Have you noticed that the fear industry is booming at the moment? These are good days for things like suspicion, cynicism and gloom. They prey on people’s worst instincts, creating an atmosphere that is thick with the toxicity of distrust. It’s contagion blows into key aspects of society including politics, media and education, and it spreads confusion over a hurting nation. Church is not exempt from it. If you are the type of person whose disposition leans more towards negativism, then the sinister climate that hangs overhead will simply encourage unbelief.
Personally though, I’m resisting it. In fact, I find myself battling to protect against a pessimistic default. It could be the easiest thing for me to slip into a downward spiral of doom and despair. That’s why I choose my friends very carefully. It is never helpful to keep company with a vibe that panders to the prevailing culture and rolls with it’s hateful jibes. Better to acquaint with faith than fear.
Fear feeds negative culture and starves faith of it’s vitality. Religion loves fear because it provides an opportunity to manipulate and control people. That’s why Jesus reserved his most ferocious words for the religious establishment of his day. They thrived off the power that fear afforded them, playing on people’s anxieties with subtle yet brutal precision. The Pharisees hatred of Jesus was venomous because Jesus exposed their hypocritical legalism and preached a message of freedom instead. His word hasn’t changed. But neither has the spirit of religion.
When we understand the difference between religion and relationship, it changes everything. One controls you. The other empowers you. One holds you back. The other releases you into your God given potential. One leads to hate while the other to love. Interestingly, Jesus was never into religion. His message was totally relational. He came to set us free from the grip of fear, and into the loving embrace of God’s amazing grace.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul says ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear’ (2 Timothy 1:7). This verse is a massive statement. It tells us something about the culture that God wants us to carry in our everyday lives, and which changes the atmosphere around us. It is FearLESS, not fearful. It is FaithFUL, not faithless. The threat of fear can only be expelled by the power of love. That’s why the bible teaches us that ‘love drives out fear‘ (1 John 4:18).
I recently read some Christian blogs which were full of complaint about churches that have ‘hipster’ lights, punchy music & a ‘style’ that is not to their liking. Afterwards, I found myself thinking….SO WHAT??? In a world that’s in desperate need of the life giving hope of God’s good news, are these things seriously worth getting so angry about? I mean, in the grand scheme of things….really??
So what if some churches like a few lights? So what if there’s a bit of beat in the music? So what if some churches don’t conform to traditional ways of doing things – and sing songs that have been written in the last 2 years rather than 20 or 200 years ago? So what???
Surely what REALLY matters is that people are encountering the life transforming grace of Jesus Christ? Surely it would be better to celebrate churches that are courageously reaching out and impacting a generation with the greatest news on the planet? Surely the REAL travesty is that there are so many churches out there where new salvations are few and far between?
The Pharisees detested Jesus because he didn’t fit with their expectations of how things should be done. They even accused him of being a compromiser, or as they put it, a ‘friend of sinners‘ (Matt 11:19). But what was meant as a carping, sniping criticism was actually an unwitting compliment. You see, Jesus related to everyday people, used illustrations they could identify with and connected with their lives. Meanwhile, religion loves to stay in it’s own little theologically correct bubble and feels better about itself when it is pontificating about what it doesn’t approve of. Every Christian would do well to take care not fall into it’s pit. It’s a death trap in which many churches today are paying a heavy price, their very existence on the edge of extinction.
If we’re going to win a generation, then the Church (capital C) is going to need to shake itself out of complacency and recapture the raw heart & essence of Jesus message. Think for a moment about the first line of the most well known verse in the bible – ‘For God so loved the world‘. That one statement tells us everything about the ONE we worship. If it matters to him, it ought to matter to us. In the end, that’s what REALLY matters.
University is an experience that is one of the best times of your life. I used to think that this was just because of the no-rules, no-parents, lets-get-drunk-every-night aspect. Personally, that’s never been my scene. So when I arrived at uni as a fresher, I thought they might be ‘alright years’. Truth is, my expectations were pretty low. Boy God was about to teach me a huge lesson!
It’s an season unlike any other where we are surrounded by thousands of total strangers, where we learn to feed ourselves on very little money, and where we actually have to wash our own clothes too!! In the process, we turn into caffeine addicts, and sometimes, it can even feel like someone’s idea of a mad reality TV show! But amongst all the craziness, university is a time where God can seriously challenge us, build us, and influence us to become the people we’re designed to be.
There are a few things I think are really important to remember when you enter university and throughout the following years where so many life changing things will happen:
DON’T LIMIT GOD WITH LOW EXPECTATIONS.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20) This verse says it all. Our human brains can’t even begin to comprehend the plans God has for us. I could never have imagined the life God had waiting for me when I came to university. I have done so many things I never would have thought possible and, if I had stayed in my comfort zone, I may never have realised the awesome-ness that was God’s plan. Don’t miss out on the opportunities you are given during this time, because He can do immeasurably more through you than you could ever dream of.
