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Rewiring Christmas

December 16, 2019

One of the joys (and challenges) of being part of a prayer movement is to try to live out the straplines that we adopt. 24-7 Prayer wants to “revive the Church, and rewire the culture”

As I thought about that line this week I realised that Christmas is the season that most reveals the difference between the culture of the movement, the culture – if you will – of the Kingdom of God, and the prevailing culture of the society we live in. In many ways this is not a surprise; after all it was us – the Christians, who first came in and co-opted the pagan mid-winter festival to be the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It doesn’t take much to peel back the trimmings of Christmas to see the Yule log that burned away the old year, the Christmas tree taken from worship of the trees and much more besides!

This year I have noticed how the new  symbols of Christmas have pushed the story of Jesus being born to the very margins of Christmas. Perhaps they get a mention in the school nativity play, but don’t really have any other part in Christmas. Christmas is, after all about Father Christmas, about presents, good food and indulgence, about family being cosy together, about a break from work and drinking your favourite tipple, about feel good films and feel good music.

But this narrative is a rewiring of the Christian story of Christmas. Perhaps it is time to reclaim the season in a counter cultural way:

Gifts at Christmas are basic, we feel the need to give generously to everyone we know, or even vaguely know; after all it is better to give that receive right? Christmas is a time for sharing? But sadly our gifts are transactional, we do measure what they are worth and either feel we have to respond in exactly like measure, or show our generosity by giving something bigger. It feeds into all our insecurities, and for all our protests, “you really shouldn’t have” we take our identity and value from the gifts given. “You love John more than me, look at how big the gift you gave him is”

It was never designed to be like this. Generosity is about opening our heart to share what we have been given, and it really is “the thought that counts”. let’s begin to rewire Christmas as we give gifts, not to impress or define love and friendship, but because we have hearts that care.

Christmas is a family time. It is about getting together, whatever the cost and difficulty, just to be together. So why are so many people lonely at Christmas? Why do we have to serve the homeless in halls, why do we find it so easy to give to our favourite charity – and so hard to share our Christmas day with our lonely neighbour? Perhaps it is because our emphasis on having the perfect family Christmas is too fragile – the pressure of real need, of real life will break the spell  and demonstrate that we are decorating the outside with extravagant opulence, and neglecting our inner life. We surround ourselves with the feel good, because the world around us (without Jesus) is not good. Maybe we make the outside perfect simply because we can’t bear to look inside at the mess, the fears, the hurt and the, well imperfection really.

If the Christmas story of Jesus, God coming to earth to be with us in our mess and brokenness, means anything (and it does), then surely we should be choosing to re-imagine Christmas as something messy but God filled, rather than some perfect, fragile and oh so temporary.

The way that Christmas has developed as a alcohol filled, season of forced jollity is our response to the inner and outer conflicts, with lives that don’t match up to our neighbours perfect Christmas, to the unceasing call to spend more to make it better, to enforced time spent with people we have less and less in common with and enduring it rather than honestly facing fears, seeking reconciliation and – yes friendship. If we could just finally work out that our value and identity does not come from the perfect experience, of what is on the outside; but from the fact, so wonderfully demonstrated by the God baby yelling in a shit filled stable, that we are loved by our creator – outrageously, recklessly, unconditionally.

let’s begin to rewire Christmas.

thy kingdom come – thy not my

May 12, 2018

day three of thy kingdom come global prayer. We have thought about what we pray for – for a kingdom where people are freed, renewed, healed, restored. We have thought about whose Kingdom we are asking for – Father God, full of compassion and always ready to embrace us, restore us, and give us his outrageous grace.

When we pray thy kingdom come, we are putting ourselves under the authority of a different King. This means that all our agendas have to submit to his plans and his agenda. The classic example of this is when Jesus prays in the garden “Not my will but yours be done”, he had to abandon his hopes and plans – that there would be another way than the cross. In praying this prayer we also have to abandon our plans.

