Why I’m just not that bothered about Boris or Jezza…

I’m not really sure why I’m about to do this. Perhaps it’s just because I’ve not argued with anybody on Twitter for a bit. Perhaps I am just mardy for the sake of it. Perhaps I’m just fed up of hearing it 24/7. Whatever the reason, I’ve got what might be a potential hand grenade for some of you. So, here goes…

Whatever happens on 12th December, the Uk will remain pretty much the same. Whichever side wins, barely owt’ll change.

Now I don’t usually say much in public about politics (apart from the fact that I had my milk stolen as a kid!), and I certainly never declare my voting intentions (secret ballot, innit). So this might seem like a bit of a departure.

And, anyway, surely that’s just demonstrably wrong, isn’t it? Depending which side wins we could be in or out of Europe, Scotland (and in time Wales) could be in or out of the Uk, Ireland could be wracked by civil strife/war again, the apocalypse of public spending or funding (depending on your viewpoint) will be upon us, not to mention the apocalypse of…well, you know, everything else that people are doing their nut about pretty much constantly at the minute.

But all of that’s to miss my point. I’m not making a political point at all. If you want to know what I think, ask me privately. You won’t be surprised to know I have strong opinions, which might not always be what you expect. But that’s not really what I’m on about. It might be true that financially, economically, whatevercally, lots might be different. But the important stuff that really, truly, matters, will be exactly, 100%, the same…

We will be called to respect, honour, and pray for our leaders that God has appointed over us. We will be called to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything that Jesus commanded. We will be called to love, serve, encourage, and build one another up.

Crucially, over 99% of the people in my town (and probably yours too) will still be running, laughing and cheering, to hell.

And, over it all, Jesus will still be on the throne…

This is not just mardy, miserable, Yorkshire withdrawing from politics and saying we shouldn’t be bothered with it. It’s not me criticising anyone for being passionate about stuff. It’s not even me having a pity party because the political party I’ve most often gravitated towards doesn’t really exist anymore.

How many of these people know and love Jesus…and will spend eternity with him?

It’s just me saying that, if we do actually, really, believe that Jesus is Lord, then let’s just take the apocalypse level down a step or four hundred. Let’s stop moaning about the crisis of morals in a pagan nation. Let’s stop crying because pagan politicians don’t want to give us preferential treatment. Why would we expect any different?! In fact, let’s just stop with the end of the world nonsense.

Because, most likely the world won’t end on 13th December. And certainly not because of the election result. And anyway, the end of the world is going to be awesome (yes, even in the old school sense!). Because the only thing that will end the world is Jesus returning to finally destroy evil for ever, bring his people to himself, and remake his world without sin, shame, or tears for ever.

And eternally, it won’t really matter whether we’re in or out of Europe, the Uk, big business, or even our beloved NHS. The only thing that will matter is whether we’re in or out of Jesus. If all Jesus’ people made as much fuss about that fact, and even about him, as many seem to be doing about Boris & Jezza, then perhaps people might even get the impression that trusting Jesus makes a difference to who we are, how we live, and what we value.

So, just maybe, let’s just take a couple of chill pills on the electoral apocalypse. Jesus reigns, not the Prime Minister. And let’s concentrate on being excited about the real apocalypse that means eternity with Jesus. And on telling people that, outside of Christ, hell isn’t owt much to do with who’s in Number 10, but a horrific eternity under the just condemnation of a holy God.

I mean, if we did that people might even get the impression we’re more excited about Jesus than free broadband, or tax cuts, right?! That’d be good, wouldn’t it?! It’d certainly mean I shouted at my phone and computer a lot less. And I’d quite like that…

Help a brother out, eh….

Do you get it yet?!

I’ve always found it funny the way that the Lord sometimes takes the opportunity to beat a truth into my head repeatedly over a few days in different ways. Perhaps I’m just proper thick, but it seems to be that often, when I really need to learn a lesson, the Lord really hits me with it a few times in a short space of time.

