Mark Kelly

I've been wondering about stuff since 1975!

What do you think of when you read or hear the word ‘mission’, what images come to your mind?

You might imagine small huts in remote jungles of South America or see a row of African woman wearing colourful robes, lined up for a photo – kind of like the ones we see on the news when they show us stock images over a story about tribal Africa. Or maybe when you hear the word ‘missions’, you see yourself filling in another offerings envelope at church!

For some of us, the word mission mighty just suggest a place that’s geographically far away from where we call home. Now, I believe, to a degree, that this imagining might be based on ways of thinking from some decades ago; and the reality is that we’re now a bit more savvy to what mission actually is. Possibly though, I might not be too far off the mark when I think that some of us in the Church jump to those images I listed above in our minds when we talk about mission and believe that, in fact, missions are really just something for the missionaries.

But missions – maybe best thought of as ‘living on mission for God’ – is not only for the few who leave or sell all their possessions and move to a faraway land. According to God’s Word, missions is for every believer. We don’t need to work in a church or travel to another country to be a missionary. Every Christian can and should be a missionary, regardless of our vocation or our location; everyone everywhere needs to hear the Gospel, that is the Good News of Jesus Christ.

14 But how will people call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how will they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher (messenger)? 15 And how will they preach unless they are commissioned and sent [for that purpose]? Just as it is written and forever remains written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” – ROMANS 10:14-15 (AMP)

In this Chapter of Romans, Paul, the author of this book, has been explaining to his readers the basics of salvation.

He gives us answers to questions we all have at some point:

  • What is salvation? Salvation is a right relationship with God by grace through faith (Romans 10:4–8). 
  • Who is salvation for? It’s for whoever will believe Jesus died and rose again and will confess Him as their Lord (Romans 10:9–13).
  • How can salvation be shared? Someone has to go tell people about the Gospel (Romans 10: 14).

In verse 14 Paul turns his theological discussion into an appeal to his readers, that’s those reading his letter back then, to us reading now.

He asks a simple, but profound question: How are people going to believe the Gospel if they never hear it? To believe it, they have to have the opportunity to hear it, and someone has to take it to them. In verse 14, the Greek word, ‘kérussó’ which has been translated into “preacher” literally means a “herald,” a “proclaimer”, or as it says in the Amplified version I quoted from, a “messenger”.

No one can hear a message without a messenger sharing it. All of us who are Christian are called to proclaim the Good News that we’ve seen and heard – and experienced – for ourselves. That’s every one of us, no exceptions, no timeouts, no comebacks, and no excuses! Our primary purpose, as believers, is to share Jesus with the world so other people can get to know Him too.

In the movie, Forrest Gump, there is a scene where Forrest and his platoon are under severe attack in a heavy combat zone. In this scene, you are shown Forrest repeatedly risking his own safety to save the lives of his friends, especially his good friend, Bubba.  No one could ever call Forrest selfish. Throughout the movie, we see Gump just giving what he had. In this clip (which you can find HERE) he risks his life to help those he cares about.

This is a very powerful illustration of how serious our task is in reaching those who are lost, those that through sin are metaphorically injured and dying – if not literally so. But like Forrest does with Bubba and his platoon, we’ve just got to keep going back into the war zone, back to save the lost kids that God loves, despite the cost to ourselves.

This is God’s purpose for keeping each one of us on Earth and not taking us immediately to be with Him in Heaven once we become His. Our mission is to keep going back to find our Bubbas and to share Jesus with them so they might be rescued from sin and into a relationship with God. We all have been given a mission by God to advance His Kingdom and get back His lost children.

Most of us will never become a world-renowned evangelist. 98% of us will never be called to full-time – salary reliant – vocational church ministry. But we are all called, to share whatever it is we do have: be a witness of Jesus and to testify of our own experience with the living God, to proclaim what we know is true in order to do our part in rescuing a fallen world.

God’s mission comes back to primarily using the local church to find the lost and advance His Kingdom. It says in verse 15 of Romans 10 that no one will go and share unless they are sent to do so. So who does the sending?

The answer is that it’s us, the local church, the ground-level operatives who live right here among the natives. It’s our job to send one another, to train one another, to encourage one another to keep getting up and going back out there. And to help one another discover our gifts and our unique ways of proclaiming the Good News, the news that has meant life or death for every one of us who believe. When we do, we will find that the ancient prophet quoted in the verse from Romans was right: we indeed have beautiful feet when we are running with a beautiful message.

Ballet dancers clearly pay a high price to be the best at their art. I’ve watched some videos online where the dancer’s feet are so worn, beaten, and to be frank, the toes look wholly bent out of shape. Professional dancers, I read, often refuse to let other people see their feet outside of the dance studio. All that suffering and preparation so that they gain mastery of the art of movement is pretty cool. I’m not a ballet fan, but I admire and respect the lengths they go to which enable them to perform their craft to an amazing degree.

Here’s a thought, maybe professional dancers have an alternative standard of beautiful feet – the more worn, the more battered, the more honour they feel they have brought to their performance.

God paid the ultimate expense – the life of His only Son – in order to achieve the restoration of His lost children to Himself. I think that we should also be willing to get our feet “messy” (by going and sharing the Good News). Messy feet are truly beautiful by God’s standard.

I love the statement a ballet dancer says at the end of THIS clip, “Dance with your heart and your feet will follow.” If we choose to love the lost like God loves them and if we allow our heart for the broken to line up with God’s heart, then our feet will follow, and we will want to do all we can to bring them into His Kingdom. There is a cost to living with God’s mission placed above our own selfishness.

Many Christians around the world put their lives at risk just by owning a Bible. For those in closed countries, such as Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Sudan for example, to share the Gospel with a neighbour might mean punishment, imprisonment or even death. At times, I think, some of us in the UK Church can get a little stressed when we feel that doing anything to reach the lost might risk our convenience, our comfort, or our ‘busy’ schedules. Our challenge, together, is to embrace God’s mission over our own selfishness and put aside our fears and distractions.

When I have stepped out I have discovered that the reward of partnering with God is worth the cost. On a personal level, I’m not sure I do this enough, and I want to do more. I hope we all recognise the same challenge – we can all do more. A Christian life is not primarily about us; it’s about God’s mission and that is scary, but it is selfless.

If you’re a Christian, can I ask you to take a moment to think back to your own salvation story?

