Transforming communities with the love of God

20 years, 20 lessons...

Helen and I step into a 3rd decade of leading this amazing church family today, and after 20 years we’re pausing, taking stock and sharing some of the lessons we’ve learned through many joys, breakthroughs and miracles, 10.5 million minutes of leadership, 1000 Sundays, 1500 sermons and countless mistakes... here's some stuff we've started learning thus far:

  1. 20 1cNothing compares to knowing, experiencing and living in the timeless, unfailing, perfect, gracious love of God in Christ. His love changes lives, heals hearts, restores hope and transforms communities.
  2. On 1st November 1998 we sensed Jesus himself offering his hand of leadership, to take hold of the mantle of ministry here, and to follow His lead. Though we’ve stumbled and fallen, grown weary at times and other times tried to rush ahead of Him, He has never let go of us.
  3. Leaders don’t build the Church, God does — and however important the leaders’ role may be, it is His leadership (and our followership) that matters.
  4. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can really change people’s hearts, and He does His best work when He’s invited in with humility and welcomed in to rearrange things.
  5. We have disappointed many people, failed to meet their expectations (and so often failed to meet our own)… The grace of Christ is always enough for those who accept it. (If you’re one of the disappointed, thank you when you’ve extending grace)
  6. We have been disappointed by others aplenty, even let down by those who have led us, and again the grace of Jesus is all we need to keep our hearts soft and faith refuelled. God’s mercy is new this morning.
  7. God has not given up on any of us, He has not overlooked our communities (even Watford!) and He is at work in powerful and mysterious ways, often behind the scenes. 
  8. One of the best things we ever did was say ‘yes’ to the adventure of overseas mission. Over 30 countries later, our hearts still pound with God’s love for all nations.
  9. Loyalty is a rare quality, and we are surrounded by faithful, loving, patient friends in our church family who have given time, talents and treasure year after year in pursuit of our common vision. We are profoundly grateful for them all. (If you’re one of the many faithful, thank you!)
  10. Vision statements don’t make things happen, but when God says what He wants to do He gives faith to see the impossible made possible. And His vision for His people is ever-expanding, we couldn’t cope if He revealed it all at once.
  11. Values statements don’t make a difference until leaders model what they stand for, and a whole Church chooses to live ‘above the line’ of mediocre selfishness.
  12. Our timescales are rarely realistic; God’s timing is always perfect.
  13. The fastest-growing plants are the weeds, not the fruit trees; sometimes the best fruit grows on the slowest-growing trees. Maturity takes time.
  14. God is the best team-builder on the planet, and He’ll move people across towns, nations and even oceans to bring the people He wants to the team. His recruitment process is better than ours.
  15. It’s a messy business washing feet, but Jesus showed us that’s how leaders serve. We do our best work when we follow His example, more often not on a platform but on our knees.
  16. People make promises and break them. Both are too easy to do, and faithfulness is rarer than pride. Unity takes humility and effort to keep.
  17. The Word of God is infinitely powerful when ignited in minds and hearts by the power of God’s Spirit. This is always a wonder, and can change lives and families in a moment (or over many years!).
  18. Miracles are reality, gold teeth can appear from nowhere! Cancers shrink and disappear, demons and diseases flee in Jesus’ name... sometimes (I wish always). Our hunger for more breakthroughs has not been extinguished.
  19. Where God guides, He provides – even hundreds of thousands of pounds to build a new Church Centre… nothing breaks His budget. Most often His means of supply is our cheerful sacrifice.
  20. Leaders like us are too frail to succeed, too weak to win and too inadequate to overcome but it doesn’t matter – Jesus is our victory and in His name (united with His people) we can face the future with faith. So we will.

- Tim Roberts
(opinions my own)

 

God is Not love

Godisnotlove

As a church we’ve been reflecting a lot recently about the nature and extend of the love of God, and then the other week I caught a snippet of the final of Love Island on ITV2 – it got me thinking…

Many people would understand the concept of a God [if he exists] being loving, and most Christians would declare that Jesus loves us. He died on the cross to redeem creation because of love. Not just out of duty or with reluctance. He saved us because he loved us. We were lost but, compelled by love, Jesus rescued us. Such love!

The beloved apostle John wrote, ‘We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us.’ (1 John 3:16)

He put it most succinctly when he said:

‘God is love…’ (1 John 4:16)

Fair enough, but haven’t we wistfully turned that concept around to declare,

‘Love is God.’?

We’re not the first generation to do this, and we keep doing it. We worship love. Even in the Church we could fall into a subtle trap of exalting the love of God above the God of love. I’m not splitting hairs – there is a warning here…CS Lewis wisely made a distinction in The Four Loves between various human affections and the selfless, self-sacrificing, perfect ‘agapé’ love of God. So much wisdom in this… My attempt at distinction is between ‘love’ and ‘Love’.

Today’s world says (to be more precise,

love’ is God,

and our god has become ‘love’ (AKA friendship/lust/desire/attraction/ownership or whatever construct we may mean when we say, I ‘love’ you). By ‘love’ some may mean the insatiable lust-filled infatuation of shows like ‘Love Island’ – the falling-in-love ‘because I like how you make me feel’ kind-of-love. This is fuelled with raw emotion, unabated passion, unverified feelings, reckless, ‘crazy’ love.  

The feeling of ‘love’ has become our favoured god. And how fleeting those feelings can be!

By ‘love’ we may even mean the feeling we get from the close, buddy-love we get from friendship and companionship. This is a rich experience in life, for sure, but even honest friendship-love is a mere morsel from the feast of God’s Love. A tiny taste of heaven.

God is by his nature, and in his self-giving actions, Love.

Love says ‘yes’ to the weak, and is strong enough to rescue us and make us strong.

Love says ‘no’ to chaos, and is clear enough to bring order and wisdom.

Love says ‘yes’ to cleaning up our lives, however messed up they are.

Love says ‘no’ to injustice and perversion, and is pure enough to bring dignity and protect it.

Love says ‘yes’ to our future, and ‘no’ to our sin-filled past.

Love says ‘yes’ to lifelong, selfless commitment for the other person’s benefit; love lasts as long as the convenience, the feeling, the extent to which one’s self is fulfilled by continuing with it.

Love says ‘no’ to breaking promises, to incest, to abuse, to selfishness, to manipulation, to usury, to selfish sex, to using another for pleasure.

Love screams ‘no!’ at the unaware pedestrian to save them from the oncoming bus.

A Love that says ‘no’? That might not feel like love, but it is Love.

John the apostle recalls Jesus saying this: ‘Now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.’ (John 13:34) So we should Love each other, in a way that Jesus Loves. His is the standard, the definition.

How so? Jesus accepts a blatant sinner, and then tells her to ‘leave your life of sin’ (John 8:11). That might not feel like love, but it is Love.

He challenges a would-be follower, a rich man deceived by his wealth, telling him to ‘go, sell everything you have and give to the poor’ (Mark 10:21). That might not feel like love, but it is Love.

One of Jesus’ best friends and closest followers tries to dissuade him from following through with the cross and he harshly rebukes Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ (Matthew 16:23). This vile expletive doesn’t feel like love. But it is Love.

My simple prayer is that we would come to understand the full quality and extend of the Love of God (with its infinite power to heal and make whole) and not trade that pursuit in for fleeting feelings that come from the god of love.

As John says, ‘this is real Love—not that we loved God [or felt nice about him for a while], but that he Loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.’ [1 John 3:16 capitalisation mine].

May Love, not love, win every time.

- Tim Roberts
(opinions my own)

Why bother to gather?

It's another grey Sunday morning when the duvet is extra-warm and a lot of people are asking, 'why bother going to church?' It's a good question. 

I can think of loads of reasons not to:

Firstly, there might be people there I don't like or naturally get on with. they might be all 'needy' around me and by the end of the week I'm done with other people's needs.

Also, the service may be pretty much the same as last week's. I'm bored with the same old format. 

Thirdly, I'm not in the mood for all that happy-clappy rejoicing. I've had a tough week and the last thing I need is someone telling me I should be more grateful.

Fourthly, I can meet God wherever I am; I can listen to Christian radio and sing here under my duvet, watch a sermon on my phone and not have to find a parking space. Bonus!

Another reason to skip church is because I've been a Christian quite the while and I'm pretty mature, in fact I think I've heard every sermon our leaders have to dish up. It seems on a cycle and I've been around it a while. Give me something new!

