Time to Press Pause?

Today I am joining with others on a Ministers retreat day and I am really looking forward to it.

I have to be honest though. I am not always good at making the time to press pause and to allow myself the space to connect with God in the stillness and to refresh and deepen my relationship with him. As an activist, making time to stop doesn’t come naturally to me but I really do understand and value the importance of it.

I was struck recently how much the crowds fanatically followed and never left Jesus alone, that is until he made time to pray.

In Mark 6, Jesus and his disciples traveled to a remote place for some peace and quiet but when the crowds pursue them Jesus has compassion on them and so he taught them. Later that day he miraculously fed the 5000 men plus women and children who were there with just a few loaves and fish. Following this Jesus sent his disciples in a boat to the other side of the lake and he dismissed the crowd before going to pray up a mountainside.

I’ve never really thought about this before but why does the crowd that won’t leave Jesus alone suddenly leave him alone?

Is it because he said he was going to pray and they respected his space or was it to do with it usually being late night or early morning so that there weren’t so many people around? Perhaps it was to do with people wanting to experience miracles and life changing teaching but them definitely not wanting to participate in prayer which perhaps they had been led to believe was fairly dull?

We can only guess at the answer but what seems obvious is that Jesus needed time to connect with God his father.

If the son of God needed time away from it all to connect with his heavenly father then I am sure that we all do!

I’m looking forward to today as a gift of rest at the end of a busy few weeks.

I’m looking forward to today as an opportunity to talk with God.

I’m looking forward to today because we are currently reflecting on our values as a church and it will be a great opportunity to use some of the day to listen to God about who he wants the people who make up Orchard Baptist Church to be.

One of our values is that we are ‘Travelling in our journey of faith’. We don’t consider ourselves to be a people who are perfect or who have arrived but we do want to be open for what it is that God has next for us.

I thank God for the opportunity to pause today and for the part that it will play in the next part of my own and the journey of Orchard Baptist Church.

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Posted in Blessed to be a blessing, Faith, Following Jesus, Life experiences, Listening to God, Prayer, Relationship with God, rest, restoration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Should Church Ministers be Leaders or Servants?

I was completing an online form for an insurance quote recently and I was asked to pick a category that best described my job. The sorts of options were things like Professional, Manager (senior), technician, clerical, sales, engineer etc.

In that moment, I was reminded how hard it is to categorize my job as a Baptist Minister.

I’m theologically trained and I am also accredited by the Baptist Union and so that must mean I am (allegedly anyway!) a professional.

I lead a church and so I am a manager or a leader.

It’s not unusual (although thankfully it’s not frequent) for me to hoover the church or to do photocopying, so I’m a servant.

I believe in the Priesthood of all believers (that every Christian can hear and be led by God) and so at times I am being led by others in the church.

I believe that Church Ministers are called to provide vision and to lead but that we are also called to serve.

Some Ministers make me cringe as I hear them talk about their vision which they are going to impose on their congregations. Their plan for the church is like a straight jacket that they are wrestling their church into so that God’s people can do nothing else but follow the Minister’s grand plan.

Some Ministers make me cringe because all they seem to say is ‘what would you like me to do’. They come as caretakers to churches expecting just to serve, clean and pick up the pieces in practical, emotional and spiritual ways.

I believe that God wants us to minister in the midway point between these two extremes.

There needs to be vision and leadership but that is usually exercised in consultation with the congregation rather than imposed on it externally.

Ministers needs to have servant hearts but we are also called to make disciples rather than running around doing everything for everyone.

Which of the two do you lean towards? Are you more naturally a leader or a servant?

Now take a few moments to look at your diary and how you spend your time. Are you acting like a leader or a servant or a healthy balance between the two?

If we want to minister in God’s church effectively we need to find that balance place where we do both, that we minister to the church as servants and leaders.

Posted in church, Faith, Leadership, Learning, Who am I | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Seeing Blockages as Opportunities and not Obstacles

As we walked along we came to a barrier under a bridge but there was also a diversion sign. As I paused it occurred to me that this was a perfect illustration of what I believe that God has been teaching me recently.

Let me explain …

You know how frustrating it is when something goes wrong? How do you cope?Perhaps you get annoyed, fixate on how perfect things would be if things hadn’t gone wrong and then you frantically try to fix everything?

I’ve experienced a change in attitude so that now …

Instead of assuming something is wrong and that everything is going to fall apart, I’ve been learning to look for what God is doing in the blockage or difficulty.

