History teaches us that we shouldn’t be surprised by events like the current coronavirus pandemic. It’s certainly not the first time something like this has happened. For example, there was a world-wide pandemic in the middle ages known as the ‘bubonic plague’ – and this was even more potent than the coronavirus which we are facing today. Then in the early 1900’s, there was the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’, an unusually deadly influenza which swept the world.
Yet, what makes Covid-19 so shocking is that few of us could possibly have imagined anything like this happening in the 21st century. Our whole way of life is being profoundly challenged. A simple trip to the grocery store is now an anxious search to see if shelves are stocked with the most basic items for everyday living. Who ever would have thought this could happen to us? Not even a hint of warning. One day, things are ‘normal’. The next, there’s a new normal. Just insane.
And that’s the point. Things were never as solid as we believed. We’d placed our faith in a way of life which we assumed was as certain as the sun. It never was. If the global pandemic has taught us anything…it must surely be that the foundations on which we build our lives REALLY matter. Suddenly, all the stuff about ‘faith in Jesus’ makes sense. HE is the only rock who is solidly reliable. Why did we ever allow ourselves to become so complacent and trust flawed human systems instead? How could we have missed the mark so widely? Why would we ever have permitted ourselves to simply put our faith in a way of life that was always precarious anyway?
In this crisis, there are many things which don’t make sense. How long will it last? What will the future look like beyond the ‘crisis’? What will change? What will be the economic price of all this? The lists of questions go on.
I don’t have answers to any of those questions. The only thing that makes sense to me in this crazy season is the message of the cross. Jesus gave HIS life so we could experience HIS life. John 3:16 stands as a pillar of truth in a crumbling world.
My encouragement to you….no…my plead with you is to put your faith in Jesus Christ. He is the light who will show you the way forward. He is the truth who can be completely relied upon. He is the way…the ONLY way to eternal life.
Lean in to his grace. Call out to him. Believe his word. Jesus Christ – God’s Son – who died on a cross and rose from the dead. He did it all for you. That’s real love. He’s totally worth following.
We’re all prone to wandering from God. It’s not for no reason that Isaiah describes us as being ‘like sheep who have gone astray’. Sure, sometimes our relationship with God is fresh and fervent. But if we’re honest, it’s not always like that. Complacency can so easily set into our lives. We get distracted from what really matters. Priorities change as life progresses. Sometimes, the very breakthroughs we believed for become the blockage to our faith in Jesus. Ironic indeed.
The tendency to go our own way is exactly the issue with the prodigal son in the third of three stories Jesus tells in Luke 15. Yet what makes this tale different from the previous two parables is the extent of God’s love for people. For example, in the story of the lost coin, the woman searched and found it. Then in the story of the lost sheep, the shepherd went looking and recovered it. But in the story of the rebellious son, the father let his child go. This was an act of profound love on the Father’s part. After all, true love is unforced. Yet the father waited…day after day…month after month…year after year. The story teaches us that distance cannot limit the scope of God’s grace. The Father wouldn’t stop waiting. Why? Because he believed his son would one day come home. He had a conviction that the prodigal would eventually ‘come to his senses’ and be drawn back. That’s exactly what happened. The son’s return was met with underserved forgiveness and unmerited favour. That’s grace. Breathtakingly generous.
Salvation is 100% the work of God. It has nothing whatsoever to do with human achievement. We cannot earn a place at the Father’s table. Any hint of ‘merit’ indicates the existence of religion rather than authentic relationship. The only reason we can approach God is because HE has drawn us. His grace has made a way. He has been waiting for us. The story is not about prodigal rebellion. It’s all the Father heart of God.
In my own walk with God, I have found that I am not merely drawn to God once…but over and over again. His heart of love is what does it. How can I resist such utterly astonishing grace? It never fails to amaze me how much God loves his people. When the Holy Spirit tugs on your heart, don’t resist. Allow him to lead you to the place where you belong.
There used to be a TV show called the Muppets. One of the puppet acts featured was a couple of old curmudgeons who were theatre critics. They were constantly carping and sniping at every performance they watched and they could never bring themselves to say anything kind about acts other than their own.
