Wednesday, 11 July 2018

A New Place to Blog

I've been using Blogger for a long time and the content on here has built but most of it has had it's day.  I'm starting a new blog at:  If you want to continue to follow my ramblings that'll be the place where you see new content.

Teach us to pray

That was the question the disciples asked Jesus and which people have been asking ever since.  I've met very few Christians who feel they have an adequate prayer life and most of the prayer warriors I've known have learnt how to pray through a lifetime of committed wrestling in prayer and to pray.  But how do we teach people to pray?  How do we help new believers both from within our church culture and from without pray?

That was something we discussed at an elders meeting some time ago.  We decided to try a weekly prayer bulletin that was sent to everyone in church with scriptures to base prayers on, varying from week to week in it's structure and content.  Our aim was to help provide some structure on prayer, to help people model their prayers on God's word, and to unite the church in praying for things we care about.

Aware that it's been helpful for some I thought I'd share a few over the next few days, not because they are perfect or even good but just because I think this an area we as churches need to be helping our members in.  The prayers reflect our local context and circumstances at the time so I've taken out the names of individuals or families but left in the general contents to give you a general idea.

Church Family

For the next few weeks we will be using some of the Psalms and other parts of scripture as a guide for our prayers:

Quietening our hearts

"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures for ever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations."

Psalm 100

Stop and think about who it is we are coming to speak to; he is God; Father, Son and Spirit, he made us, he shepherds us with loving care and a goal in mind. Spend some time simply praising God for who he is, praise his name and all that stands for in terms of his character and actions, the way he has helped, guided, sustained, and saved you.

Keeping Jesus central to life
"‘How long has he been like this?’ [Jesus asked the boy's father] ‘From childhood,’ he answered. ‘It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’
‘“If you can”?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’

Mark 9v21-27
  • Where are we prone to doubt Jesus can act? Are there areas of life where we have stopped bothering to pray because we aren't sure Jesus can or will act there?
  • Echo this father's prayer 'I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!'.
  • Pray for those in our fellowship who are doubting Jesus love and care or may doubt it because of the situations and circumstances they face. Pray that they would persevere in their faith.
  • Pray that as a fellowship we can encourage and spur one another on to faith.
Take some time to ask forgiveness for those places in life and times when our Christians lives have been all talk and no actions. Now read Romans 12v1-2 and pray that God would be at work to change you:

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will."
Praying for others
  • Pray for those being baptised this weekend: ____________.
  • Pray for those who have had to delay being baptised for the moment but are planning to be baptised in the future.
  • Pray for our young people. Pray that the books they received on Sunday would spur them on to want to know and live for Jesus.
  • Pray for them to come to faith for themselves.
  • Pray for them to stand at school where some of the things they are taught directly contradict the Bible's teaching.
  • Pray for Impact and those leading it: ______________.

Praying for the day
Use Paul's words to either think through the day ahead or review the day ending. Ask God's help and wisdom in each and every situation you will face.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you."
Philippians 4v8-9


I'd love to hear how you encourage and teach your congregations to pray, as we want to do so more and more.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

When the world around you changes

Most changes happen unnoticed because they happen gradually, be it the crows feet, the middle aged spread, the gradual decrease in speed and agility on the football field, or the growth of a child that we haven't spotted but the grandparents do.  It's no different in the areas in which we live.  We live in the Hayfield area of Auckley, near Doncaster, and have done for 11 years.  When we came it was less than 600 houses, mostly comprised of former RAF base housing.  The local school was not the school of choice.  And the area had lots of social needs.

Fast forward 11 years and things are markedly different.  As I walked the dog earlier there are now well over a thousand homes.  And the vast majority that have been built are expensive family homes available to buy, not rent, rather than affordable housing or social housing.

The airport has taken off (pun intended) and so have the businesses around it with a couple of new office parks having been built bringing jobs into the area and more warehousing and office space planned for the future.  A brand new sixth form college has been built, which come September will have over a thousand students.  The local Primary School is expanding and when complete will have changed from a small local school with less than 200 pupils in it to a 2 form entry school with over 450 pupils in the school and nursery.  And it has become the school of choice, with lots of parents travelling and in and fighting appeals to get a place rather than not to.  Since we've been here a private school has relocated from Bessacarr to buildings near the airport.

And these changes are only the beginning.  Yorkshire Wildlife Park are expanding and their main entrance will be less than a mile from where we meet as a church, with shops and a hotel planned as part of the development.  The long term airport expansion plan includes plans for hotels, further business and warehousing development, a railway station, and a new residential build of over 3000 new homes.

