How do I know what to do when…? A simple suggestion for moral dilemmas.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/media/inline/how-your-moral-decisions-shaped-by-mood_1.jpgIt is hard to be holy in this day and age or to even know what ‘being holy’ looks like.  Everyday we face choices and decisions that are far more grey than obviously right or wrong.  So how do we know what to do?

How do we know what to do when we want to stand up for our colleagues but don’t want to lie about their mistakes?

How do we know what to do when we don’t want to judge our friends, but neither do we condone everything they do?

How do we know what to do when we want to pursue a career using our God given gifts, but we’re asked to compromise on the way?

Compromise is the key word.  Rarely are we faced with obvious, cut and dry moral dilemmas.  We’re unlikely to be asked to murder someone or steal something just like that.  Rather we’ll be asked to fudge the edges of the law, take a tiny step towards the line but not necessarily cross it, to do something that makes us feel uncomfortable but we’re not 100% sure why.

Here’s an example that arose from a recent conversation: is it ok for Christian artists to use nudity in their art?

Surely Christians are called to be pure and to live as examples of that purity steering away from the lewdness that can so readily saturate the world we live in.  The idea of a Christian we know painting something explicit, for example, can be shocking.  Yet can it ever be the case that just such a shock is needed to get an important point across?  I remember the anecdote of a well known Christian speaker swearing during an address and then challenging his hearers: “You care more that I just used the word **** than that thousands of children are dying around the world as we speak”.  What if a painting was drawn that exposed the denigration of women in our society or championed the rights of those who suffer from domestic abuse?

It’s pretty murky waters don’t you think?  Yet I want to be bold enough to suggest a simple rule for any Christian trying to get a handle on how to navigate the moral grey we find ourselves in.  It’s a rule taken from the apostle Paul writing about similarly grey areas of his own day…

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

How do I know what to do?  By asking myself not just “would God mind?”, but “can I actually do this for God?  On His behalf, in His name?”

We have to realise that ‘Christian’ doesn’t just denote something we do at the weekends, it is a term that defines the entirety of who we are and so qualifies everything we do.  I am not a Christian, a lawyer, a son, an Englishman, and a student (fill in the list as appropriate to you).  Rather, I am a Christian lawyer, a Christian son, a Christian Englishman, a Christian student.  Whatever I do and wherever I am, I do it and I am there carrying the name of Christ.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51bC2APLFLL.jpgAn example to elucidate the point.  Vincent Donovan, a Christian anthropologist, studied an indigenous tribe (the Masai) in east Africa and wrote about it in his book Christianity Rediscovered.  It is actually his report of a neighbouring tribe that I want to share.  This tribe were a dancing people, every aspect of life was accompanied by different dances.  Once they believed in Jesus, the eucharist became a huge celebration and one accompanied by dance.  Yet it began to shape their approach to every part of life.  They discovered that there were some dances they simply could not perform at the eucharist – it wasn’t right to dance like that in such a remarkable moment of unity with Christ.  But they recognised that if they could not perform a dance at the eucharist, then they couldn’t perform it at all. The eucharist was not just something they did, it was an expression of a relationship that defined who they were.  They were people of the eucharist.  They were Christian.

http://www.irisglobal.org/gallery/gal/24%20June%202010/IMG_8408.jpg

The same goes for us, for every Christian in every place across this earth.  We are defined by our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s a relationship that doesn’t stop once we leave the church building but remains in every aspect of life.  Think of the main aspect of your worship whatever churchmanship you’re from: taking communion, sung worship, prayer

ministry, whatever it is.  Now, every time you want to know what to do ask yourself this: could I do this for God, in His name, and in that place of worship?

So, whatever you do, whether in business, media, religion, education, politics, healthcare, family, or art, do it all for the glory of God in the light of the eucharist.

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Back from Bethel! Reflections on an inspiring church.

http://www.ibethel.org/It has been a while since I last posted, for which I am truly sorry!  The last 6 weeks have been hectic with large events, moving house, and right in the middle a trip to visit Bethel Church in Redding, California.  This has been a hugely privileged time in which I have learnt a lot and God has done much in me.  I’m still processing all that’s happened and thought I would share some of that with you.

We were in Redding for 10 days and we packed a lot in!  We were in about 6 services across the two weekend, went to the healing rooms, received some ‘Sozo’ ministry, attended a 3 day ‘Leaders Advance’ conference, and spent time with some incredible people.

Why did we go?  About 5 years ago I came across Bill Johnson, the Senior Pastor of Bethel, at a conference in the UK.  Not just his teaching, but the way that God moved in me during that conference made a lasting impression.  Unbeknown to me at the time, my current vicar was at the same conference and was similarly impacted.  Since then we have learnt a lot from the leadership of Bethel and have found their church to carry the same heart and vision as we do here in Loughton.

http://i1177.photobucket.com/albums/x356/vision4you/Peace-hand-heart-light.jpgWhat heart and vision?  To develop a culture as a church family that expects and makes room for God to move and carrying on moving – a culture that fosters revival.  There are numerous examples in history (both ancient and recent) of God moving powerfully in a community or nation that sees that place transformed, but all too often these last for a number of years and then stop as, through familiarity, people try to take control. We want to be a people who will not stifle, control or restrict a move of God, people whom He can trust.

Bethel have travelled the journey for about 20 years longer than we have.  We went to see the culture, to be inspired, to catch what cannot simply be taught, and above all to meet with God in a fresh way.

So what did we see?  There is an incredible sense of the presence of God and a seeming never ending stream of instances where He has done something incredible.  At every gathering stories were shared of miraculous healings, provision, people finding Jesus, or other incredible things.  These weren’t stories from ‘the good old days’ but from that week, day or even that meeting.  If ‘revival’ describes a move of God that brings transformation, miracles and turns hearts to Him (and I’m aware this is a much debated definition!), then revival has begun in Redding.  Yet rather than being an abnormal occurence running against the grain of the church’s life, or even an overflow of their ministry and actions, it is a desired reality that the church is shaping itself around and seeking to cultivate and press into.

http://christchurchjebelali.com/wp-content/uploads/baptism2.jpgOne beautiful moment was at a baptism service on the final night.  A middle-aged woman became a Christian during the service, went up to be baptised, and in the baptism tank began to see in colour for the first time in her life!  She was healed, not by a ‘big name’ intensely praying, but by her Father God who simply poured out His love on her in response to her coming to Him.  The look on her face will happily remain with me for a long time!

I could (and may well) write a host of posts about this next question, but I’m going to point to some headlines right now: what did we learn?

  1. The foundational, all encompassing distinctive mark and focus of the culture at Bethel is a confidence in and desire to reciprocate and experience the love of God.  This is not a community of people trying to hype things up, force something to  happen, or make a name for themselves.  This is a community of people convinced that Father God loves them, enjoys them and wants to bless them and His world.  There is an overwhelming confidence in the goodness of God.
  2. Flowing from this is an expectancy that God will move and a desire to love others.  Although intercession takes place and miracles are happening, there is no attitude of ‘we’ll prove that our God is better than yours’ or ‘we’ll demonstrate just how wrong you are about everything you believe’.  Rather the attitude is ‘God loves you, has made you incredible, and we want you to realise just how good both you and He are’.
  3. The natural consequences of this kind of view are wonderful to experience:
  • http://lilliemcferrin.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Colluding-in-Joy.jpgThere is great joy as people enjoy God and one another!
  • There is a desire to encourage, build up and celebrate one another.  I didn’t hear a single word of complaint about anything in all the time I was there.  Rather, I continuously encountered people wanting to encourage me, share a prophetic word, or just enjoy time with me.
  • In this place of love, there is still room to mourn together in the tough situations, but this comes with and brings hope because God is with us in every moment and He is always good.

There is far more I could write.  What I’ve put here I haven’t doctored for readers who may have a totally different belief system than me.  I’m well aware things I take for granted may seem crazy to others.  But I wanted to share things from my perspective, as I see them.  I would love to hear your comments and reflections!

Is Jesus Enough?

http://dobbse.net/thinair/2004/05/finger-pointing.gifThe challenge of preaching is that your preaching is challenging.  They say that when you point the finger there are four pointing back at you (or at least 3 fingers and a thumb!).  When you stand with a microphone and the responsibility to voice what God is wanting to say to that group of people on that evening through that particular passage – then every word you utter resonates straight back in your heart too.  At least I hope and pray that it will never be otherwise!

