‘if you cross Her, then you cross Me’

I was walking to work the other day, listening to my music and on came a familiar song by Ed Sheeran – Cross Me. There were a few lines that jumped out to me and just made me think of God’s love for His people – the Church. So I put the song on repeat and started listening out for all the parallels I could find.

In an odd way – I think I heard God’s voice of comfort, encouragement and belief through Ed Sheeran’s music.

God’s Confidence in Us

There’s a few lines where Ed talks about his wife’s faithfulness and how much he can trust her. ‘She ain’t messing with no other man’. Did you know, that God has confidence in us – His Bride?

If He didn’t there would be no way He’d leave the great commission up to us (Mt 28:16-20). To make disciples of all nations?

I listened to a talk the other day and the speaker shared that in Jesus’ culture a Rabbi would only take a Disciple if he truly believed that the disciple had the potential to ‘be like him’. When Jesus approaches fishermen and unschooled people, He is effectively saying – “look, I know the world doesn’t believe in you, or think that you have much potential, but I see that you have the potential to be like me”.

God has confidence in us!

God’s Provision for Us

Ed Sheeran boasted that ‘anything she needs, she can call me’. He then goes on to tell other people they don’t need to meet her needs ‘don’t worry about her…thats all me’. God is so able and powerful, He can boast that all our needs are met in Him.

This is why Jesus says, ‘don’t worry, saying “what shall we eat?” or “what shall we drink?” or “what shall we wear?”. For the pagans run after such things, and your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well’ (Matthew 6:31-33).

In His presence is fullness of joy, at His right hand pleasures forevermore! (Psalm 16).

God Will Fight for Us

Probably most obvious in this song, is Ed Sheeran’s willingness to step into the ring with anyone who attempts to hurt, insult or intimidate his wife. It’s in the title… ‘if you cross her, you cross me’.

Isn’t this true of our God too? Not only does He identify with us in our strength and ability, but also in our weaknesses. Jesus declares, ‘truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me’ (Matthew 25:40).

This is how the prophet Zephaniah described God: ‘The Mighty Warrior who saves’ (Zeph 3:17). Our God is mighty to save. This is what Jehosphat learnt: ‘do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s’ (2 Chron 20:15).

Our God will and has fought for us!

God is Close to Us

One of the reason’s I’ve shared the video at the top of this post is because I love the imagery twist at the end. Maybe it was obvious to everyone who watched it. But the first time I saw the video, I honestly thought it was another guy in the green-screen costume. At the end of the video, it’s revealed to be a woman. It added a wow factor, that they were “together” through the whole video.

In the same way, our God promises to be close to us. His presence is with us. The New Testament writers knew this when they claimed, it is not longer I who live – but Christ who lives in me. Let me finish with three encouraging verses in the Bible which emphasise this truth:

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4)

“Remain in Me, as I also remain in you.” (John 15:4)

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:16-20).

Thanks Ed for making great music! Thanks God for having confidence in us, for providing for us, for fighting on our behalf and for being close.

Yellow-Brick Road Christianity

The Bible says that the most important command is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Luke 10:27)

I once read a book about this: thinking, loving, doing. A call to holistic Christianity. A challenge to be thinkers, engaged and serious about knowing God. And to be feelers, pulsing with passion for Jesus and His gospel. And to be doers, endeavouring great acts of love for others!

And I agree, it is no good just loving God with our heart, or just our mind, or just our strength – we need all three. I know this and I agree. In fact, growing up I once heard a talk that compared the types of Christians who love God with only some of these ingredients as the people Dorothy encounters on the yellow brick road towards the Wizard of Oz.

The straw man who doesn’t have a brain, the tin man without a heart and the lion without courage. The various pitfalls for Christians loving God like this are obvious!

However, the part that I need to focus on now is not using all three – but using ALL of all three!

You see, as important it as it is that we love God with our heart, mind, strength and soul. As important as all these three components are. It is just as important that we are wholeheartedly loving God.

There isn’t room for lukewarm discipleship, halfhearted obedience or ‘one hand to the plough, one eye back’.

