Thursday, 3 September 2015

God revealed in us.

So this week our news and social media is crowded with images that assault our senses. Pictures of children lying dead on a beach. My mind wants to rush passed them, not to ignore the issue but to lessen the trauma. I have three children and like most parents we picture our own kids there.

There has been a debate raging on how we define the people that this involves. Are they migrants or are they refugees. I do understand that language is powerful and we have to be careful how we describe groups but whatever name we use to describe them is yet another way of making them less like us. That wasn’t a refugee or a migrant lying on the beach, it was a child, somebody’s son or daughter. Someone’s brother or sister. The people fleeing are first and foremost PEOPLE. 

Like you and I.

They were neighbours, they were school children, shopkeepers, builders, plumbers, entrepreneurs, grandmothers, unemployed. They were Arsenal, Man United, Newcastle, Man City fans. They loved to cook, eat McDonalds, feel the sun on their face, splash about in puddles. 

They were like you and I.

As a follower of Christ I have prayed and sung “God break my heart for what breaks yours.” This breaks God’s heart. Therefore my heart, your heart, our hearts should be broken.

Don’t get lost in the political arguments and counter-arguments. Don’t succumb to the headlines about the very small minority who may be playing the system. These are people who are in need. Jesus was asked the question “Who is my neighbour” He answered with a story of two men who were least like each other yet one went out of his way to meet the other’s need. 

It cost him. 
It inconvenienced him.

If it were us, how would we want to be treated by people. The Bible is clear on how we treat and welcome the stranger. A stranger isn’t someone who is not like us, they are just someone we haven’t met and become friends with yet. That person is made in the image of God, the same as you and I. 

That means we are alike.

Jesus also tells us in Luke 14 that we should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind in and we ourselves will be blessed because of that. This will inconvenience us and possibly cost us financially as individuals and maybe as a country. But we should be prepared to pay the cost, its what makes us human. 

It’s the God nature being revealed in us.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Not a party political broadcast.

It can't have escaped your attention that in the UK we have our general election coming up. We can expect to see more and more picture of babies being kissed by politicians and our airwaves being overrun with political sound bites. If you are like me then by the time the election comes I have enough of it all.

But what should our response be to all of this as Christians? I have asked Pete Jobes one of our campus pastors to write a short guest blog for us on his views on what should be our response. So over to Pete.

It's election season in the UK. Posters on billboards demand your attention; politicians appear on our television screens, pleading for your vote. Celebrities tell you which way they're voting and encourage you to do the same, and the language of public debate becomes polarising and absolute.

It can seem as though everyone has an opinion and it can be hugely divisive; the other side are often seen not as our fellow men trying to do their best but branded as immoral, incapable, and many other things.

Where do we belong, as Christians, in election season? I've heard people say we should absent ourselves from the process and let it run its course and I've equally heard people say that failure to vote a particular way would be a betrayal of our beliefs; I've heard most stand points in-between too.

I believe firmly that our engagement in the political process is important. It's clear from the teaching of both Peter and Paul that they expected those in the early church to be good citizens. People were told to pray for, and submit to, their leaders regardless of whether they liked them.

Our vote is a privilege, a right that people died for, but it is also an opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to engage with the wider world and to represent Jesus within that. To influence the way our nation is governed for better or for worse.

So how do we engage with politics and how do we vote?

One of the most important things is the way that we behave. It amazes me how often people will talk about the love of God one day then write vicious political comments on their facebook the next. I used to do the same. But descending to vitriol and hate when we voice our opinions isn't showing the love of Christ to anyone.

I implore you, as followers of Christ, please let's always remember that we represent him. St. Peter lived in Rome under the brutal dictatorship of the Emperor Nero, and yet he said that the will of God was that we honour our leaders (1 Peter 2:13-17).
Nero would later have Peter crucified upside down and Paul beheaded. He launched a concerted effort to wipe out the Christian faith; and yet here is Peter saying that we submit and we honour leaders. That is a challenge, but I'm sure no mainstream candidate in the UK election is as diametrically opposed to our faith as Nero was.

