Me and a group of guys have slowly (but surely) been working through a book on Discipleship over the last few months. Each week sharing our top three things from the particular chapter we were reading.
Coming to the end of the book, second to last chapter, we’ve hit on the great commission (Matthew 28:16-20)
For a very familiar passage, I wasn’t giving it my 100% receptive heart! But the under the sub-heading : Making Disciples by Baptizing, my highlighter got very busy.
Here are three thought provoking, challenging quotes:
1) Baptism is an act of initiation and conversion. It speaks powerfully of the time a person comes under the rule of Christ.
As someone who reads a lot I keep coming across the fashionable idea that people simply “drift” towards Christ. I can’t disagree, but we must be wary that this mentality drives us to complacency in our evangelism and discipleship. At some point people must choose to come under the lordship of Christ. This is baptism.
2) We need a surer understanding of the gospel, a deeper lovefor people, a strong commitment to intercession, a greater wisdom so we can share winsomely – at the right time and in the right way.. finally we need more courage.
I love a concrete list. These are definitely areas I want to pray into, and trust God to increase in me. Particularly commitment to intercession, courage and a deeper love.
3) we may need to repent of our lack of evangelistic passion, but we must not despair.
These words are much needed for the Church and for me. I tend towards despair when I consider the lack of evangelism in my own life and in the Church I see. But such despair is symptomatic of doubt in Gods power and conviction for His global mission. Great words!
To finish this post I want to leave you with a picture of some of my notes on a talk given by a friend. In it he shared 8 types of evangelism.
For the last few years, actually for almost a decade (man I’m getting old!) I’ve adopted a Bible reading approach which has been fantastic. It’s called Bible Read Through. The idea is you read through a book of the Bible each week, taking notes of anything you like and then exchange your three favourite points with a friend. (I’m sure I’ve outlined it a lot better somewhere else, but here is a video for using this method in your Church)
Anyway, that’s not the point of this post! Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt like God has been pushing me to study the Bible with less speed and more “chewing”. I have a good overview of what the Bible is about, what goes on in the stories, passages and songs, but now I feel that God wants me to actually study it – in depth.
This is all relatively new to me: A Bible-guzzling junkie, to actually pause, soak and chew on Scripture.
Since I’m not a half-hearted creature, probably an ‘Enthusiast’ on the enneagram model, I did some research! And got myself a baseline understanding of how to study the Bible. I’m all set up with my tools and have set myself high expectations for what’s going to happen along the way.
How am I going to do this? I feel like I have a big task ahead, so I wanted to share the ground-rules I got for myself. Maybe they will encourage others who want to join me on the journey:
1) Prayer… In that ‘Life Arts’ bag is my prayer journal. I don’t really want to study the Bible to get cleverer. Believe it or not, I’m not a very bright guy. I find it tough reading academic work, and am easily persuaded by most politicians about most policies etc. It’s the way God made me. But luckily, the Bible promises that it will ‘make wise the simple’ (that’s me!). I’m praying through this, because more than being cleverer, I actually want to be transformed. I want to hear God speak, and let it soak into my soul. I want to be ‘conformed to His image’ (Rom 8:29, 2 Cor 3:18). I want to radiate Christ in my workplace, in my friendships and in my family, more and more please! So I’m praying through each passage and reading, asking God to apply His truth to my heart.
2) Study aids. I got myself an ESV study Bible (partly, because I’ve mainly ever stuck to NIV in all my Bible reading, and also because I hear a lot of clever evangelicals (aka: John Piper and Wayne Grudem) go on about it being a good translation…). I’m also using a semi-commentary: The Bible Speaks, because a really dear and respected friend of mine looks up to Derek Tidball, and I hear he’s involved in the books. It’s not a ‘real commentary’ (by it’s own admission) it’s more about application…so it’s my kind of commentary.
3) Note-taking. That little black notebook, is my tool for recording things that stand out to me along the way. Like I said, I’m not super-clever, and so using pen and paper help me to process. It also helps me remember! I got a super-fine ball point pen to use to fit all my notes in a tiny book.
