Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Praying for us to obeying our calling in our community

On Sunday we responded to God's word to us as a church by praying this prayer together, it is borrowed from the Redeemer New York service I was at 9 months ago.  
Minister: In a world filled with brokenness, confusion, darkness, mourning and loneliness, God has called His people to bring the healing light of the gospel into every sector of our town through every profession, institution and calling.  There is no inch of this town where his gospel cannot redeem.
All:           We repent of how we have overlooked this great calling we have been given.  The Spirit is waking us to see this mission in God’s world.
                 We surrender all that we are to serve you, O Lord, our Rock, and King.
                 We pray for your power, renouncing our selfish pride, to serve our town with excellence in our respective roles, jobs and professions.
                 We rest in your unfailing love, which dissolves all bitterness, fear, anxiety, and resentment, so that this world will know we belong to you.
                 We ask that you would open our eyes to see how the gospel is powerfully at work to transform hearts, communities, and the world.
Minister: And I heard the voice of the Lord saying: “Whom shall I send, who will go for us?”
All:           Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Minister: Go into all the world: work, build, design, write, dance, laugh, sing, create and care.
All:           We go with the assurance of God’s great commission.
Minister: Go into all the world: risk, explore, discover, and love.
All:           We go with the assurance of God’s abundant grace.
Minister: Go into all the world: believe, hope, struggle, persevere, and remember
All:       We go with the assurance of God’s unfailing love.  Amen

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Joy filler or killer, which are you?

Hebrews 13:17 is a fascinating verse.  "Obey your leader and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your soul, as those who will have to give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."

We have two choices when it comes to what sort of people we are in church, we are either burdensome making leadership hard and groan filled or we are a joy to lead.  But what does that look like?  How do I make leadership a joy for those in leadership in my church?  Let me make some suggestions:

  1. Be there.  Your presence is a blessing and an encouragement.  It conveys commitment and that you appreciate all that they do and take your spiritual wellbeing as seriously as they do.  And that applies not just on Sunday's, endeavour to be part of a gospel or home group, be at prayer meetings.  As you do so you are inviting and enabling the leadership, and other people, to know you and care for you well.
  2. Be engaged.  Engage with what the leaders are teaching from the Bible, ask them questions about it (leaders aren't afraid of this, they love it when people want to explore God's word, or even be clear in their minds on something that is just a bit vague after the sermon or bible study).  Engage with the direction the leadership are taking the church, question them about why they are making the decisions they are making and what they hope the outcome will be - convey that you have confidence in them but want to understand and support and get onboard.
  3. Be Growing.  If you asked what leaders of churches want it is for people to be progressing in their faith, to be growing and changing as they wrestle to apply the gospel to every area of their lives.  If you want to make your leaders leadership a joy, to encourage them to keep going let them know where and when you are wrestling to apply God's word, or when it has encouraged you or challenged you and what you are praying the outcome would be.
  4. Be giving.  Be giving financially to support the work of the church, the Bible calls us to do just that as an act of love in reasons to the gospel.  And not tight-fistedly but as generously as Christ has given to us.  Why not start with the tithe as a bare minimum and then challenges yourself to give more when you review it after 3 months?  Give of your time and gifts too, this shouldn't be done in lieu of financial support but alongside it.  Where can you serve, how can you be involved, how can you support, who can you encourage?  
  5. Be fishing.  Be engaged with taking the gospel to your work colleagues, friends, family and neighbourhood.  Be that by starting an Uncover Bible study, bringing friends to services, serving the community in act of practical love or in any number of other ways.  But make Jesus mission your mission, not just the leaders.
Perhaps the negative is helpful.  How could I fill a leaders life with groaning?  Let me again make some suggestions:
  1. Be sporadic.  Be infrequent never really committing so that no-one every really knows whether you are committed or not.  Be busy so that you dash in late and have to hurry away afterwards.  Be too busy to attend a home group and ensure that your children are so busy they can't really be involved or build good relationships.  That's bound to make your leaders nervous and concerned.
  2. Be disinterested.  In part this will show in number 1.  But you can also be present but disinterested.  Approaching the pastor straight after the sermon finishes to ask him about his Fantasy football team, or to tell him of the interesting anecdote his first illustration made you think of is not encouraging.  Neither is texting, updating your status on Facebook, or playing clash of clans during his sermon.  Disinterest can also take the form of criticism or cynicism, that says no matter what you do I'm not inserted in following.
  3. Be static.  Be totally uninterested in changing.  Show no interest in applying what you hear to life.  Or alternately if you are changing don't tell anyone or share what God is doing.
  4. Be a consumer.  Don't support the church financial, or if you do make sure it's just a token offering.  Don't give anything whilst making the most of every opportunity you can to leech as much as you can from the church.  Give nothing by way of time and support.  Consume the teaching, send as many kids as you can to the youth work.  Criticise and tell the leaders of programmes other churches are running that fit just what you need and pressure them to start one just like that - though of course you're too busy to help with it.
  5. Be insular.  Don't engage with the outside world.  Don't bring anyone to church ever.  Don't go along to support guest events let alone take anyone.  Don't be welcoming to visitors.  And if every you're asked let your leaders know evangelism is their job after all it's their church.
They are just a few ways we could encourage or discourage our leaders, I'd love to hear others if you have them.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Our churches first million pound signing?

