All posts by Lindsay

Learning to be a disciple of Jesus whilst helping others to see that the whole of their life matters to God! I am a Regional Minister (catalyst pioneer and planting) in the Baptist Union of Great Britain and a consultant with the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LiCC). Excited to discover the God-given potential in people, communities, and communities of Christ. Enjoy facilitating the birth and growth of new forms of church as well as helping churches transition to being more missional. Passionate about mentoring, leadership development, nurturing the growth of missionary disciples, and missional spirituality. I love trekking, science, and nature, and studied GeoScience as a first degree. I also enjoy singing! Over recent years, I have spoken on issues relating to gender-based violence in the UK and overseas. Prior to Baptist ministry, I led on pioneering projects relating to neighbourhood renewal, the street sex industry, homelessness, substance misuse and gang crime - primarily in the not for profit sector, but also on secondment to the Home Office. As part of this role, I supported churches with the setting up and running of innovative community projects and development of cross-agency networks. I have worked as a Housing Manager (Chartered Institute of Housing), hostel manager and toilet cleaner! I am a trustee with BMS World Mission and a former trustee with John Groom's Housing Association (now Livability.)

The Open Door of Lockdown?

My kitchen has smelt particularly aromatic recently as I have, amongst other things, attempted to bake bread, hot cross buns and marmite biscuits (mmmmm.) The first two have required yeast to make them rise. Yeast is incredible stuff.  A small amount kneaded into the dough doubles or triples its’ size. Watching it grow is pretty exciting!

My original plans for Spring did not involve much baking. Then Covid-19 took hold and, although life is still very full, it is also very different. Much of my life is lived on-line via Zoom and MS Teams meetings. However, I have a strong sense that God is giving me this opportunity to ‘do life’ alongside my neighbours, both blessing and being blessed by them!

At the start of this year, my husband Andrew and I held a party for the people in our part of our street. It was a great evening and there was a sense that God was up to something. We made various plans to follow up with another event and then ‘lockdown’ happened!

But what does it mean for us to be the church here in our street at this time?

On Easter morning, I popped a card (with email address) through each letter-box. I also delivered Easter eggs to every home. On my rounds I saw Jenny in her garden – she had been at our party. Jenny mentioned something about lunch and I explained that I’d been dim (not uncommon), left the chicken out of the fridge overnight and it had ‘gone off’.  By the time I returned home, there were two chicken dinners in takeaway boxes on our doorstep! Wow! Jenny blessed us so much on Easter Day!

I had several emails over the following days saying how people had been surprised and thrilled by the Easter eggs. One lady said that it had brought tears to her eyes. It was a small gesture and yet had made so much difference – perhaps much more so at this time than usual?!

Also, over the past couple of months I have painted pebbles with bumble bees, ladybirds, flowers and rainbows. On each pebble I have also put a word of encouragement such as ‘peace’ or ‘hope.’ (I write my house-number of the back of each one.) I am only half-way through our street but, little by little, everyone is receiving a pebble. People seem to really like them!

On Thursdays, like many of you, my neighbours and I go outside/lean out of our windows and clap for our key-workers. Once the applause is over, I have the joy of chatting to my closest neighbours. 8.05pm Thursday evening has become a precious time.  My neighbours have laughed and cried from their windows.  I have laughed and cried from the pavement. The Holy Spirit has clearly gone ahead and is at work in people’s lives. As I wander back each week to my house, I wonder……’God what are you doing?’

Then I remember that I don’t need to know what God is doing – my job is to knead the dough and let God provide the increase. My job is to be the church and to let God be God.

I believe passionately in the priesthood of all believers. I also believe that every believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit. It ‘blows my mind’ when I think about how the same Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in you and me calling us to be the church, wherever we are.  It should ‘blow your mind’ too! This is not just about church ministers, but about EVERY believer being filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit to be the church wherever they are.  The sheer potential of the body of Christ as we are scattered across our villages, towns and cities is incredible!

I long that every believer would be equipped and released to be the church. I long that every disciple would know that the same Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in them!

