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).
If the BBC managed to get the Cliff Richard story so catastrophically wrong, it begs the question…what else are they getting wrong? To wittingly tarnish a person’s character because of crass & inaccurate ‘reporting’ is far beyond unfair. It is a blatant abuse of power. No amount of compensation can ever salvage the reputation of the accused.
Cliff Richard is a high profile example of what many lesser known people have had to endure because of misreporting and bullying by the press. Most victims of media injustice are powerless against such gigantic organisations as the BBC. Those who peddle accusatory stories without presenting absolute and irrefutable evidence know they can hide behind the protection of the corporation – unaccountable and unconcerned about the collateral damage their cheap headlines create. What is deeply disturbing is the way media rivals have been closing ranks in defence of the BBC, with cries of ‘press freedom’ as their justification. Such defensiveness would strongly suggest a more widespread issue. Anyone who cares about justice will be concerned by this.
It is one thing for the media to speak ‘truth to power’. Problem is, the industry itself has become far too powerful. Can you think of any national institution that wields more clout? And far from conveying ‘truth’, it often feels rather more like peddling opinions than reporting news. While there are many brilliant journalists out there who operate with upmost honesty, it is not beyond the bounds of reason to think that some journalists might have personal vendetta’s they are pursuing. What about the possibility of rich and powerful lobbyists pushing their particular agenda’s through the media too…and paying for the privilege? If it is true that these kind of things go on, then what is the extent of it? Who knows?
One thing is for sure. The idea of a self regulated and unaccountable press is something which can no longer continue. Too much damage has been done to too many people’s lives. It seems to me that this privilege has been thrown away by a culture of contempt. The media must be profoundly transparent about how issues are covered, just like any other public organisation. This is especially true of the BBC, a corporation which is afforded multiple millions of tax payers money.
Truth is, the media needs to get back to being factual & boring. We should never be aware of the personal opinions, suspicions & biases of journalists, not even the faintest hint. Politicians, yes…because they are accountable to the electorate. But reporters? No. Impartiality is the basis of a healthy media. Sadly, the media’s ‘freedom’ has been used irresponsibly by some who have flexed their position to gain influence which goes way beyond that of an ordinary citizen. For too long, the industry has set itself up as the moral guardians of a nation. Problem is…this kind of ‘morality’ is hypocritical, self-righteous & fundamentally flawed…as the recent Cliff Richard court case has proven. Trust has been eroded, perhaps even beyond repair.
It is amazing to think that not one single BBC employee has yet been held to account for the Cliff Richard travesty. Quite astonishing. If this were the BBC reporting on another organisation’s misdemeanours, can you imagine the relentless outcry that would ensue? Yet, notice the strange quiet around the beeb. The story is fading away. They’ve gotten away with it. Not the victim though. He is left picking up the trashed pieces of his life.
Distrust is the price of dishonesty. Instead of trying to defend the indefensible, the media would do well to reflect carefully on what has led to the current predicament. Integrity matters. This is what builds trust.
Losing perspective on life is an easy mistake that even the best among us can make. There are all kinds of perceptions which can conspire against what’s true, causing us to miss the reality of what is really going on.
A loss of proper perspective usually results in an over-exaggeration of a challenge – or – a failure to recognise the seriousness of the current course. Either can be very dangerous and will eventually lead us to destinations we were never meant to visit. Over the years, I’ve seen people make rash & foolish decisions based on false perspectives. Too many times, those same people ended up living in deep regret because only afterwards did they realise how badly wrong they’d got it. Misunderstanding, insecurity and suspicion all create sinister illusions when the eyes of our heart fail to see God’s grace on the horizon.
So how do you maintain some kind of proper perspective on life, especially in the more challenging times? Here are four thoughts…
1) Watch out for tiredness
Sounds simple, right? But this one is big….REALLY BIG. Not getting enough sleep will cloud your judgment and blur your focus. It is imperative we learn to rest well. The lack of it can be catastrophic, both mentally and physically. Be sure to give this some serious attention.
