“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.

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!

 

Systematic Theology 2.b Word of God (Application)

81OXLmILZEL._SY355_Just to record some of my thought around the questions given at the end. There’s only two questions, but their like 2 really long questions, made up of lots of questions. For copyright reasons, I’m rephrasing and dividing the 2 big Qs into several smaller ones.

  1. a. Do I think I’d pay more attention to God if He spoke to me through another person, a voice from heaven than I do His written words of Scripture.

I remember in different seasons of life I would have answered this question differently. At the moment I’m usually quite cynical of others who declare that they are speaking God’s word to me without reference to Scripture. And that’s because I’ve had some bad experiences of this. So like a lot of Christians I’ve gone from one unhealthy extreme to another. (Although I like to think I’m not that extreme). At the moment I consider the Bible as my primary means of hearing from God.

  1. b. Would I believe God’s word through a person, voice from heaven more readily than I do scripture?

No. Like I said before Scripture for me is easier to believe – although this hasn’t always been the case. Saying this, there have been certain individuals in my life who I look up to and really respect (in large because of their close walk with God), who if they told me God had given them a Word for me I’d accept quite easily.

  1. c. Do I think my current level of response to the written words of Scripture is appropriate.

I think my engagement with Scripture is, I think I have a tendency to leave the response to the mental/emotional processing of the Word. And somewhere “between the altar and the door” lose the follow-through. I have found friends and other Christians really helpful in accountability and following through with Biblical convictions.

  1. d. What steps could I take to improve my attitude towards the written WoG?

At the moment I try to read through a book of the Bible a week, and I make notes and at the end have 3 things from that book that I really like. Something I don’t always do is come up with an application as a result of my reading. I think one step I could take is turning one of my three things into an application, telling someone, and following through.

2. a. Given the different ways God speaks and the frequency with which He communicates using these means – what conclusions would you draw about God (His nature and the things that bring Him delight).

God is a communicating God. He wants us to know Him, know His will and His ways. What brings Him delight? Good questions, I think listening to His words – like really taking them in must bring Him delight. If we are made in His image, then our communication and how we carry that out would also be important to Him. Given that as we communicate, we can reflect part of His nature.

I-will-effectively-communicate-with-others

Systematic Theology 0.a Pre-Preface

d95ab732c70acd0150b2fb9b61cc165bThis will be something like the 5th time I’ve tried to read through Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology. But hopefully blogging about it will hit two birds with one stone. Get me posting regularly here again AND get me reading the book with some level of accountability. Hopefully. Also hopefully is the thought that this might be useful to someone else. There’s no chance this’ll fail – none. Zero….

For those of you who don’t know when I was at Uni I was mentored by a guy who was doing his PhD in theology with a focus on discipleship. He’d been involved with Church plants and churches through his life. And one day I asked him what he’d recommend someone (like me) studying to go into Church leadership. Like what curriculum. Anyway amongst other things he said: systematic theology would be a great place to start.

There I was about 19 years old and I bought myself the thickest book I’ve ever seen. Outside the bible, which uses thin pages so doesn’t count. I mean this book is almost like a shoebox (slight exaggeration)! But it’s big. I opened it up, I remember, the first time with highlighters, pens ready.

A few weeks later I stopped.

Tried again a bit later and then again. One time I even tried to make notes in a journal for each chapter, another time I tried audiobook, and still another I found the guys lectures. But no, now I’m confident to that a blog will do the trick. Of course it will. I mean, why wouldn’t it?

And how will I go about this? Well, believe it or not but I did give some thought to the process. Sure it’s a blog and time is bound to let the structure evolve in one way or another. But here goes my starting structure:

Memory verse, chapter outline, what stood out, any answers to the questions and any questions I thought up, updates on applications.

Each chapter comes with a memory verse and application. I plan to really engage with the book and use it not only to grow but affect my personal walk with God. So these I’ll be putting into practice. There are also questions that I’ll make an effort to think about and answer. But probably not here, unless I’m super proud of the answer or put a lot of time into it or am simply blown away by the profoundness of the question.

I will also try to answer the question ‘what struck me’ or ‘what stood out’ and why . I think this question will help record what Gods saying specifically to me through the learning.

You’re most welcome to join me on this journey, may it be a long one indeed.

So where to start? Preface seems good to me, one page at a time, we’ll climb this mountain.

img_0095

Tools for going deeper…

1d1fd245e8229ab36d3b951c19616ddc_garden-spade-call-it-a-spade-clipart-spade_1200-1500This week at our main Navs meeting, I shared some tools I use in my walk with God. The aim was to give people new ideas and help them discover new means to go deeper with God. I wanted to share a couple of mine here briefly, and then share a few that the students shared which I’m thinking of trying out!

For me:

  1. Journaling, is a tool which I’ve been using for almost a year and a half now. I just started a new book about a month and a half ago, a brilliant feeling! For me, journaling is the process by which I write down my prayers to God in a book. It’s really simple, but in doing so I have begun to create a record of my relationship with God and how He has been faithful to me. Looking back over old journal entries (even recent ones) is such a rewarding experience! Journaling has also helped me pray for longer without being distracted by my own random thoughts, and has helped me pray for other people.
  2. Podcasts,  have also played a massive role in my relationship with God. Listening to sermons throughout the week from various churches and gifted preachers! God’s Word is presented in clever ways, I feel like as I listen to these talks my Bible knowledge is growing and I am also learning new ways to teach His Word.

