Be strong and courageous

Just over 32 years ago, I was given the name Andrew. It means "strong, courageous, manly." I remember being in secondary school assembly one day when the local Christian worker was talking about the meaning of names, and he mentioned the meaning of my name. There was a titter that went around those sitting near me, and I was embarrassed, because I felt that there was no way I could live up to that name. I felt far from manly as a teenager, and I don't think that ever really changed. I was never a "blokey" bloke, I felt I related to women better than men, so I felt that I wasn't really doing much to live up to my name. On my ordination retreat in June 2009, i felt so excited, and yet hugely daunted by the prospect of serving God in this new way. I was very clear that I was completely inadequate - there was no way I could do any of it on my own. There is a theological argument in some quarters that people change upon ordination to priesthood. I don't really believe in that, because I believe I'm no more different from any other followers of Christ - we are all part of the "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9) - and yet, I believe there was a change in me upon my ordination - a moment of anointing and equipping for the ministry to which God called me. I also believe I was given the courage and boldness that had previously seemed to evade me. Suddenly I wasn't so afraid any more. Sure enough, when I went up for prayer at New Wine a couple of months later, the words from Joshua 1:9 were spoken over me, "be strong and courageous." I found myself standing up for things and people I would never have previously. A year or so later, out of the blue, a member of the church community where I served as curate (assistant pastor, for those unfamiliar with the lingo), said to me, "keep being bold." He'd seen and wanted to affirm that boldness in me. I believe I was bold, and that I saw the fruit of that boldness in people's lives.

On the morning of the service to mark the beginning of my life as vicar of St Christopher's Church in September last year, I was in Coventry cathedral. The reading from the day was from 1 Chronicles 28, in which the following words appeared: “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for ... the Lord is finished." I believe God was giving me an incredibly timely reminder of his command to me, to be bold and courageous. I would need to make difficult decisions, some of which might be unpopular. In the face of this, God was calling me to be courageous.

Just last week, at New Wine, as I was being prayed for, someone spoke over me, "mighty man of God." I don't know if he knew the meaning of "Andrew" (most people know me as Andy, anyway), but in that moment God through him was bringing me back full circle, to the identity bestowed on me at birth. I am called to be strong and courageous.

One of the themes that leapt out at me from the talks at New Wine, was the command to be courageous, that the church needed to stop being so afraid of losing face, or being unpopular. In short, we needed to get over ourselves! Robby Dawkins, a pastor in Chicago, through whom God has worked amazingly, said, "all of us have more power and authority than we use. ... It's about Christ in me. Christ the resurrector lives in us. We need to step into our true identity as God's children. ... Jesus came to show us what WE can do, not what HE can do." Robby's lived that out in his ministry and seen God do some extraordinary things - not because he's particularly special, but because he's grasped what it means to be people in whom God's Spirit lives and works.

The reason why we can be strong and courageous, living out that command God gave to Joshua, the reason why I believe I have been able to be bold, is because of the promise that's attached to that command ... "be strong and courageous," God says, ... "For The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Step out, God says, be bold. You will face opposition and hardship. You will face the regular temptation to fall into discouragement or disappointment, you will have every reason to be afraid, you will face what will seem like insurmountable odds. There will be times you want to throw in the towel and give up. But don't forget something vital, something that changes everything - I will be with you every step of the way. I'll catch you as you step into the unknown. I will never leave you. I will give you the strength you need. I will do all this for the sake of my glory, for the extension of my kingdom." We actually have an advantage over Joshua and Solomon, and the others in the Old Testament to whom that command was addressed - because Christ lives in us through his Holy Spirit. We have all we need to see Jesus work in mighty ways through us in our churches and communities. I believe if we really began to grasp this, we would see change in our nation.

Christ lives in me. His power and authority lives in me. I'm actually beginning to believe this. And so, since returning from New Wine, I have an extra spring in my step. I have prayed for people to be healed with that little bit more faith. I am feeling just a little bit bolder. I am taking courage, because I know that God is with me, that he has called me to love and serve this community that he loves so much that he sent his only Son to live and die for every one of the people who live here. I can be bold, because God goes with me. I can be bold because God's kingdom and the commission he's given us to make disciples matters more than my own reputation. I can do nothing without him, but "I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13). It's about time I lived up to my name, and became strong, courageous, enduring, a mighty man for Jesus.