When did you hear about God’s unrelenting love for you and the cost He paid to get you back? What if no one had gone out of his or her way to share the Gospel with you? Invited you to a local church gathering, or a small group. How would you have known about Jesus and how He gave his life in order for you to find yours? What would your life be like now had you never heard and, therefore never had an opportunity to believe

In your life and mine, someone must have let go of their “me” to make room for God’s mission. Someone must have let go of their “me” to teach or invite you to that Christian foundation class such as Alpha or Christianity Explored. To serve at that youth or community event you were at, to welcome you into their home for dinner, to pray with you in a time of need – and that was the entrance of your encounter with God.

We’re surrounded by people who are living without God, today. As believers, it’s our responsibility, our privilege, our calling to pray for them to be saved, to share with them, to invite them to a local church gathering, and to tell them our own testimony of a real God who really loves us.

You don’t have to be a professional in order to tell someone what Jesus has done for you.

Ask God to open your eyes to see the people around you in life who need to know Him, who need the hope that can only be found in Him. Start practising sharing your testimony with anyone who will hear it. Begin praying for those in your own family, in your workplace, in your neighbourhood who you know need the gift of salvation. Pray for God to give you an opportunity to share Jesus with them in a real way.

Then, take it when it comes.

“Go on a mission trip. Walk next door.” – Evangelist J John (Twitter post, November 2016)

John Wesley was the founder of what became the Methodist denomination. Initially, this group was called the ‘Holy Club’. People, like Wesley, who formed this club had became frustrated with aspects of the Church of England and wanted to reform parts of it. This ‘Holy Club’ soon developed the nickname “Methodists” because they were very intentional and methodical about their passion for, and the way they did, evangelism and discipleship.

The key to Methodism’s early success in sharing the gospel effectively and winning people to Christ was small group community.  Wesley discovered through trial and error that the most efficient way to see unbelievers and new believers become effective Christians was to have them meet together weekly in a small group of fellow believers with whom they would real-life accountability.

“Christianity is not a religion for solitude and solitary. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion,” (The Journal of John Wesley)*.

Unfortunately, we live in a British culture that in someways champions individualism and this has to a degree infected the Church too. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters have an emphasised personal relationship with God to the point some think that community, walking together in life-to-life accountability and encouragement, is optional. But intentional Christian community, I believe, is a non-negotiable part of being a healthy and productive believer. 

If we look at church as a place to just show up on a Sunday morning, to make an appearance and check off a box on church attendance, then we’re actually missing real church. The Christian faith life requires connecting to others in authentic community, not a come-and-go weekly practice.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews ‭10:19-25)‬

In the previous verses of chapter 10, the writer of Hebrews has explained why the sacrifice Jesus made is enough for us to be cleansed and forgiven. Because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, no other offering now needs to be made. God has declared our “sins and lawless acts” He will “remember no more” it says in verse 17. From verse 19, the writer is saying, we have a new-found confidence to draw near to God without fear.

For the first time in human history, humans can approach God’s presence without fear of death, which is the natural response of someone unholy being in the presence of the Holy One.  We are now made holy, and we’re able to be in God’s presence; all of this is because we have been forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross. From that moment we now get to have unhindered community with God, being fully known by Him and fully forgiven.

Not only can we “draw near” to God it says, but we draw near to God together, in relationship with each other as “brothers and sisters” because of this new way of being in God’s family through Jesus’s sacrifice. We are created to reflect the heavenly community of God, which is family, expressed in His Church and a vehicle for Kingdom advance.

Talking of vehicles, let me illustrate something by using the analogy of drive-in cinemas or drive-in theatres as they call them in the States. Now I’ve only ever seen these, ironically, in movies and I’ve never seen one the UK, so I’m really guessing at what they’re like.

I bet they feel like a completely different experience than watching a movie in a traditional cinema. At the drive-in, it seems, you bring your own snacks, stay in your own car, and enjoy the film without even having to say “excuse me” to another person in order to get to your seat. You could probably show up to the movie in your pyjamas, and no one would have to know. You’ve got the comfort and convenience of a little privacy.

So what’s my point?

Maybe some Christians would love a drive-in option for church (or in fact TV or an online ‘Church’) – don’t touch anyone, don’t talk to anyone, just watch the show in your pyjamas. I know that for some people, this is better than nothing and getting up and getting out is hard – and we need to find ways of staying connected. But that scenario isn’t typical and for most of us, we can make it to a church service or a small group.

Some people avoid community because they just don’t realise how beneficial it is. And some people avoid church for the same reason. Many of us at some point will have been hurt by other people, probably, unfortunately, and disappointingly, even by people in the Church.

Maybe we don’t want to risk that disappointment, that rejection, that pain again. It’s easier to remain distant, aloof, unknown. There’s a false sense of safety in obscurity. Even if we connect with Church, if we’re that way inclined, we want to just slip in and slip out on a Sunday morning, keep to ourselves.

Maybe it’s not hurt caused by other people, but we’ve got a sense of shame that we forget we don’t need to keep hold of when we have a relationship with Jesus. Despite the ‘shame’, we keep up a ‘good’ appearance; nobody has to find out about our rubbish, and thinking from that perspective we don’t have to find out anyone else’s, either.

Real relationships can be messy because they are made up of real people, genuinely connecting. It’s tempting to avoid real relationships and be satisfied with the fake ones – just saying a casual hello during the welcome at a Sunday service once a week.

But that’s not community, that’s not Church, and so that’s not family.

Authentic relationships require knowing one another on a genuine level, and that includes, in the Christian context at least, having relationships with some trustworthy believers who know our personal issues and struggles (and vice versa). Encouraging each other to become more like Jesus in real-life situations, and choosing to see one another as God sees us: through the finished work of Jesus.

As we draw near to God together and give each other the grace God gives us, we’ll be able to experience real community by drawing “near to God with a sincere heart” as it says in verse 22 and that’s the only way life change will happen.

In light of our newfound freedom, through Jesus’s blood, to be fully known, fully loved, and fully forgiven by God, we, as believers, have a responsibility: to help each other do this thing called life.

Because God is faithful to keep His promises to us, we must hold fast to our hope without wavering as it says in verse 23. Because God is faithful to love us, we mustn’t give up in loving each other. Jumping the ship of our relationships at the first sign of trouble, challenge or even a simple difference of opinion.

