Generosity

Giving is an integral part of our worship and relationship with God.

We serve a gracious and generous God.  God is a lavish giver.  He gives us life and breath.  He gave us Jesus.  He gives us every spiritual blessing in Christ.  He gives us His Holy Spirit to lead, guide us, and empower us.  He gives us a hope for the future.  We are created in the image of God so we have the privilege and responsibility to reflect God in His generosity.

Generosity is a life skill and a lifestyle. It has less to do with how much we give than how much we retain. Most of us have to work hard to be generous – it doesn’t often come naturally and we learn by reflecting on the incredible generosity of God to us and by being surrounded by generous people and practising generosity in the context of church. It is amazing when you get to be around people who understand that it is more blessed to give then to receive. (Acts 20:35)

 

Here are four top tips to help promote a culture of generosity in your church:

  • Teach clearly and directly about giving and generosity in our churches
  • Talk openly, honestly and regularly about giving – as regularly as we discuss whether we liked the music this week, or who is on the flower rota. Jesus talked more about money than nearly anything else!
  • Plan for generosity and make it really easy for people to give. Not everyone carries cash, do you have alternative ways for people to give, through standing orders, direct debits, websites, card readers, text giving etc.
  • Live and model a generous lifestyle, from the church leaders and the PCC right through the whole congregation.

 

People with a generous can be seen not only on a Sunday but throughout week. Once you have the culture of generosity in your church you will see it spread, from giving to your local Foodbank, volunteering at the winter night shelter, or just being a generous driver and giving others the right of way!

If you’d like to talk more about promoting the culture of generosity in your church please do get in touch.

Listen Up

Growing up I was often told by those in authority, “God has given you two ears and one mouth, you should think about using them in those proportions!” Pretty harsh hey! To be fair I was a chatty kid and I had lots of ideas and silly theories to share with the nearest pair of ears.

But looking back there was wisdom in what my critics had to say.

In James 1:19 the apostle reminds his readers that “…Everyone should be quick to listen and be slow to speak.

“… Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak.” James 1:19

Generally listening is not is a popular concept, I mean when was the last time that you heard somebody being criticized for listening too much! This is especially true in today’s fast paced world of multi-platform social media and on-demand everything. It is clear to see that lots of people have a lot of things to say but finding a good listener isn’t so easy.

 

As the learning mentor for need-orientated evangelism I could be tempted to buy into the lie that to be a good evangelist, I need to focus my efforts on how to deliver a perfect gospel presentation, become an expert in apologetics or put on a slick event with all the bells and whistles (all of which are great things), however all my efforts are wasted if fail to attentively listen to:

 

            I.         What God is saying (through prayer and reading the bible).

          II.         The cultural context that I live in.

The reason for this being that if we fail to listen to God we run the risk of becoming unfaithful and if we fail to listen to what our culture is saying before long we will become disconnected or at worse irrelevant. As John Stott concludes: ““Bad listeners do not make good disciples.”

The next two blogs will seek to unpack why listening is one of the most unused and underrated tools of the effective evangelist. Part one of this blog will briefly explore how we can become effective listeners of God and the impact this can have for out outreach and evangelism. Part two will seek to explore the importance of listening to what our culture has to say are explore the effect that it may have for the church in that context. We will then draw together what it looks like to be people of God who listen to both God and culture.

 

 

PART ONE – Listen Up: Listening to God

“Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

Have you ever played pin the tail on the donkey? If you have you will know that when we are blind folded and lose our vision it doesn’t take long until we are embarrassingly dis-oriented. In Psalm 119 we glimpse some understanding into what helps King David to be a ‘man after God’s heart’. It is meditating on the word of God, and as a result is acts as the light which guides him through life!

 

Plumb lines and Spirit levels

Earlier this year I moved house and as a result I had to put up some shelves. I must confess that I am not the most practical person when it comes to DIY, there was one shelf in particular that I put into position, and I could swear that it was perfectly level, it wasn’t! When I put the spirit level on the shelf the bubble was nowhere near the middle, it was miles off. The problem was that I had trusted what I perceived as level. The shelf was perfectly parallel to the ceiling (which I assumed would be level) and from my perspective it looked good. It was only when I put a spirit level on top of the shelf that it became clear that the ceiling was not level at all and neither was the shelf! It is only when we put a spirit level or a plumb line next to something that we can confirm whether or not that we are on the right track. That’s because plumb lines and spirit levels are an absolute reference point they do not change.

