Going round in circles

Being lost is one of the most frustrating feelings I’ve ever encountered. Going round and round in what seems like neverending circles the world looks like a Kalaeidoscope, a mash up of colours that don’t really make sense. As an avid Manchester United fan gracing the M6 on a saturday morning to go watch my team play is a joy that I can’t explain, as fields drift pass my window endlessly the thought of sitting in the theatre of dreams again builds up the excitement within my soul. It was on one of these journeys that we reached the Kalaidoscope scenes that I previously mentioned. We were lost. After going past the same pub for the fifth time in quick succession the frustration of all was clear, groans rattled through the coach like an infectious virus, wiping away any hope of getting to the game on time. It seemed that hope was fading.

To compare that experience to the life of a disciple of Christ is of course a trival matter, yet sometimes it seems that I’m doing nothing but going round in circles, not getting anywhere in particular whilst constantly going through the motions of re-learning the same things.I recently read through my blogs and to be honest the story is often the same, just each time from a different perspective or put in a slightly more articulate or creative way.

I can almost put it into a diagram. I have profound moments of intimacy with God, perhaps learning something new or being caught in a renewed sense of awe of who he is. This is followed by a period of time where I passionately seek God and read my Bible with a new vigor, constantly praying that every day would be lived like it was my last. I even have a dog tag with the words “to live is Christ to die is gain” around my neck to remind me of the radical discipleship Christ calls me to. Then all too quickly I fall into the realms of ritualism, I read my Bible out of duty rather than Joy, I become bogged down in theological issues and desperately try to understand big things, asking the difficult questions hoping to discover something amazing.

Then I stop, reflect and realise that I’ve become trapped by my own religion. Yes MY own religion, not that of the church or anything else, but by the religous things that I put in my life. If you’ve ever spent more than five minutes talking to me about church you will know that I’m a cynic, questioning the state of church in my country and putting forward my own views on how communities should operate and how the church should rise up out of the ashes it finds itself in. Of course this comes from a sincere heart of despearatly wanting the church to rejuvenated in this country yet so often I miss the point. The problem is this isn’t a small minor detail but it’s the point itself. I miss God. I forget to just enjoy being in his presence, I become so focussed on the things of this world that I miss out on the most important thing of all. Even this morning I woke up early and the decision arose within me, Do I get out of bed and pray or do I let the safety of my bed drag me back into the realms of sleep.

I chose the latter.

I’m going round in circles. Constantly struggling to keep God at the centre of it all.

I guess this is where community is so important, encouraging each other to stick to the root of all that we are. To co-erce us to stop and reflect on our own spirituality and re-focus on God. If I’ve learnt anything from the bible it is this, you can only go where God wants you to go if you humble yourself and follow Gods lead whole heartedly. Its literally echoed in most stories of the Bible.

“Lord I ask only one thing, that you would humble me and teach me how to love and follow you with everything I’ve got, Amen”

Why follow Jesus? The cost (part 1)

This is perhaps one of the most controversial posts I’ve written, from another point of view its not.

I sometimes wonder why there are so many people confessing to be Christians in the world. I really do. Why? Because I’ve read the gospel. Not only do I read “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” (Matthew 7:13) but I also read of the cost of discipleship, how no-one can be a disciple of Jesus’ words unless they take up there cross everyday (Luke 9:23)  or how “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26). I mean its pretty offensive stuff, why would I hate my Mum or Dad? Yet Jesus said it… Whatever he meant by it he was pretty sure that to be a disciple of his you have to lay down everything. I’m also gripped by how the church was persecuted throughout the first 300 years of its existence. People died… I mean not just that people died… they were brutally tortured for confessing the name of Jesus.

If this is the gospel we live by then why do so many people claim to be apart of it? I’m a Christian and I claim to be a disciple of Christ and I’m deeply offended by the words of Christ. They challenge my view on the Christian faith no end. Why am I Christian? If someone came up to me and said “are you a Christian, oh by the way if you said yes I’ll kill you” what would I say? I’m honestly not sure what I would say….

Now of course its not that that is the only bit of the story. For why would anyone follow a guy who asks so much if he wasn’t worth it. To use a silly analogy along time ago when I was not as mature in my faith as I am now I liked a girl and something started to happen between us and I did genuinely like her a lot. I wanted her to be happy with me so I embarked on the plan that I’m sure every guy has embarked on, the quest for a six pack. I used to run three times a week on top playing football three times a week and going to the gym almost everyday. I’m not going to lie it was painful, I even developed tendonitus in my ankles because I kept going. Why did I go through these things? Because she was worth the pain in my eyes.

Is there a cost to following Jesus? In our culture what is the cost of following Jesus?

Living in a western culture makes this such a hard question to answer. Why? Because we have everything. Because we worship safety. Maybe its because I live in Winchester but we are safe. We shun ourselves away from any pain or hardship. It’s all about not offending anyone, we have to be politically correct. We have enough money to afford the basics as well as plenty of other stuff. Now I’m a radical and love to challenge the core of things. I love to jump over fences (despite liking to jump over physical fences I am in actual fact talking about metaphorical fences), in fact I love boundaries because they’re something I can jump over. But despite knowing my personality I see a friction between the gospel I see in the Bible and the gospel we more often than not live out in the middle-class western society I live in. Sometimes I feel that in church we often try to not and offend anyone, I mean what would happen if they walked away? I would have to say I agree…

