Tuesday, 16 June 2009

It is NOT our job to love the world.

I think there is great confusion in the hearts and minds of Christians in the UK.

We have heard the great commandment and the great commission.

We have heard Pauls consideration to become all things to all men but forgotten to ‘reach them for Christ’!

But we have got lost IN the world that Jesus is trying to save.

We are familiar with the incomplete comprehension by many from the word “Church”.  We say, we’re going to Church. Do you know the church on the hill. We belong to such and such Church – all these terms are incomplete, because the Church is you and I, knitted together as living stones with Christ as the head. Not a building or an organisation but men and women, loving and serving the Lord in unity, Spirit and truth.

In the same way I think we have got confused with what the ‘world’ is, and we have assumed that because God loves the world (John 3:16) that it must mean that we also must love it.

But I contend to you, that the world in John 3:16 isn’t the fabric of the planet. It isn’t the trappings of life. But like the definition of Church, it is all about the people that populate this wondrous ‘God made’ globe.

When we love ‘the world’, we want to be like the people in it.

But we are called to be people who ‘set our mind on things above', not on earthly things. Our hearts should be towards PEOPLE, not STUFF.

1 John 2:15-17 (English Standard Version)

15(A) Do not love the world or the things in the world.(B) If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—(C) the desires of the flesh and(D) the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And(E) the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

We are so easily swayed away from living simply and honestly to reach fellow man because we are consumed with ‘not falling behind’ in appearance. – we have, in fact, NO DESIRE to live differently. We still live in houses just like them, drive cars just like them, have TV’s just like them, fine clothes just like them, hobbies and holidays just like them. In fact we live just like them.

But doesn’t Jesus call us to live differently? Not interested in sustaining a life-style that leads to destruction, but instead a lifestyle that leads to Everlasting life with God?

Philippians 4:8-9 (English Standard Version)

8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and(A) received and heard and seen(B) in me—practice these things, and(C) the God of peace will be with you.

If we are busy following the worlds pattern of behaviour, it’s way of doing life today in the UK, how on earth are people to see in us and hear from us the things that will lead them to God?

Friends, it should be obvious in all we do, all we say, what we put into practice that we are different.  Our motivation to live for God should make it evident to all that there is nothing familiar between the way we live our lives and the way the lost world lives theirs.

Now, this is not to suggest that technology isn’t useful, and not to say we shouldn’t live in houses etc,. indeed not that TV in itself is a sinful or unhelpful tool, rather the Christian life is so revolutionary because it IS different from the selfish living of the world. We are not to be people who pursue ‘gain’ now, rather our ‘gain’ is heaven. Our reward is life eternal with Christ in Glory.

If we have truly been found in Christ, If he truly is LORD as well as saviour, then we are compelled by his love to live differently. We cannot live to please ourselves any longer because our old selves are DEAD.

  • If we really did love people as much as we love ourselves we could not drive past lost people without showing them the way to Christ. 
  • If we really did want to serve Christ the decisions we take about what we wear, what we do, where we go, what we say, what’s important to us, what we do with our money etc would all be made with the aim of winning people to Christ at the forefront of the decision making process.

For sure, with practice it would become as easy to do or to think this way as a person who drives a car after many years, with barely a thought to what gear to select or how to manoeuvre the vehicle – but in the early days, when we are learning to drive, don’t we have to think about changing gear, and how to point the car in the direction of travel?

I think we have become complacent, not mature and experienced in living holy, Godly lives that SHOUT his praise, rather we have become reticent to speak for God (with the words he gives us) and we have attempted to ‘blend in’ to our surroundings.

We have forgotten that our primary purpose is to Love God, and Love others to reach them for His Kingdom. We have forgotten that WE ARE NO LONGER OURS, we have been bought through the blood of Christ and we are no longer slaves to Sin, but Slaves to Christ. – Our lives have never been our own yet we attempt to haul them back from Christ to live in any way we please, doing what ever seems good to us.

This is why the battle for the hearts and minds of our friends and neighbours is so easily lost. We don’t even turn up for the battle. We stand with them on the periphery of the battle field and look on wondering who will come to fight.

We’re like the Israelites facing Goliath for 40 days, knowing who they are in God, but fearful of the consequence of standing up for the faith we profess, unsure of ourselves and unsure of the God we serve. It’s pathetic.