“We must not be enticed to sacrifice truth on the altar of modernity.”

John Stott, The Contemporary Christian 

As Christians our reference point must be the Word of God. God’s word is the anchor that keeps us grounded, even when the fiercest currents threaten to pull us here and there. As King David said it is the word of God that is a lamp unto our feet.  

When we neglect the word of God we will be influenced by the shifting sands of culture and what we stand for will be inevitably be compromised. I see this happening in our churches today as we try to navigate being Christians in a 21st century world. Often scripture can take a back seat as we can pay more deference to being relevant when we should first seek to be faithful followers of Jesus, even if that means we don’t agree with the popular opinions of society. 

 

I don’t think that this is something we do in a purposefully sinful way. Often the rationale can be from the positive place of wanting engage with those outside of the church family, to be relevant and inclusive. However moving the goal posts, or watering down biblical precepts is not the way to go about reaching those in our communities. As Stott says “we must not be enticed to sacrifice ‘truth on the altar of modernity.’ We often speak most authentically to the world not when we compromise, but when we refuse to do so. We are not called to be indistinguishable to the world but to be salt and light, or as Paul describes, “to shine like stars” (Phil 2:15).

 

As you would expect Jesus modelled how it should be done perfectly. He spent his time with tax men, sinners and prostitutes, but he never once compromised his message. For example, just read His interaction with the woman caught in adultery John 8:1-11. There was such grace as Jesus refused to condemn her, (even though he was the one person that could have) but he did say to the woman ‘sin no more’.

 

Hopefully part one of the blog has highlighted the importance “listening up”. When we take the time to ask God, read His word and listen intently we put ourselves in the position to be used by Him. However the listening should not end here. We then to understand how we best serve the people in our care practically and in way that resonate with them authentically. Next week we will explore the benefits of effectively listening to culture. 

Time for a retreat?

At work we are assigned three days for retreat each year. Initially I was excited by this – what an amazing gift to be given three days to intentionally quiet myself enough to hear God’s voice and to rest in His presence. I’d heard of retreats and dabbled in a few quiet mornings but this was a new opportunity for me. Then, being me, I began to overthink the idea and became daunted by it, thinking that because it was for work I would need to show evidence that I had been productive and made good use of my retreat and fretting about how I would do that. With this anxiety creeping in, instead of taking steps to plan my retreat days I shelved the idea and put them on my long term to do list.

 

 I began to overthink the idea and became daunted by it

In the meantime, Lisa (Learning Mentor for Passionate Spirituality) and I began drawing together plans to put on a Lay Leadership Retreat. We had both independently identified a need for some of our most committed lay leaders in churches, especially wardens, to be given space away from their responsibilities to encounter God and rest in Him. Our desire was to gather the tired and worn out and bless them. Our hope and prayer is that they will be refreshed and renewed by God’s love and grace and go back into their workplaces and ministries secure in His strength and provision.

So here I am, preparing and planning to provide a retreat for others; meditating on the passages about God being the source of our strength and the need to sink our roots down into him to sustain us through the droughts. I’m praying about what prayer stations to create to help people respond and engage. I’m thinking about how we can encourage those who might be hesitant about signing up to come and what might be stopping them and pondering how, as leaders, we can empower people to take retreats by leading by example and taking them ourselves. And into my head pops the thought of those three retreat days I’ve put off arranging. Hmm. I can’t ignore this.

 

Today, I’m taking the confusion of my excited and anxious feelings about retreat to God. I’ve read a few blogs on how to prepare for retreats and what different styles of retreat there are. I’ve wondered what sort of retreat I should do and what God might want to speak to me about. And I have gathered up my courage and taken steps to book a retreat day next month.

I’m taking the confusion of my excited and anxious feelings about retreat to God

I am still uncertain about it, and I’m not sure whether that feeling will go away as it is unknown territory I’m heading into. However, I am excited to create the space for prolonged time to seek God and to learn more of Him and I am looking forward to resting with the God who ‘restores my soul’.

If you, like me, are a little uncertain about doing a retreat; if you need a nudge to get something booked in, can I encourage you to go for it?

