“Lord You never let go of Me”

It is often the most simple truths that I seem to forget and let slip into head knowledge in my life, letting my faith become about other things rather than the simple truth that its all about knowing God. I had the privilege of going to the big church night in yesterday and one of the highlights was the way Matt Redman led us with integrity and humility in our worship to remind us that God is faithful and that he never lets us go. How often do I make it all about me rather than about him.

As a young Christian I used to idolise Christian leaders with the beliefs that they were the A* Christians, the sort of people who never did anything wrong and that every night as they went to bed Angels would come and sing songs of peace whilst they were enveloped in the glory of God. Obviously that is an extreme view but as a young Christian I always felt I’d never be good enough for God to use me like he used those might men of old like King David or Joshua. One of the great things about my journey is that I’ve somehow stumbled into being a worship leader and a youth group leader and can safely verify that there certainly are no angels singing lullabies as I enter my bed – nor am I an A* Christian. Whatever that means. For as I grow older I’ve learnt that it’s not about being the A* Christian but following a faithful God.

One of my favourite things about Jesus’ life is the team that he assembled to accomplish Gods great victory plan. Being a keen footballer I’ve always understood the importance of a good team and choosing the best players is fundamental to success. Yet the beauty of Jesus is that his kingdom building dream team was made up of some of the unlikeliest of fellows – a bunch of misfits with wild ambitions, doubtful personalities and intriguing pasts. Despite this mismatched group they led the church to great things and sparked a world wide movement that is still roaring today. Why was this? Was it because they were great? Or was it because they had God with them. The latter is clearly true. This story fills me with great hope because I feel rather ordinary, someone who falls and stumbles, who easily forgets about the amazingness of God and I don’t always feel like I have what it takes to be a follower of God. Yet in my weakness and faithlessness God seems to somehow use me in his kingdom and still continues loving me – it defies belief sometimes! As a worship leader I’m still blown away by the way God seems to use my gifting to bring people into his presence and this isn’t false humility, I truly am amazed that the God of universe would choose to use me. It really is because God is with me and he is faithful even when I am not.

I think we all have those times where we doubt and in the distractions of life God becomes a distant memory, a concept not a love. I’ve been through plenty of these times and I often wonder why God would ever want to keep forgiving me and embracing me as his son. Recently I had one of these times where I was close to giving up on myself and on God, thinking I didn’t have what it takes to be a Christian. I ventured to the library to try and do an essay that was in for the next day and was listening to my iPod when a song came on with the words ‘you are my child and I love you.’ It was one of those rare moments where you just know it was God trying to get through to you. The weight of those words, given my recent struggle with faith and life, hit me like a train and I was overwhelmed that despite all that had happened God still somehow loves me. I remember walking to the nearest toilet with rare tears beginning to appear, desperately hoping people would think I was suffering an early bout of hay fever. All I could say was ok God I come back to you like the prodigal son did in Luke 15 with my Father rushing out to embrace me as a son and not a failure. I guess it’s the same as a mother holding a baby who has just made their nappy a little heavier… Despite the mess God embraces us with no sense of discomfort. I hope this story displays the truth that God is faithful and will never let us go despite everything we think is too much for him to accept. This is the story of my life – God being faithful in all times no matter how many times I recommit my life to him and then turn away. Nothing is too big for him.

Karl Baart wrote over 6 million words on the bible and what it meant and when asked to summarise his great writings he simply said.

“Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39 ESV)

Outrageous grace from a Faithful God.

Flipping yes!

http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=related&v=y83-vMeWc9E

No Pain no Gain?

Having being involved with sport most of my life I can easily relate to the concept of “No Pain, No Gain.” The most memorable of these has to be the arduous task of cross country that was seemingly placed on our shoulders every wednesday afternoon in P.E sessions come rain or shine. The infamous runs across the often waterlogged terrain somehow brought the class together. We used to run in small packs of similarly paced runners like some re-enactment of band of brothers, encouraging each other onwards as we battled through the wind and rain. It was on one of these co-erced adventures that one lad, so desperate for air, jokingly offered five pounds to one of his asthmatic comrades for his inhaler, proof perhaps of the severity of task that we undertook. There was always such joy at seeing the finish line, joy that I’m sure is felt by desert trekkers when they finally stumble across water in a parched land. What was always guaranteed at the end of runs was the little pep talk from the PE teachers.  Hands on knees and saturated to the brim with water the words “No pain no Gain” would be lectured to us in a way that only P.E teachers seem to be able to do.  What was true, however, was that almost every week my time would become quicker and quicker; no pain no gain indeed.

This notion, however, has been something I’ve only every attributed to sport. The rest of my life seems to embark on the journey of making everything simpler or easier in that I do my best to avoid difficult or challenging situations and thus eliminating risk for the safety of well trodden paths. This concept is even reciprocated in the prayers that I pray. I often pray that God would take me out of situations of pain or hardship, or the times where I’ve said to God “Why won’t you answer this pray, it will make my life so much easier.” I think we’ve all had times like that and yet recently I’ve been challenged by my own experience in the world of sport, challenged in a way that alters my previous worldview of life and its adversities.