Not only should we choose to feel affection for one another, which is challenging enough, but we must also “think of ways to motivate one another” the New Living Translation of these verses suggests. We should absolutely, intentionally plot and plan and “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,” write the translators of the New American Standard version of the Bible of the same verse 24! Ultimately doing all this to live our lives faithfully for Christ.

The writer of Hebrews warns believers not to be duped into “giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing”. He’s warning us to not get sucked into that deceptive habit – and missing Church and church groups can become a habit – but to set a pattern instead of “encouraging one another,” as we realise how much we need each other to really walk our lives of faith.

The devil, it tells us in Scripture, is like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Check out this clip before reading on: Lions v Zebras!

The voiceover guys in the video said, the “first rule of the safari” is this: “always stay with the group!” The same rule, I think, applies to believers. If we become isolated, we weaken ourselves, and we become more vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. If we chose to isolate ourselves, not only will we be missing out on the encouragement that comes from doing life together, but we’ll very likely be robbing someone else of the support we could offer them.

We might choose to isolate ourselves for a number of reasons. Perhaps we are tempted to stay away from the church, to avoid accountability and true community because of the mess of real relationships.

Or perhaps our reason or, maybe we can even call it an “excuse”, starts off innocently enough. We might just want to spend a family day at home, to get a few things done. But it can, and here I want to emphasise it’s only a possibility (albeit a strong one) it can quickly landslide into a dangerous “habit.”. Not just of skipping out on a Sunday morning service or small group, but of altogether avoiding that iron-sharpening-iron kind of relationships that bring holiness, change, and victory into our daily lives (see Proverbs 27:17).

My experience over the last 11 years of leading a local church has shown me repeatedly as people step out of the routine of ‘doing church’, their faith walk decreases, and temptation takes over, leading them down a life path they may previously not have chosen. Not everyone admittedly, but enough to make me notice and be concerned when I see patterns develop.

But, there is good news, God is faithful, there is always a way back home. He understands that there’s a perseverance, a certain stick-to-it-ness, that is required to do life with humans. God has had his own barriers to real community with the human race. And yet, the good news tells us that His patient perseverance went to all lengths to annihilate those obstacles, at His high personal cost. Humanity has benefited immeasurably because of His enduring desire to draw near to us. If He had left us on our own, we’d likely have no hope for life on earth and much less for life in eternity.

If we leave one another on our own, if we settle for a superficial come-and-go church, we’ll be missing community and even more importantly, be missing the power of God through it.

Some of us might admit being attracted to the life of a desert monk – a person who just survives in isolation in some remote monastery, being holy all by their lonesome selves. And I’ll admit to you, I am tempted by this at times. I love my man-cave, and I like to 100% switch off from everything and everyone. But I recognise this is not how I should live my life, and I realise how much more vibrant it is when people are walking the same path with me.

Because, it’s relatively easy to be patient, loving, gentle, and kind when there are no other people around. When we’re on our own, or even with a small group that thinks exactly like us, our assessment of our personal holiness would probably skyrocket under such conditions.

But our Christlikeness would probably be quite limited.

Remember, God demonstrates community within Himself, between the Father, Son, and Spirit. How much more should we need community, spiritual family, to thrive? Our desire should always be to bring the culture of Heaven to Earth in a genuine and tangible way.

One of the ways in which we can help each other is by listening to the encouragement of not giving up in meeting together; we need each other! We’ve got to look for ways to encourage each other to keep pursuing righteousness, to keep running after our true inheritance as freed children of God, to spur one another on to live out real life, love, and good deeds.

We are truly better together.


*Wesley, John, and Elisabeth Jay. The journal of John Wesley: a selection. Oxford University Press, 1987

My first ten years of life were spent on an unusually quiet street in my city that had a dead end and in fact at that ‘end’ was a little roundabout. There was nothing I liked doing better than riding my bike up and down that street, and when I’d get to the roundabout, I’d peddle as fast as I could around it and try to get back up the ‘busy’ end as quickly as I could. My perception of cars as dangerous was non-existent such was the rare occurrence of any vehicle travelling fast enough on the road.

The bottom of that street, just after the roundabout and behind the houses, backed onto a wide vista of fields, growing all sorts of stuff, such as rhubarb and providing spaces for horses.

A long dirt path next to the fields went either one way to the John ‘O Gaunt area of Rothwell or, more importantly to me; the other way led to my cousin’s house. And being the youngest boy with two older sisters at that point, there was nothing better than messing about with my two male cousins. From making dens, pushing each other into nettle bushes, or climbing dangerously down a small, but deep, quarry that the field path eventually led. I didn’t spend a lot of time indoors during the afternoon after school.

But, here ‘s the rub – I can’t really remember what my home life was like.

I can remember the ‘big moments’ a little better, like at Christmas, going round to my Grandma and Grandad’s on Christmas Day and going round to my Nana’s on Boxing Day surrounded by relatives I only saw once a year.

But the detail of my early years is missing. To this day my childhood memory of family life is spotty, incomplete – the most I remember is when I was doing stuff on my own, entertaining myself.

What I do remember most vividly is that around sometime in my 10th year, my family and home life crumbled.

I remember shouting, maybe even violence to a degree. I remember tears and confusion. I remember my mother saying to my dad, “your son needs a hug”, and I remember a short hug almost reluctantly given. I remember the sad and resigned look on my mother’s face as she left the house and the front door closed behind her.

My once seemingly connected family was now broken, shattered, in pieces. And so my heart too. Family time soon meant visits to courtrooms, full of questions like “who you’d like to live with?” How can you ask a child that and expect a considered answer? I wanted to remain where I grew up, on that street, riding on that bike, playing in that den. So I initially, and surprisingly I stayed with my dad for a while. This familiarity gave me a sense of safety while everything else was falling apart.

I realised quickly, however, that my dad was not all that I’d never expected him to be. And I say ‘never’ on purpose, because it became apparent, as I grew matured quickly and became even more self-reliant, that I never really knew him at all. Memories come to me of him always walking ahead of the family whenever we went anywhere. My mother left to deal with three kids and their wants and needs, moans and whinges.

As I lived with my dad, I soon saw how he struggled with the everyday stuff. Work was hard for him, managing a household was hard for him, parenting children, on his own, was hard for him. As time went on, I eventually went to live with my mother and John who became my stepdad.

