Adventure in Kaunas day 2.

Lithuania blog day 2.

Last Tuesday I woke up in a bunk bed in a Catholic seminary in Lithuania, to find out how I got there, then you can read about last Monday here. (or watch the video here)

Having orientated where I was, I settled on my pillow to thank God.  It was an easy, joyful moment of prayer simply: ‘Thank you Father, you were brilliant yesterday”.

He had provided, He had shown himself as real and kind, He had totally taken care of us and given me evidence of the reality of His power and goodness.  I giggled with God about my journey of doubt, fear, anxiety and maybe even testing him on the way to Kaunas.

Still blown away and rejoicing we ate the breakfast the Catholic Youth centre staff had given us, enjoyed coffee from a teapot and washed away the dried sweat of unfounded anxiety in the Dousus. (Our new favourite word, found on a post-it note on the shower door)

Having landed connection, provision and accommodation the previous day, we had no plan, the day lay open before us, nothing fixed until 4pm.  When you are trusting God for his provision and can’t buy your own lunch, you have a whole chunk of day available.  We walked around the town, open to whatever God brought to us and he didn’t bring anyone, so we rested and trusted.

Our staff team at St.Chad’s are all detailed planners and I’ve built up a reputation that in contrast to them I’m not.  I like spontaneity, I respond to the urgent, I try to let tomorrow take care of itself until deadlines force my priorities.

It turns out however, that this isn’t true.  I like plans, I live with an agenda, purpose, target and to do list full of objectives to achieve.  This was God’s next agenda item for my learning.  Having prepared for the trip, built up for weeks the intensity and purpose, suddenly we just had to wait and be available.  Having no targets was a new form of powerlessness and dependence upon God.  I engaged with whole layers of frustration, anxiety and guilt at the difficulty of having nothing to achieve, these made me profoundly rest-less.  It took me until mid afternoon just to enjoy the place of rest and provision, just to receive the gift of a day in the sunshine, in a beautiful place with two friends, to chat and explore and laugh.  To receive rest as a gift is an act of obedience.

So we walked, talked, joked, laughed and made ourselves available to God.  We went to Kaunas’s junction of two rivers, aware that prophetic intercessors would probably have some deep revelation of the significance of place.  God didn’t give us one, but we had a great time throwing stones to hit a buoy (I only mentioned that because I won … eventually) IMG_4024

It’s amazing what you see in a city when you have no money.  Cutting out the whole paradigm of being a consumer, means you ignore shops, cafes, restaurants and advertising, you have no access to paid tourist sites.  Block these out and you see more beauty in a city, the people, buildings and what’s in the gaps.

Pilgrim not tourist

Pilgrim not tourist from Andy Crouch ‘Strong and Weak’.

As a pilgrim not a tourist, as a missionary not a consumer, I was more able to see the city through God’s eyes and let his love for it grow in me.

We visited a series of Catholic churches, and just dwelt there, enjoying the majesty and praying.  This was God’s next gift to me.  A radically new love for those many Catholics who are earnestly seeking for God.  In every church we visited there were women, silent in prayer.  We sat in the stunning Cathedral and enjoyed the art and architecture and then sat silently in the side chapel, a designated place of prayer, a helpful sign refused mobile phones and cameras.

 

Raised and trained as a Protestant Anglican, having studied theology, and pondered extensively for my book on ‘hollow religion’, I would have been very sensitive to the contrasts of this place and its traditions to the theology of the wing of the church I dwell in.  The reformation is an unavoidable part of our theological history and I believe God worked through it.  But having met the young passionate worshippers the day before and knowing God had taken us there to bless and pray, my focus shifted.  Not analysis, not comparing, not reacting, but choosing instead to bless.

I believe the Holy Spirit lives within us and wants to get out.  As I prayed, I simply asked him to pour out from within me and dwell in that place.  God gave me a deep love and longing for the many people who go there to seek him.  I simply prayed for that to increasingly become a place of encounter.  We all need to encounter God, we all need those moments of connection with the one who loves us, forgives us, accepts and welcomes us.  To be in this place of prayer, I was touched by the many who go there daily to be with God.  Some with a longing generous heart of gratitude or petition for God’s blessing on others.  But also those who were there in fear and superstition, those there in duty or religious process of trying to appease God or earn his favour.

