I won’t profess to be an expert on US mega churches but I’ve been really encouraged to hear this weekend of the appointment of Heather Larson as Executive Pastor at Willow Creek church. Willow Creek is a ‘mega church’ with an average attendance of 25,000 each week across 8 locations and is one of America’s largest churches.
There’s been a large amount of press and comment around her appointment because a female lead pastor is still newsworthy, especially in an evangelical church. And of course not all the coverage has been positive, and disappointingly even amongst women I’ve seen the odd snarky comment.
But, as I said, I for one am really encouraged because female senior leadership role models, are difficult to come by for those of us who happen to be female and in ministry. Not that I have any desire to lead a mega church but I have trained to one day lead a church of my own, and I think it is really helpful to have people doing what you do, to inspire you and whose ways of working you can learn from. Pretty much anything I’ve ever read about church leadership (not entirely but most) has been written by men. In my own diocese when I was ordained I asked an advisor who else was doing what I was doing? i.e: stipendiary, full time and with younger children. The answer? just one and we are both Curates (currently there are 3 of us so that’s a 33% improvement!).
This afternoon I did a very loose online survey of large UK churches, of any denomination, and I can’t find a single one with a female Senior Pastor, for example: Hillsong London has 2 locations (and 2 more with streamed services) and their website shows 4 male leads.
Now of course there are exceptions and I should clarify – there are some women in Lead Pastor roles – though I wonder if it isn’t in name only – where she is married to the Senior Pastor. That’s another reason why Larson’s appointment is such good news, she has been appointed on her own merits, not because she’s married to the Lead Pastor (and on that don’t hear me criticising women who lead in this way, many of them are hugely talented, anointed and skilled, but for years the only way a woman could lead in an evangelical church was if she was married to the Pastor).
I’ve said before how I find labels difficult but for the purpose of this post, you should know I am an evangelical and one thing I find difficult about other evangelicals, especially those of a conservative persuasion, is their absolute determination to stick to their own theological beliefs whilst at the same time doing all they can to get around them, eg: having your wife as Co-Pastor: it’s ok, she’s my wife and she’s not ‘leading’ the church really, and I have ultimate authority (cue submission discussion) and lo and behold you get round all the ‘women can’t lead’ questions. Cynnical? me? Hmm…
So here’s some examples, KICC; Ruach Brixton; Bradford Life Church; Thomas Crookes; St Andrews, Chorleywood; Kingsgate and the list goes on, all led (according to their websites) by co-leaders who are married couples. Then you’ve got those churches that have women on leadership but not in senior roles – for example it’s disappointing to see that Soul Survivor, Watford despite having women on staff, has 3 key leaders who are all male. Then there’s HTB, an interesting example, as the tide is clearly changing there but on their website shows 3 married couples as leaders, and 18 other clergy of whom 4 are female Curates. Looking promising you might think, until you then look at their related churches – 36 of them, and only one is lead by a woman (St Paul’s, Hounslow). You might think I am being unfair but considering the CofE stats that show there are more women training for ordination now than men, and numbers of female clergy are at an all time high, it seems disappointing in a church that leads the way in so many other areas that it can’t/won’t/doesn’t in this one.
Going back to Larson, it is clear this is not just a contemporary decision, nor is it tokenism, Larson has worked for WC for 20 years, is hugely experienced and has held many roles within the church, including launching their global ministries in Africa, and she herself notes her appointment seems to be more of a story outside of Willow Creek than within it. It’s no surprise to them because Larson has effectively been trained for this role. Her qualities and skills were recognised by WC and as she notes she has been mentored and coached by other leaders.
“Throughout my life—and through today—I have been blessed with strong mentors,” she says, “and their coaching developed me as a leader. As I look back on the leadership opportunities I’ve been given along the way, I’ve never been someone to walk in and push for a role. Each time, I gained influence over time, and just tried to be faithful to what God was asking me to do in each situation. I’ve been more focused on the mission or the cause, not on my specific role”.
There are so many things we can do to see more women in Lead Pastor/ senior leadership roles in our churches but it strikes me that this is a huge and easy step – recognising potential and training people up, mentoring them and increasing their skills. Not exactly rocket science is it…?
At a recent event I was at, it was suggested by another woman that if you want to get on in the CofE you need to wear a black shirt to be taken seriously. Whether or not that is true remains to be seen, personally I think God is bigger than my clerical attire, but it strikes me that if we as women have to consider things like this over our CVs and experiences, there is still a long way to go for women in leadership roles in the church.
So… Heather Larson is a new inspiration for me but I’d love to hear from you, especially from women in the church, who are your female role models in ministry leadership?Who gives you encouragement, who can you look up to? Because I think there are not enough female role models in ministry and I’d love to shout about them a bit more!
For more info see the announcement from Willow Creek here.
This is our kitchen table. Well I say kitchen but in the house we are in now it’s actually the dining table (because it doesn’t fit in the kitchen) but it is still affectionately known as ‘the kitchen table’. And not just by us, it’s almost got a fan club, this table. People say to me, ‘oh I love your kitchen table’, or ‘we talked about that around your kitchen table’, or ‘God really spoke to me at your kitchen table’ or, ‘if you ever want to sell your kitchen table…’
It’s funny really because it’s just a chunk of pine and a lick of paint (although, admittedly it is Farrow and Ball paint, darling…) but it has become so much more than that and God has used it in so many ways.
It all started when we had a kitchen extension on our last house, and once the build was done our old table was so tiny in the space I wanted to find something better. All the money had gone on the build (well that and some rather fancy curtains – but my goodness they were awesome curtains) and so I trawled ebay to seek a bargain-priced table. By some miracle I found this one.
When my husband arrived home having picked it up, he did not look happy. The table is 6’ x 3′ and even in our brand new kitchen it took up a huge space. Even I (who has every faith in my own design decisions) have to admit on first look, I seriously wondered if I’d made a big mistake.Thankfully it turns out I hadn’t (of course…). And I know now more than ever that this table has been a God given gift.
Lovingly I sanded it and painted it but also recognised that with 3 children it was likely to get knocked around a bit so I left the top as it was. (As an aside, growing up my parents had – well still have – a lovely pine table in their kitchen. At least once a year my Dad would sand the thing down and then varnish it to within an inch of its life. Which you’d think it might need being in a family home, except that the beautiful table was (and still is) continually covered with a PVC table cloth (the designs have varied over the last 35 years or so) and was never to be seen!)
Anyway ours is a family table, functional and used by all. You can see the drops of paint from kids paintings on it, you can see where I once put a hot pan down on it and the mark remains to this day, you can see where red food colouring was spilt over it in quantity (and I can’t even blame my kids for that one), where the table tennis bat has been thrown down on it in a fit of rage at a point lost (see the benefit of size is that it can double as a table tennis table – many a wet summer holiday day has been saved by that), and I’ve just noticed you can also a big blob of shoe polish on it, someone will answer for that one later!
Ok, now I know I’m rambling on about a table like some affectionate drunk (I’m not by the way) but this table has been a huge part of our lives. I love how it has become a place where people come together, they naturally congregate towards it. It has seen coffee mornings, art sales, mundane family meals – less than mundane family meals – essays written, stories shared, new friendships formed, old friendships grow and flourish, a funeral planned, heated debates and loving words spoken, pastry rolled (it is the best table for pastry making), oh and a lot of prayer.
This table, if only it could talk, it has seen our lives from the inside out. When I was prophesied over, and someone shared that they felt I would go into ordained ministry, it was over this table. When I heard that a good friend has died so young, and I had to share that news with others, it was over this table. After back surgery the local Vicar gave me communion over this table and it was such a profound experience. As a family we have recommitted to each other, making ‘family charters’ together for the year ahead around this table. Oh and so so much more.
Not bad for one table eh?
So when we moved to our new house for my Curacy I resigned myself, quite emotionally, to the fact that it would probably have to return to ebay and begin it’s life again. Perhaps it would bless another family the way it had ours, perhaps it would be upcycled in some uber trendy shabby chic boutique and sold for way more than I had paid for it… Imagine my surprise then, when we visited our curacy house for the first time to find a room in which it fitted perfectly. No, more than perfectly, it fitted even better than in our old house.
Here we’ve had meetings around it, prayed and worshipped around it, invited the church to coffee over it, shared stories and testimony over it, cried around it, hosted curry evenings around it, and I love that on many occasions we all end up working around it together as a family: school work, homework, work work, all of us together around it.
And so here it continues to do its thing. Who’d have thought that a table could be such a gift from God, but that is absolutely what it is.