Another quick update on our search for a more permanent home for Grace Church.  We've continued praying and pushing doors, though so far all are remaining firmly closed.  Peel Holdings say there is nothing suitable for us in their portfolio of land and properties.  And so last week we contacted an estate agent about the acre and a half of land on the corner of Hayfield Lane and First Avenue to ask if they had any details of the site and a potential guide price.

It's an acre and half which is compose of an old car park and some wild grass land and trees all in an L-shape.  It's much bigger in many ways than we need but would allow us to provide the community with a park and outside play area which it is currently lacking, and provide scope for our youth work as there is no local park to do things at.  It is also one of the few sites available for sale.  Maybe I was being naive but I was utterly shocked by the reply I received.  In terms of guide price we were told that they were looking for offers in excess of a £1,000,000.  That seems to be the going rate for land in and around this area, due in part to the development at the airport and the existing and upcoming airport link roads.

How are we reacting to this?  Well, some people have said that kills any thoughts of pursuing that piece of land, others have said maybe we should start fundraising, our God is sovereign after all.  We need to take some time to stop and pray and think though exactly what it is we want to do and what is feasible.  We are a small church, working in a predominantly not wealthy area, though with new estates rising rapidly, and more proposed for the near future, that is beginning to change.  What is feasible?  What is right?  And what our vision is?  Seem to be key things we need to stop, pray and think through.  As ever we'd value your prayers.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Is the latest preaching series just a pastor's favourite?

Is that why we are studying that book this term?  Is it just that the pastor loves it, it's his favourite book?  Or that he has a good commentary or two on it?  Or that he's just spent months on it in his devotionals?  Or in some cases (not mine I'm grateful to say) that he has been asked to write a book on it?  How exactly does a pastor decide what you will be working through in terms of a series for Sundays?

I can't speak for everyone but here's some things I do and have found helpful.  Firstly even whilst I'm preaching the series for this term I am studying for, and planning, next term and devotionally working through another book of the Bible for the long term.

Every so often I'll read through the Bible quite quickly, 3-4 months, trying to soak in the biblical story and flow, but also looking for books I just don't understand yet.  That study led me last year to do more in depth study of Song of Solomon and Jeremiah so that I am not excluding those books as potential teaching material just because I am unfamiliar with them.  At the moment for the same reason I am working my way more slowly through Deuteronomy and will then move on to Zechariah.

The particular advantage with doing this is that there is no tyranny of the urgent.  I'm not studying it to teach just wanting to understand and hear what God has to say to me.  Sometimes that leads to a sermon series in the next year or two, sometimes it doesn't and is just good for me.  Jeremiah in particular was a real joy and help, and I am still working away on planning a sermon series on that brilliant but challenging prophet.  No doubt it will feature some time in the next five years, but I want to take time to think through how best to preach it, one long slog with breaks for Easter and Christmas?  Or a number of smaller series that take us through it over a number of years?  Though I fear that leads us to lose the melodic flow of a passage.  This longer term study provides the freedom to do just that without pressure.

Sometimes that methodology means I just have too many things I want to preach on.  This coming term I'd love to have preached on Jeremiah, but I'm not yet ready and I'm not sure the church is.  I'd love to have preached through Micah which I've also done some study of and 1 Peter, Jude and James.  We also have some series we are part way through in Acts and John which I am planning on finishing soon.  So what to preach this term and how to decide?

This coming term we will be preaching through Esther and the Ezra.  Why?  Well Esther has been on my mind and heart to preach for about 2 years now, but it has taken this long to study, meditate, prepare and plan so that I feel it will be a helpful series.  Esther helps us look at the struggle to live for God in a pagan culture that aggressively seeks to mould us and lead us to compromise our faith.  Esther and Mordecai are both prone to that but are used by God to save his people and build his kingdom because of God's grace.  It also encourages us to look of the providence of God.  Looking at our culture and the pressures we are facing this seems an apt study for us.  Especially that message that God by grace uses weak people who struggle to be distinctive for his glory.

Ezra focuses on the faithfulness of God to his promises and his beleaguered and discouraged people.  The returned exiles feel small, under pressure, opposed, and have compromised their faith.  And yet God graciously, sovereignly and miraculously works to restore worship and rebuild not just his temple but his praising people.  I can't wait to dive into all the encouragement and challenge we find in Ezra from October onwards.

