God Chasers

I finished Tommy Tenney’s book, the God Chasers this week. Interestingly, I’d already read a different version of the book as a teenager, and so many of the concepts, ideas and challenges had already become foundational to my faith. But nevertheless it was good to revisit them.

I was personally challenged, that my hunger for God isn’t enough. I mean, I have a lot of the key practices down, I know how to cultivate my relationship with God, through Scripture, Prayer, Worship, Witnessing etc. But my hunger for God’s presence was not overwhelming enough.

The vision of hunger I want is to be so filled with God’s presence that people are drawn to Jesus, simply by me being present. That’s what I’m hungering for. I want lead, labour, inspire and encourage others to pursue God’s heart. I am boosted towards this goal by His presence in my life.

Before I had settled for being close to God. But now I want other people to be close to God, simply by being close to me. It takes the calling, to be Abraham’s descendants and a blessing to the nations (Gen 12) to a whole new level.

I do find it a bit odd to tell myself I’m not hungry enough. But these words echo those famously said by CS Lewis “we far are too easily pleased”:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Yes, the morning quiet times are good, yes the journaling and prayer walks are helpful and a useful step in the right direction. Yes, the dependency on Jesus’ works not my own…all of it good. What is now being challenged anew is the heart for God.


And yet, since being a teenager, I have been heavily influenced by Christian teaching that emphasises it is all by Grace alone, teaching I stand by. The temptation with a book like this is to feel like I’m not doing enough. And to make more effort to read more Bible, pray for longer, pray better, witness more, do more etc. And I don’t think this is what Tommy Tenney intends, and more importantly, I don’t think it’s what God wants.

The last thing we want to do is come under more guilt and shame, or put ourselves under a different “set of laws”. Trying to earn God’s presence with more purity, better prayers, more hunger for Him etc.

The truth is, it’s already been earned for me. I can come with confidence before God’s throne. (Good news, right?!) This book challenged me, not to try harder, but to aim higher. I can receive so much more from God than I’m currently experiencing. How? By trying harder? No. By having longer quiet times? No. But by coming to my Good Father who freely gives all that Christ has earnt for me, through faith-filled-prayer.

But I like how my slate looks

I have been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsey’s competition programme “Hell’s Kitchen”. It’s a show where 16 chefs compete to show themselves as the best chef, and win a job which usually pays $250k. A sweet prize.

Anyway, in this particular season as we get to the final five. Gordon Ramsey says to the finalists, “look guys, you’ve all done really well to get here, so from here on in I’m giving you all a clean slate. I’ll be judging your performances fresh tomorrow.” – Great news for one of the contestants, who’d had a string of bad episodes, who’d been hanging on by the skin of her teeth!

However, it was bad news for the top performer, who muttered “but I kinda liked how my slate looked”.

This stood out to me, for some obvious reasons. In Christianity we often talk about Jesus giving people a clean slate, forgiving sins and forgetting what is behind us. We also have the famous story of the prodigal son who ran away from home betraying his family. After realising his mistake he was extravagantly welcomed back by the Father. Whilst his older brother looked on disapprovingly.

Admittedly, I can relate to the older brother, in the same way I can relate to the workers who’d been working all day in the field, who received the same pay as the workers who’d only worked the final shift (another Jesus story). There is a part of me which looks on and feels as though Justice has not happened.

The people who worked the hardest, who did the most, who’d had the most success are levelled with the people who were lazy, who did the least, who’d had the least success. Is this fair?

What does the Bible say about this? Is it fair?

1) It wouldn’t be fair if it were true, if my perspective were true. From my point of view, you win if you’re better than the other guy. You win if you try harder, work fast, see more success. But what the Bible says is that “winning” isn’t about being the best, it’s about being perfect. We don’t just need the cleanest slate, we need a spotless slate. But the Bible is clear, all have sinned and fall short and all of us have gone astray turned our own way!

“Winning” eternal life requires absolute holiness. In this case the person who tries the hardest, works the fastest and produces success needs as much levelling as the person who comes last.

2) Our slate doesn’t just get wiped clean. The beautiful thing about believing in Jesus (and accepting the offer), is that not only do your sins get put away, and “passed over”. You’re slate also get permanently inscribed with the life, righteousness and holiness of Jesus. His precious blood, His perfection, His consistent resistance to every temptation, His success.