That’s been the case for me over the last week or so. As I’ve pointed out a couple of times recently, the slog of church planting in an ‘average place‘ can feel like walking on through the drizzle. The temptation to lose heart can be strong. To get down about the slowness of the work, or the lack of quality, or perceived effect, of my preaching. The temptation to want to be anywhere but plodding along in the never-ending rain. To look for joy elsewhere than in daily denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus. To dream of sitting in the sun with a book and a glass of Hoegaarden. Even to wonder very (very!) briefly if teaching really was that bad after all. (It is, by the way!)

But the Lord knows what he’s doing…

Last Wednesday I sat and listened to Andy Prime’s banging sermon on 2 Corinthians 4 at the FIEC Leaders Conference. Andy reminded us that while there are many reasons to lose heart in gospel ministry, there are more reasons in Christ to keep going. To keep trusting in Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection. To keep finding joy, in the midst of difficulty, in God’s mercy and the beauty of his glory displayed in the face of Jesus Christ. To minister on, to plod on, in the all surpassing power of God, which is ours in Christ Jesus, by the power of the Spirit. To be reminded that the slog is not to be despised but is the normal pattern of ministry, because then God is glorified, not us. All stuff I knew, right? But summat I was in danger of forgetting as the rain seeped into my shoes…

Then, as I got back into real life last Thursday, I came across Luke 10.20 in my personal Bible reading. It hit me like a train. The reason the slog of ministry so often drags us down and steals our joy is because we’re trying to find our joy in it, rather than in Jesus. We lose heart because we rejoice that our ministry is awesome, or that we’re amazing preachers, or that God is using us to save people, or grow Christians to be ‘super-awesome effective disciples-making disciples’. But the problem comes that in the slog and the drizzle those things aren’t always happening. And because my joy is invested in those things being true, when they’re not I’m gutted. But Jesus reminds me, like he reminded the disciples, that joy is only found in him and his gospel, in the love the Father has lavished on us in him, through the Spirit uniting us to him. Whatever happens that ain’t going to change. Again, it’s not like I don’t know that. I preach it to our folks pretty much every week, in and out of the pulpit. But just perhaps the rain was in danger of washing my clarity on it away…

And then I turned up the passage for Sunday. Guess what? Psalm 131. Read it. Go on. Take some time and luxuriate in it. I’ll wait… Can you see why I laughed as I read it?! Why I told the Lord, ‘Enough. I get it!’ It’s not my job to know why ministry and life is great, or why it’s pants. It’s not my job to know why so few people have joined us. It’s only my pride that makes me think I can look down on the situations the Lord has given me for my eternal good, and the extension of his kingdom. It’s simply my job to rest in the hope I have in Jesus. To trust my heavenly Father and enjoy his embrace, as I rest in his goodness to me in Jesus, like that weaned child with its mother. To find my joy in the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, as the Spirit shows him to me. And to call others to find this same joy as they hope in Jesus, both now and forevermore.

Perhaps you’re not the same as me. Perhaps this obvious lesson doesn’t need beating in to your head every day. If so, congratulations. But I reckon, for most of us, especially those in full time ministry, this is a lesson we need to learn afresh every day. To confess before the Lord, every day, that we have lost heart because we are proud, haughty, and think we deserve to know everything. Because we have failed to trust the Lord and find our rest in him. Because we have invested our joy in the spirits (or our church members, or unbelievers, or the culture) submitting to us, and therefore throw a pity party when they don’t. Because we’ve failed to delight in the glory of God in the face of Christ, failed to depend on the Spirit to empower us. Perhaps you, like me, need to repent of that, every day, and come afresh to the cross of Jesus. And ask the Spirit to give us afresh the joy of our Father in the face of his Son. And then, to get off our knees, and out into the world to show them a joy that cannot be defeated. Because Jesus really, truly, is alive…

So just let me be beside the seaside…

I spent the early part of this week by the seaside, Torquay to be precise, for the FIEC Leaders Conference. As always it was a great few days. I don’t have time this week for owt as pretentious as a full review (although you might hear some thoughts over in podcast land in the next few weeks), so here’s just a few thoughts.

