Me or We?

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Someone else gets healed. They tell their story. It’s brilliant. But I’m still ill.

Someone else gets a financial miracle. God’s provision for them is amazing. But my finances still feel too tight.

Someone else gets engaged. They seem so happy. But I’m still waiting for Mrs or Mr Right.

Someone else has a friend who they help lead to Christ. It’s a wonderful story. But none of my friends seem interested.

Someone else. It always someone else. Not me. That’s how it feels to many.

What do I do, when it feels like that?

One option is to reduce my vision of God. I make him smaller. ‘I’ll believe in a more ‘ordinary’ God. A less powerful version of God. A God who doesn’t intervene. I know the bible portrays him as the God who changes lives but that’s not always my story – so I’ll trust my experience.’ This is a REDUCTIONIST response – I reduce my view of God.

Another response is to decide that God avoids me. ‘God doesn’t do that kind of thing for me. He passes me by. He misses me out.‘ Some call this a FAVOURITIST response – God works powerfully in some people, but not in me.

A further option, often linked with the last one, is to blame myself. ‘There must be something wrong with me. Maybe I have too little faith. Or perhaps I’m just rubbish. No good. A loser.‘ Some call this a SELF-DEPRICATING response – I lower my opinion of myself.

But there is a further response. It’s to rejoice in the good thing that’s happened to someone else, because they are part of me, and I of them. They may be part of the same family or the same community, or especially the same church as me. So when something great happens to someone else, this view thinks like this: ‘That’s a wonderful thing that’s happened to us. Isn’t God good to do that for us?’ So someone else’s healing becomes yours – or rather, ours. This is a CORPORATE response.

Before this view is written off as bonkers, imagine what it would take to perceive things like that way? I can only think like that if I really do belong to a body of people. To a community with whom I identify. God has made such a people for us and it’s called the church. Whilst not in any way a perfect community, the church is God’s chosen place for belonging and his number one solution to making the world a better place. It’s within the community of the church that we’re meant to thrive, to grow, to love, to share, to learn, to give, to forgive and to bring transformation.

To have this kind of corporate understanding of the Christian community requires what’s called a ‘high’ view of the church. It’s the view of the bible. It’s what the first believers modelled. And it’s what we’re called to. That’s why the bible urges us to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn’ (Romans 12:15).

To think and live this way is radical and counter-cultural. It’s radical because not many see life through this kind of corporate/ community lens. And it’s counter-cultural because it flies in the face of the rampant individualism in western society that tells us that life is all about ‘me, me, me’. This perspective is about ‘you’, ‘us’ and ‘we’.

It’s hard but good to think corporately. It requires deep humility. But it is the way of life. It’s the way of ‘we’ rather than ‘me’.

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Feels like a Wedding Day

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It felt a bit like a wedding day yesterday. People gathered. Music played. Prayers were said. Food was eaten. Even a special cake was cut! It was the launch of St Cuthbert’s House of Prayer in York.

I shared a few words about the vision of the House before some more formal prayers were said – and I mentioned that it felt like a wedding day. I also said that the most important thing about a wedding is not the actual wedding day but the marriage itself. The wedding day is all about ‘the rest of your life’ and similarly yesterday, for the House of Prayer (HOP), was all about that which is yet to come.

​Here’s a summary of a few other things I said.

I’ve been looking for a prayer centre to be established in York for a few years. As have others. I recall a conversation with Carl Tinnian of YWAM about 3 years ago when we talked about a HOP in York. And now it’s finally up and running and it’s very exciting!

The vision for St Cuthbert’s HOP is to be a centre for prayer and mission, seeking God and his transformation of the North.

So it’s to be a centre for prayer. For seeking God. A place where people meet with God. See God. Hear from him. Where the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work. And where people intercede, stand in the gap, and ask God to release his power.

But it’s not just for prayer as an end in itself. It’s also to be a centre for mission. Because God has work to do. He has a mission. He has a plan for York. And for the North of England. For our generation. And we want to pray that in. And see prayer and mission working hand-in-hand.