Of course, God let’s us keep our slate if we really want it. If we are proud and pleased with it. With the good and the bad… we can reject Jesus’ offer to have a wiped slate, renewed and filled with Him. But believe you me, that would be proud-foolishness! Because the truth is, it’s not good enough.

You may even be the best of the best, like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law… You know what Jesus said about them? Unless you righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law you will not enter the Kingdom of God.

Do you like how your slate looks now?

 

 

 

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…

 

Agenda Item #1 See the person

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We all have agendas, some of them are big and important, some a small and silly.

We set ourselves an agenda each week when we go shopping. We look at our watches, outside the doors of aldi, and we see if we can make it round the shop, past the checkouts and back out the door in less than 20mins. Shopping shouldn’t take that long should it? So we set our self the target of getting it done quick.

The thing with agenda’s is that people often get in the way of them. There’s that family with kids running around the aisles blocking your path. There’s the old lady with a walking stick – whose left her basket in between you and your goal (Why is she using a basket if she’s got a walking stick!?) Then there’s that lady at the checkout who is nattering away, like she’s the most sociable woman in the world – totally distracting the customer who is in my way, and also seeming to enjoy a superficial conversation with a stranger!

It’s silly when you put it like this but we all have them – agendas. Whether they’re work related: closing the deal, finishing the project, getting the promotion. Family related? Having dinner together, date nights, movie nights, playing a game of monopoly (and winning it!) Or maybe even “spiritual agendas”: getting to church on time, reading my bible each day or leading the music worship on Sunday…writing a blog etc.

The thing about agenda’s is that they can often make us blind, blind to people.

There is a story in the Bible (Luke 13:10-17) about Jesus teaching on the Sabbath, – anyone who is a teacher or has done teaching will know that you teach with an agenda. They’re called “learning objectives”/L.Os – we had to write them out as school kids, so that we knew what the teacher wanted us to learn. Jesus had an agenda this Sabbath, He wanted people to learn something. But despite His agenda, he saw a woman in the crowd who was suffering. He called her out and healed her. This messed with the agenda of the synagogue leader – who’s agenda it was to make people feel guilty and bad about themselves (joke!) – his agenda was keeping the Sabbath sacred.

Both these agendas are important. Teaching is important (hence the effort that goes into schools in this country: maintaining them, training teachers, inspecting them etc). Keeping the Sabbath is important (it’s the 4th 10 commandment)! But the difference between Jesus and the Synagogue Leader in this story, is that Jesus wasn’t blinded by His agenda. He could see the woman in need.

Who is the person, who are the people – God wants you to see? They may be the very people in the way of your agenda.

 

A Lego-son in evangelism

Excuse the pun. Last weekend I was away at some training for my Foundation For Ministry course with the Navigators. It’s a three year course covering basics in modules for ministry. This year we’re looking at

  • Personal development and growth
  • Old Testament
  • Evangelim
  • Church History

We have a load of assignments set, and some reading to do before a set of “away days” which occur (I think) 3 times a year. So last week was my first set. And it was pretty intense, I’ve described it as training with meals slotted in. We spent half a day on each module and had lunch to keep us going.

But what struck me, stood out? It was a side illustration, the students were split into two groups. The Scottish lot and the English lot, no I don’t think Navigators have an official policy on Scottish independence. And two of us, myself and another lady were set apart and told to wait outside the room. The two groups left in the room were given bags of lego and told to make models of their cities.

Make sense? I hope so.

So off they start, making – building. Then the instructor came outside and spoke to me and this women who had been set apart. He gave us each a bag of RED lego pieces and said. “I want you to go back into the room, and join up with one of the groups each. And I want you to make sure that every model they make has a RED piece in it. At the moment the groups don’t have any RED pieces. So your job is to get your red pieces into every model they make – whatever it takes. Right? Go.”.

So we saunter back in the room and get to work. My tactic was to go over to Scotland and empty my bag over their left over pieces and sit down with them and just help. Luckily they were accepting of me and not very suspicious….After 10 minutes… These are our results. Mine is the one on the right. Smug face.