I have a hope, not just that my baking will rise, but a much more important hope – that the church would recapture her passion for Jesus and would rise up and be the church…..kneading the dough, trusting God for the increase and ‘staying on mission’ – no matter what!

Modelling hope amidst the chaos….

The words below are words that I spoke at our church gathering on Sunday 26th June 2016. This was the Sunday immediately following the E.U referendum. These words are as pertinent today (for me at least) as they were then.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This week we wake up in new era…there have been some seismic shifts that have taken place politically over the past few days. Some of us here will have been elated at the news that we are going to be leaving the EU. We may feel thrilled that at last our views have been heard. Others may be pretty devastated….some have indeed spoken to me of a profound sense of loss…of feeling like exiles within their own land. Within this church community we will hold a range of views and a range of emotions. 

People on both sides of the referendum have expressed a creeping sense of fear now that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle now. David Cameron has resigned…..we await to see whether Boris Johnson or someone else will be the next (and presumably unelected Prime Minister). The labour leadership is looking distinctly shaky. It looks as if Scotland may vote to declare independence from England, Wales and Northern Ireland….the whole integrity of the EU is being called into question as other nations talk about the possibility of their referenda and there is there is the constant danger of the far right rising up. 

I think that the woeful campaigns by both Leave and Remain and the woeful behaviour since have allowed us to blame the ‘other’ without ever looking at ourselves. Race, religion, class and more have all played their part in the most unpleasant domestic political campaign most of us have ever witnessed.

Whatever our views on Thursday’s vote, these monumental changes are things that we desperately need to bring to God! 

God is still God! God is still sovereign and He is still in control! 

Echoing the words of Psalm 46 are the words of a song we sing to the Dambusters theme tune…..

God is our strength and refuge,

Our present help in trouble;

and we therefore will not fear,

though the earth should change!

Though mountains shake and tremble,

though swirling floods are raging,

God the Lord of hosts is with us evermore!

 

God would say to each of us Peace…‘Be still and know that I AM God!’ 

I would ask that we be gentle with each other? Here in our church gathering, amongst our families, in our work places and our community. It would be easy to gloat in our referendum victory or rage like a spoilt child in our loss, but instead let’s seek to work together to influence the future of the UK so that it doesn’t become isolated and insular. So that we can exercise leadership in the world…so that we can build bridges and not walls, so that we can bring the values of heaven to earth……so that we can bring hope, compassion, justice, mercy and love to the places in this world where love is not!? The church has a key role to play in modelling transformative healing…..and we need to pray over the coming days, weeks and months that God helps us to do just that.

Trusting God In The Fog

fog‘Trust in him at all times, you people;
 pour out your hearts to him,
 for God is our refuge.’
Psalm 62:8

Life has thrown me a few curve balls of late and sometimes it’s hard to know what the next steps should be. I am confused! Sometimes, I confess, it’s hard to stay motivated to make any steps at all, but I know that I must.

Life is often uncertain and unpredictable. We may face major questions about our health, the health or wellbeing of our loved ones, our homes, our livelihoods, our finances or our church.   The certainty is that we cannot avoid uncertainty in this life. We can however respond to it in a way that honours Christ.

Searching For Clarity

The ethicist John Kavanaugh tells of a time in his life when he was searching for direction regarding his future. He left the United States and went to Calcutta to work for three months at the house of the dying”.  The first morning there, he met Mother Teresa.  She asked, “And what can I do for you?’  Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.

“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked.  He responded by explaining that he had come thousands of miles to find direction: “Pray that I have clarity.”

She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.”  When asked why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”  Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for.  She laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.  So I will pray that you trust God.”
 
Clarity vs. Trust

There is something in all of us that wants clarity.  It is often an expression of our insecurities.  We would rather seek to understand the complexities of the road ahead than seek to become better acquainted with the wonder of God’s character.  Clarity can sometimes be spiritually counterproductive. It short-changes trust, a life of faith and a moment-by-moment dependence on God. Clarity could even become an idol that replaces real trust in God.