On Sunday I preached a message that hit me with a challenge that will resonate for some time to come.  This isn’t a comment on the quality of the preach, but rather the significance of the word God gave me to speak.  You can listen to it here, but this is the crux….Is Jesus enough?  Just Him, not what He brings, gives or is able to do, but simply Him?  Whether we understand or not, even when the way he seems to act (or fail to do so) offends our sense of what he should do…is he still enough?

My text was John 6:25-40 – a conversation including Jesus’ famous declaration that “I am the bread of life!”  But what struck me is how this conversation is Jesus returning to the crowd he withdrew from at the start of the chapter in order to give them another chance to invite him in.

http://www.beliefnet.com/Prayables/Scripture/Loaves-and-Fishes.aspxYou see, the chapter starts with the feeding of the 5,000.  There is a crowd of thousands in a remote place and hungry.  So Jesus feeds them with a little boy’s packed lunch.  Jesus isn’t just generous and offers to buy everyone dinner, he does something totally beyond, something utterly unexpected.  Jesus doesn’t play by the rules we play by, he doesn’t even bend them slightly, rather it’s like he’s playing a totally different game.

Yet the crowd miss the point.  Confronted with a miracle that’s meant to be a sign, to be evidence of who Jesus is, they miss the invitation to receive Jesus and they simply see the free lunch.  They search around for some concept within their understanding of life with which to label Jesus.  They call him the ‘Prophet’ they’re expecting – not God himself come in human form – and then they try to control.  We read that they wanted to sieze Jesus and make him King.  So Jesus withdrew.

You see Jesus didn’t come to help us play the game of life better, to live a better life.  He came to give us a new life, to bring us into a new game, to enable us to live by different rules – where God himself is with us, our Father, our faithful provider.  Yet so often when we experience something of God’s power or an answer to prayer, we focus on the gift not the Giver, we seek to maintain life as we know it and simply add God on top.  We tame God with a label we understand and seek to control.  Jesus withdraws.

http://revbickers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/e100-bible-reading-challenge-miracles_3.htmlThe very next event is another miracle.  The disciples are in a boat in the middle of the lake and a storm has arisen.  Jesus doesn’t just swim out like a hero to help them, he walks on the water towards them.  He plays by different rules.  The disciples are terrified, but all they need is Jesus to say ‘It is I’ and they invite him into the boat.  They don’t wait for a deeper explanation, to understand fully, to know what to do.  All they need is to know it is Jesus and they invite him in.  We’re told that immediately they reached the other side.  By inviting Jesus in they find themselves playing the other game, His game, with different rules.

The conversation Jesus has is him giving the crowd another opportunity.  He challenges them to lift their eyes from ‘food that spoils’ and to see the ‘food that lasts to eternal life’ right in front of them.  He explains that the only work they do is to believe in and receive Jesus.  To let Jesus in.  When they ask for a sign his message is simple – you’ve seen enough already – I’m here.  God himself has come in human form and stands in front of you – you’ve seen enough to know I’m good – all that remains is to invite me in.

I’m challenged.  How many times have I seen God move, experienced incredible provision, seen physical healing, known emotional change in my own heart?  And yet I’ve quickly focused on that provision not the Provider.  I’ve wanted Jesus so long as he continues to do what he has always done.  I’ve gained some understanding of how God works and I’m happy for Him to do so within those boundaries…but I don’t want anything that disrupts my grasp on how life works, on how God works.

Sometimes when it seems that God has stopped doing what He once did the issue is that we’ve started to control, to focus on that particular provision, to limit what God is allowed to do in our lives.  We’ve focussed on gift not Giver and so the Giver withdraws.  The incredible news is that He’ll always give us another chance – but are we open to the conversation?  To the challenge of our understanding and priorities that centers on the one simple question: is Jesus enough?  If we had nothing else, if He ceased to do all that we’ve known Him do before, if He gave us only himself – is Jesus enough?

The disciples amaze me.  After many have left because the conversation was so offensive, Jesus asks if they are leaving too.  They reply: ‘To whom would we go?”  These men left everything before they saw a single miracle, simply at the invitation to ‘come follow me’.  They’ve gone so far that it doesn’t matter if they understand or not, if they like it or not, they have nowhere else to go but where Jesus is.  I want to be in that place, to say ‘Jesus, you are enough, more than enough, no matter what – all I want is you.’

How about you?