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As you can probably work out, the RED pieces were supposed to be the Gospel and the models were supposed to be our relationships and conversations with the people who don’t know Jesus. But the instructors point wasn’t to tell us this is what we should be doing. It was rather to show us what works and what isn’t helpful.

If this whole story made any sense, which I hope it does, below are some of the things I’ve had wurring around in my mind since.

  • When the instructor told us we had to get the red pieces into their models “whatever it takes!”. Immediately there was pressure, this was no longer a fun activity, I was competing. I learnt from this that I need to be very careful how I encourage other people to “do” evangelism. Making them feel guilty or pressured won’t help the situation.
  • The whole time I was trying to insert red into the unknowing Scotland team’s models. I felt deceptive. I felt like I was not being honest. I had an agenda. Automatically in my mind, it was them and me – even though they didn’t see it that way. I think this is SOOOO unhelpful in our own evangelism. Our goal is not to have the “conversation” or bring up faith, talk about church in every relationship. It is to help them, by being light and salt, we have the “pieces” that they need for their “models”. When we believe that the Jesus we know and have is going to bring our friends and colleagues “life and life to it’s fullest”, it helps.
  • The other lady, trying to “infiltrate” the England group was less successful – her image on the left. She tried to put the red pieces in herself, whereas I gave my team all my pieces and let them build the red into the models. I think there is an underestimated power in being passive and prayerful (obviously wasn’t praying in this exercise) instead of being overpowering and active. (Although there must be a time for each approach).
  • Finally, when I was initially given the instructions, I asked the guy ‘Hey, can I tell the group what I’m trying to do?’ He said ‘No.’…I know that if I had told the group my motive, I would have definitely felt more guilty. But I probably wouldn’t have been able to get any pieces in. As they might be suspicious in response to honesty. This is life. But where does that leave me in evangelism. Do my friends know that I want them to know Jesus? My closest do. But should everyone? Unanswered as of today.

This activity, was so profound for me, it wasn’t even the main point of the instructor’s teaching. I don’t think he even really walked through the implications explicitly. But I reckon these 10 minutes have had a big impact on the way I look at evangelism. I’m still dealing with unanswered questions and processing lines of thinking a week later.

Reps conference 4 the wall


So far we’ve had 2 sessions (where we all get together, worship and have a talk), 2 seminars (more focussed times in smaller groups, looking at more personalized issues. And a big business meeting which mostly went over my head – where the “Board” talked us through some changes and finances stuff.

I wanted to share briefly, while sitting in a corridor on babysitting duty – apparently a 1st year tradition, about one of the seminars.

The topic was about what to do when it seems you hit a wall/obstacle in life or ministry. The couple walked us through 5 common (and at different times – appropriate responses). 

  1. Fight against it, resist the barrier & attempt to push through.
  2. Give up, this kind of response usually results in blaming others, feeling inadequate, worrying, envy. But can also just look like admitting a mistake or accepting this journey isn’t thee right one.
  3. Change route, so maybe go the “long way round” instead.
  4. Wait, simply wait for the right time when the barrier may be lifted.
  5. Change destination. Instead of France go to Scotland for example.

I found this list really helpful. As I think about my personal calling into Church leadership and the using of my felt gifts. And the obstacles I am up against now. This list seems to spell out my options.

As it hopefully obvious all these responses can be appropriate depending on the situation. And each response can be carried out from godly secure motives or selfish, sinful and insecure motives. 

Am I willing to admit I misunderstood God’s will? Am I able to accept that a calling I thought was for life might have only been for a season? Am I prepared to wait doormant but faithfully until God opens the way? Am I secure enough to face the critiscm of others in my decisions when I hear God’s leading? Am I resiliant enough to weather harsh resistance in the face of the calling? Where is my confidence and sense of identity in all this.

God bring me to maturity, nurture my character, increase my love, faith and hope, develop my competency and tabernacle in me while I remain in You. Amen!