I’m really pleased to root this HOP in the life of The Belfrey. But it’s not just for us. It’s for the city and the region. And we want people in York and the North to use this place. Groups and individuals. So people can come for an hour, or a few hours, or maybe even for a number of days.

The HOP is aptly based in St Cuthbert’s Church. 49 yrs ago St Cuthbert’s was about to close. Then David Watson came. And there was growth and renewal and hundreds and hundreds of people came to Christ. Soon it was full to overflowing and so the church planted into St Michael le Belfrey in 1973 and since then the building has been used for a number of purposes. But St Cuthbert’s also has a longer history. We think the building has been here since at least the 10th Century. It’s mentioned in Doomsday Book of 1086. And I stand in a long line of named clergy responsible for this parish, which has been almost unbroken since 1239. It may well be that there’s been a church building on the site since the 7th Century, going back to the time of Cuthbert.

St Cuthbert (who’s picture in stained glass in the West window of the building) is known as the apostle to the North. He played a massive part in seeing the North of England evangelised in his day. Interestingly there were two themes that dominated his life. One was prayer. Cuthbert’s life was rooted in prayer and he established himself on Lindisfarne (Holy Island) in Northumbria as a prayer base for evangelising the North. The other main theme of his life was mission. He knew the people of North needed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and receive the gospel and so he gave his life to doing this and training others to do the same.

It’s not a coincidence that God has impressed those same two themes – prayer and mission – on us, as central to the vision of St Cuthbert’s HOP.

We hope God will empower people for mission from St Cuthbert’s. That the Holy Spirit will give dreams and visions to women and men in preparation for wonderful missionary endeavours – some small & some big!

All this will need a dedicated team leading the House, and it’s been wonderful to see a great team come together over the last few months! But in the end it needs us to pray. Pray and work. Work and pray.

Come Holy Spirit and help this wedding become a God-honouring marriage.

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Seeing the Harvest

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I am only just beginning to grasp the biblical idea of reaping and sowing. I think that’s because my vision of God and his kingdom has been too small.

Maybe if I was a farmer or lived in an agrarian culture, I would have got this quicker. As it is, it’s taken me a while to really see what St Paul means when he says:
‘Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously’ (2 Corinthians 9:6);
or what Jesus means when he says:
‘Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use, it will be measure to you’ (Luke 6:38);
or what the writer of Ecclesiastes means when he says:
‘Cast your bread upon the waters and after many days you will find a return’ (Ecclesiastes 11:1).
They all mean that the return/ the profit/ the harvest we receive is linked to what is given/ invested/ planted. Invest wisely and well, and much good will come!

Business people know this. And farmers in particular. Farmers know that if you can get good seed into good soil then multiplication normally takes place. Whilst there may be a few bad years, the multiplication in the good years is more than enough to make up any difference.

This means that I need to make sure I’m planting seeds. Seeds of love and care and wisdom into my family. Seeds of time and energy and money into my church. Seeds of kindness and practical help into my neighbours. Seeds of vision, hard work and time into my work. Seeds of adoration, confession and intercession into my prayers. And so on…

Strategic and wise investment is always worth while. There’s always a return and the return can be huge – 30, 60 or 100 times the planting. I think I’m beginning to see that much more clearly than before. Can you see it too?

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10 Reasons why we Tithe

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Sam and I tithe our money. That means we give at least the first 10% of our gross income away to the place where we worship. We’ve done that now for many years. I’m blogging about this not to brag but because people sometimes ask me what we do. So I thought I might as well be up-front because it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Tithing is a good thing. Here are 10 reasons why we tithe.

1. The Bible
We tithe because the bible teaches it. It was a command for the people of Israel in the Old Testament to give their firstfruits (Deuteronomy 14:22; Proverbs 3:9) and we don’t see that it’s been rescinded in the New Testament, although it has been caught up into the even bigger Christian value of ‘generosity’ (Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 9). As such we find it a good starting point for Christian giving.

2. God’s grace
We tithe in response to the grace of God (2 Corinthians 8:9). We don’t tithe to earn God’s favour as he can’t love of us any more than he already does. We tithe in order to mirror something of God’s generosity to us.

