‘TAMING’ CHRIST?

Here are some inspiring words by Dorothy Sayers

We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine, “dull dogma,” as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama …. this terrifying drama in which God is the victim and the hero. If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore—on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certifying Him “meek and mild,” and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

MIND THE GAP – Planning

After you have prayed you can do more that praying but it is pointless to do something and then add prayer as an afterthought. But often praying isn’t enough. Prayer should give birth to smart planning. And by not planning we often remain ridden with good intentions that simply define our fruitless lives.

This is a common downfall in many real-life situations. We make many mistakes in our professional career, in our relationships and in our financial investments by failing to follow-up our decisions and ideas with a decisive and clear plan.

Planning often feels like hard work or dull work – and therefore seems best ignored. It’s probably exciting for a band to be inspired with a new melody/poetry but probably much more demanding and less exciting to write the music, make the arrangements, practice and tediously re-record until the song ‘feels’ right.

This can be an even graver mistake in the spiritual realm. Because our relationship with God has a supernatural, almost mystical dimension, we tend to regard planning as somehow less spiritual.

Yet if you read the Pauline language of the New Testament, he seems to suggest that the Gospel demands a working of our theology in smart decisions and smart actions.

If we are to recount ALL the information that we have absorbed over the years both in education and in our spiritual formation – how different should we live?! Planning in itself can become a permanent pit stop – so just because we planned doesn’t mean we have succeeded. But it is a necessary phase in God’s process of transformation.

How to be best plan for transformation? Here are some tips:

  • Prepare your mind, heart and will beforehand. The more receptive you are – the clearer you will hear the message.
  • Listen carefully – trying to focus with your full attention, avoiding distractions. The sharper your mind – the more receptive can you heart be too.
  • Write things down. Highlight. That will help you imprint in your memory what you have heard.
  • Turn to prayer straight after you received the info – thanking God for speaking to you and asking Him to show you how you can best respond.
  • Try to sum-up the message you have heard – twitter style.
  • Ask yourself – what does this mean for me?
  • Ask yourself – what is negative in my life that God wants to change?
  • Ask yourself – what is positive and is missing that God could give me?
  • Ask yourself – what can I do, using my God-given gifts as response?
  • Ask yourself – what can I give financially, to respond to that need?
  • Ask yourself – is someone I know, better equipped to answer that need?
  • All the above questions can be re-mixed for a small group or even a church.
  • Write down that decision/plan – again twitter style (short & sharp).
  • Tell someone else – for accountability – about your plan and ask them to ask you about it in a few days/weeks.

As I inferred in my previous post – this isn’t about a man made program of self-improvement. Planning is simply a great tool that the Spirit of God can use you to bring about a grace driven transformation in the life of a disciple.

MIND THE GAP – Prayer

Pray – it may seem both obvious and superfluous to mention this – yet this is so important. I started with this exactly because it should be a first response and the highest priority.

Whatever we hear in Scripture can be turned to prayer. As we discover God’s character – we can pray in worshiping Him, as we recall His Gospel – we can pray with thanksgiving for our salvation. Sometimes His word will challenge us and through conviction we can pray with regret for the past and requesting help for the future.

Prayer is often misunderstood as being a passive, mystical experience reserved for the ‘chosen few’. Yet a close exploration of the magnificent book of Psalms, filled with the Biblical poetry – they appear to have the same real life honesty described often in the songs of the delta blues story-tellers of old. They are rooted in reality, a raw reality even.

When God speaks in church – respond in prayer. We sing, we listen, we chit-chat – but I think we will gain much to pray more as a response to His word in our congregations.

When God speaks to you in your private devotions – turn it to prayer. Let prayer be inspired and informed by the beautiful collision of Scriptural truth and your mundane reality.

When God speaks in your small group – turn to prayer; pray in 2-3’s for one another. Pray for the community where you meet.

Prayer is essential as a response that bridges the information-transformation gap for at least two reasons. First, prayer is essentially about humility – an appropriate acknowledgement that I am not God. Secondly, it introduces God to the equation – a divine involvement that makes all the difference between a well-intentioned person and a Spirit-driven disciple of Christ.

So, if you want to grow – pray, pray, pray! That’s how 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is meant to look like

MIND THE GAP – Provocation

As you would have gathered by now I am passionate about both community and communication. Small Groups, just like any other church ministry, face the great danger of becoming simply forums for useless chats. No outcome, no change, no influence. That would be terribly sad.

So often the believers and consequently the Church have been excelling at theory and failing miserably at pragmatism. Yet it wasn’t meant to be so. I truly believe that God’s word isn’t meant to just inform but also to transform us and others through us.

As Paul suggested in his aside to his young apprentice Timothy: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’ The Bible is meant to inspire, shape and transform us.

