Hunger Games

It’s been, and slay-down-for-the-Lord-590x368till is, quite a journey this one. And yet, last night, I was part of a small gathering that made it worthwhile; it was the small beginning. I love small beginnings, they excite me. They are fresh, full of hope; intimate. There was hunger. Hunger for Jesus, hunger for His Kingdom to break out. The Holy Spirit had gathered us, a couple of those sat around the table eating in our kitchen I had never met before. Angels had been gathering in our home since about six-thirty, and we just knew that He had something special for us. His pleasure saturated the meal as we chatted and shared hearts, stories, highs, lows.

We then began to worship and pray together, craning an ear to heaven’s call. And it came. Angels completed their assignments. Generations of blessings were released as some wept, some laughed, some groaned for the sons and daughters of the earth to be released; heaven smiled. Words were released, oil was poured out, scripture flowed. And then a stillness, so deep that it literally smothered us; the weight of the Glory of God pressing down.

A year ago this would have been a planning meeting for just another church event; confined, limited and with the inescapable agendas. And yet now, with our eyes firmly set on simply The Kingdom of God, in that hour of standing, sitting, lying in the presence of God, His vision was released. All left with a story, an encounter, a sense of belonging. Each had received their part in His plan straight from heaven, just the next step mind. All were accountable to God and each other for what they had received and heard. Leadership was evident, in the way some moved around the group, serving, blessing and facilitating others’ encounters. This was truly His body, working together to release what would bring Him Glory.

This city, this nation and this world is hungry…….and the alarm clock is ringing.

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The Gay Connundrum – Building a Bridge

Dove-doves-32938347-1600-1200Last year, I invited Steve Chalke to come to Sheffield and lead a day where we could have an open debate. Nicole and I worked for his charity Oasis in Bangladesh and have always had a good deal of respect for him, even though I don’t agree with all of his theology. That’s ok isn’t it? After a barrage of emails and letters from leaders in the ‘big’ churches haranguing me, one actually suggesting that they would hold a demonstration outside the building on the day, another telling me that I was demonically oppressed, and another that I couldn’t possibly hear from God (young man), I felt just a little intimidated.  So, I thought I’d pop down to Steve’s church, to a conference they were holding, and see what was going on for myself; I took my trusty wife with me.

As a result of the conference, I cancelled his visit to Sheffield. Please hear why.

In one of the seminars, during a conversation about The Father, I was openly accused of being a misogynist by the speaker because I happen to hold the view that fatherhood and sonship existed before creation; it was the blueprint from which we were created, not a construct through which we understand God. It can therefore not be destroyed, altered or created. It is eternally existent. It is not a personified abstraction, a way that we can understand God; sonship and fatherhood is the very nature of God himself. The doctrine of eternal sonship was first affirmed in the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D and flows from Paul’s letter to the Colossians and the writer of Hebrews Col 1: 13-16; Heb 1: 2.

I felt squashed flat. I had wanted to hug them, hold them and weep with them. Instead, I got a good kicking. I cried out in my Spirit as I felt their pain, their anguish. I listened to their stories of abuse by ‘the church’, of the most appalling rejection. I felt a rush of emotion, which then turned to anger. How dare they suggest that I don’t understand them. How ridiculous not to see that The Father loves them. I left the room, offended and hurt, rather than loving and compassionate. At my first skirmish, I had lost. There I was, a straight ‘progressive’ church leader, making the effort to come down to London to at least hear ‘their side’. I had even thought that maybe I could be ‘one of them’, without actually being ‘one of them’. I was owed more than this. After all, I had stood up for ‘them’! I had taken the ‘flak’ from all those church leaders in Sheffield, and now I was stuck in the middle, taking hits from both sides. I wanted to find my camp, the place that would accept me and my views, and yet I had found myself in no-man’s land, battle lines drawn, trenches dug and missiles flying overhead. I wanted my voice heard, and yet I had been cut-off.

I then had the privilege of hearing a man called Andrew Marin speak. A straight, evangelical Southern Baptist Christian who holds the Nobel Peace Prize for his work amongst the LGBTQ community in Boystown, Chicago, for building a bridge between the LGBTQ community and the church. Surely they would welcome Andrew like the crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem! And no, even he was under pressure to reveal his theological opinion in order that ‘sides’ could be established, such was the pain. He too was obviously hurting at his treatment, and he said as much. To be honest, everyone was hurting.