 

You can find information about the Lay Leadership Retreat our team is running on the Events page of this website. There are also a number of local retreat centres and quiet gardens you could explore, including Charlecote Quiet GardenHouse of BreadRed Hill Christian Centre and Launde Abbey.

Learning from bees

Earlier this month the Serving Christ Team discovered a bumble bee nest just outside our window. Obviously bees are crucial for our ecosystem and we are allowing them to stay. The plan had been to leave the windows shut but weather has different ideas. And, so several times a day we have a giant bumble bee struggling to make it out through the glass window until someone comes to its aid and releases it outside.

They work together for the hive.

Bees are remarkable creatures. Bumble bees seem to defy the laws of physics in their ability to fly. Honey bees somehow create a golden liquid that is lovely in cakes and on toast. Despite being small, they work together on mass, each with their own role for the hive.

As I’ve watched our bees coming and going over the past few weeks, I have thought a lot about their ability to live together and what we can draw from them. I keep coming back to the way they communicate to help each other. 1

Bumble bees tell each other where the best pollen is by dancing and releasing a pheromone in the hive, so the bees go out to look for the flowers with the same scent. Honey bees take it a step further and have specific dance moves to communicate distances and direction, so the other bees can head out. The sun is used as a point of reference and so the dance changes as the sun moves. When sharing with the hive, they are honest about where they have been, hold a shared point of reference and respond to what they have been told.

There is much we can learn from the bees and apply to our own church communities as we socialise and chat.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice.”

We need to be honest about where we have been and where we are. Paul tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). But people cannot know who is rejoicing and who is mourning unless people are willing to share were they are. It takes trust and vulnerability to answer the question ‘How are you?’ with honesty. But so often one person’s honesty begins to break down barriers for others and truth is shared about where we are and where we have been. 

We need to respond to others’ honesty. If people are willing to trust us then we are called to respond in love and care. The bee’s response is to rush off and find the flowers. Our response is to stay and travel alongside that person. This might be practical help, a listening ear, sharing experiences or an offer of prayer. Equally important to our immediate response is that we remember and ask them about it later too.

We need to remember our point of reference. Jesus is “the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Whether we are sharing joys or struggles we need to keep our eyes focused on God. We need to encourage ourselves and others to recognise God working in the good things that happen. We also need to raise difficulties up to God in prayer and to look for where God is working within the situation. Telling someone that you are praying means they may see God’s answer themselves. Our honesty and responses are not about what we can do, but about what God can do.

Bees are sustained by the honey created by their careful, precise communication as they share and respond. We are sustained by God. Keeping our focus on him as we share and respond to each other reminds us to see the sweetness of God’s involvement more and more.

Are you willing to share honestly about your life? Will you respond with love and grace when someone opens up to you? Will you seek where God is working in your life and help others to do the same? 

Gifts without love are meaningless

Wedding season has begun in earnest, kicked off by the royal celebrations. As many of us look forward to celebrating with friends and family, I’m pondering one of the bible passages most commonly read in wedding ceremonies and how it applies to us as a church family.

It was only when I sat down with a friend to help her choose a bible reading for their upcoming nuptials and was asked to explain the context of 1 Corinthians 13 that I realised that the familiar passage on love was really meant for much more than marriage. Taken out of its place between chapter 12 and 14, we miss Paul’s point, conveniently narrowing down the passage to verses 4-8 so it makes for a more wedding appropriate reading.

But Paul wasn’t talking about a couple. In chapter 12 he has been instructing the Corinthian church about the use of Spiritual Gifts, and he continues to refer to the gifts throughout chapter 13 and into chapter 14. The chapter breaks that were added in the early 13th Century by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, can sometimes mean we lose the flow and connection between chapters, as I had done here.

So how does this passage about love fit into the teachings about Spiritual Gifts within the church?

