Breaking the T-Shirt Habit

Hi All! Can’t believe September is nearly over – still hoping to be wearing shorts on Oct 1st! It’s a kind of ‘victory over the elements’ thing for me! Anyway today’s topic is not about stopping wearing t-shirts – I deliberately dress down when I lead or preach at church services to put people at ease and demonstrate God accepts us as we are. No the t-shirt in the title refers to the phrase “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt”!

Love the phrase. But I realise we have that attitude to spiritual life and learning too – it appears to be hardwired into our culture and it takes a concerted effort – and some friends helping along the way too – to break that pattern of thinking.

Let me illustrate: recently an experienced rugby coach from the R.F.U. (the headquarters of English Rugby) came to teach some youngsters about scrummaging. After introducing himself and why he was there, one of the kids replied, “Oh we’ve done that already”. To which the coach, I think a little wryly, said: “Do you not think I could teach you anything about it?” Clearly, this boy and some others wanted to look cool and knowledgeable, not in need of some help. It’s funny, isn’t it? But also sad to see the chasm between the coach’s experience and desire to impart a practical knowledge, and the pupil’s readiness to learn. I guess that’s why the best teachers are those who make you want to learn.

It’s that mentality that stops us from learning, and it lingers all through life if we let it. Elite or professional sports people are constantly learning from every game/competition, and using every experience to get better. Wouldn’t it be great if we had that same search for learning and improvement in our spiritual lives? I think that’s why Jesus called people to follow him and learn from him. Instead of thinking: evangelism, done that course. Or reading the Bible, I know how to do that! Prayer, read so many books I could probably write one! He wants us to be hungry to learn from his eternal wisdom. Some people have this relentless pursuit of improvement and learning in their professional life but see no link to their spiritual life.

So are you satisfied with your life and spiritual life? What do you want to grow in? What do you think you need to grow in at the moment? What is Jesus offering to help you in? How can you go about that? Who can help you?

Failure Notification

Failure Notification!

Just got back from a week teaching and serving at New Wine Ground Breakers team, and then a couple of weeks leave, last of which on the Isle of Wight with my in-laws.

Going through my emails yesterday one was titled: “failure notification”. Obviously something had gone wrong somewhere and an automated reply popped up. A thought struck me as I read that: our churches need that on the front door: a failure notification. In the sense that we’re all failures and will fail at some time. In the sense that we’re all broken people, and no church community can ever be perfect. In fact, in the sense that every Christian community is a broken one, with broken people who will fail and let each other down at some point along the way. It’s time to get real isn’t it and face up to our unrealistic expectations.

I’ve loved the series we’ve been doing since Easter on Ordinary People: Extraordinary God. I’ve loved looking at the so many examples of failures in the Bible, and how that didn’t stop people being part of God’s amazing plan. I’m broken. I’ve failed at many many things. No doubt you are and no doubt you have too.

Whilst pastoring the brilliant and super-hard working team at New Wine Ground Breakers a few weeks ago I got to hear the morning series taught by Jordan Seng – what a blessing and what a message. It was called “The Life of Try”. In short, he said faith is spelled, T-R-Y. Try! And building a culture of faith involves learning to live with and celebrate failure. Isn’t the Bible and the gospel of Jesus all about God working with and accepting broken, imperfect people and taking them on a journey of transformation? Maybe more people will listen to our message when they realise they don’t have to be perfect before they belong?

We may fail, over and over again – but we will keep on trying – with God’s grace and power.

Put it on a T-shirt, a cap, a bracelet, wherever you like, and keep encouraging everyone around you to TRY.

[PS – and when things don’t work out, congratulate them/yourself for trying.]

Wish you could disarm Doubt?

Wish you could disarm Doubt?

Doubt. Funny thing isn’t it? Seems to trip us up a lot doesn’t it? Often we feel a second class Christian or worse if we have doubts. But I want to be brief and dispel those fears.

Yes, Jesus clearly teaches us to have faith and not doubt. Faith is where we’re aiming. Doubt can disrupt a lot. As we have delved into faith this past month and seen that it is believing in what you cannot see, we also discovered that for faith to be faith, there has to be a bit of doubt around. Once you know something to be true, it is no longer faith. So could it be that doubt is the soil in which genuine faith grows? I think so. Rather than treating it as our enemy, and hence be paralysed or shamed by its presence, perhaps we could get used to it always lurking in the background, and so focus on developing our faith. I’m not saying feed your doubt, not at all. Just don’t be hamstrung by it. God’s grace is much bigger than your doubt.

After all, the father of the boy with an evil spirit cried out “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).
Don’t be paralysed by doubt. Instead, use it to grow true faith, by reminding yourself of the God who has acted for you in the past. Ask God to move again, speak again. Take that step of faith and act on it. From the soil of doubt will grow a strong shot of faith.

