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Anthems of Identity

There are two songs circling the church a the moment that I think are some of the most important anthems we have sung in years. They speak to issues of identity that the church has long neglected, that as Christians we haven’t quite come to grips with. They are such simple truth but have such a profound impact on how we live our lives. The first comes from, until this song came out, a relatively unknown worship team based out of Atlanta, Georgia. The second comes from the team at Bethel, who have already had a profound impact on the wider church through their music and teaching.

Listen to the songs first, then read and understand what they mean to you before listening to it again.

Good Good Father – Housefires

How we view God, or who we view as has a massive impact on our relationship with him. Jesus came to reveal the father to us. So many view God through the lens of the Old Testament, in isolation of what we know in the New Testament. This causes people to have a view of God, in line with what Dawkins says, in his book, The God Delusion.

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins

But Jesus came on the scene and said that the Father could only be known by his Son. As Christians, we need to view God through the lens of his Son, and this song, as the name implies, speaks to two areas of God’s true identity.

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. – Matthew 11:27 (ESV)

He is Good

Fundamental to our belief in God has to be that he is God. If you don’t believe God is good, then how can you listen to what he says? Follow his voice? Believe his promises? When bad things happen (and they will) you have no security, no confidence, no hope, that things will get better. If God isn’t good, what is he?

“[Speaking to God] You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees.” – Psalm 119:68 (NLT)

He is our Father

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. We are to relate to God as a father. The greek word used here (165+ times in the Gospels, 15 times in the Old Testament) is [Abba] refers to intimacy, a close relationship, better translated in the less formal word of ‘Daddy‘ or ‘Papa‘.  The difference might seem negligible until you hear the voice of a young child screaming “You’ll Always be My Father but You’ll Never be My Dad”.

5 Abbá – “Father,” also used as the term of tender endearment by a beloved child – i.e. in an affectionate, dependent relationship with their father; “daddy,” “papa.” – Helps Ministries, Inc.

This will be difficult for some. Our understanding of true fatherhood has become murkier and murkier so much so that the current generation has become known as the “fatherless generation”.

God will always be everything your earthly father was not, on top of everything he was.

No Longer a Slave – Bethel Music

We transition from a song that talks about who God is, to a song that talks directly to who we are. We started with God’s identity because our identity is rooted in who he is. Only when we know who He is, can we really understand who we are. Under the law, we are slaves, separated from God by our sin, as Paul articulates so well in the book of Romans. But under grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, we become sons of God, co-heirs with Christ, part of the royal priesthood. Slaves in Jesus’ time were entitled to nothing if their masters died with no heirs. But sons, sons received everything. Under the law we had nothing, through Jesus, we now have everything – we can call God father, daddy, pappa, and know that he looks on us as sons and daughters. Such a simple, but profound statement, “I am a child a God”.

Under the law, we are slaves, separated from God by our sin, as Paul articulates so well in the book of Romans. But under grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, we become sons of God, co-heirs with Christ, part of the royal priesthood. Slaves in Jesus’ time were entitled to nothing if their masters died with no heirs. But sons, sons received everything. Under the law we had nothing, through Jesus, we now have everything – we can call God father, daddy, pappa, and know that he looks on us as sons and daughters.

It amazes me every time I hear it how such a simple, obvious statement, can have such a profound impact on me, for “I am a child a God”.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:2 (ESV)

Check out both songs on iTunes or Amazon Music:

Housefires II – Housefires, iTunes, Amazon.

We Will Not Be Shaken – Bethel Music, iTunes, Amazon.

New York City Church Tour

New York City Church Tour

The final stop was my New York City Church Tour. It’s been such a privilege to visit the extended family and learn from what the wider church is doing, just across the pond. In this post, I cover Redeemer and The Journey. Two very different churches but both having a great impact in the city, and wider afield. You can also check out the churches I visited in Atlanta in my previous blog post.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church

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Top of my list to visit while in New York was Redeemer, Tim Kellers church. Not Time Square Church (as I keep hearing in reference to Tim Keller), it does exist, I just can’t see any link with Tim Keller. Redeemer isn’t even in Time Square.

I attended a Faith & Work event during the week at Redeemer’s main offices (see my post on the Extended Family for more details). On Sunday I went along to the 10:30 am service at Hunter College auditorium. The morning services are traditional, which isn’t my preferred service type, but we can always learn from styles we don’t prefer.

