Friday, 20 February 2015

Outrageous Faith

Many church buildings, ours included, have a plaque somewhere with a list of names of people who died in one of the world wars. They are there as a reminder of the heroes of the freedom we have today.

The Bible also has a kind of plaque of heroes, you can find it in Hebrews chapter 11. It is a list of people who, because of their commitment, amazing deeds and certainty in what God had said, have shaped what we think and believe about God’s activity in the world. In the midst of this list the writer says “And without faith it is impossible to please God”. 

Two things are striking about this verse;
  • It is possible to please God – wow! Mere human beings like you and me, messed up, broken people like me (and maybe you!) can actually bring a smile to the face of the creator of all that is. It is a stunning thought.
  • We do this by our faith – the context is important here. The writer is talking about an Old Testament character called Enoch. We know very little about Enoch (although there are various myths about him) except he so pleased God that he went straight to heaven without dying! But this verse goes on to call us to earnestly seek God which seems to be a key in understanding what set Enoch's faith apart.

At St Andrew’s we have just started a new sermon series and a prayer challenge for Lent called ‘Outrageous Faith”. You can listen to the first sermon, called 'Sun Stand Still', here and find out about the prayer challenge here. During Lent we want to encourage you to step up in your faith, to start believing that he is the God who can do the impossible and in some way act on that belief.

However, if we want to be a people of outrageous faith who are living life like the people in Hebrews 11, we need to start by being like Enoch - people who ‘earnestly seek God’. We cannot expect to see God move in incredible and outrageous ways until we align our hearts and minds with His. We do that be seeking him and his Kingdom.

As we start this amazing journey of Outrageous Faith let me encourage you to spend time earnestly seeking God. Make sure you have space every day to be in his presence and to deepen your relationship with him. There in that place He will start to reveal his heart to you and let you in on the things he wants to do through your prayer and through your actions.

Earnestly seek Him.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Doing the Hard Work of Change

Have your New Year resolutions collapsed yet? Has your desire at the start of the year to grow in your faith been completely drained? If so you are not alone. The great thing about resolutions is they express the desire to change that many people have, whether its to lose weight, read the Bible more, grow in faith etc. We all know we are meant to be better than we are! And the thing that drives all this, the thing that makes all this so frustrating, is that we know that change is possible. We've seen it on the TV, we've read it in books and especially heard it in Church - people can change. I'm sure that right now you can think of a real life story of someone who has changed, maybe quite dramatically, in some way or other and you know deep inside you that if they can change so can you.

But here's why so many of us fail in making the change that we so long for - it's flipping hard work!

It seems to me there are some changes that God does for us but then there are some things that He looks for us to do. We are required to do the hard work of change. Yet too many of us (me included just give up when it gets hard. Recently, I watched two short TED talks (if you don't know what TED talks are you are missing an amazing resource check them out) by two professors that considered the physiology and psychology of improvement and change. Both essentially say the same thing that any kind of change is hard, but that it is actually the difficulty of the process that brings about change. Essentially it is through the difficulty that our minds create new neural pathways and so create changed behaviour. We need the hard work to rewire our minds to think and act differently. (You can watch the videos here and here).

So our experience says that change is possible, science says change is possible and of course God says change is possible.
Romans 12:2 says "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
There are plenty of other verses that encourage us to believe that change is possible. So if you are struggling with the hard work of bringing about the change that is needed in your life here are four thoughts to encourage you

  1. Embrace the struggle - it is the hard work that is right now rewiring your brain for the change you desire
  2. Everyone struggles - you are not alone in this. Even Paul, who wrote Romans 12, said that there were things he wanted to do but didn't do them and things he didn't want to do but couldn't help himself from doing them. So why not find someone else who is looking to make the same change as you to encourage one another and hold each other accountable. Don't face the hard work of change alone
  3. Persevere - the people who change are the ones who face the hard work and do not give up. In one of the TED talks Angela Lee Duckworth says the only thing that separates people who are 'successful' from others is 'grit'. They are the people who overcome their shortcomings with simple hard work and perseverance.
  4. Plan for change - change does not happen by accident it needs to be planned for and we need to be able to count the cost of change. In Luke 14 Jesus talks about counting the cost of being a disciple. Counting the cost means planning, organising your life around the change you want to make and understanding the sacrifices needed to see the change come into reality.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

5 Ideas for Spiritual Growth in 2015

If you are anything like me you are entering 2015 with a number of things you want to do or develop in this New Year. I hope that one of your desires for the new year is that you will grow in your faith. So here are five ideas to help you in your desire to grow.