That sounds simple of course, we abandon the folly and futility of sin for something better – but this is not always the most difficult abandonment. As humans we love to “justify ourselves”, we find it easy and natural to see others as less worthy; many times we will take our rights and hurts to God and ask him to sort out people who have hurt us, or people who we judge as needing God to help them repent. It is easy – but this simple prayer asks us to lay down our rights and our precious little wrongs.

Please don’t hear what I am not saying; there are times to stand to justice, times to pick a fight – but the bible is very clear when it tells us that our battle is not with “flesh and blood” (other people), it is with the spiritual powers and principalities.

So as we so in the last blog, we are called to pray for restoration, for freedom, for healing, for blessing – never that we will be proved right.

just a few lines later in the Lords prayer we pray forgive us… as we forgive. It is a powerful prayer! As we pray “thy kingdom come” we are praying that God would show the same mercy and forgiveness to those we have issues with – as he does to us.

As you pray “thy Kingdom come” today, who do you need to forgive? What hurts do you need to let go of?

thy kingdom come – (2)

May 11, 2018

So yesterday I blogged about what we should pray for as we pray “thy kingdom come” over our lives, over our friends ad over the city. God has promised a coming Kingdom where there will be peace, healing, freedom; where people live with purpose, resources, long life, and a good creation/ecology.

As we pray into these things over the next 9 days HOW do we pray. The key to this is in the phrase we use “thy kingdom come”, it is a phrase that is quoted from the Lords prayer, and the `thy` or `you` points us to the person who is introduced to us as: “Our father, who is in heaven, and whose name is holy”

Our prayers need to be consistent with who God is as father. This is important as it tells us a lot about our prayers. When Jesus answers the disciples question “teach us to pray” he does so very deliberately. He chooses his words carefully knowing that these words will be a pattern of prayer for his followers for ever afterwards. He could have chosen any one of hundreds of names that describe God in the bible, he could have chosen All-powerful, or Creator, or the God of Justice… but he doesn’t he uses father, and this is because all of our prayers come from and return to our Father God.

It is as if Jesus wants us to have that picture in our minds as we pray, you know the one – of the father arms outstretched running to meet his boy – as he returns after “wasting all his wealth”, still dirty from feeding the pigs – for dirty read “ceremonially unclean” and therefore untouchable. But God as father wraps his arms around him and accepts him, loves him, forgives him…

and it is this God who we are asking “thy kingdom come”

Hundreds of years before, when God introduced himself to Moses, and set down the law, the rules that would always condemn us – because we can never quite make it as good enough. Moses asks God to show himself. In Exodus 33, we are told who God wants to be known as:

18 Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’ 19 And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’

This is incredible, unbelievable: When God wants to be known it is as a merciful and compassionate God. Not a God of justice, not a God who will punish evil. He did that once in a great flood – and promised never to do it again!

This is the God we see in Jesus, refusing to condemn a women accused of adultery, accepting children on his knee, stopping to heal the ear of a man who came to arrest him!

We are so human, mostly our prayers ask for things to be put right, because we tend to “justify ourselves” and condemn others (more of that later) – but as we pray “thy kingdom come” we are asking for his fatherly acceptance, his compassion, his forgiveness and love to flood our lives – and our world.

It is a dangerous prayer, will you dare to pray it with many others across the world today?

thy kingdom come – what should we pray for?

May 10, 2018

today marks the first of 10 days of prayer. The “thy Kingdom Come” global call to prayer is simply asking the church, all across the world, to pray the words contained in the Lords prayer; Thy Kingdom Come.

But what should we be doing, if we have 10 days to pray where do we focus?

As I reflected on this today I was reminded of the end of the story. This is not the end, a world where we are faced by injustice, a lack of compassion, and evil is not the end, when we pray thy kingdom come we are asking for Jesus to bring His kingdom into the here and now of everyday life today. So what does that look like?

