(If you haven’t read the previous blog in this series, I encourage you to jump down one and start there)
So the big question is: Why has God rescued us from our old selves? Why has he saved us? Is it to be in close intimate relationship with him forever? Is it that we might be made new in a new identity, that transforms our character and personality from the inside out that we might better reflect the image of God in which we are made? Or is it that we might partner with God to bring his kingdom rule, his shalom his fullness of life to this world in which we live?
Well, the answer as we know is….. YES. All of the above! But Jesus knew that this fruit of 'changed lives and lives that change the world' would only truly happen when it comes out of that deep, personal, abiding relationship with him.
As Jesus said: ‘Remain/Abide/Dwell/Live in me, as I also remain/live in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain/live in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain/live in me.' John 15:4
Returning to the personal trainer analogy, what might a spiritual personal trainer (such as Jesus, for this is what he was in part - they called it a rabbi back then) call us to in terms of practices, disciplines etc that we might know God more deeply in our mind, in our soul, in our hearts? In some ways the list we have come up with is what my kids might call 'basic', which I think they mean lacking originality. Yep, you are totally right, of course it isn’t original. We follow the unchanging living word of God - Jesus, and we study the unchanging written word of God - the bible - to teach us and instruct us, so yep, it’s not really been original for about 2000 years.
So, how do you ‘Be with Jesus’? Well we reckon the following will truly help you…...
Being a person of prayer
Luke 5:16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Matt 6:6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.
Luke 18:1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.
Matt 18:19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.
Jesus doesn’t ever tell us how long to pray for, nor how often to pray. He simply invites us to pray, both by ourselves and with others. He models a prayerful, dependent relationship with the father and invites us to do likewise. Not out of guilt, nor out of compulsion but out of love and relationship.
Being a spirit led worshipper
I 100% believe that ‘worship’ is a whole life activity, but here I’m specifically talking about worshipping God through song, music and other creative expressions of worship. You might disagree but I think this is one area we have done ok in as the Western church over the last few decades.
Reciting and singing the psalms were all part of the culture that Jesus was steeped in, and engaging spirit to spirit through song and other expressions connects us with God in a really special deep way. It doesn’t have to be the latest song from Bethel hammered out on an electric guitar, it could just as easily be a beautiful piece of classical music. But you know if you have had a spirit to spirit worship encounter, so let’s make space in our lives for them. Large gathered Church and Encounter meetings will be key ways most of us do this, but I’d love to see more worship in Home Churches as well.
Being in the bible
Jesus knew his bible, the Hebrew bible, or what we call the Old Testament, and regularly quoted his bible. Though interestingly we don’t see him ever sat reading it on his own, that’s more than likely because he didn’t have his own copy. That was why they taught their kids to memorise it - oh the days before the printing press, never mind the internet! God speaks, and leads, and teaches and instructs through the written word. He tells us the big picture story of his interaction in the world, and then calls us to write the next chapter through our own lives. We believe that to be in the written word, the bible, regularly reading and meditating is crucial to being with the Living Word, Jesus.
We affirm the words of Paul the apostle to Timothy 2Tim3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. So let's allow it to do just that.
Being a learner
One of the most powerful things that has shaped me has been reading and listening. In part because these are my favourite learning styles. But God has gifted amazing thinkers, authors and speakers and we have more access to them now than ever before. So we would strongly recommend a diet of reading, audio books, preaching and podcasts as we all continue learning and growing. As well as engaging in all our home grown teaching including Café Theology. From time to time we the leadership will recommend books, podcasts, online sermons etc for you to supplement your learning diet with. Sharing what you are learning, reading, listening to in Home Church will also be so valuable as we disciple one another.
Being in Christian community
I still recall a quote from my early listening as a Christian from the Aussie biker preacher John Smith: 'People ask me if you can be a Christian and not be part of a church. I tell them 'No!' You can get to heaven, but to truly follow Jesus is to live in community with other believers'
You may not agree with that, but Jesus and the rest of the New Testament seem really clear to me that this faith is to be worked out in close relationship with others.