And when a small boy comes along to show us the raging soft spot in the forehead of Goliath, we mock and scoff and get on with our ‘religious’ lives hoping no one will call us up to stand against the foe, content to have no impact and no ground won.

This MUST change.  If we are to be the Church of Christ, if we have ANY joy from knowing him, if we have any delight in being found in him and known as Christ’s sons and heirs WE MUST, without doubt, live as his Children. Not content simply to live holy-ish lives so we can feel smug about our own righteousness, but instead lives which impact our street, our towns and ultimately the nation and the world.

The disciples even in fear and trembling, selected their stones and with love in their hearts began to take the ground that was given to them in God. The message they proclaimed and lived with great suffering spread around the globe as a result. It’s time we played our part.

Suffering in itself is no indication of righteousness, but my friends I know so very few people in the UK who have suffered for the sake of Christ – why? because it is very difficult to distinguish those who live for Christ in any radical way, and those who live for themselves. – we look the same.

When I was a child I remember most days someone calling a name or highlighting something I did because I was a Christian living for God. – God boy, bishop, devil lumps all names that were used to ridicule me because I communicated the faith I professed. I wasn’t popular, and I had few friends outside of my church community – what now? Does anyone show me the same contempt?  No.

So you see I am speaking not just to you, but also to myself.  Some people see that I am different, but they do not know why. They think I am eccentric, but that is because I haven’t explained to them why I do what I do. And I rarely confront them with the reasons I live how I do (even accepting that there is more to change!) We must be people who live the life and explain why. Yes, Jesus should be evident in what we do, but people cannot understand why we are different unless we tell them.

It’s time we change.

When faith and hope matters

The most waged and bloody war is not on land, sea or air, but in the minds of those whose heart is set for Christ.  Not only do we need to contend with NOT worrying about material possessions, the plight of those we love, or the progress of our sporting heroes, but we need to concern ourselves with pressing on towards the goal of maturity in Christ.

This is no easy task.

The massive effort and the casualty to peace and contentment often encourage would be followers to abort their offensive into living in truth and settle for the quieter pastures of apathy, compromise, ambiguity and insecurity- at least (we reason) the only person we are hurting by this course of action is ourselves, and since we’re saved, the damage is momentary considering our final destination.

But if we were truly alive to the impact our lives can have for Christ NOW, perhaps we would see that the damage is far more widespread than the effect on the path of our existence. Those people who encounter us from a distance may not see Christ in our actions or conversation, those who know us well may judge us (and our faith and he that enables us) by our actions and prejudice and wavering resolve to do what all good Christians do. We may injure the attempt of those struggling to persevere by seemingly to flit through life without a care (when really we’re just hiding from reality) and we devalue the success those who have overcome and triumphed in their adversity and environment to stand for God (as if they were misguided, misinformed or mistakenly radicalised)

Some of us think that because God hasn’t perhaps called us for great things, it doesn’t matter if we don’t win the battle for our minds. It doesn’t matter if we never put in place the dedication to the word of God, or the dwelling of his spirit or the walking in the light or the speaking of the truth. We’re not called (we might say) to lead a movement, a church, a group or a family. all we have to be responsible for is our little corner of the world and does it really make all that difference if we don’t manage to make it. – besides – if I have to make it, isn’t that just an unbelievable pressure for someone who is supposed to be made righteous by the grace of God alone?

To which I would say. God knows.  He knows that he has made us righteous, and He knows what he calls us to be.

He knows that we are often weak and foolish. He knows what it is like to be tempted and to struggle. He knows what needs to be done to commune with God the father and follow his will. He knows when you are beaten by a struggle or beaten by your bed. He knows what you can accomplish if you would only attempt to live in the light of what you already know to be true (not worrying about what it is you don’t know). He knows that the secret sins you hide from the world sit as a cancour deep in your spirit, He knows that you hide him also from the world for fear, for embarrassment, for security, for no good reason. He knows that you can do more than you can ask or imagine, if only you will put your hope, trust and faith in Him.

Our perspective then is the problem. We see ourselves before we see Jesus. We see the problem not the solution. We see our failings not His success. We see difficulty and fear, yet Jesus brings hope and salvation and applies it through us.

We can make an excuse, we can cover ourselves with mitigation, we can hide in our circumstance, we can quake with fear – but those who God has called he also enables. Those whose names are written in the book of life are those who call Jesus ‘Saviour’ and LORD. If he is our lord, then aren’t we as loyal subjects to fight for his cause, and to give our life if that is what is required to bring glory to him?

