Thursday, 23 December 2010

Snow is falling, all around us.

Over the past few weeks we in the UK have faced one of the largest snow falls this country has seen in many years. I have watched with interest people's reaction to the snow and then to the circumstances and the problems that the snow caused.
The initial wonder & beauty that people saw soon turned to annoyance at the inconvenience caused. As someone who spent my childhood in Canada where the snow we have just seen would be only the start of about 5 months of up 6 feet. I still love the snow so I guess I am coming from a biased perspective but it has been amazing to see the reactions from people.

For some people the inconvenience was fairly small, for others it was large and for some it was downright dangerous.

So what are some of the reactions that I have seen?

1. Love the snow, don't want it to go, don't care what happens I am going to have snowball fights, enjoy the lie in on snow days and take loads of photos of me doing snow angels. Please let it stay until summer.

2. I love the snow even if it is causing me problems but am going to get on with it. I will think about snow tyres next year.

3. We like this but make it go away because I will have to change how I do things if it stays.

4.I hate the snow, can't wait for my holiday in the heat of Spain, but there is nothing I can do to control the weather so I will make the best of it & enjoy the hot chocolate with marshmallows.

5. I hate the snow full stop. I am going to complain about it and nothing is going to make me like it. I am going to blame everyone else for all the difficulties I am experiencing and do nothing to help myself. Oh, except complain even louder.

From my interaction with people, I don't think this is just how people deal with snow. It is generally a stance we choose to take in life.

Paul the Apostle was clear on the stance he took in life when he said, in Philippians 4:11-13
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

There are quite a few things I love about these short verses. Here are a few of them-

1. Paul had to LEARN to be content. This gives me hope. I can learn this to. Paul didn't just decide from now on he was going to be content and that was it! He went through a learning process, and I'm just guessing but I reckon he probably got it wrong at times.

2. Paul's content wasn't based on external circumstances, it was based on his trust in God his strength.

3. Contentment is a secret but it is there to be grasped. If it is a secret it means we have to search for it.

4. Paul faced many situations, including being stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, prosperity and church planting. He was content in the worst of them and the best of them.

5. Paul realised that there were some situations that he could not control. The only things he could control was his reaction to them and where he placed his trust.

So I guess my question for you is, what stance will you take, not just with this snow, but in life?

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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

"Merry" Christmas

First of all let me say Merry Christmas to you.
I remember being told not to use the word "merry" as it had connotations of behaviour that we don't condone as Christians. Here is the dictionary meaning for "merry" -
full of cheerfulness or gaiety; joyous in disposition or spirit
Thats a pretty good description of how I want Christmas to be for me, my family and my church community. Its typical of human nature that we can get so caught up in trying to get everything right in order to please someone. As Christians we do that for God (its called legalism). We so often forget that we live in His grace, and faith is what pleases Him, NOT making sure we don't use words that may have some loose connection to having one drink too many.

This period can be such a time of high stress and low peace with the planning of feasts fit for royalty, the careful selection of presents for our friends and family then realising that we don't have everything we want to make everything perfect. What happens if we forget to get that present or forget the Yorkshire puddings (actually that would push the limit of my grace). Are we still going to have a "Merry" (full of cheerfulness) Christmas? Parents, are we trying to get everything our kids want? They remember our presence not our presents. Especially if, with our presence, we are "joyous in disposition or spirit".

This season for us as a church community has been amazing. It feels like we are moving forward in so many areas. Our Christmas service was phenomenal. People worked so hard to present a relevant message of hope in Jesus Christ. I personally was blown away by all the effort that went in behind the scenes to make the day a "win". I believe that behind the excellence of the performance people's motivation was to lift the name of Jesus high. We took up an offering of £2470 that is going to help create so many hope-filled Christmas memories for the girls that A21 have rescued. Nick and Chris Caine were blown away by our generousity and want to extend their personal thanks to us at NCLC.

We also saw close to 40 hands go in the air that evening signifying people coming back to Christ or coming to Him for the first time. Those hands are not an end in themselves. They are really just the beginning. We as a church now have to make them into disciples.

