Message to a friend

It’s hard for passions to stay alive when you’re in a dry and dusty land with the dry bones of church lying all around

Part 4 of a series – What are we doing?

Like a waterfall | Index | The good and bad of services >

I recently had a conversation with my friend Steve* who had just read my earlier article about Ezekiel, ‘Dry bones in the valley‘. He sent me an email about his thoughts and I sent a reply. Immediately I’d sent it I felt a strong sense that the Holy Spirit was encouraging me to post my reply to the blog as well; so with Steve’s permission, here it is:

Hi Steve,

Thanks for taking the time and effort to reply with your thoughts and feelings. It’s not work for me, it’s fun, it helps us know one another better, it’s a joy and a pleasure. We write about things we only skim over when we chat because our conversations are newsy and more about catching up – and that’s good too, I always look forward to our chats.

There are two journeys here – your personal journey, and the journey of the church. When I wrote the articles about Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones I was writing to and about the church. I felt at the time and still feel today that the church is sleepwalking and not really listening to what Father is saying. It’s a dry, dusty and fairly lifeless place to be when compared with the early church or with any of the great revivals in the last 2000 years. Church hurts people, disappoints people, dries people up spiritually, channels them into limited thinking and limited behaviour; that’s not what Jesus wants for his people! And it’s mostly because we focus our energies on programs, Bible studies, pre-programmed music, meetings, buildings to own or rent, prayer groups, money raising, mission planning, leadership training. Life is not in those things, real life is in Jesus.

But of course that doesn’t mean that Ezekiel has nothing to say to you personally, Steve. Papa will speak into your life as he does into every follower of Jesus. You feel – understandably – like Ezekiel must have felt by the river, before he had his vision about the valley of bones. I know you identified with the sense of captivity, loss, bleak prospects, endless struggle, and a feeling of hopelessness and no future. And those were the feelings of Ezekiel that the everlasting Father put his hand on. A gentle touch on the shoulder is easily overlooked, you might barely notice it. Yet it speaks volumes because it says, I am here, I am with you, I understand how you feel, I will come with you, have peace in your heart, you are not forgotten, I love you, you are my child, I am your Father and your friend, I haven’t abandoned you, I am here.

And as your brother standing nearby I can see that Papa has his hand on you. I’m a witness that he is touching you, Steve. I’ve seen you change, you are responding to his touch even though it’s not come in quite the way you expect or long for. The trip we made to Siddington was part of his touch, this conversation about the valley of bones is part of it, too. Having your children spend extra time with you is part of it. The practical and brotherly presence of another friend in your life is part of it. The new jobs you’ve been finding are part of it. The changes in your thinking about yourself, and about church, they’re part of it. Andy and Ellie are part of it.

His hand is on you and he will continue to show you stuff and use you. Even though you sometimes might not notice! 🙂

I’ve just been listening to Phil Wickham singing ‘All I am’. Maybe you’ll enjoy it too, it seems relevant.

You wrote, ‘I wish Father was more active and willing to power through for me instead of letting me learn through the journey‘.

Maybe learning through the journey teaches us more deeply, but he does power through as well when we are stuck. I think perhaps Siddington was an example of that.

You wrote, ‘I’m in a position where my passion’s dying due to not knowing if my actions in the church are what God wants for me anymore‘.

I was in that place, too. But the problem is not in you, the problem is in the church. If you were amongst a group of people who all just wanted to hear and respond to Jesus and only Jesus, you would find yourself being used – in your gifting and in a thousand other ways as well. It’s hard for passions to stay alive when you’re in a dry and dusty land with the dry bones of church lying all around. Believe me, Steve, if you were back in the early church you would be thriving and alive and contributing and passionate. And a little bit worried that Roman soldiers might kick the door in and arrest you! Church was alive back then – no buildings, no programs, no leadership training, no worship bands, no money raising – but very much alive and thriving and passionate.

You wrote, ‘I found it easier to walk a fair way out of the mess and sweep it all to the foot of the cross and ask God to deal with it…    but now what?

Ah, yes, now what? You asked him to deal with it, now you have to let him do just that. You can’t, but he can. You didn’t, but he will. And it’s very clear to me that he’s made a start already. I know that’s the truth because I’ve been part of the process.

A roller coaster, not very exciting until it starts moving! (Image licencing)

You may not feel it and you may not see it yet – but the ‘Now what?’ is already under way, Steve 🙂 You are on a journey with Jesus and who knows where he will lead you, but he’ll be right with you all the way. His ways are not our ways though, so expect the unexpected. He is turning the entire world upside down, and that includes your life!

