Living in exile

When it comes to understanding where we live 1 Peter is an incredibly helpful letter.  We are exiles(1v1).  Just stop and think about that for a minute.  This world is not our home.  It’s not where we belong.  We don’t share it’s ideals and values.  And so we’ll be treated as such.  We’ll be misunderstood and maligned.  As foreigners and exiles we’ll be accused of doing wrong, o not fitting in, of not following what everyone knows is true and right.

how-to-create-a-distinctive-trademark-in-hong-kongBut Peter doesn’t call on these scattered Christians to withdraw from community, or to compromise with community, or to become chameleons and stand out as little as possible, or to privatise their faith and maintain their professionalism.  He calls them to live such good lives, fighting sin and doing good, that those who accuse you of wrong doing can’t deny the good they do and will, when God returns, glorify him for it.

That’s where and when we live.  But I wonder if part of our problem is that we’ve forgotten that.  It’s been comfortable to be a Christian in the UK for so long that we’ve forgotten we’re exiles.  The law has aligned with our beliefs for so long we’ve been lulled by the lullaby of tolerance into forgetting we’re exiles, into thinking that we belong and therefore our gospel is accepted.

But reality is that we’ve simply been compromised.  We’ve been living as citizens of the wrong kingdom because it’s been comfortable to do so.  But we aren’t, we’re exiles, we’re called to be different.  To stand out and to expect opposition and accusation for it, even when we do good.  But we are to meet such opposition and accusation with even more good because of grace.

Israel were a different nation, standing out among all those around them and facing accusations, pressures and opposition because of it.  Jesus and his disciples stood out even from the religious around them and faced accusations and opposition because of it.  The early church stood out from those around them, living as exiles, and they faced accusation and opposition and persecution because of it.  Have we forgotten where we live, when we live?  That this world isn’t home?  That we’re exiles, citizens of God’s kingdom but living temporarily, sojourning, here.  But only until His kingdom comes.

I was reminded of that this morning.  As Christians as we serve others and do good we will be accused of having hidden agenda’s, of seeking influence, of being out to get something.  The question is how will we respond?  Will we withdraw into a holy huddle? Will we give up doing good to avoid the discomfort of false accusations or will we keep doing good but invite people to come and see?

We need a mindset shift.  We’re exiles.  We’re not at home here.  Our agenda is the kingdom agenda, our actions motivated by kingdom methodology and love.  Our goal is to hear the Father’s well done not the world’s.  And at times as we serve God, as we pursue his kingdom we will be accused, we will be slandered, we will be wronged.  Will we be unbowed and unrepentant and will we still do good?  Still pursue God’s kingdom?  Still love those who accuse us?

Don’t starve yourself to feed others

Ministry is busy.  There’s preparation to do, visits to make, evangelism to prepare, dusty-bibleleaders to lead, potential leaders to mentor, strategy to strategise, new books to read, oh yeah and squeeze preaching in somewhere, and I nearly forgot prayer (Wow!  Remembered just in time, to pray for my ministry.  Saved myself some guilt there).  That’s the way many pastors operate.  But what’s missing?

Too many pastors starve themselves to feed others.  We can’t share with others what we don’t have ourselves.  Too often the temptation is to minister to others at the expense of ourselves.  So we study the Bible to prepare for others, rarely do we get alone with God and his word and ask what are you saying to me?  Who are you?  What should I learn and love about you today that I didn’t know or had forgotten in the press of yesterday?

Too often we pray for others and spend little time praying for ourselves, weighing our hearts, motives, treasures, loves, passions and priorities.  Too little time simply enjoying God and responding to him in praise – yes sometimes joyfully, nosily and exuberantly (that’s why I hate the term quiet time!!!! – wrestles to put soap box away without standing on it).

And where does that lead?  That leads to burn out, eventually.  But first and perhaps more insidiously it leads to a loveless ministry.  Ministry becomes what I do rather than the overflow of the privilege of serving the God I love and am getting to love more.  And I think that shows in the way we minister, in the subtle shift to manipulation instead of worship, guilt as motivation instead of grace, ministry as to do rather than grateful overflow.

Pastor a simple plea: don’t starve yourself to feed others.  Fight yourself and others for time with God when you are his child wanting to know him not his minister wanting to fulfil your calling.

Churches a simple question to ask your pastor: how can we help you thrive in your relationship with and enjoyment of God?  He’ll probably try to avoid the issue, maybe he hasn’t even thought about it.  So, here’s what you do.  Ask the question then ask him to pray about it and think about it and take him for coffee, or ask the elders to ask him and take him for a meal to discuss the answer.