In simple longing, I asked the Holy Spirit to establish these church as wells of living water.  That those consumed by religious superstition, fearful duty, or shame or striving to earn his favour, would be surprised by Him, encounter his grace, acceptance and unconditional love.  God had taken me there to deposit a blessing, and to shift my perspective.  God took me to a Catholic city, to pray for renewal, for hope and the fact He had done this demonstrated his abundant love which transcends theological differences.  It was a simple moment of theory becoming reality in my life.

Millions of Catholics across the world have a hunger for God and barriers which would prevent them finding him in other denominations.  So how about this for a strategy from the Holy Spirit: to bring renewal of faith, grace and the good news within the Catholic Church?  I prayed for Pope Francis, a man God has called to shape history.

At 4pm we attended a BBQ at the Youth Centre we’d connected with the previous day.  ClN1xPXWEAAhWuF.jpg-largeIt was great to hang out with the students and encourage them, we went on to a Taize service which was beautiful space to worship and subtly intercede for those around us.  Then open to God we just lingered to see what happened.  Two young men turned up, Matas who we’d met the day before and Teddy, who we had never met.  Amidst banter and some random linguistic cultural exchanges, we saw in them a hunger to connect, to cross the first layer of chat and talk with us more deeply.

When the centre closed, they left with us, taking us to climb a hill and enjoy stunning views of the city.   This became the next set-up from God.  As we walked and talked with them, they opened their hearts.  As three church leaders with a longing to empower and disciple young men, God had taken us to two young men who needed wise counsel and encouragement.  The Holy Spirit was at work in all five of us that night.Kaunas - 11 (1)

Reflecting back, this trip wasn’t just about God teaching us to trust, rest and love others from different church traditions.  Much of the reason we went was not for us, but for them.  Pilgrimage and mission are about being available to God to bless others.  God chose to use us to impact them (and vice versa)  We didn’t go merely for risk and adventure.  We went for them, we went with a desire to bless and God used it.

13433107_10154298453759703_7119781326205410162_oMatas wanted to used his last €16 to buy us a simple Pizza to share, as we arrived at the restaurant he bumped into a Christian friend, as he explained what he was doing, this friend gave him €10 to bless us.  We were able to feast on pizza, beer and friendship.  Our final unanswered prayer (to taste Lithuanian Wheat-beer) was now fully answered.

So what does God want to teach you this week?  For all of you who have kindly read this far, I pray this: “God, surprise us with your fresh gifts.  We trade our comforts for your adventure, our fears for trust and ask simply for new experiences of what you are doing around us.” 

Having read this story, how will you approach tomorrow?

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God’s provision in a risky adventure to Kaunas

I live and serve in suburbia and a large national institution provides me with a comfortable life.  Almost every activity and ministry I do is required to have a risk assessment.  I long to see the power and provision of God….

In March I bumped into my friend Luke Smith, when I mentioned my sabbatical, he asked me to join him for Escape and Pray in the summer, I couldn’t grab an excuse fast enough so I ducked the offer with a promise to pray about it.  Within a few hours as I listened to a talk on risk and adventure, the Holy Spirit nudged me and said “If you really want to see me work, then you’ve got to put yourself in places where you depend on me”.  I vowed to the Lord that I’d say yes to Luke.

Kaunas - 1 (1)Escape and Pray is a wild initiative run by Fusion an amazing organisation which equips and inspires students and churches in mission together.  This June they are sending 333 people in 100 teams, (mostly students) into Europe to pray for a move of God in universities across the continent.  Each team is sent a pack plus a date and time to turn up at a certain airport.   When they arrive, they open the pack put on their T-shirts and open an envelope to discover where they are heading and their flight tickets. They go with no food and accommodation booked, (just €20 for emergencies) they trust in God to provide.

