Monday, January 29, 2007

Learning to Listen

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Philip. 2:3

I sometimes find myself in the company of strangers, people I have never met before, whether on a golf course or at some social event. One thing I have noticed with most people, regardless of whether or not they are believers, is that few take the trouble to ask me questions about my life. However, most are more than happy to talk about things on their minds. I sense, though I may be wrong, that this is a characteristic of the culture in which we live. I also think that it can be a predominant tendency within the body of Christ. We have, in some instances, lost the art (perhaps also the desire) of listening to one another, I mean really listening such that we 'hear' what is being said between the sentences.

This, I believe, is a priority that we must rediscover in the context of our relationships, be it in our home churches, with those we are called to disciple, or especially with those we meet who do not yet know Jesus Christ. I remember hearing the story of the man who 'set up stall' as it were in a coffee shop with a sign saying that he would buy a free cup of coffee for anyone who would listen to his story. He had very few takers. When he changed his approach and offered a free cup of coffee to anyone who would tell him their story, he had a steady stream of customers.

We all want to be heard, it is a sign that someone values what we have to say, that they value our opinion, that they value us. It is an essential characteristic of love and humility, chief virtues within the kingdom of God. I believe this is something Paul was getting at in this verse from Philippians. Your experiences may be different, but I invite you to put this to the test over the coming weeks, both in terms of really testing how much people prefer to speak of themselves, but also in terms of seeking to ask people questions about themselves, their lives, their walk with the Lord if they are a believer.

This priority should also translate into our devotional times alone with the Lord. How much time do we spend telling him about ourselves and what we want, versus truly listening to his heart, his word, and what he desires to speak to us. When we come together in our home churches it is helpful to ask one another how God has been speaking to them, and then reflect corporately as to what that might mean to you all as a community, even what you might need to do about it. Let us have the heart of Samuel, who upon discovering that wonder of wonders, God was speaking to his heart, responded with the words "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening".

Monday, January 22, 2007

Reflections on Winter Conference 2007

I wanted to share some comments that particularly struck me at the conference and some overall thoughts that I came away with. I hope they are helpful and encouraging to you.

Bishop Church Murphy (Chuck is the leader of the newly named Anglican Mission in the Americas, under the oversight of Archbishop Kolini from Rwanda)

  • 1,200+ people registered, 36 states, 15 countries, 6 international Archbishops, 2 retired Archbishops, 9 Anglican Bishops, 8 Anglican Organizations
  • Today, 108 congregations in the Mission, 13 affiliated fellowships, 64 new works developing in the US, 9 new works in Canada, on average 1 new congregation every 3 weeks. Expect “great things” – prepare for expansion! What we have achieved so far is just the beginning.

Andy Piercy (Andy used to be on staff at HTB in London, produced albums for Delirious? and now works with our bishop TJ as worship leader)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) … this ultimately is our true worship.

  • The Church was born singing. Singing is a natural response when we fall in love. Worship must include listening, responding to what God is saying and doing. Transition into a place of intimacy and closeness to the Father.

Becky Pippert (Becky is in the Michale Green mold - an evangelist who seeks to equip the saints. She wrote 'Out of the Saltshaker' several years ago)

  • God is a sending God … and an inviting God. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you”. Goal is redemption for all. Mission is at he very heart of God.
  • The incarnation gives us the model for how we are to go into the world. Jesus was able to relate to people from such varied backgrounds and personalities. He was totally delightful, different image to Christians today. Jesus moved into the neighborhood and learned about people’s lives, hopes, dreams, fears, etc. It is all about relationship.
  • The central problem is still SIN and therefore the solution is the cross. We must beware of pandering to culture, felt needs, feeling that to do so means that we are communicating the gospel.
  • Loving relationship gets our ‘foot in the door’, but must use resources of the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Tremendous importance of prayer. We have to experience what we are proclaiming about the ministry of Jesus. There is overwhelming brokenness out there but we need to know his healing in us.

Jack Deere (Jack worked for a while with John Wimber - trained at Dallas Theological Seminary where he learned an anti-supernatural gospel, that changed when he saw our God at work!)

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve--designating them apostles--that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” [Mark 3:13-15].

  • God wants to be with us, but do I want to be with him? He wants us first and foremost not to be his ministers but to be his friends. The essence of friendship is to enjoy being with a person
  • We must release Jesus into the marketplace that people may meet him and hear from him.
  • Evangelism is a life before a task, being before doing.
  • Let us not allow programs to keep us from dependence upon the Holy Spirit and the power of the Word of God and irresistibility of Jesus Christ.
Things that I came away with …

1) Even though what we are doing is somewhat different to most within the mission, sense that God is pleased and involved

2) Need to keep focused upon God’s mission in the world

3) What is important in our own lives is genuine life in God, testimony of life-changing, healing power of the Holy Spirit, connecting with those outside of Christ through friendships, etc.

4) Deepening spiritual life through walking with God, prayer and other spiritual disciplines

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Winter Conference Opening Ceremony

I wanted to share from our opening evening at this years Winter Conference. First of all, we were just pleased to be here, having decided to leave Austin a day early on Monday, to miss the weather. 1100 miles of driving later, we reached our destination! We joined with 1,600 others for the largest conference yet for this 6 year-old mission movement.

The message was brought by The Most Rev. Datuk Yong Ping Chung (retired Archbishop of South East Asia). Some of you will remember him from when he came to speak at BridgePoint (he currently lives in Austin). The Archbishop's message was excellent ... and I believe very relevant to what the Lord is saying to us at BridgePoint. He referenced 3 particular Scriptures from which I give extracts;

(i) God's Heart
"Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities." (Isaiah 54:2-3)
- the call is to a 'man-sized' work that was humanly impossible, but he quoted the father of the modern missionary movement, William Carey, who said, 'Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God'. God's heart is for those who are lost and we must reach out with the message of the gospel.

(ii) God's Way
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message ..." (John 17:20)
- Prayer was a top priority for Jesus. Effective ministry and mission must begin (and end!) with prayer, intercession for lost souls. This is how we unlock God's power and authority. he also quoted ... "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." (Jer 33:3), a favorite verse of mine that I actually have framed on my desk.

(iii) God's Praise
"I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name." (Rev. 3:8)
- Jesus holds the key and is THE way of salvation. God promises an open door, but it is not easy, we still need to walk through and discover what is on the other side!

The overall theme of the message and the conference as a whole, 'ENLARGE YOUR TENTS!'

Now I need to get some sleep so I am ready for the morning.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Touching the Ark by Thomas Mackie

Thomas was awoken early one morning recently and it led him to write down these thoughts as he spent time before the Lord. I wanted to share them with you ...

It’s hard for me to say whether or not I’m in God’s will on a day to day basis. Sometimes I “feel” very close to Him and other days I am certain that I have wandered away again. Two things about God: He is Holy and He does not change. He is I AM.

In 2 Samuel Chapter 6 when Uzzah and the congregation of worshippers is escorting the Ark back from its’ unlawful keepers, something drastic happens. Uzzah touches the Ark. Uzzah means well by reaching out to steady the ark when the ox pulling it stumbles when the cart it is being carried on is jolted. However, this is several steps in the wrong direction already by the time Uzzah is smote for touching it. So much is said about handling the Ark that it could not have been a simple “error” on anyone’s part how it was being cared for.

The first question asked by my two young boys when we discussed the story is “why did God kill him for doing that? He was just trying to keep it from falling!” I agree to some extent. But the sure thing mentioned above about my King is – He is Holy and He does not change.

To bring His people closer to Himself, God gave instructions about sin and the consequences of it. He made a place where His people could approach Him and He made a way for things to be reconciled. He did all this with precision and care to ensure that the Israelites knew when they had made full and proper sacrifice for sins committed. He also gave instructions for how the Ark was to be made and with meticulous detail as to how it was to be cared for and by whom. The sin committed by the worshippers in 1 Samuel is not like a ref making a bad call in a game and having all the viewers shouting “why the flag?”. Uzzah had committed a flagrant personal foul and everyone there knew the rules.