In Hebrews 11, we are reminded that trust is strongest when clarity is dim. Noah built an ark whilst waiting 120 years for a deluge.  Sarah was told to trust God for a child in her old age with no comprehension of how it could possibly happen.  The innocent Joseph waited in prison for 2 long years with no sense of when or if he might be released. Abraham went out, “not knowing where he was going”, and then thought he might have to sacrifice his own son without any clarity as to why.  There are many such stories, but they all demonstrate that faith flourishes only when we trust God more than we trust in our need for clarity.

We often want to “chart the course”, but the Bible tells us to walk in the Spirit.  We insist on a strategic plan.  Jesus says, “Follow me.”  We want all the answers.  The Lord tells us to trust Him, because of what we know to be true about His character.

Pray for Faith To Seek & Follow God’s Lead

Do you feel that you are in a fog? I do. Have you been there far too long? Yep! Does the present moment feel shaky while the future is unclear? Indeed it does! I, and perhaps you too need to remember that He is God and that He rewards those who seek after Him (usually without clarity).  Looking behind, we are familiar with His faithfulness and goodness, even when we did not see it at the time.  God’s character has not changed. We can still trust Him, even though the fog is dense. In God’s strength, I will keep moving forward and I hope that you will too, but as I step out, I will do so with my hand placed firmly in the hand of the one who knows exactly where we are going – the hand of Jesus Christ! Sometimes, He might have to drag me, but I know that He is not going to let go!

Perhaps it is time to pray that we will search less for clarity and more for the character of God because…..

‘Faith, not certainty, is the most important ingredient to a life pleasing to God’ (Heb.11:6).

 

The Darkness Falls (Holy Week Reflection 5)

IMG_3008

Friday – The Darkness Falls….

Matthew 27: 11-26 (NLT Version)
11Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked him. Jesus replied, “You have said it.”
12But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. 13“Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. 14But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise.
15Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd – anyone they wanted. 16This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. 17As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you – Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18(He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)
19Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”
20Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. 21So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?” The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”22Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 23“Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?” But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”
24Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”
25And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death – we and our children!” 26Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

Just 5 days ago, we celebrated Palm Sunday. Today is Good Friday, the bleakest moment in the Gospels.

From the perspective of 2017, the first Easter crowds seem incredibly fickle. They welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but less than a week later they were calling for him to be crucified! Perhaps Jesus no longer served their agenda! People had been happy to join the ‘happy throng’ when there was ‘merry-making’, but now that things were getting tough, their numbers were quickly dropping away.

The disciples seem completely clueless about what is going on in spite of all the related prophecies in their Scriptures and Jesus’ repeated attempts to help them understand! They had thought that Jesus would be their Messiah; they had thought that he would forcibly deliver his people from all oppression. By this time, they were wondering how any of that could possibly happen – now that it all looked so bleak…now that the darkness was falling.

Pilate, the Roman governor finds Jesus innocent of any crimes, but nonetheless, he gives the crowd the option of releasing Jesus or a guilty criminal, Barabbas. The crowd choose Barabbas to go free thereby sealing Jesus’ fate. An innocent man would die in place of a guilty man. This pointed to the greater truth that Jesus would die instead of and on behalf of guilty humanity.

The religious leaders in this story behaved despicably; Pilate, the Roman governor acted in a ‘spineless’ way. By ‘washing his hands’ of the whole affair, he effectively said ‘I don’t agree with this course of action but neither am I going to do anything to stop it.’ Not one of the key characters comes out of this story as having behaved well, except for Jesus. But it’s for all people, including fickle, clueless, despicable, spineless people that Jesus died.

The wondrous thing is that Jesus’ love for them, and us, was so utterly overwhelming that he was prepared to submit to the greatest injustice ever known!

Not one of us deserves God’s love, but God loves us anyway. Not one of us deserves that Christ should die for us, but he died for us anyway. What a love, what a cost – we stand forgiven at the cross!