The best thing about Monday night for me, though, was not sharing the tools I use, but rather listening to the students share theirs! Such variety.

  1. Posture, I think my favorite tool/idea that was shared was from a girl who shared that she makes conscious decisions about her posture in prayer. She listens to whether God wants her to kneel or stand up, to walk around or to sit down. She explained that some of the most powerful times in prayer for her have been when she has been on her knees in God’s presence! This is definitely something I want to try to incorporate in my own walk with God.
  2. Another great idea was setting alarms on your phone for the evening to remind you to pray for certain people. Although I have one of those old Nokia phones, I really liked this idea, as it is using modern technology to aid us in our walk with God rather than be a distraction! I am thinking of other ways I can use technology to help me walk with God.

The aim of this, wasn’t, to put us under a new law, and pressure people into kneeling every time they pray, nor was it to say that our practices were the best and therefore everyone needs to buy a journal! Instead we wanted to encourage each other by our own examples and sharpen one another.

For some of the students thinking about tools and different approaches they took in their relationship with God was something they hadn’t done before. But even in thinking about it for the first time was really helpful for them to think strategically about their walk with God. Maybe you haven’t thought about this before, I’d like to challenge you to consider what steps you take to foster intimacy with Jesus.

If you are personally struggling in your walk with God, consider asking some trusted Christian friends what tools/disciplines/methods they use to study the Bible and go deeper in prayer. We certainly found it an enriching evening! For a book I read recently which gives 10 different modes of prayer, check out kneeling with giants!

 

The Substitute for Habit

A couple of weeks ago, it was my birthday, and I e-mailed my brother about an idea I had. I want to write a book by the end of this year. Or at least have a half-decent first draft of one. I worked out it would take about 3,000 words a week. I asked him if he would be willing to read my 3,000 every week and give me some feedback. Friday’s are my submission day.

Now, I usually get nervous about telling other people my resolutions, especially when I’ve kept them going for less than two months, even more so when I’ve only managed two weeks! But I’ve learnt something these last two weeks. And it’s not that other people help me keep to targets, and are really encouraging (although that is true!).

What I’ve learnt is the simple fact there is no substitute for practice. You see, I meant to do this project in January, as my new years resolution. Instead I focused on these youtube seminars by an author: Branden Sanderson. And also, I started reading Creative Writing for Dummies. I feel like I learnt a lot.

However, I remember my first week, I really struggled to put my ideas into words. Simple fact though, next week it got easier. I’m not saying it will only ever get easier, of course it won’t. I’m also not saying all that reading and watching and note taking was useless, it definitely helped!  But there was no substitute for practice.

milan-economy-dugout

…before I jump into a substitution metaphor related to football or something. Practice is also really important for consistency. You see, I don’t reckon that there’s many people who can flick a switch on and overnight become a consistently consistent person. No, they needed practice. If you are struggling to consistently get up early for your quiet times (there we go,  I spiritualized it!), practice. Don’t be afraid to fail, just keep practicing. See every oversleep, as an opportunity to try again tomorrow.

My mind is now racing for a scripture…resisting the urge to google one…Micah 7…Or 6. 7.

But as for me, I will look to ADONAI, I will wait for the God of my Salvation; my God will hear me. Enemies of mine, don’t gloat over me! Although I have fallen, I will rise; though I live in the dark, ADONAI is my light….That will be the day for rebuilding your walls 

Micah 7:7-8,11

So more often than not, I tend to write these organically. I don’t have a plan with where their going, just with the goal in mind that they glorify God, even if it’s through my weakness.

Above, in my opinion is worldly knowledge. It’s the sort of thing you’d read in a self-help book. Maybe even in  a Christian self-help one. A relatively safe bottom line, that you could probably work out, and test according to experience. The Bible passage I quoted seems to fit. So it must be true. I’m not saying its not. I’m just saying the Bible actually has a better answer to what is the substitute for Habit.

I reckon it’s Dependence on God and a focus on Him.

Matthew 6 I reckon it could be applied to Habits, quite as well as Food, Drink & Clothing. Because it says “For it is pagans who set their hearts on these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all.”

Consider firstly, how many pagan (“non-Christian”) books there are on habits: “they set their hearts on these things”…Consider the words of Psalm 1, about the blessed man who meditates on His Word (Scripture) “day and night”…Is that not some that God our “Father knows you need”? What’s Jesus’ answer for those seeking after Habits?

Matthew 6.33: Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Maybe it’s a big leap? Consider as well the words of Romans 8:13 “If, BY THE SPIRIT, you keep putting to death the practices of the body, you will live”. We are called to fight our sin “By the Spirit”, in His power, strength and ability.

When it comes to building habits, the true substitute is Pursuing God. Practice helps…But God helps more. Pray, get on your knees, get into God’s word (Eph 6.17), call on His name.. It may be that the habit you want to build isn’t what God wants, no matter how “Christian”…Live by His Spirit, by His strength. Do everything to Glorify Him. 

Longest blog-post yet, I reckon. Thanks for coming on my meandering journey, with me, this morning.