This coming year our focus is establish a stronger discipleship culture. This will not be done by adding programs or meetings BUT by each of us making room to get alongside someone and BE discipled and also get alongside someone else and disciple them. This is not just the role of those leaders of teams or specifically gifted people. Jesus told us all in Matt 28:19-20
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

He didn't say our Christian life consisted of just going to church. He commissioned us, as local church, to find people and make them like us as we are like Him.
Are we up for the challenge? I hope so because that is where we are heading in this next year. We are working hard to build the infrastructure of church buildings, finances and offices but they mean nothing if they become the goal and not the tools to achieve our goals.

So, have a fantastic Merry Christmas.

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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

What is a "win" for our Christmas service this Sunday

Here is a letter I would love to receive after our Christmas service. We hear many of these comments already so this is how the whole experience should feel like at NCLC. We are getting there.

Dear Pastor Jon

I just wanted to write this letter to say thank you to you and your church for my first experience of NCLC. I came along last Sunday to your Christmas Presentation and was blown away by what I saw, felt and learned.

My friend Dave, at work has been bugging me for the past couple of months or so about coming along to church, but I always had a good reason not to. Actually my good reasons were excuses because I had been dragged to church as a kid and the last place I wanted to be on the busy run up to Christmas was a boring, draughty, cold, unfriendly church. How wrong could I have been!

My friend had been coming along to NCLC for a while and I began to notice a real difference in him. He no longer seemed as hassled by the work as he used to be. He talked about his wife in a way that made me think he really loved and respected her. Thats not what he used to be like believe me. We were told at the beginning of the month that we might be made redundant which was a huge blow. He was as upset as all the rest of us but seemed to have a calmness and peace about him that I couldn't understand.

Anyway after seeing how he has been dealing with that news I wanted to know a bit more about this God that he talks about so I decided to come along with him to the Christmas service. My friend was a bit crafty and asked me to pick him up, I realised later that he was making sure I got there.

As we got close to the City Hall I could see some idiots lined up in the street with bright yellow jackets chatting to people and giving out hot drinks. They must have been idiots because it was freezing yet they had big smiles on their faces and were talking to people as they went past. When I realised they were from NCLC I asked how much were they being paid for doing that. I couldn't believe they were all volunteers and a lot of them were under 18. Unbelievable

As we walked into the City Hall foyer I already had a steaming cup of hot chocolate in my hand. This was when it got really weird. As we walked through the door people came across and started talking to me. This wasn't the kind of church I remembered. I was introduced to a whole load of people who made me feel as if they were there just for me. I was still very sceptical though because they had obviously been told to look out for me by my friend (or so I thought).

Some people that knew Dave came up and started talking to him and I thought they would leave me out of the conversation, but I was introduced to them and was included in the group. I mentioned to someone about our job situation and immediately one of the group said they knew someone from the church in my field of work so they went and got her. She said she would speak to her company to see if there were any jobs coming up.

By this time a lot of my perceptions about church were being broken down. I couldn't believe how many different age groups and colours of people (not sure if thats politically correct) there were and so many involved in what was going on. I felt like I want to grab a jug and start giving people hot chocolate.

Well when we went into City Hall the atmosphere was amazing. Everyone was excited to be there. I was looking forward to singing some traditional carols. Well we did that but the band, choir and whole presentation was like something off MTV. When I watched the video about human trafficking it made me so angry, yet blew away another perception about church and money. You gave your whole offering to help rescue the girls being trafficked.

The speaker was sooo funny but the way he talked about Christmas really challenged me about my life and what I was doing. At the end of the service the challenge he gave to raise our hand if we wanted to know this Jesus that came in a manger made my stomach turn in knots. I put my hand up. I didn't want to at first because I could tell that Dave was praying for me and I didn't want to admit he had been right all along. Dave came with me to meet some people at the end of the service who prayed with me and gave me a Bible.

