Lessons from Nashville

Nashville returns to our UK screens this week – YAY!

scarlett and gunnar

 

It’s cheesy.. and predictable… and…..clichéd … and I LOVE IT. Amidst the cheese there’s some, as Rich would say, “pure gold”.

So, I for one am excited for the return of the new season.

Obviously, in preparation for the new season, I’ve been reflecting on the last one. (Yes, I’ve got to have something interesting to think about when packing boxes.) At the end of the last season, the incredibly talented singer, Scarlett, who has struggled with the effects of stardom, is about to give it all up, leave town and return back to school.

Her on/off boyfriend, Gunnar, ends up playing a song to her, in a plea to make her stay, and to persuade her not give up on her talent.

She ends up singing the song with him.

It’s a beautiful moment. Really it is. In fact here it is:

 

I love those words he sings to her:

What if you’re just a vessel

And God gave you something special

Every time you open up your mouth

Diamonds come rolling out

It ain’t yours to throw away…

You know, as followers of Jesus we’re His vessel. A vessel is a container, and as vessels of God, we simply contain Him: we carry Him.

And He’s put in each one of us beautiful talents, gifts and abilities. They’re not for our own glory, but for His. And they’re given to bless those around us.

Those gifts are not to be taken lightly. They are to be used to bless, encourage, equip, and extend the body of Christ, and the Kingdom of God.

I don’t know about you but I am quick to dismiss the gifts and talents that God has given me, assuming they are not useful enough, important enough, or significant enough. Inadvertently, I can throw them away, tossing them aside in the insignificant-pile.

But you know what – those gifts placed inside of me… they ain’t mine to throw away.

They’re not mine to bury in the ground, or throw aside, afraid that they’re not good enough.

Those gifts are to steward wisely, to invest in others. They have value. They have value because they are God-given, and they have value because when invested wisely they can reap a kingdom return.

They’re not mine to throw away.

How about you – what’s God put in you?

Are you throwing it away or investing it for God?

The Great Exchange

Good Friday always used to baffle me as a kid.

‘Is there actually anything good about Good Friday?’, I used to wonder.

Last week I was helping a bunch of five-year-olds write about the story of Easter. Seeing it through their eyes I realised just how unique a story it is.

For many of those five-year-olds it was probably the first time they’d heard the real Easter story. And they, just as I used to be, were somewhat baffled.

Today is Good Friday. But where’s the Good?

On Good Friday, with thorns on his head and nails in his hands, Jesus stretched out his arms and uttered those words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

image Good Friday takes us right back to the heart of the gospel. Jesus received punishment in our place: we are forgiven. And we are to forgive, as we’ve been forgiven.

It’s good news because I’m forgiven. But it also means that those who’ve hurt me are offered that same forgiveness. It’s easy to get caught in wanting mercy for ourselves and wanting others to receive full punishment for their sins against us.

But that’s not the way of the Cross. No one, not one single person, is excluded from the forgiveness offered through the Cross.

That’s the scandal of grace: we receive forgiveness not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

And it’s offensive to our earn-your-grace mentality. And it confronts our “I’m right and you’re wrong” mindset. In the shadow of the cross we’re all wrong. And we can all receive His grace.

On Good Friday the Great Exchange took place:

His wounds, my healing

His blood, my peace.

His pain, my freedom;

His death, my life.

I didn’t earn it. There’s nothing I could do to earn it. It’s His free gift of grace.

And as we receive that grace He calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him. Sometimes there’s no harder way to pick up our cross than by offering forgiveness to others.

We want justice. We want to be proved right. We want things to be fair.

I know, because I want those things for myself.

But the way of the Cross, the Good-Friday-Way is forgiveness. When we forgive, we wave our “right” for justice and put it in the hands of God. When we forgive, we set others free as we release them from our judgement. And when we forgive we also set ourselves free:

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes

So, today, this Good Friday, where righteousness and peace kiss each other, it’s time to receive that forgiveness afresh for ourselves.

And it’s time to lay our weapons down. It’s time to lay down our hurtful words, our poisonous thoughts, our bitterness and our anger. It’s time to be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven us.

It’s time to offer grace and forgiveness befitting the bride of Christ.

That’s the way of the cross. It cost Him everything. And it will cost us too. But as one young disciple said “Following God is always worth the sacrifice.”