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How to Deal with Failure – 4 Responses

According to Alice Thomson in the Times, we have a problem with failure in British culture. I’ve been convinced she’s right for a few years now.  No failure please, we’re British

“So how many times have you failed?” she was asked by a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. “Which was your best one?” Their approach to failure was as a badge of honour, a rite of passage. If you’ve spent time in other cultures, especially across the pond, you get to see our own culture more clearly. Thomson is right: us Brits are scared silly of failure. The stupid thing is, everything around us was invented and built by people who made loads of failures but kept trying anyway. Everything!

This defeat led to a changed culture for New Zealand

It seems that everywhere I look I find more examples, and every week too. As the Rugby World Cup starts on Friday I was reading about the great supremacy of the current All Blacks side (New Zealand to the uninitiated). It explained that the roots of this team’s culture of success came from, wait for it, not a high, but a low: a crushing defeat by South Africa in 2004 which they followed up with an horrendous binge drinking session. From there they bounced to world domination. The road to greatness passed through the valley of despair.

We’re no strangers to the fear of failure in church too. If we’re to respond significantly to the huge challenge that 92% of our country don’t go to church, we’re going to have to try a few new ways of doing things, and no doubt get it wrong quite a lot. But the fear of failure holds us back.

So, trying to keep these blogs short, here are 4 things to change your approach to failure:

1. Admit we’re totally afraid of failure, but push through anyway.
2. Realise everyone who achieves great things only does so after failing many times.
3. Tell yourself not to be afraid of it but to embrace it.
4. Believe it’s the route to getting better.

What do you think? Does this resonate with you? Can you talk about your failures?

The Heart of worship?

So what is worship? How would you define it? Or explain it to someone who’s not familiar with the concept as simply as possible? (And understanding too that our whole lives can be worship)

Without going into the Hebrew and Greek words, could it be simply, ‘showing devotion to someone greater’? There are lots of good definitions out there, but that’s mine. For now.

I had a moment in the summer, an a-ha moment, when I suddenly saw things clearer. I was at New Wine in Somerset where I was pastoring a group of children’s leaders for a week, as well as solo parenting my kids whilst camping – boy was I stretched. Single parents you have my utmost respect. I did it for a week and was wasted! I’d had a particularly difficult couple of days and was just hanging on to God to get me through. He did with spades! In the evening I had a 30 minutes gap, and a list of about 10 things that needed doing: showering, shaving, washing up, clearing the tent, and preparing my next talk. All I wanted to do was sleep. But my overwhelming drive was to thank God and that simply saying “thank you” was not enough. I knew I needed to worship him. Give my all. So I wandered down to the big arena, squeezed into the back and poured out my thankyous in worship. It may not sound a big deal but it was to me. I had to DO something that showed my love, my appreciation, my gratitude. I instinctively knew it needed to be costly and deep. I was shattered, and had a long list of jobs but all that had to be put aside to worship the One who deserved my everything.

That was worship. You see worship has to cost us something because in worship we give to the one who deserves our everything. Today in western churches worship is a hot potato that divides opinion: we argue over types of song, music, instrument, volume, how much open prayer, scripted or unscripted; even how long a worship session should be. I’m not saying these things aren’t relevant to discuss. I just think we need to change the conversation: what am I bringing to God today? He is the central character of worship not us. It’s for him, it’s all about him, not us. Mike Pilavachi wrote a book called ‘For the audience of One’ – can we get back to that mind-set? When we make God the centre we will find all other issues fade away.

Faith, Courage & Chocolate Cake

“We must have Faith, Courage and Chocolate Fudge Cake”. I remember Sally wearing this slogan on a T-shirt when I first met her and the mix of ‘faith’ messages and fun intrigued me – I thought it had to be all sombre and serious!

This week I wanted to think about faith and courage, how they go hand in hand, and how they played an important part in our Celebration Service on July 5th. It was a brilliant morning and we witnessed some miraculous healings. We’ve been learning about ways you can share the good news about Jesus, and that week it was the use of miracles to pave the way for people to hear about Jesus. Always wanting to keep things practical and real, I felt we shouldn’t just talk about it but also do it, so we stepped out in faith, and did a session more like a seminar on healing, coaching people how to heal in Jesus name. What an incredible morning.

I was gob-smacked by several things that went on: clear visible healings of previously frozen shoulders, and damaged / numbed facial nerves, as well as restricted movement in feet (to name just a few); we saw people who had never prayed for healing before see God use them to touch people; we saw people either new to faith or not even quite there yet, be instruments of healing too.

And then to top it all off – the reason we do anything – the ‘piece de resistance’ – I know of at least 3 people becoming Christians that morning too. Another person also made a commitment to follow Jesus a week later who was there that morning. These miracles are not ends in themselves, although they do demonstrate God’s love and they’re freely given. They open the door to people believing in God. Miracles are often called signs and wonders because they inspire awe and point to Jesus.

