I was reading the Bible the other day using a year long programme taking you through the whole book in a year when most unexpectedly I had one of those God hijacking moments. I’ll be honest in that I was reading fast to get through the large section of text set aside for the day when the story leaped off the page and took me hostage. God speaks even when we are not fully with the right motivation!
It is the moment where God starts commissioning Abraham to be the leader of the nation of Israel as recorded in Genesis 17 & 18. There were four things that I got from the story and the notes that helped explain.
1) Walk with me
Gods plan has always been to walk and journey with humanity. We see it from the very dawn of creation in the early days of the Garden of Eden as God walks in the Garden of Eden looking for Adam and Eve (Gen 3: 8). He can’t find them so calls to them (Gen 3: 9). There is a desire to be with his people and journey with them. In Genesis 17: 1 we see God offer to walk and journey through life with Abraham. So in all that you are facing today know that God calls you too as he wishes to walk with you throughout the day.
2) The Big Plan
God had big plans for Abraham and Sarah which he starts to share with them through Genesis 17 & 18. The plans God unveils are for a whole nation. The scale of this literally floors Abraham three time in the two chapters (17: 3 & 17, 18: 2). When God speaks his BIG Plan over your life (because whether or not you know it he has big plans for you) the best response if you find it a bit much is to follow Abrahams suit. Fall to your knees in prayer and submission to God.
3) God will always do more
Abraham heard the plan which was immense and beyond anything that he could have dreamed. God was creating a nation through him and his bloodline to come. The promise was of this nation of God to flow through his unborn son Isaac. Abraham dares to ask for more (17:18). Please also bless Ishmael and his descendants too. God agreed (17: 20). Never be scared to ask for God’s blessing in all areas of what you are doing in life. God will always do more
4) Is anything too hard for God?
Finally in the midst of this exciting news that Sarah was finding impossible to get her head around the Trinity speaking with one voice (18:5) asks the greatest rhetorical question of all time “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” No matter what you are facing today look the issue right in the eyes and ask “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
I was in a forum recently with a Member of Parliament from the UK and a room full of Church Leaders. A skilled interviewer drew out of the politician the need for the Church to play its part in shaping society. The interviewer then got really nitty gritty and asked how we do that? Build bridges and work with your local statutory bodies seemed to be the gist of the reply. We were then asked to raise our hands if we had ever written to our MP about an issue? A lot of hands rose which was encouraging. The interviewer then turned the question back to the MP asking if they received a lot of correspondence from Church leaders. Yes, was the reply but often about certain seemingly important issues to the church. The proposed changes to legislation around ‘Gay Marriage’ for example had caused their mail box to swell in recent times as Christians wrote in. The MP then paused and reflected saying these soul piercing words “I am yet to receive a letter from a church leader about the growing challenges of Child Poverty in the UK.” It hit me like an arrow through my soul!
There is so much for us to speak up about as believers and those of us who represent the people of God in the Church but do sometimes we miss some of the desperate areas of injustice. Please hear me I am not condemning those of us opposing the fundamental changes to the constitution of marriage. It is indeed an area I have spoke up for which is probably why the words cut so deep. I need to work a lot harder at taking my MP by surprise.
I was both saddened yet not surprised to see an article in the Telegraph online yesterday stating the ‘Google is as trusted as the Church by Britons’. The survey of 2000 people asked people to rank institutions in order of ‘trust’. With less than one in five saying they believe the search giant and faith leaders have their best interests at heart.The Britishe based public survey revealed a joint ranking of low regard between the search engine giants, Google and the Church/Faith Leaders.
The NHS scored best with 40% followed in second place by The Police scoring 25% Even supermarkets slightly out scored the religious institutions. All the above institutions and businesses have had their integrity over years called into question with front page splashes of the national and international press they could have done without. It proved damaging to all but the Religious institutions seem to have suffered the most in the trust ratings.
Now of course the survey placed all religious institutions in together. Even within some denominations of the same faiths there have been a variety challenging trust issues in recent years. However we must also remember that the Church is the largest and most prominent of religious institutions in the UK.
So how do we start to restore and rebuild the eroded bridges of trust into our communities and society as a whole? Well here are a few of my thoughts and this is certainly not exhaustive!
Being visible & active
This does not mean your building but the people of God, his Church. the Bible reminds us in the Gospels to ‘Never hide a light under a bowl’. I feel it is difficult to be a follower of Christ and not an activist. The poverty and injustice are just two of many areas in which we need to be visible and active. We need to be on the ball and there is no longer any excuses in the instant news feeds that surround us to be uniformed. James reminds us that Faith without works is dead. Lets roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty.
Christ Humbled himself (Philippians 2:8) and so should we. We are in our own little way a part of the solution. I have realized in an increasing way over the past few years that genuine partnership is the way forward. When the church with all its passion and commitment is harnessed working with statutory bodies can bring long term transformation. You only have to look at Street Pastors, ROC, CAP and Trussell Trust Foodbacnk to see this proven.
In an instant society that moves so fast consistency, reliability and long term commitment are fading trends. Yet these are vital for society to function and grow. It is the best way to bring long term change. As other things come and go the Church remains.
The Church in the UK is such a huge beast that spans many hundreds of traditions and streams. How can I possibly effect it? I love the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the city walls. There is one bit in particular that always leaps at me. It was within the giant sized task of rebuilding the entire city wall the work of Benjamin and Hasshub. They simply faithfully rebuilt the bit in front of their homes as we see in Nehemiah 3. Lets repair the wall in front of us where we live.
Find out the unique needs of your community and review what you can do to start to fill the voids and gaps in provision. Meeting the felt need of a community is a powerful statement of intent. If you don’t know what it is go and ask the Police, Council or schools in your area. Our greatest success have come from asking the questions to the right people because your contribution becomes targeted and tangible.
I had the pleasure of meeting someone new last week through a work connection. As we finished the meeting and then progressed to talk over lunch she told a story of her family that really spoke to me. It was almost like I was being told a parable.
She talked of her father and his brother who were both born and raised in Northern India. They lived in a small village and only knew subsistence farming as a way of life. This had been the case for many generations.
As young men they decided to take a risk in search of something better. This meant leaving behind the only way of life they had ever known. They said goodbye to their families and India to departed to Kenya in search of new opportunities.
Kenya was at the time under the control of the Commonwealth and money was being poured into it to develop it and in particular its infrastructure. Both men sort and found jobs building the railways. This was hard work and along way from all they had both previously experienced and known. Family was missed and the culture clashed. After a while her uncle found the going too much and decided to return to his family and former way of life in Northern India but her father as tough as he found it chose to stick it out and stayed. After many years he became a Kenyan citizen. In the 1970’s they took the opportunity on offer through the Commonwealth to relocate to the UK. This was another huge upheaval as he moved continent again this time with a young family. They set up home in the midlands. It was still tough as they adjusted to the culture again and the inherent racism that was still ingrained in our society at that time.
He found work and his children were well educated with in our school system growing up as first generation British children. The children were successful and ended up with good jobs. His children then got married and started their own families.
I enquired of what had become of her fathers brother. My new friend informed me that he had returned fully to his way of life that he left in Northern India. He too had children and subsequently grand children. His whole family still lived in the same village substance farming the same bit of land. His children had not received the benefit of education and lived in very different living conditions and economic backdrop. Her uncles children were now substance farmers working that very same bit of land raising their own children.
She had taken her children to the village in rural India to connect them with some of their heritage. The could not believe the place their second cousins lived. All this was due to one decision. The valid decision to throw the towel in when the going get tough.
What land is it that we need to dig our heels into and claim for the benefit of our future generations. It may be that we don’t get to live in the fullness of the path we create but it transforms things for future generations. Even when it means relocating, dealing with a foreign culture, suffering pain in order to start a new history.
I like all followers of Christ want to know God more and serve him fully with my life. I know I get one shot at this and want to give to my body as a ‘living sacrifice’ as the New testament writer of the letter to the Romans encourages us to do as an act of worship. I had a bit of an epiphany as I read the psalms recently. Psalm 105 and in particular one verse leapt out and hit me straight between the eyes. It resulted in an instant realisation that I was all too often distracted.
Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.
Psalm 105: 4
So often I am caught out looking for the hands of God. What is it that he is up to in my friendships, church, city or nation? At other times it’s his feet that I am looking at. Where is it that God is on the move? Where is his spirit powerfully at work? I all too easily get distracted by these thoughts and stirrings. Don’t get me wrong these things are not bad. However the psalmist reminds us that it’s his face we should be looking towards to know the Father more. The work of his hands is awesome and where he goes I want to follow. However first and foremost we must look to his face and seek to catch the gaze of God.
The crown has been worn through the ages by monarchs or deity for whom it symbolises power and legitimacy amongst many other things. A coronation crowns is worn at a coronation by the monarch being enthroned. Crowns are also worn by consorts as a sign of their rank held.
The bible talks in New Testament of Jesus being crowned. We know that he was crowned with thorns as the soldiers mocked him. In the book of Hebrews we see that Jesus is crowned with Glory and honour due to the price he paid for us.
The most incredible transaction happens between God and man. Through Christ death and resurrection we too are crowned even though we have no right to it. Our consort relationship with King Jesus means we are crowned too.
As a crowned consort of the King what is it that your work colleagues or friends see in you. What does your crown speak of other than you are a child of God. We are crowned through Christ. The Psalmist puts it beautifully but carrying an incredible challenge.
‘who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion’
Psalm 103: 4
So what is it that people see as they look at us. Do they see the crown of ‘love and compassion’ as the psalmist says they should? Why not take a moment to reflect on what people see when they look on at us today. It should be love and compassion.
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.