Each one reach one

use-meI don’t think we’re alone with this but I think we as a church have a tendency to assume evangelism is other peoples job.  We talk about sharing the gospel, we train for it, we hear preaching on it, but I wonder if somewhere subconsciously we think it’s someone else job.  We’ve tried to address that in our mission statement – ‘we exist to equip God’s people to speak and be grace where God has placed us for his glory.’  But I still have a hunch people are thinking it’s for the natural evangelist, maybe for the pastor, or the real keenies it isn’t for me.

We’ve run a course called Sharing Jesus and walked through Uncover John this academic year looking to train people in evangelism and defeating defeater beliefs.  But there is still that barrier.

I’m toying with trying something different this Sunday.  Each one reach one.  What if each member of church took that responsibility this week to reach one other person with the gospel?  What if each family took a responsibility to reach out to and show love to and live out the gospel in front of one other family this week?  I wonder if the problem with our talk of evangelising the neighbourhood or the workplace is just too big.  Whether simply focusing on each one reaching one makes it seem more tangible, more possible.

Imagine the impact if each one of us reach done other person with the gospel this week? What if we did that every week?  If we boldly lived out the love of God, if we shared our faith and its impact on our lives, if we opened our homes and let people see the 90% that remain under the surface, unseen.  If we opened our mouths and boldly shared the good news, addressed peoples hopes and fears and dreams and identity with the gospel of Jesus.

Wise Sleep – Part 3

In Proverbs 3v21-26 Solomon exhorts his son not to let wisdom out of his sight(21).  And details the blessings of living that way: it brings life(22), provides safety and security as we navigate life(23), removes fear so we sleep soundly(24), and frees us from the debilitating terror of sudden disaster or ruin(25).  How is that possible?

Because wisdom begins with knowing God.  The fear of the LORD is the beginning, the foundation of living skilfully in God’s world.  Look carefully at(26), Solomon tells us why we can be free from fear and anxiety that would rob us of sleep, “for the LORD will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.”  Wisdom is knowing God and not letting him out of your sight, not letting circumstances, fears, or if only’s, crowd God out of view because he is with his people.

Have you ever taken a child to a big sporting event or concert?  There’s 80,000 people and you don’t want to let them out of your sight, because to do so would be to lose them, so what do you do? You hold tightly to them.  That’s what Solomon is saying about God.  In the midst of 80,000 possible worries, if only’s, and anxieties don’t let God out of your sight.  It’s knowing God and knowing that he’s with you, interested, present, caring, sovereign, good, that you can trust him with each and every if only, that enables us to sleep sweetly.

Solomon isn’t saying don’t worry be sleepy.  He’s saying take those fears, that dread, to school. Teach them, train them, shrink them back into perspective as you see them in the light of the God who is your Father and who is with you.  Sleeping is an act of, as well as the result of, trust in God.  It is us getting out of the way for a while so God can act.

Psalm 4 was written in a time of national crisis, we don’t know exactly what but everywhere David looks there’s pressure.  What does he do?  He cries out to God.  What does he pray for?  (6)”let the light of your face shine on us…”  He prays that Israel will know God, because then they’ll have a security bigger than this current crisis or the next one or the next one.  And it leads to sleep even in crisis, because (8)“you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Solomon’s wisdom echoes David’s experience.  Sound sleep begins with wise wakefulness, don’t let God out of your sight, see God, feed on God, who he is, what he has done, how he feels about us, his love and care for us.  Ultimately see it at the cross, the supreme demonstration of God’s love and willingness to involve himself in his world for his people. Sweet sleep begins with wise wakefulness – not allowing God to be crowded out by the world and its worries.

Jesus taught his disciples the same lesson in Matthew 6v25-34. Jesus addresses the issue of anxiety and worry.  He doesn’t say don’t worry be happy.  But don’t worry because you know and trust your heavenly Father’s care.  (32)He knows what you need and you can trust him to provide it.  How much of our sleeplessness is caused by anxieties and worries, dreads that are at root the result of a lack of faith or a forgetfulness about God?  God cares about those things, he wants us to bring them to him and in turn bring him to them and so change the way we think and feel about them.  Sound sleep begins with wise wakefulness that won’t lose sight of God but intentionally sets out to know God.  Not letting the day with its worries crowd God out, but keeping him in view and fears in perspective.