The team:

IMG_4094Luke Smith: works for Fusion, building teams, linking with churches and having creative radical ideas.  He’s become a good friend in recent years, including our shared love for sport and sympathy in being ginger.

Dave Tonks: a brilliant Scouse church leader from Chester, who I had never met before Monday, but will be a lifelong friend now.

The team dynamic was a highlight of the trip, great honour and support, easy communication and quality banter. I loved spending time with them both.

Kaunas

Pronounced (Ko-nus) is the second city of Lithuania, population is c.300,000, of which 50,000 are students.  The city centre is beautiful, at the intersection of two rivers it has a clean, open, gentle feel to it.  Some traditional architecture survived the Soviets and many churches and older buildings too, we walked past many stylish cafes and bars.  It is somewhere I’d take Nells back to for a romantic weekend!

We arrived at Luton at 6am on Monday morning and opened the envelope to discover we were heading to Kaunus in Lithuania, to be honest, none of us had ever heard of it!

We filled up with a big breakfast, prayed and set off. (We were constantly praying through the whole trip)

Flight was straightforward and we arrived at the airport, picked up tourist maps and asked the taxi drivers how far it was to walk to the city centre.  They laughed at us!  We found a good spot to hitch-hike and within a minute a big Audi stopped, the passenger spoke English and they happily took us to the city centre in comfort. (about 20km away and off their route)

IMG_3993We looked around the city, found a prominent church, which was beautiful but no one spoke to us.
We walked down the main street and an old man enthusiastically chatted to us, attaching himself to us as tour guide.  He led us to the old town, and disappeared.  There we found an Ignatian college, Luke is pursuing the Ignition scripture meditation exercises and we were there for students so we rang the doorbell.  We were immediately welcomed in, we explained our story and purpose and asked to meet and pray for the college director.  Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 15.55.35The kind woman who let us in took us upstairs and found some colleagues including the English teacher.  We chatted for a while, asking about the college, its Ignatian principles and as we did so, my caffeine addiction kicked in.  I simply thought ‘I wonder if they’ll give us some coffee’.  Within seconds our host interrupted herself and said  “Sorry, we’re standing, come and sit down, would you like some coffee?”  They were lovely, and over coffee, water and amazing biscuits gave us insight into the city and directed us to the local Jesuit priest and mass at his church at 5pm.

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The Main square in ‘old town’

We turned up for mass a few minutes late and sat through it, not understanding a word, but recognising the structure.  At the end the priest disappeared, so we grabbed a young man in the row in front and introduced ourselves.  Again we explained our story and why we’d come.  He was amazed and said “Wow, these things never happen to me!”

He then phoned his friend Agne and said I’ll take you to meet my friends.  We walked across the city square and into a building to find ourselves in the Kaunas Arch-diocese Catholic Youth centre.  We met a couple of the staff and some of the students, who used it as a social base a bit like a Chaplaincy.

Kaunas - 7

A Lithuanian delicacy

Their English was amazing, (true for all those under 25 we met) and they invited us in, offering food and drinks.
A group of about 12 students and youth centre staff gathered around and we talked.  We discovered that they were passionate for Jesus and shared our taste in worship music and hunger for the Holy Spirit.  Ange made a couple of calls and then told us that she’d sorted out accommodation for us in a spare room in a local seminary.  After a while someone suggested we worship and pray together.

We went through to an open meeting room, someone opened in a brief liturgical prayer and then we worshipped, all facing the cross, with a guitar and songs with familiar tunes but in Lithuanian.  It was spontaneous and passionate worship of Jesus.  Luke, Dave and I then offered to pray for each of them, so we went round as they worshipped and laid hands on each on, sharing specific prophetic words for each of them and encouraging them.  It was stunning in every way, to see the Holy Spirit impact them and to see their freedom, joy, friendships and desire to know God.  Just like earlier in the year in Mumbai, God reminded me that the simplest way to cross cultural barriers is to boldly lay hands on someone’s shoulder, speak out prophetically whatever the Holy Spirit gives me and pray for healing wherever possible. IMG_4003

Kaunas - 8After that, we were taken out of the city to a retreat house log cabin in the woods, where a team were training and preparing for a children’s camp this summer.  We shared our story and then we offered prophesy or prayer for healing to everyone. There were about 20 teenagers and students there (and a Nun) and they all came forward to be prayed for.  We prophesied, prayed for personal needs and for healing.  One 17yr old lad who had lung problems (asthma, I think) said he felt extreme heat in his lungs as I prayed for him and then they felt very clear and breathing easier.  The Nun was so humble and hungry for God and asked me to pray for healing for her too.
We were buzzing!