4) A slow, slow pace. I’m still doing my Bible Read Through, to get the Bible in me every day. But I’m taking this Study slowly, and thoroughly, slow and steady. There is no deadline for completion. I’m going one page at a time. It’s going to take some getting used to, and some major adjusting. But I intend to read each passage several times, coupled with the notes in the Study Bible and the actual “non-commentary”, along with prayer and note-taking. I don’t have enough time or money to make this a full-time job. And I really don’t want to become an anti-social recluse studying the Bible, I believe the Word of God is to help us live life in all it’s fullness. Saying that, I do intend to spend a good hour or so each day with this task. It will override a lot of my other reading endeavours.
5) A heart to teach. I spoke to my wife about this a few times, I have a massive heart to pass on what I’m learning. (Probably a symptom of working with the Navigators for so long). But even from a young age, I have always enjoyed sharing what God is teaching me, I guess I can’t help it. So I am taking notes, and consolidating my learning by turning it into resources for sharing. That’s where this blog is coming in. It will be the platform I use to regurgitate what God is teaching me.
6) Coffee. You can’t see it in the photo, but I have a lovely coffee contraption. It cooks coffee on the hob over half an hour at a time. And honestly it’s the best coffee I’ve ever had in my life.
Finally, here are my top 3 expectations, already eluded to above:
1) More like Jesus…I want to resemble Him more. I really want to carry His likeness into my workplace, friendships and family. Not only is this the best way to ‘bless’ people, it is the best way to communicate the good news to those I care about.
2) Heart Transformation… There is so much sin in my heart and my actions, it’s pretty difficult to hide it all…I want to invite God to minister to me and heal me, grow me, challenge and sharpen me on this journey.
3) Inform my Life’s purpose (the explicit one and the implicit one). My life purpose: to be a man after God’s own heart, then to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same, is beautifully worded (if I do say so myself)…but I don’t always live by it. Through reading God’s word, I’m expecting to become a man of greater integrity when it comes to my Life’s purpose.
A few years ago, I sat down with Robert Clinton’s book: Strategic Concepts – strategies that clarify a focused life. And worked slowly through it, day-by-day, doing the activities and journaling through many of the questions. The end result was, among many other things, a statement which I have defined as my life purpose.
Over the years I have tweaked it and modified it. Here it is as it stands in July 2020:
‘To be a man after God’s own heart, then to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same”
Each phrase and word in this sentence is packed with meaning for me, but together it provides itself as a helpful tool I have repeatedly used to make decisions and determine the habits and relationships I have engaged with.
I endeavour to be a man after God’s own heart, through a:
Dynamic relationship with Him (Gal 5:25)
Lifestyle and attitude of unconditional obedience and worship (Rom 12:1)
Posture of receptivity and learning (1 Peter 5:5)
I endeavour to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to be the same, through:
My life’s example (1 Cor 11:1)
The various offices of my life (e.g. disciple, husband, mentor, member of St. Christophers, Trial Coordinator for CRUK, friend etc)
A wise stewardship of the gifts I have received (including teaching, preaching, encouraging, serving and energy) 1 Tim 4:14, Rom 12:6-9, Col 1:28-29
The various postures of encouragement (vulnerability 2 Cor 12, servanthood John 13, Phil 2, and prayer 2 Tim 1:3)
A resolved and deliberate attitude towards the Church
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.
Sorry everyone for my inconsistent posting. I have an excuse, a valid one this time. Honest. A couple of years back I felt an urge to write a book. Me being me, a lot of focus was put on the planning side of it. However over the last few months, basically since 2020 I started hammering out a steady pace of daily typing and flexing out my plan. Last month I took a week off work to focus just on writing. And yesterday, 24thJune 2020, 80,243 words later, I finished the first draft!
It summarizes, most of what I’ve learnt about my faith and discipleship since being a teenager, so has been a long time in the making – even sub-consciously. The journey from here is much more outside of my hands, so I should be able to write blog posts a little more frequently. (Plus I have a lot of ‘draft’ material I can upload if I’m stuck for ideas!)