On arrival I was handed a service sheet with the bars of music included (in case I brought my recorder from primary school and felt led to join the worship team) and the various responses (liturgy) that were part of the service. Redeemer do have a contemporary service later in the day, but my flight didn’t allow for that. Tim Keller gave a heartfelt exposition on Justice (Startling importance of Justice, Justice as a Force of Nature, Our Ability to do Justice) based on Isaiah 58:1-14.

“[On the cross] God didn’t just suffer for us he suffered with us.”

“God deserved vindication and justice. On the cross he received condemnation, so in return, we could received vindication and justice.”

– Tim Keller

The Journey NYC

I first connected with The Journey at their Easter Outreach event in Union Square (you can read more about that in my post of here). When I went along on Sunday morning I attended The Village Campus, hosted in a local school. Everyone gave me a very warm welcome and it was great to see a familiar face from the outreach event when I arrived.

Journey Church - New York City Church Tour

I spent some time chatting with Mark Edington, Journey’s Growth Groups Pastor hear his story a snippet of what God was doing in his life and through Journey Church. The Journey was smaller than other churches I had visited, their 1pm was also one of their smaller services (I can only assume due to the fact everyone is having Sunday lunch, but that might just be in Britain) so there was plenty of space.

Kerrick Thomas - Journey Church - New York City Church TourThe message was very simple, and what I loved about The Journey was it always led to an action, and it was an action you could take. Before we went in we were all given a message outline, and a giving envelope. Kerrick Thomas referred to both throughout his message giving each person an easy way to connect into what the church was doing and become part of it.

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Atlanta Church Tour

Here is my roundup from my Atlanta Church Tour. I’ve visited many churches during my short time in the states (technically I am on 5 in just over a week, but one was for a wedding, so I am not going to count it). It’s also not often I get the opportunity to be a first time visitor in church, hence, I wanted to distill some of my experiences in some of the largest churches in Atlanta, below. Hopefully, the ideas distilled below will help spark your creativity as you think about the experience of first-time visitors to your church, business, or even home. You can check out the churches I visited in New York in my next blog post.

New York Church Tour – Coming Soon!

fc logo atlanta church tour

free-chapel-atlanta-church-tourI visited Free Chapel in Gainesville, Georgia on a Wednesday evening (7pm service). Parking attendant directed me to a car park not too far from the main building (Wednesday isn’t as busy as their Sunday services). What stood out with me in Free Chapel was the entrance for first-time guests. This is brilliant (and I didn’t find it elsewhere). The first door I reached had a large sign directing the first-time guest in through the door. Right in front of the Door was the connections team who gave me a goody bag (everyone likes a freebie) and invited me to fill in a connection card. One of the women explained the different ways of connecting in with the church, using one of their leaflets, and then handed me a voucher for a free coffee after the service.

She then walked me to the auditorium, and showed me to some seats near the front, just to the left of the stage. They had designated areas for new people, so they would always have a seat. The Mark Rutland, the main speaker for the evening, saw us on our way in and introduced himself to me, and welcomed me to the church.

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I believe it is equally important to experience how a church manages its guest that are late, not just on time (or early). Hence, I decided to arrive 15 minutes late, for this exact purpose (completely unrelated to me being at another church beforehand, and getting lost on the way there). The car park was full, so I was helpfully redirected to the overflow (excellent signs directing me there) in the nearby multi-storey. After finding the right side of the building to exit on, I clambered onto the shuttle bus to take us the two-minute trip down the road back to the main venue.

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I was welcomed as a first time guest on the bus and then directed to the auditorium where Matt Redman was already leading worship.

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North Point wins the prize for the most friendly and engaging parking attendant! I was quickly welcomed and directed to a parking space, then he waved hello and welcomed me when I passed him on my way in, and finally said goodbye when he saw me coming out – very impressive! North Point was certainly the biggest campus I visited. They have two auditoriums facing each other in the single building. On a Sunday morning both sides have their own band and then the speaker is in person on one side and live streamed to the screen in the opposite auditorium.

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I attended the 4pm service which, on reflection, I believe was aimed at regular members of the congregation that had missed the morning service, rather than first-time guests. We only used one of the two auditoriums and I would say we were under half full. The service opened in style with a full-on showpiece from the band on stage (including guitar solo).

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North Point prides itself in creating an environment where non-church people would feel comfortable and they certainly delivered on that front (rock concert style!) For the main talk we had a recording played back from the morning service. I did struggle with this. From the perspective of someone new, there is a certain amount of value you feel when someone is there in person talking to you. It’s the kind of value that you only notice when it’s missing, rather than appreciate it when it is there. It isn’t about having Andy Stanley there, it’s simply about having someone there who values your time enough that they came along in person to talk to you.

