The Restoring Power of Criticism

Last night at the grow bag, we at Kingsgate, were looking at what it means to be Faithful, Accountable, Servanthearted and Teachable (FAST). Today as I read from weakness to strength by Scott Sauls, he nailed the importance and priority of allowing criticism to be a tool in the hands of a loving God to change and transform us.

 

“Writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard wrote, “The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.” By this standard, David [in the Old Testament] was a great leader.

Why would David choose repentance over defensiveness and saving face? Better yet, why would we? The answer should be easy. It is for the health of our souls.

Think about out. We welcome the probing and scrutiny of our bodies by doctors. We give them access to our private parts. We say “Yes, of course” when they ask to  do an x-ray to evaluate our physical health. We let them probe and prick and cut and inflict wounds to prevent other, greater wounds from destroying us. Why then would we be any less receptive when to allowing those closest to us the most intimate access to our souls and our character? Shouldn’t we allow them–even invite them–to probe, prick, cut and would us so that our souls might be healed?

Let a righteous man strike me–it is a kindess. (Ps 141:5)

Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Prov 27:6)

Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death (James 5:20)”

Navigating Change

Here are some edited notes from a recent sermon I preached at Kingsgate Community Church, Great Yarmouth

 

PSALM 125

Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people
both now and forevermore.

The sceptre of the wicked will not remain
over the land allotted to the righteous,
for then the righteous might use
their hands to do evil.

Lord, do good to those who are good,
to those who are upright in heart.
But those who turn to crooked ways
the Lord will banish with the evildoers.

Peace be on Israel.

 

Over the summer, as part of our Pilgrimage series, I spoke from Psalm 125 about navigating change (and all the associated insecurities that goes with it). I thought it would be helpful to make some edited notes available as this is such a key subject for us as a church at this time. I hope you enjoy exploring this Psalm and how it helps us to prepare for navigating change well.

 

CHANGE AND INSECURITIES

I think most of us have a slightly turbulent relationship with change. On the one hand, most, if not all of us have made thousands of decisions, some big and many small, that have brought about good change in our lives. Let me give you just a few examples: changing your hair colour (I guess that’s positive), deciding to get married, going to your first gig and subsequently falling in love with music, buying your first house, buying an even bigger house because you’ve now got a growing family, moving from the centre of the country to come and live by the beach, moving from Suffolk to Norfolk, switching from CDs to Spotify, getting on your first aeroplane for a package holiday, starting to play an instrument later in life, taking up a sport or getting a promotion at work. At the same time, there are also loads of decisions, some big and many small, that have brought about unpleasant seasons in life: getting a promotion at work and then feeling swamped and out of your depth, getting married and then subsequently divorced, trying seafood for the first and last time, trying for a baby and then miscarrying, starting to exercise and causing yourself an injury, putting yourself forward to serve in a particular area of church life and then feeling like you have apparently belly-flopped off the ten metre diving board or putting yourself forward for promotion at work and then being passed over (again).

 

On the one hand, we love the new opportunities, experiences and sense of fulfilment that change can open the door to, whilst at the same time we hate and resist the insecurities, pain and disappointment that it can also bring into our lives.

 

Am I painting a picture that seems to correspond with your life and who you are?

 

You see, at a basic level, change is about disrupting the status quo and venturing into the unknown.

 

If you’ve experienced some significant detrimental results, because of change, you are going to have to need some pretty compelling reasons to willingly abandon the status quo (even if you are not that happy with it) in order for you to step into the unknown. The reason that change is so very difficult for so many of us is that it can flood our hearts with insecurity, uncertainty, and anxiety. Put another way, people don’t dislike change, what they dislike is all the insecurities that change stirs up in their hearts.

 

Another vital part of thinking about change, is thinking about it in the context of a church community. You see, dealing with change on a personal level is tough, however, change within a community adds greater levels of complexity because there are a whole bunch of other people in the equation who all bring their own insecurities, some verbalised, most not, to the picture!

 

I want to encourage us:

  • we can grow to become a church where change is normal.
  • we can grow to become a church where handling our insecurities is just a normal part of church life.
  • we can grow to become a church where navigating change is something we’ve become accomplished at.

 

However, the route to that place is probably very different from what we might anticipate. Shall we look at this Psalm together?

