Spring Harvest: Rob Parsons in the Big Top

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Rob Parsons preached on the second evening in the Big Top – here are my notes from his sermon:

We all need somebody at the gate to love us and give us hope.  John 3:16 – the most hopeful verse in the Bible, all the hopes and fears of men are met tonight in Jesus.  In the letter of 1 John 3:16 we see a coincidence even though the chapter numbers and verse numbers appeared later!

1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you.”  Personal witnessing was key in the church Rob grew up in, but he was never great at it.  We find it hard as so often we go to the mind and not the heart.  The mind is important, but if we do not have it in the heart we have no hope and we can’t share it with others.

Mrs Williams taught Rob “Jesus loves me for this I know” and it changed everything for him as he believed it.  The greatest need of all is to know they are loved.  When the Berlin Wall collapsed we took children in who had been in the orphanages tied to the cot.  They were loved, but many of those children found it hard to give and receive love.  Some of us have been brought up in spiritual orphanages.  We need to hear what is right and wrong, God calls us to righteous living, but we need to hear that we are loved.  Lynne Hybels cried out to God one night after she felt God cracking the whip and the demands – she felt God as few years later say he wasn’t doing that but that he was the Father trying to allow her to love him.

Many of us tonight will struggle with that.  If you have children you take every moment you can to encourage them.  Grand children are so much fun, and much better than children!  We think they’re great even if they’re rubbish.

Is God a music teacher saying yes or no to whether or not you’re in the choir; or is he a piano teacher playing with you and helping you to get confident at that piece.  Do you sometimes feel that you decide God loves you on the basis of arbitrary actions in your life.  He loves you when you’re his enemy and his precious son and daughter – he loves you.

You can have two computers from PC World, they look the same but they’ve been programmed completely differently.  Psychologists say our software is a narrative.  Many of us have a software that says God is disappointed with you.  We find it hard to believe that God loves us, we are told he loves us, the Bible tells us we’re loved – we know that teachers, sports coaches and parents all love us when we do well/behave well – and knowing that God knows us better we fear that we get an F from Him – we are a disappointment to him.

Pray most mornings using a list of lots of people – sometimes it is joyful and sometimes jolly hard work.  God told him whilst cuddling his grandson he doesn’t need the lift – just have a sense of dependency on me!  The big story of the Bible is that God loves you.  All the way through Jesus’ life as he stormed through Galilee people say it is the wrong narrative.  Imagine if there was a man who was dragged to Spring Harvest wondering what it is all about, but suddenly Jesus walks in, walking past the stewards, the speakers, and says “Hey can we have a drink afterwards” – that is Jesus.  Not how much you attend church, read the bible, pray, share your faith.  Steadfast love occurs 147 times in Psalms.

See the yellow blossom of hope tonight that God loves you – you are loved – nothing you do can make him love you more or love you less.

Can you give a reason for the hope?  Yes.  Do not lose heart, do not let the accuser driver you down, you are his precious children, you are loved.  There is nothing to prove.

Spring Harvest: Children’s Ministry – Fresh Thinking

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These are my notes from the session on Children’s Ministry – Fresh Thinking  which was led by Alan Charter from Scripture Union.

Facts from the Today video (max7.org)

  • 50% of the world is young
  • 1/3 of children have not heard of Jesus

Issues in the room

  • Youth and children’s ministry is blossoming with 100 under 18s but no concessions for all-age worship?  What would the best possible faith journey look like?
  • Got no children but an opportunity in the local school.
  • Fair amount with families and children e.g., Messy Church, Toddler Groups, Open the Book, Experience Easter, Experience Christmas but how do we keep it all fresh rather than thinking we have it all sorted?
  • Recruiting volunteers is often an issue – we need to share it with the wider church, e.g. Deut. 6 & 11.

Are children a glass of water being poured into or fire

  • Flames to control
  • Vessels to be filled
  • Igniting
  • Dangerous!
  • Pots to be filled or flames to be fanned

Sometimes we focus too much on imparting knowledge and teaching to children.  Proverbs 22:6 shows it is important but if we are made in the image of God how do we release them to be who God wants them to be.

Craft can be really helpful for conversations, especially with boys, e.g. Carolyn Edwards, Slugs, Dogs and Puppy dogs tails!

How was it for you?

  • Aged 4
  • Aged 7
  • Aged 11

Think on the who, what, and how?

Relationships, stories, experiences, Gideon’s bible, prizes from Sunday school, being allowed to serve.