In studying Genesis 3, I came across this quote from one of the commentators:

“The serpent touches us at the one thing in our lives where we would rather God did not trouble us. We will give Him everything else, but we will hold this one part of life to ourselves”.

This may be our ambition, our refusal to forgive, our determination to exercise, eat whatever we want, watch whatever we want. An area of sin we refuse to confess. A possession we refuse to give away. Be aware, this is where satan will aim his temptation.

What do we withhold from God?

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=holding+nothing+back+tim+hughes

Running in the Rain

Just a quick evening post. This morning I skipped my morning run. A combination of mixed motives. I woke up late, decided I couldn’t be bothered to run and I really wanted to use the time to delve into God’s word. So I made running a “write-off” for the day and got stuck in: I journaled, prayed, logged my thoughts in my mini notebook, typed up themes and patterns. Overall time very well spent.

But then, throughout the day, just before lunch, I had a rush of energy and decided I’d go out running on my break. It didn’t matter to me that it was chucking it down. I just went. 7.25km in 39 minutes. Great success.

Came back in from the drenching rain, soaked through to the skin, but feeling like a champion!

While I was in the shower though, I was thinking about how God had totally honoured my decision to study His word instead of doing my exercise. Giving me an extra burst of energy in the middle of the day to revisit what I had missed.

One of the problems people tend to have with spending time with Jesus is that there just isn’t enough time in the day. We need to fit in so many other habits, reading, journaling, side-hustling, exercise, study, our job, our family etc etc…

But I know that this saying is trustworthy and true:

“But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be given unto you” Matt 6:33

Be encouraged today, to prioritise your time with God, and see what happens.

New Book – New Seeds of Contemplation

Can’t promise I’ll be making notes on every chapter, but this is what I’ve just started. It’s a little out of my comfort zone and a little “left field” from what I’m used to.

But it was highly recommended from a friend/mentor I look up and respect! Wish me luck!

Chapter 1 explored ‘What is Contemplation?’. The best summary I found was “Contemplation is the awareness and realisation, even in some sense experience, of what each Christian obscurely believes: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who live in me”.

In other words, its about being aware that Christ is living in us, and this awareness being an experience.

It’s a little over my head, but I’m prepared to engage with it. This will definitely stretch me in my faith!

I’ve included an affiliate link in case anyone is interested and wants to read as well. The book was pretty tricky to get in the UK and I had to wait a month. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

Nuanced Initiative

Earlier this week I shared a post about the importance of taking initiative. I would recommend reading it, here. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking a little more about initiative and I wanted to add this nuanced post-script.

Talking about taking the initiative is very empowering, it’s very popular and “go-getter” speech. But there are a few important caveats that we need to remember.

1) Initiative doesn’t negate listening to God

The Bible is filled with stories and characters who were so keen to “take the initiative” that they ignored the process of listening to God. We see the downfall of King Saul begin this way, so keen to take the initiative that he refused to wait for Samuel. We see the Israelites, led by Joshua making a hasty alliance with the Gibeonites without enquiring of the LORD. Even one of Jesus’ disciples took the initiative to “defend” Jesus against the Roman soldiers by slicing off an ear! Not a good idea.

Yes, let us take the initiative, especially in areas where God has led us to move. But let us be quicker to listen to God before we act.

2) Initiative doesn’t mean automatic (immediate) success

Just because we act, because we move first, or we move boldly forward, does not mean that we will be successful. (Even if we’ve enquired of God!) This isn’t talked about much, but is so important.

Remember Stephen, who preached the gospel, who did all the right things and was still stoned? Remember Joseph who took initiative to flee from Potipher’s wife – and who was still falsely accused? Remember the early Church, scattered and persecuted? Remember our Lord Jesus, who was without sin, who was crucified?

No, obedience to God, and initiative doesn’t always magically produce “success” (at least how we might define it). In our obedience and initiative, we must take the attitude of the three faithful men who said:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know…that we will not bow to the image of gold” [Daniel 3:17-18]

3) Initiative taking in one area, doesn’t mean you can relent in other areas

We all have strengths and weaknesses. It will be easy for us to take initiative in some areas of life, more so than in others. Just because we’ve taken the initiative in exercise, doesn’t mean we don’t have to care about our relationships etc.

