Al Gooderham

It’s Not About Tweaks It’s About What Your Life Orbits

Jesus is not a habit or routine or part of life. No, following Jesus is making him the blazing sun at the centre of your life around which everything else orbits. It isn’t about lifestyle tweaks it is about everything being transformed in light of Jesus and his kingdom. Discipleship is to live life following Jesus.

What does your life revolve around? That is the question we need to ask but rarely do. It’s the time of year that we try to start new habits and new routines. For many Christians it’s the time of the year when they resolve to start trying to read the bible through in a year, or to copy Daniel’s 3 times a day prayer routine, or make promises about trying to make it out to the Bible study. None of those things are bad things. But here’s my issue with them, they are peripheral.
They are about shuffling routine and habits about so you can find more time to squeeze in doing something good. It makes reading the Bible and praying on a par with getting fitter, not eating so much fat or promising to let people see all of your face not just the edges around it as you are clued to your phone. It makes following Jesus about peripherals when it isn’t. When we do that we have missed something so fundamental to discipleship that it’s almost unfathomable. And I can’t help wondering if that’s a huge reason for the discipleship deficit we currently face in the west.
Jesus is not a habit or routine or part of life. No, following Jesus is making him the blazing sun at the centre of your life around which everything else orbits.
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O Come All Ye Miserable

Sometimes we short change salvation, by thinking Jesus saves us and pays off our debt to God. We think of it like a massive debt we get into, so someone generously pays it off and we have a bank balance of zero, so we can start again without that debt hanging over us.  Too often that’s how we wrongly think about the salvation God promises.  Jesus pays our debt and gets us to zero, now I have to start earning God’s favour.  When I do good my spiritual account goes up, when I fail it’s like a spiritual direct debit.  God is pleased with me when I’m in the spiritual black.

What is Christmas all about?  We look forward to Christmas and all it brings, yet it’s hugely complicated and complex.  It’s like an articulated lorry.  Christmas is the cab, but with it comes the huge 44 tonne articulated trailer of expectations, traditions, and busyness that Christmas pulls around with it.  There’s the expectation of seeing the family – all of them at some point, of food cooked to perfection, of family time without conflict or needle, and certain family traditions that have to repeated year after year.
So often what comes with Christmas is what we mistake for Christmas.  So what is Christmas all about?  The angels sum it up beautifully “good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”  Christmas, the birth of Jesus brings not just a flicker of a smile, not just a temporary warm fuzzy feeling, not just joy but great joy, literally ‘mega-joy.’ It’s another of those great Christmas words.   It is on Christmas jumpers and cards and decorations; joy.  But what does it mean and how do we embrace it?  And how can we know great joy not just at Christmas?
Joy is a strong word.  It means to be glad, to be happy, to rejoice and celebrate.  And the Bible isn’t anti-joy, God isn’t a killjoy, the Bible is full of joy because God is the giver of joy.  It begins with God creating a world that is “very good” – overflowing with bounty and beauty.  And God puts Adam and Eve into that world to find joy in it.  That’s still true isn’t it?  Just think of 5 things that bring you joy, 5 things that make you happy?  Go on, stop and actually do it!.  They were all created by God because God is generous and provides things that bring joy.
As you read the Bible you see joy and rejoicing in all sorts of things.  There’s the joy of birthday and wedding celebrations.  There’s joy at feasting and celebrating victory in battle.  There’s joy in good wine.  Proverbs tells us a wise son bring joy to his parents.  In Song of Solomon there is joy and rejoicing in marriage and the intimacy it brings.  God is a joy giving God, every moment of joy we experience, from the joy of celebrating a last minute winner, to the birth of a child, or the joy of that first mouthful your favourite meal cooked to perfection, is given to us by a joy giving God.
But the Bible is also honest about the problem we have with joy.  Joy leaks.  It’s like a balloon or tyre with a slow puncture, it gradually lets us down.  In the world this side of the fall we’re tempted to seek joy in the gift when every gift was always intended to point us to joy in the giver.  And therein lies the problem, things bring us joy but that joy is only temporary.  We’re like a bucket with a hole, we have to constantly top our joy up to maintain any semblance of it.  Constantly seeking new joy.  But parties end, celebrations finish, our children aren’t always wise or delightful and nor are our parents, marriages are hard and so is intimacy, food spoils, wine turns, and reality intrudes.  Joy leaks.  And the danger is we become consumed by our search for joy, insatiably hungry for something it just can’t give us.
The joy we experience is meant to point us not to the gift but the giver.  But because of sin we tend to forget the giver in pursuit of the gift.  In the garden the real joy was relationship with God, but it is easily lost.
That’s not unique to us, it’s a universal problem.  It’s the problem of Israel.  They knew great joy.  They knew the joy of being saved miraculously from slavery, and brought through the Red Sea – we tend to think seeing a miracle would change everything but Israel are proof it doesn’t – because they soon grumble and moan and fixate on gifts not giver.  They’re given a land with houses built, vineyards dug and cities walled, but they soon become fixated on the gifts, trying to fill their bucket but unsatisfied because they forget the giver.
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The Essential of Leadership We so Easily Miss

David teaches us that if we want to serve God well we do so best out of a deep knowledge of God that means we run to him for refuge, we look to him for joy and we hunger to know him more. In all our busyness the danger is we miss this, we forget to set aside time for this. 