Let’s pause a moment though – why was I gob-smacked? I shouldn’t have been. We prayed, and asked God to show up and move powerfully – but more importantly we created a place of dependence on him. We didn’t carry on in our strength but made space that meant God had to show up. God loves defending his name. He longs to show his love to people. And when we humbly step out in faith for his name’s sake, he likes to show up. It’s what he does.

So what can we learn from that morning? So many things we haven’t got enough room for but here’s a starter for 10:

  • God does heal today, and through ordinary people like you and me.
  • Faith is creating a space which only God can fill.
  • Faith takes courage also, which we get from God and other people.
  • Stepping out in faith is like clearing a path in a jungle that enables others to follow behind more easily.
  • Healing demonstrates God’s love and open people’s hearts to believing in Jesus.

We’ll make sure you get to hear as many of the stories that came out of that morning as possible, as it’s important to spread good news isn’t it? there’s so much bad. As we BBQ’ed later at lunch time (that’s the chocolate fudge cake bit – faith courage and food are a great combo) I could hear excited conversations of what God had done and was doing. That’s what we should be talking about. that’s what we’re meant to feed on too: stories of breakthrough and faith, not grumbling, moaning and loss. If you think about it, our culture is built on the reality that bad news matters most. An incredible thing like healing can get lost a few minutes later by a bit of gossip, a bitter word, a loss of perspective. It can get lost, but only if we allow it. Only if we give in to the sensationalism of negative gossip. The New Testament describe the role of Christians in building each other up. We truly build each other up when we pass on good news stories of what God has just done. When we speak it out, we make the path through the jungle a little easier for the person we’re speaking to. Isn’t it far more satisfying to look back on your day and know that you’ve helped build someone up, rather than look back with guilt at how easily you may have destroyed, de-constructed or discouraged? Anyone can tear down; it takes people of faith and courage to build up.

When  we speak about a breakthrough we are also paving the way for a further breakthrough – creating  a doorway for more. It makes sense doesn’t it? If you hear of one miracle it helps you to believe for something greater, or at least the same; it makes you believe it is possible, and that God could use even you. That’s why it’s so important to fill our conversation, as Bill Johnson says, with news of what God is doing, not of what he isn’t!

So spread the Word – God’s on the move in Morden. Oh, and don’t forget the chocolate Fudge Cake!

The Power of Love

The power of Love

It’s quite shocking the scale of hate and violence going on in the world. Last week’s terror attacks were in my mind as 6 of us headed up the famous Wimbledon queues in the park. I had been thinking about the potential for Wimbledon to be a target, and with the queues comprising people from all over the world, that possibility seemed greater.

So just 6 of us went, with cans of coke and Tango, and boxes of cookies, to give out for free to the 1500 people from around the globe in Wimbledon park as an expression of God’s love. Quite a few people had eaten and declined the offer. Many however were touched at this simple act of generosity, and thanked us, smiled and felt happy.

As our evening drew near a close and the sky darkened at 10.30pm, we approached a family of about 6 Iranians, mostly adults. They had spread their picnic out on a blanket (perhaps their evening Ramadan meal?). Their appreciation and humility nearly knocked me over. They were so deeply sincere and so polite and eloquent in thanking us – we were left in no doubt of their gratitude. They asked us what we were doing and were stunned by the love we were showing, which to us was so simple. We asked if there was anything they wanted us to pray for them, and their immediate response was to share that 2 uncles had died very recently. I could only wonder at the story behind such news. As they bowed their heads eagerly and respectfully to pray with us, on the grass in Wimbledon Park, I was overcome with the power of love. When we finished and lifted our heads, I thanked them for the huge privilege it was to be involved in their clearly raw grief. My lip was wobbling and my eyes filled as we stood and shook hands. Before we left them, they simply had to give us something to share with the other campers, and gave us a bunch of bananas to distribute amongst the tents with our cans and cookies.

It is so often the case with the things of the kingdom of God, and in life in general, that it is more blessed to give than receive. I had gone to the park to show love and received more than I bargained for back. As my partner for the evening and I walked away, I couldn’t help feeling that what had just happened was truly beautiful and prophetic. Love truly is the most powerful thing in the world and we had shared it with total strangers. When I think of the hate demonstrated last week in Tunisia, Kuwait and France I think too of the millions of acts of kindness that go on to make this world a better place. I think of shared prayers and food with strangers from other countries and faiths and I see those acts as great beams of light bursting though the darkness of hatred. It doesn’t make the headlines at 10pm, that goes to the bad news. But Carolyn Skinner who runs the Love All Serve All Team as it is called, is often interviewed on radio. Word slowly spreads. the light increases and the darkness lessens.