So we are continuing our series on ‘lives transformed’ and over the next 2 weeks we are going to look at emotional and mental health and transformation.
Now I want to say up front that this is not going to be an easy subject for any of us! The whole area of emotional and mental health is huge and can be very challenging. I want you to know I am not an expert in mental health conditions, far from it!, I simply want to, over these 2 weeks, help and encourage all of us to seek Jesus as we look at these themes, both for ourselves and for others. Especially for those who might be struggling in these areas particularly, or for those supporting people who are, I want to help us all to seek the Lord in those situations.
I should say I’ve been really grateful to a few people who I have spoken to while I was preparing these talks who have first hand experience of some of the things I’m going to talk about, however I do know it’s a tricky area and conditions can be quite individual, so if you have comments or questions please do come speak to me or one of the leadership or drop us an email. This is such an important area and we want to be able to explore it together, with grace and compassion.
And of course the prayer ministry team are on hand as always, so do make use of them later on if you feel God is stirring something in you this evening.
So, this week we are going to focus on emotional health and build up to talking about mental health next Sunday evening. So what I am saying tonight might not really scratch the surface if you are struggling with mental illness of any kind. Tonight is really a focus on general emotional well being. I hope it’s accessible to all of us and I hope I’ll raise some questions and tools that can be relevant for us all.
But as I said I know that for some of us things are much more complicated and it might be that when we go a bit deeper next week into mental health as opposed to the emotional that might reach some of us more. So I want to encourage you to listen to both talks and if you can’t be here next week or if it might be a difficult subject for you, the talks will be available online to listen to or you can email me for a copy of the text
What are emotions – God given for a purpose
Our reading from Psalm 139, gives us a wonderful picture of us being made by God, and him knowing us inside and out, in great detail.
We are, made by God, it says: vs 13-14
For you created my inmost being;you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;your works are wonderful,I know that full well.
Every part of us made, known and loved by God, so that includes our mind and our emotions…
We are emotional beings, it is how we were made. We are meant to have emotions so they aren’t a bad thing – though often we can see them that way:
when someone gets angry about something, we perhaps don’t know how to respond, we get a bit scared maybe. Or when someone is crying we want them to stop, we want to make them feel happier, or perhaps worse, we just ignore them because we don’t know what to do.
But they are part of who we are.
As human beings we have 6 basic emotions or predictable responses to situations:
happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger. There are over 600 words in English to describe them and we use 42 muscles in our faces to express them.
Over time, this list of basic emotions has been added to, changed and reshaped based on the idea that human emotions are universal, so we all have them
And psychologists think that there are two reasons for emotions:
they are the response to any situation we face or (so based on our mind )
as a result of changes in our bodies (based on physicality, that’s hormones and the like)
So they help us react to situations, setting off a physical behavioural reaction.
So for example when we feel fear it sets our heart racing, it gives us the impetus to escape from a dangerous situation if we need to. Less likely for us today to be in that kind of situation but for our ancestors they needed that emotion to survive. These days however emotions tend to (not always of course) help us make lifestyle choices rather than staying alive!
But they are also a social indicator. When we are happy we smile or laugh, which is a sign to others that we are happy. Sometimes that is contagious isn’t it – our emotions can affect others emotions. If we see someone crying, sometimes we find we need to join them in crying too. Emotions bring us closer to each other or give as an understanding of each others needs or feelings, which in turn helps to shape society.
Of course none of this is coincidental if we are fearfully and wonderfully made. And
the brain communicates with itself by transmitting chemicals from one neuron, or nerve, to the other. And those chemicals either stimulate brain activity or they have a calming effect, so they have a huge role in how we feel each day. But we also have hormones that are released by those neuro transmitters which also can effect our mood or mental health. These chemicals and hormones play a key role in our physical health as well as our mental health, so they are all there for a purpose.
So they key to be emotionally healthy is about maintaining a balance in those chemicals. And to some extent we can help maintain that health by looking after ourselves. But there are things that can cause imbalances in the chemicals which can then cause mental health conditions.
So science lesson over…
I read all of that and I find myself thinking, wow, all that detail and intricacy that God has designed, created, to make us ‘work’, to make our bodies function and not just function but abundantly function – we don’t just go through life as a machine, eating for fuel, going to work, procreating, we do it with a whole range of experiences and emotions that enrich our lives and enable us to flourish.
So Emotions are part of who we are. Just as they are part of who Jesus was when we was here on earth.
If we look at Jesus throughout scripture we can see his emotions at work:
He felt sorrow, he wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, but also at the fate of Jerusalem (John 11:35, Luke 19:41) and in fact Isaiah (53:3) tells us that the Messiah would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”.
He got angry too, we see him in the temple getting angry with the money changers (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-22) and he wasn’t particualry enamoured with the Pharisees either.
he loved, he showed compassion (Matt 14:14 and various places),
he showed joy (Luke 10:21), possibly even despair at the cross ‘my God my God why have you forsaken me?’ (Matth 27:46).
So just as Jesus did, we can and should embrace that full range of emotions given to us by God, but they key as Eph 4 says, but we should, not sin in them:
Be angry …and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26)
So the question for us is, how do we act on our emotions?
Do they get out of balance, out of control? Because it’s when things get out of that perfect balance, we can find a problem.
We need to express our emotions, if we hold on to past hurts or emotions, if we smother them and hold them in, they can end up taking over in other ways, we can become bitter and it can effect our own mental health. And in fact there is some scientific evidence to show that some physical conditions can be as a result of the pain of past trauma that has not been expressed.
Likewise if we express our emotions too much, then they get out of control or take us over, so that we find we can’t function as we should.
As Christians we want to draw closer to Jesus I hope, we want to be more like him, we want to be growing into his likeness, and that should be in all areas of our lives, including in our emotions and our emotional response to things. So lets be seeking to see Jesus in all situations, all places, and all emotions. Lets ask ourselves: Where is he in my anger? Where is he in my hurt? Where is he in my joy?
Now the bible is full of emotion and I think there are some key things we can learn from God’s word to help us to have healthy emotional lives that are being transformed into God’s likeness…
So I’ve chosen three examples here for us to look at:
The first is to express what you feel. The Psalms are full of David expressing his emotion, this one here Psalm 139 is full of Praise and declarations as to who God is. But David’s life is a rollercoaster – anf he expresses such vast highs and lows of emotion. But one thing that people often bring out of his experiences is the idea of lament. In fact there’s a whole book i the bible called lamentations!
We are not very good in the west at expressing our stronger emotions, there’s that whole British ‘stiff upper lip’ thing going on, we don’t always feel we can talk about how we are feeling or it feels easier to just shut it all in. But that means we are essentially ignoring the things that matter most to us in that moment or that season. We are in some sense, ignoring ourselves, not accepting who we are, just acting like a cardboard cut out of ourselves. (Simon Stocks) and more that ignoring where God might be speaking to us, helping us to be more whole even.
As we’ve already heard emotions are part of how God made us, they are not something to be ashamed of, so we need to get better at releasing them and expressing them.
Lament is all about recognising the sorrow we are facing and feeling, so in biblical terms we see phrases like beating ones chest, tearing ones clothes, falling down, were all examples of people expressing a deep sorrow or pain. We see it still often in the middle east when people have lost a loved one for example and they wail and cry very publically. It can seem quite alien to us, but it is a natural human and emotional response to the pain they are experiencing.
I think we need to get better as the church at allowing a space for lament, and allowing people to express their deep-seated emotions without fear or shame or worry at what people will think. Often people feel they can’t express how they are feeling, they can’t make themselves vulnerable because they are worried about the response they might get. And I’ve heard some awful things people have been told in church in response to them making themselves vulnerable. Let’s not be afraid of emotion, and emotional response, actually let’s get in there with that person, get alongside them. Mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice…
If we can allow space for that then for some it will be a true release of what they need to let go of, and not let it build up into something more damaging.
So express your emotions!
Guard your heart //
Secondly, guard your heart
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Often in the bible where it talks about the heart, it is referring to the mind or to emotions. They thought the heart was where feelings and emotion originated.
So Guard your heart, meant to guard your mind in that sense, look after your mind, so as Rick Warren puts it ‘garbage in, garbage out’. If you fill your mind with stuff that is not going to help you be emotionally healthy you won’t. From what you read, what you watch, what you hear. It all shapes us.
David says here 5-6
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
He just wants to be filled with the knowledge of God, aiming to fill his ind with more of the Lord and his truth.
But we can’t always choose what goes in though can we, even with the best intentions because well, because other people, right?