  1. Switch off from the TV and the Internet. How much time do you waste on watching rubbish TV (and let's face it there is a lot of it around!) or aimlessly surfing the net. Just spend one hour a day free from these things and use the time to develop your relationship with Jesus.
  2. Learn how to feed yourself. How many times have you heard people blaming their church or their church leader etc for their failure to grow in their relationship with God. Yet it is the basic, daily, interaction with the Word of God and the presence of God in prayer that is the bedrock of our growth. If you are not growing in your faith then work out what is going wrong in your personal time with God rather than looking to blame others.
  3. Admit you need other people to grow. What I said in number 2 does not mean that you do not need other people in fact what Christians often fail to realise is how much we need to be sharing our lives with other Christians in order to grow. We need others to inspire and encourage us and we need others to challenge and correct us.
  4. Take every opportunity to serve. Jesus once said that his "food is to do the will of him who sent me". Jesus got nourishment from serving his Father. Look for opportunities to serve God and others, and you will find yourself growing in ways that will astound you.
  5. Choose to love others. 1 John 4:12 says 'No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.' You cannot learn to love God more without also learning to love other people more. The two are inseparable.
Warning: there is a basic assumption here in everything I have said above which is - growth is not about what you know but about who you are becoming and how that is displayed in what you do. Never mistake knowing more about the Bible with growing spiritually, the two do not always go hand in hand. Yes, we should develop our knowledge and understanding of scripture but that does not necessarily mean we grow in our relationship with Jesus.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Making Room

If we are to see a significant move of the Spirit in our church we must do more than yearn for it we must also make room for the Spirit to move. Even in a church like ours we can fail to allow the space needed for the Spirit to move in power. It is easy for us to approach a quiet time, ministry time or worship time with our own agenda. Some of that agenda may well be Spirit inspired but I know from my own experience that all too often it can come out of whatever is going on in my own life.

For us at St Andrews we seem to have an unwritten rule that noise and activity are best! There are clearly times when we can see how 'disruptive' the work of the Spirit is - not least on the day of Pentecost. However, we also have to remember that before that Jesus told his disciples to 'wait'. I wonder if we have lost the art of waiting on the Spirit? Are we willing (able even) to stay still/quiet long enough for the Spirit to have absolute freedom in our lives or ministries or our worship gatherings? Or are the agendas we bring restricting, controlling or, ultimately, squashing the work of the Spirit.

John Wimber was a master of giving the Holy Spirit room to move in power. I attended a number of meetings he led and remember times when, after inviting the Holy Spirit to come, he would encourage those gathered (up to 5000 people on one occasion) to simply wait for the Holy Spirit to manifest himself. There were times when the waiting would seem long and uncomfortable but the Spirit always came and people would experience dramatic healing. We would have missed out if John Wimber would had lost nerve and moved on before the power of the Spirit fell on us.

When we make room for the Holy Spirit he comes! The spiritual disciplines are all about making room for the Spirit - prayer, read the Bible, silence, fasting etc. - yet often we can rush through these things to tick them off our 'to do list'. Even in our worship gatherings we seem to be unable to wait and let the Spirit move in his own time and way. It can be so easy to move things on quickly or try to force the Spirit to turn up.

Have you lost the art of making room for the Spirit, are you able to simply wait on him until he comes. Is God saying to you 'Be still and know that I am God'. Think through how you might be able to make more room for the Spirit in your life.



Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Learn to Yearn

So I am continuing to think about how we might respond to the sermon on Pentecost Sunday (see previous posts). In this post I want us to think about how we might change our attitude so that we are in a place of longing for more of the Spirit. Is it possible to learn how to yearn for more of the power of God. As I said in the sermon it is easy to get complacent about our need for the Holy Spirit and the moment we do we are in a slow decline that leads to spiritual death.

This longing is vital for us. In John 7 Jesus says 'Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit'. How thirsty are you right now, does your heart yearn for more of God's Spirit in your life? Below are some practical things we can do to increase our yearning.

