Gentleness takes courage and strength

You are precious to me, every single one of you. So live as if you believe that you are precious! Stand tall in the world. The things I want to see grow in you are not hard or complicated.

RiverOuse
River Ouse, St Neots

Last Sunday morning I was sitting in a lobby area in the community centre in Eaton Ford, part of the market town of St Neots between Bedford and Cambridge. River Church meets here and I was visiting, staying with a friend who plays in the church’s worship band. The band was setting up and getting themselves ready for the meeting, so I had half an hour to spare before people would be arriving. I sat, stilled my mind, and spent some time listening to what the Holy Spirit might say to me.

And this is what I received:

Speak out, but look up. Look out and speak up. See with your eyes, hear with your ears, speak with your mouth, but always let the Spirit live in your heart.

Welcome my Spirit and bear fruit in your lives; are you not my people? Let my love, joy and peace rise up. Don’t follow one another, but follow me. Don’t follow convention, but follow Truth. Don’t follow directions but follow the Way. You are precious to me, every single one of you. So live as if you believe that you are precious! Stand tall in the world. The things I want to see grow in you are not hard or complicated, they are the simplest of things – gentleness towards the people in your lives – peace in your hearts – gracious and loving attitudes – a deep hope rooted in my presence, not in your circumstances – a humbleness that shuns position and fame – joyful hearts dancing freely in my presence – relentless patience – kindness that looks for no reward – innocent hearts.

Become empty of what you are and do and I will inhabit you. Haven’t you heard me knocking? I don’t want your abilities – I want you!

Thinking about this afterwards, I was intrigued that what had started out feeling like a word to me alone had, very quickly, become something spoken to others too. I wondered if these were words I should share during the meeting. I have many friends at River Church and some of them might need to hear this message. And as people began to arrive for the meeting and greet one another and find their seats I carried that idea with me as I joined them. But though I was ready and willing to share, and there were opportunities, it didn’t seem the right time.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that these words are for all my friends, near and far. That I should share them here and those that need to see them will  be guided to read them. So that’s what I’m doing.

If these words bless you in some way that would be great. But I think there is also a challenge in the words. I believe Papa is calling me to move ever more gently through this world; and perhaps he’s calling you to do that too. Don’t be misled into thinking that gentle is the same as weak: it is not! Sometimes it takes enormous courage and strength to be gentle. Sometimes the only way to reach a person is through gentleness, humility, and patience.

But if you have read as far as this, please ask yourself how you should respond. Is the Spirit speaking to you also through the words he gave me?

Watch the video below to see how Jorge Pina ‘operates from a place of rest’ in meeting people. There’s real wisdom here.

The work of the Spirit

the Holy Spirit … runs deep in [the] forgotten ways. He is … the Spirit of Christ and he was sent specifically to enable us to continue the work of Jesus.

What follows is an extract from JDMC, the first section on the Holy Spirit (page 37).

Cover-tinyThe work of the Holy Spirit is mentioned briefly in the previous part of JDMC, ‘Six – More than community’ (p 33). It is not explicitly presented in The Forgotten Ways, but it is certainly implied on every page. In the first edition of JDMC I closely followed the structure of Alan Hirsch’s work, but in this revision I have decided to add extra sections including this one about the Spirit.

I want to guard against any suggestion that JDMC is merely presenting an organisational mechanism for rapid missional spread. It’s much more than a worldly method or a management technique. Instead it is the pattern set by Christ himself, and therefore the Spirit of Christ is present throughout and waiting for us to hear his guidance and encouragement as we do the work the Master has entrusted to us. To depend on human technique alone won’t cut the mustard – far from it! One of the forgotten ways is keeping Jesus central, following only him, adding nothing in addition. This utter dependence on Christ surely implies and demands a dependence on his Spirit – how could it possibly be otherwise?

We need to recognise that this new life we live is not just about what we do, nor is it entirely about receiving from the Spirit. Jesus wants our co-operation. If there was no need for the work of the Spirit, why would Paul warn us not to quench him? (1 Thessalonians 5:19) And if there was no need for human effort and will, why would he tell us to strive? (1 Thessalonians 5:15, 1 Timothy 4:10)

So in this additional part of JDMC I want to highlight some of the ways we can recognise and value the Holy Spirit’s activity as we attempt to remember and activate the six forgotten ways. I also offer some advice on spiritual listening at the end.

