The world is NOT your Oyster

One of the great mantras of our generation is that the world is your oyster. However, I want to suggest that it is part of the reason community life is fragmenting and is the result of people who have lost touch with what words such as commitment, community and fellowship really mean.

Commitment, community and fellowship require people to shrink their worlds to ‘this’ group of people and ‘this’ set of relationships. In order for me to live a fruitful life my ‘oyster’ needs to have limits which are way smaller than the world. In practice that means being present and committed to the place and people God has placed me among for the rest of my life, unless he moves me.

This type of commitment to community and fellowship breads stability and a richness in relationships which is rare commodity in our generation.

The world is not my oyster, Great Yarmouth is.

The world is not my oyster Kingsgate Community Church is.

What about you?

Church Unity

Sometimes, simply allowing scripture to speak is the best approach to tackling a subject. Why don’t you read the following words, very slowly, and then imagine a church community living this to the max. After a few minutes revisit that imaginary church but include yourself in the mix and see what impact it has upon how you think, feel and act:

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity  – Col 3:12-14

The essence of reality

Over the course of the past few days I’ve been rereading Selwyn Hughes’ book Christ Empowered Living.  This book more than any has helped shaped my theological framework for pastoral care in the local church. However, what struck me afresh this morning was the combined impact of the following two quotations and their relationship to the trinity and true reality.

“The father loves the Son and gives Him everything. The Son always does that which pleases the Father! The Spirit takes of the things of the Son and shows them to us. He does not glorify Himself. We learn from the Trinity that relationship is the essence of reality and therefore the essence of existence, and we also learn that the the way this relationship should be expressed is by concern for others. Within the trinity itself there is a concern by the persons of the Trinity for one another.” D. Broughton Knox

 

“If one believes that God exists as three person who are distinct enough to actually relate to one another then it becomes clear somehow that the final nature of things is wrapped up in the idea of relationship. The essence of what it means to exist, the center of everything, the core of ontology, can no longer be thought of in individual terms… There is relationship within the very nature of God. God is a personal being who exists eternally in a relationship among persons. He is His own community.” Dr. Larry Crabb

 

A virulent virus

Today I’m at home preparing some teaching notes for our new leadership training streams that kick off in a few weeks at Life Church . Digging out a book I purchased when I was 14 years old (!) I stumbled across this challenging quote that I would suggest can be applied as much to the UK culture as the America:

“Many Christians have been infected with the most virulent virus of modern American life, or what sociologist Robert Bellah calls ‘radical individualism’. They concentrate on personal obedience to Christ as if all that matters is ‘Jesus and me’, but in so doing miss the point altogether. For Christianity is not a solitary belief system. Any genuine resurgence of Christianity, as history demonstrates, depends on a reawakening and renewal of that which is the essence of the faith–that is the people of God, the new society, the body of Christ, which is made manifest in the world–the church. As we will argue in these pages, there is no such thing as Christianity apart from the church.”

Taken from ‘The Body’ by Charles Colson

Post-referendum Special: So what do we do now?

I’m writing this article early on Friday morning, as Britain awakes to a new era. For many this is a morning of sweet joy; for others it’s a bitter aftertaste that just won’t go away. My purpose in writing this article is not to comment on the politics of the remain or leave campaigns; there has been quite enough of that already! Instead I want to try to answer a simple question that I’m guessing many of us are asking: So what do we do now? I believe that, as Christians, regardless of our political persuasion and in the face of some of the most uncertain times of our generation, there is much for us to be doing. Let me list just a few to get us started:

1. Keep the main thing the main thing

‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes …’ (Romans 1:16)

If the experts are to believed, and there is nothing to indicate that they shouldn’t, we’re entering a season of uncharted and potentially difficult economic and political water. That may all sound very abstract but in reality how that plays out is like this morning, when Lorna was saying to me ‘I’m worried about the future’. In these kinds of seasons it is vital that as followers of Jesus we keep the main thing the main thing – and that is the gospel. Remaining in or leaving the European Union is not the main thing! As the Apostle wrote to a community of Christians living in the birthplace of the most powerful political and military empire the world had ever seen: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes’. Friends, whilst here on planet Earth we’ve been called to be people who take this never-changing gospel and present it to the world. Sometimes this will be in seasons of relative peace and tranquillity. On other occasions it will be in seasons of uncertainty and upheaval. Let’s be people who cling to the gospel, because it is that which is the power of God to bring salvation into the lives of the hundreds of our neighbours living around us.

2. Don’t forget God’s strategy

‘His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.’ (Ephesians 3:10)

This is a breath-taking verse! It shows us that God’s manifold wisdom – or, as The Message (translation) puts it, extraordinary plan –  is being made known to the world and the supernatural realm through you and I, the church. Friends, at Life Church (along with the many thousands of other local churches here in the UK) we are God’s manifold wisdom on display. What does this mean? It means that, in the midst of these uncertain times, if we give ourselves to building a glorious Jesus-centred church we’re about God’s plans and purposes. Friends, we must not underestimate the centrality of the church to the purposes of God. So let’s build well in this season.