Paul gives examples of dramatic displays of spiritual gifts, inspiring demonstrations which most of us could never imagine performing and would be seriously impressed to see (I mean have you honestly ever dreamed you would be able to move a mountain?). He then tells us that they are worth nothing, when they are done without love. They will not win hearts for the Kingdom, because without love, they are empty. This evidence of God’s power, these impressive acts will ring with insincerity when we are simultaneously envious and critical of each other, living lives that do not match our words. What kind of a witness to God is that?

impressive acts will ring with insincerity when we are living lives that do not match our words

Love is a fruit of the Spirit. These eternal qualities are developed in us by the Spirit as we grow in maturity in our faith. Paul is reminding us that we need to be striving to grow spiritual fruit through the development of our character, alongside the use of our spiritual gifts:

‘…serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” …the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ Galatians 5:13-14, 22-23

Spiritual gifts used without love do not reflect who God is, or have a kingdom impact

If we are seeking to use and serve with our spiritual gifts, but do not do so from a place of love, if love for the Lord and for our church family is not evident in our daily life, then our acts are missing the vital ingredient. Our attitude matters. Spiritual gifts used without love do not reflect who God is, or have a kingdom impact. ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16) and the love we show each other is the evidence of our faith; as Jesus said: 

‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ John 13:35

We are called to use our gifts in love. We are called to glorify God and edify each other with love. And Paul gives us a detailed list of what this love looks like:

‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

I invite you to pause and dwell on this passage. Highlight the different attributes of love that you see. How many of us can look at this list, in the light of how we serve our church, and feel confident that we live up to this definition of love? How many of us strive to do so? Which elements do you struggle with?

There is usually some reason, some excuse we give as to why we have fallen short. But be honest with yourself because this is important; our character matters. Take some time now to ask the Lord to help you to grow in these areas over the coming weeks.

I am because we are

On Trinity Sunday, I was worshipping in Canterbury Cathedral. The preacher was the Cathedral’s Canon Librarian (Click here to hear the sermon). As part of his sermon he used two quotes, one from a famous philosopher and one he had heard repeatedly during his time in Central Africa. I have been musing on how these two quotes work together since that Sunday.

In his sermon he mentioned Descartes, and his famous quote “I think therefore I am” 1. This quote came from his search for something that he could have absolute faith in. He found that everything he had trust in could be doubted, no matter how unlikely. Finally, he found he could not disprove his ability to think and doubt. He concluded that he could trust in his existence because he could think and that could not be taken away.

Descartes is often seen as the father of modern philosophy. His understanding of the world was based on using reason. He believed everyone had the ability to use reason and gain knowledge and discover truth. This has had a huge impact on the world we now live in as we seek to understand it through reason in science, philosophy and experience. But it was not Descartes who struck me.

It was the second quote used, “I am because we are.” The Canon had heard this many times during his twelve years working in Central Africa. It speaks not of individualism but of ‘interconnectedness’. Its emphasis is the importance of those around us in forming the people we are and the person we will become. It speaks to our desire to be in community rather than in isolation.

‘I am because  we are’

Descartes taught us that we can seek, question and find truth for ourselves. But, God did not design us to be alone. Rarely is an individual experiment or study enough to prove or disprove a theory and rarely are those experiments carried out by a lone scientist. What we see is teams and groups of people working together to find and demonstrate truth to then share with the world using their personal experiences and expertise. Both the individual and the community are vital.

The main point of the sermon was that the Trinity is the perfect example of “I am because we are.” Father, Spirit and Son have specific attributes but they are one and rely on each other for perfect unity, they cannot exist apart. 2 As part of God’s creation, we learn that we can be individuals and be part of something bigger at the same time.

The Bible tells us how we are to live in a Trinity inspired community. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12. This verse reminds us, not just that we have different gifts that work together, but that we are designed to be together in community. Each person is crucial to the whole, we need each other.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”

Every member of our community brings something vital that makes us more ourselves. This is in part their gifts, but also their personality, ideas and experiences. Positive and loving relationships are central to a community and its individuals thriving. Do we recognise the importance of our church community and at the same time love the individuals that shape it?

It seems like a huge task when faced with a world that advocates individualism, independence and separatism. And yet, appreciating and drawing together a community can be as simple as loving and authentic words to connect us together.

 

park-troopers-221402-unsplash
  • Is there someone with largely unseen gifts or roles that we could thank?
  • Could you tell someone the impact they have had on your faith?
  • Is there someone on the fringe (new, busy with a task, chasing children) you could physically go to and start a conversation with over coffee?
  • Could you invite someone back for Sunday lunch?

