I (also) Have a Dream

We are living in a broken world packed out with broken human beings. The knocks of life have a way of sapping our confidence, strength and hope, even out of the best ones. The gathered church often mirrors that reality. There’s probably nothing more painful than the feeling of dealing with the brokenness all by yourself – feeling invisible to the rest of the world and lonely.

As a society we find it harder and harder to care and feel. We are increasingly ‘wired’ with the illusion that sharing a family photo or liking a status on Facebook somehow makes us more connected with the zilions of ‘friends’ we have on Facebook. Yet we bury ourselves in mobile devices in public spaces and increasingly use the self check outs. We live in a world where Anne Laitrim was found dead in her home after seven years, the neighbours thinking she had moved away… The only ones bothering to check were those after her unpaid mortgage.

I dream and wish, as a pastor, of a church community that bucks this sad trend of ignorance, neglect and distraction with a heartfelt compassion. Not just for outsiders we are trying to attract. Not driven by self interest or a snazzy self advertising program. Not pushed by the leaders. Inspired by Jesus Himself as revealed in Scripture, driven by His great grace and empowered by His Spirit.

  • I dream of a church enriched by a care culture rather than just a handful of overworked caring individuals.
  • A people where we all learn to notice by listening and watching one another.
  • A people where we write, ring, email, cook, bake, clean, garden, fix, give lifts, paint, sing and read to those can’t, fill in bureaucratic documents, babysit, pray, do hospital visits, weep and rejoice with one another.
  • A people that know my name, my story, my fears, my dreams.
  • A people where the magic of selflessness is at work: as I serve others, I am served myself.
  • A people that are showcasing the practical simplicity of Christ’s love.
  • A people where this motto would be the unwritten advert: ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:35)

Lord, I want to care, help my carelessness.

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What a Pastor Wants

It’s that season of the year with both wishes and resolutions.

Maybe you wondered what a pastor can wish for. Well, not every pastor, maybe just me…

If you do – here is something to start with (not necessarily the most important).

This has been ‘percolating’ in my mind and heart for a few weeks now. I prayed. I listened. I edited in my mind…

I know writing this is dangerous – but love compels me to do it. The love I have for my church (people) and the love I know they will have for me as they receive these thoughts. I’m secure in that.

I have a great longing to see more people connect with our Sunday evening services (using the abbreviation SES for ease here). There are 4 excuses I often hear:

  • ‘it does not say anywhere in the Bible that you need to go to ‘church’ twice on a Sunday.’ True. In fact, i struggle with most of the ‘need to’ type stuff. Maybe it’s my rebellious nature. But to me the Sunday gatherings are such an important part of my spiritual growth. I go to both give and receive. I need teaching, I enjoy corporate praise, I value praying together and I love being with God’s people and talking about our lives, with pressures and joys. This isn’t about obligation but affection. Surely, you can’t have too much of a good thing? Come to the SNS because you love it and because you are so thirsty for more of Him!
  • ‘I need time for my family’. Great endeavor! Many times in the past Christ-followers sacrificed family relationships at the altar of ‘churchianity’, with dire consequences. Yet often the ‘family time’ is just an excuse for selfishness or laziness – if we are to be truly honest. The spouse or the kids are not enriched by this time spent together… How about a reconfiguration of the weekend in which we could make room for one of the parents taking turns to go to the SES and come back and share with the spouse or even have some babysitters serve those parents by enabling them to come to church on a Sunday night? I cannot tell you the amount of times I knew that those not present would have benefited so much by what God did at particular times during the SES, especially regarding family life… Come to the SNS because that will strengthen and equip you to love, protect, lead and sacrificially serve your family!
  • ‘I can listen to it on the podcast’. Modern recording technology is a great blessing and I enjoy is so much too. But we make the assumption that it’s all about the sermon. You cannot tear-up as you worship together by podcast… You cannot feel the pain as you pray together for a suffering brother or sister by podcast… And you cannot love and encourage others through a podcast either…And think of the worship leaders, musicians and preachers. They prepare fresh and exciting stuff, week by week, with dedication and passion. Like a lavish meal. Do you think they feel anything if more or less people show up for their prepared feast to enjoy? Come because live is always better!
  • ‘I have already served in the morning service’. How many times I felt like that. Tired and spent. Rest is important for recovery. Yet spiritual rest comes often in a different guise. Often the best way to refresh yourself is to engage in ‘receiving’ new passion, love and strength as you worship with His people. Being not doing. If we only come to church to do rather than be – we are in danger of either spiritual burn out or Pharisaical religion. Come because you need it!

I encourage you to read these words with a nonchalant humility – flowing out of grace. It’s not a telling off. It’s not a religious rule. Just simply ask the Holy Spirit to show you/your family if this is something you need to reconsider.

I know some cannot come for health, family or health reasons – which of course we all experience at different seasons in our lives.

In the past legalism confirmed that ‘twicers’ were the real Christians. I often fear nowadays that we switched it to ‘oncers’ being the real Christians. Just say no to legalism and yes to a surrendered and grace driven passion for fullness with Him and His people!