Let me share a few examples:

At Orchard Baptist we have significantly less musicians than we once did. This is something that I think we struggled with as a church until we began to get to grips with other forms of worship that don’t require music. Our services are more life focused now where and we often give more time to hearing what God has been doing in our everyday lives and also time to listen to God. There is nothing wrong with using music as a primary form of worship but God has shown us more of what gathered worship can look like where we can connect with him in a variety of ways as we have been open to him.

Recently we had a mix up and I found out that there was no one working the computer in our Sunday morning service about 2 minutes before we were due to start. Someone quite new to the church could see I was struggling trying to get all the song lyrics lined up in the projection software and offered to help. We explained to the church at the start of the service that something had gone wrong and we were going to do our best with the song words and it all went pretty well. What could have been a stressful and difficult morning became a time of encouragement and blessing in all kinds of ways.

Our numbers on Sunday morning have increased to the point where some of our children groups weren’t working well. This was causing quite a lot of stress for the leaders of our youngest group and so we gathered all our children’s work leaders together and talked it through. We are fairly stretched running three groups but the decision was made to see the difficulties as an opportunity to expand and create a fourth group anyway.

In all of these and many other situations, we are learning to look for what God is doing and to let him lead us through it.

One thing I would want to make clear though is that although I believe that God is working in and through every situation I don’t think that God wants or wills everything that happens. God will work in a tragedy but it doesn’t mean he caused or wanted that tragedy! I find the way that Rick Warren explains this helpful, he says that ‘God doesn’t waste a hurt’ and I love the way that God is at work bringing healing and hope in the pain and hurts of life.

I love the way that God blessed the early church in Acts despite them not obeying all of his commands. He had told them that they should be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth and yet somehow they never got beyond Jerusalem. Then, one day persecution broke out and at the beginning of Acts 8 many of the Christians ran for their lives and one of the first places that it mentions them arriving is Samaria. I don’t believe that God wanted or caused the persecution but it seems like he used it to shake his church in such a way that they entered more fully into what he was calling them to do.

When we feel shaken, will we panic or look to God and to what he might be doing in amongst the chaos?

As we travel through life and we find obstacles will we look for the opportunities and in particular how God is leading us?

Instead of banging on the barrier, my wife and I followed the detour sign and as a result we enjoyed an amazing walk together.

May God give us the faith to walk with him, wherever and however he leads us!

Posted in Faith, Following Jesus, God is with us, Life experiences, Listening to God, Relationship with God, trust | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Who have you invited?: The Parable of the Dinner Party

Recently I threw a dinner party and love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control all came. As the last of my invited guests arrived I realized that I had just enough space for everyone and I made a mental note to think more carefully about how many guests I could host next time.

Everyone as getting on well and the party was in full swing when there was a knock at the door. All the guests who I had invited had come and so I couldn’t imagine who it could be.

I opened the door saw anger and he was asking to come in. I began telling him he wasn’t invited but then he reminded me of the thing that had happened earlier that day. I had been so angry with a work colleague and although they deserved plenty of anger I managed to stay calm and work through the problem with them. As anger shouted at me, I replayed what had happened in my mind I began to wonder if I had been too soft in letting go of my anger so easily. I decided that perhaps a little bit of anger was okay and so I let him in but then I realized that I had a problem, as there were not enough seats. If I wanted anger to stay then I would have to ask someone to leave and as things looked a little awkward between kindness and anger, I asked kindness to leave.

The party carried on but things felt strained and anger was acting in a weird way. Everyone was talking and mixing well but he kept trying to dominate the conversation and to remind me that I deserved to be angry, after all I HAD BEEN WRONGED! He was even suggesting ways that I could retaliate and although love was also reminding me to forgive anger KEPT SHOUTING!

The party didn’t feel much fun anymore and then there was a knock at the door. AS I opened it, Jealousy was there and she wanted to come in. She pointed at the neighbours houses and their possessions and whispered ‘why don’t you have those things,after all  you deserve them’. I had to agree that I ought to have more stuff, after all I’m a good guy who is good, loving and kind. You’re right I said as I invited her in but then I remembered my problem, not enough seats. Who could I ask to leave? I thought for a moment about anger, after all he had been pretty disruptive but then he began shouting something new. ‘YOUR NEIGHBOURS HAVE SO MUCH, IT IS NOT FAIR, YOU SHOULD BE ANGRY ABOUT THIS’. As I was thinking about all the stuff I didn’t have I did begin to feel angry. Patience began to explain why I didn’t need everything now but anger started shouting again. A short while later I asked patience to leave.

The story could go on, but I hope you get the point.

What do we want controlling  us?

Which influences do we want in our lives and which do we need to tell to leave?

