Category Archives: Jesus

3 Reasons you might be better off in the dark while still walking in the light

20140310-231329.jpg

My car has been a total nightmare for about 8 weeks. For some bizarre reason half the dash board lights have stubbornly remained ON after I have turned the engine off, locked the car and walked away – illuminating the inside of the car with a pulsing glow. This is a BIG problem! No garage has been able to sort the problem, leaving it like this just drains the battery. I had an isolator switch fitted next to the battery to sort this out (every time I drive the car I have to turn this on, ever time I leave the car, it’s an extra thing to remember to turn off).

On Friday, inexplicably – I turned the engine off and ALL the dash board lights went out. Plunged into darkness – it felt like a minor miracle!

I got to thinking, it’s not always BAD when the lights go out! This is true in our spiritual lives too – here are three reasons it’s good to be in the dark!

#1. Look Up. I used to live surrounded by light pollution, it was ‘night’ outside – but still ridiculously bright when I lived in London. Street lights, signs, buildings lit up like it was Christmas (only 24/7 and all year round). Now, I live in the country and I am plunged into darkness just beyond my front door! So – I spend more time looking up! When I was in London it was hard to see the night sky – now, on a clear night in the country it is breathtaking to look up and see such brightness, see so clearly an incredible array above me! When it is dark around us, it should always be a reminder to look up, the creator who put the stars there also put us (you and me) here, we are set in our place – His hand is on us. An amazing night sky reminds me of this, however dark it seems.

#2. Shiny Shiny! Sometimes, we need to WALK AWAY from bright and dazzling lights. Magpies are attracted to shiny things. Sometimes as followers of Jesus we are too. We can find ourselves more interested in what another follower of Jesus is doing or saying or writing than Jesus himself! We are attracted to a BIG speaker or a MEGA leader, we might be attracted to an AMAZING opportunity that is a bit like someone dangling a bauble in front of us ‘look at the shiny shiny!’ and we are mesmerised. Not every ‘golden opportunity’ is a God opportunity – often we might be called to live out our lives for God out of the limelight, away from the flashing bulbs and in the darkness of obscurity. Shiny, shiny is not always good for us, it can even sometimes lead us away from the true light – ignore the ‘shiny, shiny’ it is not the ‘light of life’ (see Psalm 56:13)

#3. Walk by Faith. Another advantage of the dark is that we have to rely on our other senses, in fact when it IS dark these senses often feel heightened anyway. Especially our hearing. I am amazed what I can suddenly hear when it is dark, that I don’t notice when it is light. The challenge we have of the imagery of ‘light’ is it conveys, almost always the idea of being able to see. However, walking in the light is not just about us being able to see – it is also about being seen. Who has his gaze constantly fixed on us? Who keeps us from stumbling?

He will not let your foot slip – He who watches over you will not slumber
Psalm 121:3

If we simply walked in ‘the light’ (and it meant an actual light) we would not need to worry about stumbling! However, that is not all there is – in the New Testament we are reminded,

We walk by faith and not by sight
2 Corinthians 5:7

Then, as we look at those great heroes and heroines of the faith in Hebrews we are reminded again and again that though they walked ‘in the light’ they often set out with no idea where they were going . . . ! When it seems dark around us it can be a good place to use another of our senses that is heightened by the dark – listen! The evidence of our eyes, as we have seen can sometimes deceive us – we need to cultivate our listening! What is God saying, shouting, whispering to us when things seem dark. It CAN be good to find ourselves reliant on that voice when we cannot see the way.

So – look up today, ignore the shiny shiny and when it all feels dark – listen!

4 Things Young People Need from Church || #4. Significance

20140227-231929.jpg

We have looked at the need for acceptance, love and guidance – now we see the ministry and life impact of these key values. Young people taking their place as full and active members of the body of Christ – bringing their passion, gifts, drive and vision – or do they?

What space do we create in Church for young people to fully participate? IF we want to see young people remain in the church into adulthood we MUST equip them to serve and get stuck in. They need to know it matters whether they ‘show up’ or not.

I love the film Gladiator! It’s up there as one of my all time favourite films. Near the beginning Maximus (Russell Crowe) makes a glorious speech and reminds his men that what we do – echoes in eternity.

What we do matters. Do our young people believe that? Come to that – do we believe that?