Sometimes, the Christian world can seem a bit like those two old disapproving muppets. Instead of modelling a generous and grace-filled culture which celebrates others, it often feels pretty cold and mean spirited. All the ‘expressions of unity’ in the world are nothing compared to the uncomplicated simplicity of warm encouragement and genuine appreciation. It’s not rocket science. But it really matters.
One of the biggest challenges facing Christianity in the UK is largely unobserved in its own ranks. Its called CYNICISM. This is a habitual way of thinking which is far more comfortable criticising than celebrating. I’m not sure it’s fair to say this is a distinctly British problem, but it is undoubtedly an issue for the wider Church in our nation. It doesn’t take long to pick up on its vibe in conversations and social media interactions.
Cynicism is usually wrapped up in the language of pseudo intellectualism and illusions of spiritual superiority. It is contemptuous of anything it perceives as different. But the tell tale sign of it’s lurking presence is the constant negativism which lies at its core. It much prefers to find fault than search for what is good. This ultimately leads to a sense of pessimism which contaminates local church life and is a killer of faith. What then follows is a downward spiral of doom, gloom, insecurity and eventually, the self fulfilment of its own fears. This is one of the major reasons why so many churches are dying a slow and ungracious death. The toxicity of cynicism is a contagion which smothers life. Leaders would do well to be alert to its subtle danger.
Whatever you do, don’t be a church cynic!! Check your heart to see if it has found a home in your life. If the very reading of this blog post stirs a reaction in you which is resentful and irritable, then this is a good thing. You’ve just been alerted to the existence of cynicism in your life.
The Church should be the very antithesis of worldly culture. Instead of accusatory and disapproving sentiments, the vibe of every local church should be positive, warm and encouraging. This is the shock to the system that is so desperately needed today. Merely talking about ‘love’ is as meaningless as explaining that water is wet. It needs to be articulated in a way that is real and authentic. Cynicism is no friend of true love. Thats why the alternative needs to be experienced. More than ever, people need to see what real love looks like. It is everything which cynicism is not. Here’s a good prayer to pray: “Lord, help me live your message. Amen”
Here at the Junction Church, we’re passionate about championing a rising generation. This is far more than a platitude. It’s a reality that is happening week after week. For me, this is part of our divine remit. Nothing encourages my heart more than seeing young adults finding their feet and walking in God given confidence.
The other day, I happened to read an article which lamented ‘millennials’ in today’s Church (universal), with particular emphasis on the influence of Hillsong music. The article urged churches to return to the spirit of the 80’s / 90’s during which period, worship was more ‘authentic’. As I read the blog, I found myself thinking ‘what’s so authentic about walking backwards?’ Besides, there were plenty of voices back then which deplored what was happening! You see, the problem with the good old days is….they were never THAT good.
As someone who has reached the dizzy heights of ‘middle age’, I am all too aware that I could very easily settle into middle life listening to classical music and 1990’s hits (ok, mainly classical music). The temptation is to comfortably live off some pretty decent memories of years gone by. But as much as some great things happened back in the day, we must be sure not to allow the sentiment of hindsight to blind our perspective. Our greatest gift is to cheer on those who are younger than us. This is an honour…and the BEST way to stay fresh and young at heart.
There is a rising generation, whether we see it or not. Get to know their heart and you’ll find they are authentic and fresh…in their way. Church leaders would be wise to give them space to express worship that helps them connect with God, not impose our stylistic preferences upon them. This rising generation are the future. The reason large sections of the Christian Church are struggling so desperately is because of the sheer disconnect with this generation – and a failure to invest in them. You’d think we’d learn, hey?
Is what is happening today perfect? No. But it wasn’t perfect 20 years ago either…or 100 years ago…or 500 years ago. But we have every reason to have hope and optimism for the future. A generation is on the rise. World, you’d better watch out.
Sometimes, it feels like the world is becoming increasingly judgmental and disinterested in understanding. When an accusatory culture rules the day, it creates a toxic environment where negativity and division flourishes. No doubt the thoughtless (and even abusive) use of social media has largely contributed to this vibe.
Yet in the midst of all the craziness, there are people – real people. No, not the caricatured stereotypes labelled by dogmatic idealism. Just down to earth, everyday people, each with their own story to tell. Truth is, everybody has one. But who will listen?
