Tuesday, 27 September 2016

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 form 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?

Next Week: The Fast-Track Secret to Learning ...

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

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.]

Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Path Less Trodden?

I was at an event recently where some organ music was played very briefly, and one guy shouted out, humorously, “Agh Church!”. We all knew what he meant.  The church has made lots of mistakes over the years and there are many things Christians disagree about how to do church. But all of it misses the point. Quite spectacularly. Jesus never said we were to build the church, that was his job. The job he gave us was to make disciples. Not converts, not members; disciples. Conversion and membership are of course important, but technically it’s not what Jesus told us to do. If we make disciples, we get the church. But if we build the church we don’t necessarily get disciples.

The fact that we know so little about being and making disciples, shows us how far we’ve drifted from the single most vital task for us. A disciple is someone who is learning to be like Jesus, who follows his ways, who is his apprentice.

Dave Alred is an international elite sports coach. Strangely he is not confined to a specific sport. He is famous for his work as kicking coach to Jonny Wilkinson, the England world cup winning rugby player; and assisting Luke Donald become world no. 1 golfer; he has coached at the top in many fields, including surgeons, pilots, dolphin trainers and business leaders. In a radio interview recently he said many coaches go on to the sports field with their teams but very little learning takes place. There may be lots of teaching, but not much learning. A true coach enables the student to learn. Think back to your best teachers at school, or anyone else, and you see people who asked questions of you, stretched you, invested in you. Here you have an understanding of discipleship. For centuries we have done church a certain way, and somewhere lost sight of learning to follow Jesus. Somewhere it became all about Sunday, instead of Mon-Saturday as well. About knowledge instead of practice. About teaching instead of learning. And somewhere those Sunday practices became stuck in traditions of a bye-gone era, struggling to make it relevant for today’s emerging culture.

Don’t get me wrong. Discipleship involves knowledge, Sundays and teaching, but they’re just part of the equation. We, here at MBC, are dedicated to finding that narrow path again. But as Jesus said, “small is the gate, and narrow the road that leads to life and few find it”. It’s harder, its messier, but it’s worth it because it gets us doing what Jesus wants: doing what he did, and helping others do the same. I’ll sign up for that. Will you?

Oh, one last thing. He said he’ll be with us – all the way!