I have had a few chats over the years with some well known Christian leaders. One I spoke to a while ago said that when he hit 50 he realised what really mattered in life and ministry was not whether he was ‘successful’, but whether what he did mattered. Was it significant. Had it made an impact and a difference for the common good and for the gospel? That had become his question.

Philippians is a pretty stonking book – especially (for me anyway) chapter 2. First we have the incredible attitude of Christ – and we can sometimes get caught up in HIS attitude (wow, isn’t Jesus amazing – look at his attitude) when the point of the passage is YOU (which means me too) should have the same attitude. It is one of servant hood. Living a significant life for Jesus is not pushy, it is not about endeavouring to ‘be’ significant for our own sake or glory – but to live a transformed life that makes a difference to the life of others – John 3:30 has it spot on,

He must increase; I must decrease

We don’t ‘disappear’ when we live like this, we simply become more fully who we were created to be. The attitude we have of ‘Christ increasing’ can ONLY be for our good and for the good of those around us. What’s not to like? With the right attitude so much can be done! This attitude leads us to be enablers and equippers of others – especially, if you are involved in youth work – young people. Don’t DO what you have been doing for years (and giving nobody else a look in) GIVE it away, create opportunities for others – YES, they will be significant in their own right with what they initiate and begin and kick off and take on . . . BUT, everybody begins with being given a CHANCE. Give young people a go. It can be done safely, if it goes pear shaped – YOU take the flack. If it goes AMAZING – give them the credit – build a safe place where young people can risk it, have a crack at something – and it is ok to mess up . . .

do everything with grumbling and arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “Children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.
Philippians 2:14-16

Where it says, “hold firmly” this could also be translated “hold out” hold onto and hold out the word of life – it’s not one or the other – it’s both. You cannot hold out the word of life to others without firmly keeping it and knowing it and treasuring it – and, IF you have fully grasped it – you would not be holding onto it – such amazing love and grace is bestowed on us – we cannot keep it to ourselves!

And – the stars! Shining like stars – that is the echo in eternity! If we shine like stars – then, maybe one day – the light from what we have done, been, passed on will reach others – long after we ourselves are gone (just like a star). THAT is the kind of leader of young people that I want to be.

Let’s create space where young people know NOW they are significant and have a significant contribution to ministry and church life today; let’s find ways to get “out of the way” so they might get a glimpse of what they might do to serve Jesus and let’s give opportunities – HOW might young people serve your church today?

Whatever age you are as a leader, whatever your have done so far to raise up and enable young people to take their place of significance in the church – there are always more young people! Let’s equip each other, let’s build up the whole body of Christ to be a place and a community that sees what God is doing in the lives our our children and young people and celebrates it by cheering the next generation on in all that God will call them to. They are fellow ‘runners’ of the race, they are in it NOW – not shuffling about on the sidelines waiting for us to finish!

What you do by saying yes to one young person might transform their group of friends, a relationship at home, set them on the path to full time ministry, see them so boosted in their confidence they do stuff they never imagined they would or could. Some of it – we get to see (what a joy and an immense privilege) others things – we don’t see, we will never see – but God sees it all and knows it all. As we echo in eternity and as we shine like stars – the only one we need to know is watching (and loving every minute of it) is Jesus.

4 Things Young People Need From the Church || #3. Guidance

20140225-230648.jpg

We started with acceptance which prepares the ground for young people to be loved into being – we now come to one of the key tensions and challenges in what the church provides for young people. Guidance.

Guidance is a big deal because there are differing understandings of what this looks like. For some churches this appears to be a discipleship approach that involves ‘telling’ – instructing young people in what they must do to behave. Telling them what is right – and then expecting them to just do it. A guidance approach that often struggles with questions, then gets exasperated if they are asked and finally responds when challenged with ‘because I said so!’

Then, there is the guidance approach that encourages young people to discover for themselves, work stuff out, learn from their mistakes and maybe clarity is missing . . .

Somehow we need to find balance – guidance is essential – but what does it look like? This isn’t about the answers, none of these ‘what young people need’ posts is about what we ‘do’ so much as who we are, the values that underpin our work with children and young people. So, what values should steer our approach to guidance.

Let’s start here,

Train a child in the way they should go – even when they are old they will not turn from it
Proverbs 22:6

‘Train’ here is the Hebrew word, ‘chanak’ – there are four ideas associated with the word:

#1. To Dedicate. Often accompanied by sacrifice, this was serious stuff – a dedication to The Lord – think of Hannah brining Samuel to the temple and dedicating him to the Lord’s service and you get the idea.

