Mark Kelly

I've been wondering about stuff since 1975!

A grandmother was busy making tea in the kitchen and needed a can of tomato soup, her house was old, and she still had a pantry where she kept food and other non-perishables, so she asked her 5-year-old grandson to go into this pantry and get her one. The pantry was just out of the kitchen and under the stairs. But the light in the pantry was out, and he didn’t really want to go. “It’s dark in there, and I’m scared.” he said.
 
She asked again, and her grandson repeated his no, a bit more firmly this time, but with growing fear. Being a good Christian woman she encouraged her grandson, “It’s okay darling, Jesus will be in there with you.”
 
So, the little boy walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. Looking inside, he decided it really was too dark, and so he closed the old, wooden creaking door and started walking away when a thought hit him.
 
He ventured back to the pantry and with a little more confidence and hearing his grandma’s words ringing in his ears, he peeked again inside and called out, “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you get me a can of tomato soup?”
 
Let’s talk a little bit about Halloween!
 
Did you know that Halloween was actually celebrated hundreds of years before the birth of Christ? The Celtic nations observed a festival they called Samhain (pronounced: sow-en) which fell on what eventually became October 31st. But unlike today’s Halloween, the Celts didn’t ‘celebrate’ it as a holiday.
 
You see, the Celtic New Year began at the start of November. The autumn harvest had come to a close and winter was just around the corner. At this time of year the Celts knew that the power of the sun was fading and for the next several months, darkness would prevail. For the Celts, this impending darkness was a scary time. Nature became cold and dark, and in their eyes – in the coldest of the darkest night – lifeless.
 
But there was something even scarier for them than merely wondering whether there was going to be enough food to survive. For the Celts, there was a something like an invisible curtain that separated the living from the dead. And they believed, at this time of the year, that that curtain was at its thinnest. On the evening of October 31st, they believed that evil spirits and souls of the dead would pass through this curtain, this barrier, and enter the world of the living. And when they crossed over, they would torment the living. Crops would be destroyed, babies stolen and farm animals killed.
 
To appease these ‘dead spirits’, various sacrifices, which could include human sacrifices in some cases, were performed by the Celts. A portion of what little food they had was also left out for the spirits, hoping that this “treat” would prevent an evil “trick.”
 
When you boil all this down to its most basic component, you find something really quite simple: Halloween came about because people are instinctively afraid of the dark.
 
We don’t like darkness. We’ve spent most of our human existence trying to get rid of it, first fire then eventually electrical lights. Darkness – literal and metaphorical – is a time when life becomes uncertain and even scary.
 
But here’s the immensely encouraging bit – Knowing that darkness has this kind of effect on people, the Christian God, through His Word, has made repeated promises:
 
The book of Isaiah from the Bible tells us that the reason the Messiah (Jesus) was being sent, was to “open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS.” (Isaiah 42:7)
 
In the Gospel of Matthew (quoting Isaiah) he tells us that: You who spend your days SHROUDED IN DARKNESS can now say, “We have seen a brilliant Light.” And those who live in the dark shadow land of death can now say, “The Dawning Light arises on us.” (Matthew 4:16)
 
Jesus Himself declared: “I am light to the world and those who embrace me will experience life-giving light, and they will never WALK IN DARKNESS.” (John 8:12) And “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that all who trust in me will no longer WANDER IN DARKNESS.” (John 12:46)
 
Some time ago there was an atheist from the U.S. who gained some fame by trying to ‘sell his soul’ on eBay. Some local churches reached out to him after reading about it and asked him to come and share why he was an atheist. I don’t know whether he ultimately found Jesus, but after one such visit, he’s quoted as saying this:
 
“At one church I visited, some people were asked to write down how they felt before and after becoming Christians. They said things like ’dark and light’, ‘lonely and befriended,’ which got me wondering: Is being down, or lonely, or desperate, a prerequisite to finding God? Do these people think that others who have not yet found God are lost, scared or miserable? Do I have to go through some sort of trauma or crisis before finding ultimate meaning?”
 
What our atheist in this story didn’t understand was that many people who become Christians do so because they’ve actually seen how dark and lonely life can get. People become Christians because they’ve recognised sin and darkness in themselves and see the light of Christ as the best, and indeed only, way out.
 
We can’t successfully have a satisfying relationship with God when we live out lives in the darkness of guilt and shame. The dark stain of our past sins will always prevent us from having a close relationship with Jesus.
 
On our own, we’re unable to remove sin from our lives, but amazingly God did this for us. He came down in the form of a man and gave Himself up for every wrong thing we’ve ever done. He died on a cross and rose from the dead to give us life and enable us to live in the light.
 
John 1:4 tells us that: Life came into being because of Him (Jesus), for His life is light for all humanity.
 
In Acts chapter 9 there is a description of a confrontation between Jesus and the Saul (who became the Apostle Paul and wrote a lot of the New Testament). In the telling of this story, we find that God literally lunged Saul into darkness:
 
Just outside the city, a brilliant light flashing from heaven suddenly exploded all around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a booming voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
 
5–7 The men accompanying Saul were stunned and speechless, for they heard a heavenly voice but could see no one.
 
Saul replied, “Who are you, Lord?”
 
“I am Jesus, the Victorious, the one you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you are to do.”
 
8 Saul stood to his feet, and even though his eyes were open he could see nothing – he was blind. So the men had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus. 9 For three days he didn’t eat or drink and couldn’t see a thing. (Acts 9:4-8)
 
For three days Paul waited in Damascus – blind, fearful, and praying for all he was worth. He knew that he’d sinned against the Messiah that his people had waited for for generations. He was afraid of punishment, he was afraid even for his very salvation. Then a man named Ananias – sent by Jesus – came to him. And when Ananias laid his hands on Paul, it says that ‘something like scales’ fell from his eyes and he could see. Ananias reinforced the commission Jesus had given 3 days earlier, and when he’d told Paul all this, Ananias said firmly: “So now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised, and wash away your sins as you call upon His name.” (Acts 22:16)
 
Paul wrote later in his life to the Christians at Philippi: “Live a cheerful life, without complaining or division among yourselves. 15 For then you will be seen as innocent, faultless, and pure children of God, even though you live in the midst of a brutal and perverse culture. For you will appear among them as shining lights in the universe, 16 offering them the words of eternal life. I haven’t laboured among you for nothing, for your lives are the fruit of my ministry and will be my glorious boast at the unveiling of Christ!” (Philippians 2:14-16)
 
Paul was telling the guys in Philippi that is was their job as Christians to “…appear among them as shining lights in the universe, offering them (people of the world) the words of eternal life.”
 
Of course, Jesus had already told us that.
 
He said: “Your lives light up the world. Let others see your light from a distance, for how can you hide a city that stands on a hilltop? 15 And who would light a lamp and then hide it in an obscure place? Instead, it’s placed where everyone in the house can benefit from its light. 16 So don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others, so that the commendable things you do will shine as light upon them, and then they will give their praise to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
 
So how do we do that? How do we let our light shine? How do we “offer words of eternal life,” to people still in darkness? God has given us a job to do. He’s not going to do the whole thing for us. It’s ours to do. He desires us to help others understand what they’re missing without Jesus.
 
Here’s an interesting thought: Paul was not saved on the road to Damascus. He was saved in Damascus when Ananias did his job and obeyed Jesus – when he went to talk to Paul.
 
Acts 22:16 tells us up to that point, Paul’s sins had not yet been washed away. Ananias said: “So now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised, and wash away your sins as you call upon his name.”
 
Paul’s salvation could be said to hinge on Ananias doing what God asked him to do. God had sent Ananias to Paul to lift him out of his blindness. God sends believers out to others to help them out of their blindness – to help guide them out of darkness.
 
When we (Christians) talk to people about Jesus, God doesn’t expect us to do it all by ourselves. Holy Spirit is working behind the scenes to change their hearts. Jesus had already worked on the Apostle Paul’s heart long before Ananias showed up.
 
In the same way, Jesus tells us that one of the main jobs of the Holy Spirit is to expose sin (John 16:8). God’s Spirit works behind the scenes to soften the hearts of those we talk to. We pray – and prayer should be at the start and at the heart of all that believers do – and as we pray and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are confident that God is (and has been) working behind the scenes to help us do what He’s asked us to do.
 
If, like me, you’re a believer, that we need to tell people why we are Christians. We need to tell them what’s so important about Jesus that we’re willing to build our lives around Him. Why we would sacrifice so much of our time to worship Him and honour Him!
 
This story of Paul’s conversion is recorded three times in Acts. The first time, it’s merely a fact of church history. The other two times – Paul is telling people why his life was changed. He had a life-altering confrontation with Jesus, and he wanted others to know about it.
 
If you’re a Christian, your story might be about why you were baptised into Christ (why you became a Christian to begin with), or it might be about something that has happened since then that has made God even more real to you.
 
We could have a powerful worship service every Sunday at the church where I lead (Freedom Church in Leeds, come and visit us if you’re in the area!). The singing will be inspirational. The prayers touch our hearts. The preaching might even bring us to our knees in repentance. And the fellowship will be outstanding.
 
But we can’t really class anything as successful until we’re indeed convicted of the need to help open the eyes of our neighbours, friends and family and help them in their journey from darkness to light. From the power of Satan to the power of God. By placing their faith in Jesus where they will receive the total forgiveness of sins and be made holy, taking hold of the inheritance that He gives to His children! (Adapted from Acts 26:18)
 
That’s a significant part of what God called us to do. If we fail in this responsibility, a lot of people will spend their lives – their eternal lives – in a very dark and uncertain place.
 
God blinded Apostle Paul for those three days as a lesson. He intended this physical blindness to drive home the spiritual blindness that had symbolised Paul’s life to that point. And that object lesson was so powerful that Paul later wrote: “Yet I was captured by grace, so that Jesus Christ could display through me the outpouring of His Spirit as a pattern to be seen for all those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
 
Because of that blindness, for the rest of his life, Paul understood that he had been brought out of darkness into light, from the power of satan to God, and that he had received forgiveness … and a place in God’s family.
 
On Halloween, don’t shutter your home, don’t ignore the knocks on the door. Buy some sweets and welcome people with a big smile and bright eyes. Take the opportunity to be the light in the darkness. Let your story shine. Take opportunities to share your faith when conversations about Halloween inevitably come up.
 
And one final thing … don’t be scared of the dark!

Question Mark

From a very early point in my life, I realised the power of asking questions. Why? Because more often than not I got answers! My favourite kind of book that I asked for as a gift for birthdays and Christmas was the kind that often had something like this as a title – ‘1000 Answers to 1000 Questions’. Asking questions gave me answers to life’s little puzzles. Why do we not spin off the Earth if it’s moving so fast? Why is the Sun hot? What are toenails made from? Why do we cry? Why was I born ginger?

I was the boy that always asked the questions, that seemingly everyone else around me was too embarrassed to ask because they thought it was a stupid question. But, I learned, the only stupid question is the one never asked. 

Asking questions without fear or hesitation enabled me to move on with what I was doing or planning to do. Asking questions didn’t make me a bookworm (though I love books), it didn’t make me an academic (though I like to learn). Asking questions actually created a person of action. And so I went on to discover that if I wanted to get stuff done not only did I have to not shy away from asking questions, but actually I had learned to ask the right questions. The one appropriate for that moment. The question that would quickly get to the bottom of the issue, the question that landed the plane, the question that enabled me to move on.

However, even writing all that, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like discussion, that I don’t want to get stuck into a good debate throwing opinions and facts about like confetti, seeing what pattern they make when they land. But ultimately, it is all for a purpose, to advance, to move forward, to further the mission, to execute the plan, to get the job done. In other words, I like to take the initiative, start digging the hole, while those around me are still talking about what type of spade to use.

I want to encourage people I influence that they can be a people of action and independent thought. By taking the initiative, they can change their city, their nation and the world in so many excellent and fruitful ways. There are many contemporary Christians who have, asked questions, listened to God’s reply, took a risk, used their initiative and have impacted the Church and society:

  • John Kirkby took the initiative in creating something that now helps thousands of people every year across the world become free of debt starting Christians Against Poverty. Incidentally, this was founded in 1996 in Bradford, Yorkshire.
  • The Alpha Course since its humble beginnings in 1971 has literally helped bring millions to faith in Christ. And although we honour those who came before him, Nick Gumbel grabbed the initiative after being asked by Sandy Miller of Holy Trinity Brompton in 1990, to grow the course into the faith-based juggernaut it is today!
  • The Trussell Trust organisation is a charity based firmly on Christian principles. The Trust began its work helping the homeless children of Bulgaria find a safe place to sleep. Soon after Carol & Paddy Henderson, who founded the Trust and named it after Carol’s mother, took the initiative and brought principles of the Trust to the UK and began to work out of their back garden shed helping to store food and deliver food to those in need. Thus the Foodbank was born.

  • In war-torn Korea in 1952, God moved the heart of Everett Swanson to take the initiative to help the orphans of that country, so the seed of what would become the organisation Compassion was born. An organisation which over time has helped at least 1.8 million children from 25 different countries have a future filled with hope, which has enabled them to support their families, their communities and their nations.

There are so many, many more people I could mention, over so many many different ministries and organisation big and small, some not even well known, just going about their business doing God’s work after taking the initiative to do what they felt called to do.

It’s worth saying at this point that as a Christian without the prompting or assurance of the Holy Spirit, sometimes our initiative might take us off on a path that isn’t so good for us. So when taking the initiative, we need to make sure that our motives line up with the values of God’s Word and exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit. Without this, we might find ourselves rationalising all sorts of excuses for what we are doing – as someone wrote we might, “find ourselves running blindly into oblivion.”

And then there might is the opposite of all that, and we come up with all sorts of reasons not to take the initiative and do something. Our excuses keep us from giving our best, fear of change keeps us in a proverbial jungle of worry and despair. If we’re ever feeling like this, let’s take encouragement and challenge from Scripture and not what we see around us. For example in Ephesians 5 and part of verse 8 and verse 14 it says:

“…Your mission is to live as children flooded with his revelation-light! And the supernatural fruits of his light will be seen in you – goodness, righteousness, and truth…” (Verse 8)

“…Scripture says, “Arise, you sleeper! Rise up from your coffin and the Anointed One will shine his light into you!” (Verse 14)

Here are  some questions to help us process how we are to handle how to be a person who takes the initiative:

  1. How do I exhibit initiative in my daily life?
  2. What can I do to develop a better attitude of taking the lead with initiative?
  3. What blocks initiative from working and being exhibited within me?
  4. How can I learn how to still take the initiative, function better, stronger, and indeed faster, even in times of uncertainty and stress?

When we develop within us a character that is able to take the initiative, it will help us power through setbacks, failures, adversities, persecution, opposition, injustice, ingratitude, and get over the favourite excuse, “we have never done it this way.”

And it is worth noting that we don’t all need to be the leader to use our initiative. And in fact, as someone who is generally leading the activity or strategy, there is nothing more fulfilling or makes my heart fly, when a volunteer (or employee) takes the initiative in presenting an idea and who then goes on to work out that idea.

So we don’t always need to be the leader, as Christians, it’s as much about motivating yourself to grasp what Christ has in store for you. It’s the moving of yourself and using your ingenuity to serve. We, ultimately can’t make a stand for Him or move for Him, if we don’t rise up and get off the sofa. Making a move and getting on with the life Christ has given us.

One final question: What is it that God has spoken to you about being or doing in this present season where you need to take a step out in faith and take the initiative so that you bring glory to God and make His name known?

 

*This blog post is based upon a series I delivered in July 2018 at Freedom Church, entitled: ‘Something for Nothing? (Initiative)’. You can find the video for this here: 

Team Jesus

In years gone by, I’ve generally been the first person to jump into a team building game. You know the kind, ”We need all 15 of you to get from this side of the room to the other, you can’t touch the floor, you have use of only three drinking straws and a cup, GO!”

I’d give it a few seconds to let others start suggesting ideas, and in the silence that generally follows while the thinkers are thinking, I’d begin to giving orders as to how we might get the task done. I’d rarely have an endpoint in sight – I just needed to get this team rolling!

My interpretation of being a team player was to lead from the front, take action, motivate and encourage. You might think this is good, but I knew that to get my idea as the preferred one, I’d have to cajole, manipulate and ultimately try and control the situation. Here’s the thing though: Whenever you start to manage people, use clever arguments to get your way, or split hairs with the words people use, you’re on a path that leads to somewhere that isn’t wholly honest and in no way righteous or good – no matter how jovial and team-spirited you might appear.

The organisers of such team building days, generally just saw the outcome and saw that it was good. Mission accomplished, the team successfully made it across the imaginary, shark-infested waters. In most companies, the result is what’s important; there’s still a dog-eat-dog competitive spirit in a lot of businesses. We see this in shows like ‘The Apprentice’, albeit this is edited at times to show the worst of people, but you know … no smoke without fire. The attitude to use, abuse and undermine others to help oneself scramble to the ‘top’ is the accepted modus operandi!

Now, despite all that I have written here, I probably wasn’t as bad as all that. I did genuinely try to leave space for others to speak and share ideas, but if they didn’t line up with mine, even roughly, I’d use carefully considered words, and play on emotions to get something near to my way.

In my early work life I was mostly viewed as a good ‘team player’ – as far as my bosses at the time were concerned, I was in fact regarded as a natural leader of teams. But the way I went about trying to work out what the bosses wanted and manipulate the ‘game’ to that end wasn’t righteous, and indeed not based on the love of Christ. But back then I didn’t know Jesus, and I thought, on the whole, I was a good person.

I think that maybe a lot of us struggle to understand what it means to work as a team, possibly even in the local church, where we operate primarily as a team full of volunteers. On the surface, we might play well together, but unless we have the love of Christ flowing through to our actions and affecting our decision making, we too can fall prey to looking good but have no authenticity and genuine care for how the team is doing as a whole.

As Christians, when we have the love of Christ flowing through us our team is one where everyone cares about the other, and we work for the common cause of our united mission – to enlarge the Church, extend God’s Kingdom rule over creation and see people come to Christ, free at last from worry and burden.

The pioneers of the early church were people, men in fact, with weaknesses and shortcomings. It’s fascinating that Jesus picked those that most people would never have considered for the important role of founding or starting the early church.

The fact is that we’re all on a journey of change. But the fact that we still have some character flaws and weaknesses doesn’t mean we are doomed to failure. We can do great things for God, we can get to where God is taking us as long as we genuinely desire to become more like Jesus.

How did Jesus handle the weaknesses or imperfections of His team members? Firstly, He didn’t wait until they were perfect before He chose them or started using them. Yes, it says in Matthew 5:48, that Jesus tells us we are perfect, it also says that we are TO BE perfect like our Father in Heaven – which in my mind suggest two things: Firstly, this is how Jesus is choosing to see us, choosing to deal with us in this context. But secondly, this is not as we are now, but as we are going to be, as we are becoming. In other words, if we use the Greek word instead: teleios, we use a word that also means maturity, rounded, whole, to be complete as God is. God does not say one thing and thinks another; God does not pretend compassion while really not caring at all. God is sincere, whole, and wholehearted – and we should be too.

Each of us has a seed in us, a potential, skill, gift, experience that can enlarge the Church and do our part in advancing the Kingdom of God. But if we drawback, hide our gift, or bury our gift we actually limit the enlargement the Church can experience.

Growth comes when each of us plays our role, gives our very best, gives our full support. Talents are increased when they were put to use (have a read of Matthew chapter 25 from verse 14 to see what I mean). The church can’t really grow and enlarge to its fullest capacity if we’re holding back and not utilising what God has put in us.

Our value is shown in how we work well together as a team, in how we help to build up the Church so that it looks and acts more like Jesus!

 

*This blog post is based on part #2 of a sermon series – ‘Something for Nothing?’ delivered by me at Freedom Church in May 2018. You can view this sermon here:

Red paperclip with white paperclips

“Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in His eyes.” (Romans 12:2)

Our hearts are not meant to seek after or engage in the sinful activities this world promotes. Our number one desire should be to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, transforming our thoughts, transforming our minds, transforming our hearts – and as we do so we become passionate about what He’s passionate about.

Being in the world, but not of it, means we have the opportunity to bring light to people who are in spiritual darkness. We are expected to live in a way that shows there is something “different” about us. Maybe we need to do a daily check:

  • Am I obviously different from the world?
  • How much of my life, is really that different to those who do not follow Jesus?
  • Does my life show that I am different because of my relationship with God?

We know that there are some fantastic people out there, doing good, helping change the world, but their difference doesn’t lead people to Jesus. And that is the point of our lives – to point people to Him.

Paul’s message to the Romans is unequivocal: Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world. Be different, show off your changed heart. Make every effort to live, think and act like a person who knows Jesus, as a person who has been saved, as a person who seeks to bring honour and glory to God!