But now it seems that we as His Church have gone down the road again with the ox cart. Having been given the right to be called children of God, and having the desire to worship him in recognition of His love we seem to be foolishly dancing down the road with the whole worship band (2 Samuel 6) doing things our way.

On Christmas day A.D. 00 the King left his throne and in place of it he laid in a sheep pen. He gave Himself in love for us as a ransom not too many years later. And on Pentecost, we were given the Holy Spirit - the “deposit” on life with Him now and forever. And in some mysterious way we carry His presence with us. He has given Himself to us and upon acknowledging Him and our need of Him, we are His temple – Holy and blameless in His sight because of who He is and what He has done.

*This next part will seem harsh – kind of like justice for Uzzah that day.

But now life for the most part inside the church and outside the church in the U.S. in 2007 looks pretty much the same. Don’t misunderstand - I’m not calling for us to shun society and all become Amish though it may be the way for some of us. But when the divorce rate is the same inside and outside the church it gives me pause. When the “Christian” book selection shuffles to what’s “new” or “anointed” this week, it just looks the same as secular media. When the chorus of religious zealots comes unglued over the next popular outrage or loss of our “religious freedom” (by the way, have you noticed that the places where “religious freedom” don’t exist are the places where real lives are really being transformed?) Or when the snappy sermon or Christian entertainment has to look, sound and smell just like everything pagan to be significant we have strayed. Like Uzzah and the congregation, the presence of The Almighty God was there but the experience of being His people instead of the experience of being with HIM was desired most. All the while our King was all we needed.

Who or what are our ears listening to? Attendance numbers and tithe tallies do not represent hearts of flesh, softened by God. Another building campaign, another popular program and one more godly experience where “I felt it!” does not symbolize the prodigal returning home to the Father.

Recently I read something that puts a fine point on it. To paraphrase, the writer said that if it’s not explicitly the pre-eminence of Christ that’s being exulted then it’s a loss. I am confident that King David meant well in celebrating the return of the Ark. I am sure the congregation was sincere in what they believed to be right. I am even sure that in following someone like David in this task, Uzzah meant well.

But it’s not about good intentions. Someone said once that “good” is the enemy of “best”. And since the Creator of the universe doesn’t make mistakes, we can only learn again from Uzzah - who we are more like than we would probably admit. What else could we need to build, to say or to do for God when He has already given – freely given to the ones that he loves, lavishly all things in Christ Jesus.

Monday, January 8, 2007

A People who Persevere

House Churches Are More Satisfying to
Attenders Than Are Conventional Churches

House churches are more likely than conventional churches to satisfy the needs and expectations of their participants. That’s one of the key results from this week’s Barna Update, which examines the house church phenomenon more closely. You’ll also discover what house churches typically do, who is involved, and how people immersed in a conventional church feel about house churches. To find out more, please just click here.

As we enter 2007 and come to the end of our first year of this (old) new way of being church, I was struck this morning in my reading of Genesis by the story of Noah and his persistence in following the vision given to him by God. It was a call that would take all his time, involve his family, and cause him to appear somewhat out of his mind to those around him. He spent 120 years building a ship in a place where there was no great body of water for hundreds of miles. He did so without doubting or objecting because he had learned to trust God through years of living in close fellowship with him - he was 500 years old after all!

John Calvin once said, "true knowledge of God is born out of obedience", not necessarily a popular concept today. We see the same idea in the recent book title of Eugene Peterson (author of The Message), 'A Long Obedience in the Same Direction'. This challenges our sound-bite culture, a culture that looks for instant gratification, where there is an appetite for religious experience but not necessarily for a long apprenticeship to Jesus for growth in true holiness.

Jesus' words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, reverberate around in my mind, "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matt 7:21). This of course is not meant to be a burdensome duty, but a joy-filled delight that reinforces and feeds our communion with the lover of our souls.

I pray for us all that this would be our pursuit in 2007, to know Christ, and for his joy to be in us and for our joy to be complete.