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/ed55a362867f89d55e682c69d/images/3cfa7b14-cce4-47a6-b747-a7695b189400.png

Oh, to see the dawn of the darkest day
Christ on the road to Calvary
Tried by sinful men, torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood

This, the power of the cross
Christ became sin for us
Took the blame, bore the wrath
We stand forgiven at the cross

Oh, to see the pain written on Your face
Bearing the awesome weight of sin
Ev’ry bitter thought, ev’ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow

(Getty & Townend © 2005 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music)

You might want to read these following verses out loud.

Mark 15: 33-39 (NIV Version)
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Silent Reflection….and waiting…
It’s relatively easy to walk with Jesus through the good and happy ‘Palm Sunday’ times? Will we continue to journey with him when the darkness starts to fall, when we do not know how things will pan out and when all we can do is to wait?

They Came With Swords & Clubs (Holy Week Reflection 4)

Swords Clubs

Thursday – They Came With Swords & Clubs

Luke 22: 45-53 (NIV Version)
45When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” 47While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.51But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.52Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.”

Imagine yourself caught up in these events. Where are you? Are you one of the disciples struggling to catch up with what is happening having fallen asleep (v.45)? Are you in the crowd waiting to see what is going to happen? Perhaps you are even Judas, greeting Jesus with a kiss? Maybe you plan to save Jesus by ‘taking out’ the opposition like Peter tried to do!

Spend a few minutes quietly thinking yourself into the story before moving on.

Reflection
Matthew tells us that Judas kissed Jesus; Jesus didn’t refuse Judas’s kiss. Luke tells us that in response Jesus pointed out the hypocritical nature of what Judas was doing. A kiss usually signified devotion, warmth and love. Judas’s kiss signified disillusionment, betrayal and hate. Jesus welcomes us all. He accepts us with our mixed motives, our misunderstandings, even our hypocrisy. There is no mistake he cannot redeem (including cutting off someone’s ear and a lot worse!)

Note that Jesus heals the man who had his ear cut off even though he was part of the arresting party. What love! There is nothing we can do to make him love us more. There is nothing we can do to make him love us less. He simply loves us!

Now imagine yourself back in the story. If the scene was paused for a moment and it was just focused on Jesus and you – what do you think he might say to you? How do you think he would deal with you?  Spend a moment asking Jesus to show you.

Perhaps you might want to write this down somewhere so that you remember throughout the week.

If you are in a group, feel free to share your thoughts if you would like to.

 

 

Jesus take me as I am,
I can come no other way.
Take me deeper into You,
Make my flesh life melt away.
Make me like a precious stone,
Crystal clear and finely honed,
Life of Jesus shining through,
Giving glory back to You.
(© Dave Bryant, 1978
Kingsway’s Thankyou Music)

Prayer
Jesus take me as I am, I can come no other way. Help me to be honest with myself and with you. Thank you that you welcome me just as I am, although you don’t want to leave me just as I am. Thank you that you can redeem any situation. Help me to let go of confusion, insincerity, anger and defensiveness. Help me to become the person you are calling me to be, growing in relationship with you, growing in the fruit of the Spirit and better reflecting your glory!  In Jesus name, Amen.

Blessing
Be sent out assured of the love of God.
Be sent out convinced of the grace of the Lord Jesus.
Be sent out filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
For His is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
Forever and ever,
Amen.

Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done! (Holy Week Reflection 3)

thy-kingdom-come-small

Wednesday – Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done
Luke 22: 39-44 (NIV Version)
 39Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (NIV)

(Note: Gethsemane is at the foot of the Mt of Olives – see Matthew 22)

I try to make prayer an integral part of my everyday life – sometimes I manage it quite well. Other times I miss the mark. I still find however, that there are specific times when I find myself praying more intensely and passionately. This is particularly true at times of change, when I have to make a big decision about something and when times are tough. I guess that most of us pray quite fervently at times like these.

Perhaps there is a big change coming up in your life. Maybe you need to make some major life decisions. There may be some particularly intense struggles that you need to bring to God in prayer….

As Jesus starts to pray in the garden of Gethsemane, he addresses God as ‘Abba’ (Mark 14:36). This term is most accurately translated as ‘Daddy.’ About to face the most terrifying ordeal, he kneels down, cries out and throws himself with complete trust upon the love of his Daddy.