Final Thought

I’ll come into land with this thought: God encourages initiative. This is why He selected 12 disciples to lead the Church movement forward. This is why repeatedly throughout scripture God is trusting men and women to co-labour with Him, to be His hands and feet, to represent Him in the world.

Not losing the Intimacy

It’s been an interesting transition the last few weeks, I’ve made a move to combine blogging with my walk with God. And there have been some great benefits to doing this:

  1. Consolidating my thoughts
  2. A mild form of accountability
  3. Future Benefits – I’m creating a resource to look back on and use later.
  4. Encouraging others – at least I hope so!

However one main concern has surfaced fairly quickly. I do not want to sacrifice the intimacy I have with God during my quiet times because my mind is elsewhere, thinking about how every thought and idea could be transposed into blog format!

It was an issue I found, as a teenager, when I decided to start a weekly gathering for other young guys at my Church. I would be churning through Bible readings, sermon podcasts and books to glean material for the next meeting.

This is not the point of reading the Bible, prayer or listening to sermons. I don’t read the Bible to become a “man of the word”, I don’t pray to become a “man of prayer”, I don’t listen to talks to regurgitate the latest insights. I engage in these activities to nurture my relationship with God, to become more like Jesus and to better equip myself to serve, encourage and love others.

So how do I fight for intimacy whilst at the same time seek to lead, labour, inspire and encourage others? How do I fight to keep my relationship with God from becoming a transactional encounter? What have I learned over the last couple of weeks?

  1. I journal my prayers – a few years ago I was having coffee with a mentor and he pulled out of his bag a proper looking leather bound journal. It was like something out of Lord of the Rings! He opened it up and told me to read one of his prayers, while he went to order another coffee. Just holding that journal was precious, and I could see later as he flicked through it that the pages were filled with numerous prayers. A few weeks later and I’d ordered my own. So what with note-taking, blogging and journaling, there is a lot of writing in my times with God. But this is helpful for me, it helps me to remember, to process and to express myself. It also helps my mind to focus when I’m talking to God, it’s difficult to write and think about breakfast (or fall asleep!) It also slows down my thinking, so that I can invite God to interrupt the chaos in my mind.

Journaling allows me to keep the intimacy in the midst of blogging, because it keeps a part of my relationship with God hidden and secretive.

  1. I take my time. Before I started seriously studying God’s word, my morning routine was packed with 4 main activities. Exercise, Time with God, Writing, and reading. I’d give about 45-60 minutes to each all before work started. Now, I’ve reduced my morning routine down to two items. 1) Running and Weightlifting, 2) Time with God. And so each morning I’m getting a solid chunk of time uninterrupted to study, to pray and to process God’s word. It has been so refreshing, and I think one of the most helpful things towards this is: that I have set aside the space so that I can take my time.

You’ll have also noticed I’m only publishing 3x study blogs a week. This means there is very little pressure to post every day what God’s teaching me. There is room, and time, to wrestle with God through private issues. And scope for me to spend mornings simply being with God. It’s so good! And I would highly recommend it.

  1. I listen to God’s Spirit. I believe it was He, who made me aware of the dangers of losing the Intimacy in the first place. He, who bought it to my attention so that I could counterbalance the dangers, and protect myself. It will be Him, who will guard my heart and mind and bring me to maturity.

May I continue to choose what is better, like Mary, and sit at Jesus’ feet. Rather than being distracted by all the “preparations”, the work, the ministry.

‘H’ vs ‘h’ and the value of People

A few years ago I was challenged, I think by a Matt Redman book, but I can’t remember for sure, to capitalize every word that refers to God. That means in my journals or other writing, I write “Him”, “He” instead of with a lower case ‘h’. Its just a small method I use to worship God a bit in my writing.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this, and I doubt even that Matt Redman was the first to come up with it. I know that “olden day” scholars, the guys who used to write out Scriptures with pens and paper, had an even more extreme practice. Whenever it came to writing out YAHWEH’s Name, they would pull a new pen out, write the Name in capital letters, then burn the pen, and carry on writing. – I bet they got through a lot of pens.

