How Can I Improve?

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

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

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

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

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

At the very least I was exposed to myself.

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

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

Here’s what I learned.

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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…

 

Fix your eyes on Jesus (4): The North Star.

42952556 - starry skyAll right, all right, okay, no, no, okay …well, if you insist. I hear the encore. Fix your eyes on Jesus part 4!!! Dah-Dah-DAaaaa!

Just a quick one, wasn’t planning on doing 4. But here we are.

A few years back I was at a Navigator’s training conference. And we were learning about the importance of Vision statements/mission statements.

We’re looking at clever ways to construct these. All really useful things. The point being that if we have a mission statement down as individuals or groups we can make decisions based on those statements. We can live focused lives and know what is important to that process according to who God has made us to be, with our passion, skills and gifts.

At the end, there is a feedback and questions section. And one guy raised up his hand and said:

This vision statement stuff is fantastic, but Jesus is my north star.

BOOM!

It wasn’t an insult to the vision statement training. These things are important. But I tell you, if they distract you from Jesus get rid of them. If anything distracts you from Jesus get rid of it. Maybe for you it’s relying on your own plans, or your own expertise, maybe it’s relationships or a hobby, is it a job or a possession? Whatever it is, however good and noble and innovative it sounds – don’t let it take your eyes of Jesus.

Too simplistic, maybe. Is there a caveat in all this – probably. But what did Jesus say – something about hating mother and father in order to follow Him. Maybe there is some wisdom – saying it without the caveat. There definitely is punch.

 

FFM: Evangelism (Motive, Convictions and Promises)

When I hear the word evangelism I think about a computer game I played as a kid -> teenager -> fully grown adult. Star Wars Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast! All through the game you play a Jedi called Kyle, and you’re aim is to hunt down one bad-guy-lizard called Desarn. By the last level, you’ve gone all over the galaxy killing, stormtroopers, minor league sith and AT-AT walkers. You finally jump and force you’re way through an elaborate obstacle course and end up face to face with Desarn. Just before you go to have the final show down. You hold out your hand… “It’s not too late, turn to the light side”…. Anyway that’s my lame excuse to put this picture in:kyle_katarn_vs_desann_by_wienernose-dcjekce

Onto the subject at hand…one of my modules for FFM is Evangelism. And one of my assignments was to write about my motivations, convictions and promises that I hold to in Evangelism. Bellow is a summary of my thoughts! I hope you enjoy:

Motivations

When it comes to evangelism I have 3 main motivations. 1) Jesus commanded us to do it. This is probably the biggest reason I do evangelism, or at least attempt it! As a follower of Jesus I want to be like Him and to follow His commands. 2) I want my friends to go to Heaven, know Jesus and experience life to its fullest! I suppose this reason, is slightly selfish. But it’s also loving. I want what’s best for my family and friends. And the answer to that is Jesus. 3) I want to set an example to those who I mentor/disciple. If they see that I can/do this evangelism thing, then they may have confidence to do it themselves.

Convictions

I think it’s best to record my convictions as bullet points.

  • –          That this is good news and will really benefit my friends lives. I believe that when Jesus said that He came so that we may have life and life in abundance (John 10.10), He was saying that without Him our experience of life is limited.
  • –          That we can’t force our friends to believe, any more than we can force ourselves to believe, God opens they’re eyes. One of the prayers of Elijah in 1 Kings 18:37 “Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” God turns people’s heart towards Him. I guess that makes me a Calvinist.
  • –          HOWEVER, even though God is Sovereign, we have a responsibility to speak (Rom 10:14-15) – obediently and truthfully. God is not looking to override our free-will or our friends’. So He gives us the opportunity to partner with Him in this. We also have a responsibility to pray (Mt 9.8).
  • –          Faith comes from hearing and hearing the Word of God (rom 10.17). Therefore Scripture plays a massive role in evangelism.
  • –          Saying that, the early church didn’t have a Bible (as we now know it), and did fine! There is power in testimony, in miracles and Jesus’ Name & resurrection to save (1 Cor 2.4).
  • –          God can speak through a donkey, literally, so I don’t have to be perfect to be used (Numbers 22).religo-talking-donkey
  • –          Jesus uses my weaknesses to display His glory (2 Cor 12.9), therefore I will boast about my weaknesses, failures and trials. Not because I recovered from them, but because God can use them to display His grace (1 Tim 1.15).
  • –          I evangelise best with BOTH my words and my actions. One without the other won’t do. (Rom 10.17 & Mt 5.16)
  • –          My work, attitude, ethic can be a witness. (1 Thess 4:11-12), even my eating and drinking can be done in a manner to bring Him Glory. (1 Cor 10.31)
  • –          I believe a united & loving church is a better witness of the gospel than a critical-of-each-other and divided church. John 12.35.
  • –          Without Jesus we can do nothing/produce no fruit, John 15, therefore our personal “abiding” is essential.

