Monday, 30 December 2013

Why I am a Christian

How many of us have really given the title of this blog too much thought? 

Not, why I'm a Christian but why you are, or why you're not (and why you are what you are, if you'd ever go so far as to label yourself at all). Personal faith, like personal politics, isn't part of polite conversation and so we rarely get to know what makes one another 'tick' but I'm interested to find out.

My assumption is that most people don't think they have a faith or at least that most people probably wouldn't describe themselves as 'religious' (what a ghastly word!). 

Now I may be being unfair in saying this next bit but my observation is that most people live their lives with a 'if it seems good and works then do it' philosophy informed by a 'if the majority of people around me agree then it must be right' mentality. It makes sense that my faculties are to be trusted (doesn't it?) and that if the majority believe something to be right then it's likely right (isn't it?). After all, we suppose, we're living in the most advanced time of history, resting on the gathered wisdom of the ages. There's a lot of truth in that of course. 

The trouble is that we do (from time to time) meet other people, from different cultures who believe quite opposite things to us and who experience reality quite differently from us. Fortunately, some might say, most of them have different colour skin than us and live in different parts of the world. They largely keep themselves to themselves (apart from when they make headlines). As such, however I needn't entertain the idea that they may be right about something that I've got wrong... right? Wait, it's probably best to assume that 'right' is merely a matter of perspective. Yes, that's better. I'm not 'right' (that's far too arrogant) I'm simply living out 'my right' and they 'their right'. As long as 'their right' allows me to live out 'my right' then we'll all get along just fine, right? But then how can I be sure that I'm living, well - right?

But I lose track.

If you're still following, well done - I'll get back to the point. 

I once heard someone say that according to sociologists all of us hold to our own particular worldviews, not only because of the majority, but because we're intellectually, existentially (which I take to be a posher word for 'experientially') and socially convinced of them. That is our minds have been convinced, our senses have been convinced and the people we respect and admire approve.  

Try it on yourself with things you hold to, ideas you believe to be true. It works on the little things (why I conduct my love life like I do) but also on the bigger things (why I believe something to be more virtuous than another thing). 

I'm often thinking about the title of this blog. I suppose because it's a step or two out of touch with the world I was brought up in but also because it is increasingly out of step with the society I'm living in. Every day I'm forced to ask the question of myself 'am I deluded?' and every time I make a decision to live in a way that is counter-intuitive/cultural I'm forced to ask it again. 

The question of why I am a Christian can be answered on a purely event by event basis (and I've tried examining that before in an early blog I've written). But I want to examine the question from a slightly more reasoned-out process, sort of way. I'm hardly a great thinker or writer but I don't want that to stop me from adding to a conversation and having a go. 

As it happens my worldview/lifestyle shift away from secular humanism, quaint superstition and evolutionary materialism toward Christian faith falls into the three categories mentioned above: intellectual, existential, social. 

Here's a brief overview within those categories of why I'm a Christian. Feel free to add your own 'why I'm a.... in the comments':  

Intellect: design & resurrection

Design: these were and are the two biggest convincing factors for me. Complex (and incredibly complex) things in the world are not here by random coincidental chance. If I found a watch on the beach I wouldn't conclude it came into being because the waves threw the mechanisms together randomly. Rather I'd attribute the complex design to an intelligent mind. It's the same with our planet and our universe. The universe had a beginning, therefore there must be a beginner a before Big Bang intelligence that/who created the first molecule. 

Resurrection: There are several theories about what happened to the body of Jesus of Nazareth. That the authorities stole his body, that his disciples did, that he didn't really die etc. I find that the most convincing (even with its outrageous implications) is that Jesus rose to life on Easter Sunday. That changes everything.

Experience: inspiration & beauty

Social: well-known & respected people & personally known & respected people who are believers

I'm going to unpack the last two in subsequent blogs, but that's my attempt to try and 'pin down' why I self-identify as 'Christian'.

There's a lot riding on that word 'Christian' and as such it's a risky word to use. It leaves me wide open for misunderstanding... but that also is a subject of another blog.

2013 over and out.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Clifford


Last week when the Storm hit (although after what's gone down in the Philippines can we call it a storm? a draft, maybe) I had the misfortune of losing a fence post. I am not DIY, so I invited a friend over to help with the repair. I put on my old jeans and practised my standing-around-examining-it-noises with sufficient 'hmmm's and 'interesting's. Truth be told, neither me or my friend knew what we were doing and it was only a matter of time until our incompetence was exposed.

In walks Clifford.

My elderly neighbour's son happened to be visiting that morning and he joined us in the garden where we were attempting this repair. He's a practical man is Clifford. It must have been clear that we had very little idea. He started by sharing his opinion with us, which turned into using our tools to give it a go himself, which turned into giving us the right tools we needed, which turned into doing the job himself while we watched on. He demonstrated, we watched, he then gave us a turn at digging and fixing and hammering, and then he took over again. He explained what he thought we needed to do, some of the things we needed to bear in mind and, to finish it all off he gave us the cement and sand we needed to do the work. After all this he left us to finish the job by ourselves.

We hammered, chiselled, dug and mixed cement. Today - three weeks on - the fence post is still standing, I'm as shocked as anyone.

While Clifford was helping us, I remember thinking to myself 'he's discipling me,' this is what true discipleship is meant to be. Discipleship as a word isn't in common usage. It comes from the word 'student' and so to disciple someone is to teach them, to lead them and to 'be discipled' is to learn from, to follow. Jesus had twelve disciples. Twelve men who followed his every move and listened to his every word and then tried to put them both into practise.

In our day Discipling and being discipled has come to mean something other than practically doing and following. In practise it is more like counselling than it is genuine discipling; providing someone with a shoulder to cry on, sitting at the feet of a great bible study partner/guru. Discipling someone has come, in some circles, to mean only listening to someone pour their heart out and then offering your wisdom at the end. These are all valuable parts of discipleship for sure and necessary for us as we live the Christian life but it doesn't look much like how Jesus discipled his friends and how the church discipled one another. For them it involved watching, listening, learning and DOING. They did live together and learnt lessons on the road. We have removed the Doing from Discipleship and it's concerning. It's concerning but it's also damaging. By shifting the emphasis almost completely away from doing and placing it squarely in the realm of counselling we have made it something that fewer and fewer people feel able to do. Discipling someone has become the realm of the long-in-the-tooth Christian, the wise and the faithful only whereas Jesus expected that all of us would be disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28). 

Clifford's discipling of me that morning taught me a lot and every time I look at the fence post we put up I'm reminded of the lessons I learnt.

In small groups/life groups and friendships in the church, in accountability and authenticity questions and ministry apprenticing ensure that you keep an emphasis on action. Model something and let others learn from you, correct you and join in with you.

One model I've been taught to help train leaders seems also a good model for all of us interested in making more disciples:

I do - you watch - we talk
I do - you help - we talk
you do - I help - we talk
you do - I watch - we talk
you do - someone else watches - you talk

Making disciples is the call on every Christian. We can't all be counsellors, but we can all be part of a disciple making community. We can all play our part, use our gifts and look to shape and serve others for the gospel.

 

Monday, 4 November 2013

Wrong. 3 Years On


Every year on this day (the day of his funeral) I like to post some tribute to my dad who died of prostate cancer, not to be morbid or to make you sad but to celebrate his life and give thanks for the joy and love of life he gave me. 