I hung around after the carols and people were chatting and arranging to have people over for Christmas lunch. I will be so fat being part of this church, everything is over a meal. Saying that the people were working so hard packing down equipment that they must have to eat loads. Dave asked me if I could stay and help so I did. I have never seen people work so hard for no pay. I had a real feeling they were doing all of this just for me.

I came to church because I had already seen something different in Dave. I have since found out its not something, it is someone. My perceptions were broken down by the NCLC community and because of what happened I also met Jesus. I had so much that needed forgiving in my life and am on a journey of getting to know God. My life has been so much about me and my needs. This church has given me a glimpse of someone bigger than myself. I will never be the same again.

Hope its ok but I have already asked people to come along next week. I hope my experience wasn't a one off.

So thank you


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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Ten tips for finishing the race- start well.

We are so often told that it is not how you start a race that matters but how you finish. This is true...ish. Getting a good start to a race can have huge implications as to how and whether you finish. The finish is what we aim for, but starting well will set you ahead of most people.

So how do we start well.

1. Know you are in it to finish. Have your mind set on completing the race.

2. Be prepared. Are you equipped & trained for the race.

3. Know what it will cost you. The Bible says that no one should build a building without first counting the cost. Am I prepared to do whatever it takes to get to the end?

4. Have the right travelling companions. John Donne stated "no man is an island, entire of himself". More importantly God said "It is not good for man to be alone. This is one race that we need people alongside us.

5. Be prepared to keep going even if your fellow racers give up.

6. Know your motivation. Why are you doing this race? Is it for a cause that is bigger than yourself? "For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross". Don't just have a vision. You own a vision, but a cause owns you.

7. Don't go off too quickly, gain momentum. Too often I have seen people come to Christ and like a match, burn bright for a few weeks then when trouble hits, the flame dies. Jesus himself said this would happen in the parable of the Sower.

8. Know your destination but be prepared for diversions on the way. Proverbs 20:24 A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?

9. Keep your eyes on what is at your feet but also the direction you are taking further ahead. Psalms 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

10. Be prepared to be hospitalised. The difference between a casual runner and an elite runner is that a an elite runner will give everything they have and somehow even more to finish the race. Is that your mindset at the start?

Anyway hope this helps. Remember, if you haven't started well...

Lamentations 3:22-23
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

This morning is a great day to start your race.

Jon Cook
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At this time of writing I am making some drastic changes within our church community. Some of the changes are around structure, some around leadership but some are to get back a few things that I see we have let slide, which are vital to the life of our church.

It feels like the last five years have flown by, going from a small connect group in Starbucks of nine people to two campuses in the north east with about 500 people. It felt like everything we had been doing was right, even in times of immense frustration, we were still on track and doing the right things. BUT in the last six months it has changed from doing everything right, to doing everything wrong. We hadn't changed anything. We had reached a level where what we had been doing was right to get there but was wrong to take us further. My choice was to stay with the familiar or head into the unknown. I decided to choose the later.

The unknown is the path of faith. That's the only thing that pleases God. It is the path that we have followed to get here and the one we choose to take us into our future.
Follow us on the journey.

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Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Servolution week- onion rings?

This last month has been an eye opener for me as a pastor. I have seen who really understand what our core values are as a church and those that have still to learn that they impact our lives. Serving our community is not an add on option for our Christianity, like onion rings with your meal.

Our maturity is not counted on how much theology or doctrine we know and can argue about, it is counted on how much like Christ we are becoming. Jesus came not to be served but to serve. Am I serving at an event or do I serve as a lifestyle?

Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.” How can we speak up for those that we have no idea of their need? How can we speak up for them if we don't listen & how can we listen if we never get close enough to hear them?

When we serve, people allow us into their lives, they begin to trust us & see Christ shining through us. Then they give us permission to speak to them & speak up for them.

Don't let serving be the onion rings of your life. It is the prize, the ribeye steak. Mmmmmm.