If you would like to consider this theme more than you might find these verses from Galatians 5 helpful:

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

Posted in change, creative communication, Faith, Holy Spirit, Life in all it's fullness, modern parable, Parable | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How do we Measure Success?: People really are are more important than Statistics

The stats counter on this blog has just ticked past 100,000 hits and as a result of this and some other things I have been pondering what success is and how we measure it.

100,000 hits in three and a half years feels pretty good, especially for someone like me who doesn’t feel that writing is something they are very good at. I do love expressing ideas and creativity and I am grateful for any way that allows me to share what I am thinking with the wider world but t is writing everything down that I find hard.

What is success?

For me, 1000 people whose lives are changed through what they have read is of greater worth than 100,000 page views.

It strikes me that we often prioritize numbers over meaningful change and progress. This happens in churches with success often measured by bums on seats on a Sunday morning rather than the quality of discipleship.

For me, 10 people whose lives are being transformed is of greater worth than 100 people making up the numbers on a Sunday morning.

The Sunday morning attendance at Orchard Baptist Church has increased dramatically during this past year. I am pleased about this as more people hear the good news and have the opportunity to explore in creative and interactive ways faith in Jesus and what it means for life in the world today. My greatest encouragement of the year so far though came from someone who shared with me recently how much they have changed. They were facing a situation that would have been impossible for them a few years ago, but now they are in a place where they can see God leading them into and enabling them to thrive in it! They are discovering who God made them to be and as they see this more clearly it enables them to live in the way that he intended rather than being restricted by fear and the other things that hold us back.

Now that gets me excited!

Seeing God at work changing people shows that our church family is doing some things right!

What do you measure your success by? Are you obsessed with numbers or are you measuring using something more meaningful?

By the way, thanks to all of you who visit, read and hopefully think about what you find here. I hope you feel blessed and most of all I hope that you know God at work in you bringing about change as you continue to become the person who he created you to be.

Posted in Blessed to be a blessing, change, Faith, Learning, Life experiences, Life in all it's fullness, success | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Knocking in Expectation?

Lots of children are going to be knocking on doors today in the hope that they will be given treats.

I remember one parent telling me how he would only take his children trick or treating to houses that had some sort of Halloween decorations because they had such a bad experience the previous year. Lots of people had just not opened their doors which resulted in some very, very and I mean very disappointed children. I was remembering this conversation just now and thinking how disappointing it must have been for those children to expect something good as they knocked but then to get nothing as the door was unopened. Life in general can feel a lot like this as we long for fulfillment and happiness but sometimes we are left feeling like we are empty-handed.

Jesus says ‘I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends’ (Revelation 3.20).

Jesus knocks on the doors of our lives in expectation that we will welcome him in. Are we willing to open the door or will we just leave Jesus knocking?

This knocking isn’t just to people who don’t know Jesus yet, the words were actually directed to Christians? You see, we might follow Jesus and trust in him to save us but what he really wants is to play an active part in our lives where we can find the life and fulfillment that he promises.

I’m uneasy about Halloween and my main objection to it is to do with the demanding nature of trick or treat and the associated fear that it can cause to vulnerable people in their homes. My youngest daughter doesn’t cope well with scary things and many Halloween costumes and decorations are too much for her.

I can see potential for Halloween to be a gateway to the occult but I think that my friends who celebrate it are a long way from any spiritual danger. In fact, I think that worrying that people are going to get into witchcraft because of Halloween is a bit like atheists suggesting that we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because everyone might start following Jesus. In reality, both festivals for many people in our culture are far removed from any spiritual significance. It can also be true though that both festivals can begin a journey and my prayer is that we would choose to journey towards the light rather than the darkness.

Jesus is knocking, but will we open up the door of our lives fully and allow him to come in. Jesus longs to lead us into the light but will we follow?

Posted in Faith, Good vs evil, Life experiences, Life in all it's fullness, Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

People are more important than Possessions

When thinking about Jesus sending out his 12 disciples, I’ve often focused on what he told them not to take. Reading it again recently in Mark 6, it struck me that there are two things that Jesus made sure that they did take.

They were told not to take walking sticks, food, money or even a change of clothes. Jesus sent them out empty-handed but they still accomplished so much as they trusted in God and also as they relied on other people for hospitality.

Churches like to minister from a position of strength and plenty of resources but Jesus sends his disciples out as guests rather than hosts into the world. They have to rely on others who don’t know Jesus yet to bless them and as those people bless them it unlocks something spiritually within them.

Anyway, back to that two things that they couldn’t go without.

The obvious one is authority. With their reliance on God’s power and authority, they see miracles and this more than makes up for their lack of possessions and resources.

