A pastor friend of mine recently succumbed to Covid-19. As a statistic, he’s just one of thousands to have fallen victim to the terrible malaise. But as a human being, his story is far more poignant than that. This man had invested the best years of his life serving God and His people. Like any pastor, he’d dealt with the joys of pastoral ministry as well as the challenges. The latter included times when he’d been on the receiving end of behaviour which was less than honourable. But with good grace and a dash of humour, he kept serving and believing to see the church grow. Sometimes though, the pain inflicted by graceless conduct nearly broke him. His wounds were real. Yet, he never allowed bitterness to contaminate his ministry.
Just two weeks prior to his passing, he’d been working hard behind the scenes to ensure his church was ready for the move online. Like many of us, he had to make numerous video announcements on social media informing his church community of how things would look for the foreseeable future. As usual, he served his heart out and arranged for care & support for the people in his church. But within a fortnight, he was felled by the very virus he sought to protect his church against. The ventilator wasn’t enough to save him.
Today, a church is mourning the loss of their shepherd. There can only be a tiny funeral service because of the lockdown. His family didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye. So sad.
No doubt the tributes will keep pouring in, and rightly so. But it got me thinking….why do we wait until it’s too late before saying what is good? Why not express appreciation now? Why not just believe the best instead of going along with the gripes and whims of the habitually disgruntled? See, when pride & ego are taken out of the equation, it’s amazing how culture shifts from dishonour to honour. If you choose to bathe your words and actions in honour, you will never regret it….ever….both in time and eternity.
The passing of my friend hit home last week…hard. This virus is real. But there’s a malady which is just as potent. It’s called pride. It’s a wrecker of relationships. It’s a destroyer of trust. It’s a divider of people. The enemy thrives on it. But it’s about time we called it out, before it’s too late. Meanwhile, the Bible challenges us to live with the high values of Christ’s Kingdom permeating every aspect of our lives. Romans 12:10 says “Honour one another above yourselves”. Nothing less will do. Humility is the vaccine which disempowers the toxic scourge of self-centredness.
Question is, when all this is over, what will ‘normal’ look like? Will there merely be a return to the old ways? Or will a new normal emerge – where gossip and toxicity are replaced by honour and appreciation?
Me? I’m praying for a new normal to emerge. Gosh, we need it.
Meanwhile, for my friend & colleague, I honour his life. One ‘well done’ from the King makes everything worthwhile. Salute.
Do you like a story? Ok…well I’ve got one. Put the kettle on and pull up a chair!
Before the lockdown and social distancing laws came into force, the Junction Church’s brilliant exec team read the road ahead long ago. We had a good idea we would need to move everything completely online at some point – not because of some profound prophecy, but because we kept an eye on the news. So, we decided to prepare well in advance and pre-record lots of services, so that in the event of a lockdown, we could use these as our online material. This even included Easter services!
A local church in Loughborough kindly invited us to use their building (we don’t currently own our own permanent facility). Over a couple of mid-week days, a small team of people from our church community (including a number of frontline healthcare professionals) set-up our equipment and had loads of fun recording back to back services – with 10 minute breaks in between. It was tiring…but brilliant. Those services reflect the heart and culture of our church – positive, fresh and encouraging.
Then eventually, a total lockdown was announced by the government. This meant church gatherings were not permitted. Lots of churches were thrown into crisis because they’d never contemplated the idea of online church. But at the Junction Church, we felt prepared, if a bit anxious about it all. We totally understood the reasons for the lockdown and support the governments actions in tackling the virus. Moments like this are what leaders are made for, right? Well, that’s what all those leadership books & conferences tell us.
Anyway, then came the beginning of those ‘churchless’ Sundays. Like many pastors, I sat in dread as I hid behind my morning mug of tea, wondering if anyone would watch. But to my delight, the viewing numbers rose to thousands!! Suddenly, we were a mega-church!!! Ok…not quite. But I actually LOVE online church. It’s not as good as physically gathering but, it’s the next best thing. Because we’d read the road ahead, we were able to offer some decent quality services online. The work had already been done.