YOUR IDENTITY IS IN GOD.
Identity is something widely discussed at university. It’s something everyone wants to find, and some people will spend their whole lives searching for. One of my favourite verses in the Bible is Isaiah 43:1 which says “Don’t be afraid, because I have saved you. I have called you by name and you are mine.” We are His. No matter what life throws at us, the one thing that we can be sure about is our identity in God. This verse also shows the incredible character of God as He doesn’t say “don’t be afraid because I will punish anyone who hurts you”, or “don’t be afraid because I’ll give you super powers to save yourself” even though, as creator of the universe He can pretty much do whatever He wants! He emphasises the one thing that we need to know to get us through anything we face. The only thing that actually matters. That we are His.
REMEMBER, IT’S OK NOT TO BE OK.
Sometimes, Christians can get the idea it is somehow wrong to feel a bit scared in life. It’s easy to interpret verses like “be strong and brave” (Deuteronomy 31:6) and to “not worry about anything” (Matthew 6:25) as meaning ‘don’t ever feel frightened‘. But that’s not what they’re saying. And sometimes, we put pressure on ourselves that can lead to feeling guilty when we are going through tough times, because we’re afraid of being afraid! But this is not the case. Having God in our lives doesn’t mean we won’t feel worried. It means that through those challenging times, we can lean on God’s strength to do what we feel that we can’t do. “His power is made perfect in our weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) The impact of this verse is amazing, as it implies that the less we feel we can offer, the more we can know God will provide. So in those times in your life when you feel completely at a loss – watch out – because God is probably up to something big!
GET PLANTED IN A GREAT CHURCH!
The Sunday of my second week at university I found The Junction Church and with it, I discovered an incredible community. Having a place where I knew I could get to and be encouraged at the start of each week made all the difference in the world, especially in my first year. Getting around people who will champion you and support you is so important in life in general, but even more so at university with the fast paced changes that you will face, I can’t recommend enough that you get planted into a good church. God has awesome plans for each and every one of our lives, we just need to be willing to take away the limits we put on God and ourselves, keep our eyes focussed on the identity we have in the One who made us and learn how to look for God’s strength in our weakness.
If we could offer you one piece of advice in this next season of your life, it would simply be this: only go where you’re going to grow.
One of the greatest dangers of 21st century Christianity is a ‘spirituality’ that is insular and introspective. When faith becomes so inwardly focused that it gets consumed in it’s own little world, we must not mistake this as ‘deep’. It’s actually shallow. It mistakenly assumes that this is the only environment where faith can grow. Problem is, there’s no real growth at all. You see, faith must be exercised in order to increase. James 2:17 makes it clear that ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’. This means getting out of the comfort zone, lifting our eyes beyond ourselves, pursuing God’s greater purpose in the world and having the audacity to submit to God, not our fears. This is faith.
Our heart for the Junction Church in Leicester and Loughborough is to create an environment where people can truly grow. Our passion is not to build a big church, but to grow big people. We’re not content to be settlers. We’re called to be pioneers. That means daring to take new ground. It also means reaching the unreached, touching base with people who don’t yet know Jesus.
Interestingly, over the past five years of pioneering the Junction Church, the most fruitful periods of spiritual growth we’ve experienced have not occurred in the intensity of introspective meetings, but in the intentionality of reaching out to a world that desperately needs to experience God’s grace. It’s here where God imparts revelation more than anywhere else, where faith is active and we depend upon God’s supernatural provision. This is the atmosphere for miracles.
One of the wisest things you can do in life is to get yourself into an environment where you’re going to truly grow. Even if it scares you, embrace the intimidation anyway, and resist the temptation to settle into comfort. Sure, it’s a far more convenient life in the comfort zone – but if you want to broaden your capacity for genuine spiritual growth, then you’ve got to break free from the subtle restrictions which insular spirituality wraps around you. As local church pastors, we want to see people grow to become everything God has called them to be. This is our journey. This is our mission. This is our heart. Why don’t you get on board? Could change your life.
Picture the scene. It’s a balmy Virginia morning in early August – about 9am. The sky is brilliant blue and the sun is shining brightly. My wife and I are still buzzing from the day before when we celebrated the wedding of a beautiful young couple whose lives are bursting with joy and optimism. Now, in the afterglow of such a fabulous occasion, we’re enjoying a quiet breakfast under the shade of an Ash tree at a downtown street cafe. The vibe is peaceful and relaxed. We just sit there for an hour or two, chatting, laughing, drinking coffee, people watching. It’s all good. The name of the town? Charlottesville.