Fuller Institute – Sticky Faith

Models of ministry

  • Proclamation, e.g. Billy Graham
  • Programmes, e.g. Alpha
  • Presence, e.g. Loving our local school, being the body of Christ in our local community.

Spring Harvest: Lead Zone – part 1

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During my time at Spring Harvest this year I enjoyed the Lead Zone which was led by:

  • Debra Green – Elder at IVY Manchester, Leader of Redeeming Communities
  • Mark Madavan – led a church outside Southampton for 10 years, born in Canada, California, Plymouth, London etc; 44 years old

Jesus in the Gospel

Mt 16:15 – who do people say I am?  It is a simple question with a simple answer, and yet in the church we have lots of definitions for this, even in our head we have lots of different definitions!

Explain the Gospel message, would you be happy to do it?  Four spiritual laws, or the four images.  We often make it formulaic.  That makes Jesus a part player in the story.  The Good News is Jesus Christ.  We need to understand he isn’t a part player but the source of here life comes from.

Tom Wright in his book Simply Jesus challenges us to find the gospel within the gospel.  We need to get to the level below.  The Reformation took control away from the church, and coming back to Jesus was great.  An emphasis on grace, but it pushed Jesus away from the Gospel.  It moved the gospel away from the Gospels and into the realm of Paul’s writings.  It moved away from who was Jesus, what did he do.  We shouldn’t be able to share the Gospel without referring to and quoting Jesus.

Anyone have the moment preparing a talk linked to a parable and then ask why had Jesus said something ay the end that spoils it.  We come with too many answers, not enough questions.

How did Jesus describe himself?  What did he say.  Don’t ignore the rest of the New Testament, but how did they get to the awe of God they had, the cosmic earthly Jesus.   did Jesus say he was?

The context affects who he said he was – the disciples versus non-Jews versus Jews.

What is contemporary culture – is ti us, is it the church, is it non-Christians how do we think about that.

1.2 Jesus in God’s story

Colossians 1 – “all of creation is being redeemed” mentioned seven times in six verses.  From p. 20 in the theme book, p. 26 his actions showing what is the Kingdom of God – that broad view beyond building the church and it’s own narrow definition.  It should change the way we pray – your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.  It is more than our personal salvation, it is all about the way that we live our lives, and God being in all things and redeeming all things.

Have we adopted too narrow a view of the Good News, have we made the cross all about our personal salvation rather than the wider Kingdom views.  Has recruitment become the overarching purpose of the church?

Scot McKnight talks about “gospeling” where Jesus becomes our king by sharing the whole story fr good to be put back into the concept of Good News.

Prayer Network in 1993, praying for the city of Manchester for seven years, in big gatherings four times a year.  Prayed for crime, education, media, law and justice, housing etc.  So would interview people about their real life situations, the This Time Tomorrow concept.  The church became enlightened on what was happening, and as more aware could pray more effectively for God’s kingdom to come on earth – being specific and having understanding.

What is the difference between growing my church and spreading the Kingdom?

  • The Kingdom doesn’t need the church, but the church should develop the Kingdom.
  • Sacred and secular divide was such a negative issue
  • Coming to faith is more important than bums on seats.
  • How do you measure success – people there or reach – sewing seed not reaping corn?
  • The Internet Cafe – called The Vine and Branches Internet Cafe – spoke to people, prayed with them, helped them back into work – a mixture of sharing faith and social action
  • Street Pastors – invariably asked why do we do it.

Leaders are always frustrated as we are barely scratching at what we want to do.  Get used to it as that is what leadership is about.

What did Jesus say, what was his mission – yes the Spirit is on him but it is wider than that, he is always the King of the Kingdom in parables.  Get frustrated to see more of God rather than at God or others.

Spring Harvest: Gerard Kelly in the Big Top

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Gerard Kelly preached on the first evening in the Big Top – here are my notes from his sermon:

Niagara Falls – never been but apparently a good place to go on a honeymoon but slightly confused, thought a good room would be a good place!  The River Slava running through Slovonskibrod and now on border of Serbia after being ripped apart during war.

Rivers play a big part in our life wherever we are.  By the way don’t do a river cruise go on the ocean, do a proper cruise!

Every river you pass begins somewhere else, quite often unexpected.  Stand in the mountains next to something that looks inconsequential, but after a 1,000km this might be a huge great river.  Rivers have a source.  The source of the Nile is very famous as no one knew where it came from.  During the 19th century people were fighting through the jungle and climbing hills to find the source.  That’s the adventure we’re going on this week, where Jesus is the source of our faith surprisingly.  We make the faith into a big colossal movement which bubbled away at the source as Jesus.