On Syria: Real life, Real people

Each night my daughter is tucked up in bed,  alongside a bunch of cuddly toys, with joy written all over her face.  Her only concern is whether to wear her pink or her purple skirt the next day. That’s her reality. That’s how life should be for a six year-old.

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And then there’s Nizar*.  He’s just a few months younger than my daughter – just a small five year-old boy.

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Nizar found his mother’s dismembered head amidst the rubble in his family home in Syria. A rocket had come through the kitchen whilst she was getting a drink for his father.

Once, maybe, his face too was written with joy. But now it’s marked by grief. And loss. And confusion. That’s his reality

He’s not just a faraway story on the news, only to be flicked over to watch another home renovation programme. He’s not just another statistic. He’s a real child. As a Syrian refugee in Jordan his world has been turned upside down.

  • Civil war in Syria has displaced 6.5 million people within the country and led to around 2.5 million becoming refugees in neighbouring states.
  • More than 100,000 people have been killed, and now every hour, more than 300 people flee their homes in fear.

This boy, this real boy, with real feelings, blames himself for his mother’s death. His world will never be the same again.

This is real life. Not my real life. And probably not your real life.  But this is his real life: painful and scarred and broken.

And he’s not a singular case. These children have lost fathers. And mothers. And siblings.

Families had fled Syria to avoid rockets in homes and tanks on roads. They’ve fled so their children no longer have to see fathers tortured and mothers abused.

Even as I write, it’s hard to grasp that this is the reality for so many lives.

This is Safiyya*:

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Safiyya is 23 and a first-time mum. When she was eight months pregnant, she and her husband decided they had to leave Syria for their safety, and their child’s.

They walked for six hours through the night, coming from Daraa to Jordan with a group of around 90 other Syrians.

Safiyya was training to be a teacher in Syria. Now she’s a supervisor in a kindergarten for Syrian refugee children run by a local charity in partnership with Tearfund. Safiyya worked with Nizar, mentioned earlier. This is her story:

“For 8 months I was at home, I did not leave the house. When we’re at home we think of family, friends we left in Syria. It makes us really sad. The kindergarten is a nice place where children are loved. I feel that they are my children. And the teachers are very sweet. Together we are one, we work together.”

As a volunteer at the kindergarten, Safiyya receives a cash stipend for her help –  it’s her family’s only source of income.

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Ninety children go to the kindergarten; all of them have fled from Syria and many are traumatised by what they have been through. The Syrian women who work there have all been trained to look for and understand the signs of trauma in children. In addition, a qualified psychologist visits once a week to run sessions.

Despite all that’s happened Safiyya’s greatest hope is that they will return to Syria and her son will grow up there. She says:

‘Our lives were in Syria. We love Syria.’

Today marks the 3 year anniversary of the ongoing conflict in Syria.

We may feel powerless to help. We may feel there’s nothing we can do.

But maybe today, we could believe something different. Maybe today we could allow our reality to affect their reality. Maybe today we could believe our prayers make a difference.

Maybe, today we could pray together for this war-torn country and those affected. Maybe we could choose to stand #withsyria

Maybe today we could use our financial reality to give to projects like the kindergarten Saffiya works at.

This is one prayer from a Tearfund partner in Jordan providing preschool education and trauma care for Syrian children:

Bringing light to the dark places

Lord Jesus, you give sight to the blind, you heal the

crippled and you restore the dignity of the disenfranchised.

Give us renewed vision and hope for the future and restore

the dignity of our Syrian brothers and sisters.

We beg for mercy for the many children who have

lost their fathers; for the many men who have been

tortured, beaten and maimed; for the many women

who have suffered from abuse; and for the many

more who continue to live in fear and shame.

Where there is fighting and fear, please bring peace.

Where there is hatred, please bring love and forgiveness.

Where there is death and hopelessness, please bring

the joy of your deliverance.

Lord, you are our only hope, our only Saviour.

Amen.

For more guidance on how to pray for Syria, or to financially contribute to the work of Tearfund in Syria please click on the Tearfund website here.