So be it Home church or Big Church, or hopefully both, making it a priority is key to being with Jesus and growing in him. Jesus demonstrated this kind of community, the early church modelled it and the writer of Hebrews brilliantly challenged us to: 'let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.’ Her 10:24-25
Being still and at rest
Turn the telly off, put your phone down, ignore the emails and try to block out the kids (if you have them)! We live in a world of interruptions and noise and more than ever we need to 'Be still, and know that I am God;’ Psa46:10. Making a practice of having time to yourself, of being quiet before the Lord and working hard to put one day a week aside to know God more deeply (sabbath) and be at rest, jumping of the hamster wheel and enjoying God and life.
Being a faster
‘When you fast…...’ Matt 6:16. Not if, when.
'But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” Luke 5:35
This is perhaps one of the hardest of spiritual disciplines - it definitely is for me. At least proper ‘eat no food’ fasting. Social media fast, yep can do that. Dry January of Veganuary, yep, just done that. But a whole day, or two, or more…. As Jesus said to his disciples the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We experience God in special ways when we fast, you truly do get to ‘Be With Jesus’ in a very different way through fasting.
So, back to the spiritual training analogy - what might God be asking you to add to your daily, weekly or monthly routine or habits that will help you abide more deeply, grow in your love for God and then go on to produce more fruit? Stop, ask him, then think about how you can turn that into a new habit. Don’t get legalistic about it, don’t beat yourself up when you try and fail. But know that Jesus is constantly calling you into a close abiding relationship with him, he wants to come in and eat with you, the above will help you and him do just that.
I’ve never had a personal trainer (you can probably tell.) Someone who just knows what they are talking about when it comes to health and wellbeing. Someone who can sit down with me, help me clarify my goals (hopefully goals to become physically healthier and stronger) and then point me in the right direction. Here is step 1 - stop eating rubbish/the wrong stuff/too much, here is step 2 - start exercising, step 3 - get better sleep and bedtime routines, you get the gist. They’ve thought about it, studied it and they get it. Of course their advice is never going to be perfect, it will always be their own personal take on it, but in most cases, it should definitely start to move us in the right direction to being a stronger, healthier you, no matter what or where your starting point.
Paul the apostle likened spiritual training to physical training…..
1 Cor9:24-27 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
The prize? Life in all its fullness, starting here today and enduring for an eternity. Eternal life, defined by Jesus as: 'Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ 1 John 17:3. The bible is really clearly that to know Jesus, to truly know him is to become like him and to do like him, not simply to believe in him. James especially is really clear on this: 'Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? James 2:18-20
Our discipleship framework trellis
As a leadership we believe it is God’s heart that fullness of life is found in being a disciple - a passionate obedient follower of Jesus. And it is with this in mind, and humbly accepting that God has called us to be spiritual personal trainers, that we bring to you the Discipleship Framework. This is not a legalistic list of dos and don’ts to get us into God’s good books. NO, absolutely not! It is a trellis upon which our lives can grow in response to Jesus’ free gift of restored relationship with him, to lead us into the counter intuitive, counter cultural ‘Life in all its Fullness’ that God has for us.
Big disclaimer - we are not claiming this to be perfect, for we are not perfect. Nor that it is complete, for we are not complete. Nor that it won’t change, for we are always changing. Nor that it won’t be misunderstood, for we are often misunderstood. But for those who will read it, digest it, apply it to their own lives with an open heart and mind to God, we are very confident that you will 1. Find greater joy and strength as you 'Be With Jesus’ 2. You will more and more 'Become Like Jesus,' and 3. You will more and more 'Do Like Jesus.’
Over the coming days, I’m going to unpack a little more of each area of growth and focus. I’d encourage you on your own, with your home church, with a close friend or partner to chew this over and consider where and how you might apply it to your life as led by the Holy Spirit.