I can still remember some harsh words that were spoken over me as a child, as if they were yesterday. I can picture what I was wearing, how I was stood, the person as they said them. And those words have in one part shaped who I am now. I was a child, I didn’t now what to do with those words other than to internalize them. But as adults we can try to choose to make a choice as to what we hear, what we accept (it isn’t always easy of course, we get hurt by things said about us as adults too).
But I think of that expression ‘taking offence’ .The key word there is take’ we don’t have to take hold of the offence, we don’t have to take hold of those difficult words, or those negative sentiments, we might respond to them emotionally but they key is to not let them settle in us. Vs 10-11 says even in the darkness God is there… so if we’ve been hurt by thigns said of us, or we’ve taken on board thigns we maybe shouldn’t have done, lets seek God in there.
2 Cor 10:3-5 says:
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ
So we can bring things before the Lord and seek him in them whether they are new to us or historic. Is there anything good there? Is there something we need to take in or can we leave them with him and walk away? Let’s weigh up what we believe, what we think, what we hear. Take hold of your thoughts.
And if we need to, replace the negative stuff with Godly truth Let’s not believe lies!
You look in the mirror and see someone ugly – well God’s word says you are fearfully and wonderfully made!
You are told you are useless? God’s word says he has gifted us all for the common good 1 Cor 12
& that he has plans for each of us, to prosper us and to give us a hope and future Jer 29:11
Think you are too old? Well grey hair is a crown of splendor (Prov 16:31)
Lets seek out the truth of God not take on the rubbish
And let’s nourish ourselves and our minds
Scientists tell us that to a certain extent we can help ourselves to be healthy physically and emotionally by looking after ourselves, by eating the right foods, getting exercise. So it makes sense that we should do that spiritually too.
Nourish was my one word for the year, my word to focus on and so my plan was and is to eat more healthier, run more and spend more time focusing on my relationship with God. All three of those things are key to me living a healthy and balanced life.
So what do you find spiritually nourishes your mind, what helps you feel closer to God?
The Psalmist does that by spending time with God, pouring out his thoughts and feelings to God in every situation and asking God to cleanse him if you like or to point out where things might not be right.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
He makes declarations about who God is vs7-8 all about God being ever present.
What helps you to draw closer to God – reading the bible, Coming to church, praying, praying with someone, listening to worship music, singing, walking, painting – what makes you feel closer to God?
Sometimes when we feel our emotions are dragging us down it’s hard to keep doing those things, our routines get out of place, we loose the impetus or the inspiration, sometimes we need a bit of encouragement – so here it is! What do you do that nourishes you spiritually and helps you to feel closer to God, really think about that and how can you make that a concrete and reguarl part of your life?
Romans 12: 2
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
We should seek for our minds to be renewed, made new, made whole, made in God’s design, God’s image not the image of this world. And more than that, that in itself will help us to become closer to God and knowing his will for us!
And then we will be more able to follow God’s plan for our lives – his perfect plan not our own flawed one!
So let’s embrace our emotions, let’s express them, and if they get out of control we seek help.
Lets seek God in our emotions, where is he in our happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, disgust and anger?
Let’s guard our minds, think about what we et in, what we belive, what we take on board.
And lets nourish ourselves spiritually as much as any other way.
Now look, there are some pointers but I’m well aware that sometimes it isn’t that easy . Sometimes there are seasons to be worked through – necessary seasons – grief after death, dealing with something traumatic and so on, and sometimes we just need time or we need healing. Sometimes those things develop further and we’ll look more at how our mental health can be affected next week
But for now let’s remember that our emotions are not a bad thing, they are God given and help us to live a full and flourishing life.
This morning I preached on trials and temptations from James 1. Three times. By the third I just felt like it was so completely insignificant. When I looked out and could pinpoint the people who I know are REALLY going through it and it felt like all I was saying was ‘it’s ok, because Jesus loves you and he’s with you’.
Of course I know there is so much more to it, and I know “all” I was saying is an amazing truth, but I think by the 3rd time my words just felt so utterly useless, and I just sobbed. I was sharing about a friend who died from cancer and the awful reality of that hideous waste of a life just hit me.
Sometimes things are just totally shitty aren’t they? and really there isn’t anything you can say other than that. There’s no way to explain – why did she die? Or why are people I know facing awful trials? Or why good people who love the Lord get sick and live with constant pain. Why God? why?
And I’m aware this week particularly, of several people who I need to visit who are going through it; of friends who are facing really difficult stuff; of people asking me to pray for those facing suffering. And it makes me wonder what on earth can I do.
I reflected on Pslam 13 earlier this week, where the Psalmist asks those same questions…
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. 6 I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
Even when we know the amazing and wonderful truth of who God is, and even when we can feel his presence with us in difficult times, it can still be totally awful. Even tough I know my friend’s life was not really wasted and she inspired so many people with the word of God, it’s still so raw sometimes.
And what is it like then when you are going through something and you are seeking God and you just can’t see him within it?
The Psalmist says ‘but I trust in your unfailing love…’ despite the fact that he can’t find God in his situation. That is amazing faith, amazing hope. And how hard is it to hang on to that…
And that’s the thing, that’s what I can do, what I have to do, what I need to do, in all these things, with the people I need to visit or those I know going through it. All that I can do is bring them before God, trusting in his unfailing love.
Look, I know none of this is about me, what I’m feeling right now is pretty insignificant and really it’s about what God will do with the words I said this morning and now all I can do is hope and pray it spoke to people today. You can read it here if you want. And I stand by everything I said, God is good in all things, he is ALWAYS with us and we have to have hope in him, because what else is there? But flip it’s hard isn’t it?
Preached at TRINITY Church 8am/10am/11.15am 10/9/17
(And a lot of it is cribbed from the legend that is Tom Wright!)
James 1: 1-18 – Trials and temptations
Intro to series
So this morning we start a new series looking at the book of James. A book of just 5 chapters it is often overlooked and it has divided people. Martin Luther for example described it as the ‘epistle of straw’! because there is no reference to Christ’s death and resurrection, and later on he thinks that it contradicts Paul’s doctrine of justification.
Others feel like it is a breath of fresh air coming as it does after Paul’s somewhat weighty theology!
So before we really get into the passage today let me give you a bit of an intro.
First off we read that this is written by James, but who was James? Well we can’t actually be sure but the most likely author is James, brother of Jesus, whose name actually wasn’t James at all, but Jacob. James was a European variation that came via Italian and other languages. He was sometimes referred to in later writings as James the Just, and to add to the confusion he is referred to one more than one occasion in scripture as the Son of Alpheus. Clear as mud right? But, there is a reasonable amount of evidence for the writer of this letter being Jesus’ brother.
feel free to do some study at your own leisure!
James became a leader in the early church and Paul refers to him in Galatians along with Peter and John as a pillar of the church. (Gal 2:9)
We read in v1 that this letter is written to:
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
And whilst Peter and Paul and other leaders in the early church headed off, James stayed in Jerusalem as the key leader in the Jerusalem church over the first thirty years of Christianity.
So, with a reference to Jewish heritage, which would have been important in that context, basically this letter is written to encourage Christians across the world – whom he seems to be seeing as as the new version of those ‘twelve tribes’ of Israel, now further dispersed – to encourage the, to face up to the challenge of faith.
Quite a challenge it was then, as it is now too.
For today //
In that sense it makes good reading for us today, some good solid advice for worldly situations.
It addresses common human needs, temptations and situations and gives instruction or advice.
It is a challenge to take seriously a Godly and radical lifestyle.
But given in a way that is encouraging and encompassing – for example in this chapter alone he calls the readers ‘brothers and sisters’ 3 times… so he is really embracing the nature of Christians on a journey together
Here in chapter 1 as we are looking at today, the focus is on trials and temptations and the tools to deal with that – perseverance and trust.
James seems to give the expectation that trials are part of being a believer. He doesn’t say ‘if’ trials come, but ‘when’. Being a Christian doesn’t mean, as I’m sure most of us know, that the second we make that choice, everything becomes fantastic. No, not at all. I mean we all live in a broken world don’t we? The result of sin means that we don’t live in the beautiful perfect world God created.
God dosent send this stuff…
But I do want to say, I do not come from the school of theology that says that God sends us trials and tribulations, sends illness upon us to toughen us up or increase our faith. Nor that God is the one who tempts us to try and trick us off course.
And neither does James it seems. He doesn’t say that our trials or temptations are sent by God, in fact the opposite.
In verse 5 for example he talks of God who ‘gives generously without finding fault’ – even though we all carry faults! And later in v 13 on temptation he says:
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed…
God does not tempt us !
In fact who is it that tempts Jesus in the wilderness? Not God but the devil. And here with a note perhaps to our own brokenness or sinful nature, James warns us that testing comes from within.
