Identification with Christ

One of the things I feel being lead into at the moment, in my walking with God, is the theme of identification with Christ. I feel I have only scratched the surface and so this post won’t do justice to the work I think God wants to do in me.

It was a couple of weeks back when I started reading New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. In it he talks about ‘contemplation’ as this mysterious state where it is no longer ‘I’ who live but Christ who lives in me.

My heart throbbed upon reading that.

I’m only a couple of chapters into Merton’s book and still have a lot to learn (it’s one of my slow reflective reads).

And then I was on a walk recently, listening to an audiobook by Watchman Nee ‘The Spiritual Man’. Which had been recommended by a man whose walk with God captivated me in my teenage years. He’d recommended this book to me years back, and I’ve tried on multiple occasions to read the book. And I never made it through the first third.

Not finishing a book is really really weird for me! I usually read over 52 books each year. Most books I start, even if they’re really bad, I finish! And yet, it’s been at least five years since I was recommended the ‘Spiritual Man’. I’d bought myself the paperback, and failed to finish several times, got the audiobook and failed to finish.

But here I am, in a season of my life where I feel God is nudging me towards praying about this theme. To experience and know-deeply, the truth that my ‘self’ is hidden in Christ. And I (almost) randomly put this audiobook on, to accompany my walk one day. It ‘picks up where I left off’ and… BAM!

He’s talking about it too! Living by the Spirit and not by the flesh. Living by the regenerated, new nature and not by the ‘soulish’ intellect, emotions and volition.

It makes me think that God’s been preparing me for this season to teach me something new. Maybe it will sink in this time.

I’m a little nervous, it feels like I’ve got some ‘dying to self’ to do. And I’m scared. What will I have to give up. What will I have to lose. Can I really go on without looking back?

My hope is that God who has started this work in me will lead me through it. I remind myself that my God is good, He cares for me and loves me. Where He asks me to die, I must trust that He will raise renewed.

Anyway, here’s a slightly less coherent blog post than usual. Just what’s going on in my walk with God.

Driven Dilemma (3)

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Once a week, a group of 3 lads (including me), read a chapter of a book and then meet up at our Pastor’s house together to chat about it. A couple of weeks ago we started “On the Human Condition” – St. Basil. We usually seem to only read the long-gone olden day theologians, which makes a nice change from my regular reading. The discussion began to border on motivation and drive. So at the risk of annoying everyone, and taking us down a tangent which was totally irrelevant, I put forward my recent dilemma about being driven for God’s glory. I didn’t regret it!

My Pastor, Andy, told me about when he was young he read an interview about an Olympic Runner (I think it was a runner) who got a gold medal. The article basically explained how many sacrifices the runner made in order to get the Gold medal. In other words he was driven to get the medal, and would sacrifice anything to get it: family, money, nice food, time, energy etc. Andy said when he read that as a young twenty something he was really inspired. If a man can give up so much just for a medal, how much more should I give up and be driven by a desire for God’s glory! 

Andy said that although this language of running a race and stripping off everything which slows us down is biblical (1 Cor 9:24-25, Phil 3:12-16). That there is definitely a cost to following Jesus, a cross to carry, a driven-ness that should be there. It doesn’t necessarily work itself out in the same way.

Pause. I want to be careful not to misinterpret what he said. I want to be careful that I present this well and correctly. I am not saying, or going to say, that living a life worthy of the gospel isn’t to be difficult, isn’t to be costly – BUT active, surrendering, submitting, sacrificial, with “every effort made” and “making the most of every moment”.

However…when we run the race. The driven-ness for God’s glory, does work itself out differently. It works out through our lives, deeply. The Joy of the Lord, which is our strength, demonstrates itself in our marriages, our work, our friendships, our exercise, our eating, our sleeping. Not separately for them.  (Tension: There are seasons where God calls us to fast from food, exercise, to rest from work and even to surrender certain friendships up to Him.)

So what does this actually mean, in relationship to my dilemma: How does my desire for God’s glory drive me to a greater degree than the desire for my own glory.

  1. I think it means, that I should expect this new sort of driven-ness to produce in me a different sort of fruit than what the other one did. Whereas one produced an appearance of holiness, sorted-ness, success, etc – this one may produce humility, dependency, patience, love, joy.
  2. I think it also means that the things I am going to need to sacrifice as a result of this desire, to an extent, will be different from the old. For example, whereas before I may have needed to sacrifice sleep in order to get up early and have a work out, I may need  instead to sacrifice self-dependency (2 Cor 1:9) so that I can rely on Him for my strength.

