I found myself well out of sync once again this week. I ended up reading the story of the birth of Christ in mid February! As usual when I open the Bible with a bit of peace and space the Lord speaks to me as something leaped out and smacked me around the face like a wet kipper. So here is what I read......
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
Luke 2: 17 - 20
The line and phrase that leap was the ‘treasuring up’ and ‘pondering’ that Mary did. She was in awe and shock at the news that accompanied the birth of her child Jesus. The story the shepherds shared that reiterated the angelic message received a few months before. The child was not just special he was the saviour of Israel. Gods one and only son Jesus Christ had come to earth. It just inspired me to reflect on who Jesus is and what he has done for me. I would encourage you before the sun sets today to ponder what this birth means to you.
I had a fun day today with my children as they were off school on half term break. Art and creative productions flowed like an unending river. Toys saturated the lounge covering every free surface (in some places double!). Bike rides to the park with endless mishaps and incidents. It was all nonstop action.
The one thing that most stood out to me was the games my three young live wires were creating for themselves. The games rarely got completed as their imaginations were in absolute over drive. Each time a new idea came it was just added into the mix and on they went! Their imaginations were both epic and so extravagant beyond the bounds of reality. It seemed it was more about dreaming the games up than playing them. On several occasions I found myself laughing as the games took the most left-field of directions as a new sub plots emerged. My conclusion today was that my children have the most fun-filled and wild imaginations that completely created the platform for their day.
As I reflected on the day as the kids sat down to watch a pre bedtime movie together a verse from the Bible leapt into my mind. It comes at the end of a dynamic prayer from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church in Ephesus.
Paul reminds us that God ‘is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.’
I pondered on this it dawned on me that my imagination needs to be stretched beyond the bounds of reality a bit more often. How often do I day-dream as to what God might do through his power at work in somebody like me. My conclusion was not often enough!
"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”
T. E. Lawrence
So often when I look back I see the significance of the logic and sequence of all that has past. In the moment of the journey it is often lost from view. As has been said before ‘Hindsight is always 20/20’.
Have you ever been on a journey that has felt like a wild goose chase? A journey that seems to know no end or the assumed destination when you set off is not where the journey ends? You never even make it to the place you set out for or accomplish the very thing you were trying to do. I have even had journeys where you realise with hindsight that the destination was not the even the point of the journey!
I was reading the beginning of story of Saul in the book of 1 Samuel. Saul is sent off by his Father on a journey to recapture some of the families live stock that had escaped. He sets off with a servant for company and help. After a long search the journey seems to be heading towards a failed mission. As this conclusion looms large the servant comes up with what could be seen as a desperate long shot or what we know is an inspired idea as well as the resources to give it a go. All of a sudden the focus of the journey shifts towards another destination. It’s now about an appointment the seer.
Meanwhile the man who had really learned how to hear the Lords voice from his early days whilst sleeping. Samuel hears the ancient of days speak again and he responds in the ways Eli taught him all those years previous ‘speak your servant is listening’. The Lord tells him to anoint Saul.
This exposes the original purpose of the journey for the Wild Donkey Chase it was. Gods plan for his people was never about the Donkeys it was about Saul meeting the one who would encourage and anoint him. This journey was always about an impartation of faith nothing else not that Saul knew that when he set out. Hindsight is always 20/20!
So often it’s not about the plan we set. Nor is it about the destination or objective we think but is about what we learn on the journey. I wonder on the journeys our lives take how often it is about meeting the one who anoints in the person of Jesus Christ.
“Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you leader over his inheritance?”
1 Samuel 10: 1
I have been thinking a lot over the last few weeks about church buildings as we start to seek a new place to call home. We have always been a church that said it is not about buildings but people. However buildings have an important role to play in order to resource a lot of what we do to serve our local community. All sorts of community groups and charities also call our home theirs too which we love. Many of these would not be able to run without our facilities. On Sunday a friend passed me a book by David Watson called 'I Believe in the Church'. I am a huge admirer of David Watson have read many of his writings. His thinking which still rings so clearly to believers 25 years on. The friend passing me the book focused my attention on a few pages in particular. This quote hit me like a train in which Watson quotes John Havlik.....
