Friday, 23 February 2018

Gone Fishing

I’m no fisherman.  I dabbled when I was younger.  I caught some flatfish off the beach at Ramsgate with my Grandfather and was very excited about it.  I think they were flounders, but it was a long time ago now. Truthfully that was probably the pinnacle of my fishing career.  Other attempts consisted of boring days with little or nothing to show, unless you count a little skill with sticklebacks and a small net on a pole!  Mind you the photograph accompanying this blog shows a more recent success!

Despite this abject failure at fishing I know, like so many people know, that the method of fishing one should use depends on the type of fish you are trying to catch.  So shark fishing requires different equipment and methods to fishing for trout.  Fly fishing is different to Spearfishing.  Line fishing can happen in a variety of ways and styles, and Netting is different again.

Jesus called his first followers and said “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19).  This was put in a way they could understand since some of those first followers were fishermen.  Different fish require different fishing techniques.  Different people require different ways to reach out to them with the good news of Jesus.  Sometimes this is a very gentle one to one conversation, being alongside someone, building a relationship with them over a long period of time, and sometimes what is required is reaching out with challenge offering a point of decision.  When the good news of Jesus is heard there is no one way of response but instead God draws people to himself in a variety of different ways.

This week Billy Graham died.  I was privileged to share in some of his ministry in the United Kingdom when he held big rallies and also privileged to see him in a slightly more intimate setting of a press conference.  I found him a humble and gracious man who sought to be a servant of God. It would be wrong to characterise Billy Graham’s ministry as only large rallies, but these did form a great portion of his ministry and many people over the decades responded to the call to follow Jesus that he offered.  Of course some of those who will have responded will have turned away eventually, perhaps having been caught up in the moment.  The parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23) makes it clear that Jesus knew this would be one result of reaching out with God’s Kingdom. It is not confined to evangelistic rallies.  However, there are so many in the churches across the world today who can point back to an initial commitment to Jesus being made at a Billy Graham Crusade.

Such crusades became very unpopular in Britain for a while.  Some people still argue that they do not “work” (whatever that means).  But I want to say that different fish require different forms of fishing.  I want to thank God for all that he did through Billy Graham.  I want to say that we should not dismiss means and methods of outreach, mission and evangelism, maybe just because they do not appeal to us and our inclinations.  Instead we should celebrate that God reaches out through the followers of Jesus, who he calls to fish for people, in a variety of ways.

Today I celebrate that Billy Graham has been one of those fisher folk and I pray for many more.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Through the Eyes of a Stranger

Strangers are both noticed and notice things.  Having moved to a new area in 2017 I have been a stranger in a new area.  I have noticed things.  Of course it may be that many others embedded in the communities I have engaged with have noticed the same things, but my gut feeling, and from conversations with others, is that things I have noticed may not be in the consciousness of others.

I’ll tell you what I have noticed in my new area in contrast to where I moved from.  Institutions and people within them seem genuinely more determined to help rather than a “jobs worth” attitude.  There is stunning countryside and scenery.  It is a great contrast to living by the sea, but that is the right expression – a great contrast.

Then some other interesting observations (well to me anyway). People seem to routinely park on pavements with consequent problems for pedestrians.  This happens rather routinely and very very frequently.  Second I am stunned by the number of metal shutters on shops, metal bars inside windows of offices and businesses, and the number of burglar alarms.  Third I am amazed at how often I see motorists run red lights. It has happened enough for me to expect it now when I see a red light.

All this may be of no interest to anyone, but I share it to make the point that it is important to see through the eyes of the stranger.  The stranger often notices things we have got used to.  This is why it is so important to listen to strangers that interact with the Church. I am particularly thinking of those who come along to our worship or to our church events.  They often notice things that those on the inside have long ceased to see.  It is one of the reasons why many churches think (genuinely) that they are welcoming when in fact all they are is a comfy club for the insiders.  For the outsider, the stranger, they are assault courses to be negotiated with little or no help.  If you want to know if you are welcoming ask the stranger not the club members.  Hospitality is so much more than thinking it nice that new people have dropped in.