 

Promises

  • –          Jesus will be with me especially so in the context of discipleship and going. (Mt 28:20),
  • –          His word won’t return empty (Is 55.11), I can take comfort in the fact that God’s word brings life and change.
  • –          Even in the midst of persecution and ridicule, I am blessed! (Mt 5.10-12)

People

Settling on 6-10 people is difficult, there are more than that I want to see saved. At the moment I have a page at the back of my journal I use with 3 columns, and one of those columns is a list of names of people I want to see know Jesus. I go to this list most days, whenever I journal. But I decided for the assignment to choose…

And I’ll end the extract there! Alavida.

Systematic Theology 0.b Preface

Wayne_Grudem_Photo_2014My target posting rate for this project is a chapter a week. That’s what we’ll aim for, but I am interested in applying it all as well, so I might go slower. And that’s not the only reason there might be delays, if you’re the praying type and you can spare a petition for me. Pray that I stay on it this time round! Best to start something like this dependent on God, not just for commitment levels, but also for brain capacity. Anyway enough about my weakness… the Preface.

In short it captures the distinct features that Grudem, no, lets go with Wayne. (Make it sound like I know him well,) the distinct features of this particular study of Systematic Theology has. I think they’re all worth mentioning and I want to unpack a few of them.

  1. A clear Biblical basis for the doctrines. From what I’ve covered so far, in previous studies/attemptes, this guy uses a lot lot lot of scripture to ground the doctrines he unpacks. Which is reassuring. He quotes Bible passages in length and I honestly don’t mind that! Because of his value for the Scriptures he includes a memory verse for each chapter. A memory verse that I’m going to try and memorise. This’ll be quite straight forward for the first few weeks, but maintaining that for a while will increase in difficulty. All the best.
  2. Clarity in the Explanation of doctrines. As an advertisement for this book, what I’ve read before also lives up to this standard. It is very simple to read and follow. Not like other books I’ve read: Piper, Lewis and Willard all fantastic fantastic fantastic reads – but  do require a bit of extra brain grease to fully engage. This one although clever and deep is also easy to read.
  3. Application to life. You’ll notice I bold and underlined this one too, that’s because it’s really important to me. I don’t just want to study this, to grow in head knowledge, but also grow in love of God, love for the Church and the world. (Corny?) Maybe, but if this study doesn’t increase my love then it’s just a clanging symbol. (I think another Paul said that once).  But it’s not just love I want to grow in, Obedience and Humility are virtues that I’m hoping to grow in too. That’s why I’ll be doing the applications, and at the moment the intent is to record how it was – here. “Learning by doing – what a novel idea” – Propaganda: Board of Education
  4. Focus on the Evangelical world. Wayne says that you can only go so far in reasoning on theology without an agreed bases for authority. Therefore in this book he focuses on dealing with arguments from the parts of the Church that believe the Bible is true and authoritative. I agree and get the reasoning. As someone who loves reading the Bible, it will be so helpful getting the different scripture arguments for different interpretations and viewpoints. For example end times & beginning times.
  5. Hope for progress in doctrinal unity in the Church. One of my personal values for the Church today is unity, I believe Jesus cared massively about this. And I think as a Church we miss this too much. Even without realising. What value we place on those who can critique a book, a service or a sermon. How quick do we compare our churches to another based solely on style. I don’t think Wayne’s goal here is to get everyone thinking the same as him – he even says he expects people to disagree on points, but the fact that we can discuss these things with honesty and humility allows us to learn from each other and be united.
  6. As a Church we need to grow in this area. On one hand I don’t agree with this statement. I see a lot of “intellectual” churches (perhaps because I work among University students) whose sermons are very theologically sound and thought through – but who’s love has gone a bit cold and passion and emotion has been outweighed by thought. But this outbalance, one way or another, actually demonstrates that we need to grow in this. If we are to worship God with all our heart and mind…we need to know truth and not just knowledge-facts, but freedom-bringing, change-initiating, Christ-exalting TRUTH.

