I love you more than this time last year
This weekend I’m going away for a couple of nights with Josie to celebrate her birthday (believe it or not, this is part of my leaving gift from CAP - it’s been quite a two years!) Because it’s her birthday I’ll also write her a card, a nice card, full of lovely words that seek to convey how much I love her. I might write something like: ‘I love you more and more every year’ in fact I probably will, but then the rationalist in my head will interrupt with: ‘How do you know? Can you measure your love? How do you know it isn’t just the same as it was a year ago, or maybe a bit less?’ Seriously, it can be hard for us overly rational thinkers to be romantic at times!! I’ll write it anyway, because, well I still definitely love her just as much, and maybe it’s more, and if I write anything else the card won’t be the success I want it to be. Lol.
How do I know if I love God?
It’s also similarly impossible to measure our love for God, like seriously, where do you begin?? Is it with your feelings, is it in your actions, in your thought life? Next to impossible isn’t it? Which is why I want to reiterate that the recent discipleship framework survey is not a ‘How much do you love God?’ survey. Nor is the discipleship framework an attempt to judge or even measure anyone’s love relationship with Jesus, or with the Father or with Holy Spirit.
However, going back to the marriage analogy, if I want to know if I love Josie and if we have a healthy marriage, there are some questions that someone could ask that might help us to analyse whether or not we do or don’t. Such as: ‘Do you enjoy spending time with each other?’ Along with ‘Do you regularly spend time just as a couple?’ 'Do you have many arguments?' Etc etc. Whilst there would be no science to it, we know there is no ideal amount of time any couple should spend together, of course it varies. But it would get us thinking, and not only that, it would hopefully point us in the right direction of what we needed to do if we wanted to improve our relationship. The very essence of things such as the marriage course - they give you a ‘healthy marriage framework.'
The discipleship framework seeks to do exactly that. It isn’t a long legalistic list of dos and dont's. It definitely is not a list of ‘Do enough of this enough of the time and God will love you more’ - 100% not. It’s a framework, distilled down from two millennia of Christian thought that basically says:
1. These are the some of the ways that you develop an intimate spiritual relationship with Jesus; (Be with Jesus)
2. This is some of what it looks like to become more and more the person God wants you to be; (Become like Jesus)
3. These are some of the sort of things Jesus wanted his followers to go and do, not to earn his love, but in response to it. (Do like Jesus)
If it's off track - work at it
If my relationship with Josie was suffering, I’d want to be able work out why and also know what I could do to get it back on track, and not just back on track, but maybe to love her more in a year’s time than I do now.
In the same way, we want to help every person who calls the Light Church home to be able to say they love Jesus more in one year’s time than they do now. The framework is not the goal - the goal is intimacy with Jesus, leading to changed hearts and active Kingdom building lives. The framework simply helps us get there.
This relationship is worth fighting for
So if filling in that survey in any way felt a bit judgy, a bit weird even supposedly analysing your relationship with Jesus, please know that wasn’t the intention. As people responsible for this bit of the bride of Christ, we simply wanted to know collectively how are we doing in loving our Groom Jesus, and living in close, transforming relationship with him. We know one survey will never ever capture the depth and mystery of a walk of faith, we know that this all needs to be worked through in prayer, conversation and community, that’s why we’ve been promoting it for discussion in Home Churches. However, we are committed - we want this marriage to work, so stopping, thinking and adjusting will hopefully mean we grow stronger and stronger in love with Jesus. That’s worth it. I hope you agree.
It was just 82 seconds into the penultimate game of the Six Nations when England had a man sent off. That wasn’t good, especially not against an Ireland side who are more than a match for England. I’ll admit, the bit of hope I had for us winning the match was fading. I was only saved by my Dad who was even more pessimistic than me! He started saying things like: ‘right that’s it, it’s not even worth watching,’ he even said ‘I should have watched the Scotland v Italy game instead!’ I know!
But sometimes your greatest setback can be your biggest gift. I reckon that 14 man England team played with more passion and fight than they would have with 15 players on the pitch. Sure, they eventually lost, but it was their best performance since the incredible defeat of New Zealand in the World Cup Semi final back in 2019.
Similarly, losing good people from our church can really hurt, but we have a choice, to either decide that ‘that’s it, it’s barely worth turning up’ or like that England team let it fire us up in our resolve to see His Kingdom come through our church, to be family and to make disciples. Even though we may well feel the pain and the aches of the extra effort required and the people who we sorely miss, I’m gonna follow the example of those rugby heroes, and more importantly the heroes of the early church (who lost brothers and sisters to lions, rather than to another church!)
Now….onto the original blog I wrote prior to the rugby at the weekend!
Just because something hurts, doesn't mean it isn't right. In fact there's a pretty strong biblical case that if life doesn't ever hurt, you probably aren't doing it right.