These seemingly small gestures may feel insignificant. But, it is not the size of the gesture that matters, but creating a culture of love and recognition of individuals within our community. It’s showing that ‘I am only because we are’

Risky Business

I recently headed off to Colchester, to take part in a discipleship conference organised by New Wine.  “Walking on Water” was a full day event, led by Paul and Becky Harcourt and hosted by St John’s, Colchester, looking at the challenges of being a risk-taking disciple.

Paul and Becky both shared their personal experiences of coming to faith in Jesus and learning to step out of their comfort zone (one entrenched in logic and reason, the other working through the hurts of a broken heart and spirit).  Both acknowledged the impact that head or heart can have on us when we’re exploring our relationship with Jesus and looking to put our trust in him, and explored ways to embrace our natural inclinations in a way that allow us to step out confidently in our faith.

Much of the challenge for us, as for the Disciples who witnessed that dramatic event with Jesus walking across the lake to greet them, is balancing what we are told God can do with what we expect God to do.  The Disciples knew Jesus could perform miracles – just that day they had witnessed him feeding 5000 people from one boy’s packed lunch – yet somehow they still saw them as remote.  Something that Jesus did for other people.

How often do we find ourselves viewing the world through these same discipleship eyes?  We’re witnesses to amazing things that other, holier people do, yet somehow don’t see ourselves having a part to play in them ourselves.  It’s exciting to hear the stories, see the transformations, share in the celebrations but, ultimately, God uses others to do these things.  He doesn’t use us…

Years ago, John Ortberg published a book which, by its title alone, jumped off the shelf and shouted at me: “If you want to walk on water, then you have to get out of the boat”.  It spoke volumes to me.  I struggled at that time in my life to think of dramatic things God had done through me… but then I’d never tried to do anything dramatic for him!  The Minister at my church is fond of telling us that “there’s nothing that will make you feel more miserable than being a half-hearted Christian”, and I can understand what he’s saying.  God has given us gifts, skills, opportunities and circumstances, all of which can be used to reflect something of him in our everyday lives.  If we don’t take these chances, how much are we missing out on?

That night in the boat, 12 grown men were afraid.  They didn’t understand what they were seeing and couldn’t make any rational sense out of it.  Perhaps it’s surprising that these men who had shared in every amazing moment of Jesus’ ministry so far, saw a figure walking on water and, rather than thinking look – it’s Jesus, thought Help!  It’s a ghost!  They were underestimating his power, and possibly his desire to be with them (physically and metaphorically!).

Peter’s challenge to Jesus – “Lord, if it is really you… tell me to come to you on the water” (Matt 14:28) could be seen as the height of arrogance.  Jesus is the Messiah, God incarnate on earth and Peter is asking to perform the same miraculous wonders as him.  Jesus could have pointed out this fact to him, reminding Peter of his complete humanity (and the laws of gravity!).  However, Jesus rewards Peter’s enthusiasm by calling him out onto the water… and Peter walks!  It’s easy to look at that story and focus on the fact that he also sinks, but before that PETER WALKS ON WATER.  Not very far, or for very long, but he walks.  He has the courage to take the risk and he glimpses the enormity of God’s power.  What must that do for his faith?

Fast forward to a point after Jesus death and resurrection and we see Peter, along with John, being stopped by a lame beggar.  When asked for some spare change, Peter instead offers a prayer of healing and the man gets up and walks.  I wonder how formative that moment out on the lake was in this?  Despite the moment of doubt and failure out on the water, Peter takes a step closer to the courage that believes God can and will use him, if he has faith and keeps his focus on Jesus.  He learns that failure is not the final outcome – only a starting point for the next risk.

Now, I’m not advocating you all go out and try walking on your local pond – unless the mission context somehow requires it!  Perhaps we can all start by taking some smaller risks though.  Asking God to give us a word or picture for someone.  Perhaps walking through town on our lunch break and asking God to show you something new that you can do to serve him.  Striking up a conversation with a stranger because that feeling in the pit of your stomach says the Holy Spirit is nudging at you.  Asking the person who’s having a bad day if you can pray with them.  It’s scary, it’s unpredictable and you might end up feeling a bit out of your comfort zone, but God might just choose to use you there…  After all – it’s no harder than walking on water!

What risk will you take today?