Wayne then goes on to thank some people I don’t know.

There we go, Wayne’s (No, I’m going to stick with Grudem – I tried it, I did and it just feels weird!) systematic theology preface. But wait, there’s more. Before we go any – further. I want to give some of my own reasons/attempted distinctives in this blog. So excuse a blog with two lists but brace yourself for more of this. (I’ll soften the blow with a couple of pictures..)

  1. Personal Satisfaction – I recently read Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Pathways, which talks about the different ways individuals connect with God. It’s very much like the concept of the five love languages, but for a relationship with God. And there’s like 9 of them. Anyway for me 1 of my top ways to connect with God is as an Intellectual. No, that doesn’t mean I’m super bright – but I find that as I am learning and reading and listening and picking new things up – that’s when I feel close to God. It is my sacred pathway. For some it’s walks in nature, or tradition or….you get the point, read the book it’s fantastic! Really freeing for Churches and congregants to get. Highly recommend it. Anyway  to return to the question (RTTQ) why do this – because it’s one of the ways I worship God naturally.
  2. Ministry – in the olden-day, misguided sense and use of the word – my work with Church and Navigators. I want this blog to train people. To be an informal means for them to pick up some of the basics without reading/buying the shoebox of a book (1000+ pages) I got because I’m…(see last post!) Hopefully some of these posts will also be professional/formal enough to easily be turned into worksheets/resources to be printed for group studies.
  3. Evangelism. That the gospel I present, argue and live out is more truthfully Biblical than it is culturally-(westernis-ed-ly)-relevant-slightly/majorly-distorted.

books-open-on-table

 

 

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.

IMG_0011

IMG_0015

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

The thin thread…

Yesterday was an eventful day.

I had my first interview since applying for jobs became my full time job! It went kind of well – I’ve had a day and night to sift through all the worst moments. I still instinctively clutch my face with embarrassment at some of the things I did and said. But I’ve done it now. I did my preparation, and I was myself at the interview, dressed up smart etc. Its now out of my hands. They have another day of interviews and then they should let me know by the end of the week. 

I received another rejection this morning from a different job I’d applied for. And with efforts this last week focused on interview prep, I have large gap of applications made. Which I reckon to feel if this one gets a thumbs down as well. Its all a thin thread, and it feels like it. I have a handful of really hopeful applications, but they can fall through my fingers like water in a minute. No matter how far along they are. Constant feeding the monster with my applications hoping to get past him.

Anyway in other news…Navs has started up again and is in full swing! We have hit the ground running, thanks to an awesome group and amazing student leaders! On Saturday we hosted a large group for brunch, with lots of new faces and pulled pork. Then last night we had our first study night of the year. More new faces! The student leaders wrote the study and lead them in three small groups. Amazing job! All I did was make drinks, share my testimony and enjoy being part of a Bible study. The baton is being passed!!!! And the next runners are fast ☺ . Meeting with the leaders on Wed for review and preparing next study. We’re also doing a New testament read through. Mark this week.

I am excited about the future, but really want a job. Please pray for this.