I've been listening to Louie Giglio's teaching podasts, from Passion City Church. Of all the preachers I've heard, he above all has inspired, challenged and encouraged me. The latest series I'm listening to is one on the Lord's Prayer - called "Shift", inviting us to have a shift of perspective in our lives from our own limited and sinful perspective, to God's perspective. Once again it's incredibly inspiring stuff. I recommend you check it out on itunes!

The first talk, based on "our Father in heaven" was a challenging reminder that prayer shouldn't be us simply offloading onto God, telling him our problems and what he should do about them (as Louie says, we'd only be telling God what he already knows), but rather seeking to have a divine perspective on these things, to remember that above all, in our prayer and worship we should seek to glorify God, to listen to him, and everything else flows from there. It made me realise that too easily the sum total of my prayer-life is all too often made up of the shopping list, when I should begin with praise. Intercession of course plays a part, but it is only part of prayer, not all of it. We should seek to glorify God through our prayers as well as our thoughts and actions, intentionally praising him simply for who he is, resting in his presence, and thanking him for what he's done in sending Jesus to live and die to save us, and for sending his Spirit to live in us, comfort us and make us more like Jesus.

Lord, would you change my heart even more, so that my prayers might reflect your will. Change my perspective, so that I see things more the way you see them, and seek to glorify you through my thoughts, deeds, words and prayers. Amen.

The 2nd talk was based on "your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven." He related to the "occupy Wall Street" movement. He suggested that Christians should begin an "occupy all streets" movement, where we intentionally seek to declare the coming of God's kingdom where we are, that through our words and actions, God's will might be better represented wherever we are; that through our praying presence, the presence of Jesus might be known. He called for a shift - that rather than seeing our lives as going to work and going to church, or being at home, we should seek to bring God's presence wherever we are. This is incredibly challenging, because it calls us to be full-time Christians - Ambassadors for God at home, at work or school, and church. Imagine what our communities looked like if we intentionally lived like that, praying for our communities and workplaces, and asking God how we can be a blessing to our home, workplace or neighbourhood; seeking to be Jesus' hand, feet and mouth and heart wherever we go. If we all did that, we'd see radical transformation, because Jesus lives in the hearts of each one of us, and he empowers us to e his missionaries, if only we ask him to. Let's no longer be passenger, but let's seek to be agents of change so that God's kingdom comes in greater power wherever we are.

Lord, give us courage to live for you. Help us to share your love in the way we think, speak, live and love. May your kingdom come wherever we are through us and in us. Amen.

Vicar's Report - APCM - 22 April 2013

May I begin by saying what a privilege it is to be the vicar of this church community.  Liz, Alicia, Isabelle and I are so grateful to you all for the welcome you’ve given us.  We feel so much at home here, like we’ve been around for so much longer than nearly 8 months. 


When I first saw the parish profile of the parish back in January 2012, I was tremendously excited both by the work that had been done here, and also the huge potential for furthering Christ’s kingdom in Allesley Park and Whoberley.  It was clear that the new person coming in would be able to build on some very solid foundations, and I want to pay tribute to the ministry of Graeme during his twelve years here, and also Lynnette who did a brilliant job of leading the church through the vacancy.  She was ably helped I know by Pauline and Mike as churchwardens, the PCC and others, during this time.


The collation service at the beginning of September was one I will always remember.  It was wonderful to be welcomed in such a special way.  I knew then that, as one of the congregation affirmed just a week into my time here, that I was the right man, in the right place at the right time.  Having the parish weekend away very early on in my time here was fantastic, because it enabled me to begin to get to know you all, and the subject of spiritual gifts was so appropriate – we’re still looking to build on the work that was begun at that weekend.


Although I’ve only been vicar here for such a short time, much has been achieved.  We have taken the bold but necessary step of moving to a weekly pattern of worship of two morning services, which enables traditional worship and contemporary worship to take place each Sunday.  It also allows more room for growth in our worship space.  Thank you to all those who have worked to make this transition possible – all of you who have compiled and filled various rotas – our musicians, who have responded excellently to the extra demand, and our children’s workers, who have enabled us to have children’s work at both morning services, which is tremendously exciting.  I believe that this decision to make this change will bear great fruit, although it may take time and patience, although early signs seem to be encouraging.  It’s important to honour our relationship with the uniformed groups, and so Parade services have continued to be an important part of the worshipping life of our community. These services also allow the whole church community to worship together once a month.