 

THE CONTEXT

Psalm 125 was written in the context of overwhelming insecurity. Like I’ve already said, change is one of the greatest generators of insecurity! As Josh Moody put it: “How do we find a sense of confidence [in these seasons], not blindly ignoring real danger, or covering up your private insecurities with overblown arrogance, but having confidence in the face of real insecurity?” That’s what this Psalm is all about and that is why it is so helpful in instructing us on how to navigate change.

 

PSALMS ARE FOR COMMUNITY

The first, simple, but important principle that this Psalm highlights for us is that these Psalms are Psalms to be sung in community. God’s design is that we handle change and our insecurities together. When mountain climbers are navigating dangerous or fast-moving circumstances, they rope themselves together. Why? Because there is strength within the community of climbers. If one slips, the others are able to drive their ice axes into the ice and create a stopping mechanism for their climbing buddy who is in trouble.

My observation is that for many, when change starts to uncover insecurities in our own heart, we withdraw, and by withdrawing we are actually moving away from the provision of God to help us – the church community!

 

TRUST: THE CURRENCY OF CHANGE

v1 “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion…”

One of the things that I’ve loved about leading Life Church is the way the church community matured in trusting the Lord through perpetual change. Let me try and give you a flavour: we moved four times in eight years on a Sunday; we grew the office team from 1 and half people to 12-13; we had numerous interns working with us; we had new people taking on significant areas of ministry at quite some speed;  we faced huge financial challenges; we reshaped almost every area of church life – ran new programmes, stopped successful programmes, flipped things around on Sundays, went for some things and failed spectacularly, pushed the boundaries of creativity.  We did things that people said were impossible. Here is the key point, the beautiful thing in all of this is the way during constant and at times rapid change, people became Mount Zion-like in their trust.

The Psalmist uses this word “like” to help people see, using their imagination, something about the nature of the trust that he was trying to speak about. Mount Zion was a solid, immoveable, elevation. This was not flimsy. No, there was something robust about this Mount Zion-like trust. One of the vital dimensions of being able to navigate change well and overcome our insecurities that get triggered by change, is a deep and deepening trust in the Lord.

My encouragement to you is that change gives you a context or environment for both testing and then deepening your trust in Him. What does it mean to trust the Lord in seasons of change? It means allowing who God is and his nature, to overwhelm and overshadow any and every insecurity that we might feel. Trust rests into the nature of who our God is. Our circumstances may be screaming at us, our insecurities might be deafening us to everything else around, but a community who navigate change well are people who have learned to root themselves into the very nature of God. People of trust say, “this is who he is and he never changes so whatever we are facing he is more than able to lead us through”. Those who navigate change well are those who trust deeply in the Lord.

 

PEOPLE SURROUNDED BY GOD

The third aspect of learning how to navigate change and our insecurities is to know that we are people surrounded by God. I think, if I only had had verse 1, the fear that would grip my heart is, “Is my faith more like the fens than a mountain?” Or “Is my trust in the Lord, like fracture shale, that when the frosts of oppression and setbacks get in, it starts to break apart?” However, this Psalm says way more, it says “as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people”. Geologically, Jerusalem is a wonderfully strategic place to fortify, because it is surrounded by the mountains and they make attacking the city a very difficult feat. This Psalm, that they sung to each other, is a reminder that we are not just people plodding through life. No, our God is active in the fortification of who we are! We are people protected, we are people not at the mercy of the raiding parties of the bad lands. We are secure in the city of God with our God himself surrounding us! This makes change and navigating our own insecurities that much easier.

Josh Moody, speaking about this Psalm, said “Trusting God is not precarious. It is like being in the safest military stronghold that the author of this Psalm could imagine. You are not walking on rotten boards on a half-sinking boat; you are patrolling the deck of your aircraft carrier.” The Lord is surrounding us! The Lord is protecting us!

 

So how does this help, in times of change? It adds a confidence to who we are as people. When we start to advance into new areas and we feel inexperienced and a little vulnerable, we need to remind ourselves that we are being surrounded by the Lord! He is protecting this church community. The New Testament puts it like this: the gates of hell itself will not prevail against the people of God, because Jesus himself is the head and chief architect of the church!