Now, let's run the race!
Routine or Variety?
I believe that life is lived at its best when you have just the right balance of routine and variety, though of course each person’s balance will differ!
Routine can be great, it means you can switch off, don’t have to think too much or plan too much. You can know what to expect and there is something lovely about familiarity as it brings comfort and ease into our lives. This is not a bad thing, there is enough dis-comfort and dis-ease in our world to know that we need the opposite for it to be well with our souls.
However, a bit too much comfort, and a bit too much routine, well you will be on a one person destination to an unfulfilled life, the opposite of what Jesus promised us. They say variety is the spice of life (I thought it was coriander) and I think that ‘they’ are right, variety truly spices up our life and causes us to live in greater technicolour!
Throughout my life I have travelled throughout the UK and possibly preached in over a hundred churches in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I’ve even had the privilege of speaking or attending church in USA, Canda and Australia, and one thing that is clear is that comfort and familiarity wins over variety. Everywhere I went every church service was pretty much identical. Somehow the God who created millions of different species of insects had only one design for evangelical church meetings. Really?
So, it is with this in mind, and because we believe that variety and difference will be a better support to you as you journey with Jesus that we are taking first tentative steps in changing up our Sunday programme. Just small baby steps, but we are hoping and praying that by introducing difference it will help us achieve our goal of creating a more dynamic, participatory environment that will help us not only build family, but make stronger disciples.
Build your own programme (prayerfully!)
As we launch this, we do it with a heart to say that we want you our church family to be prayerfully considering how and when you engage with church meetings. We believe it’s good to meet together regularly, the bible is 100% clear on that, but we don’t think any of us need to be need legalistic about one meeting over another. And perhaps more importantly, we think it is really important that we don’t have a mindset that says ‘I’ve been to church I’ve done my bit for God this week.’ Church meetings are there to equip you to live out your life for God as you seek to bring his Kingdom presence and rule to every area of where God has placed you. It is not the end in itself, it is the means to the end!
So, be thoughtful and prayerful about what you engage with, and if choosing to only do every other Sunday so you can go walking with friends who maybe do or don’t know God, then go for it! If you want to blend home church with some deeper teaching and an encounter worship night, that’s fine too, if it’s how God is leading you. Just ensure it’s God that is leading you, not your very natural desire for comfort. Be thoughtful, be prayerful, and simply ask, what will equip me to love God with 100% of who I am and love my neighbour sacrificially.
Our new Sunday wineskin
So, all of that to say, here is what we are hoping and planning to do as a Sunday schedule going forward:
1st Sunday in a month
Morning - Celebration meeting
Morning - Encounter morning
Evening - Cafe Theology
Morning - Celebration meeting
Friday eve - Family church
Morning - Deep Teaching
Late Morning - Whole Family Communion meal or Home Church Meal
Evening - Encounter night
Home Church Meets or Outreach Sundays
Just to clarify the above….
Encounter meetings - strong focus on worship, prayer ministry and everyone participating
Deep teaching - as it says on the tin, some deeper biblical exposition, but with no live worship nor kids work, though kids space available
Whole Family Communion Meal - Like a church lunch but with elements of a church service and communion built into it.
We will be starting most of the above from now, and will work hard to ensure you know what is happening and when. For now, we can confirm the following:
Sunday 23rd Jan - Encounter Morning
Sunday 30th Jan - Celebration Meeting and Encounter Night
Sunday 6th Feb - Celebration Morning
Sunday 13th Feb - Encounter Morning and Cafe Theology Evening
Sunday 20th Feb - Celebration Morning
Sunday 27th Feb - Deep teaching and Family Communion Meal and Encounter Night
Sunday 6th Mar - Celebration Morning
Sunday 13th Mar - Encounter Morning and Cafe Theology Evening
Sunday 20th Mar - Celebration Morning
Friday 25th Mar - Family Church
Sunday 27th Mar - Deep teaching and Family Communion Meal and Encounter Night