For those interested and who want to be praying blessings over my efforts. I would be most appreciative! As far as I can see, or know, the next steps are:
1) Look through the first draft, clean it up, make sure the sentences make sense, double check I’m not repeating myself, cull the blatantly bad bits, give nutrition to the good bits etc etc. Then I’ll have a “second draft”. [My personal deadline for this process is 10th July– Pray for me please]
2) Then I’m sending it to one or two friends who are SUPER-SMART/have written things I know and like. I’m already sending out feelers now for possible people.
3) While these amazing friends read and edit, look for heresies and grammatical failings, I’m getting in touch with a few friends and friends of friends who have published books already. Trying to network, further edit my ideas, and give me advice about publishing etc.
3.5) I’ll also be using this time to begin putting together a series of seminars, teaching on the content in the book. The power-points, extra reading material and handouts at least.
4) Once all this is done, I’ll start approaching publishers. I think this has to be done through a third party, who will store a copy of my book proposal and let mainstream publishers look it over and weigh it up against the risks of signing a new author.
I’m sure it won’t be as clear cut, but that’s the journey I’m likely going to be on over the next few months. Please do pray, I have a feeling, I’ve not yet reached the halfway mark. 😀
P.s. I was so proud and chuffed to have finished a first draft, I paid to have it bound. Here’s a picture of me basking in the various chemicals associated with pride and achievement:
One of my favourite things to do as a Christian is to get time alone with God. For some reason, I don’t think a lot of people who “love Jesus”, love spending much alone time with Him. There’s probably a lot a play with this, and there are times I lose sight of the great benefits of deliberately carving time into my day to abide in His presence without distractions.
But I’m having great times meeting God these last few weeks. That’s for sure, its keeping me focused and joyful in the midst of the UK lockdown. I wanted to share the routine I go through, partly because I’ll end up looking back on this post later down the line with fond memories. And partly because I think it might encourage other people to spend time with Jesus.
I put on the coffee, I have one of those fancy hob-cooking coffee machines, I actually bought this to have “special coffee” with God. So I only make coffee in the hob-cooker when it’s me settling down to meet with my King and maker. (Kind of like going somewhere nice for a date!)…
Then I sit down in my special chair, with my special coffee and read my Bible. (Very lucky to have one of these, heard about a boy who had to pray and fast for weeks in order to get one in China during cultural revolution.) Sometimes I might find my mind wandering, so I’ll have to stop and ask God to help me focus. It’s usually early in the morning, and despite the coffee, it can take me a while to get in the zone. I want to hear what God is going to say to me.
As I read I’m underlining, and making little notes in the margins. I’ll transfer these into my notebook when I’m finished reading. But I find I lose track of what I’m reading if I’m stopping frequently to make notes.
Then, when I’ve finished the readings. I move over to my desk, pull out my journal and switch on the Inner Room app I’ve got on my iPod. And pray through some of my prayer points. I love this app, because it stops you half way though and tells you to “Now, listen to God’s voice”…pen down and listen. I make a couple of notes afterwards, if I feel Him say something I want to remember.
That’s exciting, hearing from God. Over the last few weeks, I’ve found the praying time get shorter and the listening time get longer. Because I kind of already know what I’m praying about, and some of the things on my list – I’ve prayed for over and over again. So listening is the exciting part. The last few days, I’ve felt like I’ve got my ‘daily marching orders’ and God’s given me specific tasks for the day ahead.
Then I enter the day. Filled with God’s word, with a soul that has been heard, and ears that have listened for their Maker’s voice. He leads me.
I get to do this every day, for free, and so do you. And I reckon, you probably want to do it too. So what’s stopping you?
Who is this Man?
Jesus is the Miracle-Worker, healing those that come to Him with faith, multiplying food for those who eagerly listen without concern for their rumbling-stomachs, walking on water in order to be present with those whom He loved.
Jesus is the Masterful-Teacher, instructing the crowds, challenging the religious experts and nurturing His own disciples. Using a diverse range of tools from cleverly crafted parables to razor-sharp pointed questions. From the examples of a poor widow’s generosity, to a rich young ruler’s disappointment.
Jesus is the Spiritually-Orientated Leader, who sees what is hidden in hearts and chooses prayer rather than might, submission instead of pride and love instead of judgment. He understands the dynamic between the physical and immaterial, embracing both and using it for His Father’s purposes.
