Yet not I, but we/us/our in Christ…

We’re getting near to the end of our series in the Psalms of Ascent. Last Sunday was Psalm 133 & this week I’m busy working on the last one in Psalm 134. We’ve had a great time working through them. They’re just so honest about reality of life in a world opposed to the Lord, as well as being full of God’s awesome grace to us in Jesus. You can check them out here if you’re at all interested.

But the thing that really struck me this week is the way that they change as they go through. Gradually, as the people trek up to Jerusalem time & again, the songs they sing get less and less individualistic & more and more corporate, culminating in a full set of three rejoicing in the unity of God’s people under their anointed King, together as one.

As I preached through Psalm 133 last week it really hit home to me how much we, even as Bible people, have been infected and held captive by the individualistic air we breathe. How these pilgrims rejoiced to be together, to be part of God remaking his good world as he saves his one family in Christ, united in their great high priest. How they are refreshed and find God’s blessing, and even life itself, as they point one another to the Lord. It struck me how much this is the pattern of the whole Bible, from the one united family in Genesis 1 & 2, through to the one city/bride/people in Revelation 21 & 22. How Paul tells the Ephesians that we learn to grasp the length, height, depth, & breath of God’s love in Christ ‘together with all the saints’. It goes on, & on, & on…

And yet, it seems to me anyroad, that that’s not how most of us live our Christian lives, or maybe even disciple others to live theirs. How we’ve somehow made the most important part of evangelical piety sitting by yourself with your Bible on a morning. Perhaps more books are published on ‘how to read the Bible for yourself’, or ‘how to enjoy your Quiet Time’, than owt else. The Quiet Time, it seems, is sacred! That’s where we meet with God most, right? Get people having a meaningful Quiet Time, and they’ll grow like weeds! Right?

Now don’t get me wrong (& hear me clearly here!): Having time alone in the Bible is a good thing! It is! But, if it stops there, or even if that’s the place we see our primary interaction with God’s word each day, then as far as I can see we’ve missed the whole thrust of the Bible. You see, as I read my Bible, people grow, learn, mature, in community. With others.

And it’s not just the Quiet Time. I reckon it’s why the church is infected with the consumer mentality we all moan about all the time, at the same time as moaning about all the things we don’t like about our church. It’s why spending time together with God’s people outside of Sunday seems like a pain in the backside instead of a privilege. Why even prioritising turning up every Sunday seems a struggle for some! It’s why we so often don’t want to spend time socialising with those in our church, or praying together at a time that’s inconvenient to us. It’s why it’s so hard to find Christian hymns & songs (old or new!) that include words like ‘our, us, we’ instead of ‘me, my, & I’.

Let’s face it, when we sing Psalm 133 it goes summat like this: ‘How hard & inconvenient it is when God’s people live together in unity…’ (and before anyone points the finger, I’m as guilty as any!)

Because we’ve forgotten who we are. We’ve spent so long talking about what my identity in Christ is (again, no bad thing in & of itself), that we’ve forgotten that, biblically, our identity in Christ is far more important. That when God brings his people together as one he is remaking his world to be good again, as it was in the beginning. That pretty much all the pictures of God’s people in the New Testament are corporate: body, bride, temple, house, city. One of each, folks! That, as Paul tells the Romans, ‘in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’ (Rom. 12.5). That it is the highest of privileges to give of ourselves so that our brothers & sisters might know God’s blessing. That, in fact, it is one of our first priorities.

How good & pleasant would it be in our churches if we all got hold of this?! If our first priority on a Sunday, during the week, whenever, was to seek out ways to bless our fellow church members. If we took Hebrews 10.24 seriously & really did put some effort into considering how we might encourage others by spurring them on to love & good deeds. And then crack on & do it…

How good & pleasant would it be regionally & nationally if we all got a hold of this?! If churches worked together in real partnership, seeking to bless one another & help each other show people Jesus. If we had a real vision to help those getting stuck into areas where there’s not much opportunity to hear the gospel. If we worked for real partnership that enabled us to show how Jesus brings people together in one people…

How good & pleasant would it be in our communities if we all got hold of this?! If people around us saw us living radically corporate lives together as one. If we actually lived out our oneness  in Christ for all around us to see. If people around really were shocked by how much we loved one another, day to day, in the real world…

That might make an impact, might it? Jesus, for one, reckoned it might (John 13.34-35)…

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…