 

This post is an excerpt from my latest sermon – ‘Something for Nothing?’, that I recently delivered at Freedom Church (May 2018). You can view the full sermon here:

Argument

Do you have someone whom you look up to and appreciate their input into your life? How much does it suck when you discover you don’t see eye to eye on a few things, especially when these things are important and even close to your heart?

Now, I think we can all happily get along even knowing we might have different tastes in TV or movies (for example, I’m more Star Trek than Star Wars!) We are allowed to have different tastes and we’ll get on fine won’t we? We might have the occasional humorous dig, but generally, this isn’t something to fall out over. We might even have a different political persuasion and we can still, just about, get on? Admittedly, political ideologies can be pretty ingrained, so this might not always mean we both come out of an occasional disagreement smelling of roses.

But, when we find out that our faith-based beliefs and how we interpret the Holy Scriptures differ, depending on how fundamental the disagreement is, we can find ourselves on entirely different shores. We can sometimes even dismantle the bridge and start shouting theology at one another over the expanse.

It can be difficult to understand how others can think differently when it comes to Scripture, we find that we’re reading the same words, but coming to different conclusions about what is being communicated. Context is king as they say, and depending on the context that we place around the words we’re reading, this can lead to a preferred or desired outcome. I would argue very strongly that no-one comes to Scripture without some bias, even our choice of Bible translation has some built-in bias depending on the group that have released it. If ever there is a case for reading multiple versions and not favouring one over the other it is this one. The more versions we read, the more rounded our understanding becomes, but, even despite this, we still have a bias, no matter how neutral we try to be.

Someone once said to me, that trying to understand what God is saying through the Bible using purely English translations is like trying to kiss your wife through a glass window! We can see that it’s there, but without removing the barrier of language, we’ll never discover the nuances and connect with what it is trying to communicate. This is why not only is it important to read many translations, it is also important to try and reference the original language and context.

And this is where we run into more problems because some people just don’t do that or only ever pay a fleeting visit to an online concordance. I’ve heard many a loud and convincing argument that has left me floored and beaten, only to realise later that the case presented was based on one translation and a prefered reading.

I’ve personally been challenged on a couple of theological points recently. I discovered that some individuals whom I appreciate and honour have opposing conclusions about these points. I look one way and I’m convinced in one theological direction, yet I look the other way, and I find myself to be vigorously challenged and nearly persuaded. As my metaphorical limbs ached from being pulled in two directions, I was reminded of a verse in Ephesians where we are encouraged not be “blown here and there by every wind of teaching”. This bit of Scripture does go on to say not to be deceived by unscrupulous men, so I’m (somewhat ironically considering the nature of this post) taking it out of context. I don’t think for a minute that the individuals involved are being deceitful, but the anxiety about which way I should go bothered me much. Jesus Himself implores us not to be lukewarm Christians, which I take to mean someone wanting to sit placidly in the middle, not really expressing an opinion and therefore not making a significant impact for the Kingdom of God!

My wife came up with the wisest solution I think, she simply said to go with the conviction of my heart, a conviction instilled by the Holy Spirit. In other words, pick a theological side and go with it. Now with this comes reading the Scriptures for myself, using the methods and tools I’ve previously mentioned. I don’t think this is going to mess with my salvation; I believe I’m still going to Heaven. The two points I was challenged by are not foundational fundamentals – i.e. Jesus is the Son of God, He is God, and He is the only way to the Father. They are important, but, I don’t think eternally significant. I’m happy to meet Jesus and have Him tell me, maybe I should have backed the other horse (I’m not saying Jesus is into gambling, that’s a discussion for another day).

So for now, I’ve made my choices, and I’m running with those. This will indeed affect how I lead our local church, which does mean people will hear one theological position rather than the other. I realise that there is a domino effect as it spreads from the teaching and preaching both from the pulpit and discipleship. But I’m okay with that, knowing that as I equip and challenge, encourage and empower, I am enabling others to think for themselves and ultimately come to their own conclusions which … may differ from mine.

Church

John 12:25

25 “The person who loves his life and pampers himself will miss true life! But the one who detaches his life from this world and abandons himself to Me, will find true life and enjoy it forever!

In this passage from Scripture, Jesus is telling the crowd that following Him requires dying to ourselves or as it says in The Passion Translation, they must “detach themselves from their life.” These are challenging, countercultural, and seemingly not very comforting words! In fact, Jesus may have lost the crowd after this sermon!