Sleep is God’s gift to us.  It’s a reminder that he’s sovereign and so we can turn off, disconnect, and exercise trust in his goodness and loving fatherly care whilst we sleep.  And that process begins with wise wakefulness that won’t let God out of our sight all day, that brings those situations to him, and exercises trust in him.

How is your sleep?  Maybe we need to repent of ignoring God’s good gift of sleep, of fighting your creatureliness and dependence on God and resolve to turn off the distractions, minimise the blue light, have wise routines, and remind ourselves of the nature of God, and pursue sleep as an expression of trust in God’s goodness.  Even as a way of worship.

Maybe for others it’s not letting our fears and anxieties crowd God out of our sight during the day, but wrestling to keep God in view.  Taking time to shoot up an arrow prayer in a crisis, creating a time to read and pray in the morning, the evening and/or throughout the day so that wise wakefulness means you’re trusting God as you come to sleep so that “when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”  Asking others to pray for and with us as we battle anxiety and fears that rob us of sleep, and to keep pointing us to our good, good, Father.  Spurring us on to trust in our heavenly Father’s care.

Perhaps you’ve let God out of your sight, you’re go to church but it feels like habit, you feel disconnected, and that you’re drowning in a sea of dread.  We sleep but God doesn’t, he doesn’t drift off or forget, he’s with us, we’ve just lost sight of him, but he hasn’t lost sight of us.  The cross reminds us he could never forget us.  Why not pray now?  Bring your worries and anxieties to him?  Confess how you feel?  Ask God to help you pursue him, keep him in sight, so you know the comfort of his care and the gift of sweet sleep, and then resolve to put things in place that help you not let him out of your sight.  Ask someone to pray with you and help you.

How is your sleep?

Wise Sleep – Part 2

How much sleep did you get last night?  What would your average sleep per night be for the last week? The amount of sleep we need varies from person to person and over the course of a lifetime.  But for most of us we’re not getting enough sleep to be fully rested.  Here’s the average number of hours sleep a day you need:

6-13 years: 9-11 hours

14-17 years: 8-10 hours

18-25 years: 7-9 hours

26-64 years: 7-9 hours

65+ years: 7-8 hours.

personal-insights-interactive-health-chicago-schaumburg-workplace-wellness-program-coach-insomnia-sleepHow do you do compared to those averages?  In our society a lack of sleep is viewed as heroic, you’ve pushed on through, you’re hard, ‘there’s time to sleep when you’re dead’ is a phrase we hear. We regularly hear stories of people who achieved because they only needed four hours sleep a night.  It leads us to think of sleep as the enemy, or a necessary evil.  But that is to rebel against the way God made us.  Here are 8 consequences of regular inadequate sleep culled from Matthew Walkers brilliant ‘Why we sleep’:

  1. your immune system is damaged increasing the likelihood of developing cancer,
  2. is a key factor in whether you develop Alzheimer’s,
  3. disrupts blood sugar making you pre-diabetic,
  4. increases the chance of heart disease,
  5. contributes to depression, anxiety and other psychiatric conditions,
  6. produces a hormone that makes us hungry even when we’re full,
  7. shortens lifespan
  8. drowsy driving causes more accidents than alcohol and drugs combined

We were made to sleep.  Sleep is God’s gift to us, too much sleep because of sheer laziness can be a problem as other Proverbs point out, yet too little sleep is also a problem, a sin.  And yet some of us have drifted into patterns of unhealthy sleep.  Allowing a desire to be entertained to rob us of sleep to just finish that box set, or level, or read that feed.  Blue light in particular, like that from our phones, iPads, and TV’s, impacts our ability to sleep, disrupting the production of the melatonin we need to sleep because it simulates sunlight.

Alcohol and caffeine also disrupt our sleep patterns, caffeine for example has a 6 hour half life and takes 24 hours to fully work its way out of our system.  So that coffee you’ve just had, 25% of its caffeine will still be present in your body at 10.30 tonight, and that makes it harder to fall asleep.

We also don’t have a regular time to go to bed and wake up – we do it for our kids, bath at 6, story time at 6.30, lights out at 7, all positively encouraging sleep, cooling the body temperature, soothing, non-stimulating.  But we don’t apply the wisdom to ourselves – we rebel against our bodies natural God given rhythms.