*Names have been changed at their request. For security and cultural reasons, there are no photos showing Safiyya’s face.

where Emeli Sande and I write a prayer for the church (me and you)

The first time I really appreciated Emeli Sande was during her incredible performance of “Abide with me” at the Opening Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics. Since then, she’s been a welcome voice in my ear. In fact, her music has often been a channel for me to worship God. I guess I’m a believer that we can worship God through any songs  – “secular” as well as “Christian”, as long as we’re honouring God through them. One particular Emeli Sande song has become my running sound track, and in time it’s developed into a prayer.  As I’ve been running up and down the streets of Sheffield I’ve felt God speak to my heart through this song, and over time I’ve prayed this not only for me but for “us” – the wider church in general.

Here’s the song if it’s helpful to listen to it as you read….

So here goes….

“You’ve got the words to change a nation
But you’re biting your tongue
You’ve spent a life time stuck in silence
Afraid you’ll say something wrong
If no one ever hears it how we gonna learn your song?”

You know what? We have some good news. Really good news. I forget that sometimes – maybe you do too. Lots of us have been biting our tongues, stuck in silence…quietly treasuring this Good News in our hearts. I get it, I’ve been doing the same thing myself. But if no one ever hears it, how will others learn our song? Our song of salvation, our song of lives transformed, relationships reconciled and hearts healed. Our song of forgiveness. Our song of the never-stopping, never-giving up, unshakeable love of the Father.  Maybe like me, you’re afraid you’ll sing something wrong. Maybe we’re worried it won’t quite come out right.  You know what? We will do that sometimes.  Our song won’t be perfect. Our lives won’t be perfect. We might get a word or two wrong, or we might start in the wrong key, or we might not quite reach those high notes. But if we never sing anything at all, who will ever learn our song? So, God, help us pass on this Good News, this Jesus-life: take our efforts –  our lives, our words –  and lead and empower us as we try to sing this song.

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“You’ve got a heart as loud as lions
So why let your voice be tamed?
Maybe we’re a little different
There’s no need to be ashamed
You’ve got the light to fight the shadows
So stop hiding it away”

Do we realise  – I mean really realise –  that in our hearts, lives the Lion of all lions? He is the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And His Spirit lives in you and me. He is both Lion and Lamb.  And our cracked and crumbly jars of clay leak out His light everywhere we go. So let’s not let our voices be tamed. Let that lion heart out, and love fiercely, and fully and with all that we have. Let’s not hold back, shrink back or think it’s not enough. His love is all-consuming, all-powerful and more than enough.  We’ve got a heart as loud as lions. Yes, maybe we’re a little different, maybe we’re against the flow.  Maybe. But we don’t need to be ashamed of that. We’ve got a light to fight the shadows so let’s stop hiding it away. It’s a good thing, this light. This light – this Jesus – pushes back darkness. So  wherever we see injustice, and darkness and death He wants to bring His justice, and light and life. And He wants to do that through plain old me and you, His church. If we’ll let Him. So, God, help us to really comprehend that you live in us, and that your power in us is greater than the power in the world.

“Let’s get the TV and the radio
To play our tune again
It’s ’bout time we got some airplay of our version of events
There’s no need to be afraid
I will sing with you my friend”

So, let’s use every medium to creatively share our version of events, whether that’s with our friends at work, on our walk to school, on the bus or wherever.  Let’s re-tell the story of God and his love for all people, in whatever creative way we can. Let’s tell our storiesLet’s tell His version of events. Let’s live out our version of events. It’s such a good version. Amy Carmichael, William Booth, Elizabeth Fry, Smith Wigglesworth, Jackie Pullinger, William Wilberforce, Mother Teresa  and so many more: you all chose to tell your version of events. And the world is a better place because of it. You all chose not to be defined by the can’ts, the won’ts or the shoulds. You chose to live out the goodness of God, telling His version of events.

So let’s do this together – I’ll sing with you my friend. I’ll be praying with you whilst you’re sharing and living out the goodness of God wherever you are  And I know you’ll be praying for me as I try to live out the goodness of God wherever I go. Thank you for singing with me,  my friend – my brothers and sisters. And know that I’ll be singing with you too. We’re in this together. So God, help us to faithfully tell and live out your version of events, together.

Emeli Sande photo Source: http://goo.gl/ln2hmY

Building a missional culture isn’t as easy as A-B-C

written by Rich

Here are some of the marks of a M.I.S.S.I.O.N.A.L culture – can you see them in your culture or how could they begin to shape how you and your people live?

 

M – Missional Mindset

People who understand that they are Continue reading