As I walked I was reminded again that the world has changed around us.  The populace has more than doubled in size, the age demographic has changed, the socio-economic demographic has shifted, but the same needs that were there are still there, they are just less obvious and there are also a whole raft of additional ones.  And the challenge for us is to be praying for God's wisdom to take the gospel to everyone.  Not to prejudice some, but to favour all.  The gospel is the only hope to unite and bridge the divides of a community that has suddenly grown and thrown very different people with different aspirations, chips on their shoulders and outlooks together.

Every so often we need to look up, challenge our assumptions and examine the place where we find ourselves.  What things did I know which are no longer true of my community?  What assumptions were true but are no longer valid?  What different dreams and aspirations, hopes and stories do people have and how has that changed?  And how do we connect with these people as a church?  Do programmes need scraping, adapting, or beginning?  How is the gospel good news for these people?

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Contextualisation and Class - is contextualisation the cause, the problem, or the solution?

We all contextualise.  We do it everyday.  It's in the way we present things, the words we use, the events we put on, prioritise and attend.  It's in the way we dress appropriately to the occasion and situation.  We do it often without thinking.  And contextualisation is not an evil thing in and of itself.  Contextualisation is a good thing when it enables us to make others comfortable, and welcome them appropriately.  You contextualised this morning when you decided not to wear your swimming costume (be that bikini, costume, trunks, budgie smugglers or mankini) to the office or to take the kids to school, and the rest of us are so glad that you did!  You stopped and thought 'What is appropriate'?  We do it in our conversations trying to convey our ideas accurately to others by putting it into terms they understand.

And we naturally and rightly do it in our churches.  Our churches inhabit a place in space and time and we need to adjust to that - not in terms of what we teach because God's word is eternally true, but in terms of how we present it.  The presenting issues of our society change over time, from generation to generation and we need to answer those questions to remove the barriers to the gospel so we can show how the gospel addresses the questions and desires of everyone in every age because we are all united in being created for a common goal.

But we also contextualise in other ways.  We contextualise in the way we order our service, in the welcome we give, in the songs we sing, the way we preach and teach, the nature of our midweek meetings, the other events we put on, and even in terms of the sins we address and how we address them.  I'm not going to get into whether we have contextualised rightly or are a generation behind because that's a can of worms I don't want to open now.  It is not necessarily wrong to contextualise, in fact it is absolutely necessary and why in the NT there is no one template for a church, but it can become so.

When our contextualisation becomes inflexible culture that is wrong.  When it become exclusive, a barrier that is wrong.  Think about Jonah, Jonah has an inflexible context in which he thinks God operates - God only operates among the Jews, or he should.  And so Jonah will not go to Nineveh.  Jonah has assumed the context and way in which he has seen God work is the only context and way in which God works.

Sometimes our churches are like Jonah - this is the way God works, this is the way church looks, discipleship is, evangelistic courses run, we do outreach etc...  But in doing so we are spiritually abandoning our Nineveh's.

I've had this bought home to me recently.  The area where we are based was, when we planted, a needy area in every term imaginable.  And so we worked hard to contextualise - we listened to those in other situations with more experience than us and to the community, we learnt and we adapted what we did.  But in God's providence what has happened?  The area in which we're based has changed, a raft of 3-5 bedroom homes have been built.  The people on the school run have changed.  In a small area we now have all the classes and class divides you would normally expect in a small town.

Part of me, let me be honest and confess, thought well there are loads of network middle class churches who can reach them so we'll just keep doing what we're doing.  But God has been clear that that isn't right.  God's picture of his church is of people from every possible distinction united in the gospel declaring his glory.  If I settle for multi-cultural church but not people from all classes I am doing God's glory a disservice.  I am dishonouring God.  The glory of our church is not in the numbers (there aren't many) but in the different backgrounds united in the gospel

And so again we begin learning, listening and thinking about reforming.  What will it mean to be a church that reaches everyone from every background?  How do we ensure we don't favour some?  That we don't swing to extremes?  That we don't over contextualise or settle for one form of contextualisation?

We don't have answers yet.  We keep trying different things.  But I am convinced only the gospel has to power to unite these people, to overcome the class prejudice, the snobbery, real, inverse and imagined, the chips on shoulders which everyone has, and the media facilitated prejudgements which all make.  And so contextualisation can be the problem, it can be the cause, but it is also part of the solution provided we contextualise for all so that we might become all things to all people so that by all possible means we might see some come to saving faith in Jesus.

It begins by thinking about who the all are.  Not who are the majority or just who are the minority but who are the all and then resolving to listen to and reach all.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Technology and our battle with sin

I love technology.  Whilst not an early adopter, I'm often not that far behind depending on cost.  Technology is good, it is part of God's good gift of creation to us.  Human ingenuity and creativity is part of what it means for us to be made in the image of the imaginative and creative God.  But like everything this side of the fall our relationship with technology is marred by sin.