This is especially true when it comes to people moving on from the Light Church, definitely if you are the leader, and especially true if they are your close friends. It can hurt and it can be painful, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right.
The reality is when I stepped into this role it was because I very clearly felt the call of God to build a family. That’s partly why I don't have a vision for a huge church, because I think it gets really hard to be family when it gets too big. So when you are building family and people want to leave, it carries that extra bit of sadness, a sadness that it is right to feel because you see everyone as brother or sister, being knit together by God into a family, a community.
As a leader you have to strongly guard your heart not to take it personally, nor to make it all about yourself. Whilst at the same time being open to God if there is anything he wants to teach you, or correct you re how you have led the church that has caused people to leave. That’s true of me as senior leader, our leadership team and our home church leaders etc. It’s also true of all of us, as we journey the disappointment of people moving on. It's not an easy journey to navigate, and I'll be honest it's probably one of the hardest bits of the role I have encountered so far.
But, just because it hurts doesn't mean it isn't right. Of course there is a great place for longevity and loyalty in our church commitment, to show the fruit of ‘faithfulness’ ‘to bear with one another in love’ so that we can show the world what loving each other well looks like. But staying somewhere when you know God is stirring you and leading you to a new pasture, then prolonged loyalty may not be something God is asking of you. God regularly has new adventures for people, a new place of discovery, a new set of people to build family with and form new friendships. We celebrate that, it's not a bad thing, let's face it, many of us were once those people moving on from a former church and are now finding that new discovery and new family right here in the Light Church.
What really matters are two things: 1. How we are when we are here; and 2. How we leave. Whilst we are here, have we given ourselves to building the family and serving God where he has placed us? When we leave, do we leave well, having healthy open conversations and leaving with good and thankful hearts and spirits towards the family being left behind?
We want to help people leave well and we would never want anyone to feel ignored,
criticised or even ostracised. That is heart breaking when that happens to people. This is why I intend to do my very best to make a fuss of people when they choose to move on. To thank them, to honour them and to let them know they will always have a place in the hearts of this family, and always be welcome back to visit or even return. I believe this is God honouring transition, all part of our Becoming Like Jesus and represents our Kingdom heart to recognise we are all part of the one church in Bradford.
Because even though it does hurt and feel painful when people move on, it hurts a lot less for them and for us when we choose to love them well. Because by doing that we avoid the pain of broken relationships, and just as importantly we make our father in heaven smile as we choose to love well.
All of this to say, we have recently said goodbyes to some really amazing members of our family with wonderful servant hearts. Difficult goodbyes, but goodbyes that I believe have mostly been handled well. I'm hoping that whenever people move on who have played a significant part in making the Light Church family be all God wants it to be, that we will find a moment to thank them in person.
Our recent goodbyes have included the Haldane family, who have been with us since the start. Chris especially has contributed so much to the life of the church through music, tech, leadership and other areas of creativity. Anna has helped make all those hours Chris sowed in happen, as well as serving, herself, in many areas such as Job Club and Creche. We already miss you guys!
Sarah and Danny Bullen have recently decided to move on. It was a lovely email to get from them (as well as sad) as they talked about the many friendships made at TLC as well as meeting here. They’ve both served loads, especially in youth, Sarah having done 5 years working for the church.
Amy and Shaun McGrail are also some incredibly servant hearted people, who have served mostly in Worship & AV Team. Amy having done ten years in the team and Shaun being so valuable behind the sound desk.
Alex Wong also recently moved on, although he hasn’t been around as long as some of those above, he contributed to youth and worship in more recent times, as well as being a faithful part of YA and his Home Church.
We’ve also just heard from Caroline Allen and Danny Barker that they sense a new chapter elsewhere.
I know, when you read it all in one place, it’s not happy reading is it? But God is good, and we love these guys and only want God’s best for them. We intend to use some of our '4th Sunday' family meal meetings to welcome them back to say thanks and pray for them. Though not everyone wants a fuss to be made and we respect that as well.
All of these people leave big holes in our hearts and also in our serving teams. Join us as we trust God to meet all of our needs, both relationally and practically. And let’s journey this well together, being full of grace to everyone in all we say and do.
It’s a real time of change, as you'll have noticed God has also been adding in equal measure to our church family. His blessing is on us and with us, providing incredibly for the building, 3 people have recently become Christians and so many areas of church life are flourishing. I guess church life is just like normal life, and we echo the words of Job - ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!’
You remind me of your mum
The older we get the more Josie seems to have developed little habits that remind me of her mum. One of them is a little laugh she does as she finishes a sentence, even when that sentence isn’t funny. Sometimes it can just be an odd phrase, that I respond with ‘You sound just like your mum’ to which she responds ’That’s great because my mum is awesome!’ #smackdown
Without realising it, we all end up picking up habits, good and bad, from those who have formed us most - closest family, really close friends. It’s like relational osmosis, we gradually become quite like each other.