On the positive side;

Ministry: I’ve always said that conferences don’t need to stand or fall on the quality of the ministry. Sometimes just the time away, and to catch up with friends, makes it worthwhile. But much of the ministry this week was very good. I didn’t go to every session by any means, but particular highlights for me would be Colin Smith’s sessions on the Profile of a godly leader, and the calling of shepherd leaders. I also enjoyed the seminar I attended on Titus 2 women’s ministry, led by Jonny Prime. It’s great to see more and more churches taking the need to train up women more seriously. The best session by far though was Andy Prime preaching 2 Corinthians 4 to us. And he preached it! He was realistic about the difficulties & temptations of gospel ministry, but pointed us to Jesus & why his gospel means we must not lose heart. Excellent stuff!

Music: A big shout out to Colin Webster, Phil Moore, and the folks from Cornerstone Worship, who led us in our sung praise. They were excellent. Full stop. Thanks guys! (And let’s not forget who they got to play the guitar!)

Shearer!!!!

Mission: I’m so grateful for the FIEC and the group of churches who make it up. To be reminded again and again, whether from the front or in conversation, of the mission we have to make disciples in our local areas was great. To be reminded that we can work together to reach our nation for Christ was top too. I love the fact that the FIEC are constantly thinking about ways to help local churches do that. Very encouraging.

Mates & Muppets: Always the best thing about this conference is catching up with people I don’t see that often, and meeting new guys. It’s always a laugh trying to work out if that guy over there is the person you’ve interacted with loads on Twitter or not. But times in the pub, over coffee, just chilling out with people from around the country who are on the same road we are was brilliant. I even spent some time with a few Welshman this year. Sacrificial love, folks…

Miles: Lots of people don’t like Torquay, or perhaps more accurately they don’t like the journey. Don’t get me wrong, it is a really (really!) long way, but once I’m there I love it. Just being away by the sea, miles from home, means this is a bit of a break for me in a way it probably wouldn’t be if it was in Brum or Manchester or wherever. The view’s certainly better. And even though the drive back up is a pain, it gave me and my fellow Elder, Mark, a great chance to chat over lots of what we’d seen and heard.

But this blog has it’s name for a reason, so just a couple of small gripes, which can probably be summed up in the word diversity (and maybe not in the way you think I mean, before anybody points me to next year’s speakers’ list!);

Diversity and Theme: More and more in recent years the conference has seemed to focus ever more closely on ‘the theme’. This year it was Leadership at every level. My small annoyance with that is that we get lots about leadership and not quite as much just preaching for our souls as in the past. In previous years, we’ve had guys preaching passages just for the good of our souls and because we’re battered up by ministry (Paul Gamston pulling down the curtains, or Jonty Allcock’s Winnie the Pooh anyone?). But over recent years the need to focus on ‘the theme’ has seemed to squeeze that out a bit.

Diversity and Context: Whether it’s just because the conference has got a lot bigger or what, I don’t know, but it seems the diversity of the contexts of the speakers at the conference has got smaller over recent years. It might be partly a result of it only being 48 hours, rather than 72. But, whatever the reason, it seems that the vast majority of speakers hail from large churches, in city contexts, from certain areas of the country/world. It’s not that I think people from different contexts have nothing to teach me, or others in similar contexts, but it might be nice to have more folks from smaller churches sometimes. As Carl Truman said, when he challenged our American brothers on this, ‘Preaching the gospel isn’t rocket science. You don’t have to pastor a huge church to preach faithfully to other pastors.’ And (regular readers will already be rolling their eyes) it was another national conference where the entire north of England seemed to be unrepresented on the platform (as much as we all love him, I’m not sure the bloke selling books counts in this context). For example, Yorkshire has the same population as Scotland, but I heard more Scottish accents in nearly every session at this conference than I’ve heard Yorkshire (or even northern) ones, or even people working in Yorkshire contexts, in my 8 years of attending. Just summat to think about maybe…

All that being said though, I loved this conference, the same as I do every year. I’m so grateful for the FIEC and all they do for us as a church and around the country. Long may it continue!