3. Don’t shrink back from mission

Just yesterday I was reading a book on church history. My aim was to try to read it all in one sitting so I could  lock in my mind the grand sweep of the last two thousand years. As I read and read, one thing kept coming through again and again – and that was that, in seasons of uncertainty, the church seemed to miss the opportunity to see massive advance for the gospel because of fear, induced by the times in which they were living. Much of what is now the heartland of Islam could easily have been re-evangelised, but the church in Europe became introspective and locked into internal struggles. Friends,we’ve been called to live as missionaries here on planet Earth. For most of us that will be in Peterborough or the surrounding towns and villages. However, for some it will mean uprooting family and life and replanting it into a new country, so that the gospel may be preached and churches may be planted. In this season (and I’m talking the next 10 years) let’s not retreat from courageous mission, both locally and internationally. We have the opportunity to see new churches planted which are the hope of the world, as long as we don’t allow uncertainty to give rise to fear which then chokes the life out of us.

4. Be peacemakers

‘Blessed are the peacemakers …’ (Matthew 5:9)

Sadly, the referendum campaigns have opened up hurtful and divisive rifts in our nation. As we enter a season of change and uncertainty we need to stand up as peacemakers. What does that mean? It means recognising and honouring the dignity of all humanity, resisting fear and prejudice based upon difference. However, more than that we need to model to the our communities the unifying nature of the gospel. In Ephesians 2 we’re told that Christ died so that he might create one unified people from the rubble of humanity. Being peacemakers is showing that in Christ a new community is possible where people of different ages and from different social and ethnic backgrounds can live together in harmony. If ever there was a time when this was needed, it’s now.

5. Be satisfied in God

I’m no politician (that seems pretty obvious!), but I reckon the coming season will involve lots of claims and counter-claims over why x is better for us than y, etc. This is a normal and natural part of the political machine. However, as followers of Christ we must never lose sight of our call to be people who live for a different kingdom, who recognise that heaven is our home and ultimately only Christ will satisfy. What does this mean practically? It means that whether the economy of the UK thrives or tanks, our satisfaction must be in Christ.

Friends, this next season is a great opportunity for us as a church if we will live for Christ, his kingdom and eternal treasure.

1 in 300: Baptism

‘“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”’ (Matthew 28:19 NASB)

I believe the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19 demonstrate the importance and value he places on baptism. On the eve of his ascension to heaven, Jesus declared that the defining mark of his followers would be baptism.

Baptism was never intended for infants. In every New Testament command and narrative account of baptism, the requirement of faith always precedes it (Acts 2:38). There are no specific accounts of infant baptism in the New Testament. So at Life Church we love to baptise those who have personally accepted Jesus as their saviour.

But what is baptism all about?

Baptism is the overflow of a changed heart into a symbolic act. Let’s think a bit about symbols:

  • A teacher writes the word LOVE on the board, and tells the children it is a symbol for a commitment of the heart to another person.
  • At the top of the London Eye you drop to one knee and produce a diamond ring as the symbol of your undying love, as you propose marriage to your girlfriend.

Both are symbols, but are poles apart in significance!  Baptism is a symbol of faith, just as that diamond ring is a symbol of your unending love. It’s a whole-body expression of your heart’s acceptance of Christ’s lordship!

The Bible always describes baptism in terms of total immersion. This is fitting, because what happens when you become a Christian is not just a matter of your heart, but of your whole body. It involves all of who you are (Romans 6). Since the lordship of Christ lays claim to our whole bodies, we should express our acceptance of that lordship with an action of that whole body. The action Jesus commands is baptism, symbolising our faith that we are God’s from head to toe.

1 in 300: What does Life Church teach about giving

I’m often asked, What do you teach about giving? and Do you believe in tithing? Here are my answers:

We don’t talk much about tithing at Life Church. To be clear, tithing is a biblical idea, and even Jesus honoured the Pharisees for their commitment to tithing their mint, dill and cumin. However Jesus also said ‘Woe to you’ – in modern language, ‘Buddy, you’re in trouble!’  Why? Because they had neglected weightier heart motivations. In short, Jesus was showing us that we can tithe down to the last penny, yet completely miss it if our heart motivations are wrong – or even absent. So, as elders, we want to try to foster four healthy heart motivations:

  1. Obedience: Again and again the Bible speaks about the importance and priority of us giving of our material wealth. In light of this, giving is an obedience issue. Who will be king? Will it be King Jesus or King Me?
  2. Joy: In 2 Corinthians 9:7 the Apostle Paul says, ‘for God loves a cheerful giver’. This is wonderful, and safeguards us from cold and dead religious duty. Give because your heart is saturated with joy!
  3. Sacrifice: King David said: ‘I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.’ (2 Samuel 24:24b). Giving should hurt! I believe it should impinge on the things that we could do in life.
  4. Mission: Give to the mission that God has put us on together. Everything we do as a church is funded through the sacrificial giving of people who are part of this church. So please give to the mission.

Each one of these motivations will tug against each other, so you need to find the place where obedience, joy, sacrifice and mission collide and overlap.

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