The stranger is important in the Bible. We are reminded there in many places that we are to welcome the stranger and to be hospitable to the stranger.  This is as relevant to the Syrian refugee who may be one of a larger group as it is to the individual who wanders through the door of a church on a Sunday.  Indeed Proverbs 5:10 is extreme in its direction to God’s people “Let strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich the house of another”.  Jesus likened himself to a stranger when he spoke about the sheep and goats on judgement day and effectively said he had been treated as a stranger and not welcomed through his followers being rejected (Matthew 25:31-46).  The idea of Jesus being treated as a stranger by us is a fascinating one, since as the one through whom we were created (Colossians 1:16), he will know us more intimately than any human could.

Be careful of shunning the stranger.  The stranger may know us better than we think.

So next time we want to see something clearly maybe we should stop looking with our own eyes for a moment and try to look through the eyes of the stranger.  We might learn a lot.

Maybe as we enter 2018 we can use the opportunity that the New Year brings to determine that we will welcome the stranger. Like Abraham, who was visited in Genesis Chapter 18 by three men at Mamre, we might never know how much of the Divine we are encountering and how far our lives might be transformed through the encounter.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Wrong kind of Love? Love: the Problem, Principle, Practice.

Based on a sermon preached at Nuthall Methodist Church, Nottingham on 10th September 2017, using Romans 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20 (full text of readings at the bottom).

 Maybe like me you watch some of those programmes on television about the work of Customs and Border officials around the World.  Programmes like “Nothing to declare”,  “Stop, Search, Seize” and “Border Patrol”.  One part of the work they carry out is to seize counterfeit goods. I had a lovely designer belt.  The man in the Turkish Bazaar assured me it was genuine with his gesticulations as I could not speak his language.  I was amazed to get the item at such a reasonable price!

The Beatles sang “All you need is love”.  But what is love?

Our reading from Romans contained the phrase, “ Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (verse 8).

So today we look at Love: The Problem, Principle and Practice.

Love: The Problem
The Problem – Maybe love is misunderstood.  Maybe sometimes it can be like counterfeit goods.  We may all have been sold them at various points knowingly or unknowingly.  The Bible speaks much of love but if it has been “sold” and “bought” under the wrong meaning and definition of love then it causes problems for our image of God, our image of ourselves, and our image for others.

I can tell you that the electrical equipment that “fell of the back of the lorry” is safe and legal but just because I have said it doesn’t make it safe and legal.  If you decide you want to believe my assurances about the safety and legality of dubious goods you will start to be happier about dealing in them and receiving them.

I suggest that in many places there has been a redefinition of love – a counterfeit. Such a redefinition of love lets us of the hook and allows us to define our lives and lack of holiness as OK.  It is not OK.

Love has been redefined in a variety of ways. Some people treat it purely at an emotional level, others have allowed lust to redefine it, others have based it around selfishness and what makes them feel good or pleases them.  This is why people can use love as an excuse for inappropriate behaviour and participate in affairs, or initiate broken relationships, or objectify others and themselves.

It may be that some people define love to fit in with what they want it to mean. –
The root to many problems, including within our spiritual lives can be, if we are not alert, that we have redefined love.  This is the Problem of Love!

Love: The Principle

By the principle of love I mean what is love? How do we define it? Because if we build correct definition and principle of love into our lives then our lives will be fuller, finer, richer, more as God would have them, reflecting his love and character.

Do you remember when Jesus gives the two greatest commandments he doesn’t say love just with your feelings.  He fills it out.  So Mark 12:30-31 says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” 31 The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.”  Heart, soul, mind, strength!  These are organs of will in addition to feelings.  I think feelings are important. I think we banished emotion for too long from Methodist worship, but if that is all it is about then we are not hearing Jesus correctly.  I heard this joke recently and have used it in one or two places.
“What’s wrong, Charlie?” asked the Minister.
“I need you to pray for my hearing,” said Charlie.
The Minister put his hands on Charlie’s ears and prayed. When he was done, he asked, So hows your hearing?
“I don’t know,” said Charlie “It isn’t until next Tuesday.”