I cancelled Steve’s visit not because the church in Sheffield wasn’t ready, but because I wasn’t ready, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure that Steve Chalke was either. You see, I had made the age-old mistake of thinking that issues like this can be tackled from the mountain top, at a distance; where as in fact, these battles can only be won in the valley that is called loving, face to face relationship. We can fight this war (and yes, it is a war) on Facebook or in chat rooms, at a distance, neither side really having to descend into the bloody mess of face to face engagement. We can rally to the flag that agrees with our own opinion and see who can shout the loudest. Or, we can all, (and I mean all), get on our knees and ask Jesus to release to us the Grace to listen. To weep with those who weep and to mourn with those who mourn, regardless of whose ‘side’ they are on. That’s the firm ground where I know that the banner of Jesus is firmly planted.

I can’t love the ‘LGBTQ community of Sheffield’, if I don’t know them. I also don’t agree with all of the ‘liberal’ theology regarding sexuality that has been written recently. And that’s ok, because God asks us to love our neighbour, someone we can actually see and have to cross the road to. So, I do love those men and women who I eat with, drink with and pray with in my home, people I walk with, laugh with and often cry with. Some of them are gay, some are lesbians; some are questioning. I also love and deeply respect those of my Christian family that hold theological views that are on the ‘conservative evangelical’ end of the spectrum. And no, by the way, I don’t agree with all of their theology either.  It’s just so annoying! I’ve found that it just isn’t that straight forward. Whenever I think I’ve ‘got it’, I meet someone who smashes my preconceptions. Once again, I’m stuck right in the middle of this awful mess and to my shame, I too, at various points, have treated both sides equally badly.

But that’s where I think God is, right in the middle; amongst us. The question is, are we brave enough to join him, together, in the valley, and dare to find out what real love looks like? Please; let’s not reduce the work of Jesus down to a few cheap shots on Facebook or other social media, if we aren’t also brave enough to accept his invitation to cross the road, kneel down, dress the wounds and wash the feet of either the gay Christian, or the pastor of Westborough Baptist Church, whichever one Jesus would describe as our personal neighbour. That’s radical Christianity my friends.

 

 

 

 

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The Nature of Love part two.. Conquered by Love.

8d8a84a2fb9899bbf6c70f223b7ea9b2Love conquered me, overcame me and dwelt within me over thirteen years ago. The person of Love and the fullness of Love, Jesus, through the beautiful Holy Spirit, came and firstly made his home in me and then, over time, more and more of his light began to shine into my darkness. His word began to breathe life to everything that he had created within me.

Indulge me. Let’s, for one moment, allow ourselves to be removed from the context of creation itself.  As we arrive at that place of timelessness, we find God, who pre-existed time (or at least our understanding of it). The Word (Jesus) already existed at the beginning John 1:1 (NIV). Nothing of his identity has been shaped, affected or altered by what he created. Not only does he transcend time, he created it. He is time, eternity.

God chose to reveal himself in the incarnate Son, Jesus. Bill Johnson often says that ‘Jesus is the perfect theology’. He has to be, as all things come from him. The difficulty comes, however, when we allow him to be trapped within our own human understanding. You see, the incarnate Jesus came to firstly die for our sin and in the process represent the true identity of the very Father that he was reconciling us to, through his death and subsequent resurrection.  Jesus said that if we have seen him, we have seen the Father.  We therefore cannot find anything in our understanding of the Father that we cannot also find in Jesus.

And yet God is also Spirit. Just as we begin to construct a humanistic understanding of God, he blows that away with his person of the Holy Spirit; mystical, blowing where he pleases, untamable, un-contextual and invisible. It is no wonder that the Holy Spirit has been historically the most neglected person of the Trinity.  Pride and fear can lead us to embrace only that which we truly understand.  And yet I’m not sure God ever called us to seek to understand him (whatever Anselm may have written), he is more interested in us encountering him personally in our hearts and allowing him to transform us into his likeness. He is clearly beyond our understanding. This is why seeking and hosting his manifest presence is so important, as it allows the mystery of God and his love to work in ways that we could never understand.

None of this is groundbreaking theology, and yet over the last few years, as I have been led on a journey of encountering God as love, his identity as love has seemed to grip me more and more powerfully. As love is the driving force, the currency and the purpose of The Kingdom of God, so maybe it is time to shift our gaze. If anything we do, say or even think comes from a place other than love, it is not from God, however we may wrap it up within our own excuses, convictions or causes. If anything that we do ‘for him’ ‘through him’ or in ‘his name’ does not expand the reign of his love on earth, it is not of The Kingdom of God.