3. Sharing
We tithe because we think God doesn’t just give money to people for their own benefit, but for it to be shared (1 Timothy 6:17-18).

4. Excelling
We tithe because it’s one way we can aim to fulfil the command to ‘excel in the grace of giving’ (2 Corinthians 8:7).

5. Planning
We tithe because we budget. We plan it. We expect to live on what’s left after we’ve given (Luke 14:28-30).

6. For the church’s mission
We tithe because it provides good resources for the local church – and the local church is God’s No1 plan for changing the world. We know that many churches have vision beyond their resources. If more people tithed, more vision would be realised. We want to play our part in turning vision into action, so we tithe (see eg 1 Corinthians 16:2).

7. For our good
We tithe because God promises that the giver will be blessed, so they can give again (2 Corinthians 9:11). We have found that to be consistently true. Every time. Generosity produces generosity (Proverbs 11:24).

8. Act of faith
We tithe because it’s an act of faith. It helps us trust that God will help our family live well on what’s left (Psalm 4:5).

9. More than enough
We tithe because the remaining 90% is genuinely more than enough to live on (Malachi 3:10). That’s why our giving to people, organisations and charities comes from the remaining 90%.

10. A Lifestyle
We tithe because it’s what we do. It’s how we live. It’s how the great people of faith lived in the past (eg Genesis 14:20). It’s part of the desire that Sam and I have to try, if we possibly can, to give away more each year.

Some followers of Jesus have particular reasons why they don’t tithe. I’m sure some of those are good and valid, especially if one partner is not a believer. But most Christ-followers can, could and should consider tithing. Because it’s good for the recipient, for the giver and for the kingdom of God.

Don’t tithe reluctantly because you must (2 Corinthians 9:7). Rather, tithe because it’s a really really good thing to do. It’s a God-honouring thing to do. Tithe because you want to be part of seeing wonderful things happen.

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Giving at St Cuthbert’s

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If you want to see evidence of sacrificial giving, look no further than the team getting things ready at St Cuthbert’s House of Prayer in York.

St Cuthbert’s House of Prayer officially launches on 1st February. Part of The Belfrey and a resource for others, this prayer and mission centre for York and the North is so exciting. I know it’s going to be very strategic for the future. What’s also significant is seeing how people are giving to St Cuthbert’s. So over the last few weeks a number of people have been giving extraordinary amounts of time to help refresh, decorate, clean and scrub. Interestingly some have been especially gifted in particular areas where we’ve needed help. And then there’s the core team for St Cuthbert’s, who’ve come together over the last six months. They are all giving at least two days a week to pray and serve in the House. I find this remarkable and wonderful. Here is evidence of painful, sacrificial giving. Giving which the Lord will honour.

I am sure there are many other examples of painful offering (see yesterday’s blog Pain in the Offering) in all sorts of areas of life, where people have gone the extra mile (or ten) and given of themselves. It’s always inspiring to see people giving time, energy and resources to get behind a vision.

The vision of St Cuthbert’s House of Prayer is to be a centre for prayer and mission seeking God and his transformation of the North. That’s a fantastic vision that I’m pleased to not only commend but to be part of.

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Pain in the Offering

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‘Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name.’

That line from Matt Redman’s Blessed be Your Name has a double-meaning for me. Yes, it’s about praising God even though pain is on the way, but there’s another meaning too. It may not have been in Redman’s mind when he wrote the song, but nevertheless it’s a way of understanding the words that I sometimes think about. Especially when I receive the offering at church. It’s about the pain of giving.

I sometimes wonder how much pain there is in the offering. Whether the giving is easy. Or whether for some it hurts. Sometimes giving is meant to be difficult, hard, and a struggle.

Not all of our giving has to be sacrificial but sometimes the Lord asks that of us. To give until it hurts. That kind of painful offering is, I suspect, an aspect of giving that many followers of Jesus in the west know little or nothing about.

‘Though there’s pain in the offering’ is, I believe, a prophetic word for some followers of Jesus in this coming year. It may also be a message for whole communities too – to experience the goodness that comes through sacrificial giving.