 

paper extended family

Extended Family – Mission on the Move

If you have heard me preach, or know me well, you will know that the one thing I love most about the church is our extended family. If you adopt a child into your family they become part of the family. They now have a mother and father; a sister and a brother; aunts and uncles; grandparents; distant relatives – the works! They have a whole family network which could stretch across the globe. A place where they will be welcomed because they are part of a family.

You can probably relate. If you have ever been travelling you mum might have said something like “oh, I have a sister there!” or “I think I my best friend from school lives there now”. Instantly you have a friend in a place you’ve never been who will welcome you into their home. Why? Because your part of their extended family. You can come in because we have mutual friends and you can stand on their reputation. This takes you from a strange to a friend and in some cases, family.

This is what the church is like. When you meet Jesus you become part of a family, part of the “body of Christ” as Paul puts it (1 Corinthians 12:27), a child of God (1 John 3:1–2). In other words, you now have an estimated 2.2 billion (Pewforum) brothers and sisters across the world. 50,700 (Brin) churches in the UK filled with family you can drop by and visit. I love it!

“50,700 churches across the UK with 5,515,000 members” that’s a big family! – Brin UK Church Statistics, 2005-15

So whenever I am on holiday, or away from my home church (family), I like to visit other churches, other Christians, my extended family. It excites me to see what God is doing across the globe. To meet, encourage, support and be supported, wherever I am.

US Extended Family

While I was in the US I loved visiting the extended family. Atlanta, being one of the “Bible Belt” states is full of great churches doing great work, and I loved being able to drop in on some of my spiritual parents who have taught me so much through their ministries. I follow a number of churches and preachers in the US from the UK through their podcasts and blogs and it was great to visit their churches and be part of their family for just one day.

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In New York, I connect with Redeemer who run the Centre for Faith & Work. They were running an event for Christians in the workplace while I was in the city. So I went along and met and prayed with other Christians in consulting and one of them shared how encouraged she was just by having me there (that I would take time out of my holiday to be part of the session). It was a great opportunity for me to connect with the staff there and those who run the centre.

 

 

Snacks-extended-family

The Journey Church were running an Easter outreach event on the streets of New York City. I have heard said, more than once in my week in NYC, that as little as 5% are Christians (Christianity Today). So why not help the family out?

I spend two hours on Saturday afternoon with a team from journey church giving out a total of 6000 snack bars to busy New Yorkers, matched with an invite to our (I am part of the family, remember) Easter services. I stood with another willing volunteer handing out several hundred snack bars in Union Station. We had some good conversations with some and sowed plenty of seeds with others.

I was chatting recently with the Growth Groups Pastor at Journey Church NYC and they had over 1500 people attending across three locations & eight services over Easter. They also had 33 people who made a decision to follow Christ as their Savior that weekend. I wasn’t even there for their Easter services, but I was part of that!

Easter-Journey-Extended-Family

Provision: God Always Provides – US Trip Part 2

So I have jumped the gun and as I am sure we can always relate to, started planning out of fear, rather than out of obedience. Philippians 4:19 and Proverbs 3:5 come to mind because God always does provide, and we (I) should be more inclined to trust him if he has been specific (as he had in this case). It’s always nice to watch God’s plan’s unravelling first hand, then look back afterwards and see all that he knew in advance.

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.”Proverbs 3:5-6 (MSG)

I met Stephanie and Kirk at the wedding, they were from Atlanta. I overheard this fact in a conversation at the rehearsal dinner and sensed a small nudge from the Holy Spirit (he likes doing that).  They were meant to fly to Columbus, but for various reasons ended up driving (convenient eh?) Becca introduced me at the reception and shortly after I was offered a lift to Atlanta, and following that, a place to stay. God Provides; week one sorted. Stephanie and Kirk are good friends of Richmond and Arthur and have been out to Uganda to help with the work of the

Stephanie and Kirk are good friends of Richmond and Arthur and have been out to Uganda to help with the work of the Pastors Discipleship Network, training local pastors. An excellent result on all round and a challenge to myself on how much I am trusting God when he says he will do something.