As I will write later; true love flows. It cannot be contained, structured, institutionalised or owned. It has no boundaries, no walls, no fences. It cannot be branded or sold. That is because love belongs not to us, but to God, it is wild, ferocious, un-relenting, untamable. It is perfect. God’s love has a language all of his own.

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Holometabolism; the liminal place where The Kingdom Shift occurs.

monarch-emergingThe other day, a friend of mine went to a lecture by Dr Fred Wright, a hebrew scholar. On her return, she shared some of what he had talked about, and it reminded me of a picture / word that I had been given by a friend last September. The word was holometabolism..or complete metamorphosis. I looked it up. There are four stages. Firstly, the egg that contains the DNA hatches into a vehicle called the larva. This larva feeds, is mobile, is often very active and prepares the organism for the penultimate stage; the pupa. The pupa is often immobile, it just sits there and literally eats itself from within. The hard shell of protection around it is often made from its own excrement, and it slowly dies. Literally, it is at the place of its final breath, that the most rapid and complete transformation occurs. The final stage is the mature insect emerging from the pupa, ready to reproduce. ‘In this stage, the insect’s physiology and functional structure, both internal and external, change drastically.’ as good old Wikipedia says. It is un-recognisable.

It’s the same with our spiritual lives, both individually and corporately. The pupa, if you like, is the midbar  (desert) or place of solitude. Within that place, our lives catch up with a greater reality of the death of our flesh, with Christ, on the cross. We find ourselves in the pit, seemingly immobile. We try to pull ourselves out, reach up for familiar hand-holds, but to no avail. The desert brings you to the edge of, and then seemingly well beyond the limits of your own resources. Jesus’ midbar was the place where he was tempted by the devil ‘in every way’. Peirazomai is the greek word used, meaning ‘to try intentionally … with the purpose of discovering what good or evil, power or weakness, was in a person.’ Unpleasant but necessary.

In the desert we often find the bor or pit. In reality, this was a deep pit that often had slippery or wet sides that were impossible to climb out of. It is often used as a metaphor for ‘the grave’. Even now, as I type, I can almost smell the earth on top of me,pressing me down. This is a place of destruction. In the same way that Jesus took our sin to the grave with us, so there had to be that moment of death. And when you are in that place of death, your flesh screams out! Oh, for the comfort of the old ways! Oh, how tempting the taste of the old fruit is..or other people’s fruit. In the grave you are faced with who you were. You can smell the putrefying stench of the old ways, the things that distracted you, that you had made idols of. You cannot move forward. You cry out in the words of David’s Psalm 38:

I am bent over and racked with pain.
    All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
    and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
    My groans come from an anguished heart.

You know what I long for, Lord;
    you hear my every sigh.
My heart beats wildly, my strength fails,
    and I am going blind.
My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease.
    Even my own family stands at a distance.
Meanwhile, my enemies lay traps to kill me.
    Those who wish me harm make plans to ruin me.
    All day long they plan their treachery.

But I am deaf to all their threats.
    I am silent before them as one who cannot speak.
I choose to hear nothing,
    and I make no reply.
For I am waiting for you, O Lord.
    You must answer for me, O Lord my God.

It is in the pit that we learn to drink from him, and him alone. All props are gone, including the ones we have fashioned for ourselves. It is in the desert that we find the source of the river. And then…..eventually…..the shift; God moves. Having finally died completely to the old ways, God deems us ready for the new. For Moses, he left Egypt and entered the desert as a Prince; he returned to Egypt an apostle. He had tried to rescue one man with his own hands, and that had brought death. Now God was going to use him to rescue the entire nation, but with God’s hands, and that would bring life.

He is coming…..

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The Nature of Love….part one.

“The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might…Eph 1: 17-19 (NIV)

I’d like to begin with a little light refreshment. I spent over ten years training to be and then serving as an officer in the British Army. It was the nineties and much of the equipment we had dated backed to the Cold War era. Much of my early service, in between operations in Northern Ireland, was spent with my head sticking out of an armoured vehicle going round and round in circles on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. Night manoeuvres they called them. Frankly, looking back it was pretty farcical and praise God we never actually had to fight like that! The greatest comedy was found when they ordered us to turn all of our lights off and keep driving; this was to simulate ‘covert’ operations. What I think a very well paid general somewhere forgot, was that the engine of my tank could be heard over five miles away on a clear night. Not that ‘covert’. Anyway, we had these brilliant goggles that allowed us to see in the dark. You strapped them onto your helmet and they flicked down in front of your eyes. We used to pretend to be Daleks from Dr Who (all very mature)! So, there we were in pitch black with these night vision goggles on, with which you could see maybe 50 meters at best. However, each vehicle was also fitted with infra-red headlights. When you turned these on, they illuminated the path ahead with the same frequency of light that the goggles used. Suddenly you could see far as far as the headlights shone, and moreover you could also see all of the other vehicles driving around. Instead of groping around in the dark you could clearly see your surroundings, illuminated in brilliant green!