2) Guard your heart
You are the gate keeper of your heart. No-one else can do this for you. YOU decide what goes in. YOU decide what stays out. So guard it ferociously. Get around those who build your confidence rather than pull it down. A healthy heart will help you maintain a healthy perspective on life. The company you keep is crucial here.
3) Recognise the danger of isolation
Isolation is fake. There, I said it. It makes YOU the centre. It teaches you bad habits. Thing is…the perceived vulnerability of community is nothing compared to the real danger of aloneness. Sure, there are times when you need your own space. But all the time?? No, that’s not healthy. It’s also how you completely lose perspective on life. Don’t cut yourself off from reality. Never good. Ever.
4) Make God’s grace your refuge
Have the courage to believe the best. Then never stop believing it, no-matter what. This is not just about being positive. It’s about seeing God’s grace in every situation. That’s the grace which saved you. It’s also the same grace which others need too. When we learn to extend a little grace, it helps us gain God’s perspective on life. Suddenly, everything makes some kind of sense.
Whatever you do, don’t believe the first thing your emotions tell you. They’re SOOO fickle. God’s word is true. That’s the perspective that really matters.
Culture REALLY matters. It’s what will either carry a community to life – or crush it to death. It really is as stark as that. At the Junction Church, we are constantly working to create healthy culture. This is something we’re totally passionate about. It’s the good ground of genuine faith where people will flourish in life. However, in order to cultivate an environment of vitality, it’s important to watch out for the weeds which kill life and promote unhealthy practices. I guess that’s the thankless task of a leader – ha!
Here are 5 signs of bad culture which we must constantly protect against.
This is not about denying challenges & difficulties in life (we talk about these a LOT at the Junction Church!). No, it’s about not pandering to grumbling & habitual complaining. Problem is…negative vibes are never helpful and eventually become a blast of noise which tries to bully & silence the voice of genuine faith. Any leader worth their salt will know that people cannot grow in that kind of atmosphere. People are far too valuable to be subjected to that.
In an ‘anything goes’ kind of culture, people do whatever they want. Sure…this might sound like a great idea? But ultimately, it’s the sign of a lack of vision. As Proverbs 29:18 puts it, ‘when there is no vision, people cast off restraint i.e. do their own thing’. Theoretically, this kind of culture might appear like heaven to some Christians – but 20 years of leadership has taught me it’s actually a mess where all hell will eventually break loose. Sadly, people get badly hurt in the pandemonium. Healthy culture is guided by vision. Vision is focused, disciplined and restrained – always carefully working for people. Lack of restraint equals lack of health. The latter is never good.
This is a culture where the worship becomes all about ‘my’ experience. Meanwhile, Church becomes all about ‘me’ feeling fulfilled. Then if ‘I’ get upset, it clears off to pastures new without any regard for those it leaves behind. Make no mistake about it….nothing will ever be accomplished in a culture of self-indulgence. Everything about the Kingdom of Heaven challenges selfishness. It’s about living for a cause that is bigger than ourselves. Anything else is just a club…and not a very good one at that.
How many times have you encountered an environment that is cold, clinical and unfriendly? It’s one of the tell tale signs of unhealthy culture. It is unloving, uncaring and complacent about the grace of God. How could it be anything other? Yet when there is a rich revelation of God’s love, this is a culture that is attractive, especially to those who don’t yet know Jesus. People will WANT to be there. A lack of warmth is uninviting, and simply drives people away.
Bad culture is stuffy & bereft of freshness. When new ideas are mulled over, there’s a kind of resigned doom which says ‘lets see if this works’. In reality, it is destined to fail…because nobody ever believed it would work in the first place. Healthy culture is fresh, cheeky and vibrant. Young people are drawn to it and older people love it because it keeps them young at heart. Stale culture eventually becomes dead culture – where nothing ever happens and endless committee meetings rule the day. That’s why it’s important to stay hungry to grow and keep the main thing the main thing.
