“Make haste and come down”

God knows when He needs to interrupt us. Today He interrupted me.

Bringing up three significant areas of my life where I had been failing to honour Him. And challenging me to action. It was tough to be challenged and disciplined, but the real work continues. Conviction is only step 1.

I began journaling repentance and was reminded of the story of man in the Bible who encountered Jesus. Turning to read the story again in my Bible:

“Make haste and come down”

Let us not wait to repent, let us make haste and come down, responding to Jesus call and receiving the good He has for us joyfully.

The Ants are back!

Around this time last year, one of the rooms of our flat hosted an unwelcome army of visitors. Ants. They came crawling up through the carpet and all over my desk, chair and work out equipment. Last year, when I first noticed it was pretty shocking, it seemed like the ground was moving.

It happens that our ground-floor apartment is situated right by three separate ant colonies. Last year we beat them back and reclaimed our flat. But this year they are back.

It was a little less shocking this time, because I half expected it, this year, they seem to only be coming from one nest, and only infecting one room. Luckily, we had some ant powder left over and money to buy more weaponry.

Last week the room where the breach was, was powdered and evacuated by us. This week I’m moving my work back into our home office.

What I briefly wanted to share is how both times, this year and last, the same verse has come into my head about this situation, from Matthew 6:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Ants, are hardly moths, and they do relatively little damage. But they are an invasion, with the powder in the room, they did take away temporarily some of our possessions. And it’s all turned out a helpful reminder that everything we own, even the beautiful things that God has given us, are all temporary. They can all be damaged, infested and taken away.

Therefore I need to remember my treasure in heaven. And whilst I am frustrated and actually pretty annoyed that ants came in my home, I am thankful that God uses even that to teach me of this important life-saving truth! I am not living for this world but for another, my possessions aren’t mine to own, they are mine to steward. My treasure is not here, but elsewhere. My hope is secure, my joy cannot be harmed.

Finally, this situation coupled with a piece of poetry I listened to this week about simplicity and generosity. God is clearly teaching me about handling my possessions wisely.

Desiring to Live and Breathe: Jesus

I want to be the kind of person who lives and breathes Jesus. Who’s hobbies and free time all revolve around Him. I want to be known as a follower of Jesus, someone who loves Him and is trying to be as much like Him as possible. To be a man after God’s own heart and then to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same.

But then I run into two problems.

Firstly, I get distracted. I lose sight of this goal and will invest my time in things which aren’t Christ centred. Which have little to no impact in His Kingdom and which don’t bring me closer to Him OR make me more like Him.

Secondly, I fear that I will become one-dimensional to others. That I will become that cliche Christian stereotype who only does “Christian things” and who therefore becomes pretty dull and has nothing to talk about.

I want to write a little truth into this second problem. It’s wrong on a few levels and needs to be combatted with correction. I can focus on the distractions later.

So first, where does this fear come from? Well, I want to fit in, I want to be cool, I want acceptance and to be able to contribute to conversations. Primal need – relationships and acceptance in community. If I centre my life of “Christian activities” then the only community I’ll find acceptance in is in “Christian circles”. And experience has taught me, this is not enough, it’s not dynamic enough or satisfying enough. In my experience “Christian circles” are cliche and fairly shallow. (Admittedly, I’ve had a fair share of frustrating experiences….) Furthermore I also want to be “relevant” to everyone else.

Remember that kid, who only listened to Christian music, only watched Christian films and only read Christian books. Not only was his experience of art, constrained to a bleak corner, but he also couldn’t/struggled to get involved in the conversations, communities and friendships that had exposure to a wider world.

Let me clarify, I know that to have a life which is Christ centred – doesn’t mean only engaging with the “Christian Bubble”. I know that there really isn’t so much as a sacred-secular divide as people in the olden days supposed. I know this, I’ve been around the block. It’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out – Jesus said that.