So much has gone on in three years, so many things have changed and new experiences been had. It seems so strange (though this isn't the right word) to think that my dad is no longer a living part of these changes and experiences. It all feels so, well... wrong. I can't find a better word to describe the feeling other than plain old wrong. 'Wrong' when said with some force, through gritted teeth (spoken from the gut with some gusto) goes some way to convey the feeling I mean. My mum and I were discussing only yesterday how this 'wrongness' really only produces unresolvable anger if we're not careful.

We all live, rather foolishly, not ever giving any thought to the eventuality (and inevitability) of our death and for many of us when it does interrupt our lives (through the death of a loved one or some bad medical report report) it leaves us spinning and confused, angry and bitter. The truth is, and this thought has given me much comfort, that whenever my dad would have died whether now or in 40 years time I still would have felt some level of 'wrongness' and anger toward the event. Death, we feel, ought not to be part of life, it is an impostor a crasher of life's party.  

It's wrong that he's gone, because I'm still here and I always expected that while I lived and learnt he would be there to guide and teach. I never thought that the one who taught me to ride a bike wouldn't be there to go riding with. I never really thought that life would tick by just fine without him. The sun still rises and sets each day and he's not here to enjoy it and that all feels so, well... wrong.

It's wrong that he's gone, because I wanted him to watch me win the cup final. I find it strange that given our own mortality we often live our lives stacking up experience after experience and achievement after achievement without giving too much thought to where it all leads, what all our achievements achieve. It leads, of course, to an enlightened and accomplished fully rounded version of ourselves; but then what's the point of 'rounding' if there's no one there to behold the spectacle? Dad not being here to witness the 'flowering' (or perhaps 'coming of age' is a more masculine phrase) of all of my and our achievements and developments feels so, well... wrong. Who will I send the photos of my shoddy DIY to now?

It's wrong that he's gone because he loved life and worked hard in order to enjoy the 'vintage' years. He had sowed into many things and people over many years and he doesn't now get to reap the fruit of it all: The lowering of a golf handicap, the arrival of a grandchild or two or three, going on that world cruise, enjoying being debt free post mortgage, taking up that hobby, discovering that hidden trail through the woods. That a man would work for 35 years and not reap the fruit of his labours feels so, well... wrong

There are many other things about his passing that seem 'wrong' to me but those three are the key ones for me at least. Three weeks ago my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby girl that he'll never meet, ten months ago Amy gave birth to our second son that he'll never meet, Stuart's looking to buy a house that he'll never help to decorate and mum has become an amazingly accomplished and resourceful woman who doesn't burn the dinner any more... a list like this will grow and grow as long as life goes on. Going over and over it all and marking down every event and moment that he'll never be part of is it seems a meaningless thing to do. It doesn't change things it doesn't bring him back, and so why do I do it? Why do we do it? Because it's wrong and recording it all ensures that complaints against the universe get recorded down. I/we feel not only the 'loss' of dad but the injustice of his dying as well. Blogging like this and making lists like that is my way of yelling at Death 'we will have justice! You have robbed of us of life and we will not let it go!'

'But then why do I feel like this?' I ask myself. Why do I make it about more than plain 'loss', why does it feel unjust when people die or don't get from life what I feel they deserve? How is it that we can use words like 'deserve' and 'unfair' at all when talking about a randomly assigned (and undeserved) lot in life? It feels as though feelings like this betray us slightly. They are all a bizarre throw back to a belief system I thought we'd thrown off years ago as a society. Unjust, unfair words that are 'just an expression' people might say, 'it is only sentiment and feeling, it doesn't point to anything larger at all' others might protest. Perhaps. Perhaps it is just the fused thinking of an overdeveloped brain caught between evolved ape and moral creature. 

As a Christian however I would argue differently - but then we've come to expect that. I'd argue that our surprise over the wetness of water is an indication that we were destined for something other than life in a fish tank. That we were destined to a life on land. I would suggest that our disdain of death and our anger over the 'injustice' of it all is a signpost toward the truth that we were never meant to be 'ok' with it in the first place. This isn't how it was meant to be, there is hope; but then I'm not one to preach...

For this year's blog to commemorate the passing of my father I thought I'd post a list of things that remind us of him originally printed on the reverse of the order of service from his funeral. I hope in doing so it helps make vivid in our minds again the wonderful man that he was. Gone but not forgotten. Gone but not really gone. For me he's seen everyday in the mirror whenever I catch my reflection and recognised in the development of my boys, cricketers and explorers the both of them! 

Miss you dad:  
Cricket, the watching and the playing
Makeshift games and competitions (with a fully devised rule system)
Walks that include 'adventures off the beaten track'
Dining out and having to move table several times before being sufficiently satisifed that the table didn't wobble
Holidays in Italy
The Times Newspaper
Midweek football on TV and the oft quoted 'the best view in the stadium isn't in the stadium at all it's here on the sofa from my tele'
Paddington Bear for Becs
The Lord Mayor's show and other special events on TV we just 'had' to watch
Helping us with our homework
Planning school lessons with mum
Running junior squash teams
War films
Sea Kayaking
Chess and my much loved Skype games with him - he always won!
Watching us play sport
Easter hockey in Lowestof
Making Bird Boxes
The Archers
Classical music
Conn Iggulden books
A love of history
Nelson and Wellington
Films: Zulu & Waterloo
Cat Stevens
Blockbuster Epics on TV with the sub turned up so loud things fell over and broke
Telling us to 'sssh' during TV programmes
Always being ready on time
Bike rides
walks
walks
walks
Fairway_lad
Golf spreadsheets
His brown leather jacket
Cricket on the radio
Family meals
Taking Becky in 'small doses'
Calling rush hour congestion 'tea-time traffic'
An enquiring mind
A hunger for knowledge
Telling us 'time will heal' (I'm not sure he was right on that one though)
An amusing fact that Dad would have enjoyed was that he died on the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar - he always did love his history!
Owch. That hurt to write.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Transformation by separation

Christian inscriptions from underground Rome

Reading recently about early Christianity and the development of the Jesus' movement into what we now know as Christianity I was provoked and challenged by the devotion of the early Christians. They were faithful to Jesus to the point of not only being misunderstood and slandered but also rejected and executed.

The early Christians, it seems, understood in a way we don't that they were a holy people a 'called out' people. A people, as 1 Peter 2 puts it, 'for the Lord's own possession'. It was clear to all in the church that their primary calling was to Christ and if that meant isolation from the culture, so be it. Devotion to their Lord against all the odds (and against all the laws) was what they were called to and as a result a chasm opened up between Christians and the populous. They met in secret, worshipped an invisible god (hence were hated as 'atheists'), held 'love feasts' attended by their brothers and sisters (some of whom were also husband & wife) and they ate the body and drank the blood of their founder (in the communion meal). They abstained from popular sport, refused to attend the games, wouldn't sacrifice to the emperor and they avoided national festivals/celebrations that involved worship/sacrifice to pagan gods. For a society saturated in gods the apparent 'aloof-ness' and distinction of the Christian god (a weak carpenter's son who was executed as a criminal) made no sense to almost everyone.
Arrogant Christians? More like divergent rebels threatening to upset the peace.

In the centuries after Jesus' resurrection Christians experienced persecution at the hands of the state and their fellow countryman. The stories from 64AD of Nero's persecution of Christians are infamous; Christians thrown to lions, burnt as torches to light up the streets and stitched into the skins of dead animals before being thrown to a pack of dogs. One writer from the time revealed the attitude toward Christians when he wrote: 'if the Tiber floods the city or if the Nile refuses to rise, or if the sky withholds its rain, if there is an earthquake, a famine, a pestilence, at once the cry is raised: 'Christians to the lions.''