#2. To Throttle. Ok, calm down! This was about constricting or narrowing in order to discipline, like. bit in a horses mouth – think of reigns on a toddler as they are learning to walk!

#3. To Introduce. In discipleship terms we are introducing children, getting them started on the ‘way’, but more than that – we are not just introducing them to Christian practice – but introducing them to Jesus himself. He, himself IS the way.

#4. To Initiate. I LOVE what this means! It’s about creating an appetite for something – in order to get a baby to suckle, it was the habit in the Middle East to put oil or crushed dates in the roof of a babies mouth so they could begin to get a taste for food. I love that, TASTE and see that The Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8)

This is ALL from that one word ‘train’! So much in this verse of scripture, we can read it and miss the depth, the range and scope of what is meant here. Also, we can feel (I certainly do as a parent) overwhelmed with the responsibility – what if we stuff it up?

As children and young people grow, their abilities and their talents, their sheer gobsmacking range of choice; their engagement with a world that is now available at the swipe of a finger 24/7; their presence in a virtual world visiting places and interacting with people their parents have never met . . . We can feel overwhelmed and ‘out gunned’ or at least out paced with the changes that are happening that we can’t keep up with – but, also, the shift in the way our culture perceives the young – whether that is marketing products; encouraging young people to buy this, go here, watch this, download that . . . How – in the midst of a world we do not understand can we hope to ‘guide’?

I am reminded of the first Spider Man film from a few years ago – and the wise words of uncle Ben to Peter Parker,

With great lower comes great responsibility

Uncle Ben was watching Peter grow up – and he didn’t know he was Spider Man, but could see, as he was becoming a man, the struggles, challenges and temptations that lay ahead. Yet, at the same time recognising the incredible power that Peter had as a young man with his destiny laid out in front of him – just waiting for him to step into it!

There is incredible strength and vitality and energy and passion and zeal and desire amongst young people – yet, such responsibility to use what we have been given – the gift of life and the gift of our talents and abilities wisely. Our young people need our help – we must dedicate them, sometimes reign them in, introduce them to the truth found in who Jesus is and initiate them in the ‘way’.

Young people want and need boundaries and clarity. Clear guidance. I was once speaking to a group of young people in a class in school – one boy asked me, ‘how far should I go with my girlfriend?’ There are some ‘pat’ answers that are expected in a school context for this kind of question to do with being safe, being comfortable together – but, I realised he actually wanted me to tell him. Seriously, TELL ME what is OK? Nobody is telling our young people what is ok!

I think about the changes in society, the overwhelming pace of things, the world of young people – and then – MY guidance? Really? BUT – absolutely – yes, we must guide – maybe using those four ideas associated with that word in Proverbs as a steer. We need to not panic, we have a remarkable wealth of amazing stuff to train our young people in. The BIBLE is – obviously – incredible, and there is SO much in it – as exploring one word in one verse shows!

The kind of guidance we need is that which draws our young people into an incredible joinery of discovery and transformation as they come to know Christ. Our EXAMPLE in this is the greatest guide – FOLLOW me, as I follow Christ – guidance is about us, BEING a guide – showing them around the magnificence of scripture, the rich heritage of faith, the stories of incredible love and sacrifice found within the BIble and throughout the history of the Church.

The word ‘tradition’ literally means to ‘pass on’ it is what we should fundamentally be asking ourselves as we seek to train and Gide the next generation – WHAT must we pass on? What is essential for faith to take root and for life in Christ to grow and blossom.

Coming back to the ‘power’ thing and responsibility and feeling overwhelmed – this verse has always encouraged me,

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 1:19-20

4 Things Young People Need From the Church | #2. Love

20140223-000634.jpg

Love. Obvious right? Well, yes – but, in my experience, this is where the rubber hits the road for the Church. It’s hard not to love jazz funk, really great coffee, marmite, repeat viewings of ‘The a Great Escape’ and my lovely wife and daughters (that is not a list in order of importance by the way) – unfortunately, in English we are stumped by having just that one word for love. Love.

