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).
Here at the Junction Church, we’re passionate about championing a rising generation. This is far more than a platitude. It’s a reality that is happening week after week. For me, this is part of our divine remit. Nothing encourages my heart more than seeing young adults finding their feet and walking in God given confidence.
The other day, I happened to read an article which lamented ‘millennials’ in today’s Church (universal), with particular emphasis on the influence of Hillsong music. The article urged churches to return to the spirit of the 80’s / 90’s during which period, worship was more ‘authentic’. As I read the blog, I found myself thinking ‘what’s so authentic about walking backwards?’ Besides, there were plenty of voices back then which deplored what was happening! You see, the problem with the good old days is….they were never THAT good.
As someone who has reached the dizzy heights of ‘middle age’, I am all too aware that I could very easily settle into middle life listening to classical music and 1990’s hits (ok, mainly classical music). The temptation is to comfortably live off some pretty decent memories of years gone by. But as much as some great things happened back in the day, we must be sure not to allow the sentiment of hindsight to blind our perspective. Our greatest gift is to cheer on those who are younger than us. This is an honour…and the BEST way to stay fresh and young at heart.
There is a rising generation, whether we see it or not. Get to know their heart and you’ll find they are authentic and fresh…in their way. Church leaders would be wise to give them space to express worship that helps them connect with God, not impose our stylistic preferences upon them. This rising generation are the future. The reason large sections of the Christian Church are struggling so desperately is because of the sheer disconnect with this generation – and a failure to invest in them. You’d think we’d learn, hey?
Is what is happening today perfect? No. But it wasn’t perfect 20 years ago either…or 100 years ago…or 500 years ago. But we have every reason to have hope and optimism for the future. A generation is on the rise. World, you’d better watch out.
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.
Sometimes, it feels like the world is becoming increasingly judgmental and disinterested in understanding. When an accusatory culture rules the day, it creates a toxic environment where negativity and division flourishes. No doubt the thoughtless (and even abusive) use of social media has largely contributed to this vibe.
Yet in the midst of all the craziness, there are people – real people. No, not the caricatured stereotypes labelled by dogmatic idealism. Just down to earth, everyday people, each with their own story to tell. Truth is, everybody has one. But who will listen?
Some are able to articulate their stories better than others. But it’s our story that has led each of us to the point where we currently find ourselves in life. Our upbringing. Our circumstances. Our flaws. Our mistakes. Our joys. Our sorrows. Our disappointments. Our successes. The list goes on. These all form part of our story.
If only we took the time to listen a little more instead of throwing accusations. If only we sought to understand the experiences of others instead of judging them. If only we tried a little harder to see beyond the narrow idealistic argument to the grit of a path which has been walked before. Then maybe, just maybe, we’d measure our words more carefully and extend a little more grace. We all need it.
One of the greatest contributions each of us can make in our world today is to resist the pressure of merely running to the beat of the crowd. History teaches us how catastrophically dangerous this is. In a world of confused noise, wise people take time to think for themselves. One of the most helpful ways we can do this is to exercise the gift of listening. No-matter how much we feel we know, all of us have much to learn.
Above all other voices, what about the one that matters most? Who will believe his report? When God speaks, it’s usually quiet and still. It takes discipline and reflection to discern his wisdom, especially in the midst of a thunderously rowdy world. Yet his word is the one that is eternal consequence. Dare to stop. Dare to think. Dare to LISTEN.
At the wedding of Harry & Meghan, something happened which caused quite a stir. A bishop by the name of Michael Curry preached a brilliant sermon which had some real conviction & passion. These are things you don’t always find amidst the formal pomp and circumstance of a British royal wedding.
The response to Bishop Curry’s message by the stiff upper lip types was monotonously predictable. There was a great deal of murmuring from those who can’t bring themselves to recognise any different expression of church other than the established one. The BBC commentator patronisingly described Bishop Curry’s sermon as ‘forceful and uplifting‘. Say what?? Mr BBC man was uttering verbal clap trap of the most condescending kind. Honestly….the BBC…bless. Bishop Michael was different…and surely this should be well and truly celebrated?!!! He wasn’t being ‘forceful‘ at all. He simply sounded like a man who believed what he was talking about. That’s a good thing!!!