One week later, the heart of Charlottesville is torn apart by the hatred of racism. A mob of white supremacists (mainly transported in from other places) contaminate the atmosphere, turning it nasty and vicious. Destruction and death are the inevitable consequence of its bigoted ideology which is intent on creating division and promoting fear. It is evil, pure and simple. The awful carnage it creates is a wake up call regarding the menace which lurks deep within. Its sinister motivation masquerades as acceptable, empowered by stoking the fires of division. Suddenly, 2017 feels more like 1817. In many ways, these are even more dangerous times. The voices of hatred & fear are growing ever louder, taking advantage of the uncertainty that exists around the world. It’s how evil works.
The very notion that any one race holds superiority over another is not only utterly delusional, but is as contrary to biblical teaching as it is possible to get. Galatians 3:28 clearly states ‘There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus‘. It couldn’t be any clearer. We must never be silent at even the faintest hint of racist thinking. The bible is unambiguous and unequivocal about this. The same should be true for all of us.
My thoughts turn to Britain, the nation I love. We would be wise to reflect on the events of Charlottesville, and understand that the menace of bigotry lurks here too. The UK Church is not exempt from this, subtle though it may be. Instead of paying lip service and engaging in moral protestations which make us feel morally better, it’s far wiser to put Galations 3:28 into practice. Our actions speak far louder than our words. It’s always best to model what is right.
If any community on earth should be showing the way ahead, it’s the Church. We are one in Christ. It is His amazing grace which unites our hearts. There is no place for racism here, subtle or otherwise…ever.
Hey!! We’re excited about releasing two albums. Yes, TWO!!
The first is called VIBE, a 14 track instrumental album which is a soundtrack to what’s happening in the life of our church. We really wanted to create something that’s upbeat, capturing the heart of what God is doing. We’d LOVE it if you would download the album HERE.
Then in 2018 (January), we’re releasing our first worship album. This is called HOPE WILL ARISE. We’re currently finishing it off and you’ll hear more details about this soon!
Worship means SO much to us at the Junction Church. When we meet together as a community, we sing songs that express our love and passion for God. But why is music so important? Well, for a start, this is an art which is clearly used in the bible. For example, over 55 of the psalms were actually song lyrics that are prefaced with the instruction ‘for the director of music‘. It’s a pity recording devices weren’t around then as it would be awesome to hear what those songs actually sounded like!! Then in the New Testament, Paul sometimes quotes words from what many scholars believe where early Christian songs. Philippians 2:5-11 is probably one of them (it’s totally worth a read).
At the Junction Church, our heart is to create songs that are biblically based and which also reflect life in Century 21. Our boundaries are ancient but our outlook is eternal. The first part is really important to us and we totally believe in the importance of declaring God’s Word rather than just writing a bunch of nice lyrics. It’s the Word that produces faith (Romans 10:17). Without the certainty of biblical truth, all you get is a clash of confused noise. However, it’s also important to us that we reflect what God is doing today. Our heart is to help a generation connect with Jesus through the language of music.
Junction Collective is a team of musicians at the Junction Church who are passionate about using our skills for the glory of God. Our ethos is that none of our individual names are attached to the songs we write. That’s because we want to keep our ego’s in check. Our heart is to serve and we think this is really important. We really love our church and we’re excited about what God is doing today.
When you read through the Gospels, it’s interesting to note the sadness that Jesus felt at pretentious religiosity. It hurt his heart more than anything else. His strongest words by far were reserved for the Pharisees. He fearlessly challenged their judgmental legalism and the hypocrisy which accompanied it. On the surface, they’d be laying down the law and condemning those who weren’t adhering to it. But behind the scenes, they were excusing and reprieving themselves for breaking it. It was a classic case of ‘do as we say, not as we do‘.
On one occasion, Jesus addressed the elephant in the room and said ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.’ (Matthew 23:27). Wow. Pretty strong stuff…and certainly not RC (religiously correct).
Sadly, there’s a religious spirit that still exists today. It feeds suspicion, instills fear, thrives off gossip and is quick to pronounce judgments. The thing is…we are all susceptible to it, me included. There have been times in my own life when I’ve felt the Holy Spirit tugging on my heart because I’ve veered into territory where he doesn’t want me to wander. Lets face it, none of us are THAT good.
Yet, there’s a strange comfort in self-righteous religiosity. It’s like a prison that makes you feel that God is pleased you are suffering for truth. But this is a false comfort and its thinking is not only flawed, but dangerous. You see, truth is releasing not restricting. Jesus taught us that when we know the truth, ‘the truth shall set you free.’ (John 8:32). Living in unhindered integrity is a beautifully liberating experience.
Of course, truth must always be accompanied by grace. Without the latter, all you get is the harshness of legalism, judgmentalism, condemnation, self-indulgence and the inevitable hypocrisy that goes along with it. However, God’s grace allows us time and space to be honest and vulnerable with ourselves and others. That’s why 1 John 4:18 says ‘love casts out fear‘. It’s not a choice between truth OR grace. It’s both.
