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).
Amidst the warm glow of festive lights and sparkling tinsel, there’s a more gritty reality to the Christmas story. The drawing below by artist Charlie Mackesy makes the point well. While Heaven greeted the birth of Christ with adoration, earth’s response was generally apathetic.
Yet as humanity slept, angelic beings could not contain their joy as they recognised the sheer magnitude of what had just taken place. They knew that Jesus wasn’t merely born to be king – but He was born AS King (Luke 2:11-14). That night over isolated middle eastern farmland, the atmosphere above was bursting with the magnificence of heavenly song, and music the like of which the world had never heard before. Yet still, underneath the majestic chorus was a neglected barn, putrid with animal stench, filfthy, dirty, cold, dark, lonely. It was here that the Son of God was born. The greatest miracle happened in a graceless mess.
Surely there’s a lesson to be learned here? Christmas teaches us that there is no mess in this life which God is not willing to enter. This is grace in all it’s glory – gritty, humble, real, pure, authentic.
Interestingly, the first to visit Jesus were simple shepherds, not wise kings. Some theologians estimate that the wise men didn’t actually visit Jesus until between one and two years after his birth. Funny isn’t it….common agricultural workers saw Jesus first, the kind of people society would have looked down upon. God takes delight in inviting those the world has given up on to encounter him, even involving them in his story. There is certainly nothing elitist about the advent story. This was God in the flesh, coming to do life with ordinary, every day people.
The Christmas narrative is one which goes far beyond mere sentiment. It shows us what love looks like. It reminds us that however gloomy circumstances might be, where there is God there is always hope. Have a wonder filled Christmas season!
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Ten years ago, I wrote a book called ‘In Pursuit of the Miraculous’. I reckon I could write a follow up based on the past two weeks alone! It has been nothing short of miraculous. It all started when my wife Lydia gave birth to our beautiful baby daughter Sophia Hope at 11:27am on a […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
So you want to do well in life, right? Of course you do. I mean…come on….lets move past the wearisome pretence of false humility. Who on earth wants to be unsuccessful? Nobody!! But there are some things that people who are successful NEVER do. Here are ten of them:
1) They never make excuses
Some people have turned excuses into an art form. Problem is, the illusion doesn’t last forever. Excuses are made by people who don’t really care. But successful people really do care. So they get organised and make things happen. It’s what makes them successful.
2) They never blame others
Blame is a classic trait of people who live unproductive lives. Laying blame on others makes them feel better about themselves. But here’s the truth. Are you ready? Gossip, negative conversations and pulling others down will NEVER make you successful….ever. Little people belittle people. Successful people resist the temptation to blame and instead, embrace responsibility. That’s what makes them stand out from the crowd.
3) They never say ‘I’m too busy’
When I hear someone say ‘I’m too busy’, I make a mental note, and then accede to their request by never asking them to do anything…ever. It is a deeply insulting thing to say ‘I’m too busy’ because it is pompous, arrogant and brimming with self importance…as if no-one else on the planet can be as busy as they are. Successful people are very busy…but they make time for what they believe in. ‘Too busy’ is an excuse, not a reality.
4) They never whinge & whine
Negativity will never cause you to flourish in life. For many, the tendency to whinge and whine is a comfort zone. But its a false comfort. It achieves nothing in life – other than to create a vibe around you that makes you unattractive and unappealing. Successful people are winners, not whingers. Winning in life starts by winning people. Positivity will massively help with that!
5) They never believe they’re THAT good
Really clever people always begin every conversation with the assumption that other people are far smarter than them. So they avoid the pitfall of insulting people’s intelligence with grand notions of their own brilliance. People who are unsuccessful in life believe their own publicity and live off the inflation of an over blown ego. However, all it takes are a few prickly circumstances – and the bubble bursts. That’s why it’s never wise to believe you’re THAT good. Successful people certainly don’t.