Stephanie and Kirk
Stephanie and Kirk, my hosts in Atlanta

But it doesn’t stop there. I’m one of the last left as I am staying with Becca’s parents overnight. We had the privilege of driving the bridal party to their hotel for the evening (a rather nice looking Hilton in the middle of Columbus). Becca turns to me in the car and says she is going to connect me up with her Uncle in New York who was at the wedding (I didn’t manage to meet him over the weekend). Mark and Laurie “love to host people, all the time”, and they would just “love to have me stay with them”. A few days later I took advantage of Airbnb’s cancellation policy, and my previously booked-in-lack-of-faith room is now gone, and we are sorted for New York also. God always Provides; week two sorted.

 

Columbus Ohio Skyline

Planning Without Planning – US Trip Part 1

A weekend anywhere is far too short, and when you’re travelling thousands of miles, it makes even less sense. So armed with a few days of next years holiday, I extended my wedding trip from a weekend to two weeks, with God’s reassurance he was going to sort everything out – which should be reassuring, but is often difficult to accept. No planning, just a flight in, and a flight out.

So I book my flight to Columbus Ohio, and from New York. I had a beginning and an end, but what happen in between was still a mystery to me. All the while God was reassuring me I had nothing to worry about and he had it all the planning in the bag. There is no doubt that I like to plan things. At university my friends used to mock me because they had to book me two months in advanced for a social event – I planned that far ahead! This has become harder and harder to do over time since starting my new job (things can change at the drop of a hat, so too much planning can get in the way!). But God asked me to trust him, and so I did. Well, I did up until around 9pm, Thursday night (2am UK time). I had arrived in the US with no plan after the wedding, so I panicked, and tried to book a few things!

Atlanta, being the most fruitful in my initially IBM networking endeavor, was the obvious place to start. Unfortunately due to Mr. Schwarzenegger’s appearance in Ohio that weekend, all flights leaving the city were three times the usual rate. Greyhound busses were reasonable but would involve a change and around twelve hours on the road. Not too appealing, but much easier on the pocket!

My second destination became New York. I needed to get there eventually for my flight out, and with visits to churches being top of my priority list I had to spend a weekend (at least) in the locations, I was going to. In Atlanta we have North Point, with Andy Stanley; Passion City Church, with Louie Giglio; and Free Chapel, with Jentezen Franklin. In New York, we have Redeemer Presbyterian Church, with Timothy Keller; and Hillsong NYC, with Carl Lentz and Joel Housten. So one cannot come to these cities and not spend a weekend (or a Sunday, to any extent).

So I booked my flight to New York and a room through Airbnb* – week two, sorted. Week one who knows…? I have the greyhound option if required, and the cost doesn’t change over time so there no rush to book that. Regardless, there is always Airbnb and a sofa bed in random people’s houses…

*Affiliate link

 

 

Tying the Knot

A story wouldn’t be complete without a happy ending. So it would be unfair for me not to complete the story that was one of my popular posts while in Uganda.

In the city of Columbus, Ohio, I got to wear one of the most expensive suits I shall ever own rent (it was made by Vera Wang). I had the honour of being a groomsman at Arthur and Becca’s wedding, here in the US.

Strategic, as I am, I awoke around 3:30am UK time to attend my 7:45am flight. There are advantages to being early for a flight, I can’t think of any at the moment, but I am sure there are some. I ended up at Heathrow and was through security with two hours to spare (check-in wasn’t even open when I arrived).

The logic to getting a very early flight was in offsetting the jet lag occurred with a five hour time difference. I had a row of seats to myself (no one is stupid enough to get a flight at 7:45am!) so I enjoyed the poor man’s first class experience(three seats to lie down on, with all the pillows at one end). I made it to Ohio in one piece and survived till 3am (UK time) before retiring to bed – Genius.

The wedding was hosted by Becca’s parents church and it was an excellent opportunity to be reunited with Richmond, Gerald and Rose (from Uganda). Sadly, Arthurs/Richmond’s/my Ugandan mummy was unable to get to the US, but we had a quick catch up over the phone before the ceremony began. We had succeeded in our groomsman duties. Arthur had made it to the church after a night out in a strip mall bar (strip = a line of shops) and a visit to White Castle (famous for how bad its fast food is. I couldn’t eat any of it… except some cheesecake on a stick. Yes, it came on a stick.)

Becca looked wonderful, and unlike British weddings, where the Bride and Groom tend to be rather quiet when reciting their vows, I could hear them both load and clear. Although, I am not usually standing three people away from the happy couple at British weddings, so that may have had something to do with it.

 

The Point – The Assesment Center Group Exercise

Before each exercise, ask yourself “What’s the point?”