For me though, some of the most enlightening revelations in this strange season have occurred when I’ve been scrolling through comments during the services. Oh my word!!! Of course, our church family cheer us on from start to finish (as they always do – they’re brilliant)! Even people who are not Christians have written warmly and positively about their online church experience – some even coming to faith! How good is that?!!! But…some of the “Christian” response has been fascinating to observe. Some of those comments have been laden with suspicion and lacking any kind of warmth – with a tangible sense of ‘name & shame’. When aggressive comments like ‘why are you having a LIVE service?’ are written without even a hint of grace or the slightest smidgeon of the benefit of the doubt, it says much about how people can so quickly jump to cheap conclusions without knowing the real story.
In response to the less savoury comments, we always graciously point out that there are clear signs on our Online Church service video’s saying “RECORDED PRE-LOCKDOWN”. But…this does not seem to satisfy some. It’s as if some of God’s children want to assume the worst of God’s other children, believing that a church would flagrantly disregard the law, gather people in a secret location each Sunday and then proceed to have a full on Sunday service which is aired live to thousands of people. Preposterous, hey? But when the pressure is on, a lot gets revealed.
Some of the emails have been interesting too. The unchurched have written kindly & generously, saying how much they’ve enjoyed the services. But some of the ‘Christian’ response has been accusatory and judgmental, written like a verdict being pronounced and guilt being delivered. You can almost see the triumphant smirk and the loud ‘GOTCHA!!!’ bellowing out as yet another pastor has been brought down to size by a morally superior Christian. But for what? When time passes, level heads will look back and shrivel with embarrassment at what they were willing to believe.
So…at the risk of disappointing the disappointed…I can confirm that our services are NOT live. We would never disobey the law. They were pre-recorded before the lockdown – just like the sign says. We do livestream the services because the recordings run smoother this way. Meanwhile, while Online Church is happening on Sunday, you’ll find me in my living room, drinking yet another cup of tea, commenting on the preacher’s dodgy hair-do and personally answering some aggressive lines of questioning from irate Christians such as ‘WHY IS THIS LIVE?????’ (the fact I’m responding while I’m preaching should be a giveaway).
I know these are strange times. We, like every church, are seeking to lovingly pastor people through this desperately challenging season. Behind the scenes, our church has been supporting families, sending out food packages, creating support systems and lots more. Our church family have been truly amazing in all this. What has saddened my heart is the doubt & presumptions of some Christians who have been only too willing to pronounce a ‘guilty’ verdict without being sure of the facts. Oh for a day when God’s people would choose to believe the best of each other and not the worst. The real reason so many churches are in a state of decline is because the default culture is fearful & suspicious – the very opposite of God’s culture. Thing is, nothing will ever grow in a culture of suspicion….apart from fear.
Our world is in turmoil. It doesn’t need more suspicion & distrust. God’s people ought to be leading the way and cheering each other on….believing the best, speaking the best, bringing hope, and demonstrating faith. That’s what’s needed more than ever before. God help us rise to the challenge. The world is watching.
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Ever picked up weird vibes from being around somebody? I guess we’ve all encountered them at times. When I experience them, I always try to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. The first thing I tend to do is try to check my own heart to see if I’m the one who has caused the sense of weirdness. For example, have I said something inappropriate? Is my demeanour awkward? Is my body language defensive? Have I hit a raw nerve in something I’ve asked about? Is it the way I’m looking, sounding, smiling? Maybe the the other person is going through something in their life which I have no idea about? The questions could go on and on. BUT the danger of this kind of internal questioning is that it can quickly change from healthy self-awareness to unhealthy paranoia. Sure, no doubt there are times when I can be the cause of weird vibes – but not always.
One of the weirdest vibes you’ll ever encounter is when you’re talking to someone who is beside you – but they’re not really ‘present’ with you. In other words, they are distracted as they constantly glance around to see who else might pass by. They’re poised to make a quick exit in order to take advantage of a better opportunity. That’s just how some people live their lives. But for me, this is weird. As soon as I pick up on this kind of vibe, I tend to disengage from the ‘conversation’ because I’m not willing to be treated as second class. I try to give anyone I talk to my full attention no-matter who they are – and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect anything less in return.