The name of Jesus still produces huge reaction in our culture as there is a sense in which it matters.  There is moment in the gospel where Jesus talks to his closest followers and talking about who people thought he was, chatting through the rumours, and then he looks them in the eye and asks “Who do you think that I am?”.  Time to do that and take it out of the gospels and bring it to us.  What do you think about Jesus, not others, not the media etc., but who do you think He is.


That is where the root of your faith has life.  Lots of us have very complex faith lives.  Have to obey a lot of rules, obeying Christian trends.  Sometimes it is really good for us individually to return to the simple question “Who do we think He is?” and what has he done in our life.  Maybe allowing some of the complexity to wash away, and reconnect with the reality of our faith.


Have friends who he’s known for years, but have watched them recently falling apart.  Christian friends saying really hurtful things.  Saying things that suggest you’re not a Christian.  Why have we got to the place where we say my part of the church is so important that I can justify excluding people from the church.  Bogging is great but when you write a blog post, the stronger it is the better you feel about yourself.  People are saying things that they wouldn’t say if everyone was in the same room.  We’re showing non-Christians a confused message.  We’ve got different routes, and rooms like the tributaries.

Maybe if we all thought about where we started, we would discover powerful things.  at the time that Jesus cam there were no Baptists!  No Roman Catholics, or Orthodox believers, no Pentecostals, no Charismatics, no denominations that were adding something before and after the word Christian.  The first church was a Christian church, they didn’t add anything like the word first – that came later!  There is a call to our faith that is separate from our denomination.  Equally you shouldn’t hate it, some of you don’t need our encouragement, especially the church leaders!

You can be really involved in that denominational structure, but don’t believe that that is Christianity – that it is the only bit, come back to the source and see that God is is bring people to his church as Roman Catholics, as Orthodox Christians, there are about 3,6000 denominations in the world.  It’s like the lottery, there are 3,6000 denominations, and God worked it out that you were in the right one.

What unites us is our commitment to Jesus, that is what makes Christianity – it is the movement of those who follow Jesus Christ.  If you will confess that Jesus Christ is the son of God you are God’s children and boy shouldn’t God’s children love each other.

It’s okay to have distinctives, but don’t worship your distinctives then you are in serious trouble.  If you idolise your distinctive then you are in serious trouble.  If you worship together you have a much happier life.

Source Texts

Jesus in the Gospels; what does Jesus in the Gospels look like, is that the Jesus that we’re talking about in our churches.  If not who moved?  Do we need to refresh our understanding of Jesus.  Are we honest enough to say to people that it is because of Jesus that we do what we do – some of us have got too cool to say that.  But people are moved by that.

The Apostles connected Jesus to the story of God, looking at the kingdom of God.  Showing that Jesus is Good News.  The Good News is not about Jesus, Jesus is the Good News, the Gospel.

Be Say Do – Good News is who Jesus is, the words that he spoke, and the actions that he did.  These are the things we are therefore also called to.

We get our identity from our calling to God – that changes everything, and then allowing God to change us.  God doesn’t have much use in the 21st century for spiritual space cadets.  If you walk three feet above the ground open a theme park or a freak show as you are not much use to God or anyone else.  God wants us to be utterly present with our family and friends.  We are listening, engaging and involved in their lives.

What does it look like to speak Good news?  How do you talk about your experience of Christ?  How do you explain it, as in 1 Peter, how do we explain our hope.  How do we share our personal words, those awkward moments over the photocopier.  What happens when there is something that tangibly smells and feels like Good News and have space for people to hear.  People have done surveys of those who don’t like the church are things that we would claim are not part of our church – against women in society, not deeply homophobic, but people think our churches do because of how we act in public, and those who appear to act on our behalf say that, so there is a lot about how we communicate this publicly.

Doing Gospel ministry, done in unity.  Amazing things happening, e.g. Redeeming Communities, XLP, Street Pastors, and so on.  100 young people went and blessed an old brethren chapel by redecorating it.  Three old people had to decide what to do with the chapel when it’s life came to an end.  They hung on for the property, and in the end decided to make it a Christian community centre called The Hub.  The woman from this decision weeped with joy as the young people entered to help renovate this chapel.  How do we make a genuine difference.  We thin, being distinctive Christian is the problem – if you wash their feet and iron their curtains no one is upset if you do it in Jesus’ name, they are upset when you poke them with a stick in the eye.