It is time to graciously but fearlessly challenge the spirit of religion. It does huge damage to people’s lives and robs so many of the joy of real relationship. The challenge begins in the heart.
Ok, it’s time for me to fess up. When we first planted the Junction Church five years ago, I was a bit bothered that our largest demographic was students. We didn’t plan it this way, it just happened. It’s not that I ever had anything against students either. No, the very opposite actually. I love them. They are the most incredible bunch of people to hang out with. They keep me fresh, laugh at my daft jokes, ask GREAT questions, are loads of fun to be around and I have learned SO much from this generation. But five years ago, I thought we would never establish a decent church with such a high percentage of students. Then I had my epiphany and I suddenly realised…silly me! Students don’t stay students for very long.
Five years later, those very same people are no longer at uni. They’ve graduated. And guess what? Loads of them have made the Junction Church their home. They’ve found a community where they can get planted, grow, develop, inspire others, encourage potential and love people to life. Now they’re the driving force of our church. They serve behind the scenes, lead the teams, are pioneering a new campus and they’re carrying great culture everywhere they go. They are sons and daughters of the house who profoundly understand that good jobs are easy to find but good churches are not.
I think I’ve learned a HUGE lesson in all this. Never underestimate what God can do. Truth is…He’s often doing more behind our backs than in front of your eyes.
In those early days of pioneering the Junction Church, the demographic of our community meant that offerings were pretty meagre. It’s not that there wasn’t generosity. No. It’s just that people genuinely didn’t have much to give, which meant paying bills could be slightly challenging (yup, churches have bills too you know)! Sometimes before a service would begin, I’d nip out and withdraw cash from my own account and then put it into the offering. Afterwards when the team would tell me that we’d had record giving that day, I’d cheekily smile because I knew that I’d put most of it in!! The things you do just to encourage yourself when you’re pioneering a church!! But God constantly challenged us to hold our nerve, to keep showing up, to keep being generous, to love people and serve faithfully. Today, it’s amazing to see the Junction Church in Loughborough and Leicester bursting with life. In many ways, it feels like we’ve just got going. The potential is huge.
We must never underestimate the potential of people’s lives. If you have a bunch of students in your church, invest in them and keep sowing well, especially in times of lack. God has this amazing way of using our feebleness so that his glory can be seen. Remember, today’s seed is tomorrows harvest. Don’t underestimate God. Its amazing what He can do.
Lets talk about Jesus (my favourite subject!). He is the most compelling person the world has ever encountered. During his ministry, people flocked to listen to him.
Here are 7 reasons why he was so compelling…
1. He spoke “as one who had authority’
In other words, Jesus knew what he was talking about. This was unlike the confused message of the religious establishment who were all over the place. Yet in a world of confusion, his voice was crystal clear. Read more about this in Matthew 7:28-29.
2. He was relevant to people’s lives
The religious establishment tried to smear Jesus as a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34). But it unwittingly emphasised just how completely relevant he was (and how irrelevant they were). Jesus was a man of the people. He spoke a language they knew. They respected that.
3. He connected with people
For example, Luke 19:1-10 tells the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector. This man was as corrupt as they get. Yet when Jesus met him, he didn’t harshly confront him. Instead, he spent time with him. It must have been a compelling conversation as Zacchaeus emerged with a resolve to give his wealth to the poor and repay those he’d swindled. Result.
4. He was a great story teller
Jesus spent much of his time communicating through stories. Luke 15 is a great example of this. The religious establishment dismissed this as shallow and lacking substance. But they had no idea how to relate to people. Jesus did. People connect with people before they connect with truth.
5. He empathised with people’s needs
You can see this in Matthew 8:3. Here, Jesus met a leper. During their conversation, he reached out and touched the sick man. This was an act of immense compassion by Jesus. After all, who would take the risk of touching diseased skin? Jesus did. He showed massive empathy, coming alongside a man in desperate need.
6. He was vulnerable
The shortest verse in the Bible is in John 11:35. It says “Jesus wept”. This was because his good friend Lazarus had died. Such a public expression of emotion was a demonstration that Jesus was profoundly touched by grief. He wasn’t cold and clinical. His vulnerability was actually a sign of strength. (READ A BLOG ABOUT THIS HERE)
7. He understood the power of appropriate silence
In John 8:1-11, the religious establishment confronted Jesus with the case of a woman caught in adultery. His response? Silence. Then, in a moment that could have been academy award winning, he invited any Pharisee who was without sin to be the first to throw a stone. They left. But Jesus stayed….cos that’s what Jesus does. (READ A BLOG ABOUT THIS HERE)
Read the Gospels for yourself, and you’ll see that religion was the enemy of everything Jesus was about. It still is. Jesus heart was warm and gracious towards people…and he was relevant to their lives. We could learn much from Jesus.