Some are able to articulate their stories better than others. But it’s our story that has led each of us to the point where we currently find ourselves in life. Our upbringing. Our circumstances. Our flaws. Our mistakes. Our joys. Our sorrows. Our disappointments. Our successes. The list goes on. These all form part of our story.
If only we took the time to listen a little more instead of throwing accusations. If only we sought to understand the experiences of others instead of judging them. If only we tried a little harder to see beyond the narrow idealistic argument to the grit of a path which has been walked before. Then maybe, just maybe, we’d measure our words more carefully and extend a little more grace. We all need it.
One of the greatest contributions each of us can make in our world today is to resist the pressure of merely running to the beat of the crowd. History teaches us how catastrophically dangerous this is. In a world of confused noise, wise people take time to think for themselves. One of the most helpful ways we can do this is to exercise the gift of listening. No-matter how much we feel we know, all of us have much to learn.
Above all other voices, what about the one that matters most? Who will believe his report? When God speaks, it’s usually quiet and still. It takes discipline and reflection to discern his wisdom, especially in the midst of a thunderously rowdy world. Yet his word is the one that is eternal consequence. Dare to stop. Dare to think. Dare to LISTEN.
At the wedding of Harry & Meghan, something happened which caused quite a stir. A bishop by the name of Michael Curry preached a brilliant sermon which had some real conviction & passion. These are things you don’t always find amidst the formal pomp and circumstance of a British royal wedding.
The response to Bishop Curry’s message by the stiff upper lip types was monotonously predictable. There was a great deal of murmuring from those who can’t bring themselves to recognise any different expression of church other than the established one. The BBC commentator patronisingly described Bishop Curry’s sermon as ‘forceful and uplifting‘. Say what?? Mr BBC man was uttering verbal clap trap of the most condescending kind. Honestly….the BBC…bless. Bishop Michael was different…and surely this should be well and truly celebrated?!!! He wasn’t being ‘forceful‘ at all. He simply sounded like a man who believed what he was talking about. That’s a good thing!!!
As I watched Bishop Curry preaching his brilliant message and the awkward reaction afterwards, my mind was drawn back to something that happened when we first planted the Junction Church in Loughborough. I’ll never forget chatting to a brand new Christian who’d been journeying with us. This zealous person had gone into town giving out flyers advertising our new church (something which we had not asked them to do). After receiving lots of positive feedback from passers by, a church minister who happened to walk by (wearing a collar) took one of the flyers and rudely asked what this was all about. As the new Christian naively tried to explain our heart, the minister then proceeded to scrunch up the flyer and grumbled words to the effect ‘we don’t need another church in this town‘ before abruptly walking off. The new Christian could hardly believe what had just happened. Truly shocking stuff…yet that’s just one story!! Surely it would have been far better to just celebrate a different kind of church instead of criticising it?
Anyway…back to Bishop Curry. I loved his sermon. I love it that he was different. I love the fact that he dared to bring some warm passion into a context which can be cold and clinical. This is exactly what the UK Church needs more of. It’s something to be celebrated, not frowned upon. This is a new day and there’s change in the air. A new generation is rising up. It’s time to get with it. God bless Bishop Michael!!
I had to come to terms with a less than ideal situation pretty early on in life. This meant I was fostered from the age of 5 right up until my 18th birthday. So it’s been an interesting journey, complex and way beyond my control.
Thing is, sympathy is not the answer to hardship. Most people hate the idea of others feeling sorry for them. Actually, I’ve discovered for myself that God’s grace not only saves me but empowers my life too. It’s upon this truth where I’ve found true freedom. I’m so glad to be part of the Junction Church community. Here, I found family. Here, I’m safe. Here, I’ve grown and flourished.
In a less than perfect world, God’s grace has made a universe of difference to me. This doesn’t mean I suddenly have answers to all the complicated questions of life. I don’t. We’re all born into a unique set of circumstances. Everyone has struggles. Just because someone else might have been brought up differently to me doesn’t mean they don’t have their share of issues too. These normally just take a different form. That’s why it’s a mistake to measure a person’s inward wellbeing by their outward appearance. The two don’t necessarily equate. No-matter how good somebody’s life may look, the truth is that none of us are perfect.