BRT – Colossians

  1. 1.29: It is for this that I toil, striving with all the energy that he stirs up in me so mightily. I love how this captures both our part and His part. We are to be good stewards of the energy that God stirs up in us. Too often we lean on one side of this equation rather than on both. For me I feel this most in my attitude towards quiet times. I strive and strive for a disciplined routine and it actually means that I do them in my own strength. Rather than stopping and asking God to have is way. Because of my own effort, without dependency, I get easily angry at interruptions and all sorts and things that stop me from getting finished in the time I want it. These moments reminds me that I’m not dependent on God, but myself. I reckon it would be handy to see interruptions as divine (there’s a balance here, and having my quiet times early in the morning does help in this).
  2. 2.7:  Remain deeply rooted in him; continue being built up in him and confirmed in your trust, the way you were taught, so that you overflow in thanksgiving. This stood out to me because it says that the/a reason we should be rooted in Him (Christ) is “so that” we overflow with thanksgiving. Often I forget that thanksgiving comes from being deeply rooted in Christ. Elsewhere in the Bible it talks about remaining in Christ so that we can produce fruit (Jn 15), maybe here we can see that one of the fruit we produce is thanksgiving. I want to be more thankful, and remember to thank God for even the little things. This is what it means to overflow. I remember a sermon I heard years and years back, in London, the guy said: “gratitude is rarely silent”. How is my thankfulness expressed to God, to others?
  3. 4.5-6: Behave wisely toward outsiders, making full use of every opportunity — let your conversation always be gracious and interesting, so that you will know how to respond to any particular individual. The NIV and ESV uses the phrase seasoned with Salt, instead of interesting. But because the NLT uses “attractive”, I reckon “interesting” is a not far off translation! How about that? I think when we spend a lot of time round people we adopt their way of speaking, and especially in groups this can shut out outsiders and make them feel unwelcome. This was an interesting check for me, on the way I speak. Am I approachable, am I relevant, am I interesting in what I talk about? I know this doesn’t mean put on a pretence and  never talk about things which are unpopular (the Bible clearly teaches that the world will hate the gospel). But there is a tension here. Am I so caught up about talking about niche interests (books, church, psychology, gaming and sci-fi?) that I am really hard to get to know and therefore Christ who dwells inside me is hard to know. Back again, I know that these niche interests may be the very tools God uses to reach others in my life….Tensions, tensions, its a fine line. But I’m not going to ignore these words, may be conversation be seasoned with salt, carry the aroma of life and be flavoursome to the world!

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Leadership Identity (Romans 12)

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I was reading Romans 12 this morning and the way the translation said it got me thinking. I’m not competent in Greek to be able to work out if this is a great translation, so this isn’t a lesson just a rabbit-trail!

I really liked  v8 where it said:

if you are in a position of leadership, lead with diligence and zeal 

So often I connect leadership with identity. This is partly from the way I hear people talk about it, in books or at conferences: “you are a leader” – but also because I think I take a lot of pride in it. This verse reminded me that it is good to have a separation between the two and recognise that leadership is a gift and a position!

In 1 Cor 13 it talks about how the gift of prophecy and tongues will cease. I reckon that its the same with leadership and when we get to heaven it will cease! (at least in the human sense of it – obviously God will still lead!) Why will we need leaders when we’ll be in direct relationship with God?

Therefore if we, or I, build my identity on ‘being a leader’, then when I get to heaven what will I be then? Or what about in this life, if I become incapacitated to lead, or I’m in a job like I was at in Sainsbury’s where I’m not “leading” anyone. (I know we all have influence and can “lead upwards” – but you know what I mean) This is why I want to move from saying “I/You are a leader” (however true it might be) to “I/You are in a position of leadership”. This will not only keep me humble – reminding me that it is a gift – but also help me relate more healthily to those in authority.

I want my identity to clearly rest in what Jesus has done for me, rather than my work or position. I’m sure people are called leaders in the Bible and there is a link between leadership and identity, and I do care about that. I know it seems like a silly personal/semantic issue, but I think it will make a big practical difference in my perspective.

I am a child of God, dearly loved by Him. Chosen, Forgiven, Loved and an instrument for His glory (Eph 1) And my confidence rests in Him. It happens that he has put me in a position of (obvious) leadership in this season of my life, but this is not because I myself am superior but because His grace is great, and therefore I will lead “with diligence and zeal”!


One more comment, it’s because this is a gift and because of His goodness to me that I can truly work with diligence and zeal. If I believe it is within my own power to lead, I will lead with human-diligence and human-zeal. But if I recognise it as a gift then I will understand my utter-dependence for Spirit-empowered-diligence and zeal!

 

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.

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…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.