Is the Cross Your Foundation?

I was recently in a meeting and I noticed that the base of the table in front of me was a cross.

As I thought about this, I began to think about how the cross is the foundation of the Christian life and faith.

Jesus restores our relationship with God through his sacrificial death on the cross. His sacrifice makes it possible for us to know God but it also demonstrates just how much God loves us. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

If our faith is built on us being saved by Jesus, on us knowing God and knowing we are loved by him then we will have a strong and stable faith.

I fear that too often though that people are building their faith on just bits of the Christian faith? It breaks my heart when I hear people say things like:

‘Do you think God really loves me’

‘Do you think God really listens to me’

‘God is far away from me’

The cross should shape our thinking and it should be the foundation of our lives and faith. If we understand the cross and what Jesus accomplished then we should never say any of these things.

The tables can be folded to put away and when you fold the top there is another cross.

Not only is the cross foundational, but the cross holds everything together as well!

Is your relationship with God built upon and held together by the cross or are you building on half-truths and vague hopes?

If you would like to read more about what Jesus accomplished on the cross then you might find Jesus died on the cross, so why do we call it Good Friday? helpful.

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Posted in acceptance, Faith, Jesus, Life experiences, salvation, Saved by Jesus | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus is God’s Gift: An all age visual, fun, interactive and creative Christmas talk

This fun, visual and creative talk explains how Jesus is God’s gift to the world using a wrapped up present with various items inside of it.

As you pull each item out (it’s best done in order) you simply explain what they symbolize. Either lay them on a table or ask people to hold them up so everyone can see the flow of the illustration, this also makes it easy to recap at various points of the talk.

Wrapped up present

Read the label which can say Merry Christmas to you all or something similar. Open it and look inside and then get these items out one at a time.

Crown & World (globe or map): This works well if the crown can sit on the earth like a hat.

Jesus is King and the creator of the world

Straw/Hay:

Ask, why would someone make a mess in this nice present by putting hay in it and then move on quickly

Torch/candle OR light inside the earth/Globe

Jesus is the light of the world who can offer hope in this dark world

Love heart

Jesus came to show us what God is like and in particular we see that God is love

Phone/Clock

God always has time to listen and to talk with us – he wants to know us!

Cracker/ Party Popper

Surprise : Immanuel means God with us!

Straw/Hay 

We thought this hay was spoiling the nice present but it is an important part of God’s gift. Talk about the birthplace of Jesus:

  • Why would God choose the place where the animals lived?
  • Why did God choose for his son to be born into the world in such poverty?

Bandage/plaster

God becomes human and he comes in such a way that he can identify with all of humanity rather than just the rich or the elite.

BUT WHY?

Toy Fire Engine

Jesus came to rescue us (press sirens if there is a sound effect and do so at any point in a recap you say and Jesus came to rescue/save us)

Rubber

He will save his people from their sins: He came to remove the barrier of sin between us and God

Cross

Jesus took the sin on the world on himself so that the barrier between us and God could be removed

Invitation: (Hand write something on a card)

Jesus invites us to follow him. He promises to be with us always and that he will never leave us or forsake us

Jesus Came as a gift, he free & to all and there is plenty to go around!

Especially towards the end, recap where you have got to: ‘So Jesus is the King of the world, he’s the light of the world,  he loves us ….’ etc

If you use this talk and come up with alternative ideas for items then please comment below to let us know so that we can be inspired by your creativity

Feel free to share this talk  using the sharing buttons below. You can also share it on your own website or blog but please provide a link back to this page.

If you are looking for further creative ideas to use in Christmas services or assemblies then you might find these posts helpful:

Explaining the Christmas Story Using a Quiz: The quiz highlights the important points of the Christmas/nativity story and there is a link to a downloadable Powerpoint.

A creative assembly or church talk for children about the trinity and the incarnation

I’ve never thought about it like that before

 

Christmas Present photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Posted in christmas, Christmas story, creative communication, Faith, Incarnation, Jesus | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Could you climb a mountain?

When asked whether you could climb a mountain you might picture something like this.

I have to be honest and say that as I look at this climber, I am filled with feelings of admiration, inspiration and terror all at the same time. I also can look at it knowing that I cannot climb a mountain in the way that this person can.

Mountains can be symbolic of the challenges that we face in life! Scaling a peak takes a huge amount of time and effort but it is also incredibly rewarding when you get to the top.

A few years ago whilst on holiday, I went for a walk along this path and a few hours later my family and I were standing at the top of Schiehallion which is 1083m high.

Although I can’t scale a sheer rock wall, I can walk up a path!

Perhaps I can climb a mountain after all?

There are also other ways to get to the top of a mountain, say by cable car or by helicopter which require no effort at all.

A Mountain symbolizes an obstacle but a cable car reminds me of the power of God that can overcome obstacles.

I don’t know what kind of obstacles and difficulties that you are facing but I do know God who can overcome any and all of them.

When asked if I can climb a mountain, I instinctively want to say no which is ridiculous because I have actually walked up one.

When facing a huge problem, I instinctively want to say there is no way forward which is ridiculous because God is all powerful and he can lead me over or around things.

Sometimes God even moves mountains! I’ve seen amazing answers to prayer and I believe we can see many more as we continue to look to God in faith.

If you would like to reflect on this further, you might find this music video helpful.

Posted in discipleship, Faith, Life experiences, Miracles, Relationship with God, trust | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are You Ready for Black Sunday?

On Black Friday, lots of people head to the shops so I figured that I would call today Black Sunday to inspire people to go to church.

On Black Friday, shoppers desperately try to save money by err… spending money that they otherwise wouldn’t have spent.

On Black Friday, people hunt for bargains to make them feel good. The bargains aren’t often for necessities, they are generally things that we might want but they aren’t often things that we can say we need.

On Black Sunday I hope that we can pause and consider God.

God may or may not be what you think you want, but I believe with all of my heart that God is who you need because ultimate meaning and fulfillment are found in him.

How about you, will you join the mad rush this Black Sunday and head to church in your search for meaning and fulfillment?

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Jesus spoke to Martha as well

Did you hear the one about Mary and Martha?

Mary listened to Jesus but her sister Martha became cross because she had been left to do all of the work.

Martha complained to Jesus that she was having to do everything by herself before Jesus replied

“My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10.41-42)

Johannes Vermeer, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I always used to think that this story was teaching us that Mary was good and that we should all be like her.

It dawned on me recently though that Jesus spoke to Martha as well!

Martha was fuming!

Martha was full of stress and anxiety!

Martha was not in a good place but as she poured out her heart to Jesus, he spoke into her stress filled existence and showed her a better way.

You see, you don’t have to be 100% focused on Jesus to talk to Jesus, you just need to call on him.

How will you talk with Jesus today?

As we cry out to him, Jesus will talk back to us and will lead us through life.

Whether you feel like a Mary (peaceful and open to Jesus) or a Martha (full of stress and pretty far away from God) I hope you will experience the truth that Jesus wants to speak with you as well.

Posted in Faith, Following Jesus, Life experiences, Life in all it's fullness, Listening to God | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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