The second thing is people. Jesus sent them out in pairs! The people we know, the people who support and who are around us are God’s gift to us. God didn’t create us to be alone but rather he designed us to work in relationships and to encourage, to build one another up but also to challenge and to stretch one another. Ultimately the disciples had to rely on God but being with another believer helped them to stay on track.

In our advertising saturated society, it feels like there is a sometimes and emphasis or suggestion that we should prioritize possessions over people.

How can we rediscover that People are more important than Possessions?

Jesus said that the two greatest commands are to love God and to love one another.

Do our priorities and the way that we spend our time and energy show that these are the two most important things to us or does our lifestyle show that we love and are putting accumulating things first?

How do we feel about the church family that you are a part of. Would we rather have money and resources or people? Which of these does our hearts desire more?

People are more important than Possessions! I hope we all believe it?

Who are the people who have shaped our lives? As we give thanks for them, perhaps we should take the time to encourage them by thanking them for all that they have done and are doing for us?

Posted in discipleship, Faith, Following Jesus, Loving God, Loving one another | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The one about being Ordinary and Amazing at the same time

As they listened to the two men who were on trial, the members of the council were amazed. It was fairly obvious from the way they talked that they weren’t professionals but there was something about the way that they were speaking that was so powerful!

‘The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus’. Acts 4.13

I don’t think this verse is saying that there is anything wrong with being trained in scripture, rather I think it is emphasizing that the most important thing is to be with Jesus.

The same Bible passage reminds us that Peter was full of the Holy Spirit when he spoke.

When we follow Jesus, often we feel inadequate like we haven’t got the right words and answers and we need to realize that this is okay. Peter and John hadn’t been trained and prepared to be put on trial for their faith but the presence of God within them led them through it.

As we live our lives, will we reply on the cleverness of us or the presence of God?

I am so grateful for the theological education I have received and for everything I have been taught but the more I experience in this incredibly complex world the more I realize that I need Jesus

When people hear me speak about my faith, I hope that they will hear something profound and interesting, but most of all I hope that they see that I am with Jesus and that I am relying on him.

Posted in Faith, Following Jesus, God is with us, Life experiences, Listening to God, Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You’ve left your Heart at Home

As I heard the text message alert on my phone, I thought about stopping but then decided I would read it when I got to my destination which was only a few miles away.

On arrival I had a real ‘Oh no’ moment as I read the message which said

‘You’ve left your heart at home!’

Someone I know was getting married and a group of us were asked to provide a message on a heart for the happy couple and these would be combined and then shared with them on their wedding day.

I had realized earlier on that day that my heart message needed to be ready for that evening. Tracey had made a beautiful heart and then I had only gone and forgotten it!

I was reflecting on this recently following a situation where I had felt that I had made the right choice. As I prayed about this later though, I remembered the message ‘You’ve left your heart at home’.

It’s so easy to lose our heart and compassion in the world. Too often we make decisions purely based on rationality and business principles when God calls us to be a people of love.

I was thinking about the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus with a group of students recently. Jesus had every right to be judgmental, Zacchaeus had got rich by cheating and overcharging people and Jesus’ compassion for the poor could have led to Zacchaeus being put very firmly in his place. Instead Jesus showed compassion and as a result Zacchaeus was changed and he offered to put things right with people he had cheated.

Rationality and justice demanded discipline and harsh words but Jesus hadn’t left his heart at home and as a result God’s grace saved Zacchaeus and put things right with those he had cheated.

Where is your heart?

Where does compassion and grace fit into your decision making?

Are there choices and situations that we need to go and put right because we had left our heart at home?

Do we love the Lord with all our hearts or do we have a purely rational relationship with him?

You can read more about Zacchaeus and Jesus in The one where Jesus did something outrageous and shocking

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What are you doing here?

I was in town late one evening and I met someone who I know who was on her way to a night out. She walked towards me with a shocked look on her face and said ‘what are you doing here?’

I have a friend who heard God speak to her at a One Direction conference and many Christians might wonder what God might be doing at a One Direction concert.

What you have got planned for this evening.
Are you going out or having an evening in?

Whichever it is, what is your expectation of God?

Do we expect to encounter God outside of Sundays, in the real world?

There is a group of people meeting at Orchard Baptist tonight to play table tennis. I wonder what their expectation of God is? Do you they expect God to be as present tonight as he will be on a Sunday morning? I certainly hope so!

God, may we become more aware of your presence in the everyday and when we get a glimpse of you, may we say ‘It’s good to see you’ rather than ‘what are you doing here’.

Posted in Faith, God is with us, Life experiences, Life in all it's fullness, Listening to God | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment