Mark Kelly

I've been wondering about stuff since 1975!

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:

Church

Before I became a Christian, I didn’t know what Church, represented by the local church, looked like at all. Maybe I had a vague impression, though to be honest, Church as far as I was concerned was just a typical church building, I didn’t even get into the theology of it being a people!

This is what I mean:

  • I knew church involved about singing hymns, but I had no idea we had this thing we call contemporary Christian music.
  • I knew the Bible existed obviously, but I didn’t realise there were a plethora of translations out there all trying to help us understand God’s Word better. I thought every Bible had a ton of ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and phrases like ‘sayeth the Lord’.
  • I thought that every minister had to wear a dog collar and didn’t know we could listen to some exciting, charismatic preachers … you know, like me!

When I started to discover more about the church, I remember being shocked to the core when I learned about this really odd thing called ‘speaking in tongues’. This was almost the first and final straw in my early tentative relationship with a real church community. “You bunch of cultish weirdos” was indeed a phrase that crossed my mind, but I somehow stopped it being said out loud.

I got over this shock eventually, through learning and understanding, but by most importantly getting to know that even though the people at my local church did this frankly bizarre thing, they were actually okay and I could have sensible conversations with them and feel genuinely accepted for maybe the first time in my life.

So I got to like this church, no love this church community (that is Freedom Church), despite my significant misgivings at the start.

Where would I be now? Who would be leading Freedom Church now, if I’d let my personal preference for something a bit more ‘normal’ be my primary decision making factor?

Instead, I let my love for Christ and the exciting life I knew He had planned for me be the thing that kept me connected. I quickly discovered very early in my Christian walk that there really isn’t a perfect church.

 

“If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all, and the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us. All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, give themselves to the Lord’s people … As I have already said, the church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s” Charles Spurgeon (sermon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, 5th April, 1891)

 

It’s incredibly easy to fall into a consumerist approach when it comes to committing to a local church.

  • Do I like the worship style?
  • Is the preaching entertaining enough?
  • Is that church down the street a better fit?

What we’re doing when we begin to ask questions like this is we’re allowing a secular market mindset to influence our spiritual lives and without realising it our faith becomes less about knowing and serving God, and more about finding a community that serves me and my desires.

As a slight aside, it’s actually okay to graciously challenge something you feel might not be right in your church community, but it’s not right to leave it just because you disagree with a few things.

If you’ve truly captured the heart of what it is to be a part of a church family, then just like a healthy family should, you talk about it, you share your heart and through that you may see change, which is for the better.

But on the flip side, sometimes, again like in a healthy family you’ve just got to go with what Mum and Dad have said. And that is especially true in a large church setting, where the family analogy can get stretched because with a large group of people, you’re always going to get those who don’t agree and you’d never move onto to actually doing something, you’d end up in an endless cycle of conversation.

In a local church, you have God positioned people with the gift of leadership that are to lead the people – that’s the Biblical model.

My main point is this: rather than us trying to form communities around our own preferences, we must allow ourselves to be formed by God and the people that He has positioned with us.

 

*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:

Church

What’s your vision of a perfect local church? Do you have, or could you easily develop a specific vision for your ideal church’s architecture, it’s membership requirements, the worship style, community life, and all that. Does any of what you’re thinking about look like the local church you may be attending right now?

I think we’ve all got an idea of what our ‘dream church’ looks like – even it’s just a vague impression with a few thoughts. There’s a good chance that your local church doesn’t tick all the boxes on your dream church list. In fact, your church probably does some things that are uncomfortable for you, they may even be people in it who you find a little ‘awkward’.

The Christian life – especially when it comes to being part of a local church community – can be full of discomfort and awkwardness, but God can and will use these challenges to help us get to know Him better.

Rather than attempting to find our dream church, I think we should embrace the uncomfortable and challenging parts of the Christian life – a life that by default means we are connected to others, and people can be awkward and in some cases downright peculiar. Maybe that’s because of something they do, or perhaps it’s a challenge they present to us by them just being them. This can be a good thing, however, and even though we might feel uncomfortable, ultimately it may help bring about maturity in us.

1 Peter 2:4-5, 9

4 So keep coming to Him who is the Living Stone – though He was rejected and discarded by men but chosen by God and is priceless in God’s sight. 

5 Come and be His “living stones” who are continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God. For now you serve as holy priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices that He readily accepts through Jesus Christ.

9 But you are God’s chosen treasure – priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience His marvellous light, and now He claims you as His very own. He did this so that you would broadcast His glorious wonders throughout the world.

The verses presented here are from a letter by Peter, and Peter is someone whom we can all have some sympathy with. Out of all the disciples, he seems to be the one that runs through the whole spectrum of human emotion, prone to making bad decisions and mistakes, but coming out the other side as one of the few who truly “knew” Jesus and the forgiveness offered to all of us.

Seriously, if you don’t know him, let me tell you that he denied Jesus a few times, in some circumstances he might be described as cowardly, but in other instances, very brave. He also had some anger issues and was quite impulsive. He attempted acts of faith, yet a number of times they ended in failure. And Jesus told him off a bunch of times.

Yet, here we have a guy who helped form much of the early Church, performed some miracles, and gave what might be the second best sermon in the Bible (after Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount) which Peter delivered on the day of Pentecost. A day that’s described by many as the birth of the Church. Jesus ultimately called him, His ‘rock’ someone who had resilience and stability. There is hope for us all!

Peter is writing to various churches that are experiencing different forms of persecution, and in these passages, he’s sharing what it really means to be the chosen people of God.

Just like Jesus was “the living Stone – rejected and discarded by humans but chosen by God and priceless”, Christians are called to be “living stones” that are “continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God. For now you serve as holy priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices that he readily accepts through Jesus Christ.”

(I love that idea that we are being continually assembled into a place that God can inhabit, like some kind of Heavenly Ikea, we are a flat-pack sanctuary! But just like Earthly Ikea flat-packs – we’re actually pretty easy to assemble, it’s just when we try to rush ahead or don’t read the instructions we can get confused and build something that’s not really what God intended.)

Peter is presenting an image of a community that’s focused entirely on Jesus. It’s a community that puts aside personal preferences, arguments, and comfort zones for the sake of becoming “living stones,” a house and a street of these houses – this community – where Holy Spirit can dwell and move amongst.

The entire purpose of this community, described as a holy or spiritual nation, is to “call people out of darkness to experience his marvellous light.” We are a people that God, “claims as his very own.” He did this, the Bible says “so that we would broadcast His glorious wonders throughout the world.”

It’s all about knowing God and worshipping Him as King. This is contradictory to a consumerist approach to the Christian community, which places our personal desires, for what we think the Church should be like, on the throne and tempts us to walk away from communities that don’t meet all our standards.

The reality, of course, is that the “dream church” we might long for and desire is a myth. It doesn’t exist. The reign of King Jesus, however, is real and eternal, and becoming “living stones” that are acceptable to God should be our ultimate aim.

*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: