Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Blog maintenance

I'm doing a little blog maintenance. I haven't blogged consistently for quite a while. Posts may disappear, posts may reappear. Just doing a little tidying up. I will note on re-posted posts when they were originally written ('cos for some reason when I repost a post it sometimes maintains its original posting date, and then other times it doesn't). TTFN
My guardian 'angel' (aka Boots the Crazy)

Rhythm of life

I remember my children, when they were little, learning to ballroom dance. I remember their tiny feet clad in the pretty silver shoes. 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. When they danced they’d stare at their feet, counting – 1-2-3-4. 1-2-3-4. So focused on the steps that they would often end up out of time with the music. Their teacher would lift their heads and refocus them, then they could follow the rhythm and flow of the music.

This is the joy and freedom of life in Christ. If we focus on what we are doing, if we obsess about getting every step right our eyes drop from our Saviour’s face to the minutiae of our actions and we end up out of step with the beautiful music of the universe.

Phil Wickham puts it:

"It's falling from the clouds
A strange and lovely sound
I hear it in the thunder and rain
It's ringing in the skies
Like cannons in the night
The music of the universe plays...

"Beautiful and free
Song of Galaxies
It's reaching far beyond the milky way
Lets join in with the sound
C'mon let's sing it loud
As the music of the universe plays..."

Self-awareness can be helpful, but obsessive introspection causes us to lose focus and peace. If we never lift up our heads to see Jesus our whole lives feel discordant and we deafen ourselves to the whisper of God.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

What is the Key to Life?

"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day." 1 Timothy 1:8-12

Within these verses is the key to Paul's ministry and my own life verse.

Many times I've felt, quite rightly, awed by Paul's life and ministry.

He wrote nearly 30% of the New Testament.  He started at least 14 churches, but more likely he started many more.

Paul suffered more than we could ever imagine: persecution, violence, threats, abandonment by his fellow Christian friends, rejection, suspicion...here's just a taster:

[Paul’s Sufferings as Recorded in the Book of Acts]
• His life was threatened in Damascus (Acts 9:23) then again in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29).
• Persecuted and run out of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:50)
• Threatened with stoning at Iconium and fled to Lystra and Derbe with Barnabas (Acts 14:5)
• Stoned in Lystra, dragged out of the city and left for dead, Paul got up…and went back into the city (Acts 14:19)
• Caused controversy in Antioch (Acts 15:1)
• Fell out with and abandoned by his close friend Barnabas (Acts 15:39)
• Beaten with rods and imprisoned at Philippi (Acts 16:23)
• Cast out of Philippi (Acts 16:39)
• His life was threatened in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-7, 10)
• Forced out of Berea (Acts 17:23-14)
• Mocked in Athens. (Acts 17:18 )
• Taken before the judgment seat in Corinth (Acts 18:12)
• Caused a riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41)
• Plotted against by the Jews in Greece. (Acts 20:3)
• Seized by the mob in Jerusalem. (Acts 21:27-30)
• Arrested and detained by the Romans (Acts 22:24)
• Barely escaped being scourged (Acts 22:24-29)
• Rescued from the Sanhedrin by some soldiers because their commander thought Paul was going to be pulled to pieces (Acts 23:1-8)
• Assassination plot against him (Acts 23:12-22)
• Two-year imprisonment in Caesarea (Acts 23:33-27:2)
• Shipwreck on the island of Melita (Malta) (Acts 27:41-28:1)
• Suffered a snakebite (Acts 28:3-5 )
• First Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:13-15)

At the writing of 2 Timothy, Paul is suffering his second Roman imprisonment.

Paul writes:

"From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches." 2 Corinthians 11:24-28

It is likely he had recurrent health issues, in Galatians Paul speaks about suffering an ‘infirmity’ It sounds like he had some kind of problem with his eyes: (Ch 4:13-15); and in 2 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks about a ‘thorn in his side’ a ‘messenger of Satan’ which he pleaded with God to remove from him – whether this was a physical infirmity or a person persecuting him God said, ‘My grace is sufficient’. Paul continued to suffer.

Paul understood suffering:

"Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13

Paul even found opposition and rejection from fellow Christians. At the end of the second letter to Timothy Paul says this:

"Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments.
Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.
At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them."
2 Timothy 4:9-16

So, what made Paul so sure of God and so sure that what he was doing for God was actually achieving any good when SO much went wrong and he suffered so much? How did he do it all?  How did he keep going in adversity? How did he not collapse from sheer exhaustion and despair? How did he keep his passion and energy?  How did he endure the shame, the imprisonment, the rejection, the slander?

The key is found in verse 12:

"For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day."