The prophet Isaiah give us two pictures of what the Kingdom may look like: In Isa 61, we get a picture of what the entry of the Kingdom may be like:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

in other words a transformation of individual lives, the poor, the hurting, the captives find solutions to their troubles and society, our place/ our city becomes a place of hope. What would it take for that to happen?

justice, resources for the poor, well-being and peace for those who have experienced trauma, homes for the homeless, healthcare for the sick, hope for the hopeless, jobs, acceptance of the outsider/immigrant… lots of things to pray for here! … and we know that these are the things God wants in our world, so there is every reason to keep praying.

The second picture is in Isaiah 65:

17 ‘See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.20 ‘Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They will not labour in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the Lord.


This picture shows us the world God wants, the world he is about to recreate, the world where he reigns supreme. Not only are some of the problems with the world now beginning to be put right, not only is there hope… but there is no regret or sorrow over past mistakes and failures, there is an awareness of the lavish love of God for us, there is a standard of long and healthy lives, there is satisfaction in the labour of our hands – whether we are builders or gardeners – there is ecological peace. If this is what the kingdom looks like – these are the things we should be praying for.

I hope and pray that God meets with you and awakens hope within you as you pray “thy kingdom come” over the next 10 days.

old testament giftings

May 8, 2018

I wrote yesterday about the APEST (Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher) and how we see – in the old testament – great examples of people with these giftings. This is really important, as it shows that these are basic and normative types, and not just a product of the early church, belonging exclusively to the early church. We saw how Abraham leans in to the apostolic, and Moses to the prophetic. So are the other APEST gifts seen in the Old Testament?

Evangelist: if we understand the evangelist simply to be the one who tells the good news, this doesn’t exist in the old testament! Jesus hadn’t yet come, and salvation was found by being or becoming Jewish! However this is a very narrow definition of the evangelist. At it’s heart the fivefold gift of the evangelist is someone who can see and understand culture, and from that point of understanding make the connections needed to explain the message of the good news. With this wider understanding is there an Old Testament evangelist? Yes there is: Daniel. Daniel is taken as a prisoner to Babylon when Israel is taken into exile. He is in an alien culture, and even given an alien name, but right from the beginning he understands the culture enough to find the one point of challenge that will open the door to the message about his God. He chooses not to eat the food prepared for the other exiles and by living on a vegetarian diet persuades his guard that Daniels God is real and powerful. He goes on to understand the culture and society of Babylon so well that he is the advisor to several Kings.

Shepherd: (Pastor) the clearest example of the shepherd in the OT is David, for him life began literally as a shepherd and in his formative years he learned about protecting and nurturing a flock of sheep. Later, on the run from King Saul, we are told he gathered people who were discontent – caring for them and turning them into a loyal band of followers, he cares for Mephibosheth, for the sake of a promise of freindship – exactly as you would expect from a fivefold gifted shepherd. In David we also see the shadow side of the shepherd, he avoids confrontation with Amnon, and with his son, Absalom even though it nearly cost him the Kingdom and ultimately led to the death of both Amnon and Absalom.

Teacher: Much of the old testament was written as instruction, but for me the clearest example of a teacher is Ezra, who works alongside Nehemiah to ensure that the temple is rebuilt, but also takes time to teach the people what the temple means and what they needed to do. Like many teachers he is happy to have the bible read all day,  (Nehemiah 8) but also to make sure that the book is explained so everyone understands.

So the OT has people with APEST giftings, this is not just for the new testament era but for all time. We need to make sure we know what our gifts are and then get into teams where all the fivefold gifts are exercised. This way we can avoid some of the worst shadow side effects and be the church we were designed to be.

fivefold in the old testament

May 7, 2018

Many of us have come across the fivefold or APEST gifts of Ephesians. Although there is still some debate I strongly believe that these gifts are normative for the church and that a mix of the gifts produces a great leadership team.