So whoever you are and whatever you’ve been through, lean into God’s grace. Why? Because none of us are THAT good. But God’s grace really is THAT good. It has saved me. It can save you too. Lean in. Keep trusting. Allow God’s grace to shape your life. This is what will make a difference.
Last November, we hosted our first ever Junction Church conference called V3. This stands for: Vision, Vibe & Values. I don’t think I’m being over dramatic when I say it was a massive success. To think we’d never done anything like this before….well, all I can say is that our amazing team smashed it out of the theatre!!!
So…we’re doing it all again in 2018 – only this time it’s going to be even better!! Mark the date – Saturday 10th November. V3 is a chance for us to gather as ONE church to worship God, receive ministry input and just hang out together. In the Old Testament, events like this were celebrated occasions known as festivals. People would take time to reflect, recalibrate and remember the sheer goodness of God. That’s exactly what our annual conference is all about.
So, what will be different in 2018? Well here are four snippets…
We want to showcase some of the creative brilliance emerging at the Junction Church. We’ll be having special conference openers for each of the main sessions. This will include a mix of multi-media and live performance. You won’t want to miss any of these.
I’m delighted that our main speaker for V3 2018 is Ps Dave Gilpin. He’s a genuine legend who came to England from Australia in the early 90’s and pioneered one of the most creative churches in the UK. He’s a preacher par excellence who will make you think, laugh, and think some more. I know that Ps Dave has a word for your life which is going to profoundly impact you.
SEVEN FOR FIVE
We’re going to be showcasing some of our very own preachers too! A whole session called ‘Seven for Five’ will give you a chance to hear seven 5 minute messages straight from the heart of a bunch of incredible people. All of them will pack a serious spiritual punch. We are blessed with so many outstanding communicators and this is a chance to not only hear from them….but cheer them on.
We’ll be showcasing some brand NEW music at V3 conference 2018. In fact, I’m excited to let you know that there’s an EP dropping around that time too!! This is all about discovering the sound of our house, something that’s becoming increasingly clear the more we journey on as a church.
GET BOOKED IN
Add to all that a great kids programme, MVMNT youth, specialised seminars and conference Sunday….V3 is going to be truly outstanding. Plan ahead. Book in. We’ve already got loads of people coming….so I’m not going to try to hard sell this. If you’ve caught our heart, you’ll be there. Simples.
The Junction Church Nottingham is coming soon!!! We can’t wait to get going this autumn.
But does Nottingham really need another church? Well….yes it absolutely does. Curiously enough, you’d be hard pressed to hear anyone ever asking if the city needs more restaurants, more hotels, more jobs, more theatres, more cafe’s. A growing city needs lots of things. And it needs more great churches too which add life and vitality to the city!! We celebrate everything that’s currently happening in town. Our mission is to reach out to those who’d never think about setting foot inside a church.
I just wanted to give you an update on what we’re planning.
We’re launching life groups in Nottingham city centre every Thursday from 6th September. These are hangouts where people can meet up, make friends, grow in their faith and do life together. For us, life groups are the BEST way to build community. Everybody needs some great people in your life who can encourage you, pray for you and cheer you on. That’s what these are all about.
We’re also going to be hosting a series of vision nights in the city. The first of these will be on Thursday 15th November (venue tbc). This is a great opportunity to worship together and catch our heart for the city of Nottingham. We’d LOVE you to save this date: THURSDAY 15TH NOVEMBER. You won’t want to miss it!!
We’re not rushing into Sunday services. Our heart is to really connect people into the Junction Church community. Before the WHAT, we need to grasp the WHY. Our heart is not to put on a load of services. No. We’re creating a community from which Jesus can build his church. Sunday services in Nottingham will happen in 2019. But lets take our time with this and enjoy the journey.
SPREAD THE WORD
If you know anyone in Nottingham (or who is coming to the city), I’d love you to let them know what we’re doing. This is a great opportunity to be part of something from the very beginning. One day, there will be a thriving, flourishing Junction Church community in Nottingham city centre. This is inevitable. But how amazing to be involved in the story now…up close and personal. If you know anyone who is interested, the best person to contact is Amy (our campus coordinator) at: firstname.lastname@example.org