A Different Kind of Christmas Letter

Rajai Shahr Prison 2014

Merry Christmas!
These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it.

This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.

These cold and brittle conditions have made me wonder why God chose the hardest time of the year to become flesh and why He came to the earth in the weakest human condition (as a baby). Why did God choose the hardest place to be born in the cold weather? Why did God choose to be born in a manger in a stable, which is very cold, filthy and unsanitary with an unpleasant smell?

Why did the birth have to be in such a way that it was not only hard physically, but also socially? It must have brought such shame for Mary and her fiancé that she was pregnant before marriage in the religious society of that time.

Dear sisters and brothers, the fact of the Gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus. Today we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the Word of Life and

Salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection. We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God. We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world. Then we are able to give the fiery love of Christ to the cold wintery manger of those who are spiritually dead.

It might be necessary to come out of the comfort of our lives and leave the loving embrace of our family to enter the manger of the lives of others, such as it has been for me for the third consecutive Christmas. It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning ofChristmas.

Christmas means that God came so that He would enter your hearts today and transform your lives and to replace your pain with indescribable joy. Christmas is the manifestation of the radiant brightness of the Glory of God in the birth of a child named Emmanuel, which means God is with us.Christmas is the day that the heat of the life-giving fire of God’s love shone in the dark cold wintry frozen hearts and burst forth in this deadly wicked world.

The same way that the heat from the earth’s core melts the hard stones in itself and produces lava, the fiery love of God, Jesus Christ, through the virgin Mary’s womb came to earth on Christmas to melt the hard heart of sin and wickedness of the world and removes them from our life.

In the same process, the work of the Holy Spirit is a fiery rain of God’s Holiness and Mercy that flows into our body, soul and spirit and brings the light of Christ into us and through us making this dark, cold, wintry world into radiant burning brightness. He is turning our world into a world full of peace, joy, and love that is so different than the dark, cold, and wintry world that we used to live in. Hallelujah!

So this Christmas let the lava-like love of Christ enter into the depth of your heart and make you fiery, ready to pay any cost in order to bring the same lava love to the cold world around you, transforming them with the true message of Christmas.

Pastor Saeed Abedini
Soaking in the lava love of Christ

from http://media.aclj.org/pdf/Christmas-Message-2014.pdf

When God Draws Near

A Beautiful poem by my friend Joe.
http://matthewjosephpoet.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/when-god-draws-near.html?spref=fb

When God draws near
People Sing,
Zechariah,
The Angels
Mary, Magnifying,
Souls exploding
Gushing Forth
Rejoicing
Blessing
Glorifying,

Those moments
When rocks would cry out
If he had not just softened
The rocks into flesh

When we sat down and wept
Believing we were abandoned
Our captive hearts were like
Lifeless stone
Sunk, in the rivers
Of Babylon,

But when God draws near
There is singing,
What will be my song?
Is my heart still granite
In exile
Abandoned, by the waters
Of Babylon?

When Immanuel comes
What will be my Song?
In this,
The latest
Incarnation,
You’ve shown
You’ve been here
All along,

Never will you leave me
Nothing will cause you to forsake
Your exiled children,
In the desert
Nothing will make you break
Your promise,

Immanuel
God with us
Through waters
And through Flame
O come to us
O dwell in us
forever more the same.

Why Are You Here

This is a wonderful, heart-searching and poignant poem from a Christian friend – who kindly allowed me to share it with you all:

Why Are You Here?

“I’m here because I’ve helped the frail put out their refuse sacks.”
“I’m here because I never cheat and pay my income tax.”
“I’ve played the organ sixty years, while other people sing,
My music filled the church, all said, ‘It is a splendid thing!’”
“I’ve sat upon the Council in matters great and small,
I’ve been the Mayor and tried to serve the people – one and all.”

“A quiet life I’ve always led,
Trying to do as my Mother said,
I’ve not got drunk, I didn’t swear,
My party clothes I didn’t tear!
Morality? Ten out of ten,
Far more righteous than other men.”

Surely, Lord, You must find room for us in Heaven’s glory,
Just listen while we tell You our self promoting story,
We’ve all known hardship, pain and fear,
We do deserve to join You here.
We’ve done our best, though it’s been tough earning our place,
Isn’t that enough?

But listen to what the Saviour says:

Heaven’s not for those who boast, who think their job is done,
Not for those who can recite their good deeds one by one,
Not for those whose trust is placed in what they can achieve,
On sermons preached, and Bibles read, or knowing every Creed.
For who would get the glory if I let these people in?
They’d be there in their own right – not My sacrifice for sin,
If they deserved their place in heaven My death would be in vain,
Calvary counted worthless, and resurrection – tame.

It’s grace, and grace alone, that counts, it is a gift for you,
It’s Who you trust to save you, not all the things you do.
It’s Christ’s work, start to finish, so He will get the glory,
In Him we boast, declaring loud this glorious Gospel story.
So where does your faith lie, I ask? Don’t trust in your own merit.
The gift is free, the gift’s for you – His heaven to inherit.

Susan Richards
December 2014