But at the same time, I do believe Christ calls us to a life of purity. Where we are selective about what we engage in. And deliberate about what we do. We know that there are certain activities which harden our heart to God’s truth, we know that there are things which cause us to stumble, we know that we need to live selectively because our days are short. We are ambassadors with a limited time frame to work, to harvest, to fish. Therefore we should live in such a way that demonstrates God’s love, passion and blessing to this world. And not get caught up and entangled with distractions.

Let me also clarify that a life lived after Christ, isn’t insular, it isn’t passive and useless, it tackles the problems that the world faces. It offers light and salt to a world hungry for it. It shines hope into darkness, truth into lies, freedom into captivity, healing into brokenness and glory into shame. It does all this and more. And therefore it doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, in the periphery and outskirts of ordinary life.

Furthermore, we shouldn’t be living in fear of being excluded or being rejected. This Good News, is ugly news to some and off-putting to others. The lifestyle of radical discipleship to our Rabbi, will upset, frustrate and anger people who don’t like Him. It is enough that the student be like his Rabbi/teacher. If they persecuted Him, if they laughed at Him, rejected Him and excluded Him, how much more us?!

Sometimes I just need to write truth down, and speak it to myself.

Afterthought, I also think that a selective life is very interesting to a watching world. Ever met someone who didn’t have social media, or a Netflix subscription – because of a deliberate decision. They usually have an interesting story behind it. And we are eager to know about it. May my selective life, draw others to Jesus.

“…to live in a way which demands an explanation.” Was a motto my wife and I adopted when we got engaged. It’s time to dust it off and start again.

How Can I Improve?

Occasionally God interrupts my morning quiet time routine. These are exciting times and more often than not, I love to engage with Him in this. Today He presented a near-forgotten memory to my mind and asked me to ‘wrestle’ with Him over it. Bible down and prayer begins.

When I was a teenager and up till the age of 21, I used to ask this question very frequently: “How can I improve?”. I’d ask it after I’d lead a youth group session for my Church. I’d ask it after leading worship or preaching. I’d ask  it of my mentor whenever I’d lead a Bible study for the student group. I loved asking the question, and the feedback was so helpful and usually gave me insight for things I could actually improve.

Then one day, after a weekend away with new people, I asked it of my travel companions on the journey home…. I can remember what happened next, and it still makes me squirm!

There was a pretty long awkward silence, and one of my new-friends said ‘Paul, no offence, but that sounds like a pretty insecure question.’

I was mortified and backpaddled and defended and “clarified” myself and said lots of things to cover-up and refine the question I had asked so that it meant something different. But it was too late. I was exposed.

At the very least I was exposed to myself.

So I stopped asking the question. Completely. I stopped asking, because obviously I’m not an insecure person, I don’t need to ask this anymore. 

Four and half years later, God interrupts my Bible reading to flash this all in my mind again and asks me to deal with it with Him. My good Father reaches out to teach me and conform me even more into the Man after His heart who walks with His character and likeness.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. There were (at least) two motives behind my asking that question. I wanted to learn, I wanted to improve and I wanted to grow. I knew that it was right to give God my best and I wanted to, I wanted to be teachable and wanted to improve. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time around mentors and leaders who invested in me, and could offer wisdom, insights and expertise and I was eager to extract as much as possible from them. But there was another motive at work: I wanted approval,  I wanted acceptance, I wanted to be seen a certain way. Obviously, I wanted the person I was asking to turn round and say “Improve?! Impossible, you did a fantastic job, better than me in fact, you are an amazing speaker/worship-leader/group discussion facilitator etc etc…” . I wanted this kind of approval. But not only this type… – In some twisted and “insecure” way I wanted the approval of being seen as a “self-aware” guy, who could take criticism (who even asked for it!), who was seeking to learn and grow.
  2.  There is an appropriate way to react when your motives are exposed, and I didn’t cotton on. My reaction was to stop asking the question “how can I improve?”, obviously with muddy-motives let’s stop all-together. Instead I think there is an alternative way to respond.
      • Thank God for using other people to expose hidden motives and areas of growth. Don’t lash out or, what I did, hide away. But thank God that He was using other people to sharpen.
      • Then face and evaluate the motives exposed. (They are probably there if you’re tempted to lash out or deny it strongly!) It might be that you need to repent from them. It might be that God wants to work on that area in your life right then and there, let Him speak truth into your life.
      • Then strive to move forward. This may look different depending on what the motives were. I once heard someone say “Your motives will never be completely pure, so don’t necessarily let them make the final decision” (take that with a pinch of salt). Striving to move forward will either look like:
        1.  Ditch the activity
        2.  Continue with the activity, but ask God to challenge and refine you so that the motive is cleared.