Hang in there bro, hang on tight ‘cos it’s a roller coaster ride. We’re on Jesus’ roller coaster just sitting there thinking, ‘Nothing’s happening, where’s the excitement?’ Wait and see!

* Names have been changed.

See also: Valley of dry bones – Index

Like a waterfall | Index | The good and bad of services >

All lives matter

The very least that George Floyd and his family and friends deserve is that we object strongly to the system that resulted in his death. Police brutality is unacceptable. Racism is unacceptable.

The Black Lives Matter protests are completely understandable. There’s no point beating about the bush – The death of George Floyd was wrong. All deaths are tragic. Accidental deaths are regrettable. Deaths caused by carelessness are reprehensible. Deaths caused deliberately are unspeakably offensive.

Street artist painting a picture of George Floyd

It’s clear that George Floyd died at best through carelessness and at worst by deliberate action. Either is completely unacceptable.

However, all lives matter, and when protests involve the pulling down of statues and the throwing of bicycles and other objects at people, the protesters risk causing injury or death unintentionally. And with Covid-19 still out there, the opportunistic virus will spread amongst people in a demonstration and that will result in unintended deaths as well.

I agree that we should protest what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May. I’m protesting here and now in this article. But we also need to do everything possible to avoid further loss of life.

I’m not telling anybody what to do or what not to do. But I am pleading with everyone, please consider the unintended consequences of both action and inaction. The very least that George Floyd and his family and friends deserve is that we object strongly to the system that resulted in his death. Police brutality is unacceptable. Racism is unacceptable.

If you haven’t already done so, please consider joining me in signing the petition at Change.org.

Falcon 1

Things have come a very long way in less than 12 years!

Here’s a bit of history for you – SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle is currently docked to the International Space Station (ISS) having safely delivered two NASA astronauts, bringing the number of crew on the ISS to five. The rocket used to put Crew Dragon into orbit was SpaceX’s workhorse – Falcon 9.

But you already knew that, right?

Well, on 29th September 2008 I posted an item about SpaceX’s first successful launch to orbit using their Falcon 1. Things have come a very long way in less than 12 years!

In the next few days I’ll try to write a piece about SpaceX’s Crew Dragon flight – watch this space (pun not intended).

The Corona of Christ

He decided to expand His one and only Son into many sons!

Milt Rodriguez has posted a great article with this title on his blog ‘The Rebuilders’. I heartily commend it as it has some useful thoughts on the church and on Christ while focussing especially on the glory of the Almighty.

Milt writes:

God still wanted an expression, an outflowing expression of the love for His Son.  The expression would need to be corporate because God is corporate:  Father, Son, and Spirit and yet one God!

So what did He decide to do?  Well, the answer to that is beyond all logic, theology, and human understanding.

He decided to expand His one and only Son into many sons!  Yes, that’s right.  He decided to make His one and only Son into a corporate Son. 

I encourage you to read Milt’s post in full.

David Bolton’s music

I found his quiet, contemplative, gentle style rather lovely

Earlier this evening I came across a blog article by David Bolton in which he explains his musical journey in terms of composing and singing songs with his own guitar accompaniment.

At the the bottom of the article he has added a playlist. I found his quiet, contemplative, gentle style rather lovely and I’d like to share it with you here. I hope you’ll enjoy listening as much as I do.

That said, the article is worth a read as well; so don’t make a dash for the music without coming back to read about it later. There’s a lot of other good stuff on his blog too, if you have time to explore a bit.

What are we doing? – Index

Taking a careful look at church life, are we following Jesus?

(See indexes on other topics)

This index lists a collection of articles where the focus is on how we ‘do’ church. We challenge the basis of our thinking about what church is, how it works and is organised. And we examine the ultimate questions – who are we really following, and why?

  1. Church as we know it – The whole point of church is that we are a community of people who follow Jesus
  2. Upside-down? – Leadership and authority that is different from the usual kind
  3. Like a waterfall – A waterfall breaks the pattern of a river’s flow
  4. Message to a friend – It’s hard for passions to stay alive when you’re in a dry and dusty land with the dry bones of church lying all around
  5. The good and bad of services – A meeting that is not managed by us has the opportunity of being managed by the Holy Spirit
  6. Is church unbalanced? – If we learn to cooperate with one another … we will catch a view of [Jesus’] nature and so will the world around us
  7. New situation, new (old) ways – With Covid-19 preventing what we see as normal, is there a better way?