We sometimes have a hearing problem. It’s that we don’t hear what Jesus says about love.  So we need to hear and get the right principle behind love and what it is about, the right definition.

The Romans reading gives an insight into love. “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.”  But this is not a definition of love for us.  It tells us of some of the out workings or evidence of us living lives of love.  But that is not how one defines love. Even 1 Corinthians 13, great and powerful as it is does not really give us the full definition of love.

For the Christian, Love is not defined with words but with The Word Jesus.
He defines love and the God who is Love that we are told of in the Scriptures. That is the authentic definition of love, the best definition of love, the meaning of love.  In Jesus we see what our God of love is like.

The principle of love – Love defined as the word Jesus not words or feelings.  That is the love we are called to have.  Sometimes love is an effort.  We do not always naturally love people – or ourselves.  But what we are called to is vulnerable, scarred, transforming, sin defeating, holiness growing, death defying love.

That isn’t worldly love. It is other worldly love. It is the love of God seen in Christ and which can be seen in our lives. Will we let God fill us and grow us with that love? Or will we deal in counterfeit goods? Yes it includes emotion and feeling, but it never stops at that.  This is our high calling.

Love: The practice

The Practice therefore is important – love lived out.  That is what we are to be about – modelled on Jesus and him as a definition and principle of love

Have you heard or experienced these things?
He calls a spade a spade.
She doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
Stupid is as stupid does.
Let them speak, Shan’t listen.
I love them but I don’t like them.
Speak the truth in love.
Teenagers that grunt at you.
Oh he’s a grumpy old man.

These phrases and experiences are as alive and well in the Christian Church as they are anywhere else in society.  That’s not good enough. Frankly these are just excuses to be rude. Sometimes we can let our lives be like that – with all kinds of good excuses, not aiming or aspiring to love like Jesus.

Don’t be fooled by counterfeit love. That’s how people justify running off with someone else rather than holding to their marriage vows. “I love them but I’m not in love with them”.  “I fell out of love with them”.  As if it is all about how we feel again.  Maybe some of us have said the same things.    Sometimes this counterfeit love means we can get away with mistreating people, or ignoring people, or turning out backs on them.  We justify falling out with people in church on this basis as well as in the world.
Love is not an excuse to misbehave but a high calling reflecting the Holy God himself.
Maybe there is repentance that is required.

Our Gospel reading is set in context of care for the followers of Jesus. The verse we have read and the surrounding verses focus on looking after disciples and gives a way of dealing with people when they step outside the will and purposes of God.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

The overriding concern is to help people walk in God’s will and ways.  It may be today someone needs to challenge us.  Note this is not about getting rid of people or punishing them.  Even treating people as a tax collector or pagan is not about shunning them for we know that Jesus engaged with such people.  Rather it is to acknowledge that we need to reach out to them to draw them back into the place of God’s will.  Sometimes we need to be called out. The Bible, The Spirit, God, Jesus calls us out and challenges to get our definition of love right and to put it into practice – with God’s help.

Our mission in many ways is to declare God’s love in Christ and invite response. And I hope that is something I will be encouraging in the role I now have. There are those that have not experienced love – invite them to experience it. There are those who are not living the way of love – invite and challenge to repentance.

“And they’ll know we are Christians by our love”.  Some of us will know those words from a song. But they don’t always “know we are Christians by our love” and we need to understand that and acknowledge it and do something about it in our lives and churches when that is the case.

Love has an eschatological (speaking of the end things of death, judgement, heaven and hell) dimension as well as a present one.  It connects with how we are to be prepared for the return of Jesus. “ And do this, understanding the present time: the hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy”.

That Romans passage includes these words, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 14).  I was part of a Christian Youth Fellowship as a teenager.  It was a large group and we wanted to buy some sweat shirts which gave the name of our church with some meaningful words on.  So we decided on “Love conquers all”.  Because we wanted to look a little cultured I guess we decided to have it in Latin.  We asked our French teacher at school to translate it for us.  Why we aksed a French teacher to translate into Latin I have no idea!. Anyway he did that and we proudly wore our sweatshirts for months. That is we wore them until we found out he had mistranslated it and what we are wearing was closer to “Lust conquers all” rather than “Love conquers all”!