Here are some practical ways you can ‘push’ yourself and your LG or even the Church towards an overflow of action. They are not meant to be used as a set of rules or a programme of self-improvement. As James suggests in his letter, actions are essential but they must be an overflow of a heart and mind that are stirred by the Word of God and enabled by Spirit of God.

In the next few days I will look at three steps in particular that will help us bridge the ‘application gap’: pray, plan and practice. These steps might help you personally, your group and even your church.

To be continued…

FFF 2

Here we go – part deux. Friday is a day a lot of people ‘fast-forward’ recommendations on twitter or on blogs. So I will attempt to share some of the links I have found interesting during the last week. Hope that you will enjoy them.

Breaking the Mould

http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2011/spring/breakingmold.html

This is a very interesting article in Christianity Today – that is wrestling with the eternal question of the uncomfortable love affair between the culture and the church – which one is calling the shots?

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The Positive Side of Receiving Criticism

http://www.thomrainer.com/2011/06/the-positive-side-of-receiving-criticism.php

As a leader to the leaders and great church consultant, Thom provides us with an honest appraisal of the thorny issue of criticism. Particularly great article for anyone involved in leadership.

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5 DIY Ways To Deodorize Stinky Things

http://thesecretyumiverse.wonderhowto.com/blog/5-diy-ways-deodorize-stinky-things-0128149/

As much as you would pretend you don’t need to read this practical article – trust me, you’ll find it very useful.

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Steven Sharp Nelson – The Cello Song – Bach is back (with 7 more cellos)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Ry4BzonlVlw#at=38

Fantastic piece of music interpreted in a very engaging and contemporary novel manner. I bet it will go viral and sooner or later you will see it appearing on the social networks

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The 8 Most Insanely Obvious Signs In The World (PHOTOS)
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/doug-lansky/the-8-most-insanely-obvio_b_681092.html#s126274&title=WARNING_Gravity_Exists

Something truly baffling yet guaranteed to make you smile.

 

MARRIAGE PREP QUESTIONS

I had the privilege of being involved in several weddings recently. It was fantastic to be part of that special for a young (now married) couple – one of whom used to be part of the church youth group I led. Here are some questions I have thought of, worth talking together or even with a marriage prep mentor/pastor:

How did you get to this decision to spend the rest of your lives together? What is your ‘journey’ so far?

How do you connect with each other’s families?

Is there any dangerous ‘baggage’ that you are both aware if bringing in the relationship?

What is the quality you most appreciate in each other?

What annoys you in the other person?

Which part of God’s character moves you most?

In which area of serving God do you feel most passionate about?

In your wildest dreams, how would you see yourselves serving God as a couple?

What are your greatest fears regarding your relationship – how are you facing and ‘dealing’ with those fears together?

What ‘fences’ do you have in place to safeguard your marriage?

What tonics do you have in place to ensure that your relationship matures continually?

Who influences you and to whom are you regularly accountable together?

FFF 1

Friday is a day a lot of people ‘fast-forward’ recommendations on twitter or on blogs. So I will attempt to share some of the links I have found interesting during the last week. Hope that you will enjoy them.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

http://lifehacker.com/5585217/what-caffeine-actually-does-to-your-brain

This is a very geeky article from the guys at Lifehacker – only for those really interested in coffee and addictions.

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A Faith Worth Emulating
http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/currenttrendscolumns/leadershipweekly/faithworth.html

A great historical/biographical article about one the of the Salvation Army’s well-known figures – Samuel Brengle – a great article by Gordon MacDonald.

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Chinese teen sells his kidney for an iPad 2
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/8552195/Chinese-teen-sells-his-kidney-for-an-iPad-2.html

A very disturbing story that probably reflects the global virus of materialism spreading so wildly. Might not be quite as alien to some of the crazy decisions some people in our communities make in order to have the right brand.

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The Most Common Regrets People Have on Their Deathbed (That You Can Avoid Now)
http://lifehacker.com/5807794/regrets-people-have-on-their-deathbed++that-you-can-avoid-now

This has been a week when death has been a pretty talked about subject in the UK media. A very thought-provoking article that we would all do well to reflect upon. And ACT upon…

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Accessible Media presents: Jeff’s Day
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JN3wBlCqfBU&feature=player_embedded

One word: inspirational!

A DAY TO REMEMBER

 

Here are some of the quotes I have used or thought of using in today’s sermons. I thought you might enjoy them:

‘Nobody can be indwelt by the Spirit of God and keep that Spirit to himself. Where the Spirit is, he flows forth. And where there is no flowing forth, he is not there.’    WILLIAM TEMPLE

‘Though every believer has the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit does not have every believer.’   AW TOZER

‘I will tell you the secret: God has had all that there was of me. … God has had all the adoration of my heart, all the power of my will, and all the influence of my life.’     WILLIAM BOOTH

“I want to talk to you today about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. You may call it what you want, but I want to know, have you experienced the fullness of the Spirit? I know all of you listening to me come as I do from a Reformed background. But it’s not good enough. I know that all of you would want to say to my question about the Holy Spirit, ’Well, we got it all at conversion; there’s no need for any more experience.’ Well,” said DR. MARTYN LLOYD JONES “I have only one other question to ask you. If you got it all at conversion, where in God’s name is it?”