In The Greek, we have ‘Agape’ this is the kind of self giving, sacrificial love that has been poured out on us by Jesus and it is this kind of love that our young people should be experiencing when they come into contact with the Church. Holding no record of wrongs, hoping and persevering kind of love – always trusting, going above and beyond kind of love. What happens when people ‘blow it’ in our churches? What happens when that is a young person?

One of the toughest verses in scripture is this,

Love your neighbour as yourself
Matthew 22:39

This comes as Jesus is summing up the law and the prophets – He has just given the greatest command and then said the second is like it and then smack – love others – the way you love yourself! Ok. Here is the question then – and we don’t ask this often enough – HOW do we love others, if we don’t love ourselves? This builds on from acceptance – the first need I mentioned – and is crucial for the well being of our young people, they must know they are loved and loved unconditionally. There is a great phrase I have come across – it is this:

loved into being

Simply this, we love people SO much – that they are loved into a good place, loved into a living, breathing, life could be good here, hopeful – life has possibilities and I am LOVED place. Our young people often need to be loved into being. So many of the young people I have encountered in years of ministry do not love themselves, struggle to believe that they are loved, that they are special, that they matter.

Dash, from the film The Incredibles puts it pretty well. He is being challenged by his mum when he is moaning in the car. Dash really wanted to do athletics at school, but being so fast would just beat everyone – he is frustrated and only wants to show how special he is and use his gifts. His mum says,

everyone’s special Dash

He replies,

that’s just another way of saying no one is

Ahh. A child’s logic. If we are all special, what makes me special? And, we have another tough scripture verse here too,

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life
John 3:16

So well known! So well used! But, while some young people can get that God loved the world that He gave His son, they struggle with their part of the world, the bit of the world that they inhabit – the bit of the world that is different because they exist there. Everyone is special – they get that. Somehow though, for many young people, that ‘everyone’ can’t mean them.

This is where we need to step up for each and every young person and love them into being. Demonstrate the love that Jesus talks about with Nicodemus at the dead of night (did you ever notice that? This incredible passage of scripture in John 3 is a one to one conversation – a profound truth, Jesus precious time, the most famous verse about Gods love and salvation in the Bible – not shared from a platform to a crowd, but with one man). We need each young person to know – you are not just part of the youth group, or the crowd of young people – YOU matter. YOU are loved.

IF we can SEE each young person as Christ sees them we will accept them and we will also love them. Let’s see each young person we encounter discover and catch something of the love of Jesus for then through our lives, through our example, through who we tell them they are – let’s persevere, let’s not leave anyone behind, let’s love our young people into a better place . . .

Let’s encourage our young people to believe the following is true, not just for everyone – but true for THEM,

I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers, or height or depth, or any other thing that is created
Romans 8:39

4 Things Young People Need From the Church | #1. Acceptance

20140219-225923.jpg

The first of the four things young people need from the Church is acceptance. We MUST welcome and accept young people as they are; precious, made-in-the-image-of-God, creative, unique and just incredible. Every single one of them. Our welcome makes a difference. Accepting young people is not simply a nod to their existence, but a welcome that includes, draws in and values them. The greatest challenge I have found in youth work though, is convincing young people they are worth the effort. Whilst this post is about the church (meaning all of us) accepting young people – many young people find it incredibly difficult to accept themselves.

They might believe someone else might be – but not them. Words mean nothing if they are not followed through with actions. Acceptance is demonstrated when space is created for young people to worship in ways they find helpful and meaningful; acceptance is demonstrated when their opinion is asked; acceptance is demonstrated when sermon illustrations are inclusive and might be something a young person can relate to; acceptance is shown when at ‘the peace’ adults approach young people to shake their hand; acceptance is illustrated when mid week meetings or gatherings of the church are at a time young people can make; acceptance is demonstrated – not when the church delivers things TO young people, nor when the church does things FOR young people, but when there is work WITH young people.

Part of the challenge for young people is what they can ‘accept’ is possible for them. Many young people ‘accept’ their lot in life – the hand they have been dealt meaning ‘this is it’ – they ‘accept’ that they aren’t going to achieve anything, aren’t worth much; are not valued and won’t get anywhere in life. It doesn’t take many people speaking this kind of stuff into young peoples lives for them to begin to accept it. 75% of media coverage of young people is negative. 1 in 5 young people struggle with mental health related issues. Of those I have worked with over the years a significant number struggle to accept they are FORGIVEN (these are young people who are Christians and repentant – seeking to live as God wants). In our world and culture – acceptance is earned, in academic life, achieving an ‘acceptable’ grade needs effort. What is so hard for young people to grasp is that NOTHING they can do can make them acceptable to God. Scripture says,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 3:23

That’s pretty tough stuff. Yet, we (all of humanity, which includes all young people!) are worth saving – so much so that when we could do nothing to save ourselves – Jesus came for us,

God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us
Romans 5:8

Part of submitting ourselves to Christ and acknowledging Him as Lord and Saviour is accepting that this is true. Christ has made us acceptable!