Love may not be easy and these few words will not sort al the problems of love out. But let’s not insult God, others and ourselves by dumbing it down and making it a pale imitation, a counterfeit of what it should be.  Love will challenge us when it is the love of God.  It means we cannot get away with weak phrases such as “as long as they love each other”.  We have to look deeper and go deeper and find our definition of love in the person of Jesus who did not let anything go on the basis that “as long as they love each other”.  Love can be as likely to say “No” as it can be to say “Yes”, because it is about our wellbeing before God.

I’m not a Scientist, but I know this.  There are bad germs and there are good germs too.  I hope today we might pick up an infection.  And spread it! The infection of love.  I hope we might become carriers of those good spiritual germs.  Don’t wash your hands of love.  Let people catch it and experience it.

Romans 13:8-14
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 10 Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.
11 And do this, understanding the present time: the hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Matthew 18:15-20
15 ‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19 ‘Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’

Friday, 1 September 2017

Mission Matters - and a New Role

New Horizons
My name is Chris Briggs and I am the newly appointed District Mission Enabler for the Nottingham and Derby District of the Methodist Church.  My role will be to complement the ministry of Michele Simms as Fresh Expressions Pioneer Enabler for the District. I will seek to be a resource to the District and Circuits in mission, evangelism and discipleship.  This is a very rich privilege indeed and I look forward to serving Jesus, the Church, and the World in this new role.

Mission has been a passion of mine since coming to faith in Jesus and I have been privileged to be able to explore mission, evangelism, and whole life discipleship both through Methodist Circuit Ministry, through ecumenical work, and through special events and particular roles.  In my previous District (Southampton) I was delighted to serve as a District Evangelism Encourager and as Chair of the District Fresh Expressions Group.  A particular high point on an ecumenical level was an immense amount of missional and evangelistic work carried out revolving around the 2012 Olympics and in particular the arrival of the sailing events in Weymouth and Portland where I was Superintendent Minister of the Portland Circuit.  Some of this centred on generous hospitality and festival engagement.

I was also privileged to be one of the founding members and Trustees of the ecumenical charity “Refresh” which was and is designed to facilitate mission in the area where I previously ministered.  In addition to organising various events “Refresh” has been instrumental in setting up and facilitating church involvement in a CAP Debt Counselling Centre, foodbanks, Street Pastors, Healing on the Streets and various other initiatives.  I was also pleased to be a Trustee of Churches Together in Dorset (CTD) and for a number of years to Chair a standing committee of CTD called DORCAS (Dorset Church and Society).  This acted as a gathering point for denominational representatives and individuals who were committed to social justice and social action.

Mission is the lens through which I see so many other things.  I am delighted therefore to have the challenge of encouraging and resourcing the Nottingham and Derby Methodist District in those areas already mentioned of mission, evangelism and discipleship.

Within the Christian Church there have been many books written on mission.  There are many techniques that one can be trained in that seek to help us to share our faith, or to engage with other people about the good news of Jesus.  There are many programmes on sale that will help us reach out to others.

However, in the end mission is not about a technique or a set of programmes. It is about allowing ourselves to be caught up in the mission of God and to be conduits through which his love can flow to touch and transform others.  It is about gaining, maintaining or regaining confidence in the good news about Jesus.

God in his grace sometimes works through techniques and programmes but he is not bound by them.  God has everything God needs.  All that is needed is the Godhead; Father, Son and Spirit.  There is something within the Godhead though that rejoices in inviting us to share in the mission of God and which sends us to make disciples.

Jesus did not come among us to sell a programme.  He came to share good news.  And he invites us to do the same.  Good news that God loves.  Good news that sin can be dealt with.  Good news that we can encounter the Living God.  Good news that death and hell shall not have dominion.  Good news that we can be transformed and know new life.  Good news that things really can be different.  Good news that we can share now and eternity with our Loving God.

I have complete confidence in the gospel for “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

As I begin this journey in a new role I look forward to sharing with you in the great work that God has called us to and which surely brings delight to his face when he sees us gathered into that mission and ministry.