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Kaunas Fort

 

We played silly games with them late into the evening and then returned to Kaunus and taken to the empty seminary building, where beds had been made up, we had our own kitchen, bathroom and they gave us food for breakfast and the next day.  From our window we looked straight onto Kaunas’s Medieval fort.

 

 

Reflections

Before God acts, all we have is trust.  As we flew there, I trusted God would provide, but I had no idea how and I had a whole bunch of fears about worse case scenarios.  Underneath each of those fears was a lie about the character of God.  One of those fears for me was that God would provide for other teams, but not us.  I had to recognise and let go of a bunch of lies: That we didn’t matter to God, that we didn’t have enough faith and that it depended on us and that God might make it hard for us to teach us a lesson.

As the day unravelled those fears and lies shrank and disappeared, to be replaced by faith and joy.  This side of the story, the whole thing seems so natural, it was so easy and God so kindly placed it all together

God had us totally available, because we were dependent upon him.  So he took us somewhere we’d never have planned to go, and took us to a group of people whom he wanted to encourage. This trip wasn’t just for us, it was for Kaunas, for a community of young disciples of Jesus, to see that God is real and that they matter to him.

More to follow…

Kaunas - 20

Do we know how to pray for salvation?

The Church of England is shrinking.

 

‘Church of England attendance declines below 1 million’

‘No religion now the new religion’

‘Decline is accelerating…’Picture1.png

3 weeks ago I attended a training course, which focussed on
church growth.

During that week, new statistics came out with harrowing evidence that attendance in Anglican churches is still in decline and weekly attendance has dipped below 1million. There is a growing urgency and momentum in radical and bold thinking about church growth.  Whilst you could be excused for believing that the only thing senior Anglicans talk about is unity and sexuality, the reality is that a lot of leaders are very aware that if we want to turn things round and see change, we have to change what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and assess why we’re doing it.

There are many facets to this: church growth, decline, attendance, sociological change, ‘Christendom and the kingdom’, and much more.  I came away from the course focussing on one aspect: Prayer.

I am convinced that the Church of England won’t grow until we get serious about praying for salvation of those who are not following Jesus.

As I engaged afresh with the complexity of numerical decline and the place of the Anglican church in the UK, what grew in me was a stronger and stronger passion to pray and to motivate others to pray for the salvation of those who don’t know Jesus.

I first drafted this blog on the day I got back from the course, but have sat on it for a few weeks, mostly due to busyness, but also a sense from the Spirit to wait and ponder.

This weekend the Archbishops have announced an initiative for the week of Pentecost to inspire Christians to focus on an intense week of prayer for evangelism.  Excellent news.

The challenging question I’ve been pondering is this:

do Anglicans know how to pray for the salvation of non-believers?

Or put it another way:

Is praying for ‘salvation of those outside God’s kingdom’ core to Anglican spirituality?

Are you ready for a broad sweeping generalisation with no data to back it up?

In my experience, if you ask a group of Anglicans what to pray for, the focus of the list will be:

  • To ‘remember before God’ with empathy: the sick & those struggling with challenge.
  • And more traditional Anglicans will follow the biblical mandate to pray for the Queen, Bishops etc.

What if you ask a group of Pentecostals, or members of new church movements?

I think the focus would be for the salvation of people in their community and transformation of society.

As a brash young curate I wrote a course called ‘Intercession made slightly less complicated’ which had a contrast as it’s central premise.