In my situation, I’ve decided that I will start asking the question again at appropriate times when I actually want to learn. But ask God to keep checking my heart and asking Him to bring healing to the insecurities.

 

 

Mark’s Gospel – How does Jesus demonstrate Himself to be a skilled helper and provide care for others/Himself?

ROLES: The most significant role Jesus played, at least for me, was that of a teacher. Throughout the gospel Jesus assumed the role of a teacher and taught, using parables, questions and resorting to Old Testament Scripture to defend Himself, illustrate ideas and challenge listeners.

Other significant roles included: providing direction and purpose to the individuals He encountered, a Celebrity who seemed to draw crowds to Him and a Prophet who foretold the future.

QUALITIES: The quality which I most admired about Jesus from this gospel was how He was able to see and love. When He challenges the rich man and when He admires the widows “small” offering. Jesus’ ability to see and love those He encountered is very encouraging in my own walk with Him.

Other significant qualities included: submitting to God’s will even at apparent detriment to self, ability to confront, challenge and lead an (occasionally divided) team, He also was comfortable eating with outcasts.

SKILLS: The two skills I felt were most prominent in this Gospel were Jesus’ “skill” in healing and ability to ask deep questions. Jesus clearly understood how healing worked, using different methods as fit the occasion from conventional prayers to creatively spitting on His patients. Jesus also was able to ask significant questions which cut to the core of the issues at hand.

Other significant skills included His knowledge of Scripture and His awareness of physical needs (including rest and food).

SELF CARE:  One of the striking methods Jesus used to care for Himself was his use of Scripture. With it He was able to defend His life-style and choices, as well as those of His disciples, and remain living in freedom (Ch 7). He was able to distinguish between the restricting and choking laws of man and know the freedom-purchasing power of truth.

Other significant methods of self care which Jesus exhibited included: obeying His Father’s will over His own – even to the apparent detriment to self, He also maintained an inner circle of friends to whom He entrusted more of Himself, He practiced gratitude even in small things and withdrew often to solitary places (to pray?).

 

A reason for Journaling

Here’s a warning, you know how people talk about having a love-hate relationship with things? Like Marmite, work, exercise or [[something humorous], well that’s not the case for me with Journaling (apparently a new verb to the English language!).. No, Journaling has had a love-like relationship with me for many years.

I started when I was a kid, pretty much as soon as I had my first encounter with God at a Christian summer camp. I started writing down things, like the day’s events, and prayers, and any “prophecies” I’d received that day. My summer camps were cool like that. I try not to take my “charismatic” upbringing for granted – but that’s another story for another post – don’t hold your breath.

My youth leader said, a journal, didn’t have to be anything fancy or the like – just a place where I could record what God might be saying to me. Click, I was hooked. Add to that my nerdish obsession with notebooks and… Worrlah!

Over the years my approach to Journaling has changed, (at one point, I had 3 different note books for 3 different purposes!) but for the last few years I’ve had a model which seems to have stuck.

But why? Why Journal? If Simon Sinek says ‘Start with Why’ , then why do I journal?

I don’t think I could put together a comprehensive list of my reasons. Firstly, because that’d require a lot more thinking and remembering than I’m prepared to give to a mid-week post. And secondly, it’d be quite a long list! And we all know, how important punchyness as a virtue to this site.

So instead, I want to mention the reason that it’s been on my mind lately. The one that caused a bit of a revival in my love-to-like-to-love relationship with Journaling.