God gave Jesus to die for our sins, and He raised Him to life – so that we would be made acceptable to God
Romans 4:25

We need to communicate this truth to our young people again and again. Then, knowing this to be true – we can talk about what that means – if we put our trust in a God, if we believe in His name – something wonderful becomes possible. It is a change that can transform any life – any possible destiny, any young persons life where they feel or believe they have no hope suddenly becomes full of potential and possibilities.

but, to all who believed Him and accepted Him he gave the right to become children of God
John 1:12

This acceptance thing is pretty HUGE. Our young people need to accept themselves, they need to accept that they are loved by God and acceptable to Him through what Jesus has done, the church needs to demonstrate this and accept young people.

Then we get to this ‘right’ that we have – to be children of God! Wow! Get in!!

Which brings me to the image at the top of this post – it’s Tom Cruise from Minority Report. Cruise plays a cop who hunts down criminals with the help of some ‘prophets’ who can ‘see’ people commit crimes in the future – Tom and his team then turn up and arrest the criminals just before they are commit their crimes – pretty cool way to police the future! Anyway, one day an image of a future crime flashes up on the screen and yes – it’s Cruise, in a room with a gun about to murder someone. Cruise goes on the run to try and figure out what is going on . . . . Ultimately the picture comes true, there he stands in the room, with the gun, about to shoot someone (as predicted) – then – from the corner of the room the voice of one of the prophets speaks before he pulls the trigger,

you can choose

That’s it. And for our young people life might seem like it is heading in an inevitable direction – but, it does not have to be that way! Our young people need to shown they can choose to have a future as part of Christ’s family.

Let’s accept them, let’s help them accept themselves and let’s show them they are accepted by God – because of Christ – and encourage them to choose life with Him!

The Quality of Mercy is not Strain’d

20140207-224104.jpg

I have sometimes prepared a bible study for young people and – let me be frank here – just not ‘felt it’. Not at all. Usually this comes from doing stuff in my own strength (which is a rubbish plan at the best of times because I am feeble).

There was this one time when the talk I needed to prepare was on mercy. God’s mercy! Pretty stonking stuff. Except, I wasn’t feeling close to God. Wits end actually – feeling pretty rubbish and alone, ‘going through the motions ministry’ I call it. If you have been in ministry for any length of time you will know how to do this – it isn’t exactly blagging (which again – if you have been in ministry for a while – you will know how to blag). The going through the motions ministry is where you can say and do the right things but you are like the android from Prometheus (or, better still, Blade Runner) you can’t feel anything. Operating out of a kind of ‘so overloaded with other peoples stuff and emotions and where do I take my own stuff so I can deal with it and what If I take it to this mythical place and I actually CAN’T deal with it’ place.

Anyway, back to mercy. The subject of my talk was this great word that cannot explain or contain the monumental mercy we have received. There is a song off Matt Redman’s current album with the line, ‘may I never lose the wonder, oh the wonder of your mercy’. Well, I had.

So, I pulled out all the stops to try and make this the best talk on mercy EVER – it’s funny how when we have NOTHING we try and give it EVERYTHING. I had bible commentaries all over the place, there would be a drama, there would be contemporary film references, I would be funny and clever, it would be fine. I KNEW in Shakespeare there was a great quote on mercy (at the time I was not in a place to think whether I knew what Shakespeare was on about, I just lobbed it in). Portia, in the Merchant of Venice says this, ‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d – it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. Upon the place beneath.’

So I do my talk on mercy to the youth group. It’s pretty rubbish, I’m like a zombie. Words are coming out of my mouth, but there is no heart and soul in it. I am dry and barren and not in a good place.

Mercy? Ha!

It’s a couple of weeks after this session that I am at a huge youth festival with my youth group. They are loving it. I am worse than ever. People worship around me, lifting hands closing eyes – in raptures. I am in a giant bubble – I feel it is so real this bubble, I am surprised when people get within a few feet of me that they don’t bounce off.