On one hand, the definition of intercession being someone at the front of church reading out prayers for the Queen, government, key news item that week & the sick. (I’m not dismissing that it is a very valid part of corporate worship)

On the other, Intercession being a passionate, sacrificial, extended process of crying out to God for the lost to be saved and communities transformed.

One of the key things I learned on the course on church growth, was research (found here ) that the characteristics linked to decline are: empathising, persisting and managing.  Whereas characteristics linked to growth are: motivating, envisioning and innovating.

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Manchester at dawn – my love for a city grows as I pray for it.

In my experience, motivating (encouraging, inspiring, calling, urging) others to pray is most effective when we inspire with a vision and a target.  For empathetic prayer this is the comfort or healing of those in distress, by contrast much Pentecostal prayer is motivated by a longing for Revival or Awakening.  We pray, because we long for something, so a starting point is to question what do our hearts long for?

If I had the skills, time and money I would love to do a statistical research to assess how the content of different church’s theology of prayer is linked to church growth or decline.

I believe for the Church of England to stem the tide of decline, the first strategic step is to learn to pray.

Teaching prayer isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

It’s hard to measure invisible results.

It’s a reality that we are one body with diverse parts, passions and priorities.

When a leader preaches ‘we need to pray more’ or better still says ‘let’s pray’ – then that means a vast range of things to all those listening.

In my sabbatical this summer I’m committing some time to study and research this challenge more.

As I’ve reflected on this subject and my own weakness in this area, I’m aware that it’s actually quite challenging for some to call others to pray for individuals to be saved.

  • img_2494

    How confident are we to publicly lead others in praying for the rescue of those who don’t believe they need help?

    We have to overcome the sensitivities that we’re praying for people we know and love to repent and change, how will they react to knowing we’re doing that? Are we somehow uncomfortable with them knowing that we believe they need rescuing?

  • Or we’ve got to overcome disappointment, where we or those in our churches have prayed for decades for friends or family and then seen them die without knowing if they did turn to Christ.
  • Or maybe we know deep down that when we pray, God will also call us to action, so we back off a few steps back.

It takes boldness to call people to pray for the salvation of those whose backs are turned to Jesus.

I’m delighted to hear that bold leadership from both Archbishops, calling the Church of England to prioritise prayer for salvation this Pentecost.  Can I encourage us to really think now about how we can prepare and resource our congregations to know how to pray for evangelism.

I would love to hear other’s perspectives on this.

[As always I welcome positive contributions aimed at growth above defensive debate, points scoring or destructive judging]

Wisdom and Revelation

Wisdom and Revelation

In Ephesians 1v17 Paul begins the first of his two amazing prayers for the Ephesian believers:

“…remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.”

One hindrance to praying is that we don’t know what to pray. It can feel empty just listing information to God, not knowing what to ask Him for. Since I memorised this verse, I find that I use it a great deal in praying for people. If we consider almost everyone in every situation, whatever else they need to get through, they need wisdom and revelation. Pray for those political leaders who need to respond to the horrors of IS in Iraq & Syria, pray for those battling the spread of Ebola, pray for those called to be leaders in your workplace, community and church. They all need wisdom, they need good foundations to make big decisions.

In our small group this term we are studying Bill Hybels’ excellent book, ‘Making Life Work’, based on Proverbs. And on Monday we discussed the question, ‘what is wisdom?’ It’s a question that I find very helpful, because it focuses me as I pray.

Wisdom is a gift of God. It’s not based on our experiences and learning from our mistakes: that’s hindsight. In the Bible, wisdom comes from above. It’s the foundation God places in our lives to enable us to make good, healthy decisions. We all need to grow in wisdom and we do so not just through reflection, but also through asking God for this gift, just like Solomon did.

We live in a world that wants to make money out of us through advertising which targets our desires and which believes ‘If it feels good, then it must be right’. That isn’t wisdom; in fact in the book of Proverbs that’s foolishness. I am guessing it won’t just me who can recall having acted foolishly based on impulse or desire. The mess this got us into is a very strong argument for asking God for wisdom! Wisdom gives us the maturity to make decisions based on what is right, or the long-term best outcome rather than our selfish, immediate impulses or desires.