Christians after the pattern of the apostle Paul set about 'infiltrating' culture with the gospel. They didn't want to live separated from society. They sought to engage the culture and inform people that despite appearances and propaganda Caesar wasn't in fact 'Lord' - Jesus was. In pluralist pagan Roman society submitting to Christ as Lord rather than Caesar, or worshipping Christ as God rather than Aesculapius or Artemis meant that you had to look and live very differently. Christians refused to offer even a pinch of incense once a year to the emperor and they suffered the reproach of all peoples for it.

They were faithful to Christ as God above all gods and Lord above all Lords. Out of commitment to Jesus as Lord they worked differently, married differently, behaved as singles differently, raised children differently. They employed differently, used their money differently, cared for others differently and they approached death differently. They embraced chastity or fidelity as the only options in sexuality in a day that was even more promiscuous than ours and they spoke out against the killing of babies at a time when it was even more socially acceptable than it is in ours. They refused to celebrate pagan festivals even if all the supermarkets were selling their goods but in so doing they peppered the world of the common people with a living example of what devotion to Christ looked like.

By and large, in an age where very few people had free access to education and the chance to exert influence this was the lot of the average Christian. It was a life of faithfulness to Christ in the face of hostility from the world around them. It was a life of influencing society at the 'grass roots' level and since society couldn't stop them or mould them into its image, over time the separation of the Christians had a transforming effect on the world of its day.

There were Christians who had the opportunity for influence in the upper echelons of society but they were the exceptions. Men like Irenaeus of Lyons, Clement of Rome, Igantius of Antioch and Origen of Alexandria petitioned emperors, argued the Christian case and defined orthodox truth. They gained a foothold on the intellectual life of the society that paved the way for change at an empire-wide level, but they were the exceptions.

I'm provoked by the example of the early Christians. As a believer I feel the temptation to try at all costs to make Christianity palatable and understood and reasonable to the world around me. I believe that trusting Jesus with every area of my life from my sex life to my financial dealings to my parenting and work ethic makes the most sense of all the facts. It is reasonable and wonderful to follow Jesus but if I'm not careful I can over emphasise the 'reasonableness' of Christian ethics, to the point that Jesus' distinctiveness and 'apart-ness' can be missed or forgotten all together. I want people to know that I'm not an unthinking superstitious 'religious person' and I want people to know as well that I'm not a pre-judging, narrow minded fundamentalist. These aren't misguided aims given the current state of things and popular attitudes to Christian faith but... I want people to know and to see that I am sold out to Christ above everything else. He comes first, his way comes first. You see, at times my heart aches with a painful longing and excitement to know him more and I want to celebrate and embrace the distinctiveness of the Christian call. I want to do it in a way that makes it clear I'm not called to 'better' living or even 'higher' living as though Christian virtue and morality was a superior way of life. I don't pursue Jesus' way in my life out of some moralistic 'my way is better than your way'. I want to embrace the radical call to separation because Jesus is alive and deserves my highest devotion, because he's won my heart, because I've become his student.

Christians - let's look like followers of Christ. Often we look and taste like everyone else (although if we're honest a little less balanced and considerate of others than our non-Christian counterparts). Does Christ command our highest devotion? Are we willing to trust him and go his way even when it stands in direct contrast to the beliefs and practises of our society? Will we uphold a biblical view of marriage, of sex, of the unborn? Will we pursue Jesus' attitude toward our finances and our desire for justice and retaliation? Will we embrace integrity and love and willingly subject ourselves to every human institution? In short, if we were to go on trial in a court of law for being a Christian, could they find enough evidence to convict us?

Let's learn from the faithfulness to Christ of our forefathers/brothers/sisters. Let's learn from them and emulate them in our day. Jesus not the media/politicians/supermarkets gets to set our priorities.

Friday, 16 August 2013

It Matters

James 5:16

It's not a Bible verse that's spoken of too much but it's important nonetheless. We live in a day where almost anything goes and in an age of increasing anonymity and lack of accountability. I can look at what I want to, when I want to. More and more we're encouraged to behave like mini chiefs in a fiefdom. We're told we can order our worlds without any real concern for a wider family or community; that you are number 1.

You are king
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.                                                                                          -- James 5:16 
It's important we take this verse seriously. Important not only because of a Christian's call to be part of a community, but important because of the nature of sin.

We like to think of ourselves as free to be and do whatever we please but Jesus tells us that 'whoever sins is a slave to sin.' John 8:34

Sin enslaves

My pride tells me that I can do what I like when I like and that this is freedom, that I'm a king; but Jesus tells me that sin's grip traps me and holds me prisoner, that I'm a slave.

James' command to the church matters. It matters because sin kept in the dark grows, like bacteria but confession kills it by bringing into the light. Striking a match and shielding it with my hands protects the flame and allows it to grow. Bringing it out into the open into the elements extinguishes it. Hidden sin grows and as it does its power to destroy and cause serious injury to ourselves and others increases with it. Sin's fire exposed by confession is extinguished.

When I used to watch BayWatch (for lifeguard researching purposes only you understand) and people were rescued from the sea, CPR was performed. However before air could be blown into someone's lungs the water first needed to be emptied from them. When the lungs are full of water, oxygen can't help. Confessing sin empties from our lives the things that threaten to drown us. Once empty we can then receive truth, prayer and spiritual oxygen back into our lungs.

James 5:16 matters. It stops the bacteria of sin, the fire of sin and the ocean of sin from drowning, burning and polluting us.

Confess your sin to one another and pray for one another and you 'll be healed.

How you do it and with whom is up to you but for goodness sake don't keep sin in the dark and don't put yourself above accountability and reproach.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

dm: initiative



Disciple making involves several 'i's. If we truly believe that our calling as Christians is to both be a disciple of Jesus and to make disciples of others then it ought to affect the way we do life and the way do church. I'm passionate about us doing the Christian life together in a new way (which is really the oldest way around).

Several 'i's of disciple making are: initiative, inconvenience and intentional. Let's have a brief look at each one in turn:

Initiative

No one can live the Christian life for you and being a disciple is not a passive activity. By its very nature it involves an ongoing process of following and learning. Jesus told his followers to 'go and make disciples' and indicated the ongoing nature of being a disciple when he told them to do this by 'teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.' Teaching them implies an ongoing learning and applying and living out.

ed=dm means that 'ed' (every disciple) is to take initiative and demonstrate self-leadership both in the way that we are students of Jesus and in the way that we make students out of others.

We're not all expected to be entrepreneurial disciple makers who are forever coming up with fresh and exciting ways to help others grow in God but we are all supposed to use our God-given gifts to influence and invest in others, as part of the community of a local church. Phil Moore puts it like this:
Christian maturity isn’t measured by our talk but by our willingness to serve the needs of others. Straight to the heart of John, p260
Disciple making involves activity and it involves each one of us saying 'I'm going to take this call seriously'. It involves a praying, sharing, giving, attending, inviting and doing of life with other people. It involves us getting our diaries out and booking some things in. It involves us making the first move to spend time with others. It doesn't have to mean that we become busier with more activity only that we do the same activities in a new way.

Disciple making involves initiative taking. It involves some of the same stuff that motivated Jonathan to take on a Philistine garrison single-handedly on only a whim:
Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armour, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.”  1 Samuel 14:3
Taking initiative as disciples of Jesus means saying something similar to Jonathan here. It involves us saying 'it may be that the Lord will work for us (or through us)'.