That is increasingly seen in the way technology is propelling us further and further apart as a society, as individuals, families and churches.  We crave community and connection with one another but are also terrified of it as a result of the fall and sin and the shame, mistrust and fear it injects into the world and our relationships.  And this is exactly where technology promises to help us but fails to deliver on its promise.  Just think for a minute about the way technology is depriving us of human interaction.

We go shopping and can avoid human interaction via hand held scanners or fast lane self service tills.  We can browse, shop, purchase, provide feedback and even specify deliveries so that we avoid human interaction.  We message or interact on line with no face to face contact or even voice connection.  It even changes the way we watch TV as families.  I used to love Saturday evenings sat as a family watching Doctor Who or the A-Team or the Dukes of Hazard.  The whole family would gather round to watch, united in their enjoyment, and talking about, and often reenacting, what they had seen.  But not now.  Now one or two may be watching Netflix with headphones in, whilst another browses the internet and another plays a game on a console.  I'm sure you can think of a load of other examples too, and those things are changing us and our society and not for the better.

In the last 15 years we've learnt a whole new range of subtle cues about whether someone wants to interact with us or not.  If someone has their headphones in they are sending clear message - don't you dare interrupt me.  If someone is on their phone talking animatedly we know not to butt in, we definitely know that if they have a hands free in-ear device.  If someone is walking and scrolling or texting we know not to speak or say hello.  Even if someone is in church but on their phone before or after the service we are reticent to go and interrupt.  Our phones are increasingly a shield from human interaction.

And all of this is effecting our families and our churches as well as our communities.  If interaction is increasingly mediated via technology then it ought not to surprise us when people opt to listen to a podcast rather than come along to church on Sunday and apply the challenging one another's with real people.  If interaction is crisp and on my terms and tailored to my consumer wants in everyday life then we ought not to be surprised that people relate how they want when they want rather than being there for others when they need even though that isn't really convenient.

So what?  We need to ask some challenging questions of our use of or master by technology because so much of this creeps up on us gradually.  How much are we being effected by the negatives of our technology?  What impact is it having on your family and your church and your community?  Technology is a wonderful tool but an abusive, enslaving, isolating and rapacious master.  It separates marriages, keeps children from their parents and divides churches.  Maybe we need to stop and take stock of where we are in terms of our master servant relationship with technology with the help of others?  It might be worth carrying out an audit of our use of technology.

We also need to think about putting some boundaries in place.  It might be that a period of time without devices is helpful, certainly limits will be necessary for many of us.  Let me share a few I'm going to try to enact as a result of thinking about these things, as well as some we already do as a family.

  1. Create space and time for relationship.  We have a rule that we don't have phones at the table (and even an annoying song that the boys sing if one is seen) during meals.  Shared meal times have always been vital to building relationships, just read the gospels, but the presence of a phone - even just face down on a table changes the way we interact.
  2. Being present and committed means using the off button.  Yes your phone has a silent button or switch but it also has an off button you can press and totally liberate yourself from unwanted distractions, fully giving yourself to those around you.  I am always amazed at our failure to fully commit to others.  I have sat in meetings of church leaders to sharpen up one another's sermon prep that have been repeatedly interrupted by the chirrups of texts, or phone calls.  Turn it off, encouragement begins with physical presence, it is multiplied by uninterrupted presence that says this is, you are, a priority to me.  In church unless you are a brain surgeon on-call be honest who really needs to get hold of you RIGHT NOW?
  3. Digital detox.  How about going for one hour a day, one day week without your phone for the next month or two?
  4. Prioritise presence.  I've always walked the dog with headphones in listening to sermons and that isn't bad.  But it does signal something to my community about what I value and how present I am.  So I want to change that.  I often use the self service till in shops but I want to commit to interact with a shop assistant instead.
I'm not sure how I'll go with those.  Maybe I'll blog further on it.  Technology is a good gift of God, but like all of God's good gifts Satan can't wait to subvert and pervert it.  The challenge for us as God's people it to think through how we make it a conduit of grace to a lost world and our embodied brothers and sisters and then put it into practice.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Cut the compartmentalised living

Mission is not something we do from time to time it is something we are always engaged in as we follow Jesus.  Jesus life is lived for a purpose - he came to save his people from their sins.  Everything he did was geared up towards fulfilling that mission from victoriously battling temptation and being baptised, to calling disciples and deliberately apprenticing them in mission.  Jesus was always on mission from the desert of Judea to the Garden to Golgotha.  In the same way as disciples we don't have times when we are on mission and off mission.  We are always disciples, or as Paul puts it to the Corinthians we are ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us.  You aren't an ambassador sometimes and not at other times.