Fifthly, what if the service isn't quite to my liking, and if I go today it might not 'hit my spot' - why chance it and sing songs I don't like, have to deal with other people's children and needs and come away feeling emptier as a result? 

Finally, I get the feeling the leaders only want me there to keep their jobs going and they always ask me for money. Don't they know how expensive my lifestyle is?

Well, I am one of those leaders and I completely understand this perspective. You could say to me, 'you are so enthusiastic about gathering as a church every week because you want me to be there (to make up the numbers).' I would say to you, 'I want you to be there (and not miss out) because I am so enthusiastic about gathering as a church!' 

We are not the first generation to wonder why we meet together, be tempted to opt out, or get distracted and discouraged by our disappointments with others in the church. 

Here are some simple and yet profound reasons why the duvet loses its claim on our Sunday mornings. 

Firstly, because it's hard to praise God on our own. The psalms are full of collective calls to praise, 'Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt his name together...' (Psalm 34:3). We meet to add our voices to the praises of our God. This is a communal experience and you have to get our of bed to do it justice. So the first reason has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with God's glory. Besides, your heart's song sounds so much better as part of a chorus!

Secondly, because it's hard to thrive in life on our own. We need each other - a community of God's chosing and not our own consumerist selection. When the early church was tempted to splinter off and neglect their gathering, the writer to the Hebrews corrected them: 'Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.' (Hebrews 10:24-25) Who knows who you can encourage today just by being there at church. A smile, a word of encouragement, a prayer could make all the difference to their week. 

Thirdly, because the Holy Spirit does His best work when we're together. There is something special about the way God blesses united gatherings of praise and prayer, visiting with words of prophecy and encouragement. In Acts 2 the Spirit came when they were together in one place, and I reckon that is His preferred M.O. over the ages. He came to anoint a people, not just a person.

Fourthly, because the last thing you need to be encouraged in is your selfishness. You and I need to be reminded there are people around us who have greater needs than our own. Not people on BBC News, but people sitting next to you. It's good for you. We do mission better, together. We intercede better, together. It's not about me!

Fifthly, because you can't take communion on your own. Jesus commanded us to remember Him in this covenant meal when we meet. It is a meal of fellowship in Him, and every believer should partake it in often. You can have some bread and wine on your own, but communion is a together thing.

Finally (though I could go on), because preaching is powerful. I still believe in the moment when God's word is illuminated, brought to life, applied and spoken with anointing and power in such a way that something awesome happens in the heart of those who gather. You don't know, today could be your day to receive a 'now' word from God. It could unlock your future. Why risk and miss it?

For sure, your salvation isn't complete because you go to church today. Your eternal fate doesn't depend on service attendance! However, your salvation finds full expression and makes more sense in community, and as broken and predictable as some aspects of our gatherings may be, in grace we can step over those things and believe for breakthroughs in our own lives but also in the lives of others.

I know life is hard, and I know how disappointing people can be. I know (too well) how weak and fallible church leaders are. I get it.

Beyond all that, though, is the ancient call of the Spirit of God who calls us together in unity and promises to visit us when we do. When we humbly meet in Jesus' name, He is in our midst. (Matthew 18:20)

Kick the duvet off and let's gather for God's glory!

- Tim Roberts 
(opinions my own)

 

I'm a Repentecostal

Recent events in the fellowship of churches I belong to have got me thinking, praying, wondering what has gone wrong. Because something has gone wrong, and the need for us all to humble ourselves before God and ask for Him to do something new among us has never (in my experience) been so acute.

I think my mind and heart have been processing this in the background, because when I woke up this morning I had come to realise something: I am a Repentecostal.

My theology and experience over the last four decades has grown deep convictions about the power of God's Holy Spirit alive at work in the Church today. I am a Pentecostal - meaning I believe the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 wasn't just for that age, but continues in every generation. Children filled with the Spirit prophesy; ordinary people are filled with extraordinary abilities because of the work of God in and through them. Still today there are gifts of healing and helps, casting out evil spirits and 'anointed' teaching of the Scriptures, prophecy changing lives and revealing mysteries. Spirit-enabled gifts flow abundantly in much of the Church today. And by that I just don't mean denominations that call themselves 'Pentecostal'. We need to humble ourselves and rejoice in what the Spirit is doing across the body of Christ (however old their traditions).