I grew in God and stopped living a 'stuck' Christian life when a someone in the church I attended said to himself 'perhaps God will use me, maybe I've got something to offer' and he began encouraging me, challenging me and praying with me. My life changed because he took his call to be a disciple maker seriously.

How can you take initiative today to make disciples of those around you whether they're currently following Jesus or not? What can you do to love, lead and point people to Jesus? Disciple making begins the moment we start using our initiative and stop waiting for permission and stop waiting for someone to 'go first'.

ed=dm

Jez

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Young Leader:

On Tuesday I'm sharing in a seminar at NewDay for 10mins on a couple of valuable lessons I've learnt as a young leader in the church. It got me thinking and since 10mins disappears faster than a sneeze, here's some things I consider significant (in no particular order).

Iron sharpens iron. The familiar and oft quoted proverb goes; as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Instrumental to my growth as a Christian has been key relationships with friends and mentors. As a young Christian just starting to take my first steps into faith I had a number of people come along side me and input into me. Four people will always be dear to me in this respect. Andy Chev my mentor and friend (and best-man at my wedding) was the first person to mentor me in an intentional way. We'd meet regularly for catch ups and coffee (and Pro on the PlayStation) and I'd get a chance to air my doubts/frustrations/sin/desires/concerns and he'd listen, challenge, correct, answer and pray with me. If he hadn't done that, I don't know where I'd be with God now. T

hree other people were friends of mine who went to Uni with me. Dan, Geoff & Daf. We'd meet to pray, share difficulties and concerns and spur one another to trust Christ even more and dare to believe for more. One night in particular always stands out in my mind. Daf and I were chatting about the gift of languages in 1 Corinthians. I'd recently been filled with the Spirit and was enjoying being able to pray in a new prayer language I'd received. We prayed for him to be filled with Spirit, he was, he prayed in a new prayer language. We then walked to Geoff's house and prayed with him. He was filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues. Finally we visited Dan. We prayed with him an he too was filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues. God birthed something in each of us that night and started a fire that is still burning to this day. It was also on that night and during that first year at Uni that I learnt the value and truth of that proverb.

I'm in a group of 4 in my church in Seaford. We meet to confess sin, challenge one another, encourage one another and pray for one another. Pursue God with friends. 

Linked with this are two other things that I consider valuable in leadership. The first is an allusion to the story of Jacob wrestling with God in the OT. After wrestling all night God touches Jacob's hip and puts it out of joint. For the rest of his life Jacob walks with cane, he leads with a limp. Lead with a limp. Be aware of your weaknesses, don't hide them or deny them and don't try to lead like the world would flawless like Hercules. This piece of advice seems to make intrinsic sense to me. Sense since I am leading not as part of the world's system but as part of God's kingdom. In the kingdom of God the servant is the greatest and God's power is made perfect in our weaknesses. Knowing my 'limp' or weakness is a cause for celebration. It is what ensures that I don't leave the kingdom of God. That last sentence may seem strange but I feel its truth. I have a choice as a leader everyday. Do I lead as the world would have me lead trusting in my own abilities and resourcefulness believing that I can 'be the best', or do I lean on him, trust him, walk humbly before him and lead with a limp. Honest, dependant and sincere leadership. Leadership that isn't appointed by man but given by God.

The second leadership lesson from the 'iron sharpens iron' insight has to do with the threat of individualitus in the life of a leader. The potent virtue of individualism that underpins so much of our culture's world-view infects us all. It isn't so much our culture's world-view as it is the world created by sin and evolution. A world where survival of the fittest rules and history is told as the story of great men an women, individuals who rose above their station. It should not be so for a leader in God's kingdom. 'You are the light of the world and the salt of the earth.' Jesus told his disciples meaning not you Peter or you John but you my disciples, you the people of God. You are together the light of the world, you are together the salt of the earth. Together we are able to do far more than any individual can apart or alone. Leaders in the kingdom of God know this well and are aware that their role is to rose the troops and sound the alarm to mobilise God's people on mission.

Iron sharpens iron, lead with a limp and declare war on individualitus.

The rest are shorter :)

You are what you eat. Trust your conscience and feed what the Holy Spirit hungers for. Don't watch what your conscience is uneasy with and don't be surprised when God seems distant when you do. Do fill yourself with the things that God delights in, that excites your spiritual senses. Hunger for God, consume his word, waste time in prayer. Boot the right software into your system each day.

Jesus isn't a colleague I work with/for but my saviour, friend and life source. Obvious I know but invaluable all the same. The longer I draw a salary from the church the more this becomes something I need to watch. Don't get your life's energy from working for Jesus or even working with him (as magnificent as co-labouring with Christ is). No, get your satisfaction, soul delight and life's joy from the wonderful multi-coloured, multi-layered gospel. Find new ways of ensuring that it catches the sun's light and displays more of its glory. Never allow familiarity to breed contempt here.

Doubt isn't an enemy to faith, it's a bridge to more faith. So I don't mind saying that I doubt often. There, I've said it - will you still listen to me? I find it hard to know how anyone cannot. There is so much about the world that I don't understand, so much about faith that baffles me and God that confuses me. What should I do then? Conclude it's all nonsense since I can't fully understand it or exhaust all my questions? No, I won't. Jesus is alive, he did defeat death, Satan has been conquered, this world is not all there is - hope is real and to be trusted. I will stare down the barrel of any question or doubt I may have since I know the above to be true. I have found that wrestling, agonising and sweating over questions and doubts I have only ever brings me (eventually) into more faith and greater joy. Besides, if I've been conned I want to know and though it would come at great cost to my life and cause a great deal of confusion to my family (I'm not blind to this) I would like to think that I would pursue truth wherever it lies at whatever its cost or implications might be.

Be a Christian hedonist: So we're all pleasure seekers the only question is if we seek our happiness in shallow hollow places or in the source of all joy itself. Muddy puddles of sin and disenchantment or the living water himself? My ability to lead well is directly proportional and intermingled with my happiness in God. Besides George Muller was right, this is my first and greatest duty each day.

Heroes aren't born, they're built. Ah, my love of films and bumper sticker theology. I thank the tagline on the Iron Man poster for this one. I used to think that unless I 'popped' out as a ready made wise and respectable leader then I wasn't meant to be one. I see now the foolishness of that idea. We're all born with gifts and abilities and the natural God-given born into being-ness of those gifts is on a spectrum. Some people have a much more natural and intuitive leadership gift than others but all of us need to grow and exercise or gifts and lean into God to gain the wisdom and experience we need to to use those gifts as he would have us to. Growth and effectiveness comes when we a: surrender our gift to God recognising that it came from him anyway and b: muck in, pray and be ready for some hard work to grow that gift to become fully formed and mature. Learn the lesson of Tony Stark; heroes aren't born, they're built.

Learn from others, listen to others, make your own mistakes.

Things I'm starting to appreciate now:

Learn the value of percolated coffee, and ideas for that matter.

Lead out of what God's put in you. What are you wired like? What do you have a passion for?

Thursday, 18 July 2013

ed=dm


In the New Testament the most commonly used word to describe a follower of Jesus is a disciple. There are 7 different titles given to explain who/what a Christian is but disciple out ranks them all for sheer volume of usage. The word is used as a formal noun to refer to the twelve apostles but from Acts onwards it's used simply to mean any number of people who are part of the church: Acts 6:2 'the twelve summoned the full number of disciples...' 6:7 'the number of disciples increased greatly'. It seems that 'disciple' is the word of choice to refer to any average Joe-saint or christian-Christian.