 

WE ARE PEOPLE OF PROMISE & PRAYER

People who navigate change well are people who hold onto God’s promises and then turn them into the fuel of their prayers. Notice how verses 3 and 4 are this strange mix of promise (The sceptre of the wicked will not remain…) and prayer (Do good, O Lord, to those who are good…”). Navigating change without the promises of God bubbling in our hearts is almost impossible. Promises come in two different shapes. Firstly, God has already clearly spoken to us as a church through scripture about his stunning expectations for what he wants to do through us. These are his promises to every church on planet Earth! We need to be people with these promises burning in our hearts. Secondly, God speaks prophetically to us and we need to key our ears in to hear and then respond to what God is saying to us. For example, at the celebration event, Jon Beardon who leads the team at Wellspring Family Church in Dereham came and shared a prophetic word for us as a church from Is 49:6. A part of this word says “I felt God wanted to challenge the church to expect more than just reaching Yarmouth, more than recovery and restoration. Something bigger is being constructed.” Now, I’ve been watching the construction of the wind turbines in the outer harbour and that is Lego for big boys and girls! As I’ve been watching, this prophetic word keeps coming back to me, we need to expect something on that kind of scale amongst us! Promises flood your heart with what God is wanting to do among us. These promises also keep us pointing in the right direction, not getting distracted by other good things (or secondary things). They keep us thinking big picture. Too often churches can get distracted by the details.

However, promises in and of themselves is not all this Psalm shows us. Verse 4 is really the turning of promises into prayers! People who navigate change well are people who take hold of promises and turn them into the prayers of the community. My observation is that so much of church life is birthed in the prayer meeting. However, the prayer meeting is also the place where many things are put to death – what I mean is, our insecurities are put to death as we allow the wonderful promises of God to become our focus rather than the insecurities that we feel. Promises that become prayers give context for change.

Promises that become prayers give reason to abandon the status quo and go after the things that God has for us.

Promises that become prayers, are a sign of Zion-like trust in the Lord.

 

WE BELIEVE AND WANT THE BEST FOR OTHERS

“Peace be upon Israel”. (v5b).

Praying for the God’s shalom, or his holistic wellbeing upon his people, gives us a really important conclusion to how to navigate change well. So often, in seasons of change, our own insecurities overshadow this big-hearted desire to see others flourish! Our own insecurities can lead us to the place where our primary concern is “but where do I fit and what about me?”

I think another aspect of praying for the peace of God to be upon his people, is learning to believe the best in one another as a default position. Change throws up insecurities – we’ve just got to get used to it. Change also means things will get dropped and missed. Expansion causes that to happen. However, if we are all choosing to believe the best of one another we are creating a culture where we want, and pray for, God’s holistic best for one another. We fight against cynicism. We choose not to listen to gossip or hearsay. We choose to be people who want and pray for God’s peace to be upon all of God’s people and by so doing we choose to give God’s holistic best for every person in the community.

 

 

 

Adam Bradley

Kingsgate Community Church

2017

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?

The Church in action

in 1 Peter 4 we see four clear attributes of healthy church life:

“Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:7-10

The Outflow of the Gospel

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” – 2 Cor 1:3-4

Here in these verses the key word is “so”! We are comforted so we can comfort others through the comfort we have received. God’s transforming work always wants to break over the banks of our lives and lead to transformation around. In fact that is a indication (litmus test) for true gospel change.

 

 

Update: Moving to Great Yarmouth

we-are-moving-to-gy

Quite a few people have been asking when we will be moving to Great Yarmouth. Here is are current answer:

  • Sunday 21st May is going to be are farewell Sunday at Life Church.
  • Sunday 4th June will be out first ‘official’ Sunday at Kingsgate.
  • It’s unlikely that are house move will have gone through by then so I (Adam) may have to split my week between Great Yarmouth and Peterborough until the move finally happens.

 

A couple of of things to pray for:

  1. That the house move keeps progressing without any more hiccups.
  2. Lorna currently has two job applications she is applying for. Both of them are excellent jobs so pray for one or more interviews for her.
  3. We’ve now applied for schools for the girls. We think that all the local primary schools are all full so may need to appeal. Please pray for God to make a way in this situation.