Reason why I journal: It slows me down.

I am a fast pace kinda guy, at least that’s what I tell myself. I like getting through to the end of activities. More of a cross the finish line, than appreciate the flowers along the way. Results > process, in my mind. (Not that the process is bad, or useless, it’s not.) But I like moving onto the next thing. I like ticking boxes. Point made?

Well, fortunately I serve a God who has been able to use this trait of mine to build up His church, encourage His people and as a tool in discipling others. Huzzah! (as a side note, there’s a “wise-sounding” way of thinking that says “results don’t matter, all the matters is the process”. That’s nonsense too, otherwise Jesus wouldn’t talk about judging by fruit!) Nevertheless, there are still areas where this trait negatively works itself out. And one of which is in my personal devotional life, my quiet times, my walk with God in the mornings.

If I go about my quiet times without Journaling, I often simply focus on getting through my readings, and presenting my prayers. But Journaling slows me down. I won’t belabour the importance of slowing down. (I’m running out of time – ironically!)

But it is important to enjoy God’s presence, and savour it. Not just to tick it off a morning activity. This is not how I approach marriage or any meaningful friendship. Why would I subject the greatest relationship, the most character forming communion, the spiritually maturing, fruit producing, life exploding moment of my day to that!

When I simply gaze upon Jesus – I trust that I am being transformed. Journaling helps me  to do this. It helps me to slow down.

I would encourage you to try it for a week, see how  it affects your walk with God.

What would change?

What if Christ actually compelled us? What if we were completely enamoured with Him so that everything else in our lives looked like utter rubbish? What if He alone stood in the ‘vision statement’ for your life, marriage, career and ministry?

What would change?

Would you end up sleeping more than you do, or less? Would you exercise more, or less? Would you even think about it – or would it be according to the ‘felt need’ on the day? What about your diet, would you eat more, or less? I’m guessing it’d be healthy, but to what extent? How much would you spend on vitamins and fruit and veg – would you only get organic? How much would you care?

What about money? Would you end up buying the things you buy? Would you save, if so how much, percentage wise? How might you budget? Would you be more inclined to stick with a budget, or to abandon it in a moment? How much would you give? To who or to what cause?

What would your mornings look like? The first thing you’d do, what about second? Would it be the same each day, or different? What about your evenings?

Or how about your conduct at work? Would you work harder, how much? Would you talk to more to people – how much? How much interest would you show the homeless person you pass each day.  How much attention would you give to each member of your Church family, who would you prioritise?

Would you have principles – would you stick to them more? Or would you feel freer to abandon them for the right thing in the moment? How would you work it out?

What would your prayer life look like? Kneel more? Journal less? Dancing? Singing? Silence? Bible first or after? Alternating? What you ‘feel’ like, what you’d planned?

There are so many questions, and I intended for them to feel overwhelming. Because the truth is, they are. The Christian life, even with the desire to live it well, is impossible.

The Good News, is that God gives us

  1. His Word – to teach us.
  2. His Spirit – to lead us
  3. His Grace – to forgive us, and keep us going when we fail.

My prayer is that I would lean into His word for instruction, receive from His Spirit the power and guidance that I need for each day. And remember His Grace, each and every time I stumble and  get lost.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Phil 3.12-14

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. – Psalm 119.9

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. – John 16.13

 

 

The White Flag: Called and Equipped to do much.

One of the significant activities God has been leading me into over the last 5 months is the process of ‘stepping out of ministry’. This has been an interesting time and I’ve learnt a lot. I wanted to share a bit of that journey and what it’s all been like.

Since October 2017, I have been doing what I called ‘bi-vocational’ ministry. I was working 9-5 for Cancer Research UK in their clinical trials unit, and at the same time running a student ministry with Navigators UK. It was great fun, it was a great challenge, it had it’s ups and downs like any ministry endeavour – but it was incredibly rewarding.