Not all of us have had easy relationships with our earthly parents and none of us have had perfect parents, but all of us can know and trust God as the perfect, loving Daddy.

The model of prayer that Jesus shows us here invites us to address God not as a slave might address an oppressive master, but rather as a child might address a loving parent.

Reflection
: Spend some time thinking about yourself through the eyes of a perfect, loving father. How does he feel about you? How does he feel when you trip and fall? How does he feel when you get back up again? What are his hopes for you? How might this affect the way that you pray?

When Jesus asks his heavenly Father to “Let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39), He does so directly, honestly and without shame. If Jesus let his father know that he was scared, then we too can be open and honest with our heavenly Father! It’s OK to tell God when we are having a rough day! It’s OK to tell him that we are feeling down or down-right scared!

Yet, having shared how he is feeling with his Daddy, He immediately accepts the Father’s will over his own saying “Yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39). He is absolutely dedicated to carrying out God’s will for his life, even if it is not the path that he himself would have wanted. True courage is not the lack of fear. It is ‘doing something anyway’ even when we are scared!
There in the garden of tears,
 My heavy load 
He chose to bear;
 His heart with
sorrow was torn,
‘Yet not my will,
but Yours’
 He said. 

(Graham Kendrick © 1983 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music)

The cup of suffering is not taken away from Jesus, so he drinks it in full and commits to obedience to the point of death. Jesus modelled true obedience and courage for us. He submitted to the Father’s plan, even if it did not fit with his own plans.

As Jesus finished praying, an angel appeared from heaven and strengthened him. (Luke 22:43). God did not take away Jesus’ suffering and death because they were part of his bigger plan for the salvation of the world. He did however hear the prayers of Jesus, and he answered them by sending an angel to give him the strength and courage to carry out his difficult calling.

Whilst God may not always answer us in the way that we hope, we can be confident that he listens to us. If God calls us to walk the ‘hard path’ then we can trust that He will give us the strength and courage to carry out his will, just as he did for Jesus in the garden.

Prayer
: Finish by praying the Lord’s prayer slowly, pausing at the end of each phrase to focus on what we are saying to God as we pray.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, Pause
.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Pause

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, Pause


As we forgive those who trespass against us. Pause

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Pause

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.
 Amen.

Blessing: 
(Adapted from James 1:12 and 2 Corinthians 12:9)
 Blessed are those who keep going in the face of difficulty.
 May God bless you in your struggles and may you remain faithful until that day when you see your crown of life!
 His grace will be sufficient for you, for his power is made perfect in weakness.
 Amen
 

Gnats & Camels (Holy Week Reflection 2)

Tuesday: Gnats and Camelsgnat-camel

Matthew 23: 23-24 (NLT Version)
23“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law – justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. 24Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel! 25“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

On Tuesday morning, Jesus and his disciples went back to Jerusalem.

As they passed the Temple, the religious leaders challenged Jesus about his authority. They were trying to catch him out so that they had an opportunity to arrest him.

Jesus, on this occasion, was far from quiet. He told the leaders in no uncertain terms that they were so blind that they could not see what God wanted them to see.

They were so meticulous in their observance of the ‘letter of the law,’ that it seems that they ensured that they had given 1/10th of all their herbs.  I imagine them out in their gardens with a wooden ruler! Jesus is not saying that their observance of the law was wrong, but rather that their focus was wrong.

These people had been so obsessive about getting the rules right; about ‘straining the water to avoid swallowing a gnat’ that they had effectively swallowed a camel! They had failed to do the most important thing…..to

‘act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.’ (Micah 6:8)

The rules had been intended to help them to bless others, but the people had become so caught up with dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s that they were failing to be a blessing to anyone! Such an attitude was unacceptable to Christ then and it still is today.

Reflection
Spend a few minutes thinking quietly. Afterwards, if you are in a group, share any relevant thoughts.

Do we sometimes try so hard to get things right, obsessing about the detail, that we can miss who God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do?