Thanks for bearing with my rambling again, as I try to work these things out! I am sure this isn’t the end of it, but I am excited to see what God is unearthing!

Aside from being comforted to know that my pastor has struggled with these questions, I am reminded of the power of God’s body (the Church) working together to build up; encourage; teach and sharpen each other!

Why so serious?

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It has been a few good days since I last blogged, the main reason for this is because it is a half term holiday. So a lot of my schedule has been temporarily put on hold. My wife is a teacher and so we’ve tried to make the most of this week-off, in order to catch up and spend time together. We spent the first few days meeting up with our parents and siblings.

On one evening we were at my parents and my wife asked my Mum, a good question,  “What is God teaching you at the moment?”. Inevitably that resulted in the question being turned back on her and then my Dad and myself. So what was my answer?

Not to take myself too seriously, learning to laugh at myself – particularly around people I don’t know too well. Be willing to look the fool.

I think it’s quite self-explanatory, but here are some examples. Around community group and other various Christian meetings (or even social gatherings), I like to appear “clever” and “thoughtful”. So I am often quiet and withdrawn, admittedly a large part of this comes from my inclination towards introvert-ism, however there is also a sinful cause that I want to have a particular appearance. I want people to think I am clever, thoughtful, “mature”. I believe this is rooted in/from pride.

In worship I may feel like clapping, singing very loudly, raising my hands – but I don’t want to have the appearance of one of those “emotional Christians”. At work, I want to have the appearance of being a “hard-worker”, who doesn’t joke around but always works hard. (Again, there is an element in this which comes from my desire to “whatever you do, do as unto the Lord”.) However this striving for a certain image, severely restricts my ability to form meaningful friendships at work.

Aside from feeding my pride, this attitude affects my relationships: as I limit the sides of me which I allow people to see.  It affects my ability to evangelize: because telling someone about Jesus risks looking stupid.

Jesus as God, You did not take yourself too seriously or consider Yourself above “looking-like-a-fool”. Thank You for giving up Your heavenly position in order to rescue me. I ask that I would receive and grow a healthy perspective towards myself, as a result of looking towards You, and be able to laugh at myself more readily. Help me put to death pride in me, and let me only ever boast (inwardly & outwardly) of the Cross! Amen 

 

Distraction or Blessing

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Our Church is a young family church, so there are a lot of young couples with young children from 0-10 years old. I haven’t counted but there might be as many, or more-than, of these kids as there are adults! During the worship (singing time), it is a common sight to see kids running between the aisles, standing on chairs and even innocently looking over their parent’s shoulder – pulling goofy faces at the people behind.

It occurred to me, that there were very few people focused on singing wholeheartedly to God, as most were trying to discipline/entertain their kids. Even some non-parents, enjoyed picking up a kid they knew and tickling them. As the hard(& cold)-hearted, prideful and legalistic man I can so-easily be (Especially when I have forgotten that worship isn’t just about songs!), I found myself getting rather irritated by the whole scene.

These kids are out of control, they are distracting everyone from giving God the glory He deserves! How can I close my eyes and seriously worship God when x’s baby keeps sticking his tongue out at me! 

Uh-Oh! I hear the familiar-small voice: “Let the children come to me”. Which urges me to bring the issue to God. “How can I worship You, when all these kids around me are distracting me?” Slowly some of the answers, that other people seem to have already grasped, came to me:

  • Worship is more than songs it life (Rom 12.1-2) and therefore Church is not the only place I can/should be worshiping God.
  • These very kids, noisy though they are, without making any conscious effort are screaming out the wonders of God. That He provides, that He creates, He cherishes.
  • Being a parent gives someone the opportunity to experience even a fraction, of the love that God feels for His children (us) and the pain He felt at Calary! Just like being a child can (sometimes) help someone experience a fraction of the Fatherhood of God. What a better sight as an onlooker, to bring someone close in worship, I am privileged to see this play out!

Finally, at this moment in church, the kids brought me closer in my relationship with God. As they revealed issues of my heart. Lord protect me from being like pharisee and please soften my heart in this area towards the kids in our church. Show me why I am tempted to feel this way, and help me put to death this legalism which is so subtly still at work within me. Amen. 