My average day started around 4.30-5am with all the regular routines and disciplines I needed to sustain me through the day (quiet times, exercise, reading and study), then I’d be out to meet with a small group of students on campus at around 8. We’d often simply read our Bibles and pray together. A fantastic way to start a working day, a fantastic way to approach discipleship, a fantastic way to grow friendships. Meeting daily in the mornings, you really do get to see each other on good and bad days – weaknesses exposed, yet together meeting to encourage each other and bring our days before God.

Then I’d be at work. I might meet someone at lunch (the trials unit was based at the university!). Then, depending on the weekday – I’d either be meeting a student 1-on-1, attending/leading/hosting a Bible study. It was busy. But being in my early twenties I have/had a lot of energy and time to spare for these good endeavours.

After a year at this pace, I added to my life FFM (Foundations For Ministry – a 3 year training course with Navs) and my wife and I took up our Church’s youth group’s mid-week gathering. Wow. Oh, and on top of all that, I was being allowed to preach once a month at Church (something I deeply cherish, and feel so honoured by!)…. Looking back on all this, it sounds like too much. But honestly, God sustained me.

I held firmly onto two verses which inspired and motivated and kept us both going…

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me!” – Col 1.28-29 (which continues beautifully and relevantly into chapter 2!)

“Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;” – Ecc 11:2 (I felt God give me this verse one morning in my quiet time, it also came with the word: there is a difference between investing and managing)

With these verses, which I genuinely believe God gave me, I was encouraged to do all the many works I felt He was asking me to do. He put the work before me, and then enabled me to do it. I would say to myself, and to anyone else, that they really shouldn’t do as much as I was doing, unless God has specifically called them to it – and to remember – He probably won’t call you to it permanently.

…And then at Christmas 2018, we felt very clearly God was telling us to start drawing back…

 

Heroes of the Faith

And it’s Monday again, and it’s a bank holiday at that, so I’ve had another good long weekend. Feels like I’m getting a lot of time off work at the moment – which isn’t a bad thing. But I forced myself to write this on Monday evening again, trying to build a regular habit of posting, even though I probably could have done something this morning. I figure if it’s the same time every week it’s easier for me to create a “habit” out of it. Regular postings are key. Consistency is at least. Nevertheless, excuse my rustiness.

img_03511.jpgAnyway, it’s been an eventful bank holiday and I wanted to write about an amazing lunch I had on Sunday. We were invited to dinner with some real hero’s of the faith! Wolfgang and Beryl Stumpf. An older couple at our Church who have an amazing story to tell (in fact it’s so amazing he put it in a book, one I’d highly recommend!)

The Long View Forward

We’ve known this couple for years and Wolfgang in particular has had a giant impact in the way I live out my faith on a daily basis. When I was in youth group as a teenager, he came in  to deliver a session for us instead of the normal youth leader. He came in and shared about his personal devotional time. What he’d been doing for decades and decades!

Every morning he wakes up at 5am and reads his Bible and prays. To a wide-eyed teenager I was so convicted and challenged and awed at this man’s dedication to meeting with God. This was my target. And now as a 24 year old, I’m still doing it. Waking up early because some “old-person” in our Church told us that’s what he did to keep close to God. What an example to imitate! Let’s never be scared to talk about our devotional lives and what helps us connect with God with others’ because we don’t want to be perceived as proud, who knows what some eager listener might adopt as a result.

Anyway, long story short this couple spent a large amount of their lives in the middle east as missionaries. Now retired, they are still living out their faith passionately loving Jesus and providing themselves as a beautiful example for younger generations of disciples. I want to be like that when I’m old!

We really got to know them through their daughter and her husband who mentored us through our dating years and who now serve as missionaries in Egypt. Thank God for amazing role models, I’m sure I wouldn’t be the Christian I am today without the example, mentoring and investment of a stream of amazing hero’s. Wolfgang preached at our wedding on a highly unconventional & difficult passage we’d given him (Rev 19:1-10)

We got to spend time with them again for lunch at theirs after church… and well, what hospitality, what interest they showed in us, what vulnerability in what they shared, what hope they displayed for the future and what love for Jesus…what legends!