Pope Francis is showing us this, washing a women’s feet, and she was a Muslim.  Showing unconditional love as they are a person and not for any other reason.  We need to catch up with the programme.  We can’t proclaim one thing and do another.

John 3:16

John 3:16 God so love us that He sent Jesus.  The coming of Jesus is an expression of God’s love, and is transforming us.

Women runs a prayer room in a small town.  Her daughter was married to a Marine who was killed in Afghanistan.  She was left with a young child.  The woman prayed, their daughter is bringing up her son on his own.  How can we make it not horrible, how can we redeem it, asking for God’s opportunity to bless Afghanistan.  Teaches TEFL, a local secondary head had two teenage Afghans as mother was killed, coming to live with father.  They were being horrifically bullied.  She teaches them English, brings them into her home.  They hear they’ve been living in temporary accommodation, so they were homeless, and asked her to be their mum.  She’s now fostering them.  When her grandson who lost his dad to the two Afghans he plays on their laps as they are his friend.  That is God’s love in action.

We can’t love each other, how do we love other people.  Love goes in the opposite direction to hurt.  She felt blessed as God had answered her prayers through all of this.  We dream that as we encounter Jesus we would be those kinds of people.

Spring Harvest: Bible Reading part 1

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The first Bible reading by Gerard Kelly is on 1 John 1:1-2:6, apologies for any typos or spelling mistakes whilst trying to keep up!

John’s text is a little odd, it meanders around and he repeats himself a number of times so helpful to bring your bible and follow them through.  In the old days you used to get points for your big bible, these days we’re too cool to carry our bibles!

John is trying to pull together his own record of what he’s seen, his own video recorder.  We will assume that this is the Apostle John, the same who wrote John’s gospel.  We can’t be certain of it, but it is a good guess, writing around 85-90CE.  He writes as an elder of the church in Ephesus.

He was there when Jesus first called disciples, seen the church begin and spread, but then seen people twist and change the gospel.

1 John 1:1-4

John writes as a witness, one who has seen the story unfold.  You may be familiar with the prologue of John’s gospel; he uses similar phrasing and wording.  Cf. The Message translation of John 1:14.

  • We saw Jesus, we touched Him, he was a physical being, present with us day after day after day for three years.  It is rooted in the historical reality.
  • And yet John has become convinced that this Jesus is God in flesh, he existed before we saw him.  “Existed, and then became flesh”

This is the foundation of his faith, defines the Christian movement – Jesus is both man and God.  It doesn’t mention 13 weeks of membership classes, it doesn’t say what doctrine you have to believe, it doesn’t say much about morality – this is a statement of foundation which unites us.

John was a relatively uneducated fisherman, taken from a simple peasant lifestyle – upper working class background.  But very quickly shows he is a learner with a sharp mind.  As the church spreads to Asia Minor he becomes very aware of the Greek mindset in the Empire.  The Romans had the swords, but the Greeks had the calculators.  The Romans carried on the Greek philosophy, education and triangles!  They loved the concept of beauty and mysterious in the universe and the vastness of it all.  John says that he agrees but I think there is an order to it, and I think that comes from Jesus.  He makes this connection from the philosophy to Jesus – the double confession is what forms the church, but is also the most crucial part of our faith to hold onto in post-modern culture – rather than a good man, a great teaching Rabbi, a man with more God stuff than the rest of us.  John doesn’t say that Jesus is the best man, he succeeded for his efforts, instead he says when he looks at Jesus he sees what God looks like when he reveals himself.

The whole of human history is a vast ocean, everything that it in the ocean matters, but everything that is in the ocean that matters is in the small boat in the huge ocean.

If there was a God who made the world, who choose to rescue us, to initiate our rescue – that is what Jesus looks like.

Did some research of portraits of Jesus.  No wonder people don’t want to join the church if that’s what they think we look like.  Interestingly Google suggests “Michael Jackson portraits” as an alternative link!

Jesus is a rumour, this is the third generation of faith, writing in 85-90CE.

1 John 1:5-7

God, John says is light.  Again links to John 1 with the light being revealed which the darkness cannot overcome.  Think back to the Greeks, and the intelligence of the universe, things being illuminated, and John says that comes from Jesus.

There are three things which John basis his ideas around Jesus

  • Light
  • Life
  • Love

Our culture believing itself to be distant from John asks questions about these issues in mysticism and esoteric thoughts.