Of course, life hasn’t always been easy since September – it’s been full of challenges as well as joys.  It’s at times like these that we need encouragement from the Scriptures.  One of my favourite Bible passages states, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19).  These verses have always been important to me.  They tell of a God whose creative ability to bring new life to barren places and new hope to desperate situations, light out of darkness and life out of death, will never cease.  For our God is the God of the resurrection, the God of new beginnings.  We need to cling to this hope when times are hard and when death is a very present reality.  John played a massive role in the life of our church community and we will miss him in many different ways – for the person he was as well as the work he did.  Others among us are experiencing the pain of grief.  It’s at these times that we need each other.  I think this church family has shown itself to be very close.  We’re here for each other and we’re the principle means by which God will bring restoration and renewal.


God is the God of new life, but the thing about new life is that it never takes the same shape as it used to.  There’s no going back to the good old days.  We need to move on.  God wants to do a new thing among us.  He calls us away from the past into his new future.  I discovered a wonderful illustration of this while I was away on an Arrow residential. During a walk I came across the wreck of an farm building.  This building is no longer fit for purpose.  The walls have fallen down, and it looks dead.  But look at the life that’s springing from it – Nature has taken over. In many ways it’s more alive than ever.  I believed then when I saw it and I believe now that this is an illustration of what can happen when we let go of our own pre-conceived ideas of how things ought to be and let God envision us and begin a new work among us. 


I felt then that it was of particular relevance to Whoberley Community Church.  While there was much to celebrate about the life of that family over the years of its existence, it got to a point where a weekly meeting was no longer sustainable.  While I don’t believe it’s right to say here and now that there won’t again be a church plant in Whoberley, to make such a venture work, there needs to be a clear vision for the work of the church there, but most of all, a heart of mission for the people who live in Whoberley. 


William Temple, Archbishop of York, then Canterbury, once said, “Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” This the case for all churches, but particularly for church plants.  Church plants need to listen so carefully to the community around them, and be willing to be shaped in response to them.  It’s not for us to dictate what sort of church community might spring up, if and when we believe it’s right to make such a leap of faith – and everything we do needs to be led out of a clear sense that this is the way God is leading.


But, although one form of life has come to an end, at least for the time being, new life has sprung up in Whoberley.  Messy Church is wonderful.  It’s fantastic to see families coming together, a good proportion of whom aren’t part of our, or indeed any, church community.  More Messy Church events are planned for May, June and July, and we will hopefully continue on a monthly basis.  We do so in faith that new life might spring up.  So, watch this space!  Thanks to the team who have made this happen – your hard work is greatly appreciated, and I’m so excited to see where this ministry will lead.


Going forward, what are my priorities?  In some ways it’s incredibly simple, but not at all easy! We had a very helpful presentation by Morris Rodham (Archdeacon Missioner), on the 8 Essential Qualities of Healthy Growing Churches.  He explained each quality in turn then at the end asked us to assess the areas of greatest strength and then greatest weakness.  Those present believed that our strengths lie in the qualities of “Loving Relationships” and “Holistic Small Groups” – clearly good relationships are at the centre of our church community, and I believe that’s true.  As for our weakest area, those present identified, “Needs-oriented outreach” as the area we need to grow most in.  Again, I think that’s right.  While I believe that the Hub, which is a wonderful, exciting ministry, is making a really positive impact in the community, we need to step out of our comfort zones, into the community.  We need to spend time listening to God and the community in order to discern where God might be leading us, and then step out and reach out with God’s love to those who need it.  My role in all this can be summarised by verses I believe are key for me, particularly here –


Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13).


My principle role is not to do all the ministry, which is why day to day pastoral visiting is not a personal priority – although I am incredibly grateful to Ann and the team for the ministry they do.  But rather, my principle role is to equip and empower all of us to reach our God-given potential, that we may all be able reach out with God’s love to those who need it.  Preaching is an important part of this role, and we’re going to be spending a significant time from September until Easter next year focusing on Mark’s Gospel seeking to reconnect with Jesus and why he is such good news for everyone. 


In summary then, my priority is mission: Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost, and he calls us to do likewise.  How we do that is something we need to discern together, which is why we need to make prayer a priority corporately and individually as we seek to discern God’s will for us here.  Each of us has an equally important role to play in working for the growth of God’s kingdom here in Allesley Park and Whoberley.  Together, in God’s strength, anything is possible!