If you're a follower of Jesus (or the Way), a Saint, a Christian, a brother/sister in Christ, or one who 'calls upon the name of Lord' (or whatever you like to call yourself); you are a disciple. A disciple is a student and an imitator and as such we are, each of us, called to imitate and learn from Jesus. In Matthew 28 Jesus makes an incredible claim to be in overall charge of the world and then instructs his disciples to go and 'make disciples' from every nation on the planet. Jesus and the New Testament makes it quite clear; every disciple is to be a disciple maker.

Now, upon reading that, many will instantly and subconsciously replace the word 'disciple' with 'convert'. The thought being that the two words mean largely the same thing. 'My job,' people think 'is to turn unbelievers into believers' and since very few of us do that too often many of us find ourselves living under a cloud of guilt and heaviness as though we're falling as disciples. Thinking like this heaps a whole load of heaviness onto an otherwise light and easily-yoked Christian existence.

Let me quote Jesus' commission in Matthew 28 in full:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'                 Matthew 28:19-20.
Two questions come to mind: Did Jesus' statement apply to all believers every where down through the ages or specifically to those people up the mountain in Galilee? and, did Jesus have in mind for us to go and make 'converts' to Christianity when he gave that instruction?'

In response, I think the answer is 'specifically and all' and 'yes, but also'. Let me explain.

Everything Jesus said to any other specific group of people was intended to be heard by and applied by, specifically, those people. Having said that we see from Paul's life and the life of other believers in Acts that every one of them took it upon themselves to 'make disciples'. When Paul visited new places and discovered believers already there it was because the saints who'd got there first quite simply got there first. Where they went they shared with anyone who'd listen to them, the news about the crucified and risen messiah. It's been said by church historians and sociologists that the spread of the Christian faith was due more to the 'gossiping on street corners' of everyday believers than it was to do with the 'shouting from the roof tops' of Christian leaders. Every Christian is called to be a disciple who makes disciples.

Secondly Jesus did mean for them and us to 'get people across the line of faith' but he also meant much, much more. Many of us can quote the front half of the commission from memory 'go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,' where, I suspect, many a Christian's memory fails them is in the quoting of the back half '...teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you, and behold I am with you even until the very end of the age.' This is a problematic memory fail as it imposes to narrow an understanding of what disciple making is all about. The disciple that Jesus has in mind for us to make is much more than 'a line crosser' or a census box ticker. A disciple is a learner, a follower and an imitator of Christ and every Christian is called to be both a disciple and disciple maker: ed=dm.

This means that each and every Christian is to intentionally play a crucial and much needed role in disciple making. It means that between us as the church we ought to be very good at harnessing all of our gifts and abilities to make disciples. Disciples who learn and grow and give and take risks and make other disciples.

The descriptions and metaphors of the Christian (life)  in the New Testament are almost always active: disciple, follower, believer, athlete, soldier, farmer. Notice: a Christian is not simply 'one who believed on Christ' (past tense) but one who 'is currently and ongoingly believ-ing' (present and future tense). With that in mind, we never stop being students/imitators/followers of Jesus and therefore (since it is part of being an imitator/follower of Jesus) we never stop making other students/imitators/followers of Jesus either.

So, what does it mean to 'make disciples'? What does it mean for every one of us to be a disciple maker? Typically it's not something we talk too much about and yet, given the commission, it ought to be something that each of us are mindful of and working towards in our day to day lives. It isn't something that only a handful of Christians are called to do; church leaders, life group pastors or staff members perhaps - it's for every disciple: ed=dm. 

In 2003 the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity published a report entitled 'Imagine How We Can Reach the UK.' The research project involved hundreds of questionnaires and consultations with church leaders. The report concluded:

"The reason the UK church is not effective in mission is because we are not making disciples who can live well for Christ in today's culture and engage compellingly with the people they meet... Jesus had a 'train and release' strategy while overall we have a 'convert and retain' strategy."


Life on life discipleship in cafes, pubs and places of work that involves study, activity, prayer and honest conversation is what's needed. What we need is more risk taking, schedule reshuffling, initiative taking discipleship.The truth is that we'll never build the kind of church we carry a longing for until each of us personally rediscovers and takes responsibility for disciple making.

ed=dm. Do you believe it? Are you doing it?

This is the subject we're digging into at Kings Seaford this summer. We're going to be discovering how every one of us already has everything we need to make disciples and we're going to be looking at how corporately and individually we can carry out the commission Jesus has given us.

Join us through August as we continue to be the church we want to build.


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Honour: up, IN

the second in a three part blog series on Honour (Up, In, Out).


Honour yourself:


After honouring God comes honouring ourselves. The logic is basically that since we ought to honour the things that God honours and since God has honoured us, we also ought to honour ourselves.  To honour something, we said, is to treat it with the worth or value that it deserves. A significant way that we honour God is by valuing and giving worth to the things he values and considers worthy.

The creation account in Genesis reaches its poetic crescendo with the creation of Adam and Eve. Up until this point in the narrative God calls everything he's made 'good', but once he's finished with making man and woman it says: 'God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good.'

The Bible says that God made man and woman in his 'image and likeness'. It's not that God looks like a man but that we somehow in some unique way represent him on the Earth more than anything else he's made. It is not that God has hair or two arms and legs but that God is creative, moral and concerned with justice; as we are.

Each of us, as a result of this, has intrinsic value and worth because of the mould we've been carved out of, because of the one whose image we bear. This is where we get out dignity from. It's not because we're the most evolved creatures on the planet, nor because we've invented impressive technologies or weapons or have learnt to govern ourselves. It's not because we have invented systems and 'isms' that we are praiseworthy but because God made us in his 'image and likeness'. We are image bearers.

Just as bank notes carry the image of the Queen so we, in some mysterious way, carry the image of God in us and whenever we act in praiseworthy, admirable ways we prove this. Indeed some of the most valuable characteristics and behaviours of people make headlines. Bold acts of self-sacrifice and compassion and some of the great moral stands people have made resonate with us and point to this reality. Think of famous individuals like Luther King, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Mandella, Tutu & Bonhoeffer to name only a few. We value their daring and courage because of the way they, acting out of their God-imganess, mirrored their maker by their actions.

Our trouble is that it has become acceptable (almost virtuous?) for people to dishonour themselves. Self-deprecating humour is especially popular and we find ourselves being suspicious of anyone who seems pleased with their own abilities. We watch television programmes like The Apprentice in which self-made business men and women compete to win a lucrative business deal and we cringe at their arrogance and self-infatuation. 'I don't want to be like that!' we conclude and so we react against it.

The problem comes however when we, scared of being labelled 'pretentious' or 'arrogant', fail to recognise any of our gifts and abilities at all. The problem comes when we go further, when we beat up on ourselves, put ourselves in the dirt and abuse ourselves. We throw pity parties and invite people to join us. We hand out party poppers and streamers and we play 'pin the insult on the straw man potrait of ourselves'. We dishonour what God honours and therein lies a problem.

Honour yourself. Honour in.

In Psalm 8 the writer is describing the marvel of God's creation, the heavens, the moon and stars. He then shifts focus and asks the question 'and what of mankind? What are we that you should care for us?' The answer:

...you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; and you have put all things under his feet.
We have been crowned with glory and honour (there's our word). The New Testament writer to the Hebrews picks this up and applies it to Jesus as humanities' ultimate representative, but it's also true generally of each one of us. God honours you.