Paul knew Jesus, He knew God. Knew Him. He didn’t just know of Him, he didn’t just follow God’s teaching, he didn’t just have good knowledge of the truth, he didn’t just hear people talking about God, he knew Him intimately, though the revelation of Jesus Christ.

When we look back at Paul’s life and what he really did suffer it brings new meaning to his words to the church in Philipi:

"But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:7-11

Knowing Christ was worth all the suffering. Christ alone was His treasure and knowing Christ was a treasure he sought every single day, forsaking anything that might keep him from Jesus. And as Paul points out, He hadn’t achieved the pinnacle of his relationship with Christ – but he pressed on diligently.

2 Timothy 1:12 is my life verse.  It is the answer to every question of life, questions like: 'What is the point?  Is this worth it?  Is this the right way to go? Why am I floundering? Why am I struggling? How can I do what God has asked?'  The answer is to know Jesus.  To know Him whom we have believed. To really know Him.  And as we know Him, to seek to know Him more. He is the answer to everything - life the universe and everything.

"We look away from the natural realm and we fasten our gaze onto Jesus who birthed faith within us and who leads us forward into faith’s perfection". Hebrews 12:2 (TPT)

Friday, 26 February 2016

On Leadership

We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours. 2 Cor 1:24 (Msg)

I love this reworking of Paul's words in The Message, it paraphrases this: "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm." 2 Cor 1:24

This is Paul's leadership style and it is clear from the scriptures that this ought to be the leadership style of the New Testament leader.

It makes me think of the story of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-24:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,’c and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ ”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

This is Jesus living out an example of the truth, which is that a godly leader leads by example, speaks the truth always, but leaves the transformation in the hands of God.

This is in direct opposition to the general rule of leadership in the world.  Worldly leadership lords it over people. Worldly leadership says, "I'm the boss! I'm the boss!". Worldly leadership drives people rather than leads by example.

Also, note that Jesus doesn't use any motivational techniques, He doesn't use flattery or promises, He doesn't try to coerce, cajole or demand that the young man comply, nor does he chase after him with threats or promises when the man walks away.  Jesus leaves it in the hands of God.  Which is funny in a way, because Jesus is God, and so He could have quite easily zapped that man there and then with some kind of mind-control influence thing. But He didn't, because Jesus did it the right way...always.  So He is therefore always our example of how to deal with a thing.

If most of us are honest with ourselves, what Jesus did was very hard.  When we speak our words of advice it is very difficult when people just ignore them, disagree with them or walk away from us unchanged. But Jesus wasn't a busy-body.  I am guilty of this though.  I think I see a problem, I believe I have the solution (with scriptures to back it up of course!! *smug*) and get gosh-darned annoyed if no-one seems interested! Ha, but that's where humility, gentleness and trusting God comes in.  And Jesus had all those in spades (Matt 11:29).

The disciples learned a few hard lessons along the way.  Thinking amusedly of James and John wanting to call down fire down on a village because the people there wouldn't receive Jesus, "Reject you Lord?  Nuke them all!" - and getting a rebuke from Jesus, "That's not the way we do it lads". Then them wanting to be top-dogs amongst the disciples and getting a gentle admonition from Jesus followed by an amazing teaching on true godly leadership. (Matthew tells us in ch. 20 that they got their mum to ask hahhahahaha - awesome...beware of church people wanting to 'big up' their kids in the church LOL).  Anyway....it is clear that after the cross and the baptism of the Holy Spirit they followed Jesus' example of leadership.

We can see it in Acts 1:1-7 :

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Firstly, here we have the Twelve working as a group, it seems that the general rule of New Testament leadership is one of group work, not some top-down hierarchy.

Secondly, the Twelve ask the church to decide.  They don't decide.  They don't say, "Make some suggestions and we'll think about it." They trust the Holy Spirit to guide the church - because, durrr, everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit of Christ (if they truly belong to Him).  They live out the truth from 1 Tim 2:5: "There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus".

Thirdly, once the church has decided, the Twelve lay hands, bless them and leave them to get on with it.  They don't micromanage.

And you know what, the church grew!  That's what happens when you leave the Holy Spirit to guide, change lives, bring wisdom...you know, all the stuff our tiny brains can't cope with when left to ourselves.  Because funnily enough, the Holy Spirit sees the big picture.

So, to sum up, we can see that a godly leader
  • Will not make him/herself 'in charge' of your faith;
  • Will work with you;
  • Will speak the truth and trust God to change your heart;
  • Will not cajole, flatter or pressure you into anything;
  • Will trust you and the wider church to listen to the Holy Spirit and make decisions;
  • Will let them get on with it - i.e. not micromanage;
  • Will not lord it over people; 
  • Will lead by example.
  • Will [and this is important] recognise that he/she is not perfect, does not know all things and might be misunderstanding the situation. Humility and love are essential.
There are a whole host of other things I could write about leadership, but this is just what I was thinking about today.  It's easy to write about, harder to live out.  But by the grace of God we all walk.  Leaders make mistakes, we all do.  But leaders can also damage lives and even destroy churches.  It's a tricky position to be in.  That's why when we have even a tiny bit of influence over someone's life we need to follow Jesus' example.

I'll leave you with these scriptures:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all." Mark 10:42-44

"For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Matt 23:12

"not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock." 1 Pet 5:3 

Sunday, 6 December 2015

I'm half sick of shadows...but Advent brings light.

and when that which is perfect may come, then that which [is] in part shall become useless...for we see now through a mirror obscurely, and then face to face; now I know in part, and then I shall fully know, as also I was known; 1 Cor 13:10,12 (YLT)

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
              Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
               Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
              Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
              The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
              And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
"I am half-sick of shadows," said
              The Lady of Shalott.

~The Lady of Shalott, Tennyson

Ah this poem.  I've quoted this bit before.  But it just resonates. Bong! Like a rumbly gong in my soul. Such poetic simile...ahem...

We see things as in a mirror darkly.  We see things as in polished metal - the type of mirror Paul would have known - we can see forms, we can see movement, but we don't see the whole picture, and in a mirror it's basically back to front.

Every so often I come back to this realisation.  That, despite my need for definition, for clarity, for absolute, I am merely seeing a shadow.  Jesus is so beautiful, so wonderful, and yet what I know and see is but a dim reflection.  I long to know him as he knows me.  But yet I have to wait.  Until then we weave our tapestry, we paint our pictures of what God is like, but they aren't clear and they aren't perfect.  We are still waiting for the perfect, our Saviour.

Jesus isn't like Lancelot who inadvertently leads the poor Lady of Shalott into a curse. Instead his Advent brings joy and blessing. He isn't a trick, something to lure us into error, into a curse.  No.  To look upon him is the ultimate of all heavenly manna.

This is the good news, when we turn and look upon him, our salvation! When we see him and his full gaze falls upon us.

Advent is this hope.  It is the hope of the blessing of the Numbers benediction, I quote here from the Book of Common Prayer:  

The Lord bless us, and keep us; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us, and give us peace, now and for evermore. Amen

'Lift up the light of his countenance' - there's something about it that really makes me breathe, like a breath of fresh air, an intake of life, the desperate inward breath of a woman who thought she was drowning.  Life.  When you're swirling under a mass of stuff, he lifts up his countenance...and I can breathe.

That's what Advent it.  It's the hope of life to come.  It's the hope...the joy set before me of seeing HIM face-to-face.  Nothing obscuring my vision. Like those creatures in heaven who are covered in eyes, they really SEE him, every part of them from the top of their heads to the tip of their toes SEE him.  Inside and out, back and front, up and down, they see him as he really is.  That's life.  That's the beatific vision of wonder that awaits us.

When we see him as he really is, then all is well.

Come Lord Jesus!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A lowly beggar at the gates of heaven

I was reading a guest post by a woman called Sarah Mae on Ann Voskamp's Holy Experience blog called: When You're Looking for Answers to the Cry of the Aching Woman's Heart, when I came across this line:

When we are desperate as beggars (Matthew 5:3, literal translation)the Kingdom is ours and the blessing can be found.
I'm a complete sucker for the words 'literal translation' and so I immediately got distracted from the message of the post and went off on a little etymological voyage of discovery.  Here's what I found:

Matthew 5:3 reads:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The word translated 'poor' is πτωχός, which transliterated is ptochos.  Ptochos means literally a destitute beggar - destitute of money, status, power and even virtue.  Strongs says: "strictly denoting absolute or public mendicancy".  (Yes I had to look up mendicancy - it basically means begging or being a beggar).

In other words this is total public destitution.  You cannot hide the fact that you are desperate.  There is a different Greek word for being in private straightened circumstances(i.e. you have to strive and toil just to make ends meet) and that word is πένης transliterated penes.

Public destitution.  So desperately in need that we really don't care who knows it.  We have nothing else to lean on, no-one else to go to.

To quote Rachel from Friends, "There's rock bottom.  Fifty feet of crap and then there's me".  You can't even look up from rock bottom "to see the stars" for all the crap on top of you.  Without Jesus we are destitute and blind.

Most of us are in 'penes', we know we are sinners, we know that in private we are ratbags or grumps or judgemental, I know I'm like this, but in public people see Sunday Sarah.  Full of the joy of the Lord, full of compassionate concern, full of 'good strong' Biblical knowledge, gifted by the Holy Spirit [or at least in my head this is what I hope they see]...etc, etc.

But Jesus says I need to get to the place of public destitution...what does this mean?