As I watched Bishop Curry preaching his brilliant message and the awkward reaction afterwards, my mind was drawn back to something that happened when we first planted the Junction Church in Loughborough. I’ll never forget chatting to a brand new Christian who’d been journeying with us. This zealous person had gone into town giving out flyers advertising our new church (something which we had not asked them to do). After receiving lots of positive feedback from passers by, a church minister who happened to walk by (wearing a collar) took one of the flyers and rudely asked what this was all about. As the new Christian naively tried to explain our heart, the minister then proceeded to scrunch up the flyer and grumbled words to the effect ‘we don’t need another church in this town‘ before abruptly walking off. The new Christian could hardly believe what had just happened. Truly shocking stuff…yet that’s just one story!! Surely it would have been far better to just celebrate a different kind of church instead of criticising it?
Anyway…back to Bishop Curry. I loved his sermon. I love it that he was different. I love the fact that he dared to bring some warm passion into a context which can be cold and clinical. This is exactly what the UK Church needs more of. It’s something to be celebrated, not frowned upon. This is a new day and there’s change in the air. A new generation is rising up. It’s time to get with it. God bless Bishop Michael!!
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.
In John 2, Jesus performed a controversial miracle. He turned water into wine. Sometimes, it feels like the Church has been trying to change it back ever since. I suspect legalistic types would prefer it if this story had been excluded from the bible. After all, the party context doesn’t sit well with religious sneering & seething. See, religion never approves.
The story can at times be dismissed as a kind of irrelevant footnote which happened just before Jesus officially got going in ministry. But such a crass conclusion would completely miss an important point. The Holy Spirit included this incident in scripture for very good reason. We must be sure we never reduce a momentous miracle to a monotonous monologue which sounds more like water into whine than ‘water into wine’. That’s sadly what the spirit of religion tends to do. But joyless religiosity is un-representative of the culture of God’s Kingdom.
It’s interesting that this first recorded miracle of Jesus occurred at a party. It was a happy occasion…well, apart from the little crisis behind the scenes. The problem? They’d run out of wine – a big deal in that culture. Here was a situation which was clearly brought about by human error. Wedding celebrations in those days would have lasted up to a week. So, the lack of wine might have been because someone had miscalculated and not purchased enough? Or perhaps the budget for the wedding party had not been properly prepared to cater for all the guests? Then again, maybe some attendees had been a bit selfish with their consumption of said beverage, thus denying others? Whatever way you look at it, somebody somewhere had badly messed up.
Yet, it says something about Jesus that he graciously went ahead and performed a miracle. It could have been all too easy for him to resist. He might even have preached a judgmental message on the imperfection of humanity and the ultimate reason for this pitiful mess up! But he didn’t. Instead, he did something about it and created a miracle. But not just any old miracle. From water poured into ceremonial vats which weren’t even meant to be used for drinking (aye…Jesus is always mixing things up), he did something in a moment which should have taken literally years to produce. After all, good wine requires a long process. But there and then, Jesus created the best wine anyone could possibly imagine. I have a sneaky suspicion this was the finest wine that has ever been consumed. AD30 was definitely a year of rare vintage.
The danger when studying this story is that we can try to read more into it than the Holy Spirit intends. To do so is to miss the real point of the outcome. Of course there are lessons which can be gleaned about faith, obedience and courage. But what this event is really all about is… God’s grace. It’s a picture of undeserved favour in the midst of humanity’s failure. Isn’t this what the Gospel is all about? Isn’t this the good news that all who follow Jesus experience every day of their lives? It’s why we celebrate – not because of our own religious works but because of God’s amazing grace. Just like the wine Jesus created, his love & forgiveness are incomparable too.
It is surely no coincidence that the miracle occurred at a wedding party in Cana. Religion doesn’t like this. Yet it represents the vibe of God’s kingdom…gracious, joyful, celebratory, honourable. How on earth could any Christian ever portray Jesus as tedious, intense and clinical? Such a portrayal is a downright travesty. After all, Jesus is the source of real joy…and the finest wine maker on this planet and beyond. If he can work a miracle in the midst of a crisis in Cana, his grace can do the same in your life. Now that’s a message worth celebrating.
I’m sure you, like me, have been deeply disturbed by the poisoning incident in Salisbury recently. The method used was a military grade nerve agent – in essence a chemical weapon which could potentially have killed many people. Our thoughts and prayers are for the healing of all those affected, especially a father & daughter who are critically ill in hospital.
The UK government is convinced that the Russian state was behind this serious incident. I trust their judgment. Yet the fact that there are growing numbers of people questioning this conclusion should concern every politician in our nation. A house divided against itself can never stand.
These are serious times which feel very much like a new cold war has descended upon us. What is needed in days like these is…truth. The growing distrust in the integrity of government is devastating to a nation. Any hostile agent can wreak havoc in a culture of deep suspicion. The current British political system with it’s culture of arrogance has done a terrible dis-service to our nation. The Salisbury incident is a serious wake up call. Integrity REALLY matters.
In a sense, the chickens are coming home to roost. The political system in the UK has been in serious trouble for a very long time. I’ve written about this HERE. Recent political campaigns have been filled with lies and ego driven one-upmanship. Take the EU referendum campaign of 2016 for example. The sheer amount of untruthfulness on both sides has had the effect of severely eroding trust. This weakens a nation. It is far more devastating than many politicians seem to grasp. The current situation regarding Russia is a case in point. Just when trust is needed more than ever, this can now be easily undermined.
So how do we, as Christians, respond in times like these? Well, first and foremost, it behoves all of us to live lives of profound integrity. Sounds idealistic, right? But it’s far more gritty than that. It’s about living the truth….even if it hurts. Truth starts with ourselves – not anybody else. In a world of fake news, authenticity is like a refreshing tonic. It’s what builds trust. Furthermore, we do well to remember that the prayers of the righteous are ‘powerful and effective’ (James 5:16). So we pray for our nation and those who lead us. We also call out to God to cause a massive spiritual awakening. I have concluded in my own heart that this is the only answer for a broken society. Our nation needs God’s healing grace like never before. So does our world.
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’
It’s far better to define yourself by what you’re for rather than against. There are plenty of negative voices out there which can effortlessly articulate what they dislike. But people who make a real difference in life contribute to solutions rather than complaining about ‘problems’.
Simply being against stuff is not only unhelpful, but it’s profoundly lazy and extremely unproductive. You see, any fool can criticise. There’s nothing brilliant about offering strong opinions from the aloofness of a sedentary position. In the end though, the question we are wise to ask ourselves is; what are we doing to make things better?
At the Junction Church, our heart is to create an environment that is positive and encouraging. Having served in churches for over 20 years, I am only too aware of how negative and cynical God’s children can sometimes become. This is nothing new. Even in the Old Testament after Moses led God’s people to deliverance from the oppression of Egypt, there was grumbling and murmuring. Yet it should never be this way. Church ought to be the most positive, upbeat, faith building, hope restoring & life giving community around.
Being defined by what you’re against immediately establishes negative vibes around your life. Ultimately, you can’t lovingly build anything better when what you hate forms your outlook. This will always lead to a downbeat pessimism which does nothing to inspire faith. If you find that this is your default setting in life, then how about resetting your heart to focus on what you’re FOR? Just one degree of difference changes everything. Instead of being anti, suddenly you find yourself being being pro…for hope, for encouraging, for celebrating others, for reaching people with the greatest news on the planet, for doing whatever it takes to help others….the list goes on.
So…are you a for or against kind of person? I strongly encourage you to embrace the former. It will make a world of difference to your year.