"The Church is never a place, but always a people; never a fold but always a flock; never a sacred building but always a living assembly. The church is you who pray, not where you pray. A structure of brick and marble can no more be a church than your clothes of serge or satin can be you. There is in this world nothing sacred but man, no sanctuary of man but the soul"
It is so easy to get it the wrong way around! The Church is always about people not t buildings! We too often forget this and the church is tipped on its end.
A Poem by Robert Graves:
I was at my Cell Group last night and we were knocking around the subject of Solitude. We have all been reading a book called ‘Sacred Rhythms’ which is about spiritual disciplines and rhythms. This has been a read that has challenged me in my life patens. None more so than this week when we jumped into the chapter on Solitude.
The challenge for an extravert like me is immediate. Even thinking about just being alone drains me of energy and fills me with a touch of fear! I am built up being with others , this is a source of my energy. Why be alone when you can be with others.
I have noticed over the past few years a growing part of me that does enjoy solitude. As a Father of young children and the busy work life of leading a church I reflect that my life is full of people, most of the time. This has brought an appreciation of times alone. When I think about Solitude of course I am not referring to time alone just me and my thoughts. It is time set aside to sit with God and be still.
As I thought more I do have those times set aside but the challenge for me is more the noise of life. Puttting all of life’s noise on mute. We reflected as a group that we live in a world where everything is screaming for our attention and more often than not requires immediate response. The world seems to keep getting faster and the noise keeps growing. This is my area of growth and discipline is to put that all on mute whilst I spend time with God. Be still and know....
We agreed as a group that over the next week we would all find at least an hour to sit and be still with God. Everything would go on mute. There would be no desired out comes or goals just stillness with us and our maker. We were all a mixture of nervous and excited at the thought!
We had a young guy come and sit with our leader’s team a couple of weeks back. He was travelling with a leader from another church who regularly comes in to shape and develop our team. He shared something that has really stirred my thinking since. It was no new major revelation to me but a very healthy and timely reminder to refocus myself. I feel this is particularly relevant for those of us called by God to serve as leaders in Christs Church. In the busyness of working so hard to serve and stimulate growth at every level we can sacrifice the moments to just be in his presence and enjoy what he has done for us. These are the bits that all too often take the hit in my busy schedual.
Matt (the young guy mentioned above) said this to our team "sometimes we get so lost in the business of 'what we are doing for God' we totally lose focus of the more important thing as a Christian of 'what he has done for us'. It must always be the focus and everything else flows from here."
Christ has done all it all for us in his life, his death and his resurrection. It is a complete and finished work as my friend Malc regularly reminds us at Revs. This is the warm bath of the love of the father in which I need a daily soak. The letter of 1 John speaks so well to this.
“We love because he first loved us.”
1 John 4: 19
Check out the order here! He did it first which drives us to be who we were created to be. Let us keep this order in place always.
Last week I was in Windsor for a gathering of leaders of some of the churches that are in the Pioneer Network (www.pioneer.org.uk) we are part of at Revs. It was as ever great to see friends from around the nation who are trying to build the same thing we are here in Chichester. Some of the stories of what God building are truly incredible. Whoever says the Church is dying and irrelevant would not have been able to maintain that position for longer than a few minutes in that room in which we gathered as the stories flowed. It stirred me to keep building what God has called me to do.
As I drove to Windsor, a place I have never been before I was guided by a Sat Nav system which I asked to take me their as quick as possible. As I realised that I was entering the outskirts of Windsor I could not help but look to see if I could see the world renowned Winsor Castle. I had no idea where it was in relation to where I was. Then all of a sudden I glanced right to see the huge castle through an avenue of trees. Although brief it was an awesome and dominating sight. Hundreds of years of history stood in this monumental building of which I was sure I could only see a small section.
