Thursday, June 25, 2020

A road map to a healthy church culture


One of my favourite authors Scot McKnight has a new book being published later this year that explores creating a "goodness culture" in our church families.

Our first instinct may be to think well that automatically exists in a local church! Tragically, in recent years, Christians have gotten used to revelations of abuses of many kinds in our most respected churches--from Willow Creek to Mars Hill. We are not immune to this in the UK. In the last couple of weeks, we have read of a well-know leader announce his resignation with trustees citing concerns around an unhealthy church culture and specifically a culture that led to racism.

I am sure that no Jesus follower who hears the call of God and sets off to dedicate their life to serve God by planting or leading a church, expects to arrive at a place where they have to resign and suffer the consequences.

However, it seems to be happening with too much regularity at this moment in time. Our behaviours, beliefs and practices contribute so much to the culture we create. Let's take a time out to ensure we are taking steps towards health rather than a disaster.

Scot gives lists 7 characteristics he has noted in unhealthy church culture and 7 that help create a healthy culture.

(Below are my paraphrase of what I heard on a webinar and not exactly what was said)

Characteristics of a toxic culture
  1. Narcissism is allowed.
  2. Fear is common.
  3. Care for the institution can trump the care of people.
  4. False narratives are formed (e.g. to protect the institution)
  5. There is a large emphasis on loyalty.
  6. Celebrities and hero leaders are common.
  7. A greater emphasis on leadership than pastoring.
Characteristics of a healthy culture
  1. A high degree of empathy for others.
  2. Shaped by grace and nurtures grace.
  3. People are put first.
  4. The truth is told even when it's hard. (no spin)
  5. Justice is nurtured (do the right thing even when it hurts)
  6. A culture of service is built (particularly in leadership)
  7. Christlikeness is developed and valued (Christoformity)
An extract from Scot's book - A Church called Tov

Toxic, flesh- driven cultures breed a lust for power, success,
celebrity, control through fear, an emphasis on authority, and
demands for loyalty. These values may not be explicitly stated,
or even outwardly recognized, but as they fester in the heart of a leader, they can’t help but bear bitter fruit, damaging the culture of the church and seeking to destroy anyone who gets in the way.

A Spirit- formed, Christlike culture, on the other hand, nurtures truth, offers healing for the wounded, seeks opportunities to
show redemptive grace and love, focuses on serving others (rather than on being served) and looks for ways to establish justice in the daily paths of life. A Christlike church culture always has its eyes on people because the mission of the church is all about God’s redemptive love for people.

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Holy Spirit at work in Acts 4

Dr Luke's history of the birth and growth of the early church is named "The Acts of the Apostles" may well be better titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit. As like us those early followers of Jesus were totally reliant on the Holy Spirit in everything they did.

The Holy Spirit at work in Acts 4
  • When we proclaim Jesus the Holy Spirit does the rest v4
  • The Holy Spirit arranges incredible opportunities for us to tell others about Jesus. v5-6
  • When telling others about Jesus it's a good thing to be "filled with the Holy Spirit". v8
  • The Holy Spirit will give you the words to say when telling others about Jesus. v8-12
  • The Holy Spirit gives us boldness. v13
  • The Holy Spirit specialises in using unlikely people. v13
  • The Holy Spirit silences even the most sceptical. v14
  • The Holy Spirit at work is a powerful sign to unbelievers. v16
  • The Holy Spirit compels us to tell others about Jesus. v20
  • The Holy Spirit can work a miracle in an instant even if we have been waiting 40 years. v22
  • It was the Holy Spirit speaking through David that wrote the Psalms. v25
  • Empowered by the Holy Spirit David, prophecied about the victory of Jesus. v25-26
  • The Holy Spirit heals and performs "signs & wonders".
  • The work of the Holy Spirit can literally share the ground under your feet. v31
  • An outcome of being filled with the Holy Spirit is boldly telling others about Jesus. v31
  • The Holy Spirit gives the power to share your own "Jesus" story. v33
  • The Holy Spirit gives us the favour of God. v33
  • The Holy Spirit at work in us destroys selfishness and inspires incredible generosity. v34-37

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Holy Spirit at Work - Acts 3

Dr Luke's history of the birth and growth of the early church is named "The Acts of the Apostles" may well be better titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit. As like us those early followers of Jesus were totally reliant on the Holy Spirit in everything they did.