Family life changed again – first it had changed with the separation, then it altered once more as I left my dad’s care.

Soon family meant not spending too time on my own; family wasn’t trying to get by on one wage in a council house. Family, with my new ‘dad’,  became a large house, holidays abroad, good memories with new friends experiencing new places. My mother and stepdad worked hard with multiple successful businesses, but they enjoyed life too.

There were moments where my stepdad probably struggled to cope with three children suddenly thrust into his life, but on the whole, things were looking up. Even as my relationship with my dad became distant to eventually non-existent.

The ‘good times’ though, didn’t last. The new family unit stayed together, but money issues and bankruptcy reared their ugly heads. Holidays stopped, stress grew, and we swapped houses once again, from private to council house provision.

No natural dad, money tight, living in a place I certainly would not have chosen, hanging out with some people I would rather have not, making decisions that were not the best, and I consider myself fortunate not to have gone down a path of self-destruction.

However, despite all that life might have been tough, it wasn’t all bad from then on in. Like any family, we had moments of joy and times of sadness in different measurements. This is how my life stayed until I became an adult, this is what became normal for family to me throughout the remainder of my childhood.

My childhood wasn’t the best, but neither was it in any way the worst.

The big problem – particularly in my generation – broken homes gradually became the norm, even possibly expected. My generation witnessing, I think, the first wholesale change from how we regard marriage and its value to society.

A generation possibly with a painful view about what family is and maybe why we see so many of my generation choosing not to marry, not wanting to tie themselves up in such a deep, binding and emotional connection. And thus setting an example for the generations that have come after us about how we ‘do family’ in 21st Century Britain.

But this blog post isn’t about marriage; it’s about what we see as the value, the necessity and the absolute importance of Church and how we should view family within this context. What exists in Heaven is a family, and the Church should reflect this Heavenly culture.

A family, that despite its flaws and faults – it’s a family of imperfect people after all – wants the absolute best for one another.

A family that isn’t afraid to tackle any issues that arise amongst us, so that we can help each other become the best version of ourselves.

A family that celebrates difference rather than expecting everyone to be the same.

The bottom line is that Church is a family that loves God and isn’t afraid to love one another with the same passion and desire and commitment to one another as He does us – His Children.

I believe that the Church is God’s preferred vehicle to advance His Kingdom. And, probably, at times in the past, the Universal Church hasn’t been very good at working out this out in the best way – it hasn’t looked very much like a family.

For example during the crusades of around the 12th century, the Kingdom of God was viewed as political power, so the Church tried to force that to happen in kind on Earth. In the process killing lots of people and taking over land – they thought this was how the Kingdom would come.

In recent times the Church might be viewing the Kingdom of God as something that is a supernatural reality. Our aim to bring Heaven to Earth, so we see miracles, healing, salvation and so on. And this view of the Kingdom I can agree with, but we must never forget that the Kingdom of God is also family.

In Scripture, we read that we are part of a family called the household of faith (see Galatians 6:10). In 1 Timothy 5:1-2 that Paul says something interesting to his spiritual son, Timothy:

Do not sharply reprimand an older man, but appeal to him as [you would to] a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as sisters, in all purity [being careful to maintain appropriate relationships]. (1 Timothy 5:1-2 AMP)

Here’s why I find this interesting, and it’s not so much the words being used – as important as they are – but it’s the context the Paul is using. He is using the language of family, very carefully and deliberately. Every person within the Church is to be viewed as someone who is part of a family.

The way we view the Kingdom of God will determine how we operate within it. – DR. JONATHAN WELTON, NEW COVENANT LEADERS (BOOK)

In other words, if we view the Kingdom of God as something only as organisational, then as the Church we will act very differently than if we saw (and experienced) it as a family.

The Church isn’t an organisation, but it is a family that needs organising. – KATHI KELLY

If the Church is a family, then that means we need mothers and fathers to help lead it and organise it. We also need brothers willing to be an example to brothers and show the right way in thinking and action. Sisters, the same, ready to show what it means to be a powerful woman, but one that can still show love and care. Aunties and uncles prepared to step in for tired mum and dads, both naturally and in the Spirit, as we care for the family, both natural and spiritually adopted. Every generation working together for the good of the whole to see God’s Kingdom come and for the Church to do its part in bringing nearer the return of King Jesus.

“Be devoted to one another with [authentic] brotherly affection [as members of one family], give preference to one another in honor; never lagging behind in diligence; aglow in the Spirit, enthusiastically serving the Lord; constantly rejoicing in hope [because of our confidence in Christ], steadfast and patient in distress, devoted to prayer [continually seeking wisdom, guidance, and strength], contributing to the needs of God’s people, pursuing [the practice of] hospitality.” (Romans 12:10-13)

Are we as believers, especially within a local church family context, willing to serve one another? Are we ready to walk out the example that Jesus set at the last supper – washing one another’s feet, both metaphorically and even literally?

In other words, are we choosing to love with an open and affectionate heart, that is willing to be vulnerable, transparent?

Creating and maintaining a Heavenly, familial culture within the Church is so important in helping us learn how to love in a way that creates a space for mistakes without condemnation and a space that encourages and rewards success. When the local church comes together, we should have an atmosphere that is more like a family reunion than a corporate meeting.

Did you know that in Biblical times, such as when Paul and Timothy were alive it was normal for them to greet each other with a holy kiss? In fact, affection for one another was shown so much more demonstrably than it is in our culture today. Maybe a holy kiss is just a bit much right now, but there does exist, I believe, a massive chasm between what we see in our British culture – and in our churches – than what we see in Scripture when it comes to showing authentic emotion, love and care. To be a church that is also family we need to side with the Biblical example, regardless of culture outside the church.

What was it about this first century Church culture that enabled them to be so open with their affections and even to greet one another with that ‘holy kiss’?

A possible answer to that is, is that the early church lived under tremendous persecution, and when people gathered together, it was entirely legitimate to think that this might be the very last time they might see one another. Because of that affection was a priority.

It hurts to bring this up, but a good friend of mine died within the past year from cancer. As she was living her last days, there was no way I was withholding affection. In the final week, my wife and I visited her a number of times, and we held her hand, talked lovingly about her to her and kissed her on our goodbyes. The genuine and present reality changed how we were towards her. Not that we were not loving and caring before, but our affection multiplied as we realised these were her final moments on Earth. We look forward to the day we see her again.