Sanctified through Sainsbury’s, pt. 2

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Continued on from the last post, where I shared some of the different ways in which God has used my workplace to show me weaknesses in myself, and grown me as a Christian. These things, I am slightly uncomfortable sharing because they reveal a lot of my weaknesses, namely unhealthy stereotyping, snobbish-like beliefs etc. I say them so that God may be glorified, in that He chooses to love me even though I’ve thought really badly about people and people groups.

Value – In my white middle-class bubble, a job loading delivery-vans at Sainsbury’s isn’t considered a career. When I first joined, I remember being slightly overwhelmed that this was some people’s “full-time” job – to get to work at 4 am! With very little potential for climbing up the career ladder. However as I stayed I began to enjoy the actual work, even though it more physically challenging than mentally. I began to think about staying there longer, after I finished my degree, full time!

When I shared this with people their opinions/comments quickly put the idea to the grave. “What a waste”, “you can’t be serious!”, “God has given you the ability for…” (“For what” I can’t really remember I just know that it wasn’t Sainsbury’s -according to person x).

I began to question these opinions one day when into our department came 10-15 business-looking people. They all were dressed in nice suits, shirt and tie, all carried pens and notepads. They observed us at work… I felt a bit like a lab rat to be honest, I was sweating and dressed in my scruffy-uniform, picking up boxes and putting them down. I imagined that they were on a graduate-scheme, observing how stores operated in order to one-day-soon manage their own. I felt a deep injustice as I compared them to my colleagues who arrived extremely early that morning, were repeatedly picking up heavy boxes and had worked for 3 years within the store. The men and women in suits, had a qualification, therefore they were “above us”….(PAUSE!!! I have just made some serious judgments and assumptions about the guys-in-suits. These have may all have been false, plus if they did get qualifications – I bet they worked hard for them. But this paragraph reveals my thought processes – however wrong.)

This experience taught me that it is worldly and wrong, to deem a job more valuable (and the person who does it) just because it pays better, dresses better or is in a better location. I could only have learnt this from my position as someone without reputation in that situation. I have now learnt (to an extent – I wouldn’t say I’m finished on this one) that whatever the work, pay, status (white/blue-collar) I must see it as a gift. Whereas previously I held respect only for those who earned a lot doing what I deemed “dignified” work, now I appreciate that this ascribing of worth to individuals based on their work is WRONG!

Progression – Finally, this job has made me question the importance of progression within a career. Before I held a view that said something like: If I work really hard, if I honor God in my job, I will be promoted. Sometimes this just doesn’t happen. Sometimes, we are called to be God’s witness with no status, title or position.  A biblical example of this is Joseph who served Potiphar with diligence and faithfulness yet was sacked and falsely accused. Work is not about getting to the top of the ladder. Progression is great, and it should be celebrated, but I don’t think God wants it to become the primary motive/agenda.

In these ways, and probably more, God has allowed my time at Sainsbury’s to shape my thinking and understanding of work.

Not the Bridegroom, but the best man

So I’ve not been blogging for long, only a few days and I’m already discovering certain issues that I have with it. Mainly, just one big one. There is a level on which I feel that it is a very pretentious & pride-encouraging hobby (at least for me). I post things that I think are clever, demonstrate that I am a thoughtful person (or at least really really try!). Most of the posts (all 3) are about ME, or MY opinions, or what I think other people need to change/know. It seems so self centered, and know-it-all. I assume others who have blogged for longer have had to deal with this issue too.

I fully agree that God uses our weakness to bring Him glory, to build others up and to make us more like Jesus. Nobody needs to be perfect in order to “empty their cup”.

Saying this, I feel convicted that my heart is not in the right place.

Therefore, my approach to these blogs will change. They will be less preachy, less “that’s a good point”, less trying to get people to think “wow, this guy really knows his Bible”. It will be more a record of what I feel God is doing in my life. With the main aim to bring Him glory and to praise Him for what He’s doing with me! Less pontificating, more praise.

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend (even if its the best-man) who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for Him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. (I know that the party is not really about me, I am here to wait on the Bridegroom). He must become greater; I must become less. – John 3:29-30 Brackets added.

I am not saying this approach to blogging must be for everyone, I am really encouraged by other people’s thoughts, opinions and advice. And I want them to carry on giving it. But for me, for the sake of my weakness to pride, this blog can’t go on like this with my attitude like this. (Even if no one notices it!)

Join me, as I talk about how great God is, what I’m learning from Him. Not what I think others need to know, just where I am at in this journey. If you are encouraged or want to see my posts as advice, that’s great, that’s God’s work in your life. As for me, I will seek to glorify God – alone!

HE MUST INCREASE, I must decrease!