When I got in my car to come home my thought was to get out of Windsor ASAP as rush hour loomed large. I asked the Sat Nav to take me home via the shortest route. This meant weaving through the suburban Windsor. As I seemed to be getting to the edge of Windsor I approached another round about. As I glanced right to see if I needed to give way I realised I was at the entrance to Lego Land! At the entrance was a several massive Lego blocks stacked together looking like the start of a Lego tower being built.
I smiled as I unintentionally got glances from my car journey of the two places Windsor is known for. They were so different yet both captured my imagination the ancient and modern living in the same town. One was about ancient crafted stone work built by skilled masons. The other was a modern take on building that anyone could have a go at piecing together.
My thoughts then darted back to moments in my day talking about the growing partnership between Pioneer and the Methodist Church. The older and newer complimenting each other in the same space.
But more than that I had the challenging words of a parable from the end of Luke 5 shared as part of the day doing laps in my mind. It was about wine and its skins. In the new Church movement of the last two decades I have been a part of this has often been used to justify our existence and plans. However we often (as was shared with the leaders) conveniently leave out the punch line at the end because it is uncomfortable and requires a large dose of humility! ‘The old is better’. New wine is for new skins but the old is better. I love the co-existence of both the old and new in the same town complimenting one another.
I have been recently reading of the amazing Exodus of Gods people from the plight of the Egyptian enslavement. The scale and extraordinary super natural moments of the Exodus from captivity on the journey to the promise land and all its freedoms never fails to stir me. The story of freedom turns sour quiet quick though as the very practical matters of food and water become scarce.
It seems to only take a matter of hours from the dramatic escape as God lead them out of captivity to freedom to slip from the minds of the people of Israel and the latest challenge facing them to dominate the headlines. I can so resonate with this, I am pretty sure I would have been one of the biggest moaning thirsty mouths present! Like the Israelites I all to quickly forget the major markers of Gods promises that act as milestones along the path of my life. I am so busy looking for the next one that I forgot how God showed up and set the marker of freedom down last time and the one before it etc.
In trying to read Exodus with an open heart to the Lord and I stumbled across a small piece which has not really captured my attention before. At the end of Chapter 15 where the moaning starts God makes a decree that if his people obey his commands and listen carefully to his voice he will keep them safe from disaster and disease. He will provide for them. He reminds them that it was he who brought them out of captivity. Once the refocus following Gods pep talk they arrive in Elim to find 12 fresh water Springs and 70 Palm Trees.
If I can keep my focus on obeying God and listening to his voice the provision for all I need will come.
I was at my friends farm over the weekend and as usual witnessed a lot of wildlife. Now I am no Rolf Harris as I am not really into animals of any sort but the farm does fascinate me. The fine line between life and death is always close at hand on the farm. As we were relaxing the children came dashing across the field to let us know that the puppy and caught one of the geese from and had it in his mouth. My friend (and owner of the dog) dashed in the direction the children had just emerged from to try and save the goose. The goose in question was released by the dog eventually unharmed if not a little shaken.
Later on in the afternoon I was taking a stroll and saw the puppy on the prowl again! He walked nonchalantly towards the gaggle of geese feeding on the grass by a lake. They noticed him about 15 meters away and started to walk slowly away. He then gave chase. To my absolute surprise the gaggle just started to walk a bit faster. As the dog closed in this turned into a fast waddle. I could not believe that they did not take flight to escape the advancing dog! Eventually they tried too but it was too late. The closest goose just sat in submission as the dog arrived. The puppy had his second jackpot of the day and it was all to easy.
I could not understand why the geese did not fly earlier. After all it was what the were anatomically designed for and the dog was not! This would have lifted them out of the danger of the dog. It was their ultimate defencive move to the dogs offence.
It got me thinking about how often I act like a 'stupid goose' in the face of danger and challenge. I don't see I am struggling quick enough and retreat to safety. Isaiah in the Old Testement paints a picture of Gods people 'soring on wings like eagles'.
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:31)
I am done with being a stupid goose!