One photograph accompanying this article shows a backward clock.  Too often we look backwards and long for the good old days.  That is an understandable, tempting thing to do, but God’s Spirit calls us onwards and challenges us to follow into new ventures, adventures and horizons.

If you are passionate about mission and might be interested in sharing in mission and discipleship initiatives and are in the Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire area please do not hesitate to contact me. You can connect with me through:
facebook: Christopher Briggs
twitter: @revchrisb
instagram & snapchat: revchrisb

May God bless us, may the Holy Spirt guide us, and may the life and love of Christ be seen in us.

Chris Briggs

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

We'll Meet Again!

This blog will lead you to a recording of my final sermon in the Portland Methodist Circuit before moving to the Notts and Derby Methodist District to take up a new role.

The service took place at Easton Methodist Church on the evening of Sunday 30th July. My wife Nicola, who had held many roles within the Portland Methodist Circuit and the Southampton Methodist District shared the service with me.  Nicola is now taking up a role in the area we have moved to and is a Probationer Presbyter.  

The service on 30th July enabled us to share with Church and Community as we prepared to leave the Portland area.  It was a privilege to be able to share with so many people during the afternoon tea and evening service.

The theme of the sermon was built round John Chapter 14 with the title above, "We'll meet again". This passage remains an important one to me.

You can listen to the sermon here, Chris Briggs Final Sermon in Portland Methodist Circuit

Friday, 9 June 2017

Ministerial Meanderings: The Irresponsibility of Politicians and Political ...

Ministerial Meanderings: The Irresponsibility of Politicians and Political ...: The General Election within this country has yielded both definite and blurred views and is both positive and negative for the country. ...

The Irresponsibility of Politicians and Political Parties

The General Election within this country has yielded both definite and blurred views and is both positive and negative for the country.

The result stems from politicians not listening and not speaking.  Too often politicians point to “wins” as an indication that they have a mandate for action or direction.  In reality the days are gone where a majority means everyone will be happy with one direction.  There has been a tendency, except with Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government in 2010, to maintain a confrontational approach to politics.  This has often been echoed by Party Members.  Such an attitude is a disgrace.  Clearly as a society and country we are moving towards a call for coalition and consensus.  This was obvious with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government, became clearer with the closeness of the Brexit vote where those who voted to remain were pretty much ignored afterwards, and is becoming clearer still with this hung Parliament.

With a backdrop of American and French Elections as well one can see that voters are becoming discontent with the power games of politics as they have happened in the past.  That calls for a new style of politics where politicians re-learn their art.  It calls for a listening to all people and not just select groups.  “Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the Politicians!” (Charles de Gaulle)  The country is speaking and is saying that it wants to be involved and included rather than treated as if it is not quite clever enough to understand the ways of the world.  The days of left or right are gone!

Despite great unhappiness about Brexit, what it means, and how and whether it should be achieved there has been a drive forwards as if everyone voted in the same way.  Instead we have a divided country, yet still politicians plough on with their own personal agendas.  The Sleeping Giant of young voters may be awakening and other voters are making it clear that a different style is wanted.

There is an arrogance from too many Politicians who consistently do not listen and who are only interested in power.  Politicians and political parties get over yourselves!  People vote for a variety of political parties.  They usually vote seriously.  They often vote because they have sincerely held views or sincerely held worries.  Stop dismissing voters when they do not vote your way.  Locally I have seen politicians calling voters stupid because they did not vote for their particular party.  That is precisely the attitude that brings such confusion and division and prevents co-operation.  It is immature to believe that because people align themselves with a particular view or party that they do not have a point to make or a view to promote.

Politicians of different parties need to learn to listen to people even when it does not fit in with their politics.

Politicians need to learn to talk to one another publicly as well as privately.

Politicians need to set an example in the development of community relationships.

Politicians therefore need to become better role models and stop so much of the party posturing.

Politicians need to hang looser to their party and hold tighter to the country.

The hope for our country is that we might move more fully towards conversation and consensus.  There is a challenge to politicians and their parties to seize the moment.  Do not let us down.

Personally I follow a leader who cares first and foremost about humanity and its well-being.  He gets my vote every time!