and services on YouTube, or ‘likes’ on Facebook, have slid over the year, many of our assumptions have been shattered. It may be a harsh reality, but we’ve had to face it nonetheless: there’s more to someone growing in faith than turning up in a church building on a Sunday morning, even though they might express their worship with all their hearts and take notes during my sermon!

In my experience, the crowd and the filled or too few empty seats, were amongst my major obstacles in helping see the need for other people to come to know Jesus and receive his salvation. It was almost as if people’s eyes glazed over and a screen came down with the words ‘job done’. I used to work against the idea that the larger the church, the fewer proportion of new people come to faith. Sadly, although I’m yet to do enough research to be sure, it still appears to be the case. We may look like we’re growing in size, we may be accepting new members, but take a closer look at how many people you need per annum, to reproduce one new follower of Jesus.

You may or may not be aware of the wonderful children’s book ‘The Lost Words’ by Jackie Morris and Robert McFarlane. It’s addressing the fact  ‘there are words disappearing from children’s lives. These are the words of the natural world; Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone’. Today I infrequently hear, when listening to preaching, reading church mission/purpose/values statements, or general church communications some words, such as ‘sin’ and ‘salvation’. When I take a look at church websites or those of Christian organisations, I’d love to see the words such as ‘Jesus’, or ‘forgiveness’, or ‘obedience’ a lot more than I do. None of them, of course, politically correct. I’m up for finding language which communicates in any culture, but we need to ensure we’re communicating the same gospel, don’t we? It’s worth checking out your own communications, just to ensure you’ve not made too many assumptions.

What’s your leadership based on? I’m looking to help as many leaders as I can to take a step up, but I know we all need to take stock of what we’re standing on. Take a look, if you’ve not already done so, at John Maxwell, ‘5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximise Your Potential’, and Jim Collins, ‘Good to Great’, where he introduces his version of ‘Level 5 Leadership’. Whatever we think about the words and the language they use, my hunch is all of us know there’s another step we could/need to take, if we’re to fulfil our potential. Some of us may well have already discovered that’s not something, which happens automatically if you simply move church. One of the biggest lessons I’ve tried to take on board from John Maxwell is, ‘you can move up a level, but you never leave the previous one behind’. Once you’ve built relationships with people for example, and move to a higher level, do you abandon or neglect those relationships? As John Maxwell says, ‘you’d better not! If you do, you’ll find yourself back down at level 1 again’. I remember talking to one leader about their first day as the new Senior Pastor of one of our churches. They sat there in the church office, almost in awe of ‘having arrived’ and then wondered ‘what is there for me to do? There appeared to be a team with a team leader for everything I’d previously had to take responsibility for’. I won’t tell you what happened next, but to neglect anything on the basis we’ve moved beyond it, is akin to walking out on the lake near where I live, where there was ice which would hold your weight around the edge, but it didn’t go far across the deep.

Maybe, like me, you’ve often heard it suggested Baptist leaders are defined by what we stand against. The origins of such statements have neither a biblical nor historical basis (our Baptist origins arise out of obedience to God’s word and the recognition Jesus Christ is Lord). However, any leader who pays more attention to commenting on other leaders, whether they be spiritual, or political, than to their own leadership integrity and development, will risk contributing to a poor reputation.

Moses tried to do what his gut told him was God’s will and purpose, but in his own way. He tried to take the lead, but when we are called by God, our job is to follow. Jesus made no mistake in choosing his words: ‘Come, follow me’. Only this morning I had to pray about something: Lord, search my heart and show me where I need to repent, if I need to be re-aligned with you. I don’t want to do this, but I believe you are calling me. Lord, I don’t to be alone, but if I stand alone, I know you are with me.

Going back to the future, going back to look again. Returning to the scene, not so much ‘of the crime’, but the sin … to the place where I took my own way, diversion or short-cut has been painful. However, when I look ahead and I see Jesus out there in front, it’s the only way I can get going again, pursuing the mission of God in and through my life.

[1] Acts 7:23

[2] Moses. A Man of Selfless Dedication. Charles Swindoll.

 

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