Image of rope is to symbolise looping back to one of John’s key themes.  He starts with big themes and then weaves them rather than giving a logical development of 63 different issues.

1 John 1:8-2:2

John has a very big place for the nature of sin, the brokenness of humanity.  It is a huge part of his thinking, reflecting on what Jesus makes possible.  Those hoping for a nice warm up will be disappointed as John won’t allow us to do that.  He wants us to know how crucial the brokenness of humanity is in his thought process about Jesus.

Jesus coming to be the atoning sacrifice.  He moves out of his Greek triangles move, back into his Jewish story mode.  All the disciples, Peter, John, James, and Paul etc. have understood Jesus in the context of their upbringing, the Jewish story.  Atonement is the sacrifice and removing the issue of sin.  John says we need to understand the Jewish context to understand Jesus.  By John saying Jesus came to be a sacrifice for our sins and the world’s sins.  The Jewish ritual of bringing a sacrifice for each time you sin, or of once a year putting a goat into the wilderness with your sins on it, and feeling good temporarily.  John says the whole cycle is replaced once and for all by the event of Jesus giving himself on the cross.

John as a Jewish thinker, deep in his thinking and psyche of who God might be is the narrative of the Exodus.  Sat around the family table once a year to rehearse the narrative of Exodus: we were in slavery but God came and rescued us.  The process of saying God is in human form is deeply radical and offensive, but God rescuing humans is natural due to the Exodus story.  In the Jewish family the oldest man reads the questions – why did God come – and the youngest child answers – to rescue us.  John and his fellow disciples see that is what Jesus had done – to initiate the Exodus but for the whole world.


A particular life that bears universal significance.  The One God, who is infite, is present in finite humanity.  This is important, but challenging in our society where we have soft views of God looking at a sunset of climb a mountain, but to say it appears in a particular place is challenging.  John says it is challenging but what he is claiming from the historically verifiable life of Jesus.  We can rethink the meaning of the gospel in post-modern culture, we can reframe how we say things to help people but you cannot move away from the particularity of Jesus – that in that one life God actually came to us.


A movement from Heaven to Earth.  The initiative the One God takes to rescue his creation in an outside-in manoeuvre.  It is God’s initiative offered to humanity.

God’s intention for them, to draw humans free into intimate fellowship with himself, has come forward in the face of Jesus.”  Tom Wright

Derek Tidball, The Message of the Cross: Jesus at the initiative of the Father has come to put something right.  He is doing this in the context of talking about sin.  In v. 8 if we claim no sin we are fooling ourselves, we are all broken, and it is at that point we stand to understand the significance of the coming of faith.

Leonard Cohen – taking seriously that we’re cracked, we are broken.  Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, talking about the atheistic bus adverts says we can’t just enjoy life, it is simply not true, it is nonsense, no evidence that human beings without intervention do good, they do some good, humans are capable of beautiful things but in the next moment the most atrocious things.  We know that God has made us beautifully but we can’t live it, e.g. Romans 7: I know what I should be but I can’t live it.  We know that there is something in us that we are fighting.  The Prodigal Son owns the weight of his mistakes.

Psalm 51 is the most powerful version of this, not written by a prodigal son or an addict, but by someone who has fought for 20 years to be king, who has always followed God’s guidelines and yet still find there is something wrong in his life.  The problem wasn’t out there, it was always in there.  But he has the courage to come before God and say you need to fix this, not from a place of weakness and degradation but from a place of triumph and strength.  David also wrote Psalm 139, and there is nothing that is contradictory that says we were made by God and yet broken, and neither change – we aren’t not God’s when we are broken and vice versa.  Please don’t say we used to be broken but now we’ve been saved!  They only have to come and live with you for 5 minutes to realise sin doesn’t disappear.  John will tell us how we can deal with it.

1 John 2:3-6

Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.

John makes an interesting connection between belief and behaviour.  It isn’t very evangelical.  We love grace, and then say that how we behave doesn’t matter.  John disagrees, and says your behaviour is a reflection of who you are.  He will look at those he’s writing too, and if he sees no evidence of God in their life he will ask the question how is it true!  Help me today God to be more like Jesus – that’s what the rest of 1 John explains to us – not by trying harder but by surrendering more.  Jesus constantly went to parties, he wasn’t a negative force, he never wrecked a dinner party, he just wrecked funerals – including his own!  People were so glad he was there – do people feel that way about you?