Psalm 139 says:

You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 
Imagine if I came home from work one day and upon being handed a painting that one of my children had done I proceeded to rip it up and trample on it. It would be a deeply insensitive thing to do and no doubt my child would feel ever so slightly aggrieved, and with good reason. I could protest and say 'but I only dishonoured your painting, I didn't dishonour you.' But we all know that wouldn't make any difference. To dishonour the painting is to dishonour the painter.

Dishonouring yourself dishonours God.

We've said that something is as valuable (or honourable) as what someone is willing to pay for it. The Navajo blanket was always valuable but it only became treated as valuable when someone was willing to pay a huge sum of money for it. I imagine its owner went home from the Roadshow that day treating the blanket very differently from how he did when he arrived!

In 2012 Chelsea football club paid a huge sum of money for Fernando Torres. He became the Premier League's most honoured and valuable player, not because his performance on the pitch warranted it but because someone deemed him worthy enough to pay £50 million to have him in their squad. £50 million! Incredible. Imagine if someone was willing to pay that much money for you, you'd feel pretty honoured I expect.

In Romans 8 Paul asks the question 'If God is for us, who can be against us?' He then explains his logic:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also along with him graciously give us all things?
God paid a high price to redeem and restore each one of us. Jesus paid the ultimate price. He laid his life down for us. He allowed himself to be treated as a common criminal, strung up on cross outside the city for all to see and shake their heads at. He did it to bring us to God. He paid a high price and proved our great worth and value to God.

We get our sense of worth and dignity from all kinds of different places. We say to ourselves 'I'm valuable because...' and then we fill in our own blanks. 'Im valuable because... I'm paid £X thousand a year, or because she finds me attractive or he does or because I'm better than them at this or that.' We don't use the language of 'I'm valuable because' but by the way we behave when we're not paid that amount or loved by them or able to do those things reveals that we're looking to those things to gain a sense of worth.

Do you know that you're worth more than that? More than a Torres signing fee, more than a respectable salary. You're worth more than the things you give yourself to to make you feel valuable.

For many men the internet is a source of much temptation and distraction; addiction to pornography has never been so high. The trouble with pornography is that not only does it dishonour women (people of  value and worth, made in God's image and likeness), it dishonours men as well. It traps them in a cycle of sin and shame that robs them of the dignity and worth that is theirs in Christ.

Alarmingly the biggest killer of men in the UK aged 19-49 isn't cancer or alcohol or drugs, it's suicide. Every year thousands of young men are taking their own lives, lost in a sea of meaninglessness and despair. Convinced that life is too difficult and fruitless to go on with.

You're worth more.

Ladies you're worth more than some men would have you believe. Worth more than a cheap date and a cheap night of intimacy that leaves you feeling empty. You're valuable, now. You don't need to become a size whatever or buy the latest whoevers, you're valuable as you are.

God knows you, knows what you're really like. He knows the person you are when you're at your worst, when no one else is around. God is not fooled by your sin or caught off guard by your behaviour. He knows you and knew you before you were born. He knew what he was doing when he sent his son to die for you.

You're to be honoured and valued and not because you're a unique, pretty, never-before-seen human snow flake but worth more because you're made in the image of God and Jesus died for you. This isn't pop-psychology with a few Bible verses thrown in for good measure, this is truth from the Bible and truth that we don't often live in the good of.

When explaining how God the Father felt toward a lost and rebellious humanity Jesus told the story we know today as The Prodigal Son. In the story the younger of two sons approaches his Father and asks for his inheritance now. Instead of waiting for his dad to die he says, 'give me my share, now.' Shocking to the hearers at the time and shocking today. Perhaps what's more shocking however is what happens next. The Father consents, he gives his son what he asks for. The son leaves, goes to some far flung land and indulges himself in every vice available. He quickly spends his way through his dad's fortune and finds himself penniless. He gets a job working on a pig farm, longing to eat the food he's feeding them with; rock bottom.

Imagine the shame this boy must have felt. He was the son of a wealthy man, he had status and good standing in the community. Now he's covered in pig's muck, hungry and without a penny to his name. 

He has an idea, rehearses an apology speech and heads home to his Father. 'Perhaps,' he thinks 'my dad will let me be a servant in his house.' Frankly it's more than he deserves.

Jesus then describes the moment of his return like this:

While he was still a long way off his Father felt compassion and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said 'Father I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants. 'Bring quickly the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.' and they began to celebrate.

Incredible.

When you became a Christian your shame was taken away and your honour was restored. God put a proverbial robe on your back and a ring on your finger. For every part of you that feels broken or shameful, Christ died.

You need to stop. Stop cursing yourself, rubbishing yourself and harming yourself. Stop and agree with God, you're to be honoured. If you can't agree with God or believe God, who can you believe? You? Your friends? Seriously, you think you or your friends have a better read on reality than God? The clue's in the title.

Some of you reading this may be thinking 'yeah I want to honour God.' Well, that involves being thankful to God for who he's made you to be. It may be hard to do, especially at first if you've spent years dishonouring yourself. It may be hard, but you need to start doing it. Honour God by honouring yourself. Honour up and honour IN.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Honour: UP

Part 1 of a 3 part blog on honour: Up, In, Out.

In 2001 on the American Antiques Roadshow a startling discovery was made. A blanket that for many years had sat on the back of an old rocking chair was valued in the region of $350 000-500 000.

The owner had thought it was simply a family blanket, passed down a generation or two but in actual fact it was Navajo Indian.  It once belonged to a man named Kit Carson, a famous frontiersman and Indian fighter. 

The blanket was extremely valuable but for many years its value wasn't recognised, it was overlooked.

I think that deep down all of us believe that if we search long enough we'll unearth our very own rare antique and become billionaires along with Del Boy and Rodney. Oftentimes people refuse to throw things away. Who knows maybe one day they'll be the ones with a gold chair when the music stops.

The truth is that we can all miss the value of something. Whenever we throw something away there's always that part of us that questions what we're doing - it'd be tragic not spot the value of something and throw it out. Some things are easy to spot the value of. If you were to empty your pockets out and a pound coin fell on the floor along with a penny, there's no question which one you'd pick up first. Other things are less easy to spot, like the Navajo blanket or Del Boy's watch.

The Bible has a lot to say about the value of things. It uses the word 'honour' and makes the bold statement that the reason so much of the world is in such a mess is simply because we haven't honoured the things that deserve to be honoured. We've dishonoured honourable things and treated with contempt the most valuable things on the planet.

In Paul's letter to the church in Rome he says (talking about mankind at its beginning):

'For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools... Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creatures rather than the Creator who is blessed fo ever!'

According to the Bible a lot of the mess we find ourselves in stems from the simple fact that we haven't honoured God as he deserves to be honoured. We haven't seen the value of the most valuable thing in all the universe. Paul says that not honouring God, led to trouble for us.

Honour God


God is worthy of all honour as our creator and saviour. In Revelation 5 we're given a glimpse into the presence of God, we're shown what goes on behind the curtains into the unseen realm:

Then I looked and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, 'worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!'

We ought to honour, what is honoured in heaven by the angels. Heaven honours the lamb Jesus and declares that he deserves and is 'worthy' of power, wealth, wisdom, might, glory and honour.

Honour up.

Honouring God is the de-misting of our glasses, it enables us to see clearly. It's then that we're able to recognise the value of everything else. Paul's comment in Romans was that humanity's hearts were 'darkened' by not honouring God rightly. Honouring God, then, dispels darkness.