Last week at the 630 we began a series looking at transformation. And I kicked off with spiritual transformation. I talked about the fact that we live in a spiritual world. There are forces at work that we can’t see but we can certainly see the evidence of – so of course we have the HS, at work within us, guiding us, we can feel that for ourselves and we are the evidence of the HS at work. But more than that, we see it in answers to prayer, or in the work of others.
But the same goes for the work of evil. We can’t see it but we can see the results of it. When really terrible things happen people often ask why God would do such a thing. But I don’t think it’s God, do you?
So when I became a Christian literally a week later I was struck down with a virus that meant I became ill with chronic fatigue and ended up with a year off work.
Now look I’m not someone who sees a demon behind every lamp post as it were! Sometimes things happen as a result of our own choices and free will, sometimes they are the result of others choices, but we can also be aware that there might be something else going on too, spiritually. So when I became ill, I knew my over-working probably had something to do with but, but I was also aware that spiritually it was very interesting timing.
Whatever we face in life, I think is a mixture. Some of it is as a result of being in a fallen world, we get sick, people die, bad stuff happens – it’s not how it was supposed to be.
But also as Christians, we do put our head above the parapet in some sense, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if we become a target or face trials. Tom Wright, theologian says:
The moment you decide to follow Jesus is the moment to expect the trials
to begin. It’s a bit like opening the back door to set off on a walk and finding that the wind nearly pushes you back inside before you’ve even started.
(Tom, Wright. Early Christian Letters for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 4). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)
When a Christian is tested it shows something real is happening. There are many kinds of test: actual persecution, which many face today; fierce and nasty temptations, which can strike suddenly when we’re not expecting them; physical sickness or bereavement; family or financial troubles; and so on. But you wouldn’t be tested unless you were doing something serious.
We are supposed to count, to make a difference in the world, whether through our daily walk, reflecting who Jesus is or in a wider more reaching sense.
Of course nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom. In Romans 8 a passage that looks at suffering particularly, Paul notes in v 28:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose
God wastes nothing. In fact he uses things for our good and for his purposes. So when James says in v3:
you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance’, we can lay claim to that.
In v4 that we may become mature and complete,
He goes on: not lacking anything
he means, of course, in our journey towards becoming more like Christ, not lacking anything that would helps us be more like him, reflecting him. And it does not mean in a prosperity gospel kind of way! That we would be lacking nothing material
And he even stresses the very difficulties of being rich, in vs 9-11..
And on that can I just say – look God wants the best for us, he pours out his blessings on us, and some of us will have more than others, and with that comes the responsibility of using it wisely.
but one of the main themes of the bible is looking out for those worse off than ourselves, loving one another, sharing with those in need.
There are those who preach from texts like this that God wants us to be wealthy, materially rich, you know you see those Pastors (mostly in the US) with massive houses and 5 cars and uber wealthy ( and look this is the CofE so it’s not likely to happen to clergy!!) but really? Is that giving off the best example?
James warns against the temptations of hoarding wealth: he says the rich will:
pass away like a wild flower and will fade away even while they go about their business.
As we all will! But the thing is, what we do with what God gives us is a responsibility we have to face with Godly wisdom.
By contrast to some of those rich Pastors. some of the richest people in the world, Bill and Melinda Gates, have are living out their (or her) catholic faith and teaching in pledging to give away as much as they can. They along with others started the ‘giving pledge’ that the uber wealthy can sign up to, to pledge to give away their wealth to those in need. They run the bill and Melinda gates foundation that seeks to reach the worlds poorest, aiming to do amazing things like eradicate malaria.
MG says: For me, faith is about faith in action. With this deep-seated belief, Bill and I believe that all lives have equal value. We try to live that out in what we do as a foundation.
God doesn’t love any one of us more or less, we do all have equal value in his eyes but we don’t always see that do we?
Temptations can come in many forms, not just financial, but the root is usually about putting ourselves first or wanting something for ourselves… perhaps it comes from not being able to truly see our identity as children of God?
Dealing with our own trials and temptations it’s hard.
When we see others facing things, it’s very easy to stand on the outside and say:
God is with you, or ‘I’m praying for the resolution of a situation. But when we are in it, ourselves it’s really hard.
It’s hard not to listen to the voice of the enemy that tells us God is not here or that God has done this to us, or that this is some kind of punishment.
But V 16 says ‘don’t be deceived!’ That is what the devil is, a deceiver, one who wants to take us from the path that God has put us on.
And I don’t want to sound at all blasé about this. I’ve lived with illness, I’ve lived with chronic pain, and until you’ve been in a situation like it you can’t begin to imagine it. But even saying that I know that my pain and suffering was short lived. I know there are people here in our church who going through really tough times. There are some of us dealing with illness and pain for which there is no relief, with grief that seems never ending, with suffering that seems inconsolable, and I know that as I stand here my words are probably not even scratching the surface.
But thankfully we do know that there is one who can always be with us in it. I honesty don’t know how people go through trials without Jesus. When I take funerals I always want to tell people there about the hope we have in Jesus, whether they are Christians or not, because in the midst of despair, sometimes hope is all we have. Hope in Jesus.
And James says that we should turn to him, to seek God.
if any of you lacks wisdom (ie in the situation we are facing) you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault..
If only we had that Godly wisdom in our lives! If only we could see the wisdom of God in all that we face. Wouldn’t it make it so much easier to bear?
I had a friend who sadly died of breast cancer some years ago. And when she was ill she shared on many occasions of how Jesus was with her, she was an inspiration as she really did seek him in the midst of her trials. On one occasion she was waiting to go in for a scan, just a normal scan, no medical procedures to happen. And as she prayed while she waited, she looked down and saw that she was covered in blood. First she panicked and thought that her illness had progressed in some terrible way, but then realised it was a vision and she felt God telling her, no, I’m with you, you are covered in my blood. It was a very profound reminder to her there and then that he had been there before her, that she had nothing to fear. If death was to be her end, he had been there before, and it was a huge comfort to her. She sought God in her trial and it was his presence and wisdom that comforted her.
James goes on to say, v6, believe and don’t doubt. One who doubts is like a wave tossed and blown by the wind. That makes us unstable and double minded.
Again easy to say, hard to hear. but I don’t think it is said here to criticise, no it is supposed to be an encouragement, that if you focus on God, you won’t be blown around, you will be the boat that rides through the storm rather than being tossed around by it
You know, whilst waves seem to have energy of their own, when you see them crashing and moving about with such force, or just rolling in on a summers day, but no, they are actually the random product of other forces: wind and gravity.
It’s the same for us, when we feel like our faith is being bashed around, it is not God doing it. BUT if we focus on him, he gives us the wisdom, the rudder if you like, to steer through it.
I’ve spoken before about my back injury but that was definitely a trial. It was painful and frustrating and I could have spent that time being cross, wondering why God didn’t heal me, wondering what I had done to deserve this.
But I focussed on God. And he was so faithful within it. I was able to focus on him and not be steered off course. I sought him in the pain and he revealed himself to me. And you know I think that time was a blessing, I grew in my relationship with God in that time, I know that in persevering it was just part of my journey towards spiritual maturity…
We are all on that journey, everyone one of us, at different stages and places, perhaps even right at the start. And that journey will hold innumerable experiences and life encounters, both good and bad. and Learning who God really is and what he’s truly like – and reminding ourselves of it regularly – is really the key to it all.
How easy it is for us to imagine that God is stingy or mean? Or that he hasn’t heard us or isn’t there for us? We project on to him the things we see in real life – the fearful, petty or even spiteful character, or sometimes even the things we see in ourselves. But God is not like that, he’s a loving God he wants the best for us and we can trust in him.
Reminding ourselves of the truths of who he is can help to carry us through those trials and tribulations,
Reminding ourselves of the truths of how God sees us can help us through temptations
And seeking him in all things can help guide us through.
Remember those spiritual habits from last week – habits form 630
We need good spiritual habits to help us on our journey –
Get into God’s word, pray, seek the Holy spirit, and love one another. Those 4 things are so key to helping us stay focussed on God and who he is.