Anyway, there’s not much you can do about other people. But you can do something about YOU. Here are eight ways you can try to protect yourself from giving off weird vibes:
1) BE FRIENDLY – It’s not rocket science. Just be friendly and approachable. This really helps.
2) SPEAK POSITIVELY – Set the tone. If you’re ‘weird’ for not gossiping and backbiting, that’s not such a bad thing. Just keep it all positive.
3) AVOID INTENSITY – The shallow end of the conversation pool is underrated. It’s always better to make your way to the deep end from there. Do shallow really well. This is about connecting on the same level. Take your time before making ‘best friends’. Far better that way.
4) BE SELF AWARE – Make sure you’re not the cause of weird vibes. See the questions I asked myself above.
5) RESPECT BOUNDARIES – Learn to read people quickly. Overstepping their personal boundaries of space and tactilty is the surest way to provoke antagonism. So be sure to read and respect this.
6) ASK QUESTIONS – You can tell far more about someone by the questions they ask than the statements they make. So ask great questions.
7) LISTEN WELL – After you ask a question, LISTEN to the answer!!!! It might not be the answer you want. But that’s not the point. It’s all about listening well to others. The lack of this is a definite cause of weird vibes!
8) TAKE INTEREST – Remembering details that people mention to you is HOW you build real and genuine connection into their hearts. This means taking genuine interest in those you do life with.
If you’re relatively new to the Christian faith, the name Reinhard Bonnke will probably hold little or no significance for you. But for those of us who’ve been on the journey a while, the man is a true legend of the faith.
I first heard Reinhard Bonnke preach at the Kings Hall in Belfast. The year was 1987. The conflict in N Ireland was at its inglorious height, with not even the slightest hint of a peace process on the horizon. I remember traffic chaos on the way to the Saturday night meeting because there had been a bomb scare near the venue. On arrival, I was amazed to see over 10,000 people gathered to worship God and hear from ‘God’s servant’. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.
Eventually, Bonnke took to the stage. His message gripped me from start to finish, and his delivery was utterly mesmerising. I’d never heard a preacher like him. Sure, he raised his voice…but it wasn’t the kind of angry shouting that some of the old Irish preachers were notorious for. No, his was the sound of sheer excitement and pure joy. Reinhard took a simple biblical text and then explained it with stories and illustrations which totally made sense. Afterwards, he prayed for those who needed healing – and story after story flowed from many who believed they’d received a touch from heaven. I was profoundly impacted by that meeting. It was only in the proceeding weeks and months that I began to understand the impact of Reinhard Bonnke’s ministry in Africa, the continent with which he is principally associated. Kings and presidents respected him, and his outdoor gatherings attracted hundreds of thousands of people, with many finding faith in Christ.
In 1997, exactly ten years after my first experience of his ministry, I heard Reinhard preach again, this time in the city of Birmingham. I even got to meet him afterwards. He was warm, gracious and overflowing with kindness. After chatting to me, he laid his hands on my head and asked God to bless me and use my life for his glory. That night, I received something from heaven which I can only explain as an anointing. Over the next decade, I would travel extensively around the UK, speaking at thousands of events and leading many to faith in Jesus. Though I can’t fully explain it, I’m convinced there was an impartation that night when Reinhard Bonnke prayed for me. It shaped the direction of my life and ministry.
In 2007, 20 years after my first encounter with Reinhard’s ministry and 10 years after receiving prayer, I was honoured to spend a few days with him. Though now a little older, he’d lost none of his fire. Over good food and drink, he told stories of his experiences in life and ministry. He shared some of the challenges he’d faced too. Reinhard opened his heart with characteristic warmth & fresh humility – and I felt truly humbled to sit at his feet and learn, up close & personal. I will always be grateful to God for that privilege. It deeply impacted me.