I've been musing on this as I've thought about a number of things, an advantage of a week without pressing sermon preparation to complete.  We compartmentalise life.  Home, work, play, church and so on.  We even compartmentalise roles: parent, child, aunt, uncle, employee, boss, deacon, elder and so on.  I wonder if that constant compartmentalisation, encouraged and fostered by societies pressures on us to have a divided professional and private life, leads us to think of mission like that.  I am on mission then but off mission then.  I am on mission when reaching the people I am praying specifically for, but not when in the office with colleagues I am not.  I am on mission on camp but not at work or school.  I am on mission at Holiday Club but not in Asda.

Maybe we even carry that across to the way we think of church, we think of the church as having a mission, rather than of its mission being our mission.  We, tragically, listen to preaching about mission, whilst assuming that applies to everyone else but me.  We nod along to the prayers for the lost without ever speaking the gospel to those we are praying for.

It's that time of year when I am asked to write references for leaders for camp and the like.  Mostly I enjoy doing so, especially as the amount required seems to have gotten shorter and shorter.  But here's my plea; if you want your pastor to write you a reference for camp or a short mission trip - give them something to work with.  If the only evidence of evangelistic zeal is your application to lead on a christian camp your pastor cannot write you a reference.  If all year you come and sit, with your screen saver firmly fixed and unchanging whilst listening to the sermon - be it the 'Is there a pulse' screen saver, or the 'Bored now' screen saver, or the 'startled' or 'outraged' screen saver (ask your pastor he'll be able to demonstrate each for you) - and then leave again without ever engaging in reaching the lost, in showing concern for people's eternal destiny there is something wrong.  Why then do you want to lead on camp?

The proving ground for mission for the local church.  Reaching the lost is not something we do one week a year, or 3 weeks a year but every day of our lives.  To get the gospel, to taste and see that the Lord is good is to want others to share in that too, or we have not drunk deeply enough of it.  Compassionate concern for the eternal well being of those facing a Christ-less eternity cannot be  slotted into our vacation time.  How you engage all year in mission is your reference.

As a pastor it is joy to write those sorts of references, about someones whole-hearted prayer-saturated concern for their lost friends and family which has led them to witness to Jesus despite opposition that makes them suitable to lead on camp.  Or about someones walking with friends and family through suffering and pain whilst demonstrating and speaking of the love of Christ that proves they are ready for short term mission.  Make that the kind of reference your pastor can write for you.  Not because you want a good reference but because you've drunk deeply of God's grace and it has gripped your hard and imparted to you Christ's compassion for his children who face a lost eternity.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The battle to trust that God is good?

That's not just a question an unbeliever asks is it?  It is a question that as believers we revisit and wrestle with again and again and again.  Do I believe and trust in the goodness of God when suffering hits?  When I lose my job?  When church is a struggle?  When I face ridicule for my faith?  When I can't have children? When I fail my exams?  When I am still single?  When my spouse dies?  Is God good?

Is God good when I am declared to be in remission, is he still good when I am told the cancer has come back?  Is God only good when his will aligns with my will?  When my kingdom meshes with his kingdom?  Does God's goodness look different now than it did for believers in the 16th Century or 19th Century or in Africa or South America today?  Or is God at root just good in an unchanging eternally reliable way?

If you are really honest how would you answer those questions.  Just take a minute or two to read back over them and ask yourself that question in each and every one of those situations.  Take a few minutes to pray through your answers with God, be honest, he knows anyway.

I've come to realise over the last couple of months, yet again, that my grasp of the goodness of good is situationally and circumstantially slippery at best.  God's goodness is not slippery, but my grasp on it is.  It's not that God's goodness is like a bar of wet soap, but that my hands (and heart) are covered in fairy liquid as I try to hold on to God's goodness in the face of changing circumstances.

I've been reading through Jeremiah Burroughs 'The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment', let me be honest it's be a slog, but a profitable one.  Because it has challenged me again to face up to my lack of contentment because of my lack of a firm enough grasp on the goodness of God.  At one point in the book Burroughs encourages his congregation to sit and write two lists, one beside the other with your struggles and blessings in columns alongside each other.  He strips life down to our utter dependence on God for everything and thus encourages us to see everything as blessing, but also confronts us with our predisposition for feeling enviously entitled to what we see others having.

I've been feeling this especially in the area of ministry over the last few weeks.  As we've faced up to 5 of our congregation moving away with work it has felt hard.  Losing more than a tenth of your church family is painful.  Especially hard on the heals of other loses over the last year.  It is hard to be content, until Burroughs has reminded me what God has given me that is eternal and everlasting and of so much more value.

God is good even as people move away.  God is good as our leadership gets smaller.  God is good as personally we say goodbye to good friends and feel the pain of that.  God is good as God's answer to our prayers to send us more workers seems to be to take some of the current ones away.  God is good because it is his church not mine, his mission not mine, his gospel that we proclaim for his glory not mine.  And God cares more about all those things than I do at my very best.  God is good because ehe has proven he is historically and eternally.  Sometimes we need to wrestle with that until we come to the point where we can say it and believe it is both true and real again.