I think that for some of us, maybe even most of us, it’s only in these kinds of moments do we show how we really feel. Perhaps it’s because we get too comfortable with one another, too blazé, too used to seeing each other that we forget we still need to show how much we care for each other?

Maybe our motivation for connecting at a deeper level fades as the years move on? Has the local church become more like a club than like a family, until those moments when we realise we really need our sister, our aunt, our cousin, our brother, our uncle, and importantly, our mum and dad?

Maybe this is how you feel.

I would like to encourage us to view local church as so much more than what I’ve just listed. We don’t need any external pressures to push us together as a family that genuinely cares.

We read in John 19:25-27 how much Jesus cared about His mum, but we also see just how much He cared about His disciples, who were far more to Him than only that, they were family.

“ … standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother’s sister [ Salome], Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. So Jesus, seeing His mother, and the disciple whom He loved (esteemed) standing near, said to His mother, “[Dear] woman, look, [here is] your son!” Then He said to the disciple (John), “Look! [here is] your mother [protect and provide for her]!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”‬ (John 19:25-27)

My wife and I, as leaders and elders of a local church, we want to be, and hope we have been, to the best of our ability and experience, loving parents. Not only to our kids but the church as a whole. We are here to serve, honour, lift up, equip, and even, if it comes to it, wash feet!

I find myself, as I write this post, crying, somewhat unexpectedly I might add. These emotions are rising from somewhere that I must have hidden deep down. But I shared some of my story at the start because I want to be an example of transparency and encouragement for us all to allow our real selves to come to the surface.

Let’s learn together, those of us in local church families, how to embrace, love and value people so much that we and others yet to be a part, genuinely feel valued and loved. That we feel like sons and daughters, who belong to a family – people who know who we are in God and understand how we fit together.

There is enormous potential in this.

If you think about the obvious: God relates to us as a Father and Christ relates to Him as a son and as our brother – amongst many other things! Through His Holy Spirit, we are enabled to make this family reality a daily experience.

“While He was still talking to the crowds, it happened that His mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, “Look! Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside asking to speak to You.” But Jesus replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples [and all His other followers], He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven [by believing in Me, and following Me] is My brother and sister and mother.”‬‬‬ (Matthew 12:46-50)

I think family is a foundational reality that the Church needs to inhabit before we can all experience true unity. We need to identify with those who are our spiritual family across many different expressions of Church.

So many people talk about unity, but they haven’t figured out family. – DR. JONATHAN WELTON, NEW COVENANT LEADERS (BOOK)

If we haven’t figured out family in the Church context then what does this create? Unity based purely on doctrinal agreements or city-wide pastors meetings?

Maybe it’s people attending meetings to show their face and are quite begrudgingly meeting together – they might not even like the people they’re meeting!

Unity starts with living like family, loving and valuing people so much that we stop fearing difference and embrace diversity.

There’s an Old Testament prophet call Habakkuk who’s name means ‘embrace’. To borrow another line from Dr Jonathan Welton, maybe we need more prophets who lead the way in affection and aren’t afraid to hug.

Could a hug lead us into unity and revival?

WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

In our modern, British culture there are so many definitions of what Church is, and even what it’s function is.

Church, depending on your view or bias is a powerful force for good, relevant today as it ever has been. Others view it as an outdated institution whose time is up, it needs to die for the advancement of a civilised and advanced society. Still others, within the Church, view certain expressions of Church as outside of God’s intent and speak negatively, or even nastily, of anyone who isn’t of their denomination or network.

In the Greek New Testament, we find that there are two words which are usually used for church.

Ekklesia is the first word we’ll examine. It has this definition: “summoned ones”, usually translated as “assembly” or “congregation”.

Ekklesia can refer to two things:

  • UNIVERSAL CHURCH (Ephesians 1:22-23).This is the Church to which every believer belongs. It’s worldwide and spans history.
  • LOCAL CHURCH (Romans 16:1, 1 Corinthians 1:2) You might call this the “on the ground” ekklesia. An expression of church in localities. As a Christian, you are, and should, belong to both.

Let’s see if we are able to understand better what ‘church’ is by looking at the original meaning of ekklesia. In the Septuagint (which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) it translates “ekklesia” from the word “qahal”, which means “to summon”. So in the original Hebraic sense, it means God’s people are called together by God, in order to: listen to – or act for – God.

In the days of classical Greece, ekklesia was a word in common use. And it referred to all the people who had the right of citizenship in Greece – you may have been living in the country, or even born in the country, but in those days that did not automatically mean you were a citizen with all the privileges that came with it, such as voting. For example, women and children weren’t allowed to vote, and slaves and foreigners were banned from participating in government, regardless of gender.

Being counted as a citizen took you to a different level.

These citizens would come together and direct the affairs of the city. Their powers were almost unlimited. They could declare war, organise treaties, elect generals. They were responsible for the conduct of all military operations. Basically, to be a part of the ekklesia meant a summons for every eligible person to come and to shoulder responsibility for the decisions made. With this information in our minds, like me, do you find it interesting that the translators chose to use this word when referencing God’s Church?

Could God – who I believe, through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit, directed the translation and the bringing together of Scripture – have in mind that His church should be moving in that same frame of reference? That God’s ekklesia should also be moving in power and authority directing the affairs of the world and really seeing His Kingdom rule come?

I really believe it does!

God‘s ekklesia is those He is summoning together to hear His word and do His will with the power He has provided. This might come as a surprise to some who see the Church as something weak and ineffective, whose societal influence has weakened in recent times.

I think It’s a call for us all not only to enjoy the privileges of belonging but to shoulder our responsibilities as well. The Church is God’s powerful vehicle of bringing in His kingdom – in fact, I would say it is His preferred vehicle through which this will happen.

We – as the Church – exist for Him!

God has, particularly over the last few decades it could be argued, restored the function of praise, faith, service, spiritual gifts and ministries to His Church. And I think the restoration is ever continuing as we begin to understand better that we come together as His Church to enable us to go out into all the world as an apostolic people, fully equipped, encouraged and giving our all.

Not everything that calls itself “church” is actually church. We’ve probably become too accustomed to the Church being thought of as anyone who attends a building on a Sunday, and even the building itself. This is particularly true from a secular point of view.  Before I became a Christian, I certainly thought of it like that! Church to me was a building with a tower and within it a man who only worked on a Sunday, dressed up with fancy socks and frocks and with smells and bells to match.