What does your leadership look like? What’s the one thing most essential to your leadership of the local church? What’s the thing that will make preaching a joy rather than a chore, that will sustain us as we pastor people? As elders what is the things we look for most in pastors and preachers and others that we put into ministry leadership positions?
I wonder how you’d answer those questions? I’ve been in ministry nearly twenty years and have had to watch myself and others too often orbit too closely to the withering sun of burn out. In part because of expectations placed on us by others and in part use to the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves, occasionally leading to the creation of a messiah complex caused by both of those things. And in part because I wonder if we’ve missed a key lesson in leadership. If I asked you what made David a great leader what would you say? Where would you go to prove it?
Leadership guru’s might look at his delegation, his past experience of shepherding that prepared him so well for leading a recalcitrant flock like Israel, his warrior like spirit, the trust his people put in him because of past victories won. But I wonder whether they or we would ever turn to the Psalms to see what actually enabled David to lead Israel well. You can explore this in pretty much any Psalm David wrote, in the Psalms when he’s under pressure like Psalms 52, 54, 56, 57 when he’s on the run or being hunted down or betrayed or in a jam. You can see it in the Psalms when he’s expressing his greatest longing. We see it really clearly in Psalm 16. Just stop and read it.
No really. Stop and go and read it!
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The Idolatry That Destroys Friendship

We were not made for loneliness we were made for love, not romantic love but love from God, love by neighbours, love by a redeemed community that meets us again and again with the welcome of grace and the rest of the gospel. 

Perhaps the biggest barrier to our building friendships comes from our idolatry of marriage in the church. If you’re single you experience it as people in church trying to matchmake you with any eligible Christian of the opposite sex, and that makes you weary of friendships especially those with the opposite sex. All of us imbibe it in the relationship talks we’re given at youth groups and camps which are often well meaning but focus on marriage as the thing that will save you from your struggle with sexual sin and provide you with the intimacy and friendship you so long for. And that often means when people get married they so with unhealthy expectations. They also tend to pull away from previous friendships, almost as if a close relationship with anyone else will endanger their marriage. Pastorally I’ve dealt with many who have been badly wounded by just that unloving act and now feel fearful of building new friendships because what if they meet someone….
The churches idolatry of marriage is partly the result of our overreaction to the world’s idolatry of sex. Sexual love is viewed as the highest form of love in the world, it’s the ultimate hence the mantra that love is love and nothing should get in the way of that. It is the highest good, the ultimate expression of love, the goal to aim for. And so the church doubles down on the teaching that marriage between a man and a woman is the only right context for sexual love and intimacy, without challenging societies mantra on sexual love being the ultimate, the place you will find fulfilment. But in so doing I worry that we write cheques marriage can’t cash. The bible’s picture of love is so much broader and more beautiful and bountiful than that. It’s much more multifaceted and we lose something when we shrink love down to sexual love, we lose friendship and end up overburdening and overexpecting of marriage and naturally as a result we will find our churches full of people struggling with loneliness whether married or single and marriages creaking under the strain.
The Bible is full of stories of the joy of love that is not sexual. Sexual love is only one type of love we were made to enjoy. Marriage is the only context in which God says we’re to fulfil that love, yet marriage itself has limits, it points beyond itself to the eventual eternal joy of the union between Christ and the Church. And that means we must see marriage for what it is. A signpost, a precious covenant signpost that can bring much joy, yes. A good gift of God, yes. But also one that is given not to be an idol but to be part of a process of growing Christlikeness spurred on by those entering it. It is not the only form of love we were made to enjoy, that we need. Even in the garden the image of Adam and Eve isn’t it, it’s not complete. They aren’t sat snuggled up and loved up on a sofa with a Rom Com or Action flick blissfully content to find all they need in each others eyes, they have a job to do to create a community of worshippers, with a web of other relationships, other types of love, that is what they were made for.
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Satan’s Stolen Treasure

Too many in our churches are lonely. Not just the single, the widow, and the widower, but everyone, anyone of any age, any stage. And the tragedy in the church is that so often we’re too busy to even notice. In fact often those of us in ministry model the very opposite of friendship. But we need friends, those we can laugh with, be honest with, open up to, be comfortably silent with knowing there are no expectations just welcome.

Satan is a thief. He takes what’s not his. Be it glory, worship, children, whatever he can get his hands on. He’s also a saboteur, read Genesis 3, he doesn’t form things, he doesn’t do beauty, he can’t create culture, he can only sabotage it, or create counterfeits. He steals, he twists, he warps, he deforms. And we live with the consequences. Our lives so often are impoverished as a result without us even realising it.
One of the treasures that Satan has stolen is friendship. I love the image in the garden of Eden of Adam and Eve enjoying an rich intimacy that is founded on knowing one another without shame or fear. It was a relationship of love and laughter and total safety and joy. And it isn’t just an image of marriage, it’s an image of community, of friendship. What they experience they are to replicate as they multiply until God’s good creation is filled with people who enjoy relationship with God and with each other.
The Bible is big on friendship. It shows us dysfunctional friendships and beautiful friendships like David and Jonathan, or Jesus and his disciples, that leave us longing to taste that same joy filled trust and intimacy. But Satan is always looking to sabotage and steal that joy. And the result of that is that we are a church that is marked in the West by loneliness. And that’s tragic. Loneliness is endemic in Western society.
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