Yet…

Yet I read the words Jesus has and he is definitely not scared of offending anyone… Picture this…. You walk into the archbishops office and call the clergy you meet there a “a brood of vipers” as Jesus did in Matthew 12. Now I’m not saying that all clergy are the equivalent of Pharisees but yet this would be the clearest way to picture what Jesus was doing. His preaching was so controversial that most of his follower left at one point… read John 6:66. Does this sound like a church today in our culture? Most churches I’ve been apart of have worried about not offending anyone, what happens if they leave? Yet again doesn’t Jesus say the path is narrow. If we live in a rich westernised culture is it not easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for us westerners, the richest in the world, to enter the kingdom of God? (Luke 18:18-30) Thats challenging isn’t it. Yet it seems to be the gospel I read in my Bible. So often I hear of a Christian message where its about not having sex outside of marriage, not drinking and not being aggressive, that its about being a nice guy for God doing nice things and that if I do these things then I get to go to heaven. What? If anyone wants to be my disciple he must first deny himself… Isn;t this the gospel

Its kind of an all or nothing. Isn’t that what Jesus message seems to say? The gospel seems to be this constant question of its either you give up everything to follow me or you don’t give up everything at all. The kingdom of heaven isn;t a treasure in a field thats worth half of what we have, yet this is the picture we seem to give as church sometimes.  I speak as a hypocrite but do I see an all or nothing mentality in our churches? Do I see an all or nothing mentality in my life? I try but still I follow the patterns of the world.

So why follow Jesus? For that I will answer in another blog, but its important I think that before we embark on the why we understand the cost of this journey. Maybe thats a negative way of looking at it but before buying something I always check out the cost, and the cost of following Jesus is huge.

So I conclude with this my dear brothers and sisters. I may be just another radical and please challenge me on my theology but I lovingly challenge us all to stop and look at the gospel for what it is, the black and white call to radically follow Jesus. Its an adventure and like all adventures there are hardships. I often think being a disciple is like being Maximus from Gladiator. There are hardships, sacrifices and brokenness, there are scars, but yet you stand strong because of it, standing strong in the strength of God because we’ve died to all our own and let the king of glory live in us.

Why am I a follower? I’ll share that soon.

 

Christ’s riches are unsearchable, and this doctrine of the gospel is the field this treasure is hidden in.
Thomas Goodwin

 

Gods plan or my plan?

I like to be in control.

Fact.

Despite being a very relaxed lad with an easy going nature and a flexibility,  I like to be in control of the direction things are going in. I’m not massively religious about time or how things are going to be done, just as long as they get done. I always leave essays to the last minute because I know that it will get done no matter how late I leave it (I’ve never missed a deadline). Everyday as I wake up I envisage what things I will aim achieve that day and become annoyed when they don’t go to plan. Its the same for my life. I have a big plan and it would be as follows… Finish my degree in sports coaching, do a PGCE, get married, live in Africa with my wife for 1-2 years and then come back to England and fight for this country for Gods kingdom alongside my partner with Christ directing us.

It sounds great and Godly.

Yet recently I’ve grown to realise the fact that most of my plans never seem to go the way I intend them. I wouldn’t have ever predicted being at winchester university two years ago and even in the every day my days never quite shape out as I would imagine them to. Of course some of these are God given dreams and I have a number of dreams that I embark on and believe are from God yet I’m impatient. I try and speed up the plan by doing God’s work for him.

Yet God calls us to follow him, not the other way around. How often do I decide to do what I think I should I do or what seems the most Godly rather than actually following God. It seems crazy but I just fall into the habit of asking God to bless my plans and not begin to think what God is thinking. I’m amazed by passage in Mark where Jesus calls his first disciples. We so often forget that the disciples had no idea where they were going or what this journey would lead them to because we have the whole picture.

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-19)

The thing that challenges me about this is that the disciples were completely relying on Jesus to lead them where they were going. I wonder what it must have been like to wake up and not know where you were going. Excited, nervous, scared?

Are we going to go the way we think is right and us God to bless it? Or  are we seeking God and following where he goes like the disciples?

I think in our culture and for me particularly we like to embark down the safe road of being in control of where we are going,  trying to live out for Jesus as we go. Yet isn’t the radical call of the gospel to humble ourselves and FOLLOW Christ. Jesus said I only do what I see my father in heaven doing (John 5:19)…

Its a hard road to go because we can’t see the end, its almost asking question do I trust God enough to lead me one step at a time and to lead me through the darkness so that that I may grow into the man God wants me to be. In a culture where we are addicted to security its a hard choice taking away the security of seeing the whole path laid out before us. Following Gods plans is hard, it led the disciples on a route where they often had no idea whats going on, it took the Israelites on a 40 year journey to the promised land, it led Joshua to march around a city silently, it led Daniel to the lions den, it led Phillip to an Ehtiopian Eunuch it led Paul to prison and it to Abraham from his own lands. Yet they trusted and every time God pulled them through and did amazing things through them.

The more I experience being led by God the more I realise he doesn’t tend to do what I think he should do. I’m pretty sure Joshua’s top ten battle tactics for Jericho would not include marching around the city blowing trumpets…

There have been disappointments and times of sorrow in my life where things I’ve planned or thought were going to happen haven’t actually happened and yet sometimes thats the journey God wants us to take because he teaches us something new.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:4-5)

Yet also we forget that the reason these people allowed God to lead them and they trusted was because of who God is. Its not some punt in the dark its follow our very maker and Father.

Psalm 27

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation

Of David.

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
     Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.

13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

The ultimate question is to ask ourselves do we trust God enough to follow him wherever he calls us, not just the big plan but the daily plan. How I long to wake up everyday feeling like one of the twelve, not knowing where the journey was going to take us next but knowing I was in the hands of the miracle maker, preparing for the days adventure

Are we letting God direct us everyday? Are we letting go of our plans knowing that the journey God takes us on is one of love because it is being led by love itself? What plans are we holding to?

All we can do is be obedient to God in the everyday as we seek him with all we have and fix our eyes on him, the king of kings.