How wrong I was.

In God’s eyes – it’s actually people that make up His Church, but not all people.

I think as far as God’s concerned there are only two groups of people: those who have acknowledged Jesus as Lord and have received eternal life, and those who still remain in the Kingdom of darkness and are spiritually dead. These people may even, probably out of habit or obligation go to church on a regular basis. But “going to church” for these people, I’ve heard it said, is no more than dressing a corpse!

Let’s look at that second word that’s used for church: Koinonia (pronounced: Koin-OH-nia).

The definition of koinonia is “fellowship”. This word is one of the most beautiful words in the New Testament. It describes a partnership where people come together and share life. Fellowship is, at it’s most basic, referring to a strong togetherness.

We can further define koinonia, from fellowship and then to togetherness if we think about it in these three ways:

  • To have shared in something.     (A common experience)
  • To have a share in something.    (A common possession)
  • To want to share in something.   (A common objective)

God, having called us into His Church, wants us to live in close relationship with each other so that we might be a demonstration to the world of His excellent life.

Let’s delve a little deeper into these three statements:

a) Common Experience – To have shared in something

All those in the Church can come from backgrounds with varying degrees of difference, but the experience we all share is that we have accepted the free gift of eternal life that comes from knowing and receiving Jesus. This is something some folks call the ‘binding bond’ where we share our experience of Christ together. (You can read my thoughts on this ‘binding bond’ towards the end of this post.)

1 Corinthians 10:16 says: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (NIV)

So as we gather together as a local church weekly we are sharing a common experience of Jesus.

Jesus spoke of Himself as being the key, in fact, a lot of Biblical scholars would argue – and I think I would agree –  that Jesus was speaking about Himself as the rock on which the wider, universal Church would be built.

b) Common Possession – To have a share in something

In Acts 2:44 it says: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (NIV)

Here’s a thing to point out – this doesn’t mean that they lived communally, but it’s actually that they were willing to make available to each other whatever they had. They had a vested interest in each other’s welfare. They applied this principle materially and spiritually.

“From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16 NIV)

(Also see: 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, 1 Corinthians 14:1)

c) Common Objective – To want to share in something

If we reflect back to the use of the word “church” in Classical Greek, I asked us to consider that the Church is meant to be a very powerful fighting force.

We have a common objective – to advance the kingdom and hasten the coming back of The King.

This is practically worked out by the following:

1) We participate (there’s that word again!) in the Gospel. 1 Philippians 1:5-7 “…because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

We should be a witness of the Good News of Jesus Christ ourselves, but just as importantly encourage and support our brothers and sisters in their efforts to work this out – and remembering in particular those who have given over the lives to ‘living by the Gospel’ – by this I mean they don’t have another ‘job’ to fall back on.

We can be this support by:

  • Praying – (Colossians 4:3) “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.” (NIV)
  • Giving – (2 Corinthians 8:9) “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (NIV)
  • Going – (Matthew 9:37-38) “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (NIV)

Our common objective – to advance the kingdom and hasten the coming back of The King is also worked out practically by:

2) Supplying in the local church the following:

  • Our presence – (Hebrews 10:24-25) “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (NIV) 
  • Our selves with our time, our gifts and our talents – (Romans 12:1-2) “Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you].” (AMP) 
  • Our money – (Malachi 3:8-12) “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings [you have withheld]. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, this whole nation! Bring all the tithes (the tenth) into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you [so great] a blessing until there is no more room to receive it. Then I will rebuke the devourer (insects, plague) for your sake and he will not destroy the fruits of the ground, nor will your vine in the field drop its grapes [before harvest],” says the LORD of hosts. “All nations shall call you happy and blessed, for you shall be a land of delight,” says the LORD of hosts.” (AMP) 
  • Our faith – (1 Thessalonians 1:8a) “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere….”(NIV)

Let me now write about this ‘Binding Bond’ that I mentioned earlier, which has the condition of togetherness embedded within it.

This condition of togetherness within the Church – particularly, the local church – I think would naturally be impossible. People in the Church are from all kinds of backgrounds and for some, if it wasn’t for Christ and His Church expressed in the local, would never have met.

There are many things that could pull apart our togetherness. Let’s face it, the devil has a good go – he’s called the accuser of brethren (brothers and sisters) but in many places, it seems that he doesn’t even have to bother because foolish Christians do the job for him! The only army where they shoot their own soldiers on purpose is an expression that comes to mind.

But here’s the rub, the Church of Jesus Christ is not a natural structure it is, in fact, supernatural, and it’s established on the promises of God – a covenant that God has made with us. Again and again, the Bible emphasises the “covenant” nature of God. Covenant is an important word; it means at its simplest a “binding contract between two parties”. The covenant that we have with God is amazing because He instigated it. There was nothing that we could offer Him in the deal, yet He chose to give to us. This covenant has been established through the blood of Christ – it’s a blood covenant. Covenants nearly always include conditions that have to be met by each party. The covenant that God has made with us is filled with precious promises:

They include:

  • Forgiveness of sins
  • Healing
  • Provision
  • Protection
  • Presence

We equally we keep covenant with God:

  • Being faithful to Him
  • Abiding by His law – which is one of love
  • Fulfilling our service
  • AND importantly – Keeping Covenant with each other.

Some Christians can see the Church as remote from the world around them. They might view it a safe haven from an unpleasant world. Their first consideration is always whether or not the church is meeting their own needs. Yet, as I hope you’ve got from reading this, the church was never brought to birth by God for defensive purposes. It was initiated by Him for advance.

To repeat a sentence I wrote above: I believe God’s Church – which is expressed through the local – is the primary vehicle for advancing God’s Kingdom.

It’s a nursery school, a college and a family firm that births, equips and trains God’s people to play their role in changing the world, and seeing His rightful rule come. It carries with it righteousness and justice!

“Instead, let justice roll on like a mighty river and integrity flow like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24 (J.B. Phillips)

The Church consists of a people that are part of a covenant community and should have a relationship with a living local church expression of the Universal Church.

The Church belongs to God, and as His people, we should allow Him to have His way with us.

The Church is not dying and ‘going away’, but will go from strength to strength, until His Kingdom covers the Earth, Christ has returned and is united with His Bride!

 

“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another – showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬ MSG)

 

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we find Paul talking with his spiritual son and disciple Timothy. By this point in history, the New Testament hadn’t been fully formed so Paul would be referring primarily to the Old Testament, but nevertheless, these sentences have made their way to us two thousand years later and so, without doubt, we can read our New Testament stories and place them with equal importance to the old.

The Bible tells us that it is inspired, it is in fact, God-breathed.

The words appear in our Bible because God breathed them out of His mouth. The Almighty, The Creator of all that we see and don’t see, spoke these words in being.

A lot of other Bible translations use the word, ‘inspired’ and not ‘God-breathed’. ‘Inspired’ can be defined as: something of extraordinary quality, something that: rises from something external and creative. So although written down by human beings, the Word of God that we hold in our hands is ultimately something that has come from an external source and one that is infinitely creative! God has motivated hands to move and to write, and by the Holy Spirit, whispered words formed in the deep mystery of God into minds that have transmuted these words from one another, to leaf, to parchment, to paper – and today, into digital format.

When we really take in from whom the source of the words come, when we have a revelation that what we have is God speaking to us, our reading of the Bible becomes a very different, very important, and very serious exercise. We can know practicalities of its formation, the length of time it covers (which is thousands of years), and the councils that decreed what’s in and what’s out, but ultimately, by faith, we trust that God has guided and directed the content of the book that we should hold so dear and that every word has meaning and purpose. The Bible is a book with stories set in historic times and places, but with morals and messages that are timeless and without borders. So, if we accept that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that both the Old and the New have genuine lessons to teach us and stories to encourage us, what do we do with that?

Well, I think that the Bible helps us work out our salvation.

Now, please note the next sentence clearly: When we give our lives to Christ, when we submit to Him fully and completely, we are undoubtedly saved and Heaven at some point is our eternal destination. But at this present time, we live in a fallen world, where the Kingdom of Darkness still has a hold, a place where we still find temptation and sin crouching at our door and it is a daily battle to keep it at bay. Yes, we have the Holy Spirit living within us to help us know right from wrong, but even then we can choose not to listen to that inner voice and find ourselves stumbling on an otherwise righteous path.

The Bible helps us in our process of sanctification – our living out of our lives as beings who are doing their best to be more and more Christ-like.

Read again what Paul said to Timothy, he said that: “Scripture is useful one way or another – showing us the Truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word, we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.”

Reading the Word of God and not just reading about the Word of God is so important. If we just read someone else’s thoughts on what the Bible says, we’re not necessarily reading Truth, we could be just reading someone’s opinion. And if we just read McNuggets of Scripture as our only way of digesting God’s Word, we can become bloated and fat, full of Word, able to regurgitate Scripture, but not able to place it in context and therefore not getting the all-rounded goodness that it has to offer.

The bottom line of what we need to do is read the Word of God, regularly, as a priority, and try to gain as much context for what we’re reading (or indeed listening to) as possible. And this means actually understanding not just the word context, the paragraph, the chapter, the letter or book, but learning to ask the correct questions as to what is it we’re reading, what was the culture in which it was written, who was the person writing it and to whom were they writing?

We are living in an age where we are spoiled with information. It only takes a couple of clicks or a few taps to discover something new about almost anything and everything. Even though we can sometimes deride the truth behind internet stories, we can also be sure of having access to some amazing resources that are verifiable and true. This means that if we want to ask those questions I’ve just stated of a particular book or letter, there are websites available that can give cultural and geographical context, as well as studies for whatever we are reading from Scripture without jeopardizing our own thoughts and personal Holy Spirit revelation.

Just a couple of those online resources which I rely quite heavily on are: Biblehub.com or Biblegateway.com. And to really get into reading the Bible on a regular basis, why not sign up to a free account with Bible.com? You can choose one of their hundreds of different Bible plans, focusing on The Bible In One Year, or less, plans.

Think how powerful the Church would be in both word and deed if we were all honest with ourselves about how much of the Bible we read regularly, and we made a commitment from this day onwards to knuckle down and give God’s Word a higher priority?

Think how powerful the Church would be in both word and deed if we read the Bible together, challenging one another to think outside the box of church tradition, encompass context, and put in the effort to research as a group goal – such as in small groups?

Think how powerful the Church would be if we recognised the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through, combined with the equipping of God’s inspired written word. It says in The Message translation of 2 Timothy 3:17: “Through His Word we are brought together, and through agreement on foundational truths, we are shaped together ready for whatever God asks us to do.

If we choose to dream of a Church that embraces a commitment to reading His Word I think we would grow bolder in our evangelism. We would love more genuinely in our relationships with one another as we hold one another to His Word with grace and truth. We would see a more defined difference between the Kingdom of Darkness and the Kingdom of Light which would enable us to tackle issues of the hour with confidence and a calm principled stance. We would find our voice in a world that so desperately needs to hear it, a voice of love and acceptance and a voice of power and wisdom.

If as Church we make a pledge to read His Word, and by His Spirit, ask for fresh revelation of what God is saying I think it would powerfully change us. I think we would find our purposes together, we’d be a people group with a greater level of wisdom and a greater faith for the miraculous, a people of divine patience, and a people who would show love to each other and those outside of the church despite whatever we might have to endure.

And the reason I think that is because the Bible tells me so.

In 2 Timothy 3:10 Paul says this: “But you, Timothy, certainly know what I teach, and how I live, and what my purpose in my life is. You know my faith, may patience, my love, and my endurance.”

Paul clearly had a respect and a love for the Word of God so much so that it leapt from the pages and all that he learned inhabited his soul. Knowing the Word changed not just his theology or his opinion, but it had a very real effect of who he was and how he lived his life.God’s Word is not just there to gain information … it’s here for our transformation!

God’s Word is not just there to gain information … it’s here for our transformation!

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

The Bible is an amazing and inspired collection of books and letters given to us from God to help us live righteously and to equip us to help advance the Kingdom of God with a desire to bring Heaven to Earth.

The problem is, if I can be honest with you for a moment, is that I struggle to live up to the standards that I read about in Scripture and so can become quite fearful of reading the words contained therein. And because of this fear, I become unable to defend the word of God adequately enough. This then means that when I’m challenged by theological thinkers telling me what their own interpretation of what the Bible says, I’m not equipped to deal with the challenge or, indeed, affirm the point. Subsequently, I can find myself shrinking back from giving a bold confident statement because I’m unsure whether it’s filled with Biblical truth or has been filtered and diluted through fear and anxiety, becoming distorted in this process and ultimately unhelpful. So my answers to the Scriptural challenges turn into ‘nodding-head’ actions, or I even rush to ask another question rather than give a faithful answer. This becomes just another peg placed into the ground on a communal ‘journey’ where no answers are wrong and no answers are correct. It’s a place where finding another question to ask is more agreeable than together finding answers.