Acts 3
  • The Holy Spirit gives us gifts to give away v6
  • The Holy Spirit can instantly make limbs that have never been used strong enough to jump v7
  • The Holy Spirit can take a lifetime of hurt into pure joy v8
  • The Holy Spirit in action fills even those who are not followers of Jesus with "wonder and amazement". v9
  • The Holy Spirit at work often draws a crowd v11
  • When seeing the Holy Spirit work through your life often people can reach the wrong conclusion and think you have superpowers. v12
  • The Holy Spirit gives us the words to say to the crowd that points back to Jesus. v13 - 16
  • The Holy Spirit empowered the Old Testament prophets to talk about the coming of Jesus. v21

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Holy Spirit at Work - Acts 2

Dr Luke's history of the birth and growth of the early church is named "The Acts of the Apostles" may well be better titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit. As like us those early followers of Jesus were totally reliant on the Holy Spirit in everything they did.

Acts 2
  • The presence of the Holy Spirit can sound like "mighty rushing wind" v2
  • The presence of the Holy Spirit may be seen on occasions. This time as fire. v3
  • Experiencing the Holy Spirit is often likened to being "filled". The greek word for filled can also be translated "to be under full influence". v4
  • The Holy Spirit can give someone the ability to speak a language they have never learned. v4
  • The Holy Spirit draws people to God v6
  • One of the reasons the Holy Spirit gives the supernatural ability to speak in another language is that people who speak that language can here the Gospel. v6
  • The Holy Spirit tells people about "the mighty works of God". v11
  • Being filled with the Holy Spirit can be so overwhelming it can look like a person is drunk! v13
  • The Holy Spirit was promised in the Old Testament. On this occasion, the prophet Joel is quoted by Peter. v16
  • The Holy Spirit is for every believer not a select few. v17
  • A sign of the Holy Spirit is prophesy v17
  • A sign of the Holy Spirit is visions v17
  • A sign of the Holy Spirit is dreams v17
  • The Holy Spirit fills both male and female v18
  • The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin. v37
  • Receiving the Holy Spirit is an integral part of salvation. v38
  • The Holy Spirit is for every believer from the day of Pentecost onwards. v39
  • The work of the Holy Spirit brings "awe" v43
  • Signs of the Holy Spirit are "many wonders and signs" v43
Can you add any more?

Acts 3 tomorrow










Monday, June 15, 2020

The Holy Spirit at work - Acts 1

We launched a brand new teaching series at MKCC this past Sunday about the Holy Spirit. I am reminded of how John Phillips, my favourite lecturer at college, introduced his series of lectures on the book of the Acts of the Apostles. He suggested that a better name for the book would be "The Acts of the Holy Spirit" and set us a task of listing all the times we see the Holy Spirit at work in these chapters. 

So, I thought to repeat that exercises again 38 years later would remind me of the Holy Spirit's vital work in the early church.

So here is Acts 1
  • Jesus was directed by the Holy Spirit in choosing the Apostles v 2
  • Jesus was guided by the Holy Spirit in His teaching of the Apostles v 2
  • The Holy Spirit was promised by God the Father and Jesus v 4
  • Experiencing the Holy Spirit is described as baptism. The Greek word "baptizo" to immerse, cleanse or purify. v 5
  • The Holy Spirit is guided by God Father’s v 7
  • The Holy Spirit brings us power v 8
  • The Holy Spirit comes to individuals v 8
  • The main purpose of the Holy Spirit is to empower us to tell others about Jesus. v8
  • The Apostles recognised that the Holy Spirit was at work in writing scripture v 15
  • Was the Holy Spirit at work in how the Apostles chose a replacement for Judas Iscariot v 26
Can you add any?

More to come

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A Fellowship of differents

The first European church began as a fellowship of differents. A wealthy fashionista named Lydia, an abused slave girl and an ex-praetorian guard, and his family, living out his retirement as a jailor in this outlying Roman colony. It would seem that Holy Spirit pulled together, as the founding church members in Philippi, a very diverse group of people.

Scot McKnight describes in his book "A fellowship of Differents" a typical house church in Rome.