When Jesus called his disciples he told them to leave what they were doing and follow him instead. His call wasn't simply to consider a career change, or an invitation to go on a long walk, it involved what they were spending their lives on. In essence Jesus' call was to 'spend your life on me'. He called them to put their trust in him, look to him for security and provision rather than their employment or business. He called them to give the best years of their youth to him. He called them, essentially, to honour him with everything they had. The call and their willingness to follow serves I think as a good example of what it means to honour God.

Honouring God is about much more than keeping the rules or trying to do right, it's about recognising his supreme value and worth. It's about laying everything we have at his feet and at his service. It's what Paul had in mind when he wrote 'offer yourselves as living sacrifices to God.' It affects my time, my energy and my money. It involves me loving God with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength.

Proverbs 3:9 says 'honour the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops, then your barns will be filled to overflowing,' and Proverbs 14:31 'Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker but whoever is kind to the needy honours the Lord.' Honouring God involves how I spend my money, how I treat the needy and everything else in between.

How are you at honouring the Lord? What would it take for you to stop honouring God?

A.w. Tozer has said that 'the idol of the day is a kind of jellyfish Christianity without bone, or muscle, or sinew.'

We live at a time where conviction isn't cool. We steer away from being too earnest and intense about anything - least of all God. Material comfort seduces us into honouring God in lip service and duty only. Across the world today many people will be putting themselves in harms way simply because they honour God. In countries where it is illegal to be a Christian some will perhaps even die for their decision to honour God.

Jack Deere in his book 'Surprised by the Voice of God' recalls a moving example of someone who honoured God at the cost of his life. In 1682 John Brown and his wife Isabel, together with their children, were visited by a man called John Graham of Claverhosue at the head of a troop of soldiers. He demanded that Brow repented of his conviction that Christ was the head of the church rather than the King of England, Brown refused. Deere then picks up the story:

'Then go to your prayers, for you shall die immediately,' replied Graham. Brow prayed and turned to his wife Isabel and said, 'You see me summoned to appear, in a few minutes, before the court of heaven, as a witness in our Redeemer's cause, against the Ruler of Scotland. Are your willing that I should part from you?'
'Heartily willing,' said Isabel. John took her into his arms, kissed her goodbye, then kissed his baby boy. He knelt down before his two-year old daughter, kissed her and said, 'My sweet child, give your hand to God as your guide; and be your mother's comfort.' When he rose his last words were to God: 'Blessed be thou, O Holy Spirit, that speaks more comfort to my heart than the voice of my oppressors can speak terror to my ears!' Captain Graham of Claverhouse was enraged at John Brown's godly courage. He ordered six of his soldiers to shoot him where he stood. The soldiers stood motionless, refusing the order. The furious Graham drew his own pistol and shot Brown through the head.
With a cruelty that is difficult to imagine, he then turned to Isabel and asked, 'What thinkest thou of thy husband now, woman?'
'I have always thought well of him,' the widow replied, 'but never more so than now.'

Fathers, husbands, wives, children, students, employers, employees; honour God. Honour God when it's easy to do so and when everyone else is doing so but honour him also when it's hard, when you're on your own or when it's unpopular to do so. When it makes for an easier to life to lie, be truthful. When it's more convenient to be less than honest with your financial dealings, pursue integrity. When no one is watching and it would make no apparent difference, honour God. 

When no one will find out or notice honour God anyway.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

A Life in Ruins: Demolition

Inspired by what I'm reading in St. Augustine's Confessions I thought I'd try my hand at a similar style:

I am a ruined man, I see it now.


I was going to make movies, appear on television, be famous, work 'in the industry'. I was ahead of my curve in this regard, volunteering at a young age for television crews, studying in college before I'd yet finished school. I was in contact with local television companies and writing my own scripts and bringing them to production. I wasn't very good but I was young, I was learning, I had time. That was what I was building, that was where things were heading.

All my aspirations pretensions to greatness have gone. All of my plotting and scheming and all of my 'when I grow up I'm going to be...' has come crashing down. I see that now.

I am a man held captive, a man in chains and yet as a man I've never been more free, never felt more liberated and complete. I have known God the Father, Son & Spirit and although I still fight and wrestle with feelings of fulfilment and contentment I know that I am ruined to anything else.

How did it happen? When did this demolition begin?

In the film Inception Leonardo Di Caprio's hatches a plan to invade someone's sleep and plant an idea in their mind. The reason, he says, is this:
An idea is like a virus, resilient, highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.
Somewhere along the road an idea was planted in my mind. I experienced a sense of wonder and inspiration. I experienced an awakening of enquiry.

I don't know when it was exactly that I began being interested in seeing through to completion my thoughts about God. As a boy I'd never really given much thought to God. I mean, I believed in invisible things as much as the next boy, I believed that if I concentrated hard enough I could make things move with my mind and that if I tried hard enough I really could fly. As a boy I had a sense that God existed but in the same way that I knew that Egypt was a real place. I had never been there and had no intention of going but I knew it existed.

Somewhere along the line however I began to see the question of God as something to pursue. It became an idea I couldn't escape. If God then x, y and z surely. I don't even think the 'if' was a major consideration at first. I think, like most people, I had a sense that there existed a creator being of some description, I just didn't see the point in thinking too much about him/it. I (like most people) saw that it was only really religious people who were overly bothered by him. To my mind they seemed to take the whole thing too seriously and were quite serious and glum people for it. In my opinion, they were weird, socially awkward people who weren't quite 'cool' enough - and if I'm honest that was my all consuming pursuit. I wasn't concerned with too much else other than knowing that I was 'safe' and not too close to the edge of the lifeboat that was and is social status of the teenage years.

Nevertheless the idea was there, it had taken root from the world around me and the stories I read.

It was when I was 15/16 that I saw the film Good Will Hunting. It triggered something that laid dorment in me. The story of a man's redemption and rescue through the acceptance and love of a woman inspired me like nothing else had until that point. It was a deeply significant moment in my life. The idea that had taken root in my childhood grew and grew. I walked home from my friends' house only to stop and take in for the first time the beauty of my surroundings. I was embarrassed to admit it afterwards, embarrased by the emotion of the moment but I cried at the beauty of the moonlight on the grass. Wonder was awakened.

It feels awkward to recall that evening even now but it's clear that in that evening something crystallised;  something that had been growing and gathering pace for sometime. In that moment it felt as though the world came into focus. On that night I became an out-of-the-closet believer in God. I encountered the beauty of creation and became convinced that there was indeed a creator behind it all.

That was, I suppose, when the demolition began. It isn't very 'reasonable' - by that I mean to say that I didn't begin with reason and analysis, but with experience. I began with feeling and wonder and followed the rabbit from there. Some will say that since this is the case I was a 'lame duck' from the beginning, ill-equipped to examine life properly and analytically. I shouldn't be listened to. They may be right and I have found myself thrown back and forth between arguments on both sides. For all my feeling and experience there is still plenty about the world that only really reason and careful thought can explain; but then for all my thinking and considering there is too much beauty and joy that cannot be appreciated except by encounter.

On balance I found and have found since then that we are much more than animals. Our appreciation of life and beauty, our love of love and uncompromising belief in right and wrong betrays the philosophical conclusions that some have made from their science.  Not that science is at all at odds with faith but that some scientists' philosophy is at odds with faith.

I sometimes wish I could simply be left alone to not think or not writhe for something else beyond an animal existence. But then again, as I've said, I'm ruined. I am undone by the love and life of God in Christ revealed to me by the Spirit. An undoing and a ruining that began as a boy and continued on into adolescence.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Don't Zone Out - Appreciate

Today at dinner.