James says in vs 16-18 at the end of our passage:
16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
Let us not be deceived, let us focus on the truth of who God is. He does not change even though we do, even though life situations come and go, he is the constant presence in our lives and he is the one that can help us through all things…
I’m delighted to be hosting a guest post today from Andrew Avramenko who has just started at Vicar School. It’s great to get a fresh and up to date perspective on the whole process and he’s got some great pointers here from his own experience, for those starting training…
For some, September and October marks the beginning of their ordination training. My training at Sarum College in Salisbury began a little earlier with a week-long Summer School in August. It was a welcomed opportunity to build a sense of community with the tutors and other students, and gave me a chance to pick up some tips for theological study that may be helpful; so here are my Top 10 Tips for Starting ordination training…
1. Freaking out is ok!
No matter how well you’ve adjusted to being recommended to train for ordination you may find it hard to fully accept you’re now an Ordinand. I felt like a fraud and expected my college to realise and politely ask me to leave. They didn’t – they knew I should be there but it took me a while to accept it myself – this is not unusual! I still find myself freaking out a little at the sound of ‘Ordinand’ – apparently that’s not unusual either!
2. You have been called
The discernment process is rigorous but if you’re starting ordination training you’ll know that. If you are training for Ordination you are doing so because the Church has recognised that God has called you to do that. So if you find yourself doubting your calling remember all those who met and encouraged you on your way to and through your BAP (Bishops’ Advisory Panel).
3. Enjoy yourself
After all the questioning you’ve had up to this point you might find it jarring to be able to simply listen to some teaching, I certainly found it somewhat of a shock but the realisation that I had three years of this ahead of me filled me with joy – the training is a blessing and a gift so enjoy it!
4. Come as you are
You have been called as you are, so be who you are. Be aware of how other people’s personalities can affect yours, and vice versa, and take steps to cope: if you recharge by being on your own make time to withdraw to quiet spaces after time with others, but if the quiet moments drive you crazy seek out people to talk to about them.
5. We’re one, but we’re not the same
Although you and your fellow Ordinands have gone through a similar process don’t expect to all be alike: prepare for people who believe, think and work differently from you. Learning to get along with those we might find challenging is important but hold onto the shared experiences as you do so.
6. Everything in it’s right place
Don’t be afraid to face difficult past experiences, theological college should be a safe place to do so. Your tutors and fellow students will be facing their own challenges and should be supportive of you facing yours – it’s good training for walking alongside those experiencing difficult times now.
7. Question your views
We all have opinions and we might be right, but we might not be and your training is a good opportunity to challenge your opinions, preconceptions and accidental prejudices. Having an open mind at theological college also awakens you to receive exciting revelations.
8. Question other people’s views
Just as we might be wrong so might even the most established theologians. During my Summer School we were presented with some startling and deliberately provoking thoughts but were encouraged not to take them at face value or as ‘truth’; instead we were asked to question them and even, if we felt so, to disagree and treat them as simply opinions.
9. Living in another world
Do your best to avoid living in a bubble whilst training. Keep some non-theological interests and contact with friends and family: it’s is important to stay connected with all that happens away from a theological college, and will help when the training is put into practice.
10. It’s a marathon not a sprint
Hopefully you will be eased into your training but don’t be fooled by a quiet start into thinking you have time to take on new task and duties. The course will soon fill your time so enjoy this space at the beginning and use it to reflect on what brought you to it, to settle into your new life and to be excited about what is to come.
Andrew Avramenko is training for ordination at Sarum College in Salisbury and writes the Pilgrim Explorer blog which documented his experiences whilst exploring his calling to be ordained and, since August 2017, his experiences as an Ordinand. He lives in Bath and hopes to survive juggling his study with his job and time with his wife and two children over the next three years.
If you’ve done Alpha, you might have heard the story of Shane Taylor. Shane was at one point in his life known as one of Britain’s youngest most dangerous people.
He started with burglary, moved onto selling drugs, became violent, stabbed people and worse… at the age of 12 his ambition was to kill a police office or prison officer – to be well respected by fellow criminals. Here’s a bit of his story…
That is the power of God at work transforming just one man’s life. And we see it in the bible too – Saul being transformed from a murderous zealot killing those who followed Jesus, to one whose sole purpose in life was to tell people about Jesus’
Or Zaccheus, the crooked tax collector, whose house Jesus came to eat at and then Z is transformed and agrees to give away half his possessions and pay back what he owed people (Luke 19).
Jesus came, it says in Luke 19:9-190 MSG, for the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.
Restoration is all about transformation. Being transformed into his likeness, into a relationship with the Father
Jesus is all about transforming us more and more into the likeness of God. And that is what our vision here is at TRINITY, to see lives transformed by the love of Christ, Just like Shane, just like Saul and Zaccheus.
And this new teaching series we are starting today is all about lives transformed.
Rick Warren says this:
the world’s promises leave us empty and searching for more. God’s will is the only answer that promises to TRANSFORM our lives from the inside out.
Over the next few weeks at the 630 we are going to delve deeper into what that means, what that really means.
On our website our vision says this:
Jesus Christ came to teach, to serve and to heal. Most importantly, he came to die for us, so that we might be offered a life lived in relationship with God. Jesus invites us to find in him the security, joy, friendship and adventure, which we have all been made to enjoy. We believe in the power of this Good News to change lives and communities, and Jesus sends us to be agents of that change across our town and beyond.
This vision is the heartbeat of TRINITY.
And so we are going to unpack that and delve deeper into it. Over the next few weeks we are going to look at what it means to be transformed:
You know that first step, that first encounter with Jesus can be mind blowingly transformative as it was for Shane, OR it might be less dramatic a transformation, it might be making a gentle choice, but that’s what it is, the first step.
And if you’ve always known Jesus, well wow that is so amazing and an absolute gift. Never be worried that you haven’t had a testimony story like some do. If God has given you a path where you’ve always known him, I think that is a really precious gift.
BUT! You are still on the same journey of transformation… we are all journeyimg towards that likeness of Jesus
You know when I became a Christian, one of the first things one of my friends noticed was that I had stopped swearing, literally overnight. But there was, and is, a lot more work to be done than that! And I tell you there are times when I still want to tell the whole world to F off… (if I’m completely honest) but I need to go on being transformed – We need to go on being transformed, seeking to be more like Christ. We need to be transformed in our whole being
In our passage from Ephesians we read that Christ gave the workers – the 5 fold gifts so that the body of Christ (ie the church) may be built up, and it says in : v13: UNTIL we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Until that day when we are united with God, we are all a work in progress and to be honest it’s our choice if we accept just that first step
OR we make the choice to keep on moving forwards towards that end goal, to seek the fullness of Christ.
Jesus said: ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’ John 10:10
Do we stop at having life? At receiving that gift of salvation and think that’s it? Or do we want the second part too? Life to the full? Or life in abundance as the NRSV says…?
It’s our choice…
So today, particularly looking at spiritual transformation. ‘Spiritual’ is one of those words that can mean so many different things. People say ‘oh I’m not religious, I’m spiritual’,
It’s quite a modern thing, that is like we want to form our own spiritualities, to believe what we want, what we think. We make God in our image, not the other way around.
In fact spiritual transformation could be the title of the entire series, because our spiritual lives inform the rest of our lives. Our spiritual life encompasses anything that helps us to focus on God: worship, prayer, devotional time, reading God’s word for example.
lets go back to v 13 again: What does it mean that we might reach fullness of Christ?
Because Paul seems to suggest that is our goal.
The NLT puts it like this:
until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ
Our goal, our journey of transformation is to become, in every way, more like Christ.
And what does that mean? I mean let’s face it that is our goal but it’s a pretty tough goal, it’s not like we can pass a few exams and then we get ‘Jesus status’!
Paul says, we won’t be immature, we won’t be swayed by different teaching, we won’t be easily tricked by fake news. No we’ll know the truth, we’ll be full of love and growing more like Jesus. That is real spiritual transformation.
The MSG version describes it like this: in v16:
We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.
Exactly that – we take our lead from God. We get nourished by him, made healthy by him and strengthened in his love.
So HOW on earth do we do that? How do we continue to seek that spiritual transformation, to journey towards being more like Jesus?
We need to form some personal habits.
Here’s the thing – and some if us need to hear this – You cannot just come to church each Sunday (once a week) and expect to be spiritually transformed. We need more than that.
That’s like eating one healthy meal a week and eating whatever you like the rest of the time and expecting to get healthier. No! We need to punctuate our week with habits that bring us closer to God.
Habit definition: a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
We mean making a COMMITMENT!!
We have to make the commitment to want to be more like Jesus. Ask yourselves honestly. Is this a journey you want to be on?
Then if the answer is yes – and why wouldn’t it be?
Then commit to it and make some habits to help us seek spiritual transformation: so here’s a few key habits, personal habits, I’m not looking so much here at corporate stuff, but that is equally as important – gathering with other Christians etc
But these are thing that we need to vomit to in our own personal walk… things we need to make a habit in our lives.