CHECK OUT THE JUNCTION CHURCH NOTTINGHAM HERE – STARTING WITH LIFE GROUPS IN 2018 AND OFFICIALLY LAUNCHING IN 2019.
Recently at the Junction Church, we had a ‘Let’s Talk Church’ day. We don’t do many of these because if they happen too regularly, they tend to become naval gazing and self congratulatory. Yet, it’s important to afford ourselves moments to look back and reflect on how far we’ve come in just over five years of existence. This is not only encouraging but it also gives us some perspective regarding the why behind our what.
When we planted the Junction Church in 2012, there was just a small handful of people. Today, there are literally hundreds of people who call it their spiritual home. Our Sunday services have grown very significantly. But what is most encouraging is the type of growth that’s happening. The vast majority of people in our church community are recent Christians. This creates a freshness in the atmosphere. There’s also an obvious hunger for a real relationship with Christ that is free from religious pretence. As a pastor, I find this profoundly healthy.
Here are some recent facts:
Since January, Loughborough has seen 78 people deciding to follow Christ (as of 11 March 2018)
Since January, Leicester has seen 28 people deciding to follow Christ (as of 11 March 2018)
We’ve recently baptised 28 people (with more to come)
There are over 40 nations represented in our community
The church is by no means perfect. Seems silly to even say this since our imperfections are glaringly obvious. Yet as we lean into God’s grace, it creates an opportunity for people to encounter Jesus. It’s unforced. It’s unpressurised. This is the grace we carry. It doesn’t matter what the service theme is. Everything we do seeks to exude God’s love.
I really love being part of a church where people feel comfortable to bring their unchurched friends along to any service or event. It’s not embarrassing. Nor is it cringy. It’s raw. It’s real. Yet people are more open to Christianity than I’ve ever seen before. These are momentous times – days of God’s amazing grace. Our message is loud and clear. Religion is NOT the answer. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is. It’s HIS grace which makes all the difference. This is the grace we’re privileged to carry.
Listen to a recent podcast called ‘Let’s Talk Church’
Many years ago, I spent some time teaching at churches and colleges in India. After one particularly rough bout of illness which lasted a couple of days, we got on the road again to speak at an event that evening. En route, I was powerfully overcome with hunger the like of which I’ve never experienced before. My body craved food to the point of desperation since I hadn’t eaten for the past 48 hours. Strangely enough, I really fancied a slice of pizza. But in rural India, there’s never a pizza joint around when you need one…at least that’s what I thought. Yet as we drove along that lonely country bypass, suddenly in the distance a sign appeared which looked like it said ‘PIZZA HUT’. I seriously wondered if I was just hallucinating at first. But true enough, it was an actual pizza restaurant. I quickly requested the driver to pull in…and all I can say is that I consumed the finest slice of the round stuff I’ve ever eaten in my life. My gosh it was good!
Hunger is a powerful feeling. It alerts us to what we need. Jesus spoke about hunger in his famous ‘beatitudes’. He said ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.’ (Matt 5:6).
When you’re physically hungry, you don’t have to be told to eat. No, you actively search for food. The same is true for spiritual hunger. I believe God is looking for a generation who are hungry enough to seek him, to serve his purpose, to grow in faith and to make a difference.
Apathy is the sign of a lack of hunger. It has no appetite and is therefore uninterested in experiencing real fulfilment. It disengages from seeking because it is self-satisfied. There’s nothing more uninspiring than being in a culture which has no interest in seeing more.
At the Junction Church, I don’t ever want us to become apathetic. I really like being around people who have a hunger to learn and develop. It’s the most refreshing thing to do life with those who are really hungry for growth. That’s the kind of environment where fulfilment is found.
As we start out on a brand new year, my prayer is that we will experience a greater hunger than ever before to see our towns and cities impacted with the life giving power of the gospel. I’m hungry to see more salvations, more healings, more miracles, more breakthrough’s. How about you?
Jesus promises that those who hunger for what’s right will not only be blessed, but they’ll be fulfilled. How hungry are you?
The most precious commodity in any relationship is…trust. When it is strong, magnificent feats can be accomplished. When it is weak, suspicion reigns and progress is hindered. The thing is, trust is something that needs to be built with intentionality. Here are five ways to construct it around your life.
This means avoiding gossip, a vice that poses as harmless chatter but is one of the most destructive forces to healthy relationships. It feeds suspicion, encourages fear and stirs distrust. Be assured, whoever gossips to you will also gossip about you. Resist it with all your heart. Choose to believe the best of others, not the worst. Speak life…always. That’s how you build trust (Prov 11:13).
Ambiguity may maintain the status quo for a while. However, it ultimately kills trust. When people don’t know where they really stand, this does nothing for the health and strength of friendships. It’s always better to be graciously honest and vulnerable. Proverbs 23:23 says ‘Buy the truth and do not sell it‘. This is what healthy relationships are built upon.
In a world where so many just seem to easily give up on each other, faithfulness is like pure gold. It’s what builds longevity into relationships, creating trust over the long term and proving commitment through the diverse seasons of life. God values it very highly (Matt 25:23). We should too.
Jesus defined greatness as servanthood (Matt 23:11). This means we don’t ever need position to serve. Nor do we need to be motivated or persuaded by some ulterior motive. Selflessness is one of the most powerful ways to build trust. It serves and serves and serves, without thought for itself. This is what Paul meant when he spoke about ‘honouring others above yourselves‘. (Rom 12:10). It’s the foundation on which trust is established.
How we respond to correction is a statement of our heart. Pride resists it. Humility receives it, even if it’s measure is unpleasant. In the end, a teachable spirit enables trust to be built and love to be established. Everyone has something to learn. Proverbs 29:1 tells us that resistance to reproof is something which breaks trust beyond healing. That’s why it’s wise to receive correction well.
Building trust can’t be rushed. It takes time. But it is totally worth it in the long term.
It is human to feel lots of emotions in life. But when emotionalism sits in the driving seat, a world of fickleness beckons. It is subjective rather than objective. It is impetuous rather than principled. It is careless rather than considerate. But wise people don’t allow their lives to be driven by the immediacy of raw emotion. They afford themselves time to reflect & read the road ahead – beyond the path of sentiment.
It seems that too many people in life are quick to believe the first thing their emotions tell them. Take a quick glance over a Facebook timeline and you’ll soon discover this. Yes, feelings can inform us about what we’re experiencing in the here and now. But whilst we don’t have to deny what we might feel, it’s never good to give it too much credence. It has a habit of changing very quickly. Besides, the foundation on which God wants our lives to be built is the truth of his word, not the strength of our emotions. This is what will keep us standing during the storm. This is what will sustain us through challenges. This is what will guard our hearts when we feel hurt, disappointment and pain – all of which are inevitable.
Paul encourages us to be very intentional about ‘taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ‘ (2 Cor 5:10). In other words, we need to think about HOW we think. Instead of allowing our feelings to think for us, it’s important to develop disciplined thoughtfulness. The bench mark is how it lines up with the truth of God’s word. Interestingly, Paul encourages us to take ‘captive‘ those thoughts which are off the mark. This conveys the idea of capturing invading lies and then incarcerating them. In a world in which we are bombarded by ‘fake news’, this is particularly relevant advice.
In the end, what matters is that which is true. Jesus is the personification of truth. That’s why wise people submit their thoughts, feelings and emotions to him. After all, he is ‘the way, the truth and the life‘ (John 14:6).
When Jesus returned to preach in his home town of Nazareth, the response was underwhelming to say the least. There was a host of negative reactions – from patronising cynicism to downright antagonism. Interestingly, the most telling vibe was….offence. Mark’s account tells us that they ‘took offence at him‘ (Mark 6:3). Jesus was more than aware of this, hence the reason why he said ‘A prophet is not without honour, except in their own town (Mark 6:4)’
Offence is the overflow of a dishonourable heart when it observes something it perceives to be a threat. It undermines, gossips, carps, snipes and speaks in sarcastic tones which convey it’s contempt. All of these things create a culture of dishonour where faith is diminished and miracles cannot happen. In Nazareth, the people believed in the miraculous. However, they had a problem with the miracle worker….Jesus. But dishonour meant that Jesus ‘could not do any miracles there‘ (Mark 6:5). That was a tragedy for the city. The contemporary lesson is truly profound.
Dishonour is a culture which keeps people down and feels more comfortable when it is criticising others rather than celebrating them. It is born out of deep insecurity. Honour is the very opposite. It takes a profoundly secure heart to celebrate God’s grace in the lives of others. It is free from expectations of receiving anything in return. See, honour is without agenda, other than to champion others.
Honour REALLY matters. It is a culture which calls out greatness and encourages people to live in the heights of God’s grace. It resists the temptation to be jealous when they become more ‘successful’ than you because it recognises that everything we have belongs to God anyway. All God requires of each of us is that we are faithful. On the day that really matters, this is what Jesus will celebrate… ‘well done good and faithful servant‘ (Matt 25:23).
I dare you to live with honour in your heart. Let that be the overflow of everything you say and do. God loves a heart like that. In a culture of honour, the impossible becomes possible.
Five years ago, the Junction Church held it’s first service. We will always remember the raw sense of excitement mixed with a generous dose of apprehension in the build up to that day. Every step along the way was faith after faith after faith. We knew things were about to change…but we didn’t quite grasp just how much. How could we? Yet as we’ve poured our lives into God’s house, the honour of serving Jesus and his bride has not diminished in the slightest. Actually, it has grown. Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves that we get to walk this incredible adventure.
Five years later, we’re really encouraged to see just how much the Junction Church has developed. It is now a thriving community where hundreds of people have found faith in Jesus & are doing life together. We are one church in two locations – Loughborough & Leicester. We’re pleased to say that both campuses are in great health.
So what are our reflections after five years of pioneering? Well, there are too many to write about here. However, since we’re five years on, we thought we’d mention five:
1) IT’S ALL ABOUT GROWING BIGGER PEOPLE
Our goal has never been about building a big church. Our heart is to grow big people. We didn’t learn this from some leadership book. No. It was forged in God given conviction. That’s where leadership must really begin. God loves people. Our job is to create an environment where their potential is released and giants of the faith can emerge. Healthy culture is where this happens.
2) DON’T TALK TOO MUCH ABOUT VISION – JUST LIVE IT
Our ethos of leadership is ‘just get on with it‘. In other words, it’s better to accomplish something and then talk about it afterwards than talk about doing stuff and never accomplish it. Too much talk about vision is usually the sign of a lack of it. Vision should be seen….that’s why it’s called ‘VISION’. Leaders must live it first.
3) LEAN IN TO GOD’S GRACE
This is probably the greatest revelation we’ve experienced in five years. We’ve learned more than ever before that we completely depend on God’s grace for everything…EVERYTHING!! It’s like oxygen to our souls. Finding the rhythms of God’s grace helps make sense of life, no-matter what season we’re in.
4) RAISE UP LEADERS
This takes time and it must never be rushed. But wise leaders understand that true success is in our successors. Raising up leaders in every level of the Junction Church has meant taking calculated risks, believing in people, championing others and investing in the next generation. The Junction Church is full of sons and daughters of the house who ‘get‘ what this thing is all about. The future is looking great.
5) HONOUR THE KING
It’s amazing how much can be accomplished when ego is taken out of the equation. In the end, we live to honour the King. What matters to us is not the approval of people but the words of Jesus, ‘well done good and faithful servant‘. As long as the King is honoured, that’s what really matters.
Think about it. If this is what can happen in the first five years of the Junction Church, imagine what we can be accomplished in the next five? Right then. Lets do this. #LetTheFutureBegin #GetOnWithIt