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Saturday, 20 March 2010

Content, Complacent or Helpless

I was asked to speak at University of Newcastle Christian Union, which I did last night. I was given the passage Phil 4:10-23 to speak on. I began to think through what Paul had to say about contentment. I also tried to think about what contentment is not.
It is not-
  1. Complacency- This is defined as being self-sufficient, self-reliant and unconcerned. It's an "I'm alright Jack" attitude. I have everything I need & everything I need I got for myself. It is also an attitude of being unconcerned about what is happening around us.
  2. Helplessness- There is nothing I can do for myself or for others. I have nothing so I will just accept whatever happens to me.
We are reminded in Rev 3: 15-17 what God thinks of those who think they have everything. We make him feel like vomiting. When we get to that stage we stop trusting in God.

Paul also reminds in Phil 4: 13 that we are not helpless because through His strength we can do all things.

Contentment is not from external circumstances but an internal assurance of our relationship with Christ and what He has done for us.

Contentment is a capacity to be detached & independent from possessions.

Contentment is learned. Paul said that he had learned contentment. This means "disciplined by experience". Paul probably go it wrong, which was how he learned through experience. That definitely gives me hope.

People are more likely look at our lives when things are going wrong to see if we react differently as Christians than when everything is going well.

Do I show contentment in all circumstances? I don't want to be complacent or helpless.

Friday, 5 February 2010

" My name..."

When we are told to ask for things in the name of Jesus what does that really mean? 

Can I get away with asking for whatever I like and then just tagging it with "in the name of Jesus" and so expecting to get what I want.
I have been thinking about this lately and wondered what it means. When we look at what "in the name of Jesus actually means we get another sense of our relationship with Him and how we can expect Him to hear and answer our prayers.

"In the name of Jesus" (or "in my name") is stated several times in both the Old & New Testament. When this phrase is used it is used in the context of someone coming with the authority of the person they are naming. It also implies that they are under the authority of that same person. This is shown in Jesus' interaction with the centurion in Matt 8:9. He understood that only authority he had was that which was given to him. He was not coming in his own name.

When we do or ask for things in the name of Jesus, we need to ask ourselves have we really submitted ourselves to His authority. Do we trust that when He answers, the answer is from His will not ours. If He chooses not answer in our timing are we still under His authority?
  1. Remember that if we are saying things in His name then we should also be under His complete authority.
  2. Remember if we are doing things in His name, are we living in such a way that show we are reflecting the authority that He has over us.
  3. Remember when we ask for things in His name, let's trust that He will give us whatever answer is best for us.

Monday, 1 February 2010

People with difficulties or difficult people?

I love my job, if it wasn't for all those people...

I don't know about you but as a pastor the greatest joys and the greatest frustrations don't come from accounts, structures, a perfectly flowing Sunday service, or even a message that I have felt just hit the spot. The highest highs and the lowest lows come from my one on one interaction with people.

I love looking around and seeing lives that have been transformed by the love of Christ, often shown through His community. Then I see people who just don't seem to understand what we are all about. They are so focused on having their own personal preferences and problems dealt with. They are different from people with problems, I love them; they seem to realise that there is no one else to turn to and Christ is the answer. No, the one's I am talking about are the problem people. There aren't that many of them but they just seem to suck the life out of you and everyone around them. Everything is a drama.
Some of the major issues in their life are-
  1. The church music is too loud, I can't hear myself worship. 
  2. I want to park closer to the building.
  3. I don't like it when you talk about money.
  4. You haven't recognised my gifting.
  5. I have no friends.
  6. I don't like doing what you have asked me to do. 
  7. All my problems are someone else's fault, so I don't have to do anything about them. (Great point from Charlie Sullivan)
I could go on but I am starting to depress myself.

When we actually understand what we are called to be in this world then our focus is taken off ourselves and placed firstly on Christ, then our gaze is always directed to where His heart is. We are called to be servants, making disciples everywhere we go. As a servant my priority is to meet the needs of others; as a disciple maker I am here to replicate Christ in me in others.

We all have personal preferences that we have to get over to be part of a Spirit-breathed community. I need to look at my own life regularly and ask myself what preferences are defining me at the moment. When was the last time you checked the personal preferences you are allowing to control your life?