What does it say about our ‘heart attitude’ if we only give Jesus 1/10th – the leftovers of our life? Ask God to show you how you can cultivate an attitude of gratitude, of love and of a generous spirit.

If we are walking humbly with the Lord, we will find that we increasingly reflect his character to the world, a character of justice and mercy. In what practical ways are we showing his character of justice and mercy in this community, in our work places, in this nation and in the world?

We are blessed, to bless a world in pieces,
We are loved, to love where love is not.
We are changed, to be the change you promised,
We are freed, to be your hands, O God
(© 2012 Andy Flannagan)

Prayer
Spend some time praying about the things that we have been thinking about today.

Blessing
May the blessing of God’s light be on you; light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire, so that stranger and friend may come and warm themselves at it.
And may light shine out of your eyes, like candles set in the window of a house, bidding the wanderer come in – out of the storm.
Amen
(Adapted from a Scottish Blessing)

A House Of Prayer For All Nations! (Holy Week Reflection 1)

Temple ImageMonday – A House of Prayer for All Nations!

Mark 11: 15-18a (NLT version)
15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” 18When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him.

Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and was crucified later the same week on the Friday. What on earth happened in between?

We know that he had a final supper with his friends and that he washed their feet. We know that he cursed a fig tree and that he wept over the city of Jerusalem.  Yet, those actions don’t really seem like the sort of things that would get someone executed. What might step things up a bit more are the events of Marks Gospel when Jesus walked into the Temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers. Jesus’ actions in the Temple are a crucial part of the Holy Week story and show Jesus’ radical agenda – an agenda that would not just turn the tables upside down, but that had the capacity to turn the world upside down.

So….the day after Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem, he heads to the Temple. He is so enraged by what he finds that he pushes over the tables of the money changers, scatters the money and drives the traders out with whips!

This is not how we think of Jesus! What has made him act this way?

It is thought that this incident happened at Solomon’s Porch, the outermost part on the east side of the Temple and the gateway to the Court of the Gentiles. This had become a noisy, crowded market full of hustle and bustle and probably quite smelly from all the animals! Yet, Jesus wasn’t opposed to markets…so what was the problem?

An inscription uncovered by archaeologists may help us understand. The inscription found in the Court of the Gentiles is dated 20 B.C. and warns Gentiles (non-Jews) that they must not go any further into the Temple…‘on fear of death.’ The only place that the Gentiles were permitted to worship was in this outer part of the Temple, but how could they possibly pray and worship God in the middle of a noisy, crowded market?! A little research shows that the whole layout and practices of the Temple served to successively exclude different categories of people. In this case, the Gentiles were effectively being prohibited from worshipping.

People were being stopped from coming closer to God! This was a huge injustice and a huge sin, albeit perhaps, an inadvertent one!

Quoting Isaiah 56:7, Jesus said ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ (Mark 11:17).

Reflection
Spend a few minutes thinking or discussing:

What barriers do we (perhaps inadvertently) put up that might make it harder for people that are ‘not like us’ to worship or to come closer to Jesus?

How, individually and as a congregation, can we build more bridges to our community and to those who do not yet know Jesus? How can we dismantle the walls that might serve to hinder them getting closer to Jesus?

You might want to write down some of these thoughts and pray about them over the coming days. Why not ask God to show you anything that you or that we, as a church, could or should do about it?

The Bible tells us that Jesus was bringing in a new covenant (agreement) with humanity in which animal sacrifice would be replaced by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus’ life on the cross. He would be the ‘Passover Lamb’ and he would atone for human sin once and for all. This means that all the damage that our sin has done can be repaired. Through Christ, we can be new creations!

Prayer
Jesus cleansed the Temple because of sinful activities that got in the way of all people being able to truly worship God. Is there anything more important in your life than your relationship with Jesus?  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you any things that may be encroaching on your relationship with God and ask him to help you clear away any attitudes, actions or inactions that have started to come between you and him?

 

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.
Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.
Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.
(Frances R. Havergal, 1874)

At the start of this week of devotions, why not make this song your prayer?