Moody was to have a campaign in England. An elderly pastor protested, “Why do we need this ‘Mr. Moody’? He’s uneducated, inexperienced, etc. Who does he think he is anyway? Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?” A younger, wiser pastor rose and responded, “No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody.”

Finney wrote how God gave him mighty infillings of the Holy Spirit “that went through me, as it seemed, body and soul. I immediately found myself endued with such power from on high that a few words dropped here and there to individuals were the means of their immediate conversion. My words seemed to fasten like barbed arrows in the souls of men. They cut like a sword. They broke the heart like a hammer. Multitudes can attest to this…Sometimes I would find myself in a great measure empty of this power. I would go and visit, and find that I made no saving impression. I would exhort and pray with the same results. I would they set apart a day for private fasting and prayer…after humbling myself and crying out for help, the power would return upon me with all its freshness. This has been the experience of my life.”

MARRIAGE – a reminder

I had the fantastic privilege of marrying a wonderful couple this afternoon. On of them was part of the youth group i lead‘ – which I guess makes me so proud of her journey in God so far. It also does make me a tad old.

I finished my sermon today with the words of arguably the best pastor this Isles have seen. They are old words – yet they are just as relevant for those married today. Read them, ponder over them, take them to your spouse and respond with a renewed desire to make yourselves available to the Holy Spirit to work in you marriage in amazing new ways.

Take every opportunity which your nearness provides to be speaking seriously to each other about the matters of God, and your salvation. Discussing those things of this world no more than required. And then talk together of the state and duty of your souls towards God, and of your hopes of heaven, as those that take these for their greatest business. And don’t speak lightly, or un-reverently, or in a rude and disputing manner; but with gravity and sobriety, as those that are discussing the most important things in the whole world.’    RICHARD BAXTER (1615­-1691)

SAFETY IN SMALL GROUPS – Guest Post

Following a twitter conversation, my friend Graham sent me the following suggestions re. the topic of ‘safety in small groups’. Enjoy and if you want to follow him you can do here – http://grahamchastney.com/blessings/

I have been really enjoying your series on Small Groups. One of the thoughts that occurred to me was the issue of safety in a small group.

If people are going to be open and honest in a small group they need to know that they are safe to do so. Safe groups can be a real blessing; I’ve also been in small groups that never got beyond the most basic of communication because no-one trusted the gossip in the group.

Within Celebrate Recovery we have a set of guidelines for small groups that we stick to quite rigorously. Because Celebrate Recovery exists to help people through their “hurts, hang-ups and habits” safety is a vital issue for us. We normally remind the group of the guidelines every week by reading through them. It’s probably not necessary for most small groups to have such a rigorous approach, but the principles behind the guidelines give a good framework for how to create a safe group.

These are the small group guidelines and some of the principles behind them:

“Keep your sharing focused on your own thoughts and feelings. Limit your sharing to three to five minutes.”

One of the principles here is that people can say a lot without saying anything at all. By talking for long periods people stop others sharing. Sometimes they want to do that to stop the conversation moving beyond the level that they are comfortable with. Another way of stopping the conversation getting too personal is to talk about what others think and feel rather than talk from their own perspective.

“There is NO cross talk. Cross talk is when two individuals engage in conversation excluding all others. Each person is free to express his or her feelings without interruptions.”

People need to feel that they will get their turn to speak and to be listened too. Respect within small groups is a safety issue – if people don’t feel respected they won’t feel safe. The principle of ‘one person at a time’ is a great way of making sure that the group stays as a group without lots of side conversations.

“We are here to support one another, not ‘fix’.”

Small groups are a place to listen to one another’s thoughts and feelings; it’s not a place for issuing instructions. I’ve personally seen far too many situations where people quickly launch to an answer for someone else. These answer usually starting with “what you need to do is…”.

“Anonymity and confidentiality are basic requirements. What is shared in the group stays in the group.”

Gossip has killed many a small group. If people are going to move beyond the basic sharing of facts they need to feel that what they say isn’t being repeated around the town by all sorts of people.

“Offensive language has no place in a Christ-centred recovery group.”

A large part of safety is respect and that includes respect for others in the group and also for Jesus.

Beyond the guidelines perhaps the most important point that I would make is that it’s vital for groups to agree the way that the group is going to operate. Reading through a set of guidelines every week is probably more that most groups need but I’d still encourage every small group leader to think about the guidelines that they are going to set for their group and to think about ways that they are going to communicate those guidelines.