So the Spirit of God still gives His people Pentecostal power. However, with an openness to great power from God we can too easily get hungry for power over people. We can claim 'apostolic' anointing and then exercise autocratic control. We can hide behind spiritual gifting a whole load of rubbish we hope noone will see. We can spin out the language of 'movement' and be spiritually stagnant in our hearts. We can fail to celebrate what God is doing in churches unlike our own.

You see, in the book of Acts when the apostle Peter got up to explain the wild and powerful move of God's Spirit at Pentecost he preached an anointed 'home run' of a sermon and the people cried out, 'what should we do?' Peter's response was that those convicted of their need for God should each repent of their sin and be baptised in Christ's name, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. (See here). Repent and receive.

Whist Peter's call to repentance on that day was a call to be initiated into the follower-ship of Christ, is there something to see here in our 'Spirit-filled' churches today? Particularly because many of our prayers are for a fresh move of the Spirit? Have we been so ready to jump around on platforms and raise our hands in praise that we have forgotten how to kneel? Have we lost the Spirit-enabled ability to discern when things are going wrong and a spirit of pride is at work in our midst? 

Have we been so ready to jump around on platforms and raise our hands in praise that we have forgotten how to kneel?

I am wondering if we would do well to revisit the link between honest repentance and God's imbuement with power? Admission of weakness precedes a fresh filling of power. Before revival, we need renewal. Start with me.

This is not rocket science, it is the beginning of Christianity. And it is the continuation of the Christian life, too. On our feet praising and on our knees, humbled before God.

There you are, I think I'm a Repentecostal. I am as hungry for God's power at work through the Church as I ever have been. Through the whole Church, not just my own. I am hungry for supernatural healing and power in our prayers. I am also recognising more than ever our pride is a stench to God and we'd do well to hide it no longer.

Lord, forgive us and help us.

- Tim Roberts

(all opinions my own)

Happy New Day

What do you do when you stumble into a New Year with more of a cough and a splutter than a fizz, pop, bang?

I've been asking myself that, and I have some words of encouragement for you today. (They'll help you tomorrow, too.)

For the last umpteen years I have loved New Year celebrations and we've made the most of setting goals as a family, taking advantage of the opportunity for a new start. Somehow this year I see things differently. Maybe because of a lacklustre Christmas break, potentially precious moments spoilt by sickness and colds, fevers, exhaustion and rain... and a few family tensions thrown in. And New Years Eve all I could think of (between coughing fits) is how I regretted not having a Wellspring praise and prayer meeting to welcome in 2018. Happy <sniff> New <cough> Year <groan>?

So what now? Have I missed a moment?

No. And this is my simple, profound revelation: New Years is not a Christian festival, not a Biblical pattern we are expected to keep. January 1st is in itself a fairly random day on our calendar. Just another day. In fact, when it comes to festivals we are discouraged from celebrating the sacrifices of the ancient New Moon Festivals (Col 2:16-17) or in fact any ritual that distracts us from the simple and wholehearted worship of Christ and dependence on him, whatever day it is. He has forgiven us completely and what we are given is this: Every. New. Day.

In the context of deep groaning and pain, the writer of Lamentations proclaims: 

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning. (3:22-23)

Fresh. Each. Morning.

How much more does every Christ-follower, saturated as we are by his forgiving grace, simply need to live in that reality?

The writer to the Hebrews urges his readers to make the most of each day:

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. (3:12-14)

So this is my New Year thought: You have missed nothing if you are not overflowing with hope for 2018! You don't even need to muster up some idea or Instagram meme of how great this year has to be. Relax.

You see, I do have a deep sense of excitement about all that will come in the coming year, but this is why: Every new morning we will wake up with fresh grace, enough strength for the day, enough power to walk and keep walking, to fight and keep fighting, to love and keep loving. Today we will win or we will learn, and we will wake up with new mercies tomorrow.

So, whatever the date, today is a good day!

Let's be faithful in it and revel in the mercies from heaven that Jesus lovingly offers us. 

Happy New Day. 

- Tim Roberts (Senior Minister)

 

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