Blessing
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
(from Numbers 6:23-27)

Inaugurating the Kingdom-A City On A Hill?

Globally, this is a time of uncertainty and disequilibrium. We are currently witnessing, (mostly through the media) a rise in global terrorism that shakes our sense of stability and security to the core. We are observing a growing exodus of forcibly displaced people – a higher number than at any time since the Second World War. It would be surprising if people didn’t find this unsettling!

During times of turbulent change, people often seek refuge in all kinds of fundamentalisms. Fear can make people intolerant of tolerance and disrespectful of differing points of view. Instead of seeking the often complex, hard to understand truth, people look instead for simplistic (post-truth?) answers, soundbites and scapegoats. These scapegoats are often provided by those whose thoughts, behaviours, racial identity or appearance are different from that of the observer. This may affect how the observer acts and how they vote. This sadly permeates the thinking, actions and voting preferences of many within the global church.

Of course Christians can and should have a view about politics and current affairs. Perhaps they have more reason to do so that those of no faith. Personally, I long that followers of Jesus serve in politics at all levels (and in many of the parties) so as to bring something of the values of the Kingdom to their work here on earth. Christianity itself, however, must never be co-opted by Government or ‘the powers’. It is vital that the Church herself maintains an appropriate and critical distance, particularly in these challenging times. If she fails to do so, she will fail to be the much needed prophetic voice that she is called to be!

Sadly, at times in history (and in the present) the Church has been co-opted. God himself, however, cannot be. He is always on the side of the poor, the oppressed and the powerless all over the world. If a person is blessed, that person is called to be a blessing. If a nation is blessed, that nation is called to be a blessing!

You cannot be God’s representative on earth whilst always putting yourself ‘first.’ That is selfish. That is wrong and that is not the godly response of a ‘righteous’ person or a ‘righteous’ nation.

God has a high calling on his people; his church. He is calling her to be shaped by his own ethical, holy character….to reflect his righteousness, justice and mercy to a world filled with evil, oppression and injustice. That is the mission of God’s people. There is no mission without ethics. There is no discipleship without ethics. There is no holiness without ethics. In each case, it must be BOTH AND! Isn’t it time that a Holy Church rediscovers the ethical responsibility of her calling?

Like a ‘city on a hill,’ God’s people/his Church must serve as beacons of hope – standing in solidarity with those whom God would stand with; with those who ‘cannot speak up for themselves.’ A church in alliance with oppressive powers or a church that fails to challenge an unjust status quo is a church that deserves to lose its’ credibility. Worse, it will be a church that is failing to be church on God’s terms and on that basis God may pass his judgement. That, for me, is a sobering thought.

Leaving The Comfort Zone-Revisited!

It is September 2016 and I have just returned from a long, tough walk in Corsica. Life is a challenge right now and I know that so much that is familiar is about to change…..just as it was 8 years ago! Exactly 8 years ago to the date, I was on a long tough walk in Corsica with a series of challenges and life changes ahead. During that walk,  I wrote this journal entry. My plan is to let my journal of 8 years ago challenge me afresh today. corsica

Leaving The Comfort Zone – September 2008

During the climbing of the first day, the prospect of 14-16 days tough-mountain walking seemed like forever. Body and mind were not yet conditioned to the physical and mental challenges and the way ahead both excited and daunted. I knew that it would be beautiful but I knew that it would be tough. I had a goal; I had prepared for situations that might arise, but there were so many variables over which I would have no control!

Someone said to me that the GR20 is 40% physical fitness; 60% mental determination. Whilst walkers undoubtedly need to be relatively fit, even the fittest person will fail without steely mental determination, because this walk takes a person right out of their comfort zones and into the wilderness.

The first days walk was a relentless climb. From the top of the pass, I gained a much fuller understanding of the geography of the area and how it all fitted together. As I looked down at the beautiful seaside town of Calvi, I was reminded that we were leaving civilisation, leaving opportunities for comfort and pleasure and exchanging them for the unpredictability of the mountains. There was great resonance with our lives ‘off the trail’.