I sat eating my food (I was hungry) and in between mouthfuls I was spoon feeding Zach his sweet potato (regularly enough to stop him whining, irregularly enough to enjoy my own dinner).

I was quiet, I didn't feel like talking - I was tired, I wanted some 'me' time. I sat thinking about how I really ought to try and make conversation, but I didn't; I just sat indulging in my own thoughts.

After Riley had eaten his food I went to the freezer and got him a ice pop. Amy was making Zach laugh and so I took out my phone to record a video of it.

As I started recording and Zach giggled, Riley let off some wind (loud enough for us all to hear). I turned the camera on him and we all fell about laughing (like at the end of an episode of Peppa Pig except without the falling over). Afterwards Riley wanted to watch the video back over and over and over again. It was funny.

Around this time I found myself 'back in the room' and engaged again with family life. I was struck by the blueness of Zach's little baby eyes, the giggles, the colour, the love and laughter and the beauty of my little family. Amy is gorgeous and her servant-hearted character and attitude to adds a quiet strength that supports everything we do. Riley loves life, he laughs a lot, he wants to play Angry Birds a lot and he seems to be learning new phrases and words everyday. Today, when Amy gave him some of her food/drink (I can't remember which) he made us all giggle by saying 'good sharing mummy.'

I know how privileged I am. I love the people in my life and the scenes our little family of four creates. I want to stop and take in moments like this more and to ensure that I don't 'zone out' or retreat into myself for some 'me time' where I can switch off and selfishly indulge in the comfortable life of noncommittal-ness.

I contrast this with the restlessness and discontentment I often feel. Just this morning I was sat trying to read the Bible and engage with the Lord when all I could think about was 'how can I rearrange the furniture in the house to make me like it more?' I am always wanting to change things, knock walls down, decorate rooms. Always living with a sense of what more should I be doing? Regularly I wonder 'Am I winning? Is my work meaningful, is my life fruitful.'

Amy was right this week to rebuke me and point toward a friend's recent sermon on what he coigned 'Individualitus'. I have a bad case of it.

I love my family, love my boys, love my wife and want to record and capture every moment of beauty we enjoy together. I know it'll be gone so quickly. I know I'll be waking up one day to a very different scene. Today won't come back around.

Don't zone out - appreciate.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Little Legalist

So... I'm going to start using my blog to try to capture moments as they happen in family life. Riley's starting to come out with some classic lines and I don't want to lose them. Sometimes I'll blog them with explanations and observations, other times it'll just be the quote or moment as it happens.

To kick things off (with a blog I'm sure my wife would roll here eyes at - yes I can see that from here) - here's a theological  observation from something amusing that happened recently.

The 16thC Reformer John Calvin once said that the 'default mode of the human heart is toward religion.'

I take that to mean that we are, all of us, hard wired toward a works-based-righteousness approach to life. Whether religious or not we learn quickly that the way the world works (or at least the way we think it ought to work) is that nothing comes for free and everything needs to be earned.

There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Tit for tat.

This is why the Christian message of grace is hard to stay on course with. Many people (most in fact) begin with grace but need nudging (or firm prods!) to stay with grace as they continue in their Christian life. 

By grace I mean - undeserved, unmerited favour/kindness. 

'Grace' has come to mean little more than respectability and poise or perhaps a meal time prayer (or a girl's name) but 'grace' as the Bible uses it is rich and glorious. 

When the apostle Paul says - 'it is by grace you have been saved, not by works so that no one can boast.' this is how he's using the word; undeserved kindness shown to you is what has rescued you from separation from God. Trying to earn blessing by good behaviour (in Bible language) is called 'legalism'.

Back to my Riley-dote. Since we're hard wired for 'works based' rather than 'grace based' (namely : I earn through good deeds vs I receive as a free undeserved gift) it shouldn't surprise me to see early signs of this emerging in my 3 yr old :)

Riley was in the garden doing puzzles with his nanny. He completed them all and as a reward my mum (nanny) said: 
'well done Riley, you've done so well. You can have a lolly. Would you like one?'
'Yes please.'
(calling to me) 'Jez, do you want a lolly as well?'
Riley: 'why, what's he done?'

There it is. That's how the world works. 

Riley thinks 'I receive reward for hard work and so therefore everyone else should.' 
My little legalist of a son.

It reminded me in that moment of the beauty and incomprehensibility of the beautifully counter-intuitive  message of grace that turned the world upside down in the 1stC and has been doing so ever since. Not only have I received from God something that I didn't deserve, the Bible goes several steps further and declares that Jesus stepped in my place and took on himself the punishment for all my wrongdoing.

Grace is - Jesus is punished and I'm rewarded, and that's how God works.

G-ods
R-iches
A-t
C-hrist's
E-xpense



Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Influencers 1.

Some nuggets of gold that hit the mark in my heart and made a real impact. I'll start with one from the Bible. In a letter written to a group of Christians, Paul says:
Ephesians 2:20 
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Every time I read this verse it transports me. I can remember so clearly where I was. It was during a regular time of Bible reflection that I came across it. I was stumbling my way through Ephesians each morning, journalling my reflections on the bits that stuck out to me when I reached this verse one morning. It was at the end of one of my times, I had to be going to get ready for work but I couldn't leave. I felt as though I had been scaling the outside of a ship trying to board it and this was the moment I got a leg over the railings and suddenly I saw before me a huge ocean liner to be explored. This is a verse to build a life around. I could plumb its depths a long time and still not got my heart around it. It's fairly easy to understand but this is a verse, the truth of which wraps itself around your heart and coats you in a substance that stops you living in quite the same way again.

Communicating those moments on page through print to others is hard to do well and harder still to do succinctly so it's just as well that this blog is largely for me more than it is an audience...

What was is that gripped me that day that floods my memory every time I read it? It was this:
- Handiwork/workmanship
- created... to
- prepared... for us

Three simple ideas that ruined me.

A Christian is a new creation. This is key. People are very confused these days about what a Christian is and isn't and it seems to me that for the most part people interpret it to mean, and they use it to mean, whatever suits them best and requires the least change on their part. Jesus said that a Christian is someone who is 'born a second time' and Paul said that if anyone is in Christ (a Christian) they are 'a new creation.'

Christian = new creature, agree? When I became a follower of Jesus I didn't sign up to a new cause or tick a set of credal statements, I became remade. Spiritually I was raised to life and morally I was cleansed so that I became forgiven and acceptable to God. I amy not feel too different, I may not even behave too differently but I am different. This verse says that I have been made by God. I am God's workmanship. Before I go on, this much needs to be said - I display God's craftsmanship. Really? Have you seen me?

God remade me, God brought me into Christ and God has put his stamp of ownership and his signature of artistry on me. Every Christian can say 'I display God's artistry.'

But the second startling thing we discover in this thought is that I was created 'in order to...' God made me with a purpose in mind. Paul was right when he said that 'we do not belong to ourselves, we were bought at a price.'

Finally God made me to do the good works he prepared for me in advance to do. Good works are met with rewards in glory and in character and so I discover upon reflecting that God made me to reward me. I shall say that bit again. God made me... to reward me. This is consistent with the first idea that I display God's handiwork and craftsmanship. God is the ultimate artist and creative designer and so it follows that everything he makes, that he calls his own, that bares his signature, must live up to his idea for it. It should then follow that God would be committed to making me into a finished article and not leaving me as a new but stagnant creature.

New and improving by living-in-line with his design. That's what he's called me to do, to live in line with how he made me to be.

For we (all Christians) are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which he prepared in advance for us to do.

That thought has made and continues to make a big impact on me.