Some of those things we just need to stop.  We need to listen to our bodies and God and recognise that if we rebel against our bodies God given rhythms there will be consequences.  As those called to honour God with our bodies, we need to sleep.  It’s an act of rebellion not to.  There’s also a link between sin and sleeplessness, tiredness, and staying up late.  We stay up late we get grumpy, in our irritability we sin against others.  Or staying up late we leave ourselves vulnerable to other sins in what we watch or do.

Sleep is a godly discipline, a way of reflecting and respecting our creatureliness and honouring our creator.  Maybe you’ve never thought of sleep like that, and so you’ve just drifted into unhealthy patterns.  Stop, think, repent and change.  Honour God in what you do, in how you set your rhythms, what you put into your body, what you watch, when you watch it, and when you go to bed.

But what else stops us sleeping?  Look at Proverbs 3v24.  Solomon paints a picture of someone enjoying a restful nights sleep, sleep that is sweet – good, pleasant – from which you wake refreshed.  How are they able to enjoy that?  Because “you will not be afraid.”  The Hebrew is actually stronger than fear, the word is dread.  Terror, fear, anxiety, dread stops us sleeping.

We’ve all had those nights where it’s impossible to turn our brains off, where we run through every possible scenario to every situation we’re facing and every possible anxious outcome.  Like one of those choose your own path books where at the end of the page if you do A you turn to page 9, or if you do B turn to page 14,except we’re trying to work out what will happen if we do A, B, C, D, E, F, G and so on.  Crossing bridge after bridge after bridge endlessly, or thinking if only, if only, if only.  Until we’ve tied ourselves in knots and hours of sleeplessness have ticked by, and then we watch every flicker of the numbers on the clock aware that we should be asleep, becoming anxious about how we’ll face tomorrow so tired.

Fear, anxiety, terror, dread, rob us of sleep. Even chronic insomnia, not just occasionally being unable to sleep, but ‘an inadequate ability to sleep even when allowing adequate opportunity to sleep’ is most commonly triggered by emotional worries or concerns, distress or anxiety.

And sometimes we feed that anxiety by distracting ourselves with our social media feeds, or by dealing with work emails when we can’t sleep– reasoning that at least we’re dealing with something, but actually making our anxiety worse and sleep less likely.

Proverbs warns us that fear robs us of sleep, which is God’s gift to us.  Dread drains us of the sleep we need.  And Solomon knew all about anxiety.  As a young man he’d become Israel’s king, with his brother having tried unsuccessfully to steal his kingdom even before his coronation, and then plotting to overthrow him just afterwards.  Then there’s the pressure of succeeding David, Israel’s greatest king, and of all Israel looking to him, coming to him for judgment on their problems, looking to him to uphold justice.  World leaders know anxiety, fear and pressure, that’s partly why we must pray for them.  When Solomon speaks of being able to sleep because you are free from the fear of sudden disaster or ruin, or being caught in a snare, we should listen to how he enjoys that.

God cares about how we sleep.  Sleep is God’s good gift to us.  “In vain you rise up early and stay up late toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.”  Psalm 127v2.  Sleep is God’s gift.  He wants us to enjoy it.  But in a broken world, a world of glory but also of garbage, anxiety and fear press in and make sleep hard.

How is your sleep?  What does it reveal about us?  Is the problem distraction?  Is it bad habits we need to change?  Have you swallowed the lie that you don’t need sleep?  Or that it’s for wimps?  Is it a rebellion against our creatureliness?  Or is it anxiety that robs us of rest?  We live on a nervous planet, so how can we enjoy good sleep?

Wise Sleep – Pt 1

Imagine you saw this advert online:

Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you livelonger.  It enhances your memory and makes you more creative.  It makes you look more attractive.  It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings.  It protects you from cancer and dementia.  It wards off colds and the flu.  It lowers your risk of heart attacks and strokes, not to mention diabetes.  You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious.  Are you interested?personal-insights-interactive-health-chicago-schaumburg-workplace-wellness-program-coach-insomnia-sleep

Imagine you saw that advertised.  What would you do?  You’d be at the doctors asking for some, or at the chemist buying it.  Who wouldn’t want all those benefits?  But it isn’t a new wonder drug or treatment, but the scientifically proven benefits of a full nights sleep.  Isn’t that amazing?

God in his wisdom created us with a circadian rhythm of awake and asleep, at creation he split a 24 hour day into day and night so that everyday we’d benefit from his gift of sleep with all its attendant blessings.  And yet two thirds of adults in the developed world fail to get 8 hours of sleep a night.  According to the World Health Organisation we are facing a pandemic of sleeplessness in the Western world.