Quite intentionally when I helped to lead at Majestic Church we had a leadership team of Elders who were Prophetic, Pastoral (Shepherd), Evangelistic, and Teaching. It seemed to work well.

When we hear the fivefold gifts described, we are often pointed to new testament examples, but today I wondered if these gifts are normative can we find great examples in the Old Testament:

a classic example of an apostle is Abraham, a visionary whose inner vision/conviction that God would give him a promised land caused him to keep pioneering all his life. Although he left home, he had enough leadership qualities to bring a large company of people with him, and quick decision making and persuading skills to put together an company to chase down an alliance of Kings.

with all the APEST giftings there is a shadow side, where the strengths have an opposing weakness: With Abraham we see that he didn’t read people well, we are not told of what Sarai/Sarah thought of being passed off as his sister, and there was clearly difficulties with having his nephew Lot as part of the company.

If we want to see a Prophet, we only need to look as far as Moses: Here was someone who had been given privilege and opportunity, growing up in Pharaohs palace was like have an MBA from Havard. But we find Moses as the classic prophet – passionate about justice. When he discovers a Hebrew slave being  ill-treated he exploded in anger and kills the perpetrator. Here is an immature prophet who is then exiled to the desert for 40 years.

Fortunately the story doesn’t end there, (although Moses continues to be impetuous – which eventually leads to his not going to the promised land) through taking the time to listen to and watch what God is doing Moses receives revelation, the law, and takes the people out of Egypt with a whole display of signs and wonders. Yep classic prophet there.

In my next blog I will introduce an Evangelist, Shepherd and Teacher from the old testament.


gospel ecosystem: part 2

October 3, 2017

I have outlined what I see as a huge problem for us, as the church in Dundee – which I’m sure is also true of other cities across the UK.

Our insistance that we continue to maintain our denominational distinctions, and that we maintain our structures of employing a minister to lead and manage each congregation – primarially through meeting on a sunday morning in a building set aside for that purpose – is killing us!

Our distinctions are not understood, often even by the man in the pew! and end up making us commit scarce resources to things that are not the focus of what the church is: Remember that the church is the partner that Jesus has chosen to display his “riches and glory” as he fills the whole universe (Ephesians 1); the church is the place where Gods reconciliation and salvation are demonstrated through our peacemaking! The church is the place where Jesus is made real in the world, and where disciples are made.

The trouble is that our structures simply do not support this – we become focused in keeping the church going (by which we mean the weekly event(s) not the community of people). We commit our resources into buildings and pastoral ministry (which means we emphasise pastors and teachers – and marginalise prophets, evangelists and apostles who are actually our best hope of making progress). All of which means we end up taking from the city the people and resources we should be generouly investing into the city to demonstrate the kingdom and incarnate Jesus.

Is there a better way? I believe that there is, we need to grasp the nature of the church as a movement, not an institution. We need to have the courage to unite congregations where we can so that “event” church, what we are used to on Sunday mornings is viable – with fewer clergy and less buildings. I still see that there is a need for us all to gather sometimes for great worship and teaching.  Alongside this we need urgently to work with the evangelists, apostles and prophets to do church simply. There needs to be a return to house churches where people can gather in a relational way – just being friends over a meal or barbque and naturally exploring the questions of life – including spiritual ones! to integrate worship and learning into the lives of people who are spiritually hungry instead of creating artificial barriers that (although unintended) serve to keep people from God.

There needs to be a rediscovery of church in the community [not community church or church for the community] where all of us who know Jesus are contagious in our faith, empowered to be naturally supernatural, praying for people in streets, workplaces, and homes – rather than feeling the pressure to “bring people to church” so that they can encounter God. A network of people who are drawing people alongside them as fellow disciples instead of being spectators at Sunday meetings.

Above all we need a network, a “gospel ecosystem” that means we are doing all this together rather than in competition with each other. Releasing the people who can bring change and hope to our city.