Mother Theresa knew something of this. She knew that God honoured her for living this way and as a result did wonderful things through her. But it wasn’t easy. She expressed it like this: ‘I must be willing to give whatever it takes to do good to others. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me, and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.’

‘Though there’s pain I’m the offering, blessed be your name.’

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Aim for Excellence

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In a world of much mediocrity it’s good to aim for excellence. To excel in something requires training, discipline, stamina and being prepared to be in for the long haul. I sometimes hear people sharing things they’re trying to excel in and I’m always inspired by their passion and dedication. It’s good to seek to excel.

The thing is, I rarely hear people saying that they want to excel in giving. That they want to be one of, or even ‘the best’ at giving away money. That’s despite the fact that the bible tells followers of Jesus to do just that. In the middle of teaching on money, 2 Corinthians 8:7 could not be clearer: ‘see that you also excel in this grace of giving’.

To excel in giving could be viewed as a challenge to see who can give the most. Some see it this way, and I know people whose number one aim in business is to make a lot of money so they can give it away. To be honest, the world could do with many more people like that.

But to excel in giving is not really about giving the most. Because Jesus taught that you can give a tiny amount and, in God’s eyes, give ‘more’ than someone who gives a lot. That’s the meaning behind the story of the widow who gave her last penny (see Luke 21:1-4). No, to excel in giving is not about giving the most; it’s about giving your best. It’s about making giving a priority. So that giving is not just something you do once in a while, but it becomes part of who you are and how you live.

People in UK are very private about their money. Many of us don’t find it easy to talk about what we earn or what we give. Whilst it’s important not to brag, I think we could do with more frank, honest and open conversation about such things. So I found Martine Somerville’s comment in church yesterday very helpful – that for a few years they’ve been giving away 1% more each year and they’ve found they can do it and they aim to keep going. That sounds to me like one way of seeking to excel in the grace of giving.

I’m going to blog about giving for a few days, as a number of people have been asking me questions as a result of my talk yesterday on The Fear of Not Having Enough. A good starting point, it seems to me, is to aim for excellence. I want to aim to excel in the grace of giving.

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More to Give

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I’m speaking across the day this Sunday on The Fear of Not Having Enough. I’ve been thinking about this fear and how it often holds us back in life and hinders giving. That’s why it needs overcoming in many of us and sometimes, if it’s become a spiritual stronghold it needs breaking, in Jesus’ name.

God loves us to give, because when we give, we mirror him. Giving is at the heart of our gracious God. And there are all sorts of ways we can give. So when we give time and thought, energy and skill, money and resources, love and kindness, thanksgiving and adoration then we’re displaying something of the generous nature of God.

God made us to give. The world thrives as people give and goes wrong when we stop giving. When we take rather than give. When we’re selfish rather than selfless.

If giving is at the heart of God, then growing more God-like will involve more giving. Giving more time, energy and money.

Can I give more? Am I not already at the end of my resources? No. None of us ever are. We sometimes think we are. But we’re not. There’s always more. More than we think. Because God replenishes and refills. Which is why the Spirit of God is constantly nudging me to step up my giving. Sometimes in small steps. And sometimes in large ones. I suspect he’s doing the same with you.

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10 Books to Inspire for 2014

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As a new year begins here’s my annual offering of 10 books that have helped, challenged and motivated me over the last 12 months. If there are some you’ve not read, why not pick one up soon and dip in?

1) Alistair McGrath’s ‘CS Lewis – A Life’
Well researched and very readable biography of Lewis. Honest about his weaknesses and vulnerability as well as including an interesting final section on his influence since his death.

2) Mark Batterson’s ‘The Circle Maker’
If you were to read one book on prayer, I’d recommend this one. Batterson tells some of the stories he’s learned from his life and church and inspired me to be persistent and consistent in my praying.

3) Susan Caine’s ‘Quiet’
Caine’s book has been a best-seller in the States and deserves a higher profile in the UK, as she challenges many assumptions we have on what kind of personality makes a great leader. Caine wants us to see the benefits that quieter, more introverted people can bring to the table. Full of stories and fascinating research.

