Al Gooderham

Who is the Hero?

We’re so tied to that hero complex that we react badly when something or someone challenges it.  When we can’t do something or fail to achieve what we set out to, or even just don’t do something very well, we can’t handle our hero narrative being challenged so we excuse it – it was someone else’s fault, it was the impossible task, things conspired against, I wasn’t feeling great. The litany of excuses flow because we want to be the hero.

Who is the hero of your life story?  Be honest, it’s you isn’t it?  We tie so much of our identity, our self-esteem into being the hero, and being recognised and affirmed as such – being the best at work, doing what no one else can, making a difference, achieving success, having a good reputation.  All because we have a hero complex. Maybe your instant reaction is to refute that. Why do I think you have a hero complex? Because I have one and I think you just like me show it a number of different ways.
We see it in our reaction to being put in our place. Don’t you find yourself secretly running the scenario back through you head plotting all the snappy zinging come backs you could have made, and would do if the situation was re-run, that would show who you really are. Confirm you in your hero status. We see it in wanting affirmation and recognition for everything, even increasingly for things which should just be expected of us (seriously graduations from Primary school, copious praise for doing what you are paid to do – surely already enough recognition).
We’re so tied to that hero complex that we react badly when something or someone challenges it.  When we can’t do something or fail to achieve what we set out to, or even just don’t do something very well, we can’t handle our hero narrative being challenged so we excuse it –
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Our Radical Reworking of the Lost Sheep

There has definitely been an acceleration in the trend towards individualised discipleship.  Some people simply feel like they don’t need others, they are flock-less sheep, and there is a danger that as churches and church leaders we’ve fed this as we have taught God’s word unawares through the lens of individualism, through individualistic application of corporate passages, through underplaying the role of the church and discipleship that is corporate not privatised. But that has profound consequences for how we live and how we relate to the bible. 

Over the last century or so a force has arisen that has been so significant that it now holds us all in its grip and we’re largely unaware of it.  It is so hardwired into our brains that it’s the natural way we think and view everything, it even impacts how we read the bible, teach and apply the Bible.  That force is radical individualism and its legacies are legion.  But I just want to focus on the way this is playing out in the way we approach lost sheep – those who drift from church having professed faith but who would still maintain they are Christians. That spiritually they are fine because they read their bible and pray without being part of a church.
In Matthew 18v12-14 Jesus tells the well-known story of a shepherd who has 100 sheep but realises there are only 99 in the flock; one is missing.  This is where illustrators and storytellers and pastors have not helped us with what Jesus is teaching.   How do you picture the lost sheep?  He’s tangled in thorn bushes, wandering unawares towards a cliff, or oblivious to the wolves with glowering hungry yellow eyes and slathering jaws gathering in the woods in the background isn’t he?  But none of that is in the story – the sheep is just lost.  And that’s the point Jesus is making; it’s being lost that is the greatest peril.   The greatest danger is our lostness. 
Unlike in Luke where the focus of a similar story in a different context is used evangelistically to show God’s joy in the lost found, here in Matthew it’s used in the context of the church Christ inaugurates.  It is separation from the flock and the safety of the shepherd’s care that is the danger.  For believers there is danger in being separate from the flock, there doesn’t need to be any additional dangers, bring isolated from the church is enough of a danger that it ought to be sounding alarms.
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There Is No Place for Us and Them in the Church (Part 1)

God doesn’t exempt his people from his standards. An “us and them” mentality that’s quick to condemn the world and slow to examine our own hearts and see and confess and repent of our own sins invites God’s judgment.  God is a holy God, he judges all.  We need to examine ourselves and check we don’t fall into that. But secondly an “us and them” attitude misses the missional heart of God.  God’s longing is for the sinner to be saved; he’s slow to anger, rich in love, compassionate and gracious. 