But why am I telling you all this…Well, because I’m not the smartest guy in the world, and all that… I sometimes get my little writing rule mixed up. And sometimes when I’m writing words (especially Him/He) that begin with the letter ‘h’, I automatically use a capital letter.

I hope you’re still following. For example, in my journal this morning I was praying for one of my friends. I wrote something like: “Lord, I pray that You would provide for Him”. And I quickly realized I needed to change the ‘H’ to a ‘h’… (I promise I’m not trying to be a religious nut-case!)

Anyway I’ve been making mistakes like that since I started! However the last few weeks, every time I go to cross out the ‘H’ to write a ‘h’, I feel a little small voice (maybe God’s) in my mind saying something like: ‘You know, I value x so much I see Him with a capital H.’…

This has reminded me of the worth and value of every person to God. He sees us all as very important people, who He is especially fond of!

I’m still going to cross out those ‘H’s…But as I do, I will remember God’s incredible love for that person.

Thanks God for teaching me through weird habits and silly mistakes!

 

Refreshed by Scripture…

Today has been tiring!

I was out the house at 6.30, went straight to the gym…then headed all the way over to Northfield, which is a way from City Center on public transport (and a lift the last part of the way). In Northfield I met with the other Navigator Reps in Birmingham, where we shared testimony’s of God’s work in us over the summer. Straight after I had a 1-on-1 with one of my supervisors.

As an introvert, when 3.00 came and I had finally finished all of the above I was knackered! There was an enormous temptation to switch my laptop on and watch youtube videos, or do some reading…I was just about to start writing a blog post for today when something clicked in my head.

I NEED TO BE IN GOD’S WORD!

I have a principle that I’m not allowed to blog unless I’ve read the Bible and listened to what God is trying to say to me for that day. This is because one of my prayers with this blog is that it would encourage others, but in order to empty my cup in blogging I need/want to be filled by His Cup. Because of the business, I hadn’t had a chance. So I closed my laptop and opened up Deuteronomy…

Wow! God’s Word is living, and refreshing to the soul! Who would have thought that a book like Deuteronomy could refresh someone totally knackered. But ALL of Scripture is God-breathed. And so I listened to God’s voice for me today in the Bible.

I want to encourage you to fight to make sure you are feeding yourself with God’s Word today. It is so good for us! No excuses, reading God’s Word is even better for our souls than reading “christian” themed books.

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Just an extra thought – before I opened up Deuteronomy I journal-ed honestly with God. “I am tired and (as a result) very discouraged…I need You now, please meet me where I’m at – even though I have very low expectations. Amen”. When it comes to prayer, God prefers and wants to hear us honestly. Don’t hide from Him.

 

rhythm or People

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Rhythm Has Your Two Hips Moving…Or at least, that’s how I learnt to spell the word.

As I’ve started working with Navigators this month I’ve been moving into rhythm’s of life and building new (and old) habits back into my life. However a job like mine rarely sees two days looking quite the same.

For example today I left the house at 6.30, went to the gym, headed off to campus, had a quiet time, read, met up with one of the Student leaders to talk about Navs this year, am now blogging, will work on one of my studies, then go into town to pick up some things, get home for around 5 for dinner and a nice evening with my wife…But tomorrow I have a book group with some guys at the church at 7am – so I can’t go gym tomorrow morning (or at least straight away!)… Another day I’ll be meeting with a friend at 6.30.

I find this surprisingly frustrating. I really like having a solid structure to my day, especially mornings. If I’m honest I feel a strong temptation to cut these things out, to just stop being part of them so that I can have my “perfect-routined-morning” every single weekday.

I feel that God is teaching me to put people before my routines and schedule. I’m sure there is a tension in this, like of course fighting for my quiet times is important, but perhaps I idolize the quiet time (and the tick I get to put on my mental notepad of things to do) rather than the God I meet with. The same goes for exercising -yes, there’s great benefit in exercising regularly and that often needs to be intentional and protected time…But surely God wants me to love people more than my schedules and routines.

God please can you help me get the balance right between these two things for me. And Lord where I choose to put people before productivity or routine, may they experience something of You as a result. Help me. Amen