The Group Exercise at assessment centres come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Regardless of “what”, they entail, it’s important you understand the “why”. These exercises are all about bringing out certain attributes, characteristics and skills. The exercise itself is not important, which is why you will hear phrases like “it doesn’t matter if you complete the exercise or not” or “there is no right or wrong answer” before you start. Ask yourself the question, “what are they trying to get out of this exercise?” Then make sure you deliver.

The Group Exercise

These vary dramatically but the key is in the name – group. These are used to evaluate how you behave in a team. Common mistakes people make are to focus on solving the task. Don’t forget, it’s not about the task!

1. Look for Opportunities to Show Leadership

If no one is speaking, be the first one to speak and suggest that everyone takes two minutes to read through the information pack. Then bring people back and either suggest a place to start or ask someone what they think. Make decisions if things are taking too long, and ask people to agree. “We only have 5 minutes left, let’s go with option X and focus on the next step”.

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Picture: Wikipedia

2. Use Peoples Names

Everyone will have name badges on, and often a sign with their name in front of it. Names are personal, they quickly build rapport and they are placed everywhere for a reason! Ask people what they think, ask them if they agree to get them involved in the conversation.

3. Keep an Eye on the Time

Wear a watch. All these exercises will be time bound. You will only have a very short window to complete the task. Monitor the time and make sure the rest of the group is aware of what is going on and how much time you have left to do it in. 15 minutes can go very quickly with six different opinions contributing. Often there is a deliverable to complete, don’t spend all your time discussing the idea and forget about the end goal. Agree to draw a line to give yourself enough time to produce what you need.

So there you have it – three tips for succeeding on the day. In my experience, it’s been groups that are often progressed to the next round, rather than individuals. Four out of five in my group moved to the next stage so don’t get caught up in being competitive! Alternatively, if you have a bad group, but can demonstrate these attributes, you can still progress.

What’s been your experience of assessment days? Any tips for people in the same place? I would love to hear about them in the comments.

A Final Word… From the Bishop

I thought the Bishop should have the final word, and even though this post won’t be relevant to everyone, and was sent with a my lovely GranGran in mind, those of you who knew my Grandfather might be interested. Bishop Elephaz wanted to send you a letter GranGran, but I wouldn’t allow it! Enjoy!

The Flight Home

After saying goodbye, all that remained was a return flight to London Heathrow. I was a little under the weather at this point, which was a shame. I have never had to work so hard to eat half a slice of banana bread in my life (yes, I only made it half way). Arthur kindly drove me to the airport, thankfully it didn’t take the four hour it took him when he first came to pick me up!

I arrived several hours before my flight was due to leave, which gave me ample time to make use of the free Wi-Fi in the airport to give people at home an update (my mummy’s worry you see). I ordered some hot water in the restaurant (which took a few attempts, as ‘hot water’ is something people drink out here…) but it was required for my ‘powered by Lemslip’ mode that was needed for the journey home!

One of the staff approach me around 15 minutes before the flight was due to board, and enquired as to which flight I was on. After telling her I was going to Delhi, she informed me it was boarding in 15 minutes and then stood there. I thanked her, and returned to my book (I wasn’t in a rush, I had 15 minutes!) She then came over again and asked me why I wasn’t moving! After trying to explain that 15 minutes means 15 minutes, I gave up and agreed to head over to the gate (which was 30 seconds away, and involved a second security check).

On the first plane I was delighted to see it was more modern than the aircraft that had brought me (I didn’t really care about the air craft, it was the entertainment system that needed to be modern!) The plane that brought me had a CRT style of entertainment system, complete with black and white fuzzy lines on some channels (that some of you will be too young to remember). This one was the up-to-date digital system we had had on my initial flight to Delhi – victory! Alongside that, I had a seat spare next to me, so I had a bit of wiggle room (very important) and no one disturbing me during the flight (except the lovely stewardess to give me food, but she got no complaints from me).

After a 3 and half hour layover in Dubai, a McDonalds Cheeseburger (I was getting my appetite back) and some broken sleep I boarded the plane to London Heathrow and found out I’d received a special offer. Buy one seat on the place, get three free! I was second row from the back on the plane and after take off, readjusted the pillows, helped myself to three blankets and was able to lie down flat across the four seats and get some proper sleep – God is good.

It’s good to be back in England – surprisingly it wasn’t raining when I arrived back, but it was as green and cold as I remember. It’s good to be home.