Like a waterfall

A waterfall breaks the pattern of a river’s flow

Part 3 of a series – What are we doing?

Upside-down? | IndexMessage to a friend >

I’m sharing a vision and message I received recently because, although it was primarily for a small group I meet with weekly, I think it has a much wider application as well. Sometimes Father shows me things when I am not particularly trying to listen to him. But on this occasion I was prompted by something a friend had said and I’d set aside some time to deliberately look and listen to the Spirit. So without more ado, here is what I saw:

Father showed me a waterfall, there was quite a big drop and the water was crashing onto rocks at the bottom. It was not huge like Niagara, but high enough that you wouldn’t want to take a boat over it!

And I sensed the Spirit saying the following words which I wrote down at the time:

A waterfall breaks the pattern of a river’s flow. The water always responds to gravity, but rarely flows freely towards the source of attraction (the centre of the Earth), normally it’s constrained by the river bed and the banks on either side, and only makes very slow progress downwards. But just now and then it gets the chance to flow freely towards the centre of attraction. I am that centre for my people, I want you to flow freely towards me, unrestricted by the channels you normally occupy.

But those channels are comfortable and seem safe, when they are taken away you feel in danger and vulnerable. This is not just true for my people, it’s true for everyone. You can see how the normal and comfortable has been taken away during the current Covid-19 crisis. Jobs, family contacts, high street shopping, watching a film, education, visiting friends – all these things have changed. And the normal patterns of church have changed too. So what remains? Ask yourselves what remains. Ask yourselves what is important.

The water flows differently when there’s no channel and it has complete freedom. That’s true for living water too. The loss of a channel is not a disaster, it’s an opportunity – think about that too.

I called you to be part of my waterfall, not part of a constrained river.

Do you see church as a channel you flow along, something that contains you and controls your flow? Do you see the value of complete freedom to rush headlong towards Jesus like a waterfall, with no channel to contain and direct your flow?

He is our Master, our Teacher, our Shepherd, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. He gave us life by breathing his breath into us, and he has given us new, spiritual life in the same way. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he is Living Water, he is the Light by which we see. He gives us gifts including the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. He calls us to follow him, to say what we hear him say, and do what we see him do. Given all of that, how can we possibly allow ourselves to be channelled by anyone or anything else but him?

He said, ‘Ask yourselves what remains [when the normal channels of church have changed]. Ask yourselves what is important’. And he said, ‘The loss of a channel is not a disaster, it’s an opportunity – think about that too.’

Perhaps we should take him at his word. What remains of normal church life? What is important? What are the opportunities?

Should we go back to the old channels as soon as that becomes possible? Should we cling to church, or should we cling to Jesus? Should we follow habit and tradition, or should we follow Jesus? Will we turn to church to disciple us or will we turn to Jesus to do that? Is there a difference? I think there is an enormous difference. What do you think?

Upside-down? | IndexMessage to a friend >

Upside-down?

Leadership and authority that is different from the usual kind of leadership most of us recognise

Part 2 of a series – What are we doing?

Church as we know it | IndexLike a waterfall >

I’ve just re-watched a video posted on You Tube in 2015; I’d like to share it with you. It’s called Upside-Down Leadership and was made by an organisation called House2House. I personally know several of the people speaking in this video, and they are kind, thoughtful, earnest men and women – all of them have walked closely with Jesus for many years. I hope you will recognise Christ in them as you watch and listen to what they have to say.

The video describes leadership and authority that is different from the usual kind of leadership most of us recognise. I can guarantee that in practically any church gathering of any kind, there will be people like these present. They may or may not be recognised by the institutional forms of church we are mostly familiar with; but if you want to grow as a follower of Jesus, these are the people you need to spend time with. They tend to be gentle, wise, kind, thoughtful, humble, loving and often overlooked, sometimes even rejected.

Watch the video and then think about the people in your church, denomination, or small group. Who might benefit from servant leaders like these? Can you identify any upside-down leaders? (They are always there, and just as likely to be found in the congregation as on the platform.) They may be male or female, young or old, uneducated or professorial, wealthy or poor.

How might we find more such upside-down leaders? And how will we thrive without them? Let me know what you think, leave a comment.

Church as we know it | IndexLike a waterfall >

Church as we know it

The whole point of church is that we are a community of people who follow Jesus

Part 1 of a series – What are we doing?