First up, God’s word. Where do we find out more about God than in his word? We read about his character, how much he loves us, that we are his beloved children.
The entire bible is a story of relationship, God’s relationship in the trinity, and his relationship with us, his beloved people.
God’s word is living and active – Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
God’s word is alive. It’s not just a stale old text where we read about what’s gone on in times gone by, thousands of years ago. No it’s alive for us today. So when we read about God we are not just reading what has already happened, but what can happen for us too.
Have you ever read a passage and just thought, wow, that is so right for me right now, or felt God had given you that verse for a particular situation you are facing, or felt it was for someone you know – a comfort or a word of affirmation?
God’s word has the power to do that – reaching right into our inner being – dividing soul and spirit as it says.
When I read the bible I always try to remember to pray first, Lord speak to me through your word to seek his presence within it.
Ps 119:105 – your word is a lamp for my feet and a light to my path…
I often find God guides me through his word…
God speaks to us in different ways but the bible is a good test. If something we are feeling doesn’t weigh up with what God’s word says then it probably isn’t right.
And we need to go on doing that, seeking him in his word and working towards that ongoing spiritual transformation.
You know I read my bible almost every day and have done since I became a Christian and I have read it all many times. But still, I find so often I read something I’ve read many times before and it just stands out like ‘wow’ I have never thought of that before or it seems completely new (&I don’t think that’s just because I have a bad memory!).
That is the power of God speaking through his word.
Prayer is a conversation. Two way!
There are so many different ways we pray but for here I am focusing on just that conversation we have with God. That will look different for each of us and in different seasons be different.
Here’s some biblical hints on praying:
Romans 12:12 – pray constantly
1 Thess 5:17 pray without ceasing
Eph 6:18 and pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…
Talk to God, share with him your innermost thoughts and fears, I mean he already knows it anyway so there is nothing you can’t share with him. Pray about everything and at all times!
I am sure you’ve heard this before, many times, but if you are friends with someone, how do you develop or grow that friendship? You spend time together, you do things together, you talk together. It’s the same in our relationship with God, we have to spend time with him. Bit like making someone a fiend on Facebook but never engaging with their posts. I’m sure we all have people like that on our social media – do we actually want to be friends with them?!!
True friendship is 2 way, talking, sharing, being together.
And sometimes that’s in talking, sometimes it’s in listening too!
So for example sometimes when I go out running I just pray at the start that God would go with me and if there’s anything he wants to share with me I’ll listen and then off I go. Sometimes it’s nice to just have some head space and other times I feel like he reveals things to me, or highlights things to me that he wants me to think about or pray about.
When we pray we draw closer to God, like we are opening ourselves us to be drawn closer to the very heart of God. As we put our lives into God’s hands and invite him into every area of our lives, we invite in his presence. We allow our hearts and minds to be transformed more and more into the heart and mind of God.
For spiritual transformation, the HS is kind of essential!
So here’s the thing, there is a spiritual world, THIS is a spiritual world. I know that sometimes people find that sort of statement a bit tricky to get our heads around but really we shouldn’t have any difficulty believing that.
If we look at the very beginning, Genesis 1. What do we see:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Right at the very start, the SPIRIT of God was hovering over the waters at creation itself.
And we know that God is three persons – Father, Son and HOLY SPIRIT.
We have seen in our recent series on the HS, the Holy spirit at work both in Jesus’ time and now.
Eph 6:12 says:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
And so it shouldn’t be hard for us to recognise that our world IS spiritual, it is the HS at work throughout creation, throughout this world, on earth and in heaven.
We don’t know what that looks like, but we can sure see the work of the spirit, the evidence of a spiritual world
it is the HS that keeps us in tune with what God is doing, when we pray and we sense a word from God, or we think of something we should do. Perhaps we are prompted to pray for someone – they just come into our heads for no reason, or we think of something we really have to do today or go somewhere and we’re not sure why – that is the HS within us. Guiding us into God’s plans and purposes.
In seeking to be led by the HS we are allowing ourselves to see more into that spiritual element of the world, I don’t know if I’m explaining this very well. Or it’s just sounding a bit ‘super spiritual’!
The thing is, God is a spiritual being, 1/3 of him, of the trinity is the spirit at work the same spirit that was there at work at the start of creation. We are created in his image, we have his spirit within us. We should want that part of us to be nurtured and developed and allowed to flourish as much as any other part.
If we want to be spiritually mature, spiritually transformed then being aware of and being led by the HS is vital!
Love / serve
We need to Love and to put that love into action…
1 John 4
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
We believe in a God of Love – that God is love. And I love this passage.
We need to love and serve others because of that amazing love that God has poured out for us. But so much more than that – that last verse:
12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
The implication here is that though no one has seen God, they can see him through us – because his love will be made complete in us. That’s pretty mind blowing right? Is that the ultimate in spiritual transformation? IF we love one another, God will live in us and be seen through us.
As we show God’s love to those around us, it reveals God himself! The NLT says …his love is brought to full expression in us.
If we love one another, we are the very expression of God’s love…
And we can’t just do that by sending loving vibes to each other or thinking positive thoughts, no we put that love into action. That’s how people see God’s love, through the way we interact with each other. Serving one another, doing kind things for others, reaching out to those in need…
You know, RW suggests that our Spiritual health is measured by love.
That makes total sense doesn’t it?! If God is love, and we want to be transformed more and more into his likeness, and he wants to reveal his love through us then the more we seek to be life him the more that love will show…
There’s just 4 habits to help us towards spiritual transformation, I am sure there are many more but these seem key to me.
: Get into God’s word
: pray constantly about all things
: be led by the HS,
: and love as much as you can
Perhaps some of you are doing all of those already, perhaps you do one or two, but I want to challenge you to commit to them all!
A small disaster of a locked iPad and losing a week of writing but I am over that (french wine definitely helped).
I’ve been thinking a lot about writing more about being a working mum, a clergy mum in fact, and how that works (or doesn’t as the case may be). So as I continue to ponder that here’s something I wrote recently for the fab Junia Project blog competition. I didn’t win but it expresses so much of what I’m feeling at the mo I thought I’d share it here anyway…
The Guilt Battle
I’m a ‘CM’- aka ‘Clergy Mum’ and a fair-weather feminist. Fair-weather? Well, yes, because if I am completely honest I spend way too much time wondering what it would be like to spend my days as a ‘SAHM’ (Stay at Home Mum): in my mind I could be baking wonderful nourishing treats for my perfectly behaved offspring, to munch on the moment they waft through the door; I lust after perfectly plumped cushions and dust-free floors; and goodness, what would it be like to arrive for the school run with delightfully brushed hair and, heaven forbid, manicured nails?
This is my daydream. On the days when I screech up to school 10 minutes late with the Vicar on my mobile phone plotting the weeks events, as I shove my children into the car, waving furiously for them to be quiet so I sound at least vaguely professional, and responding to the cries of ‘we’re hungry, did you bring a snack?’ by frantically searching the glove box for a non-furry mint imperial or two. Thing about actual dreams is they are usually completely bonkers and full of our own anxieties…
As a ‘Clergy Mum’ my daily life swings from the unclimbable washing mountain, where the summit is never reached; to the hand holding of the dying, preparing for another’s perhaps unwanted, summit. Both are an absolute privilege and yet I never feel that I am succeeding at either, more like just about keeping the wheels on. The only time the cushions actually get plumped is when my kids are throwing them at each other. Guilt has been an unwelcome guest in my life for far too long because being an egalitarian in the church is tough, and sometimes I’m just tired of fighting my way through it – those are the times I think about booking that manicure at the spa.
And yet, I feel called to be a wife, a mother and a minister. I am the daughter of an ambitious, working mother. I have a wonderful husband who shares equally in the domesticity of our lives and the crowd control, err, I mean parenting, of our children, and, whose gluten-free Yorkshire Puddings are to die for. So what’s the guilt all about then?
Like many women (and men) age-old societal norms still lurk in our souls ready to jump out and whack us over the head when we are least expecting it; stereotypical ideals still scream at us from advertising and media (‘mansize tissues’ anyone?); and negative words once spoken within our earshot whisper themselves to us on a loop. As if fighting our way in ‘a man’s world’ wasn’t enough, sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Those guilty, fear-filled thoughts call out to us enticing us to wallow in them:
‘Am I a bad mother?’
‘Will our kids turn out as delinquents because I haven’t made them home-made brownies?’
‘Will I be frowned upon for expressing that opinion in a room full of men?’
and, insert your own personal insecurity here…
But instead of heading to the spa, as inviting as it may be, and the oh so fluffy towels… No, no. I shall not be tempted… Instead, I seek out spiritual support. In 2 Timothy 1: 6-7, Paul (he of ‘we love to hate him’ fame) notes:
‘Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’.