Understand that these early Christians did not meet in churches and sit apart from one another in pews, and then when the music ended, get in their chariots and go home. No, their churches were small, and they met in homes or house churches. A recent study by a British scholar has concluded that if the Apostle Paul's house churches we composed of about thirty people, this would have been their approximate make-up:
  • A craft worker in whose home they meet, along with his wife, children, a couple of male slaves, a female domestic slave, and a dependent relative.
  • Some tenant, with families and slaves and dependents, also living in the same home in rented rooms.
  • Some family members of a householder who himself does not participate in the house church.
  • A  couple of slaves whose owners do not attend.
  • Some freed slaves who do not participate in the church.
  • A couple of homeless people.
  • A few migrant workers renting small rooms in the home.
Add to this mix some Jewish folks and perhaps an enslaved prostitute and we see how many "different tastes" were in a typical house church in Rome.

Scot McKnight, A fellowship of differents, Ch 2

But Paul made it clear how these desperately different people would relate to each other. They were ONE. Not one because they managed to work out all their differences. But one IN Christ Jesus. 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:28

Or as it is put in a literal translation of the Greek;

there is not here Jew or Greek, there is not here servant nor freeman, there is not here male and female, for all ye are one in Christ Jesus.

And as the Galatian believers were gathered together, not in rows facing the front, they're in someone's dining room and the centre of their activity really is the fellowship meal or the communal meal, Paul's letter was read aloud to them. Maybe there was a dramatic effect placed on the word HERE. Here at this table, we are all one because of Jesus. 

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Make me Lord a dreamer for your Kingdom



I should be in bed but a Facebook post has sent me down a path of nostalgia and blessing. I haven't heard this song in decades but can remember vividly the first time I heard it. A young kid going through Bible College with huge dreams for God and his kingdom.

As Chris Bowater sang these amazing lyrics I fell to my knees and as is usual with me shed a few tears as I begged God to do the impossible through me. Even driving back from Lincoln that evening to Mattersey Hall speech eluded me.

Now at the age of 57, I look back amazed at the journey God has taken me on. My dreams back then were to return home to North East Scotland and plant churches in the towns and villages with my friend Roger but God had other plans. (but it would have been cool to do)

England, not Scotland would become home for me and my family and God gave me the honour of serving a local church as a volunteer, an Elder, a teacher and the last 20 years as one of the Pastors. And, not just once, Mark, my leader and friend, have glanced at each other with a look that needed no words but each of us understood, that we can't quite believe that God would use us in his plans.

But that's enough looking back it is time to pray again....

Make me Lord a dreamer for Your kingdom
Plant in my heart heavenly desires
Grant faith that can say ‘Impossibilities shall be ‘
And vision lest a world should Perish not knowing Thee

Make me, Lord, a dreamer for your kingdom,
I would aspire to greater goals in God.
So cause faith to rise, to motivate each word and deed,
a faith that’s well convinced that Jesus meets every need.

Make me, Lord, a dreamer for your kingdom,
dreams that will change a world that‘s lost its way.
May dreams that first found their birth in your omnipotence
come alive in me, becoming reality.

Thanks, Chris


Saturday, May 09, 2020

The contradiction of courage


Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” - Jesus (Matthew 16:25)
“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms, it means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. . . . This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. . . . A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.

G.K. Chesterton
(Orthodoxy, p89)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Can sickness be better than health?

The deepest, most precious, and most abiding spiritual lessons, which God has been pleased to teach me were learned in consequence of enduring my various experiences of sickness. . . . I feel it would have been nothing short of a calamity to have missed the physical suffering through which I have passed. . . . I am positive that I have sometimes met with God’s refusal to heal when I have been most in fellowship with him.


Hudson Taylor

If it’s good enough for one of the greatest Christian Missionaries 

Friday, February 14, 2020

Loving our enemies?

The Spirit is the One who can transform us from people who love only the people we like and the people who are like us, into people who love the people we don’t like, the people who are different from us, and yes, even our enemies. - Scot McKnight (Open to the Spirit)
Maybe it’s because of my Pentecostal background but mention the Holy Spirit and the first thing that pops into mind or is often mentioned by others is miracles, healing, speaking in tongues. Basically the 9 “gifts of the Spirit” given as examples by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. (Yes for me Pentecostal friends I said examples as comparing this with other similar list I don’t think Paul’s intention was to create a definitive finite list for the gifts of an infinite God)

Now I prefer to think firstly about the Holy Spirits work in my salvation journey which is beyond doubt the ultimate miracle!

But I also think of Jesus command for us to love our enemies! The first virtue of the Holy Spirit is Love and the Spirit grows divine Love in our lives. Even love for our enemies. That could be the second biggest miracle of the Holy Spirit? Just a thought.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Not so fond of transformation a prayer

Praying for transformation that I’m not sure I want. By John Levison 

Holy Spirit, 
I’m not so fond of transformation. 
I’m not so hungry for adaptation.