If you’ve never served at the Wimbledon queues I’d recommend it. Of course, wherever you are you can show kindness and love and change the world. Go on, step out; you never know, you may get more than you expected in return. Because God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life …

MBC KIDS DNA – LAUNCH!

Our children and families ministry relaunches this weekend: MBC KIDS DNA!

Darren explains all in this short launch video…

Deeper Into God For Morden

What a great Easter we had. It was fantastic to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection amidst 3 people being baptised and about 20 cardboard  testimonies. thanks you everyone who was brave in writing their story: isn’t it amazing that with less words it was more powerful? Less is often more.

Well this week we’ve been going Deeper in our week of prayer. We’ve really sensed God with us in the stillness and calling us deeper into his nature, his Spirit and his strength. It has been so clear to us that we never do this from a place of strength which is the common perception, but in fact from the opposite: from weakness, stress, challenge, busyness. It is

the tough times in life that drive us closer to God. The step of maturity is to wander off in the good times, but stay close and send roots down deeper while the strength and time is there so that when drought comes again we are ready.

I wanted to share something else that has been bubbling up in the background – a desire to be bringing more of God, his healing and blessing onto the streets of Morden and its lovely people. During this week of prayer I felt God calling me to ‘plough the ground’ with prayer every day for a month. I’m going to go out next Tuesday 21st April, 8pm (meet at MBC building) if anyone wants to join me. If you can’t but want to be involved simply choose any time you can but if its dark go with someone else. Let us (the office) know so we can coordinate with anyone else who’s going – the more the merrier. We love Morden and its people and want everyone to find life to the full so come and join me. The more people that pray over our wonderful town the more we change the atmosphere for everyone’s benefit. God bless Morden.

Team Sport

Discipleship is a team sport. By discipleship I mean of course the whole realm of learning to follow Jesus. Being a Christian, and growing to be a better Christian. The crucial question for the church today in the west is how we become more like Jesus? That’s discipleship: learning to be a disciple. It’s the crucial area and of course it’s what Jesus told us to do isn’t it? Go into all the world and make disciples of every tribe and language. We can so easily miss it though and think we’re to be doing other things: make ‘converts’ and get converts to ‘go to church’. Gandhi famously said “I like your Christ, I don’t like your Christians!” Ouch! The more we can become like Jesus the more people will probably start to follow Jesus too.

Now I know that Jesus was God in flesh so it’s a pretty high bar we’ve been set, but we’ve also been promised all of heaven to support us and the incredible Holy Spirit within us. But of course it is difficult, and grace is needed as we try and fail, and make mistakes, and get things wrong. Building a culture of grace, where people are allowed to make mistakes is so important.But here’s the thing: Discipleship is a Team Sport. It can’t really be done individually. Yes we all stand alone before God responsible for our own lives. It is not other people who ‘save us’ but only faith in Jesus. But spiritual growth is a community thing. I can be very holy on my own. In fact, I’m pretty patient and loving on my own. I get on with everyone when I’m alone, don’t you?! But, rather like Jude Law at the end of ‘Alfie’ – “you’ve seen through my veneer!” You can see my failings can’t you? What good is it to claim you’re patient and loving when there is no-one to love, when there is no-one who tests your patience. What is my love if it doesn’t survive being thrown back in my face, rejected, left hanging? So discipleship is a team sport. Christian faith is practised in community, in relationship. That is both the blessing and the challenge. We have to re-frame our picture of the Christian life and move from a lone follower carrying a cross, to a group of people following Jesus together. Jesus discipled people in community. We need to recapture a very high value on community.

George Ford – only 5’10”

I love team sports, especially rugby. I know the image of a professional rugby player is a mountainous muscle-bound hulk, but the man of the match on Friday between England and Wales (had to mention it didn’t I? – did you know England won?) was a 5’10” average bloke. At amateur level there is a place for every type of athlete: fast, slow, strong, short, tall, kickers, passers, tacklers, dodgers, grafters. To make the team work everyone needs to take their place and do what they can for the collective good. As a team member you are reliant on each other. Over time you form bonds of friendship because you and your friends have protected each other, taken physical ‘hits’ for each other and that inter-dependence has brought you closer.

Jesus trained people in community.

So it is with discipleship. As we journey together with a group of people, we must each take our place and play our role, relying on the others to come together and from something greater than the sum of four parts. Over time we forge bonds of depth because we’ve been at it together, building trust. Of course, there are ups and downs, we let each other down, some days we’re off, other days it’s other people who have a bad day. That’s not failure – that’s just community. And that’s what changes and develops us. That’s what matures us into more Christ-like people.

We can only do so much on our own – and if we really want to grow in faith we have to get serious about community – real community that goes deep. Can I encourage you to not settle for the mediocre Christian life and invest in deep community? Go for it. You’re needed.