My point; simply that without the headlights our vision through the goggles was very limited and without the goggles the headlights were useless as the naked eye cannot see infra-red light. We needed both.

We have to walk out our lives using not our earthly eyes, but the eyes of our heart. Like the infra-red headlights, The Father has illuminated the world through the sacrifice of his Son, the expression of perfect love. The cross illuminates the Kingdom of God, however in order to see and enjoy that illumination we too have to look with the eyes of our heart, fixing our gaze on not that which is seen, but that which is unseen. 2 Cor 4:18 (NIV) We have to make sure that the goggles of our heart, which are lenses of love, are working properly. Martin Lloyd-Jones speaks of this as like simply having cataracts over the eyes of our heart. We already have the eyes, as these were opened when we accepted Jesus Christ as Lord. As we journey with him, he is removing the cataracts from them in order that we may see with his eyes, rather than our own. Only when the eyes of our heart are tuned into the perfect illumination of the cross and the perfect representation of love that this brings, will we see in the glorious technicolor of the Kingdom of God.

This requires faith, and faith belongs to and is a gift from God. I think that if we simply made that single adjustment to everything that we did, we would see a radically different church. I don’t need to look through the eyes of business to see ‘Kingdom Business’, nor do I need to put my ‘educational’ spectacles on to build some form of ‘Kingdom Education’ project. All we need to do is simply allow our eyes to adjust to his light, as he is the Light of the World. His light has already shone in the darkness and it continues to do so, whether we see it or not. We need to tune into where he is already shining and follow his path into that place, regardless of the context. This means that we need to be free to move, free to go, free to obey. I don’t think the 21st century church in its current form has that degree of flexibility; God is breaking the mould….. to be continued.

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‘Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’ Jer 6:16 (NIV)

Writing any polemic that challenges the status quo is never an easy task. Too often the writer tries to crack a nut with a sledge hammer in order to get their point across; there is a place for that sometimes. Jesus, on the other hand, more often leads us humbly and gently (although there was some nut-cracking too I think). However, the consequences of radical obedience are often costly enough without being battered and bruised by the vehicle that brings the challenge. That said, we are also told that he guides the humble and teaches them what is right Ps 25:9 (NIV). There is plenty of room, therefore, for humility everywhere. My prayer as I start out on this journey with you is that I do my bit to communicate in a way that demonstrates God’s unfailing and complete love for his Bride and his Church. That’s us! However frustrated, hurt or disappointed we may become, there is no room for church hating here. Simply put, this is a journey of change, of transformation, and the invitation comes with a loving smile rather than a scowl! God is not angry with you (or me), we have not let him down; his Grace is such that wherever we are and however we may identify with or engage with this journey, he is cheering us on, singing over us with love and encouraging us to move forward with the wind of his Spirit. I wish we looked at each other like that! I’ve lots to learn.

As I type, I feel the ever-so gentle pressure of his yoke, and with that comes a responsibility that all of us in any form of leadership share. We are all called to care for the flock that has been entrusted to us, watching over it willingly, not ‘lording’ over it but leading by our own good example 1 Pet 5:2-4 (NIV). I have read many prophetic books where God has entrusted his prophets with a clarion call; this is not necessarily one of them. This is written from the perspective of a journey already began and a cost that is already being paid. If you like, this comes from having answered that call to take off the old vestments, stand naked, and pray like mad that the new ones come soon! I will not hold back on describing the cost and struggles that have resulted, to do so would diminish from the glory that Jesus gets in having lead us so clearly and kindly. I would also hope that anyone coming to visit the Kingdom Family I serve would be able to taste the goodness of God and smell the aroma of the essence of what you read. Integrity demands it, as this is not a theoretical work.

So my invitation to you comes from Jeremiah; stop. As you read this blog and reflect upon the challenges therein, maybe allow any initial responses to be tempered by measured ones as you take time to look around. God is not asking anyone to leap from a moving train that is going in the wrong direction! However, he may just be asking you to pull the emergency cord and allow the train to halt on its journey and just check to see if the destination that it is travelling towards is the one that he has put on the front. That destination is Jesus and his Kingdom. He never asks us to seek or journey towards anywhere else. He certainly never told us to either ‘go’ to church, or to lead people there either. It is in him first that we find our refuge.