Here’s another thing that happens quite easily: I find it more desirable to read books about the Bible than to actually read the Bible. What happens then is I become emboldened by someone else’s view for a while, only to be equally pulled in sometimes the almost opposite direction by the next trendy Christian book or funky, popular communicator. I end up confused, thought-exhausted and less encouraged to go and read the Bible. Now, it seems, I need others to interpret for me using words that sound eloquent and deep. It’s like I’ve become excited about the idea of an idea without knowing what the original idea was or whether it was any good.

I don’t think I’m alone in all this. In fact, I know for certain I’m not. The power and influence of social media has shown me people knocked back and forth between competing ideas, ideologies, and theologies. I read the posts and see the nature of them change from one year to the next.

Statistics tell us that over 1 billion people are active in just a 24-hour period on Facebook alone – over 1 billion opinions which filter, and pressure, people into one camp or the next. Intense online arguments happen regularly, despite the fact that everyone knows that no-one ever really changes their mind based on a scrolling post that takes five minutes to reach the bottom of. In this online world, we really want to plant our flag, show people the colour of our real thoughts. We even sometimes hide behind a post we really mean, but we present it in a way that suggests we are playing the ‘devils advocate’ (unfortunate phrase!).

We are pressured by political correctness to say the right thing, but actually, more often than not, we don’t say anything knowing we are really against the popular Zeitgeist. We’re fearful of being hurt, fearful of being accused of something or, most markedly, fearful of rejection, especially from our friends, even if those friends have never shown any attitude towards to you to say they could or would!

We see this in the real world too.

Consider this: We have ever-widening circles of being able to share honestly with people. With those right at the centre of these friendship circles, we share openly and without restraint knowing that these people, maybe our partners or best friends, are very unlikely to reject us. But as we widen the circle we begin to hide more and more aspects of ourselves, until we reach the very outer circle where we share very little, but, through a desire to be accepted by the larger community, we simply give almost imperceptible nods of agreement to things we’re not actually sure about or even suggest nothing at all.

Once again we ask more questions than give answers.

This is the modern culturally accepted way of ‘doing things’. We place that peg I mentioned earlier, down once more on our mutual path of discovery which we find just leads us to a massive echo chamber of identical thoughts and statements.

I have run a number of groups over that last ten years of being part of the leadership team at Freedom Church and without question – and I say this without judgment, only as a fact to present to you – the thing that folks felt the most challenged with was reading their Bibles either regularly or even at all. So you see, I’m not just voicing my opinion on how we Christians approach our Holy Scripture – it’s something I’ve seen over and over again. Wonderfully honest, fantastic people have opened their hearts to me over the years to share what a struggle it is to read the Bible.

So where does this leave us as Christians, a group of people caught up in this landscape of shifting sands, where one decade to the next we find Biblical truth eroding in popular culture, yet we sometimes have no response because we don’t know enough to respond.

Explosions of self-help books are evident in the world seeking answers from other sources. Even within the Christian community, we have a plethora of books waiting to help us find the ‘real you’ in Christ. And amongst all of this, we rely less and less on the inspired word of God to guide us and direct us. We find ourselves in a world, both inside and outside the church, where the word of God has McNuggets of wisdom, but the larger meal of context seems so hard to stomach. We live in a world where the acceptance of the word of God as truth is refuted constantly and knowledge of Scripture is at its lowest point.

Before I publish part two of this short series and try to give an answer and a way forward for how we handle all this, please consider this verse from 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another – showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬ MSG)

Let’s talk about stories.

Our salvation story isn’t just about the moment of deliverance through Jesus Christ. It isn’t about repeating that moment over and over as if the brilliance of it will somehow bring others to Christ. In a few circumstances maybe a dramatic testimony will. However, I think the biggest impression on those around us (other than a spiritual ‘slam-dunk’ by the Holy Spirit) will be the genuineness of our story and those people seeing the reality of Christ in our lives.

I remember once, before I became a Christian, having a lengthy conversation with my girlfriend at the time about her church and their use of the gifts of the Spirit. Out of nowhere came this, what seemed then an extraordinary conversation, about ‘speaking in tongues‘. I remember thinking that I’d stepped into a cult and very seriously thought about ending the relationship there and then. (I didn’t, and she – Kathi – became my wife, and I now have three amazing kids as well.)

Why did I react so badly to the idea of this particular gift of the Spirit? I don’t think the answer to this question had anything to do with speaking in tongues. It was more the fact that speaking in tongues, along with other things of a charismatic nature, had blown away my long held assumptions of what Christianity is, and what church should be like. Before this conversation my biggest impression of the church, though false, was this: white men in white frocks chanting like monks with the occasional liturgical phrase thrown in. (To be honest, I didn’t even know the word ‘liturgical’ meant!)
What I thought about church back then was probably quite similar to what a lot of people who haven’t grown up around ‘church’ have. The only time they ever attend church is for marriages, christenings and funerals (hatch, match, dispatch) with the occasional Christmas and Easter service thrown in every few years. Some folks may even only know Jesus as a swear word.

Our stories, therefore, must go before and beyond the salvation moment in our lives. What were we like before? Where do the connections with the person to whom you’re sharing your story appear, can they relate? Who are you now? What difference has Jesus made, and can this difference be seen in the ‘non-verbal’ part of your story? Has your life genuinely changed or is the curse of hypocrisy evident? Hypocrisy is the biggest complaint thrown at the church and, quite justifiably, stops people taking Christianity seriously. The only way to combat this is for our lives to line up with our words.
So if you are a Christian, where are you sharing your story? Have you even thought about your story? Why not take the time to consider the journey you are on? You may even find that as you form your story in your mind that there are indeed things that don’t line up with what you say, and this self-examination may help rectify the disconnect.

Our story of faith needs to be something we all can share with confidence and humbleness. Jesus commanded us to ‘make disciples of all nations‘ and if we don’t open our mouths and help others begin their own journey how will we ever be able to fulfil this command?