To be clear, this section should not be seen as an additional ‘forgotten way’. It isn’t that at all. But the work of the Holy Spirit surely runs deep in each of those six forgotten ways. He is, as already mentioned, the Spirit of Christ and he was sent specifically to enable us to continue the work of Jesus. If we are the body and Jesus is our head, then the Spirit is like a nervous system – fundamentally centred in the head but with sensory and motor connections to every part of the body. When we resist him and are disobedient, part of the body is effectively paralysed. And if the body acts without the Holy Spirit it is sleepwalking and ineffective.

If all of this sounds hard – it is. We have to learn to die so that we can begin to live in Christ. It’s not that we have to work hard to be more like Jesus; rather we have to let go of all our own goals and desires and effort and planning and let Jesus live his life in us. He will tell us and show us what to do, when to do it, and how. The Holy Spirit is no less than the Spirit of Christ, he is our guide and walks with us in every situation. He is the heart and mind of the Messiah expressing himself through his people.

Talk together about the ways the Holy Spirit has interacted with you in your lives as you follow Jesus. Are there some encouraging stories you can share?

– o0o –

In 2015 I released the second version of JDMC, a discussion guide for Alan Hirsch’s ‘The Forgotten Ways’ in which he analyses the basis of movements throughout church history and identifies the essential ingredients for such movements to start and to be sustained.

(You can download JDMC in full, there’s no charge.)

Water and the Spirit

Do we live every day, still dripping with Holy Spiritness, touching a broken world with Christ’s love and grace?

In Acts 1:5 we read Jesus’ words to his followers, ‘John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit’.

The photo shows a man who has just been baptised by full immersion in water; maybe you have experienced this too, or maybe not. As you will know (or can imagine) this experience affects people in a variety of ways.

Baptism

Before baptism you are dry, afterwards you are drenched from head to toe. Being plunged into water takes your breath away, it makes you screw up your eyes. It’s exciting, a significant change in your life, you’ll remember it for as long as you live, and it’s a sign of the fact that your life has changed. Baptism is an outward expression that you’ve decided to follow Jesus in every way you can, and that, like him, you have been buried and returned to a new and fuller life.

The entire process speaks of this other kind of baptism, baptism in the Holy Spirit. and this, too, has a major effect. But unlike water baptism with its temporary impact, baptism in the Spirit is permament.

So what are the effects, the impact, of baptism in the Holy Spirit? As with water, you are plunged into a strikingly different element – not water this time, but the Spirit of Christ. You will be fundamentally drenched in his character and his power, you will be a citizen of his kingdom as it impacts this broken world. Baptism in the Spirit should take your breath away – utterly. It will cause you to screw up your spiritual senses through complete overload! There is an exciting and significant change in your spiritual life, you will always remember it and you will never be the same again. It’s a sign of the fact that your life has changed, you are redeemed, made new, and empowered because it is now Christ who lives in you and you are expressing his heart and his purposes. It’s evidence of a new life.

And how do we measure up? Do we remain permanently affected by the presence within us of Christ’s Spirit? Or do we treat spiritual baptism like water baptism? Is it something that happened in the past but no longer has any direct effect in the here and now? Is it something we remember, but have stopped experiencing?

Do we live every day, still dripping with Holy Spiritness, touching a broken world with Christ’s love and grace, sharing the good news of the peace and joy now available to all? I only needed to be baptised once, but the effects of this spiritual baptism are meant to last forever.

Adoption as an heir

As heirs of the kingdom of heaven we not only have great privilege but we also have duties to perform.

If you are following Jesus and understand what he taught, you will probably already see yourself as set free and adopted as an heir in his kingdom. Paul makes this clear in his letters to the churches. For example, in Galatians 4:7 he writes, ‘You are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.’ But sometimes, although we know we are heirs and inherit life in all its fullness, we forget that there are also duties attached to adoption. This becomes much clearer when we think about adoption as it was practised in the Roman world 2000 years ago.

The kind of adoption that would have been familiar to Paul was unlike adoption today. The Romans didn’t make a habit of adopting orphans. Unwanted babies were often left in the countryside to die, this was regarded as a normal way of disposing of inconvenient infants. It’s a shocking thought today, but 2000 years ago it was normal.

The Wikipedia article Adoption in ancient Rome explains, ‘Adoption of boys was a fairly common procedure, particularly in the upper senatorial class … Adoption served to cement ties between families, thus fostering and reinforcing alliances. In the Imperial period, the system also acted as a mechanism for ensuring a smooth succession, the emperor taking his chosen successor as his adopted son.’ The photo below is part of a statue of Octavius who was adopted by Julius Caesar and became the Emperor Augustus.

Augustus
Image from Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Statue-Augustus.jpg

This is why we can call the Almighty ‘Father’, or even ‘Daddy’. Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, he told his disciples, ‘If you have seen me you have seen the father’. We have the joy and privilege of becoming the adopted children of the Mighty One, and we have his power and his authority. But we need to understand that as heirs of the kingdom of heaven (co-heirs with Christ), we not only have great privilege but we also have duties to perform. It’s our function to carry on our Father’s work. What is that?

Think about Roman inheritance again for a moment. When the Emperor (or any high ranking official, army officer, wealthy business man etc) wanted to ensure his work would be continued, he would adopt an heir, not an infant, but someone already old enough to show the necessary aptitude and inclination for the work. The heir was adopted expressly to continue his new father’s work.

We know we are adopted, and we know we are heirs to the kingdom, to the power and also to the glory. We share these things in and with Christ. But sometimes we forget that it is our role and purpose as heirs to continue our Father’s work in this world. We are to be redeemers of the lost and broken, lovers of those around us (even our enemies), forgivers of wrongdoers, even justifiers of the guilty, providers of good things. What does it mean for us to redeem, love, forgive, justify and provide? Think about it in terms of things as well as people. If it’s broken, fix it; if it’s missing, replace it; if it’s overgrown with weeds, dig it and plant flowers. If you need permission to do some of these things, have the necessary conversations. If people are lonely, spend time with them; if they’re hungry, feed them. Speak words of life, be motivated by love, bless others abundantly, be the message, speak the truth. Be ‘good news’.

Eat together

We enjoy the flavours and the aromas

Part 5 of a series – Eat together

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Most churches in western society have some form of communion service, based on the Bible’s accounts of the final meal that Jesus ate with his disciples. This usually takes the form of a well defined ritual involving bread and wine or fruit juice. But that is not the way Jesus and his followers would have eaten.

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Eating together (image from Schnucks website)

That final meal was a Jewish Passover and has special significance, but Jesus typically ate with friends in a home, in fields, or on a journey.

Reading about church life in the book of Acts, it’s clear that the norm for the early church was that when they met (usually in someone’s home) a normal meal was part of the process. OpenBible has a list of references about eating together. Bear in mind that ‘breaking bread together’ was a normal way of saying ‘eating together’. The people would have remembered Jesus as they ate bread and drank wine as part of normal life.

Victor Choudhrie’s 5th step for transforming the church is quoted below:

Dispense with wafer-and-sip Holy Communion and promote breaking of bread with simple Agape meals (love feasts) from house to house, that believers take with glad hearts, ‘and the Lord added to His numbers daily’. The Lord served roast lamb, bitter herbs, bread and wine ‘in a house’ for the Last Supper. Father God had lunch with Abraham under a tree and discussed Sarah’s pregnancy, Sodom’s ruin and Lot’s rescue plan. Acts 2:46-47; 1 Cor.11:20-23; Gen Chap 18

So – why does this matter?

When we eat a meal together everyone contributes to the conversation. We serve one another (‘Would you pass the potato please? Thanks.’) We smile and laugh, we become informal, we enjoy the flavours and the aromas. It’s a fun occasion and everybody, even the youngest, plays an active part. This is a time of bonding, especially when we regularly eat with the same group of people.

If your church has Small Groups, consider eating a meal together when you meet. Simple is good, bring and share, visit everyone’s home in turn, don’t make this into a complex or arduous task for anyone. If there are no small groups just get together regularly as friends. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in this as in everything. Be flexible, don’t make rules, keep it really simple and easy. Meet as often as you can, invite friends who are not yet following Jesus, invite people who have nowhere to go or are lonely or short of money to buy food. Be the good news in the neighbourhood.

Questions:

  • What is preventing you from sharing a meal with others?
  • Who are you going to invite to join you?
  • Church is a family; will eating together make you more or less like a family?

See also:

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Season’s Greetings 2017

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres

Whatever you choose to celebrate at this time of year, we’d like to bless you in Jesus’ name, that you will be able to enjoy good company and that excellent things may overflow for you in ways expected and unexpected. (For more, scroll down…)

DollarStreet-Cirencester-Portrait

More about the picture – The photo shows Dollar Street near the centre of Cirencester, taken on 10th December after the previous night’s snow. We moved to Cirencester in April this year, and the photo shows part of our walking route to the town centre. (You can download larger versions here – PortraitLandscape.)

More about love – Jesus came to bring good news; in fact, he himself is the Good News. He came because he loves people; he wants us to know him and love him; he wants us to love one another, too. Here’s a description of love at its finest:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Jesus is love personified. Here’s one of the outrageous things he did as a result of that love:

A religious leader called Simon invited Jesus to dinner. In the town there was a woman who had broken the religious laws by doing some pretty shameful things. She made her way to Simon’s house and  crept in, coming up behind Jesus at the dinner table (in those days people reclined on a couch to eat). She was crying quietly, and some of her tears fell on Jesus’ feet; she wiped them away with her hair and poured perfume on his feet and kept kissing them.

Simon saw all this and thought to himself, ‘If this man, Jesus, had any idea what kind of life this woman leads, he wouldn’t have let her touch him like this. It’s disgraceful’.

Jesus said, ‘Simon – I have something to tell you’.

Simon asked, ‘What is it?’

And Jesus told a story to make the point clear. He said, ‘Two men were in debt with the bank, one owed half a million, the other £50k. Neither of them could pay, and the bank manager wrote off both debts. Which of them felt most favoured by the bank manager?’

‘Well, I suppose the one who was let off the bigger debt’, said Simon.

‘Right’, Jesus exclaimed. He looked at the woman – ‘See this woman? When I arrived in your house you didn’t provide the customary foot-washing water, but she washed my feet with tears and dried them with her hair. You didn’t give me the customary kiss of greeting, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet. Nor did you put the customary oil on my head, but she’s poured perfume onto my feet. Her wrong behaviour has been forgiven and her love demonstrates it. But people who have been forgiven little, love little.’

Turning back to the woman he told her, ‘Every wrong thing you did is forgiven. Your trust has made you perfectly safe; go in complete peace.’

So – If you want people to love you more (and who doesn’t), try forgiving them. Let them off the hook. Be like Jesus; set them free.

Living the revolution

Engage with the people around us as people of peace

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“What if we read the Bible through the eyes of a revolutionary?” – George Barna

In his book, ‘Revolution’ (2012), George Barna suggests that if Christians want to be more effective, they need to read the Bible in a new way – as revolutionaries. In my own words, here are some of the attributes he ascribes to revolutionary believers.

  1. Live the revolution; it’s a way of life. Read the Bible not just to see what it says, or to memorise it, or to study it. Read it in order to actually do what it says.
  2. Victory through engagement, promoting peace. In other words, if we read the Bible through the eyes of a revolutionary we will do what Jesus did; we will engage with the people around us as people of peace. We will enter their culture, on their terms, to bring them the best news possible – that they are loved by a powerful presence who wants a personal relationship with them.
  3. Motivated by love and obedience. We will not only tell people they are loved, we will show them. A revolutionary follower of Jesus will listen to the lonely, feed the hungry, support the weak, heal the sick, take in the orphan and the homeless. If people engage with revolutionary readers of the Bible they will know they are loved.
  4. Take orders from Papa, accept he’s in charge and listen. To be a revolutionary means paying attention to the Holy Spirit all the time and every day. As he whispers to us, ‘Go there’, ‘Speak to that person’, ‘Invite those people to dinner’ –  the revolutionary believer will just do it.
  5. Leadership. Doing what’s right. Revolutionaries don’t lead by giving orders, they lead by going in front. Set an example by doing what you read in the Bible and inviting others to join you.
  6. Internal politics are absent. A revolutionary has no agenda or goal other than the revolution itself. Jesus’ revolution is about turning the world upside down. If you want to lead, learn to be a servant or even a slave. If you want to be rich, keep giving things away. If you want to be eloquent listen a lot and speak little. If you want to be strong, strive to be weak. If you want to be wise, be willing to appear foolish.
  7. A different dimension. In the end, to be an effective revolutionary you will need to see far beyond everyday things and events. Grapple with the spiritual realities that Jesus invites us to engage with. These have nothing to do with the way the world behaves or speaks or thinks. Find that different dimension.