What Jesus is saying is that if you love the comforts of this life above all else, you’ll miss out on the comforts of eternal life in Heaven. This life is not all there is, and we as believers especially, need to live with that eternal perspective in mind.

What idols are we placing in front of Jesus. When you get asked the question: What do you want to do in life? Do you ever simply say, “live for Jesus”. I’m not sure that’s always at the forefront of my mind – what about you?

It’s not a question to make you feel guilty, but one where I’d like to challenge our thinking about where is Jesus when we consider ourselves. Is He at the heart of all we do, all the decisions we make? Is His desire for you to be a part of His body, represented by the local church, something that we place any importance on?

Is money your idol – needing to see as many zeros as you can on your play-slip? Is your hobby your idol, where meeting your friends or doing that thing, takes precedence over attending regularly or serving in church?

In and of themselves, neither of those things I’ve listed are wrong, of course they’re not! Making money is a great thing and I pray that every single one of you has what you need and more so you can enjoy it and bless others. Hobbies are great, and we need places and times to relax and enjoy what we love.

But the question is: Do they distract or pull us away from Jesus and church community? Because we can’t always do what we want if it’s in the way of embracing Jesus and living out our life according to His ways.

 

“Following Christ is not one’s golden ticket to a western culture dream. It’s an invitation to die, to pick up a cross.” – Brett McCracken (Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community. Crossway, 2017.)

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” – C.S. Lewis (“Answers to Questions on Christianity,” God in the Dock, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970)

 

What McCracken and Lewis are both getting at in these quotes, is that it’s easy to find basic happiness and comfort, but living the Christian life and being part of a church community requires making sacrifices that may feel uncomfortable, but ultimately will help us to become more like Jesus. It’s a trade-off that’s always worth it.

And here’s what I think that trade-off is:

I mentioned in an earlier post that my personal preference for very nearly not wanting to be with a bunch of people that have a different perspective of what being a Christian is almost drove me away from committing to the local church – that is, Freedom Church (the church I presently lead). I thought ‘speaking in tongues’ was something we probably shouldn’t do and that preference could have made me walk away.

I think this is a surface level preference and one amongst many consumeristic choices that stop us from committing because we’re determined to find the perfect church, or rather the church that suits our needs.

But there’s a deeper level, one that involves us choosing to be vulnerable and to be authentic, and this is the one that scares us, it’s not just a personal preference. It scares us because to commit to a local church at this level demands that we allow others into our heart, and as we let others into our hearts, we reveal our less-than-perfect nature. Our outer shell has been broken and people can peer inside.

The trade-off for this access is fantastic though. As we let people in, we allow ourselves to be authentic, and this relieves so much pressure to perform and to pretend. We can finally relax and be who God has made us to be and become who Jesus has seen that we can be, just like the impulsive Peter from the Bible that I mentioned in a previous post in this series.

When we stop running from people and embrace people with all their idiosyncrasies, we become a happier and more joyful people. Sure, as humans, there’s a risk of hurt, of rejection even. There’s a quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson which I believe is applicable in this case: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” There’s always a chance that people will hurt us if we let them in and maybe even stuff to lose, but if we let other Christian brothers and sisters in there is so much more to gain.

At this point, let me remind you that there is, in fact, one person that we can let in fully and know that He will never reject us, or forsake us and His name is Jesus.

The Church, represented through the local church, is the Body of Christ. We are connected to the head which is Christ, and if we all genuinely desire to become more like Him, then our chance of hurt and rejection from other parts in the body become less and less and indeed should be pretty much impossible. For example: How can an eye reject a head, or a hand reject a finger, We are all hugely important to the whole, and together, accepting one another, along with the Holy Spirit we can achieve anything!

What if we gave up the “dream church”?

What if we stopped trying to find fault with our Christian community and instead embraced the discomfort?

In order to know God and be known well, and deeply loved by His people, we must reject the consumerist church-hunting mindset and encourage others to do so. We need to lay down our personal preferences and enter into the awkwardness of being part of a community that actually needs more than just our Sunday attendance.

Ultimately we all need to die to our own desires – just like Jesus did.

 

*This series of blog posts are based on a sermon series delieverd by me at Freedom Church in March 2018. In turn, this series is based on a book: Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken. You can view part #1 of the sermon series below: