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!
I read another bit of the Bible today that got me thinking! I was reading of Jacob’s life in Genesis. Laban is in furious pursuit of his son in law, Jacob who has taken off without notice with his daughters and grandchildren. He wanted to have it out with him but once more God intervenes and speaks clearly to Laban with some simple words “Watch Yourself!” God warned him. “Don’t say anything to Jacob, good or bad”
Laban had every right to speak up and request an answer. God was getting involved to protect Jacob in his rash choices driven by fear. But God spoke clearly saying keep quiet! I so find it hard to keep quiet especially when I feel wronged. I felt challenged thinking how often does God steer my response to silence and I miss it?
In my Cell Group this week James hard hitting words from his letter in the New testament was quoted ‘Be quick to listen, Slow to speak, slow to become angry’ James 1: 19. I can’t help but read this and make a quick personal assessment that usually goes fail, FAIL & FAIL!
I am feeling challenged to keep my big mouth a bit more shut!
"Jesus strategy turns spectators into participators, consumers to contributors, audiences to armies, members to missionaries"
This quote is taken from the Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren. I absolutely love it, I do! As Rick Warren points out Jesus has a strategy and a plan always involves participation. He puts this strategy into place time and time again we see not only recorded in the Bible but is illustrated throughout history. God transforms us which means that ordinary people can do through him extraordinary things . His Kingdom advances as the audience turns into an army.
It blows my mind that God chooses to use regular people like us to be a part of his master plan. He could quiet easily achieve this on his own such is his omnipotence. Father God though chooses to engage with his children and lavish love upon them (1 John 1: 3). In Matthew 18 Jesus makes it very clear. It is HIS Church and HE will build it. He is the builder and it is his building, we are purely key holders (not just to the Church but the whole Kingdom) who wish to steward it well and ultimately put a smile on his face.
This is what Jesus Church should look like. It functions as the body as spectators become participators, consumers to contributors with each unique part contributing to the whole.
I was sitting with a very wise sage the other day at a gathering of leaders from across our region. I was asked to share what was the area that I need I was feeling challenged in and needed to grow. A real heavy weight question!
I was at the annual Pioneer Leaders Conference the back end of last week in Southampton. It was a great time of catching up with good friends and striking up new ones. I also feel totally refreshed from hearing inspiring people talking about what God is up to across these Isles. Time and time again I come away with the over riding observation that God grabs hold of ordinary people and does extraordinary things. I find this such a comfort being fully aware of my own ordianaryness and more and more aware of Gods extrodinaryness.
Alan Scott from Causeway Coast Vineyard Church particularly inspired me. There were two things that leapt at me from his Saturday morning session. The first bit was refreshing for someone like me who is passionate about advancing the Kingdom of Heaven and rolling up our sleeves to get stuck in and be the change to our city. Alan shared that ‘we are not called as Churches to take the city for Christ but to wash the cities feet.’ I loved this! Its all about serving and not ruling.
‘I am a servant not a master’
The second thing was just really helpful to hear as a Church Leader. He encouraged us that our calling and role in leading Jesus’ Church is to ‘go make disciples’ (Matthew 28:19). Our role is not to build the Church. Alan reminded me that it is Christ’s church and his job not mine to build it! Jesus himself said ‘I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it’ (Matthew 16: 18).
‘I am a maker not a builder’
You can download Alan Scott’s talk for free from http://www.pioneer.org.uk/allaudio.php