Medhurst Ministries: Mithering, ministry, movement…

It was great to get away as a family for a few days last week. We were up at the Jonas Centre, near Leyburn in North Yorkshire, for the inaugural (yep, I did just google that!) Medhurst Ministries Pastors’ and families’ retreat.

Genuinely taken last week at the Jonas Centre #VisitYorkshire!

Medhurst Ministries is a ministry of New Life Church Middlesbrough. It’s aim is to help plant and revitalise churches in council estates (and other ‘hard to reach’ places) in the North of England. They also want to support, resource, and train pastors and churches already working in those areas. These are very early days, but talking about what the future might hold was very exciting.

It’s was great to get away and out of the busyness of ministry life for a bit, and to enjoy the glories of a different part of God’s own county. The only disappointment of being there was not being able to find any Christmas Cake in the Leyburn Co-op, and therefore being unable to introduce the non-Yorkshire folk to the taste of Wensleydale’s most famous product as it should be enjoyed! It was excellent to be with others ministering in similar contexts, in a relaxed environment, and build friendships, share stories, and just enjoy being away.

I might reflect more on the week later, and you’ll certainly being hearing more about Medhurst Ministries in the coming months, but for now I just want to pick out three highlights. (My sincere apologies for the alliteration! I normally try to avoid it like the plague!)

Mithering: I wrote recently about the importance of being able to get together with others in ministry and be honest about the struggles, as well of the joys, of ministry. It’s very easy in a small church like ours, in a difficult context like ours (where there are very few Christians even by Yorkshire standards), to think we’ve got it worse than everybody else. To be tempted to despair at the lack of fruit or the length of time it takes to get a hearing for the gospel here. To be tempted to think we must be doing it all wrong because nothing (or at least very little) is happening. To be tempted to lose our nerve and try to change tack in our gospel proclamation. What was great to do this last week was to see (again!) that it’s hard everywhere, particularly in contexts like ours. To be able to chat with people, over an extended period of time, about the ups and downs of ministry life in the hard places of the North of England. To be able to commiserate together. To be able to encourage one another. To be able to express the frustrations of ministry life to people who totally get it. To chat with people at all different stages of this path we’re on, and be reminded that we don’t need to change tack, we’re not doing it horrifically wrong. It’s just that ministry in contexts like ours really is a long, slow slog. It was also brilliant to have some southerners among us, as Dan Green and family came up from Banstead Community Church, and hear about their desire to support ministry in the North of England. You can read about how they’re doing that here. It was so encouraging to hear of this church sacrificially serving the gospel in this way, and pray together for more to do the same.

Ministry: We met twice each day to look at some psalms together, while our children were brilliantly taught by the excellent team from New Life. As a result of circumstances, we ended up doing the sessions between a few of us, looking at some psalms that we’re preached recently in our different churches.  Although this was a last minute adjustment it actually worked out really well. We were reminded that, even in the hard slog of ministry in our contexts, the Lord is building his church. That our loving heavenly Father is sovereignly at work in all of our contexts, and hearts, to present his people as a perfect bride to his Son. And that that means we can keep going in the midst of the frustrations, hoping in his goodness and grace. It was a really encouraging time. Here are some of the highlights…

Movement: Before anybody gets scared, I’ve not turned too trendy. I don’t mean Medhurst Ministries has suddenly become some sort of ‘movement’ committed to ‘bestifying church planting in super-awesome-effectiveness’ or owt daft like that. It just struck me that there is starting to be some movement on some of the issues facing gospel ministry in the North of England that some of us have been pointing out for a while. As I said, it was so encouraging to have Dan and the family with us, and hear how people from a completely different context are sacrificially seeking to support gospel ministry in a ‘hard to reach’/average place in the North. It was brilliant to chat through what role Medhurst Ministries might have in working for the cause of the gospel across the North of England. It was great to hear of churches around the world interested in supporting gospel ministry here. It was top to start to think how our little church might play a part in that. By God’s grace, the future looks exciting!

It was an excellent week, and we can’t wait for next year. We’re so grateful for the work of everyone at New Life that made it possible. But for now, we are so encouraged about what the Lord could do in our part of the world in the coming years. Please pray that he would, and that he might get all the glory…