Into my solitude, I sensed a voice whispering,

‘Are you prepared to leave your comforts and move to the places where I am in control? Follow me to the wild places and you will see things from a new perspective; increasingly as I see them, not from the eye level view of the comfortable places. From here, you get a much wider perspective and you can see how everything relates. It will be wild, exciting and scary. Have you Lindsay got what it takes?’

I accepted the challenge, but couldn’t help thinking that this would serve to make me feel even more out of kilter with the surrounding cultures…even that of the church. It is what anthropologist Victor Hugo would call ‘liminality’ which is defined by Alan Hirsch as ‘an in-between marginal state in relation to the surrounding society, a place that could involve significant danger, but not necessarily so’

God clearly wants me to look only to Him for approval and identity. I still found myself praying that He would give a few wise companions for the journey who will encourage and hold me to account. That will be important, particularly if God is wanting to show me things from an increasingly different perspective because I’ll be picking my way through lesser known territory where danger of error is greatest.

The 3rd morning whilst climbing, my mind turned to negative thoughts about the past. Cutting across these, I sensed God asking me,

‘Are you prepared to do anything for me?’

One by one, I went through all the potential things that could inhibit God’s work in and through my life. It reminded me of a period in 2005 when I felt God calling me to re-submit absolutely every area of my life to his will and purposes, so that nothing at all could come before bringing him glory. No relationships, no possessions, no desires or ambitions, no fears….nothing! Theologian Paul Minear writes that

‘The sole sovereignty of God is realized only by stern struggle with other gods, with all the forces that oppose his will’.

For me that episode in 2005 was the culmination of that stern struggle…a struggle that brought me to the place I am today-a place where many of life’s comforts and securities are being stripped away.

Over the course of the trek, I read the story of Elijah and found that it really resonated with me. Elijah had been taken aside to Kerith after being used by God to speak to Ahab. In that place of obscurity, he learned dependence on God and was fed by Him.

My life has seen so many changes over the past few years that it has been quite disorientating at times. I have become increasingly defined by ‘who I am’ rather than ‘what I do’ because so much else has been stripped away. It has however been the Kerith that God had prepared for me. It has been isolating and without significant encouragement from many Christians, yet God has fed me, quenched my thirst for Him and enabled me to serve him in ways that I had never before been able. My dependence upon Him, my faith and trust in Him and my desire to serve Him alone have grown significantly. I am now confident that I do not need the limelight to survive.

I must now ensure that I maintain a disciplined life; a life that leaves no room for anything that would challenge God’s sovereignty in any area of my life. I must therefore frequently ask myself ‘am I still prepared to leave my comfort zone for the sake of the gospel’ and ‘is there anything in my life inhibiting God’s purposes for my life?’

In the afternoon of day 3, there was a long, difficult downhill section. Andrew asked me to wait for him part way down the mountainside en-route to Haute D’Asco, a disused ski station and our stop for the night. I sat and waited for Andrew on a large granite promontory. I got out my mobile phone which I had brought for the sole purpose of receiving a text from a church that was considering calling me as their minister. Did the church want to progress to the next stage or not? I turned the phone on with a mix of apprehension and excitement. There was a signal, the text came through and YES….they wanted me to come and preach with a view…the Sunday after I was due to arrive back in England.

I knew that if they subsequently called me, Andrew and I would have to leave our beautiful house in the New Forest and move to a town where we wouldn’t know anybody. It would mean starting Bible College whilst finishing the M.A in Missional Leadership. It would mean leaving family and friends and the church where I was serving. It would mean the challenges of being a sole, part-time pastor. It would mean Andrew leaving his job. It would mean leaving the remaining ties to our comfort zone and having no idea where it will lead!

Yet, as God has grown me out of my comfort zone, I have learned increasingly to ‘hold lightly’ to everything as I increase my reliance on Him. I have discovered what an incredibly isolating journey the journey of true submission can be (especially and surprisingly in relation to fellow Christians). I have however also learned how gentle, yet powerful His love can be.