Reaching the conclusion to preach on those two books has been the result of a number of things.  Looking at our church family and the pressures and circumstances we find ourselves in.  Looking at the prevailing culture and trying to discern how it seeks to shape us, challenge us and give us opportunities.  Praying for God's wisdom in what to preach as he knows both those in my care and our culture far better than I do.  And using some tools (see right) to see where our past preaching has left us short in terms of hearing the whole counsel of God.

I'd love to know how other's pick their series what tools they use and so on as I'm sure there is much still to learn.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Do pastor's hate Bank Holidays?

I have a confession I have a love hate relationship with bank holiday weekends.  It presents a great opportunity for an extended weekend away visiting family or friends unless you're a pastor.  Because Sunday always falls in the middle of a bank holiday weekend.  So if we take Saturday off we get a split bank holiday with preaching and all it's attendant physical, emotional and spiritual strains in the middle.  But my real bug bear comes with the week after, because what it essentially means is I am down a day on preparation but with the same amount of things to prepare for during the week, essentially its a day off but just shifts the pressure to elsewhere in the week.

I'm not moaning, please don't take this in any way as bitter, it's not.  It is a privilege to be called to serve God's people to be set aside and paid to study God's word, pray, teach and disciple.  But here's my point churches, elders, leaders, are there thing you could do to make a bank holiday weekend a bank holiday weekend for your pastor just to show him that you love and value him and his family?  Could you offer to preach that Sunday so they could get away, could you offer to preach the Sunday after a bank holiday so that the pressures of the week don't challenge the rest of a bank holiday?

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The dangers of crying legalism

Legalism, we all want to avoid it.  It is the trap waiting to ensnare Christians concerned to change.  We, rightly, want to avoid legalism.  But here's my worry, in shouting loudly about the danger of legalism I wonder if it is leading us to confuse legalism with godliness or holiness.  We don't want to be legalists, we do, or we ought, to want to be holy.  Sometimes we can find ourselves wary of do's and don'ts in case we are being legalists.  And yet Jesus calls people to leave certain lifestyles and habits, as do Peter, Paul, James, John and so on.

I worry that wanting to avoid legalism means we end up throwing the baby out with the bath water or   more accurately throwing out the deliberate putting off of certain things with the bath water of legalism.  Key to differentiating between the two is the audience the prompts the putting off, or ripping out or killing of sin.  When I am doing it so that others think well of me, or look up to me as godly, or respect me, or so that I feel better about myself or feel more godly then legalism is a real problem.  But when I am fighting sin because I want to be more like my Saviour who loves me and calls me to glorify him then legalism is not the issue.  Legalism is concerned for an audience of my peers, godliness for an audience of one, God.

We need to avoid legalism, but we must also fight sin, hate sin, repent of it and become more like our Saviour.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Summer shut down?

The summer shutdown, schools do it (6 weeks, 7 if you live in Doncaster this year), colleges do it, universities do it.  Even the Martial arts club my boys go to does it.  They basically shut down, run nothing for a period of time because so many people are away and teachers need rest.  Church doesn't do it but there are weeks when I wonder if it may not be a bad idea, but then I stop and think about it and realise it would be horrific.

Don't mishear me, I'm not knocking holidays, I've enjoyed a lovely two week break.  Part in hectic, let's go, let's see, let's climb into bed exhausted and hot at the end of everyday having crammed as much as possible in, London and part in relaxed, cool, tranquil North Yorkshire.  But I do wonder about the spiritual effect of holidays, especially extended holidays.  It used to be that most people went away for a couple of weeks, but there seems to be a growing trend to be away for as much of the school summer holidays as possible, sometimes in long unbroken stretches.

I'm not sure why that is but I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that as families we cram our lives so full of stuff that everything else gets shunted into holiday time.  If we are busy all the time in term time; children at different clubs every night and at weekends, busy with work, busy with life, busy with church.  Then we try to squeeze in visits to family and friends at holidays.  But actually all we are doing is filling up our holidays and making them as busy as the rest of the time.  When do we stop and rest?  When do we stop and take the time to evaluate, to meditate on God's word and slowly chew over what it has to say about our pace of life, priorities, loves, goals and so on?

One by product of the cramming of term time is the cramming of rest time full of people to see, things to do to make up for our inability to do so in overfull term time.  I wonder what damage it is doing to our families, our churches, our communities and the gospel?  I wonder if the concept of leisure and holidays is gradually choking our churches?  If it is becoming the Christians other object of worship, a rival to God?  I'm certainly aware of the danger in my own heart and mind of overworking now and pinning my hopes on rest then.

When our churches seem to shut down or hibernate for the summer there is something wrong.  It's fine for a Martial arts club to do it, or for a school to do so.  But a church is a family, I'm taking it that we don't absent ourselves from our families for weeks at a time.  My fear is that as this becomes the norm we will find ourselves in years to come reaping the costs.