God made us to sleep, it’s his gift to us, it is a necessary part of how he made us.  And yet sin means we view it as wasted time, as a missed opportunity to be more productive. As something we can skimp on. In these three posts I want to pause and think about what God has to say about sleep because he made us, he knows how we thrive, and he cares about us. As God’s people living in God’s world we want to honour him in every area of life, but have we thought about how we do that with our sleep, maybe the very idea feels wrong. Often we think we honour God by our activity, doing, doing, doing.  Maybe we struggle to think we can honour God in our sleep?  Or that God even cares about it.

What is your theology of sleep?  How much does that theology impact how you live?

Don’t dismiss the small encouragements

Anyone who knows me or who has read this blog will no doubt have detected that the Yorkie events piclast few weeks have been hard.  They have provided challenges both personally and in terms of church.  Here’s the question, when that happens why do we keep on going?

It is the big things, absolutely.  It is knowing the gospel is true and is the only hope of the world and knowing that the church is God’s strategy to reach the lost with the gospel.  It is knowing we are not outside of the Father’s will, that the Spiritual battle we are in, and feel intensely at the moment,  is not unique to us and that Christ wins and provides everything we need to endure.  It is knowing that our Father is sovereign and running to him and finding welcome as a child. It is all of those big theological things, yes, a thousand times yes.

But one of the biggest positives this last week has been the small encouragements, don’t despise them because they matter.  To be greeted by a brother on Sunday morning with a renewed and expressed commitment to the church and an offer of a coffee, a listening ear and prayer was a God send on Sunday morning when preaching felt daunting and the church felt fragile.  To be able to gather with another churches elders who listened, expressed care, love, and partnership and prayed was another God sent encouragement.  A card from a mentor expressing his care and prayers at a distance when he is facing struggles of his own was another God sent encouragement.  The card this afternoon from a church member expressing her thanks for our service, her acknowledgement of how we potentially felt and her love and support was another great God given encouragement.

Don’t despise the small encouragements.

Facing up to fragility

I’ve been reminded again this week of the fragility of pastoring a small church.  There has rarely been a year that has gone by when I have not had some kind of reminder of the fragility of planting and then pastoring church.  Initially I thought that period would last for a few years until we were more established, maybe 5 years in, maybe 7, maybe 10?  Now I am wondering if it will ever go away.

I am reminded of that fragility every time a family or an individual leaves the church, every time they accept a job that means relocating, or an ageing couple wisely decides failing health means the need to relocate nearer family to ease the burden of responsibility and travel.  It inevitably leads me to have a few anxious hours as I process the loss, and anxious weeks as I wonder about how the church will react to another loss.  And yet more anxiety as I consider the implications for our budget and for our future plans as a church when we have already stepped out in faith.  We’ve had a few years of losses, a gradual drip of saints taken hope to be with their Saviour and finishing their race well and others relocating.  Every loss has been felt keenly, one less row of chairs, a smaller Sunday school, fewer actively serving amidst a wealth of needs.  This summer again our church has contracted as people have moved away and we perhaps feel more fragile than we have at any time since the first year or two, who wouldn’t when you effectively lose more than a tenth of your congregation.  It means that when a member texts or rings and asks for coffee I instantly find myself hoping it’s not to tell me they are moving too, and wondering what we do if it is.

But perhaps the greatest fragility it exposes is the fragility in me.  I am tempted to tie my spiritual standing to the success or failure, growth or otherwise of the church.  And I don’t think that is totally unhealthy.  I must care about the gospel and the glory of God, I must care about the impact of loss on God’s people.  I must have a concern to reach the lost and inevitably the loss of workers in a rich harvest field makes that harder.

The greatest fragility it exposes, however, is in my faith.  Do I genuinely believe God is sovereign, that he is wisely working, that his plans are best?  Do I honestly believe what I have preached; that it doesn’t need big and spectacular to reach the lost but faithful disciples living out the gospel on their frontlines speaking the gospel to one person at a time?  Do I honestly believe that my reputation matters or will I trust God will build his kingdom for his glory?  Will I learn the lesson God is teaching me and trust him or adopt a dogs of war mentality and rant against everyone else in comfortable Christendom?

I don’t welcome the fragility.  I don’t particularly welcome the way it exposes me again in areas I thought I had dealt with.  But I do pray that God uses it to more firmly fix my faith on him.