Not fear, But: Power. Love. A sound mind.
Three tools for us to use when the guilt and condemnation strike.
So, Power. Not of the power-tool variety sadly, though I feel sure there is an analogy in there somewhere, no, a spirit of power. God gives us great power in many ways, but for now, how about ‘choice’? Choice, so simple and yet such a gift. Choice gives us such power and authority and we must take hold of it and use it. As Paul Coelho once noted, the day will come when we may well be asked:
‘What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you?’
What am I doing with that gift of choice, when I am wishing I was immersed in a culinary masterpiece rather than heading out the door to yet another evening meeting? With one foot in the parenting camp and one firmly in the church, (which remains largely a man’s world) I feel continually called to challenge ingrained attitudes. I have power to influence those around me, to gently bring to mind the unrecognised lenses through which people view the world; to point out the comments that wound ‘unintentionally’; or the decisions that are formed with ‘inadvertent’ prejudice.
There is no guilt in God’s power.
And, Love. Love simply has to be the cornerstone of all we do. Paul says ‘without love I am just a clanging cymbal’, he even says love is worth more than understanding all mysteries and knowledge, which is a pretty big deal really. Sometimes all that is needed is to draw attention to something – people view things through their own upbringing and experience without knowing what they do. Of course there are the haters too, but why join them? Why be part of #TeamAngry?
Whenever I feel trodden upon, whenever another minister turns his back on me because of the lumps on my chest, whenever I am ignored, shouted down or belittled, whenever my own sisters in Christ accuse me of ‘letting the side down’, I choose to respond in love. Love is the best bomb disposal unit ever invented. Have you seen how quickly a loving word can deflate a puffed up angry chest?
There is no guilt in God’s love.
And finally, a sound mind. God gave me a sound mind. Really? A sound mind often seems far from me, when all around is blurring into one, when I start to preach the shopping list instead of my carefully crafted sermon – now in the clutches of my husband and his shopping trolley – then I need to remember the sound mind bit. But more than that, it’s so easy to let harmful words permeate our less than thick skin, you know that old playground rhyme ‘sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never break me’? What a lot of tosh, sometimes words are the most hurtful, the things that stick with us and taunt us when we need it least. Knowing that the Lord has given us a mind to use, a brain to compute with, and the thought processes to fight our way out of a guilt battle can be a huge comfort.
There is no guilt in a God-given sound mind.
So, when the kids are clamouring for supper and there’s just half a block of slightly old cheese and a squishy apple in the house; when the next evening meeting goes beyond 10pm debating the vitally important issue of church cobwebs; or when I realise the only conversation I’ve had with my husband in 3 weeks is one about clearing up cat sick, then I will stir up in myself:
‘God has given me a spirit of power, of love and a sound mind’
A while ago I decided that I wouldn’t do any book reviews for a bit. This first year of Curacy has been a little bit bonkers, and for my own sanity I decided that was one thing that had to go. However when I had an email asking me if I’d like a pre-publication copy of Jo Swinney’s latest book, I was like, ‘err, YES’! As soon as I started reading it I knew I’d have to write about it, so for now I’m breaking my own rule.
Though I don’t know Jo well, I just like her. She’s a likeable kind of person, she’s nice, she’s funny, she’s a bit quirky and she just seems genuinely interested in the people she meets. All of which comes across in her new book ‘Home’.
As the title suggests Jo looks at the concept of where is home. In the diversity of the 21st century, easy and accessible world travel and just the huge availability of opportunity for many people, it can mean that ‘home’ is a complex subject. Well gone are the years where you grew up where you were born, stayed in the same town or village, worked in the same job for life and then died, buried in the parish church by a Vicar who’s been in post for all of the above. For Jo this is taken to the extreme though by growing up in Portugal and living in various countries before settling back in the UK (but for how long I wonder!). The themes she explores are so relevant, regardless of our geographical placement and I found myself nodding and ‘hmm- ing’ aloud as I read to myself. I was quite staggered to make a list that told me that at the age of 43 I have lived in 7 houses, 3 flats, 2 mobile homes, 1 tent, and 1 hostel; in 3 countries, 3 cities, 3 towns and 4 villages. Which of those would I have called home?
The book explores different aspects of ‘home’, like family and identity but interwoven with Jo’s own story living around the world, as well as reflections on the life of King David, framing the whole thing in a biblical context.
Jo’s own life has given her a wealth of information and experience to draw on and share, from growing up in Portugal, where she paints a wonderful picture of a loving, safe home with a vastly extended family of visitors and friends; to the pain of boarding school and homesickness; and on to the choices of adult life as to where to make or find home.
She also touches quite profoundly on the idea of identity, both culturally and personally. She writes of how hard it can be to define a home in a world that in many places is so multi-cultural. In fact in many ways what she writes is hugely prophetic and key for right now as we nationally, and worldwide, seek to understand our identity as nations. She notes:
All of us, whatever our defining cultural identity, benefit when we step out of our ghettoes and learn from each other. Our cultures will always be home in some sense, but who wants to stay at home twenty-four/seven?
But she also highlights the need to remember we are resident here and that we’re also inhabitants of the Kingdom of God, and just as that was comfort for David, it should be for us too. Again a timely reminder when we can easily be so bogged down in national and international negativity
I was touched as Jo writes so honestly about her own battle with depression, self worth and finding an identity of her own. As she says:
As I was discovering, wherever you go, there you are. I needed to find a home in side myself.
I wonder how many of us can say that we have truly done that – or even attempted to? How many of us have struggled with escaping from a situation or reality that was actually all about ourselves?
The book jacket asks the question:
Is home where you come from? where you live now? where the people you love are? or what?
If you’ve never pondered those things, then this book will help you draw out from your own life the ‘or what?’ things that help you call a place a home. It’s a book that asks questions of us, that might help us to seek direction, and challenges us – but in a gentle way and with the encouragement of one who has walked the journey before, and with the truth of God at it’s centre.
Home is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £14.99 and is available now.
The essential guide to healing – Bill Johnson and Randy Clark
Those controversial gifts – George Mallone
There is More – Randy Clark
Well here we are in our series on the gifts of the spirit (in our life and church) and today we are looking specifically at healing and miracles. Our main focus is still the passage from 1 Cor 12, and particularly today vs 9-10
to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers…
But I’ve also chosen the John 9 passage we just heard to take us a bit further than that.
My view point //
And I need to say I come at this from the view point that the spiritual gifts are for today and for now. I have seen them at work in my life and in the lives of others and I think we need to embrace them more, so I won’t apologise for being very enthusiastic about this subject!
However I will say that if you don’t agree with me or you have questions do come talk to me or to one of the leadership team, because we really want people to embrace this subject, but we also recognise it is a difficult one.
So healing is our focus today.
Did you know that out of nearly 4000 verses in the 4 gospels, 727 relate specifically to the healing of physical and mental illness and the resurrection of the dead – that’s 1/5th of the gospels.
Healing was a big part of what Jesus did and how he taught people about the kingdom of God.
So then if that’s how he taught, shouldn’t it be the same for us as we share about the kingdom of God?
We had a phrase at my last church and it was ‘there is more’ (from the RC book)
Because I believe there is so much more to life following Jesus than we are seeing right now.
We are only seeing a tiny fraction of the kingdom of heaven and what that means for us here on earth now. We really need the gifts of the spirit to step into the fullness of what God has for us. I was taught in that environment that we should always be seeking the more. And I have carried that with me ever since.
John 9 / doubts etc
Now I imagine some of you are still unsure about this kind of stuff and perhaps not ready to totally embrace it yet or step into it for yourself. So I chose this passage from John 9 because there is so much in it – there is of course the healing miracle, but there is also doubt and questions, and there is even humour too:
You can see later on the man who was once blind is obviously getting a little bit exasperated with the questions from the Pharisees and he says:
“I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
now that’s some banter right there. The pharisees are seriously important guys and our guy here is giving them some serious sass – it’s like a comedy routine almost!
But as well as humour there is also doubt and questions as well as the miracle of course.
All of which can help us relate to the idea of healing with our own questions.
Because questions are ok – I think we can grow in our faith by asking questions but let’s question intelligently – and let’s hold our doubts tension with the truth of who Jesus is, with what scripture says about him.
I want to show you a video clip now, this is of a man called Randy Clark who I believe has been given the spiritual gift of healing and has seen hundreds if not thousands of people healed. And here he is interviewing people who have been healed during one of his conferences:
>>>CLIP Randy Clark video 3 mins ish
Now, I’d be really interested to know what do you think when you see that? Anyone want to tell me – what is your immediate response to seeing that clip? Honestly.