Influencing Culture

It is well known that children learn by imitating those around them. This is evidenced to best effect when they confidently say a word or phrase in company that you uttered in an unguarded moment and really regret! As we grow older, we continue to mimic those around us that we admire; whether it be trying to perfect the exact style of our favourite footballers kick, or fix our hair just like that actor. We copy behaviours too, particularly of those we admire; perhaps celebrities, teachers, friends, managers or parents. If we thought about it, all of us could admit to imitating others at times, modelling ourselves on someone we aspire to be like.

Have you ever considered that others might be modelling themselves on you?

If you hold a position of influence, whether as a parent, a leader or friend, chances are high that others are watching your behaviour and imitating it. Does that thought make you feel honoured, or are you squirming a little? Those of us in leadership positions need to be particularly aware that if we behave in a certain way, some of those following us will assume that we’re condoning that behaviour, that it is acceptable, and therefore okay for them to do as well.

If you hold a position of influence, chances are high that others are watching your behaviour and imitating it.

What behaviours might they see in you that you might wish them not to copy? Is there a pervading culture that has a negative effect on your group? Perhaps it is gossip, negativity, busyness or bickering. Now take a good, honest look at yourself and ask whether you have any part in perpetuating this. Maybe you don’t, but if you realise you do, now is the time to own that responsibility and begin to address it with the Lord’s help.

Sometimes, it might be necessary to openly share your error and seek forgiveness. By doing this you encourage others to follow your example of confession and humility and you can then begin the process of change as a group. Don’t let your pride get in the way of this. In Philippians 2, Paul points us to the example of Jesus’ humility, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” We are all broken people, and as leaders we need to climb down from the pedestals society places us on.

Be encouraged – this also presents a great opportunity, because people will also imitate your good habits! By modelling the behaviour you want to see, you have the potential to be a massive influence on the culture of the group you lead, whether in your community, family, work place or church.

By modelling the behaviour you want to see, you have the potential to be a massive influence on the culture of the group you lead

So what do you long to see change in your context? Would you love to see more kindness shown? Be more kind. Do you wish your group shared more openly about their struggles? Be willing to be vulnerable and open with them about yours. Do you wish your team grumbled less? Choose to find things to be thankful for in each situation you encounter and share these thoughts with your team. Do you have a team of worn out workers? Model rest and Sabbath for them, set boundaries for your own work or ministry and you will empower them to do the same. If you work yourself into the ground, many will feel the same is expected of them.

We need to be aware of how our character and behaviour influences others, and remember the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

Can we confidently encourage those we lead to follow our example? We can only do this if we are continually spending time understanding and following the example of Christ, modelling our character on His.

Called to friendship

When we make friends, we are likely to gravitate towards people who are similar to us. We share the same hobbies, are in similar life stages, we share the similar backgrounds, values and beliefs. On the whole they are easy, you gain as much as your give, and what you give does not seem like a sacrifice. These relationships are important because they allow us to relax, share and have fun but they are not the only people that Jesus calls us to love.

“A new command i give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

Jesus spent time with sinners, tax collectors, women and Gentiles. People would not have expected the Son of God to hang out with these groups. So much so that the Pharisees complained that “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2). And yet, Jesus connected with each one of them on a personal and deep level. His love for them reached them on a level beyond their background, beliefs and society’s expectations.

So when Jesus tells us to love each other “as I have loved you”, he is not just talking about the people we are naturally drawn to. He calls us to love those we struggle to hold a conversation with, those who irritate us and those who are different from us in any way.

Let’s be clear this love comes naturally to some people, but for others it is something that takes effort and commitment to do. It means actively stepping out of our own circle. It may be that that person has a real need that you can provide but they cannot repay. You might need to work hard to keep a conversation going. You may need to let go of or work through irritations again and again.

Motives are important. Loving others like Jesus can mean providing and sacrificing but it should be a genuine effort to bridge differences and knock down walls to reach a place of community and love. The aim is not to continue awkward conversations indefinitely but to seek to find common ground to share and discuss. The aim is not to hide your irritations but to get to a place where they disappear from your mind or have resolved between you. The aim is to love more like Jesus.

And for a moment, think of all you would gain from someone investing and loving you in this way? When you realise someone values you for you. How you can be challenged in your faith and life by a different perspective. When you are opened to a new group of friends through them. Everyone benefits from this type of love.