Us and them.  That’s how we divide society.  Those who are like us and those who aren’t.  The good guys and the bad guys.  Those who are for us and those who are against us.  Those who think and live like us and those who don’t.  Us and them.  It’s true of sport, of the playground, of the staffroom, of the family, of the neighbourhood, of the country, of the world. The ‘us’ is always right and defines itself against the ‘them’ who is always wrong.  The ‘us’ is good or better, the ‘them’ is bad or lesser.
Have you got some of your ‘us and them’s’ in your head?  The ways you’ve divided society, family, community, and the world.
Amos speaks God’s word into an us and them culture.  ‘Us’ is Israel, they’re God’s people surrounded by nations who are not.  There’s Judah just to the south, the nation they split from, and there’s a different division there, though it’s still an us and them division.  But Israel ‘us’ leads them to be are proud of being God’s people; God is on their side, as opposed to the other nations.  Yet the irony is that Israel is just as riddled with injustice and idolatry; just as riven by ‘us and them’, haves and have nots, oppressor and oppressed as the nations around them.
And so God sends a ‘them’, an outsider, to Israel with his word.  Amos isn’t a priest or a prophet, (1)he’s a shepherd farmer.  He isn’t even from Israel; he’s from Tekoa in Judah their brotherly rival.  Not only is the messenger a shock but so is the message,
“The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem”
and what’s the result of that?
“the pastures of the shepherds dry up, and the top of Carmel withers.”
God’s not tame!  God’s not indifferent!  God’s not weak and anaemic and unable to act!  God sees and like a lion coming out to hunt he roars judgment against his people.
One of the dangers for the church, and for us as disciples, is ‘us and them’ thinking.  It’s looking at the world and condemning it’s sin and missing our own.  We can be like the man Jesus talks of who sees the speck in his friend’s eye and misses the plank in his own.  We look at the world and see all it’s godlessness and idolatry and sin and then look at ourselves and think we’re not too bad.  And we settle for being a nicer shade of good rather than being what God calls us to be, which is his holy people, totally set apart for him with a completely renewed way of thinking and acting.
It’s so easy to slip into that ‘us and them’ way of thinking.  We can even do it within church as we’re listening to a sermon.
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Is Our Kingdom Failing His Kingdom

Church planting is all about dying to self. It means leaving something comfortable and which we love [don’t plant a church, or join a plant, because you are unhappy with where you are] to start something new. It means labouring with a smaller team, a smaller budget, a smaller leadership, and having to establish all the things that already existed in the established church. Planting is all about dying to self not just for the planted church but for the planting church, it ought to experience the same dying to self. And yet so many churches who are planning to plant seem to want to do so without dying to self. 

I’ve tried to bite my fingertips to stop me from writing this but I can do it no longer. I’ve tried to restrain the overwhelming tide, tried to stem the pent up frustration, sought to pray it all through with a view to not posting this, but it just has to be said. We, the UK church, have a problem. I don’t mean the church nationally (it does but that’s beyond my purview) but the evangelical church in the UK.
Our strategies are in danger of killing the gospel. Our kingdom building is in danger of obscuring his kingdom because we haven’t built on gospel rich, early church, dynamics. We don’t give away we hoard. We don’t give to where we see need, we give to where we think need is based on our blinkered models and strategy. And the lost in the UK are suffering for it. What a tragedy it will be if it is not Jesus kingdom we build but our own, limited not by his riches and desire to bless his praying dependent people who ask for things beyond our imagination, but by our stunted sight based strategy.
Jesus kingdom has a shape to it, a shape he exemplifies. It’s a kingdom that’s exemplified in his life. It’s marked by a overwhelming concern for the glory of the Father at cost to self because of a conviction that his will is best and his glory matters more than anything else for the whole cosmos. It is marked therefore by a dying to self, a descent into death, that others might be raised to life in him as they are snatched from the very jaws of hell and reconciled to God as his Spirit-filled sons and daughters. It’s a kingdom exemplified by the risen Jesus sending out his disciples to do what he did in dying to self in order to go to the world dependent on the Father and filled with the Spirit. It’s further exemplified by his using the persecution of a rapidly growing church in Jerusalem so that they die to themselves and are flung out into areas of Judea and Samaria; who are needy and thirsty for the life giving water of Jesus Christ in the gospel.
As I look at the church in the UK I don’t see masses of dying to self, as I look at myself I see a reluctance to do so too, or at least a desire to set a limit on how far Christ can ask me to go down into his death with him. So as I write this I’m wrestling with it too. Let me give you some examples of where I see this problem at play.
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What is the Gospel and What are We to Do with It? Part 3

The gospel will mean we’re compelled to love and reach out to the lost, both the good and the bad, no matter where people put themselves on that ladder we reach out to them.  We seek the lost as Jesus did.  We live our life out in front of them. There are times when we may have fewer non-believing friends as maybe some come to faith, as maybe others move away, as things change.  But we’ll always be looking to build friendships, to live out the gospel, to share Jesus.