Get responses… >>
perhaps you are inspired and in wonder at the power of God.
Or perhaps you find it really challenging. Did God really do that? Why? How? are they even telling the truth? Is this fake… it’s all pretty unbelievable right?
And that’s ok, it’s ok to have questions about stuff and especially when we don’t understand it or haven’t experienced it.
You know, I literally was writing this preach sat in the Royal Alex hospital this week with my son who broke his arm – ironic right ?! I was writing this surrounded by sick kids who needed healing.
That was really hard, I was like should I be going round offer to pray for healing?!
And here’s the thing he had lots of prayer for healing and the bone did not get healed,
So about now I could be thinking, well I know God has the power to heal and he hasn’t and why hasn’t he? But if I focused on that I would be missing the answers to prayer that we did experience.
When we left the hospital on the day he broke it, we were told he’d need surgery and to come in on Monday for the op. So we began praying he wouldn’t need surgery. Monday morning after he’s already fasting – nil by mouth – we get a phone call to say they are not going to operate after all, they’ve taken another look and can he come in the next day to have it manipulated instead. Praise God!
Plus his pain levels which were through the roof even maxed out on paracetamol and ibuprofen dropped hugely, meaning he could go to school in between hospital visits to finish his end of year exams.
So I can take comfort in the fact that God has been with us all even if he didn’t heal Elliott as we would have liked! So I can hold the question of why didn’t he get healed this time alongside what I know to be true that God loves him and wants the best for him.
And I can’t say it enough, it’s key that we recognise that it’s ok to have those questions, so long as they don’t take over. So long as we hold them alongside the truth.
Here, in our John 9 passage we see 2 different ways of dealing with questions.
Firstly you’ve got the Pharisees with all their rules and objections:
: But it’s the Sabbath
: He must be a sinner because he did this on the Sabbath
: But how can he be a sinner and have the power to heal?
And so on…
But they just end up tying themselves in knots with all their questions and seem to deny the truth which is right in front of them, that Jesus healed a man who was once blind.
And then you’ve got the man who was blind – our second example – he says it all when he says:
“Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
It’s as simple as that! He doesn’t care who or how or why, he just knows, he can see!!
But still the Pharisees question. In fact they end up where this passage started – the idea the disciples suggest in v1 when they say:
“You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!”
they just can’t get beyond their objections and questions to see the truth.
Let’s not get too bogged down in what we don’t understand, it will just cloud our vision…
So what are the gifts for?
So, we believe that these gifts are for today, well what are they for? Or Why are they there, why should we take notice?
Well I’ve got 3 reasons here but you might have others…
For the Common good
To bring Glory to God (Evangelism)
Jesus told us to
For the Common good
In our 1 Corinthians passage v7 we see that the spiritual gifts are given for ‘the common good’
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
And that theme is picked up later on in the passage from verse 12-22 when it talks about us being one body with many parts
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable
We are in this together people!
We all have a part to play.
Just imagine as our passage says, one part of the body says to another, I don’t need you.
What happens? The body doesn’t function completely as it should.
So say the hands don’t work, well that would make life very difficult but the body would still be alive right – my son has only one working arm at the moment and it’s a challenge! But he’s still living, going to school, etc but it means his body is not functioning to it’s full potential.
So take that metaphor to the church. What happens if we say, well we don’t need that bit of the church, we don’t need that part of worship, or that part of belief. What happens?
>>The church doesn’t function to it’s full potential.
So if we do away with part of what God has for us, we are missing out big time. If we say well the spiritual gifts are not for now, or God doesn’t heal today, or that’s not for me, then we are not achieving our full potential as Christians or as a church.
2 For the glory of God
Paul says in Romans 15:
17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— 19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.
His service is all about bringing glory to God and look at how he notes that through these signs and wonders the HS is doing through him, he is leading gentiles – ie: non believers – to come to know the Lord
Do you know what happens when people get healed?
They are so full of joy and excitement they tell people about it. See our clip earlier – look how excited they were to tell about what had happened to them!
In our John passage, verse 3 Jesus says of the blind man:
“this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
When signs and wonders happen the glory is for God. And more than that – when God’s glory is displayed people want to know more.
There’s an example of this in Mark 5 when Jesus healed a demon possessed man. And afterwards it says:
20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.
The miraculous power of God at work, inspires people to give glory to God and to share about who he is…
3) Jesus told us to
Ok , one of my favourite scriptures really speaks into this – it is from Matthew 10:8 when Jesus sends out he 12: and he says:
As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
So he says: preach this – the kingdom of heaven has come near. And then the action is to – heal the sick, raise the dead etc. The two are connected.
Now I love that passage because of the message but more… this is as much for us all now too, that we should both proclaim the kingdom and act accordingly – and if you’re not convinced let’s look at Mathew 28:19, The Great Commission – Jesus tells the disciples to:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Ok so they are to make new disciples – ie: preach the kingdom of heaven – and then teach those new disciples to do what they are doing. Yes, get that? Ok so what did he tell them to do back in Mat 10?
Yep you got it:
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.
So this is as much for us now as it was for them then! Make sense?
Hard stuff //
Now before I finish I do want to touch upon the difficult stuff –
God doesn’t always answer our prayers, for healing or otherwise, in the way that we would like.
And that can be really difficult, I am sure there are people here who haven’t received healing through prayer or have had a bad experience with people praying for healing for them. And it can be quite damaging actually. We need to recognise that and be super sensitive when we are teaching about and praying for healing.
People can come up with all sorts of reasons people aren’t healed – just like the Pharisees saying well he must be a sinner that’s why he’s blind.
I’ve heard for example:
well you haven’t got enough faith
there’s something blocking your belief.
Well you know Jesus himself said in Luke 7:
“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
A mustard seed – do you know how big a mustard seed is? tiny! I am pretty sure we could all muster up a mustard seed’s worth of faith!
(no pun intended)
Or you get those over zealous pray-ers – you know the type – people rock you around, pushing you over, or getting shouty, trying to force healing to happen… I’ve experienced plenty of that and it’s just really distracting, in fact I find it decreases my faith because I am just thinking ‘will you stop shouting in my ear you are spitting on me…’!
And those kind of experiences can just leave people with even more questions or with their faith damaged as a result
We have to remember it is not us that are the ones doing the healing, our role in praying for healing or anything else in prayer ministry is to bring that person closer to God, to help them to meet with the Lord in their situation. It is the Holy Spirit that does the work not us. They should be able to walk away from prayer feeling they have drawn closer to God whether healed or not.
And for some of us in those kind of situations, when being prayed for, trying to hold onto the truth of God, alongside what we are seeing in front of us can be really really tough.
If that’s you I’d recommend the book of Job, I have found it really helpful – in it there is a whole discussion going on between Job to whom terrible things have happened, and his friends who are trying to justify and answer and come up with reasons why all this has happened.
And then God shows up. And asks ‘where you there when I laid the earth’s foundation? Or when I made the clouds? Have you given orders to the morning, or seen the gates of death, or comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? And this goes on for some time!
And the answer is No, so how can you possibly understand!?
Because at the end of the day He is God and we are not.
Now I know some people think that is a cop out, they want to explore and argue and come up with answers to everything and I know because as a Christian I’ve been accused of being foolish, thick, naiive, brainwashed.
They think faith without proof is mumbo jumbo, a crux for the weak. But I say the opposite, wow I mean how much strength and courage and boldness does it take to believe in Jesus? It’s rarely easy!
The thing is he is God, He’s God! If we could fathom him out and answer all our questions then we’d have no need of him in the first place!
We have to get to a place where we can be comfortable with an element of mystery.
We don’t always know the answers, perhaps one day when we are up there we will, perhaps we won’t but for now :
What we don’t understand we hold alongside the truth.
So let’s finish with some truths…
Healing and the spiritual gifts are for now as much as in Jesus time.
They are for the common good
They glorify God and point people to Jesus
: Jesus IS the Son of God, he loves us and want to know us more and for us to know him more.
: He will be with us in any circumstance, no matter what we’ve done, no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in.
We are a church that wants to see lives transformed by the love of Christ.
The more we know Jesus in all his fullness, we more we get transformed, the more we see others lives transformed.
Randy Clark said this:
“God is not looking for the well financed, the well educated nor even the well experienced in “ministry.” He is simply looking for those who are willing to yield their hearts and lives to all He wants to do working through them. He is looking for those who are willing to believe for more, because there is more!” p.26 RC There is More
so my question today is – Do you want to see the more?