Paul doesn’t merely pray for wisdom, but for revelation too. Alongside the foundations of truth, love and wisdom, we also need to hear from heaven; we need God’s revelation too. Life is complicated! Not everything makes sense and we don’t always see the bigger picture. The Bible tells us that God speaks if we’re willing to listen to Him. He is a loving Father who wants to show us things we can’t work out for ourselves. In almost every situation for which we pray, it’s valuable to pray that God will ‘turn on the lights’, revealing a clearer, heavenly perspective on what’s going on to those who need to know.

But Biblical wisdom isn’t just a lump of something we have inside us; Biblical revelation isn’t just information sent from heaven. The verse finishes, ‘in the knowledge of Him.’ The word Paul uses here for knowledge is relational. It’s knowing a person through meeting with them and engaging with them, not just reading their CV or their facebook page. Both are about a connection with God, being led by Him in relationship. The greatest wisdom we can have is to choose to follow and submit to His wisdom by knowing Him and revelation comes through relationship.

Take time this week to pray for those who need wisdom and revelation. Ask God to give it to them and above all for them to know God personally. And let’s pray that we grow in the same.

Something weird is happening to me.

Something weird happened to me last Sunday.
As I baptised four people who have recently encountered Jesus & been saved, set free & renewed by him, something new and fresh & quite overwhelming burst inside me.

I JUST LONG TO SEE MORE PEOPLE SAVED!!

The taste of salvation testimonies has given me a craving for more, that’s what real Spirit inspired testimony does to us, it raises our faith.

It’s burning in me, whenever I stop the daily busyness of family & work & pause to listen to my heart, it cries out the same longing to Jesus. “I want more”.

I still want renewal of the church, maturity disciples in St.Chad’s, to see my boys grow up as contributors not consumers & all the other things on my list of things that matter.
But a depth charge of longing for salvation has gripped me and I want it to become infectious.

So will you pray just two things right now?
Let the Holy Spirit do the same to you.
Pray for Romiley, (my community) & your community, that many will encounter Jesus.

Tender Shoot

Image

 

He grew up before us like a tender shoot

Like a root out of dry ground,

 

I’ve meditated on this verse from the start of Isaiah 53 a number of times.  I find the simple vulnerability of a tender shoot to describe Jesus approaching the cross as a very powerful and yet unsettling image.  The more we dig into the depths of Jesus’ amazing vulnerability the more it challenges and realigns our subtle, conscious and subconscious attempts to find power to protect ourselves.

God’s great master plan, was one man dying for the sake of the rest of us.   As Jesus spent his last week in Jerusalem, the rest of the world were totally unaware of him, In the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia tribal people were living their lives on different continents unaware of what was happening. The Egyptians were a developed nation but waning against the might of the Roman empire and Britain was very much a primitive tribal backwater.  Yet God planted a tender shoot in Israel and he planted it into dry ground.  In worldly terms, God’s plan was high risk, tender shoots can be eaten by rabbits, squashed by something bit big feet or crowded out by other bigger plants.  But God protected his plan, he planted Jesus into the right place at the right time and then he caused the growth to happen.

And all this happened like a tender shoot bursting out of dry ground. 

We see the desert, the infertility, the difficulties the dismissal of God’s purposes.  God sees the potential, God knows that in every seed there is all the potential for a vast tree and multiple more trees.

I look at our ‘village’ and I look at the generation of young adults in the UK and I can choose to see desert, tough resistant ground.  But when I hear of stories from around the world of God at work, of renewal, of many coming to know Jesus, of God transforming communities, I’m stirred and challenged that not long ago that place was dry ground, that place could have seemed like a desert.

So I pray Isaiah 35 for where I live and for those places and people God has given me a passion for;

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. 

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” 

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;”

(Isaiah 35:1–7 ESV)

There is hope for wherever you live and whomever God has given you a love for, because all around us God is planting tender shoots and what seems like a desert to us, is an opportunity for him.