< No earlier posts | IndexUpside-down? >

The time has come to ask some questions about church as we know it in 2020. What cause lies behind the shrinking attendance at mainstream denominations? Why do we do the things we do? Do our traditions and assumptions match up with church as Jesus wants it to be? If we need to change, how do we go about that? Should we even be asking questions like these?

I believe we should. Not that things are worse than they were ten years ago, or a hundred years ago. But certainly things are not at all as they were at the beginning. Does that matter? If so, why? If not why not? How can we even begin to wrestle with these questions?

I believe we can – and must. But first we need to calibrate our knowledge and understanding and find a measuring system so that we can establish some basic parameters.

The fundamental measure

A steel ruler for measuring length

Let’s take length as an example of a physical quantity. To measure the length of something we need a calibrated tool – a ruler, tape measure, laser rangefinder – whatever form it might take. But the measuring device must be calibrated. A ruler with mm and cm markings on it would be useless if it didn’t agree with other rulers. The basic need here is for a length that never changes that we can use as a standard. Until 1960 the standard was a metal bar in France, and this standard meter was used for calibration; if your ruler didn’t agree with the standard meter in France, it was a bad and misleading ruler. The modern standard is based on the wavelength of a particular kind of light and is far more precise and reliable than the metal bar.

In church life we need a similarly precise and reliable standard concerning our organisation and behaviour. Since the whole point of church is that we are a community of people who follow Jesus, it should be obvious that he is the standard we must use for calibration. If our organisation and behaviour don’t agree with his, we are out of true and some adjustments will be essential to bring us back into line. The life and words of Jesus are the primary source for us. And all the church leaders who have ever arisen since Jesus’ day should agree with his standard. If they do not, they are bad and misleading leaders.

So how does Jesus measure up as a fundamental standard for his followers? Does he ever change? No, he is the same yesterday, today and forever. Can we use him as a standard? Yes, he is knowable in several ways, his words and actions are described in the Bible, he has filled his people with his Spirit as a guide and comforter. Is there anyone else with an equal or better claim to be our fundamental standard? Peter? James? John? Paul? A pope? An archbishop? Your pastor? Arguably, some or all of these might be more or less useful substitutes if the primary standard was unavailable. But Jesus is always available! So no, there is no man or woman who can claim to be a better standard than Jesus himself.

He’s consistent and he’s knowable – and that’s all we need.

Where do we go from here?

In future parts of this series we’ll begin to query what we’ve been doing, individually and corporately. We’ll check the standard of Jesus to see if we need to recalibrate. I’m not here to tell you what to do, but along the way I’ll try to encourage you to look for yourself, to examine Jesus and ask yourself some questions, and to act on what you discover. I’ll revisit this topic from time to time. In the meantime, may your journey be an illuminating one, may you grapple with the challenges, find your own answers, and always keep your eyes on Jesus.

What if you are not following Jesus?

Please note: If your faith is Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism or any other religion, or if you have no faith at all, then the paragraphs above are not aimed at you. They are aimed squarely at anyone who claims to follow Jesus.

But I do encourage you to take a look at the claims Jesus makes about himself, and I encourage you to read about him in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. A good place to begin might be one of the gospels. I suggest reading Luke (and then Acts for the early history of the church). And if you find Jesus is calling you to follow him, then the main part of this article does start to apply to you, as it does to all his people.

If you click those links to Luke and Acts you’ll be able to choose from many Bible translations in a number of modern languages.

< No earlier posts | IndexUpside-down? >

A card in wintertime – 2019

When the days are short and the weather is cold (or wet this year), it’s cheering to see Christmas lights in the streets. Here’s a photo of Black Jack Street in Cirencester taken on 12th December. Lovely!

Whoever you are, whatever faith you do or do not have, and whoever inspires you, I have some simple things to say to you:

Life is not always easy or comfortable – may you have strength, wisdom and courage to carry on despite it all. May peace and grace, joy and blessing always follow you and find room in your heart – whatever your circumstances may be.

For myself, I follow Jesus to the best of my limited ability, for more about what I do, think and believe, browse around this website. You are a welcome guest here. And here’s a true word from Jesus himself:

If you’re struggling and heavily weighed down, come to me, I’ll give you rest. Learn from me, the burden I lay on you is very light because I’m gentle and kindheartedly humble.

(Paraphrased from Matthew 11:28-30.)