One evening there is a ‘call’ to come forward for prayer. Inexplicably and – to my conscious mind, unbidden – come tears and I just stand there. Not making a sound, but streams just pouring down my face. I feel so exhausted – with life, with trying to be a Christian, with bringing the youth group (what was I thinking), with the futility of it all. I the find that at least some part of me has had enough of my pity party and my legs are walking me to the front. A guy comes up to me to pray for me, my eyes still streaming. He says, ‘hello, I’ve never done this before – been on a prayer ministry team’ (I think, but don’t say, ‘great – this is what I need – some amateur!’). Anyway, he starts quietly praying for me once we have been through the usuals (what’s your name, is there anything specific you want prayer for?) then – he starts bobbing up and down, clearly very excited. ‘Oh’ he exclaims. ‘I think I’ve had a word!’ (‘Oh, great’ I think), ‘I’ve never had a word before!!’ (Oh, GREAT. I think). “Does this mean anything to you . . . ‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d’.

I am in bits. This guy knows nothing about me. The God he has prayed to knows EVERYTHING about me. All I can think of at the time is. God Knows me. GOD knows ME. God KNOWS me. He knows, the lack of feeling, the exhaustion, the weariness and the ‘is this worth it’ stuff in my heart at that moment. He knows it all, he knows all of me, and yet – still He comes, still He meets with me, still He is tender and loving – and merciful.

Mercy.

I receive it now.

I get it now.

When Shakespeare wrote this bit for Portia – maybe he was thinking about the scripture where it says ‘the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteousness’ (Matthew 5 verse 45) this rain, dropping from heaven upon the place beneath.

I am that place.

I am receiving SUCH mercy.

Mercy can’t be EXTRACTED or FORCED – it cannot be, as Shakespeare says, strain’d. In my straining I had refused to rest in what God has already done for me through Christ, I refused to receive what was already mine!

Mercy. I think later, as I have thought about it again – I am just in AWE that God would bother with the little detail. But, he did two things that night when I went forward for prayer – He nudged me gently with what he knew my cynical and tired heart could not explain away – and he blessed this guy who prayed for me when I told him that what God had revealed to him was spot on.

Shakespeare got it right too. He goes on to say, ‘it is twice blessed’ blessing Him that gives and Him that receives.

Mercy!

Filing, Pretence and Ministry – 3 things needed!

I entered the world of work in 1986. I started out as an Admin Officer working in a personnel department at RAF Stanmore Park (which was closed in 1997 and turned into houses for those interested).

I had NO idea what I would be doing – I was 17, just coming up 18 as I began full time. A number of disasters ensued – I was put on ‘flexi-time’, which was great! I came in at 10am had a 2 hour lunch and went home at 4pm – well, I did that for about a month. I was then called into the office and told it might be better if I came off flexi-time for a bit as I ‘owed’ 2 weeks! I then had to do another 3 weeks or so of going in at 7.30am, having a half hour lunch and going home at 6pm to sort it out!

During this fun time of getting used to the working week I was also trying to understand my job. I had an induction when it was explained very clearly to me what my responsibilities would be, what an ‘in’ tray was and an ‘out’ tray – what a file was and what was in it etc. I think I was also told what to actually DO with files when they landed in my in tray. However – I realised, after much nodding and yesing in the direction of my boss, I had no IDEA what I was supposed to do with the files. Being a teenager (and not confident in my ability to string a sentence together when talking to adults twice my age) I decided to blag it. I watched the others in our large open plan office – we all had similar jobs, I just tried to do what they did – whilst having no idea what they were doing, how they were doing it or why. This was not going to end well.

I would receive a file and I would shift in my chair and nonchalantly pick it up (whilst nodding knowingly with a ‘ahh, yes – I was expecting just such a file to be in my in tray, I know what I am doing with this’ look). I would open said file and stare at the contents (gibberish) and then close it again. I would get up and stride purposefully about the office. I would arrive back at my desk and then have another look at the file. The next stage in my pretence of knowing what i was doing was to ‘type’ on what was termed fan fold paper – as I remember there were six sheets of very fine paper, you would insert them into a typewriter – yep, a proper actual honest to goodness make your fingers bleed ink on your trousers – typewriter! I loved it – smacking away on the keys without a care in the world. I sometimes typed nonsense – as I had no idea what was to be typed – I sometimes pretended to type, hitting the keys enough to make a noise, but softly so they didn’t so much as mark the fan fold paper. I would rip out the typed up work and then separate the six different sheets (they all had a special place where they needed to be put) I had no idea where they all went so would open a file and shove them in.