I’m not so keen on modification. 
“Leave things as they are.” 
That’s my earnest prayer. 

But how can I ask you for this? 
And how could you possibly answer this prayer?

What could I be thinking? 
How little could I know you? 

You’re torrential. 
We’re sopping, sodden, soaked. 
Caught in the downpour of your craving 
to transform us from inside out 
and also from outside in. 

Amen

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Have we tamed the lion?

The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused Him of being a bore—on the contrary; they thought Him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround Him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him “meek and mild,” and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.


Dorothy Sayers

Open to the Spirit......

Being open to the Spirit has nothing to do with struggling to meet a standard. Rather, to be open is an inside-out and upside-down approach. To be open means God’s grace is at work in us through the Spirit. Openness is not a game of strategy and intense planning, like chess. Rather, being open is a dance in which we listen to the beat of the Spirit and respond to the Spirit’s promptings. Every time we are open to the Spirit’s steps, the Spirit takes us to Jesus, the Living Word.


Scot McKnight

Open to the Spirit
Page 21

Friday, January 31, 2020

Invaded by the living God

We have been invaded by the living God himself, in the person of his Spirit, whose goal is to infect us thoroughly with God’s own likeness. Paul’s phrase for this infection is the fruit of the Spirit. The coming of the Spirit, with the renewing of our minds, gives us a heavenly appetite for this fruit. The growing of this fruit is the long way on the journey of Christian conversion, the “long obedience in the same direction,” and it is altogether the work of the Spirit in our lives.


Gordon D Fee
Paul, the Spirit and the people of God

Monday, January 20, 2020

Messiah’s Misfits

”You already have all you need. You already have more access to God than you can handle. Without bringing either Apollos or me into it, you’re sitting on top of the world—at least God’s world—and we’re right there, sitting alongside you!


It seems to me that God has put us who bear his Message on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We’re something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We’re the Messiah’s misfits. You might be sure of yourselves, but we live in the midst of frailties and uncertainties. You might be well-thought-of by others, but we’re mostly kicked around. 

Much of the time we don’t have enough to eat, we wear patched and threadbare clothes, we get doors slammed in our faces, and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to eke out a living. When they call us names, we say, “God bless you.” When they spread rumors about us, we put in a good word for them. We’re treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture’s kitchen. And it’s not getting any better.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭4:7-13‬ ‭MSG‬‬

So who is up for the life of an Apostle?

When it looks like God is indifferent...

If your hopes are being disappointed just now it means that they are being purified. There is nothing noble the human mind has ever hoped for or dreamed of that will not be fulfilled. Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly; many things lie unsolved, and the biggest test of all is that God looks as if He were totally indifferent. Remain spiritually tenacious. 


 In the Bible you never find the note of the pessimist. In the midst of the most crushing conditions there is always an extraordinary hopefulness and profound joy, because God is at the heart. The effective working of Redemption in our experience makes us leap for joy in the midst of things in which other people see nothing but disastrous calamity.

Oswald Chambers

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

A lousy job....

Being a priest is not a matter of winning victories for God. Countless stories, movies, television, and now video games have burned into our imaginations a certain heroic plot: the brave adventurer sent forth on a Mission Impossible, and eventually winning against all odds. Yet this is not, and never can be, the pattern of Christian ministry, for the simple reason that it is not the pattern of the gospel—which, as you know, is all about human defeat, the shattering of human hope, the excruciatingly painful disappointment of human desires . . . and after all that, in spite of all that, even through all that, God’s victory becomes perceptible. That is why being a priest is such a lousy job for an incurable optimist, because disappointment is so fundamentally built into the job.


Ellen F Davis

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Living libraries of God’s Word

By choosing Christ to flesh out the word, God made a lasting decision in favour of incarnation. Those of us who are his body in the world need not shy away from the fact that our own flesh and blood continue to be where the word of God is made known. We are living libraries of God’s word. Our stories are God’s stories. Sometimes they are comedies and sometimes they are tragedies; sometimes faith shines through them and other times they end in darkness, but every one of them bears witness to the truth of God’s word. Preachers cannot “stay out of” their sermons any more than singers can stay out of their songs. Our words are embodied, which means we bring all that we are to their expression.


Barbara Brown Taylor 
(The Preaching Life)