4) James C Humes’ ‘Churchill – The Prophetic Statesman’
I’ve read quite a number of biographies of Winston Churchill. This is short and different. It helped me see the exceptional foresight that often Churchill had – foresight that at times was extraordinarily specific and insightful.

5) Carl Honore’s ‘Slow Fix’
This book takes us on from Honore’s classic In Praise of Slow and helps us see that significant change normally takes time. It’s full of fascinating examples of real people in real situations who have vision, discipline and are intentional about transformation.

6) Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘David and Goliath’
Any book by Gladwell is worth reading. This one explores the idea that big is not necessarily best and that the weak can triumph over the strong.

7) Bill Bryson’s ‘One Summer’
This is a large book that I read whilst struggling with a bad back last autumn. By the end I felt I understood the world of 1927 much better – and that over the last century we haven’t really changed that much!

8) ‘Monocle’ magazine
Every month Monocle consistently produces an interesting, high quality magazine full of information on the world that would probably wouldn’t find elsewhere. Having bought the magazine every month for a while, I finally subscribed this year.

9) Bear Grylls’ ‘To My Sons – Lessons for the Wild Adventure Called Life’
This is a lovely, simple book that I’ve really appreciated, reminding me not to lose that sense of adventure in life and to pass it on. This is a must-read for a father with sons, and ideally should be read together with them. Oh, and Charley Mackesy’s pictures are great too!

10) ‘The Bible’
Yes, it must be included in this list. I put it last not because it comes in at No10 (as this is not a ‘Top 10′) but because I want to leave this as my last book offering. You see, if you read nothing else this year, read this book. Seriously. Because it truly is the book of books and the story of all stories. And if you don’t know where to start, begin about three-quarters through with one of the accounts of the life of Jesus. Simply begin to read. You will not be disappointed.

So there we have it. Read and expand your vision of the world and let these books hearten you to live life to the full.

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Christmas Improvisation

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At The Belfrey this Christmas week we’re having a special offering for refugees of the Syrian crisis. We’re giving to Medair who are doing a brilliant job in very difficult circumstances, helping displaced Syrians construct makeshift temporary homes in refugee camps. Families are given some wood and tent material and construct a basic but functional shelter. This is important because they have nowhere to go. There’s no room for these families in Syria this Christmas.

It was the same for Jesus’ family a few miles further south in Israel, at the first Christmas. There was ‘no room‘ for them in Bethlehem (Luke 2:7). Away from home, his parents had to make do in temporary accommodation. Jesus’ mother Mary (like the Syrian refugees today) had to improvise. So she wrapped Jesus in cloths and laid in a manger, which was probably made not of wood but of stone. Mary didn’t know it but her actions pointed prophetically to Jesus’ death, for thirty three years later his broken crucified body was similarly wrapped in cloths (John 20:6) and laid in a stone tomb (Matthew 27:60).

All this reminds us that Jesus didn’t need all the home comforts to fulfil God’s purposes. We can sometimes think that when everything is comfortable we will serve wholeheartedly. When things are settled we will pray regularly, give generously and make a real difference with our lives. But the circumstances of Jesus’ birth (and death) remind us that many of the things we think are important probably aren’t. We don’t have to wait for everything to be perfect. In fact God has a way of using the imperfect, the unusual and the makeshift – and turning them into something significant. That’s what he did for Jesus and he will do it for us as we improvise and allow his Spirit to guide us.

As I’ve read and re-read the Advent Scriptures and then blogged every day over the last twenty-four days, I’ve been especially reminded that Christ came not into a make-believe world, but the real world. Our world. My world and yours. He came to transform and use ordinary people for God’s extraordinary purposes. So this Christmas, don’t wait for perfection. Instead, allow God to use ordinary you. Be prepared to improvise. Learn from the people God used that first Advent. And like the shepherds, ‘spread the word about this child’. He really is the reason for the season. He’s God ‘in human flesh who has made his home with us’ (John 1:14).

He is amazing!

Questions
Do you expect God to use others, but not you? Are you waiting for a change of circumstances before you can really serve God? Instead, is there something you just need to get on with, even if it involves some improvisation? Why not ask God to help you to do so, starting now – starting this Christmas?

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