Now, I knew I had an ‘out’ tray – but I did not grasp that this was purely for my own benefit – there was somewhere else for the files to go when I had finished with them. I had two problems with this:

1. Where was this mythical place that files went?
2. Even if I located this place – how could I actually get rid of files that I had not ‘actioned’ in any meaningful way?

Here is what I did. I hid them. Every file that arrived in my in box (who was sending them!!) would find its way in to my out box and then, I would sneak it into my big cupboards behind me. This worked fine, until I ran out of space in the cupboards. Six months passed. Six MONTHS of nobody noticing that I was not actioning any files and nobody had noticed that not a single file every made its way out of my corner of the office once it had arrived there. There were files on my window sill, files next to the cupboard in piles, files in my desk drawers, under my desk, in a neat ‘wall’ next to my desk – I was the King of files!

Then it happened. My boss came in looking for a file, it had gone missing – had I seen it? I have a few files awaiting action I said (ha!) I opened the cupboard and a a stack of files fell out – my boss looked at my cupboard and it was as if her EYES were opened, they then widened as she took in the scene – my desk, my cupboard, the floor, the window sill, under my desk . . .

The rest of the day was spent going through my files – many files thought to be lost forever within the bowels of some long forgotten storage facility surfaced in my corner of the office. This did not make my boss happy! The long and the short of it was this – my probation period of 6 months was up – so they kindly extended my probation and moved me to a department where they thought things might be simpler for me – and I wouldn’t be allowed to touch files for a while.

What does this have to do with ministry? Only everything!

1. We don’t know what we are doing. That is quite a shocking statement, but – there are many thousands of educated, degree enfused, theologically literate, well travelled Christians in ministry in this country. The church though has MASSIVE problems with discipleship – hence the missing generations in many of our churches. The church has MASSIVE problems with evangelism – hence our over dependence on tools like Alpha rather than organic growth through relationship, powerful preaching and signs and wonders following as the Holy Spirt leads us. There remains a challenge as we look at the book of Acts – and look at the Church today.

2. When we don’t know what we are doing – we pretend that we do. We have recently had a whole series of symposiums about the problems above – and, ok, nobody is necessarily saying they have got it ‘sorted’ – however, the people at these meetings tend to be the ‘great and the good’ of Christian ministry – hang on, if they are the same as me (at least a little bit!) is the challenge at these meetings really being faced? The challenge of ourselves? It is easy to say, ‘we have identified the problem’ (the problem has become blindingly obvious to everyone now) AND what follows is, ‘these are the things we need to do’. Always an answer, always a bit of blag! I don’t know ANYONE in Christian ministry who has properly acknowledged the problems in point 1 – that isn’t also doing what they are told we should all be doing if we are to see things change . . . . Invest in the next generation, grow Church where people are, don’t just expect them to come to is, mentor the next generation, raise up leaders etc. People are trying to do that . . . . So what are the reasons we are stuck? These next three things are the tough ones – they demand no blagging, no pretence that we have the solutions, no leaning into big leaders with big churches (they must know what they are doing – look at the size of their churches and their influence in the a Christian marketplace) . . .

Here are the three things then:

1. Prayer. Yeah, I know. Prayer. If you like – this is the equivalent of my ‘file’ problem when I began work. Prayer is about total dependence on Jesus. The ‘I only do what I see the father doing’ kind of prayer; the ‘it isn’t about what I bring to the party’ prayer; the ‘flipping heck this is tough’ prayer; the ‘ok, God – I lay it all on the line’ kind of prayer. We have developed movements of prayer that are praying on our behalf . . . . Or that mean we can do a week of intensive prayer and that will do us for a bit. There are a few places of almost constant prayer in this country – and they are amazing, maybe because of such places we are NOT in a worse state that we are – but hey, it’s pretty bad. I want to make 2014 a year when I pray more, when I admit to God that I don’t know what I am doing – that I am weak and that without him, I am pretty much stuffed. His strength is made perfect in our weakness – when we acknowledge that weakness! I also want to avoid blagging with Jesus . . He knows me. Nothing is hidden. Blagging for Jesus could be an Olympic sport in Christian ministry – but, I would love to live a year free of blagging – are you up for joining me? Are you up for challenging me if you think I am blagging it (whoa, did I mean to write that – I take it back!) – no, go on – please, keep me on my toes.