There is a very important scripture that we should all have in our minds as we read anything in the genre of churchmanship, and it is this.

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Ecc 1: 9 (NIV)

So, if you are looking for any brand new revelation, model or methodology that will grow the church, stop reading. There is no ‘silver bullet’ or quick fix or programme that is going to help you, as God has never asked any of us to be concerned in growing anything, or building anything for that matter. We are reminded at least three times, twice in Acts, that God does not live in temples made with human hands. God cannot inhabit anything that he has not created himself, which is why he builds with the living stones of our lives, through relationship. God is invisible, yet becomes visible through his work in our lives. He works from the invisible to the visible, rather than the other way around. This simple facet of God’s character is probably the hardest to submit to as it requires us to genuinely face the uncomfortable truth that we can’t build anything of the Kingdom ourselves. The Kingdom of God advances and is taken by force both through our response to and allowing the work of the Master Builder to manifest in our lives. We may respond practically by building an orphanage for example, or opening up our homes; however it is only within the relationships that exist there, and the resulting flow of love, that the real building work is done.

We will see, therefore, that his church is built through the revelation and proclamation of Jesus’ identity as The Christ (both historically and eternally), both in our own lives and in the lives of those that we live amongst. Little else, therefore, holds any real value. Yes, of course there are ‘optional extras’, however when we allow any of these to become the main thing, then we quickly find ourselves stood at the foot of the mountain, holding a golden calf and wondering how on earth we got there! In some ways, I think this is the position of the institutional church today.

Jodi Mitchell hit on something of this in her platinum hit ‘Big Yellow Taxi’;

‘don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They’ve paved paradise and put up a and parking lot’.

Looking back on my journey, it is only now, after so much has gone, that we see the parking lot that I paved the beautiful garden of his church with! Maybe God has got the engineers in to rip up the paving slabs and release the dormant seeds that lie in the soil beneath.

Charlie Shuttleworth, a friend, has a saying that resounds over and over again in my Spirit. ‘Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’. It seems to be completely against our human nature to agree with or support something that does not benefit ourselves in some way. Unfortunately, that is a Kingdom anathema. The way of the Kingdom is downward, embracing the death that we were baptised into (that of Jesus) in order that we may embrace our new life in him.

Not so long ago I was given a picture of a soccer team made up of very famous players. Each one was stood on the pitch playing ‘keepsie uppie’, bouncing the ball on their foot to keep it in the air. They were amazing at it and were competing light heartedly (on the surface anyway) to see how many times they could keep their ball in the air. The trouble was that whilst they were doing this, the game had stopped; no goals were bring scored. I then saw a team of dirty and ragged children on a scrap of waste-ground playing their hearts out with excitement and joy, scoring goal after goal. God is simply saying this I think. It’s time to get the ball back into play and he’ll use anyone that is willing. What if God was asking those that he has called to under-shepherd his flock to make the bold, costly, risky and frankly terrifying movement towards trusting him enough to be that turkey that does vote for Christmas!?

So; this blog is called Kingdom Shift for a reason. Whilst all of us would probably say that we need to be more ‘Kingdom focused’, to actually live that out requires some really radical changes to how we function as his Bride. The irony is that so many of the ‘anointed amateurs’ (as the lovely Geordie, Ken Gott describes them), that come to church, week on week, but hunger for something more, something different, are already tasting this. It’s us as leaders that need to catch up and die a very rapid spiritual death, before we become fossilised into irrelevancy.

Before we begin the journey proper, my final encouragement to anyone reading this is to think on the humility of Peter. He describes himself towards the end of his first letter as simply ‘a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ’. In today’s culture I wonder what he would have been tempted to call himself; the senior leader or apostle of a worldwide missional movement maybe? No doubt his personal assistant would be the one that would answer any questions on this. My point? In heaven right now the same elder (I suspect) is bowing down every few minutes, casting his crown before the throne and crying Holy, Holy Holy. He would be following the lead of the living creatures that, if we saw manifested on earth today, would most likely be heralded as an alien invasion by the church! God’s ways are defiantly higher than ours.

Let’s all, therefore, cast our crowns before Him, the only one who is worthy in himself of wearing a crown, the slain Lamb of God, and simply journey together as brothers, sisters. Let’s rejoice not in what we have done or seen, but in the simple fact that our names, together, are written in the Book of Life. And let’s laugh and have some fun! The Father loves us anyway!

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