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).
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.
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.
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.
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.