Luke again shows us Jesus passion for the lost and his expansive grasp and grip on the grace of God and the reach of the gospel.  It’s worth noticing where Jesus is, in ch5 he’s eating with tax collectors and sinners, but now he’s eating with the religious, the good people.  Why?  Because everybody needs salvation and the gospel can reach anyone as Jesus makes clear to Simon.
Jesus has a reputation for welcoming sinners, this woman(37), notorious though she is, knows she can go to Jesus for forgiveness.  It would be great wouldn’t it if that could be said of our churches?
We had a lady come to church, until her family were evicted and relocated.  She had a bit of a reputation, when her neighbours heard she and her family came, and were accepted, welcomed and loved, their response was, ‘Well if she can come, so can we.’  That ought to be the norm.  Church is where no perfect people are allowed, and no pretence at perfection is allowed either.
Jesus doesn’t turn this lady away.  He knows the depth of her sin in a way Simon doesn’t, he also knew what it would cost him to forgive her in a way Simon didn’t and yet he knows the gospel is a call for all those who repent to come and find forgiveness.
(41-47)We see Jesus understanding of the gospel as he tells this story to Simon.  What do you notice about the two men?  They both owed money and neither could repay it – they are the facts.  Both are debtors both incapable of paying the debt they owe.  These aren’t insignificant sums of money a Denarii was about a days wage – so one man owes two months wages and another about a year and three quarters.
The shock in the story is in how the money lender reacts. You didn’t just write off debts, yet these two men are forgiven their un-payable debts.  The story is a shock story, it’s unbelievable!  But what’s Jesus point?
We live in a society that loves to compare don’t we.  We compare exam results, we compare achievements, what you’ve read, who you know, there’s even a website where you can compare salaries with other people.  But we also do it with morality.
It’s a bit like a ladder we put people like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King near the top, then at the bottom are people like terrorists, murderers…
Where would you put yourself?  When we think about that, we go through a process like this; I’m better than so and so, but not as good as them.
That’s exactly how Simon is operating here.  He’d be up here and she’d be down there.  But do you see what the biggest shock is? Jesus says wherever you are the debt is un-payable – “neither could pay him back.”  Simon’s little sin, as he sees it, leaves him just as lost as the woman’s big sin, just as incapable of rebalancing the scales.
Jesus words were shocking then and they still shock now, it tells us we owe a debt we can’t repay, that being right with God isn’t comparative with one another.  You and I were never nice.  We didn’t just need a bit of tidying up round the edges, a quick make over.
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Preaching and Prayer

Making preaching and teaching a priority doesn’t mean devoting hours and hours to the study, it will mean some of that, but it also means meeting with the people, knowing them, knowing the pressures that they face, the temptations and pressures they feel and their spiritual temperature, so that preaching can be done well and relevantly and applicably to those God has called me to preach to, It’s not being an academic, it’s not being hidden behind a towering pile of commentaries. It is working hard to exegete both the word of God and the people of God.

I try to use the summer time to stop and take stock of where I am and where we are. As I do it’s always helpful to return to first things. Specifically what need to be the first things in my diary on a week to week basis, what are the priorities that we determine the reality of day to day ministry.
There is always lots to do and the good is often the enemy of the best. And so it’s been helpful to sit and try to weigh up this week does my diary reflect what ought to be my priorities in ministry. Acts 6 gives us a bit of a template when we look at the Apostles priorities when faced with the danger of distraction with good ministry but not the most necessary ministry.
There twin priorities were prayer and the teaching of the word. And they acted wisely in engaging others to take on the serving of tables – a good and necessary outworking of the gospel.
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Welcome to Gospel Ministry (Part 2)

The church needs a growing number guardians of the gospel who, strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, recognise false teaching and teach the truth empowered by grace to one another.  Is that you?  Not a heresy hunter, but a gospel of grace teacher.  Taught so that you can teach others in whatever context that is.