All Your Children

I am made in your image –
Like all your children. I am fearfully and wonderfully made – But so are all your children.
A product of the master craftsman -
Along with all your children.
Of infinite worth -
Like all your children.
Unique - a once-off -
Like all your children.

There were no mistakes in your handiwork
You didn't need to go back to the drawing board
There is breathtaking beauty
- In all your children.

Help me to see your hand on me
Help me to be free to be the way you've made me
Help me to respect and cherish diversity -
No room for jealousy or superiority.
You've painted rainbow people,
Help me to bring out all the colours
Help me to love indiscriminately
Help me to bridge the gap
Help me to help them fly
Help me to honour you, to bring glory to you
in the way I love, in the way I serve
All your children.

7 March 2013

One Saturday

A headline in the paper read“Religious nut and freak is dead.”
The spokesman for the Pharisees
Explained (while looking very pleased),
“This man had caused us lots of trouble,
We had to get him on the double.

He claimed he was the Chosen One,
Almighty God, His only Son.
We Pharisees weren’t having that! – 
Even worse, he claimed he’d sat
At God’s right hand in heaven above
And will again. You know, I’d love
To see that day, but won’t of course –
For that man’s words are just a source
Of claptrap and of blasphemy,
That’s why we killed him, can’t you see?
He drew the crowds with clever tricks –
They even claimed he’d healed the sick.
The blind can see (or so they claim)
And crippled people walk again!
But that’s not all – you’ll laugh at this –
A dead man (said with emphasis)
Was brought back to life at his word –
This claim’s preposterous, quite absurd.
We all know that dead men don’t walk
About, or eat and drink and talk.
It’s clear to me they’ve all been had.
Poor, simple people fooled – how sad!
At first we’d tried to humour him
Until he got beneath our skin.
He insulted us, called us snakes,
Told us that we were on the make.
We couldn’t take it any more,
That really was the final straw.
We had him silenced, put to death,
This carpenter from Nazareth.
Let’s see him speak against us now –
As he’s dead, I can’t see how!
He could rise again and death defy.”
The spokesman spat, “And pigs might fly!”

The Passion Ballad

All eyes on a garden - a kneeling manCries out to his father, “Take this cup if you can.”
A gasp heard in heaven - angels can’t bear
Watch the scene of a broken man crying down there.

The fate of the world is now left unsure,
The plan for salvation could stutter and fall.
It hangs on a man who feels so much pain;
His burden is great, his sweat falls like rain.

Urgent discussion - is there a way out?
No sign of the Father, beginnings of doubt.
Fervently pray that the man will find strength,
Agonised moment, unspeakable length.

Until . . .

A look of decision.  All heaven awaits.
Resolution is formed, no time for debate.
“Not my will but yours,” he’ll follow the way
Ordained by the Father.  He’ll face the next day.

All happens so quickly - soldiers arrive.
Fulfil their destiny, keep our hope alive.
Man stands on trial; he’s committed no wrong.
Agony in heaven as the Father looks on.

A sprinkle of water - case is dismissed
In the hands of the Jews who betrayed with a kiss.
The sentence is passed: a criminal’s death.
Hang on a cross, no dignity left.

Each blow of nails through hands and through feet
Echoes through heaven - a desperate beat.
The Father winces as his son hangs down there
In desolate loneliness, there’s no one to care.

Dignitaries mock as the sinless one dies.
“Father, forgive,” is all he replies.
His life ebbs away, the darkness descends.
“It is finished!” he shouts.  The struggle just ends.

Leaderless people - the light has gone out.
Fail to see what the anguish was about.
They don’t understand that he had to die;
They secretly mourn, and simply ask why.

The third day dawns and it all becomes clear:
The tomb is empty, there’s nobody here.
"The Lord is alive,” the angels rejoice.
Relief in heaven, for he made the right choice.

The great gamble worked - he carried our sin,
Died on the cross so we could go in.
United to the Father through the Son.
Mission accomplished and the victory won.

Why church?

This is the text of a sermon I preached on Phillippians 2:1-3 a couple of weeks ago. It remains the most challenging (to me) sermon I've felt called to preach, which is why I'm sharing it here. I was preaching to myself as much as anyone else. Wha...

Read More

Love wins

In Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Helm’s Deep is under attack from an army numbering thousands fighting for the evil Saruman. It has only one aim: the complete annihilation of its enemy, including women and children. It seems very likely that ...

Read More