6) They never settle for mediocrity
Settling for mediocrity is the surest way to ensure you slip down the spiral towards a miserable, pitiful existence. You see, mediocrity settles for anything. But the ‘anything’ always tends to be downwards, not upwards. Successful people don’t tolerate mediocrity. They pursue excellence. For them, there are no limits. So they dare to rise higher.
7) They’re never unreliable
All the ability in the world means nothing without reliability. Many gifted people never achieve anything like their potential because they are unreliable. Successful people cultivate a reputation for dependability. They do what they say they’ll do. The really successful ones even go the extra mile. They’re more valuable than gold.
8) They never use people as commodities
Successful people cultivate great relationships. They value people for who they are. Unsuccessful people just use others, and when they can find no further usefulness, they dispose of friendships. But relationships are the most precious thing we have in life. If you ditch people, you squander your destiny. Successful people genuinely value their friends.
9) They never take themselves too seriously
Life is too important to be taken too seriously. Unsuccessful people can sometimes tend to be super intense. Their intensity drives great people out of their lives. Successful people have the fun factor. They’re ambitious – but secure enough to laugh at themselves along the way. Great people will always want to be around that kind of company! That’s where real success is built.
10) They’re never lazy & inconsiderate
Rest is an important part of life. However, laziness is a killer of dreams. Successful people work hard and always utilise their time so they are considerate toward others. No truly successful person has ever accomplished anything of significance without hard work and consideration toward others. This is the furnace where real success is fashioned. They’re never lazy.
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.
In the short five year history of the Junction Church, the summer of 2017 has been the best so far! Whereas August is usually considered a ‘dead’ month because so many are off on holiday, we wanted to do something that served the Loughborough community. Ohhhh myyyy gosh did it exceed our expectations!
A year ago when the team first started planning Summer Madness, we thought we might have 15 or 20 kids register. This was the first time we’d ever done something like this and we didn’t know how many would come along. However, 105 kids actually registered on the week!! Each day, children from one small area around Old Ashby road in Loughborough would gather from 10am at the Hut (a local community hub) for 4 hours of games, fun, inflatables and a brilliant choice of activities. The feedback each day from parents was phenomenal, grateful their kids had not only been well looked after for a whole week, but they had the best time too!!
A team of over 30 volunteers from the Junction Church took a whole week out to serve the community, many using their personal holiday time to do it. I have to say, they represent the Junction Church at its very best. They are all heroes who gave 110% and showed what it really means to serve with excellence. We are SO proud of them.
As well as kids activities, we also ran a community cafe which was buzzing every day. This was a great opportunity for local people to take a few minutes out, grab a hot drink, eat some good food and enjoy being served by some of the friendliest people in town. The community cafe grew more popular as the week went on. It was sooo good! The people in this area are AMAZING.
Funding for Summer Madness came entirely from the Junction Church. So why did we do it? The reason is because we genuinely love people and have a heart to serve in the community. This might sound like a strange thing to say for anyone who isn’t of faith, but it’s literally why we did it. The whole event reflected the kind of things we really value at the Junction Church, things like excellence, generosity and honour. This was church in the heart of the community, quietly getting on with loving and serving people. It was our absolute pleasure to do it. It keeps it all real. After all, faith is not something that is inward looking but rather outward focused, bringing life and hope to others, no strings attached. We loved it!
To finish the week off, it was great to see hundreds of people from the local community pouring into church for Sunday Funday. After a 1 hour service full of upbeat music and great vibes, we then served a BIG lunch accompanied by loads of fun stuff including inflatables, basket ball, face painting and so much more. One guy who never goes to church said it was ‘bloody brilliant‘. If you’re the religious type, you’ll balk at that. Not us though. It’s the ultimate compliment.
So many people in the community asked us if we are going to do Summer Madness again next year. The answer is…YES. Our team are already working on something even better for next year. Watch this space!! Meanwhile, to all the incredible volunteers who served with such brilliance, you are true legends. We love and appreciate you so much. Your kindness has made a difference.
CHECK OUT WHAT SUMMER MADNESS IS ALL ABOUT BY CLICKING HERE.
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.