  • Read through the Gospels and Acts but do so with a focus on what you see the Holy Spirit doing. You will see his work on every single page of these books. Look at how dependant Jesus was on the Holy Spirit and then in Acts see how that same power was available to the disciples. Then look at your life and the life of the church and realise the difference!
  • Read what the Spirit has done in church history. The same Spirit has been at work throughout the history of the church in remarkable and miraculous ways. A great resource is a series of books called 'God's Generals' by Roberts Liardon. If you can get to read any of those books it will create a thirst for more of the Spirit of God in your life.
  • Discover what is the Spirit doing today. All over the world pockets of revival are breaking out. What God has done in history He is still doing today. The Internet provides a way of connecting with the work of the Spirit today. For instance check out what God is doing at BethelmChurch in Redding, California. There has been a steady stream of miracles there.mthey provide lots of video testimonies and worship that will leave you longing to see the same at our church.
  • Express your longing in worship. There are lots of worship songs that reflect a yearning and longing for the presence and power of God. Worship has the power to change our hearts and as we choose express our longing in song so our hearts catch up with our intention. Continually choosing to press into God's presence in worship and any complacency or apathy will melt away leaving you longing for your own personal revival and the revival of the church.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

We need to repent

After the service on Sunday two people shared the same word with me, that we need to repent. If it is true that we, at St Andrews, are in a place where we have lost something of our spiritual edge, our desire for the things of the Spirit and our reliance on Him then there has to be one response above all others - repentance.

If we have gone about our lives and our ministries without a deep reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit then what are we saying about our attitude to God and his work? It can be easy with some of the things that we do on a regular basis, that we feel comfortable doing, to do so without referring to God at all. You can turn up for your regular Missional Community activity and get to the end of it without ever turning your heart and mind to God for his power to do it or for his guidance in how to do it. Things like this can become routine and we can become complacent. We get in a rut and as long as the activity takes place reasonably well everyone goes home happy, but we can miss what God might have wanted to have done.

We need to understand just how far from God we can end up if we miss out on the work of his Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 says "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Living without recognising the work of the Spirit can grieve Him or, as some other translations put it, quench his continuing work in us. We need forgiveness for the times we neglect the Spirit's work in our lives or fail to acknowledge our need of His power.

Repentance also requires us to change as well. We need to make the choice to change our attitude to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to make a conscious decision to allow him to lead and empower us. That decision needs to change our behaviour but what does that look like? How about making time every morning to ask the Holy Spirit to lead you throughout the day in every decision, activity and conversation. Ask him to empower you in all that you will do. Then before anything you do take a few seconds to be aware of what the Holy Spirit may be saying to you and ask for his power. Making a habit of turning your heart and mind to God before anything, no matter how mundane, is saying that you recognise that without the power of the Holy Spirit you are unable to do anything of any significance in the Kingdom of God in your own strength.

Do you have attitudes towards the work of the Spirit for which you need to ask for forgiveness? What changes do you need to make in your life to start making room for the Holy Spirit to work in you and through you? What can you do to to begin a more conscious reliance on His power? What do you need to stop so that you no longer grieve or quench the Spirit of God? Finally, what do we need to repent of as a church in our attitude to the work of the Spirit?


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Church is only ever one generation from death


I thought it would be useful to follow up on my sermon yesterday with some further thoughts about what God might be saying to us at St Andrews and how we might respond to it. If you missed my sermon (where we're you!!!) you can listen to it on

I will quickly summarise the sermon now and then the next few blogs will look at how we can respond. The main points of the sermon were based on what I saw in the disciples as they waited for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

  • The early disciples recognised their need for the Holy Spirit, without him they would be unable to fulfill the great commission
  • They were united and recognise their need of each other.
  • They prayed continuously until God poured out his Spirit on them
  • Every church is just one generation from spiritual death. We see the evidence in churches around us that we're once alive but have lost the spiritual life and power they once had.
I finished by sharing that I felt the Spirit had been saying to me that at St Andrews we were in danger of being on the slow slide to death. It seems to me that the hunger for the Spirit of God is no there in our Church like it used to be. I can hear it as we worship, I can see it in how few people want receive prayer in ministry times and it is evident when so few people want to be involved in prayer. I pointed to the letter to Sardis in the Book of Revelation where the Holy Spirit says "you have the reputation of being alive but are dead. Wake up!". The problem with spiritual death is that it is slow and the church dying doesn't recognise what is going on.We need to change the way things are going if we are to avoid going the way of so many other churches before us. I ended the sermon by asking the church to pray for an outpouring of God's Spirit upon us once again and to pray for a growing realisation of our desperate need of his power. We need to understand that we can never be complacent about the spiritual life of the church, to do so will lead to death. The next few blogs will flesh out our need for the power of the Spirit a little bit more and will look at what we can do.