In December 2019, at the age of 79, Reinhard Bonnke went home to heaven. How amazing to think that millions there will be grateful that a servant of God carried the gospel to their nation, their city, their town, their village. God used him to make a difference that will last forever. This one man’s life of surrender and obedience is a challenge to all of us. What might God accomplish through your surrendered life? Imagine if you dared to believe God? All things are possible.
Paul wrote to a deeply divided church in the city of Corinth. His letter was born out of fatherly love for a community he’d pioneered and planted. He warned the Christians that there were ‘many instructors, but not many fathers’ (1 Cor 4:15). In other words, Paul was pointing out that there was no shortage of clamouring voices who love to air their opinions and promote their ideas. But the crisis for many believers was the lack of spiritual fathers who could speak loving wisdom to sons and daughters in the faith.
That same crisis still exists today. We have an abundance of voices which speak loudly and forcefully. But spiritual fathers are so different.
When my wife was ill in hospital after she gave birth, I held my little girl in my arms all night and settled her on my chest. This wasn’t an arduous task. It was an act of love. She’s not my experimental project to find out if my ideology works. She’s my everything. I’m her dad and I love her.
Thing is…the world is full of people who love to throw out clinical instructions from their ideological high ground, often from the platform of social media. But the reason for the depth of division in our society today is that so many feel abandoned. Heartless rhetoric rings hallow. The system doesn’t care either, and hasn’t for years. On top of this, there are multitudes who find themselves swimming against the wake of family dysfunctionality, often dealing with issues related to fatherhood, or the lack of it. As a pastor, I get to see this stuff up close and personal. Yet society seems unwilling to honestly address the REAL issues which affect REAL people. And then we wonder why we’re in such a predicament?
That’s why we need fatherhood like never before. Fathers raise sons and daughters. Fathers champion their kids. Fathers are protective and caring. Fathers journey with their children through good times and bad, helping them navigate life and just being there. Fatherhood is not a job. It’s a high call.
Here at the Junction Church, our heart is to see a generation rise higher and go further. That’s why we’ve set the bar high. That’s why we take risks. That’s why we’re creating the kind of culture we’ve got. It’s time for spiritual fathers to step up. Our world desperately needs it.
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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.
CHECK OUT THE JUNCTION CHURCH LOUGHBOROUGH HERE.
p.s. Below is very moving interview with Cliff Richard filmed after winning his court case against the BBC. Yet, notice how the interviewer subtly seeks to defend her profession mid-interview.
Anti-semitisim (or as it should be more properly referred – ‘Jew Hatred’) is never acceptable….EVER. There cannot be enough voices speaking out against it. I now use mine.
It is very sad that sections of British politics have become increasingly comfortable associating with this evil bigotry. The fact that it is even an issue in 2018 makes a mockery of all the rhetoric about ‘equality’.
The leader of the British Labour Party has a very dubious track record when it comes to where his sympathies lie. One example of this was recently highlighted when he felt it was ok to ‘like’ a painting which peddled conspiratorial clap trap against the Jewish people. Truly astonishing. No-matter where your political leanings reside (whether left or right), this is an issue which rises far above all that. Jew hatred needs to be called out for what it is….vile, hate-filled prejudice. It is wrong as wrong can be.
Relatively recent history teaches us how spine tinglingly wretched anti-Jewishness is. Never forget, six million Jewish people were murdered in the holocaust. Even after 70 years, it still boggles the mind that such an awful atrocity could happen in the heart of Europe. But it happened because a society became comfortable with anti-Jewish sentiment. It was seen as acceptable, and nonsensical conspiracies were believed to be true. That’s why it is imperative for all of us to take a stand against this.
Jewish people will always have a special place in my heart. Jesus himself was a Jew. He loved his people dearly, even when he was misunderstood. The bible also has a deep love for the Jewish people. We are actually encouraged to pray them (Psalm 122:6).
Full respect to those brave people who have spoken of their experiences of hatred. Below is a video by a labour politician who spoke in parliament of her experiences. It is totally worth watching.