Jesus gladly embraces and honors the least.
May I ever seek to desperately approach Him, in humility and awe. May I never lose the wonder, that God became like us in order to love us and restore us. May I never forget to be grateful for this.
What did He do?
Jesus taught truth, in many ways to many different people. He was sought out by the crowds, the religious experts and the desperate citizens from both Jewish and Gentile communities, because of His teaching and insights. Three noteworthy themes of His were: 1) The Kingdom of God, revealed through parables and one-liners, and ultimately through His death (13:39). This is a Kingdom that seems in many ways to mock the kingdom of this world by raising up and honoring the least (10:14-15), by promoting servants (9:35) and it does not pay homage to material wealth (10.21). 2) The importance of Faith, Jesus is repeatedly responding to faith (or lack of) and using it as a springboard from which to teach. Jesus sees the faith of the good friends who have gone to great lengths to present their companion to Jesus, He accepts the trying faith of the frightened father and leaves Bartimaeus named, healed and following all because of faith. Jesus is disappointed and left astonished by the absence of faith in others; following the panic incited by a storm and those offended by His familiarity. 3) His own death and the suffering awaiting His disciples. Three times in this Gospel Jesus teaches about His death and each time follows it with a caution that those who follow Him will also be asked to lose, be it their desires and life, their status and pride or their freedom and position. Jesus taught difficult truths.
Jesus provided numerous people with significant direction and purpose for their lives. Not only did He provide direction for a miracle-hungry and easily impressed crowd who eagerly waited for another mass feeding. But He also touched individual lives, sparking generation upon generation of changed futures as He went. Levi was ushered away from his booth and hosted a party for other tax collectors before leaving everything and following Jesus. Legion was delivered and sent home to proclaim truth to the Decapolis. Peter was invited away from his trade to fish for men and become the head of the Church to come. Bartimaeus was healed and decided to follow Jesus. Barabbas freed on account of Jesus’ sacrifice and given a second chance. The Centurion sees Jesus’ death and receives saving faith in order to enter eternal life. The eleven disciples were commissioned to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel to all of creation’. Jesus provided purpose.
On two accounts Jesus sees’ what the world might have missed and loves where someone else in his position might have scoffed. Firstly, as a widow discreetly offers all she has amid a crowd donating large sums of money. Jesus sees deep what others would have missed and honors the lady’s sacrifice. Secondly, when the rich young ruler approaches and is disappointed with the prospect of selling what he has – Jesus doesn’t gloat in his intellectual joust instead He sees and loves the man who could not surrender. Jesus sees and He loves, even the those who were despised.
Jesus lived by Scripture in close communion with His Father. He knew Scripture profoundly and completely, using it not only to teach but to defend His own actions and life choices. His knowledge and approach to Scripture purchases for Him a freedom from human tradition and regulation, a freedom He compassionately offers to those in chains. This Scripture wrought freedom allows Jesus to bless, to heal, to rest and to eat without entertaining the expectations and fear of men (for a poignant example of this read Mark 7:1-23). Jesus also lived in close communion with His Father, frequently withdrawing to quiet places and allowing His disciples to do the same. This communion undoubtedly informed many of His most crucial decisions, significant teachings and insights into His own calling as well as the hearts of those around Him. The most stark and important decision which He made was directly in the context of extended prayer (14:35-36).
How do I tell others about Him?
He commands me, and His decree makes possible. He accompanies me, with Him by my side whom shall I fear. He protects me, and yet, He demands that I surrender all I hold as precious. He rewards me with Himself. This is my hope and faith.
I find that the best way to tell my colleagues about Jesus, is to tell them a story from a gospel and ask for their thoughts. I feel like Jesus did this to tell people about the Kingdom of God. I don’t need to explain the story, just telling it is powerful. Most recently I asked my colleagues about the three people who wanted to follow Jesus but had things to do first (Luke 9), Jesus gave them an uncomfortable ultimatum.
I find that people are often happy to express their opinions on a story. Maybe in the story they encounter Jesus.
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?).