(Osmosis: the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of values, ideas, knowledge)
Jesus hoped we’d have relational osmosis, in fact the whole vine and branches analogy was suggesting exactly that, that the branches grow, taking on the nature of the vine, so it’s hard to see where one starts and the other stops. And thinking about the original scientific meaning of osmosis, it’s a process where God seeks to suck all the bad stuff out of us and purify it, whilst we take on his nature, and it purifies us.
The Christian punk rock group Earthsuit, whom I love, sang a song Osmosisland (please google it, you’ll make my day), and in it they use the famous philosophical term ‘What we behold we become!’ And in that phrase, we see the link between ‘Be with Jesus’ and ‘Become like Jesus’ - by being with Jesus, by beholding him, we will become like him.
It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it
‘Become like’ is talking about the nature and essence of someone, in this case Jesus. It’s not talking about what Jesus did, but more about how he did it. As Bananarama sang, ‘It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it’ and really they were just ripping off 1 Corinthians 13 which challenges us that even good acts without love are worthless.
Some approaches to Christianity over the last 5 or 6 decades have seen an overemphasis on simply believing the right things and an underemphasis on allowing those beliefs to change you to become more like Jesus - whereas it’s clear from the bible that both are important. At its very worst, and thankfully quite rarely here in the UK, we have seen overly judgmental Christians with under ripe, under grown fruit of the spirit, preaching the good news of Jesus, but projecting an unpleasant version of humanity, the very opposite of what Jesus did.
And so, as we think about what it means for us to be a disciple, and for us to disciple others, i.e. teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands, ‘Becoming Like Jesus’ is really important. As Paul urged us in Ephesians 5:1 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.
Imitating God sounds like a pretty huge task, which is why Jesus came and lived as a man, he made the impossible very achievable, by showing us what full, perfect humanity (God in a bod) looked like, and calling us to become like him, to imitate this image of God.
There are so many ways that we can be like Jesus, in the ‘how’ Jesus lived, rather than the ‘what’ Jesus did and this list is not exhaustive, but for us as a leadership team, it’s our opinion that if anyone in our church gets close to this, they are doing well in representing Jesus to this world.
Here’s the framework (trellis) for ‘Become Like Jesus’, by..….
Becoming secure in your identity - it starts here, because we know that the rest of the list will only truly be worked out healthily when you understand that you are accepted, secure and significant. Knowing that you are loved, you are a child of God, you are a new creation, you are forgiven, you have a purpose. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to truly get that established, but that’s the place that God wants you to live out of.
Becoming a ‘fruits of the spirit’ personality - just imagine what the witness of the church would have been, if every action, motive, word spoken had been sifted through the filter found in Galatians 5:22-23. For me this is one of the very best checklists for our heart and reviewing the person we are becoming - abiding in the vine means becoming more like Jesus, which means we become more loving, joy filled, at peace, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, self controlled.
Becoming humble and servant hearted - 'the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve’ Jesus in Matt 20:28. ‘He (Jesus) made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant’ Paul in Phil 2:7. This is what our God is like folks, not brash, arrogant and full of himself. Perpetually self giving in his love, always longing to serve the needs of others. Jesus deconstructed power hungry leadership like no one else ever has, nor ever will. This is our God, the servant king. Let us become like him.
Becoming courageous and radically obedient - Humble didn’t mean weakness, it meant strength and courage and we see such courage in the man Jesus, combined with radical obedience. This also is where the word ‘holy' sits, radical obedience means being set apart to live a life of holiness and godliness. Our sinless saviour, tempted in every way found courage to radically do whatever the Father told him, then called us to live likewise.
Becoming counter cultural - Jesus rejected many of the social, political and religious norms of the time, he was scandalous in the eyes of many, yet always righteous in the eyes of the father. Anything that got in the way of sacrificial, grace filled, inclusive love, righteousness and justice he stood against it. Whilst this might be one of the harder ones to work out exactly what it means, Paul in Romans 12 is clear, we aren’t to be conformed to the patterns of this world. Let’s stay gracious and kind to each other as we work out the detail of being counter cultural!
Becoming inclusive and welcoming to all - 'If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Matt5:46-48. Enough said - it starts with the heart, and as we will see in ‘Do Like Jesus’ - it gets turned into action. Examine your heart today, who won’t you welcome? Who would you struggle to welcome in God’s family?
When Jesus said: This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 14:8)
He meant that you will be changed, you will become a better person, a nicer person, a braver person, a Jesus person. That’s a disciple, one small step at a time. Now spend some time thinking and praying this through and asking God that through your being with Jesus, he would change you and challenge you in one or two of the above areas in this coming week.