Our language when we talk about politics should reflect submission and honour. That doesn't mean we condone bad things, nor does it mean we have no right to voice an opinion - on the contrary we do, but we must do so while behaving in a manner that reflects well on our saviour.

So often I have seen the worst and most aggressive political commentary come from those who profess faith; my friends, this should not be so.

As to voting? I'm sure there are people reading who already have a good idea who they will vote for, and others reading who don't know yet whether they will or who they will vote for.

I'd encourage you, vote with your conscience. Don't look to the way your family or your neighbourhood have always voted. Don't look to who has the best tie in the leadership debates, or who comes up with the pithiest ways to put down their rivals. Jesus said:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
- Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)

So this should guide us in everything, including our politics. Look at the policies of the people you're considering voting for. Which of the options do you feel fits best with the life Jesus has called you to live? Are some of the parties appealing to fear and hate of your neighbour? Will a particular party help to establish a more just and fair society?

Pray about it; pray that God will help you to make an informed decision. He has given us the Word and the Holy Spirit to guide us.

And remember, no matter who we vote for, Jesus calls us to live a life of love and justice. How we vote is important, but how we live is more so.

Friday, 20 March 2015

From the pastor's desk March

 Last week I had two texts with questions sent to me from two different people. One of them helped me to really focus down on to a subject and the other caused me to expand my thinking and open up to a subject.

The first was simply “What creates a great environment in church”. That needs a whole blog by itself, so I will come back to that one at a different time. The second question, which I want to focus on here was, “From a pastor's perspective what are the three most important things that a church attendee could do to help you build the house?”

That got me thinking. There are lots of things that I could have replied with but how do I condense it all to the three most important to me, in our setting and at our stage of growth?

Is it about finance? Is it about serving? Is it about attitude? I tried not to over think my response and so replied within a few minutes. Here is what I wrote to him (not in order of importance)
  1. Keep connected to the right people, especially when it gets tough.
  2. Be a disciple & disciple others.
  3. Have a daily encounter with the three things Jesus left behind-
  • His word,
  • His Spirit,
  • His Body.
There you have it. That’s what I would want you to know.  There are many other actions and behaviours that will flow from these three. For us as a church at our stage of development, this is what I want you to do to help build our church community.

Keep connected to the right people, especially when it gets tough.
Over the years this has been one of the most crucial things that has helped the church, grow, decline or plateau. When we move out of connection with the right people we stop being discipled and pastored. This can happen due to tough life circumstances or due to being hurt or messing up. It's not just staying connected to people, it is staying connected to the RIGHT people. Are they encouraging you to be part of the community that has loved you, fed you and looked after you or are they pulling you in another direction?

“If the people you hang with don’t like your church, give it a month and you won’t either.”

Be a disciple & disciple others.

This is our commission. Jesus told the people he was discipling to go and do what He had done for them. I don’t want a church of attendees, I want a church of disciples.

Have a daily encounter with the only three things Jesus left behind.
We live in grace but we are called to certain disciplines as disciples. Are we getting the word of God into our minds and hearts? It will bring health and growth. Learn to feed yourself on the Word, this is what mature followers of Christ do.

Jesus said He would leave His Holy Spirit to comfort and encourage us. He gave us a language to speak that will build us up. Do we use it daily? The Spirit gives gifts to build the church not for our own little parties.

Jesus said that He would build His church. He is coming back for His church. He loves His church. That is you and me. It is what He uses to refine us. In all her beauty and flaws, she is what Christ loves. Are we meeting together, not just on a Sunday, but as a daily habit? Meeting in formal and informal settings.

If we can continue to get these right, we stay healthy as disciples, we continue to do what Christ has told us to do and we stay connected to Christ. The house will be built.

There is a lot more I could say on all of these three factors but would take far too long.

I hope this has helped.

Pastor Jon Cook