Jesus calls us to love as he loved. This may need to start as a conscious effort, it may call for sacrifices, but increasingly it becomes part of who you are as you welcome everyone, love anyone and grow in community together.

Who is God calling you to show love to?

What barriers and walls are in your way?

How can you practically begin to remove those barriers and walls?

All You Need Is Love

On Saturday 19th May, the world stood still as two people entered into a life-long commitment of marriage in the family chapel in Windsor.  It was conducted in front of family, friends, celebrity guests and hundreds of millions of TV viewers, all wanting to catch a glimpse of Meghan and Harry’s big moment.

The news that evening was, as expected, awash with footage of the ceremony, pictures of the best (and worst) outfits, commentary on the celebrities who were in attendance and, of course, the dress.  But what nobody had expected was the huge reaction to the sermon…

The evening news, the papers, Facebook, Twitter, (and a variety of other platforms which I am too uncool to know or use) had all gone crazy for Bishop Michael Curry’s message of love and hope.  I was watching with family back up north and sat, alternatively open mouthed and cheering, as the Gospel message was preached.  Unashamedly.  Vibrantly.  Emphatically.  With love at the centre.

So what had grabbed our imagination so much that a 13 minute talk about Jesus was getting as much media coverage as the royal couple themselves?

Firstly, enthusiasm.  There was a sense that Bishop Michael knew he had something worth listening to.  The style of delivery was engaging and passionate, and he made it clear that what he was saying was important to him.  He believed in the message he was preaching and the value it held for the people listening.  We were caught by that enthusiasm.

Secondly, relevance.  He made his message fit the context and the audience listening.  He referenced the importance of love, both within a marriage and within the structures that govern our daily lives.  Education, politics, conflict resolution, justice…  Nothing was beyond his vision for a world ruled by love.  He painted a future of hope and suggested that it could happen, inspiring the people listening to perhaps look at their own sphere of influence.  We could see the relevance of what he shared and we wanted to act on it.

Thirdly, risk.  The common observation being shared in news reports and online commentary was along the lines of “The Royal Family have never encountered this before!”  I suspect that this is probably not true, but it may be true to say that, for a formal occasion such as this, that level of passion, vibrancy, humour and all-out “ooph” may have taken a few people by surprise.  There was a conscious decision that Bishop Michael was going to take this opportunity and run with it.  We can often feel that people won’t want to hear about Jesus, or that we will be met with hostility, but that is very rarely the case.  People are usually receptive and polite, even if they don’t choose to pursue it themselves, and sometimes we will be rewarded with a good conversation that helps a person move forward in their journey of faith.  He was being given a platform to share the Gospel with a potential audience of billions.  And oh, was he going to take that opportunity.

Finally, and most importantly, God was at the heart of it.  The references to creation, the references to fire, the focus on the revolutionary power of love, were all under-pinned by one simple message: that love can change things for the better, God is love and love comes from God, so therefore the love of God can change everything.

One of the fundamental aspects of a healthy growing church is an inspiring worship service.  Something that people look forward to.  Something that will get them enthusiastic about their faith and help them learn to worship God and articulate this love for Him through a variety of mediums.  It might not be the thing that first brings them in, but it’s what keeps them there.  Perhaps unexpectedly, this is what we saw being modelled at the royal wedding ceremony, through a passionate sermon, rousing hymns and an uplifting gospel choir.  We may have all tuned in to see the dress, but we got so much more.

When we look at our church services, whether sung worship, the sermon, times of prayer or the other times of ministry that flow through it, are we enthusiastic?  Do we want to be there and feel like there’s a real value in it?  Is it relevant?  Is it helping us to draw closer to God in the everyday situations we find ourselves in?  Is it risk-taking and spirit-led, being open to new ideas, new ways of doing things or the unexpected nudges that the Holy Spirit gives to go in a new direction?  Finally, whether formal or informal, sung or spoken, charismatic or contemplative, is the underlying foundation of that gathering one of expressing love?  Our love for each other and our love for God is the very essence of what Christ taught us to build the Church on.  Inspiring worship services are an essential expression of this.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions.  Each church is the unique expression of its members, but if you would like to explore these questions further and discuss how to develop your own worship, then please get in touch.