It means honesty.   It means that we stop spouting off like the Laodiceans about our giftings and general wonderfulness and admit we are "wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked". It means stop pretending and acknowledge an absolute desperate need for Jesus - like a beggar who knows that if they don't start publically begging they are going to die.

I would die without Jesus.

My dream, my desire, for the past three years has been, "I just want Jesus".  Nothing else, just Jesus. That's why the line from Simplicity by Rend Collective, "Lord strip it all away, 'til only You remain" really gets to me.  I don't want to lean on anything else except Him.  And that is hard, it is hard because I'm proud, and I mean proud in the sense that I keep trying to improve myself outside of God, whilst simultaneously subconsciously working on making people like me!


I mentioned the book by Tim Keller - the Freedom of Self-forgetfulness - a couple of posts back and that's where I want to be.  I am desperately in need of God.  But because of pride I keep my destitution private.  I want to be forgetting self, but even in trying to forget self all you can think about is self; both pride and self-hatred are self-obsession.  There is an irony about trying to be humble, because you just end up more self-focussed! Ha.

I am a living example of Isaiah 30, in the sense that Jesus is there all along offering solace and solutions, but I'm going to rush off on my trusty steed to SORT.THINGS.OUT!

For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”
But you would not,
And you said, “No, for we will flee on horses”—
Therefore you shall flee!
And, “We will ride on swift horses”—
Therefore those who pursue you shall be swift!
One thousand shall flee at the threat of one,
At the threat of five you shall flee,
Till you are left as a pole on top of a mountain
And as a banner on a hill.
Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you;
And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
Blessed are all those who wait for Him. (verses 15-18)
Yes, God waits patiently while I run around trying to sort my life out, until I have burned out trying to remember how to forget myself whilst simultaneously trying to impress people and 'get the work of the kingdom done' Sarah-style!  I am, figuratively speaking, left like a stick at the top of a hill - stripped down, laid bare for all to see.

I am nothing, but a lowly beggar at the gates of heaven.

But then. Everything.

When you can't keep up the pretence anymore, when you're weary of trying - Jesus - our strength and our rest is already there.  He never left, He simply waited.  That word 'wait' in Isaiah 30:18 is חָכָה, it's an expectant waiting - a longing.  God is longing for you.  I beg at the gates of heaven, but then Jesus is standing on the other side knocking.

Jesus - the key to the Kingdom of Heaven; the secret of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Him we have the Kingdom.  When the Kingdom of Heaven is yours you can truly live full of the joy of the Lord, full of compassionate concern and live out the Word of God...it's not an act it's just Jesus, He is all these things for us.

I'm not there yet, I'm sure no-one is, but just know this, through it all, through the two steps forward, three steps back kind of lives we live...Jesus is not waiting until you get it right before those gates are flung wide open, He waiting for you to hear Him knocking in the midst of your desperation and need.

Jesus loves you.

Monday, 27 April 2015

My broken song

"I come with my broken song...", these words from Rend Collective's song 'Simplicity' cuts down to where I really hurt. 

When church hurts.  When people use the Bible as a weapon.  When Christians get tribal over a doctrine.  When people push forward their 'vision' aggressively. I feel crushed. It hurts.  It hurts me because I'm still raw.

A woman said in church last night that sometimes we have to let go.  We have to stop talking and thinking about our pain and just get on with it.  Let Jesus heal it.  I guess in some ways she's right.  But even if I change my behaviour it'll still be there.

I can't conform, but I reckon He can transform.

I can only come with my broken song.  I don't want to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that 35 years of spiritual abuse hasn't affected me.  I want to unlearn and I want Him to strip it all away.  It'll make me raw and exposed, but so what.  Let me reach out and touch the hem of His robe.

And He does meet us there in our brokenness.  Church hurts, but I've found church also heals.  Not everyone uses the Bible to condemn people. Not everyone treats their pet doctrine like an idol put above the mercy and grace of God.  Not everyone foists their vision forcibly onto others.

Where I would like to be is to see Jesus in the midst of the ickyness.  When that preacher is being dramatic and insisting on an "amen" when I'd rather say "see ya!", when I see the oppressed being vilified for the sake of a  Bible verse, when I see my loved ones being sidelined or gossiped about for 'the sake of the kingdom' or to push forward the 'vision'...I'd love to just be able to ignore it and not get sucked into this black-hole.  I'd love to be able to remember that Jesus' heart is for the oppressed and prefers justice and mercy over exacting doctrinal correctness, to remember that He is bigger than all this.

I guess I will, one day.

Time heals.  It really does.  I rarely have panic attacks now.  I'm closer to Jesus now.  But every so often someone touches my pain and I remember how weak and raw I still am.

So for now, I'll come with my broken song, because He accepts it as lovingly as the song of the triumphant.

A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah 42:3 (NIV)