Paul’s second call that flows from the first, is to multiply guardians of the gospel. Those who know grace and strengthened by grace contend for and teach the gospel.
It’s not good to be alone.  That’s a universal truth of the human condition, it’s the way God has made us.  It’s true for Adam in the garden and it’s true for us today.  But it’s also true for us in serving Jesus in the church. It’s true for ministers and for ministry leaders. A sense of loneliness in ministry, of bearing the burden and responsibility alone is incredibly isolating and weighty.
Whose job is it to guard the gospel?  Be honest, what’s your first answer?  We live in an age of professionalism, where we pay people to do jobs, take responsibilities, so we don’t have to.  And so in many churches the answer, not in words but in reality, would be it’s the pastor’s job to guard the gospel.  Or maybe the elders job.  And there is some truth in that.  They do have a particular responsibility to do that.  But it’s not solely their responsibility.
In 2 Timothy 2v8 Paul tells Timothy that he must train up others who will teach others.  Timothy needs to train up guardians of the gospel there in Ephesus, how?
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Final Reflections (Job pt 17)

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Seeing Evil in All It’s Terrifying Power; So We Trust God Who is Sovereign Over it All (Job pt13)

Satan rages against God and against God’s people and plans.  We need to be aware of that.  God is good, but sometimes he allows Satan to strike with all his evil intent within the limitations God places on him, though God will use it for his glory and our good even if we never know what that is.  We need to learn to live by what has been revealed to us not what we can see or work out.  God is sovereign even when we suffer.  And he is more powerful than we can possibly imagine.

What God does next in Job comes as a bit of a surprise.  It’s like God is writing the script for a horror film as he unveils two terrifying beasts and describes in detail their power and menace.
Before we get into the descriptions there are two different ways people interpret these descriptions, some suggest that they’re descriptions of the hippo and the crocodile or of dinosaurs.  But as we read through we’ll see why that doesn’t fit.  Firstly the descriptions don’t quite work, but secondly the emphasis on both is that they were uncatchable by man and yet ancient civilisations did catch and kill the hippo and the crocodile – so what God says, the questions he asks in v1-7 would have no punch, in fact they would fall totally flat!  Thirdly, given that God has just used his creation to move Job to withdraw one protest, how would yet more descriptions of yet more animals move Job to repent?  Fourthly most who go down that path place great emphasis on that fact God created these, but God also created the angels and cherubim and seraphim, being created doesn’t limit them to being animals.  And finally how would a crocodile or hippo or dinosaur challenge Job’s discrediting of God’s justice, how would they help Job understand evil and God’s sovereignty?  It wouldn’t.
Instead I think both these terrifying beasts are representations of evil and chaos at work in the world.  God is teaching Job that there are more forces at work in the world that just what we can see and God.  He hasn’t struck Job these malignant forces have, though God is sovereign over them.  So lets look at these terrifying monsters so we see God in his even greater glory and sovereignty.
Behemoth is described(40v15-24) , he’s a created being, he feeds on grass, but has phenomenal strength(16-18) one of God’s greatest creations, yet God can approach it with his sword.  Nothing scares it, nothing can stop it, it lurks hidden and menacing, and no one can capture it or trap it or tame it.
This is beast so formidable that only God can bring his sword against it.  Only God can defeat it.  And the name is significant.  Whereas in chapter 39 God named the beasts, the lion, raven, ostrich and so on, here it’s a give a plural name, behemoth doesn’t mean ‘a beast’, it means ‘beasts’ or ‘superbeast’.  It’s behemoth not as one animal but as a symbolic terrifying lurking untameable threat.  A supernatural symbol of evil, maybe even of death itself as humans are often described as being like grass.
Even more is said in describing the second beast, menacing descriptions pile up in describing Leviathan.  As Job pictures this creature it would be terrifying.  (41v1-11)Leviathan is uncatchable, untameable, and wild.  Harpoons and spears are useless against it, if you fought it you would never do it again(8), there’s no hope of ever subduing it(9), just looking at it is enough to terrify.  No one is fierce enough, strong enough, powerful enough to rouse it.
(10-11)If no one can stand against this beasts, which belongs to God as everything does because he made it, then how much more can we not take on our, and its, creator?
But God isn’t done with his description.  Leviathan (12-24)is designed for war, it’s strong and moves gracefully, thickly covered with impenetrable armour all over, it has no weaknesses.  And it is equipped to destroy, it’s mouth is ringed with fearsome teeth(14), it shoots fire from its mouth(18-20), when it rises even the mighty are terrified(25).  The sword, sword, spear, dart and javelin are like straw or rotten wood.  Arrows, slingstones, clubs and lance just make it laugh because they can’t touch it, it’s as if it just tickles it(26-29).  It doesn’t have a soft underbelly you can strike at; it is utterly invulnerable and invincible.  The greatest weapons man has made don’t even leave a mark.
And it lives in the chaos of the surging seas, the seas that are so proud and powerful in ch 38, are its home, it stirs them up and makes them seethe churning up a wake behind him.
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The Comfort of a Greater Sight of God (Job pt14)