2. Obedience. This follows on from the prayerful lack of blagging. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘if you love me . . . You will do what I command’. (John 14 verses 15, 21 and 23). Love. It comes first. A sacrificial, self giving love – this isn’t a petulant request – ‘if you love me, you will do what I want’. This is all about Jesus being glorified in his followers. Love comes first, and this means obedience is not a duty or a chore or simply a requirement – but, a delight. For Jesus that was, ‘to do the will of the one who sent me’ (John 4 verse 34), get this though – Jesus says it is his ‘food’. It’s what sustains Him, gives Him strength and energy, it’s what gives Jesus LIFE – to be obedient to the Father. There is no greater love than the love Jesus has for those who he would call ‘friends’ (John 15:15) – wow, you and I – called friends of God. I’ve got to get better at this obeying stuff. Living in the presence of Jesus, with a prayerful open heart – I want to be ready to do and say what Jesus tells me to do and say in 2014. Not ‘expedient’ obedience or ‘what do people think’ obedience. But, you know – to just do what He says – through what has already been said through scripture AND by being obedient to the whisper of the Spirit. I don’t want to do what I did in the office – nod along to Jesus and the do my own thing (no one will notice!) I want 2014 to be a year of paying attention, ears pricked up and doing what God says! Come on me, get with it!!

3. Unity. This is the big one. I was pretty chuffed to see a book a few years ago about unity – until I realised it was about evangelical unity. It’s good, in different streams of the church to seek to be at ‘one’, but that still leaves us with a load of ‘ones’ – in some of our towns and cities there are more than one ‘Churches Together’ kind of groups. How is that possible, oneness over here (with people we agree with) and oneness over there (with people THEY agree with)? There is the church with its denominations, groupings, networks, branded churches (are you a ‘New Wine network open evangelical Baptist’?) which is the church we see – and then, there is the church that Jesus sees. We do not know what we are doing . . . I love what the Archbishop of Canterbury has said when asked about his ‘Churchmanship’ – he has called himself a ‘spiritual magpie’; if something is going to draw Him closer to Jesus the he is in! What a great attitude – I want that kind of attitude! Jesus modelled unity with 12 disciples (12 tribes of Israel) and if you look at them, a bunch that you would not have stuck together – zealots, tax collector, fishermen – a ragtag bunch, no agreements between this lot if left to their own devices! But, in Christ – one. We need to re-discover this kind of unity where only Christ matters; not how I worship or what denomination you come from, not whether you (or I) are cool, or the right age to hang about with – even in the church we can be ageist – about the young, about the old, about the missing generations. Let’s sort this out! I want to not NOTICE what Church you are from, I will only half here you this year if you are a liberal Anglo catholic evangelical with a bit of charismatic thrown in – we are one, we are co-heirs with Christ to an incredible inheritance (Romans 8:17) no mention here in this passage of the churchmanship involved! Together we can be so much more, and here is the clincher – by this shall all men know that you are my disciples – that you love one another. This kind of unity with the bond of peace between all believers, wrought by the Spirit is a witness issue – and this is the point of all of this. If we knew what we were doing, we would be one. One church, one Faith, one baptism, one Lord (Ephesians 4). Yes, of course different flavours – just like ice cream – but still, can’t we focus on the fact that we ARE all ‘ice cream’ rather than ‘I prefer a cone’ and ‘I only eat it from a bowl’, or, it has to be ‘Ben and Jerry’s’ . . .

Last thought, gosh this is long . . .

The grace of probation. I should have got the sack over the filing thing, I didn’t have a clue – I was just messing about and making loads of mistakes. Grace was given, with due regard for keeping me away from files! This grace thing is why there is hope for all of us. Knowing we are in need of daily grace, forgiveness and Gods loving mercy. After 28 years in Christian ministry – I am still on probation, still with the learner plates. Yet, I want to dig deep and ask God that in 2014 He might help me be more prayerful with less pretence and blagging; more obedient with less mindless nodding (and not really paying attention) and increase my desire for unity in the Church – Lord, starting with me.