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!

 

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.

 

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.

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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.

Phillip Yancey – Vanishing Grace

23307619And I have a lot of catching up to do…There is a lot I want to write about, a lot of things have been being processed in my mind. A lot of good stimuli, and not a lot of time to put them into blog form. So I’ve got an hour or so to clear some of the backlog.

Vanishing Grace – Well thanks Tim Fawsett for recommending this book to me, when we did our pre-marriage counselling with you over 3 years ago. It’s not marriage related, but I bought it, and 3 years later read it. And what a mistake to leave it so long, but what good timing. As we enter a year of evangelism being our focus for the student ministry – such good insights.

What’s it about? Yancey is acknowledging that Christianity just doesn’t seem like good news for a lot of people. And why is that and what we can do about it.

What’s stuck with me and struck me? Glad you asked. Aside from a lot that was fantastic in this book, one of the sections was devoted to how we can effectively and attractively communicate the good news to people. Vanishing Grace offers 3 really great pathways to do this – to a post-christian culture/society.

  1. As Pilgrims – if we as Christians were honest about our own shortcomings, and that we are also pilgrims on a journey – this would be much better. A lot of the time we try to present to the world, that we are “sorted” people, with it all together. Not only is this a lie, but its also unattractive. However if we are prepared to say that we don’t have all the answers, we still make mistakes, but that we do have a hope and that hope keeps us moving.
  2. As Activists – One of the biggest objections to Christianity is that the Christians don’t practice what they preach. They say they care about such and such but what do they do. Yancey encourages us to care for the marginalized, the down trodden, lonely. Etc.
  3. As Artists – Using creativity, in art, drama, poetry, writing (books, blogging, letters), to convey. He uses a powerful illustration that our art should both be ‘wise like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails’. That art has responsibility to tease and challenge and ‘prod to action’, but also to lodge itself in us and make us really think.

I can’t really do justice to the book, other than recommending it. But I would say that if you feel called to art as a means of witness do read that chapter, or this article I found by the author on the topic.

Short and simple, sorry no flare, I have a few more to write now.

Blog-a-morphus!

Hey everyone, sorry it has been a long time. It seems that my blog is becoming what I always dreaded/half-predicted it would become. One of those dusty bookshelf kind of places with each post starting with an apology..

So much has happened since my last post… I have visited Ukraine for a 16/17 day mission Trip. Met some really really amazing people there. I have travelled to Glasgow and back (in a day – by bus!) for a meeting with one of the people whose friendship, mentoring and spiritual parenthood has had such an impact on me. I’ve also decided to turn down the offer to work part time for the Navigators. (Although I’m sure I will be working with them and joining their vision to disciple the nations…will remain part of the student ministry which I’ve been serving this last year – this time unofficially) … My wife and I think we have finally found the local Church God is calling us to. And I am leaning heavily towards reaching for a teaching assistant kind of job (although some other avenues still seem like great options!)

In all of this, I have really wanted to be blogging. And it has been on my mind very very frequently…

When I started journalling about 3-5 years ago, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Id start so many new books, and put so many different things in them… From prayers, to sermon notes, to daily accounts, to visioms or pictures people had fiven me. It took me many many years to work a system which worked good for me. For the last year and a half I’ve been using the same system: a big prayer journal. And a small black notebook for everything else (the back pages are my BRT notes, whilst forward working are my notes from other things – sermons, books, thoughts, prophesies etc)…

Anyway all this to say I think my blog is still finding its feet and I’m still working a system that works well for me. For the next season (however long) I want it to be more a daily account of life. I think this is a good way to Glorify God and remember His working in my life. I’m sure the other things will get appearances… But we’ll see.

Either way I hope to be blogging more frequently now.

BRT – 1 Thessalonians

  1. 3.12-13 “And as for you, may the Lord make you increase and overflow in love toward each other, indeed, toward everyone, just as we do toward you; so that he may give you the inner strength to be blameless, by reason of your holiness, when you stand before God our Father at the coming of our Lord Yeshua with all his angels.” This is another “so that” passage. Paul is praying for the Church that they may increase in love towards each other so that He may give us the strength to walk obediently! Not only does this line up with what Jesus says when He talks about the whole law summed up by Loving God and Loving man. But this really speaks into some of the things I feel God is teaching me lately. I have been challenged in my attitude towards relationships lately. I think I’ve begun to privatise my faith and focus on developing my own walk with God. But part of the reason God wants us to be Spiritual mature is so that we can live out our faith in love towards others! And this verse tells us that when this love overflows God gives us the strength to walk obediently. I know this sounds very circular! Also what this verse tells us is that God is at work in both parts. Not only is He “mak[ing] you increase…in love”, but also He is “giv[ing] you inner strength to be blameless!” …. We are totally dependent on Him!
  2. 5.12-14 These verse again are speaking into relationships with other people. And I really liked the different words it used. Respect those who are working hard (particularly those who are trying to help you change). Confront those who are lazy, that they may change. Encourage those who are timid. Assist the weak. And be Patient with everyone. As I think about which of these feels like the biggest challenge to me. I think it’s the patience one. I find myself getting angry quite easily with people who take a long time, whether it’s in the queue or getting to the point. Often this is a small-hidden anger that no one notices. But it’s evidence of a lack of patience towards everyone. The respect part also made me think about how do I honour those who have invested in me, and nurtured my faith.
  3. 5.16 Always be joyful. Simple.

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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