We don’t need our why answered we need God.  We don’t need to know what God is doing in our suffering, what good he will bring about, we need God.  We don’t just need him when the suffering ends but as we sit in the dust and ashes.  And we’ve seen in Job that suffering doesn’t separate us from God, God has always been protecting Job and with Job even when it hasn’t felt like it to him.  If we have God then every other loss is worth nothing.  If we can’t say that yet, we ought to pray for God to open our eyes to who he is like he did for Job.

What do you long for when you suffer?  It’s an end to the pain.  It’s what we tell people when they face operations – it’ll hurt for a while but then be better, it’s what we hope for when we take someone to get treatment for an injury – something that will take the pain away and bring healing.  It’s what we tell people when they grieve or suffer a relationship loss – that the pain fades over time.  It’s one of the reasons why I think we find it hard to know how to help those with mental health struggles – because we know that this may be a long term need, with many dark nights of the soul.
And all too often relationship with God is postponed until afterwards.  We’ll think about God when we feel better, are in a better place, have more capacity.  But Job shows us how wrong that is, that we’re missing something.  Job is in a world of agony, he’s lost not one but all of his children, his wealth, he’s covered with sores and hovers near death, wracked with grief and all he has left is a wife who calls him to curse God and die and friends whose comfort only deepens his confusion, questions and isolation.
That’s where Job is as chapter 42 opens.  He hasn’t been restored he‘s still stripped of everything.  Still has nothing.  That makes his words here all the more amazing.  He’s comforted before he is restored – we must see that.  This is comfort in suffering not comfort from or after suffering.  This is the kind of comfort we need, our friends need, in the white hot heat, or pitch black oppressive darkness, of suffering.
God has just drawn Job’s attention to the two chaos monsters we looked at last week.  Behemoth and Leviathan, savage, uncontrollable, forces of evil and chaos that man cannot tame.  But who as created supernatural beings are on God’s leash, under his sovereignty, only permitted to do what God allows and who will ultimately be destroyed by him.
How does Job react?  (1-3)Firstly, Job confesses God’s absolutely sovereignty and might.  Back in ch38v2 God asked Job “Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?”  Now Job confesses that he was wrong, he spoke from what he knew and could see but “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”
It’s always tempting to think we know what’s going on.  To look at the world and see what we can see and draw conclusions from it.  And so to assume it tells us about God, his love, his actions, his sovereignty or lack of it.  But Job confesses that as he did that he was hopelessly short sighted.  He couldn’t see God’s care of creation, he couldn’t see eternity and God’s plans, and it wasn’t immediately obvious to him that God was sovereign but now he knows.  “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
This morning, are you ready to confess that?  Ready to say to God; Lord I have been wrong.  Lord you are the almighty sovereign ruler who is just and does what’s right, who governs creation wisely and rightly and does things I just cannot comprehend, I cannot see it all, but I know enough of you and your goodness and love and so I will trust in you not in what I see or what I think?
But Job isn’t finished because he’s learned something else(4-5), that he had a limited grasp of God.
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