You may think you might die in the struggle, – but most likely you will not. God calls very few to die for him (except to die to self – to which he calls each one of us). If only we will think less of ourselves and more of him. I’m sure if we could only see the immediate effect of our inaction and stamina on those around us and on the heart of Christ we would attend to our thoughts and actions with more vigour. But alas that too is in the mind for us to choose to look with the eyes of the spirit on the faces on those we profess to love and see the damage we cause them.

May God forgive us.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

How to pick a new leader

  • What do we look for in a lead elder?
  • What marks a lead elder from one with elder ability?
  • How do we confirm that a lead elder is God's man for now?

When a church looks for leadership it is tempting to evaluate candidates on such matters as personality, likeability, presentation and other subjective criteria. We can attempt to compare a new leaders credentials or character against another’s and resolve to understand what they might bring to enhance or be different from previous works, or we might look to ensure that a new leader works well with existing leadership teams and projects. But it seems to me this is no real way to determine who should lead.

God First:

King David was set apart by God when he was a shepherd boy. He was discounted by his Father Jesse who left David tending the sheep and was only brought forward at Samuel's request. God then instructed Samuel to anoint David with oil. 1 Samuel 16 We may look at fine candidates and determine their qualities, but what we need to hear is what does God want?

One man:

We are prone to think that like any job interview, having more than one prospective candidate to choose from is helpful as a comparison can be made. But it would seem that so often God has ONE MAN earmarked for leading in a season. (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, Joseph, Samson, Jonah etc etc etc )

I think this may be why New Frontiers model of church leadership is Lead Elder with plural eldership as it recognises one man who instigates and is responsible for the direction. 

It is important then that when looking for a lead elder, we find the one man that God has anointed for the job. If God has anointed a person then what role does the congregation have?

Leaders need followers

It is entirely possible to have every good leadership idea and be a useless ‘leader’ because no one follows you!  A congregations job then is to determine 2 things.

  1. Has God set this man apart for leading us?
  2. Will I follow?

All other considerations are secondary, even if they are important.  Change can be difficult, sometimes painful, but if we can see (even if we don’t understand) God’s anointing and clear direction then whatever reservation or concern, whatever joy or excitement we need to examine our heart and determine if we will work with God or against him.  No leader can lead if people won’t follow. It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that they are the man for the job and that they know the direction to head. It is the job of those that recognise God’s anointing to follow the one man anointed for the task.

New Frontiers

Following last years Brighton Conference where Mark Driscoll carefully encouraged us to recognise that Terry Virgo ought to find the new ‘husband’ for New Frontiers (forgive me, I don’t have his actual words to hand) much discussion and prayer has been focussed on how New Frontiers should move forward and under what leadership structure.  New Frontiers is not quite like a denomination in that it does not issue edicts or policy which must be abided by from those who call themselves part of the family of Churches together on a mission. Rather it is built on relationships grounded on core values that are shared by all.  Though Terry brings apostolic leadership and direction to the movement, it is expressed on the ground, in local congregations in many different ways as the spirit leads. Each New Frontiers congregation then has similar values but can have a very different feel and core application according to local need and the Spirit.

Since the small beginnings the movement has grown to have relationships on many shores, and though relationships have grown to accommodate the growth, so too has the stature of those released to support the work in those nations.  It is easy to see how God has set apart one man in several places to lead the work and it would appear that New Frontiers will release those to be apostolic in their own right (like lead elders) to continue the work in those nations (including the UK).

It will be interesting to see if a new leader will be anointed by God for the task of moving New Frontiers on, or whether a council of elders might replace the input from Terry.  Certainly ‘succession’ is not the right language, even though what comes next ‘succeeds’ the former.

But it’s clear that what comes next must honour what comes before. For we must remember it’s God that appoints and directs (however we feel about it) and it is for God to vindicate or validate himself, not our opinion on the success or comparison with another leader.


So then, what one thing connects a leader (or leaders) of a movement with the leader of a local congregation? VISION.

As the proverb says’  18Without guidance from God law and order disappear,  but God blesses everyone who obeys his Law.

It is essential then that any person who wishes to lead God’s people in any location (national, local or trans local) desires a good thing, and should be a man recognised worthy of respect according to 1 Tim 3, but that only qualifies him to stand. What identifies him as the man is God’s anointing. And God’s anointing comes with communicable vision that encourages the heart of the hearer to say YES and AMEN.