I had the privilege of spending a few days with a friend recently who studied at a rather picturesque bible college. As well as catching up we also spent a session in the gym that was situated there and it was here that the notion of “No pain, No gain” first started to relate to my own life and not just the hustle and bustle of sport. Its common knowledge in the world of the Gym that to get stronger you have to push your muscles to the limit, lifting heavier and heavier weights with every session. As we took it in turns to lift the other would encourage and when they started to struggle, gently push them to continue ensuring they didn’t give in. There reached a point where my body started to groan under the pressure of the heavier weight and the temptation to give in, to ask my friend to take the weight off me grew. Yet under his encouragement I pushed on and when the reps started to push my body to the limit he would place his little fingers under the bar I was lifting and gently apply the slightest of pressure to assist my lift. It was amazing how even that little bit of added pressure helped push home the last few reps.

Yet isn’t this an analogy of life? Or at least I find it true for me. Just like when I was in the gym and running cross country there are times where I find life hard, perhaps feeling a million miles away from the finish line. Even recently the last few months have been painful and there have been times where I’ve wanted to give up where my prayers have been “why God? Why won’t you take me out of this situation, life would be so much easier.” Just like the moment in the gym where I wanted to give in and have my friend take the weight off me I ask God to relieve my pain. It reminds me of my last two gap years working at the church I’d become a Christian in. I look back on those two years like a veteran soldier would on his previous battles, still nursing scars and bruises. They were undoubtedly the two hardest years of my life and I’d never been pushed so far spiritually, mentally,emotionally and physically  There were times when I wanted to give in, times where I almost did, times where I cried and times where I wished I’d never signed up for the job. Yet a year on and still fresh from the scars I see the growth that has been developed in me, the way I’ve grown wiser from the experience . In true reflection every time I’ve faced hardship in my life and even moments where I’ve wanted to throw in the towel on my Christian journey I see the way the hardship has shaped me into the man that I’m growing to be, often proving to be greater times of growth than in the times where life is plain and easy. Instead of asking God to just relieve me from these moments surely its about asking God to grow me in that moment as well and asking God what challenges are you going to put before me in order that I can grow. I think thats the beauty of doing life with God that through every moment of hardship he is there willing us on and when it seems like the moment is about to overcome us he gives us the strength to overcome it.

There is of course a balance to be met and I know of people who have faced terrible pain that I can’t begin to fathom and the question of “Why God” still echoes around my mind. Jesus promises that we will find rest in  him (Matthew 11:28) and it is important that we do find rest and relief from the battles we face in the world and  its important that we pray that and comfort people who are hurting. Yet  in scripture we see how God also pushes his people to grow them, Jonah is challenged to go to Ninevah, Moses is challenged to speak to Pharaoh (Exodus 3:11), Gideon is called to be a leader despite knowing his weakness (Judges 6:15) and Jesus is tested in the wilderness (Matthew 4). Despite feeling weak God showed the power he had placed in these men and the power and strength that comes from walking with God. God used the illustration of the Potter in Jeremiah 18 to show how he shapes his people so that they may grow in their walk as the people of God. Heres the challenge that I learn from this, that as well as asking God to heal me I also ask God to grow me by challenging me.

I hope we all want to grow as disciples and I’m sure that, whether we know it or not, God is pushing us so that we can grow to be more like Jesus in everything we do. Its encouraged me to trust God with the battles I face in life and to ask how can he grow me everyday and in particular the things I find difficult. A part of it is facing difficult situations or conversations head on knowing that God is not only be there with me, but will also grow me as his disciple in the process. There is always a time for rest and recovering is an important part of the growing process – even in the world of sport rest is fundamental if you want to grow and not burnout and this is echoed brilliantly in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Are you needing to be challenged or are you needing rest and recovery?

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

“God would you challenge me today so that I can grow and when it gets difficult will you give me the strength to overcome it. I pray that in life you will give me the power and the determination to push on in things that are hard when it is right and also that you will give me rest and recovery from battles that have been painful when it is right to. Lord heal me of the pain that I have and may you grow me too in the deep pain that I face every day. Continue to grow, nurture, sustain and develop me as your son/ daughter. amen”

Where is your Eden?

I’m currently sitting on one of my favorite places in the world, a simple mound of earth overlooking a simple pond. This for me has been a place of refuge over the last four years. One of the best ways I find to reflect and pray is to simply escape the hustle and bustle of life, to find a place where no one else dwells and enjoy the stillness and peace of creation in an almost Eden like way. Maybe its because I am a man and like Adam I am destined to the wilderness but I can’t think of many better places to hear from God than creation itself.
As I sat today I reflected on the times I’ve spent here escaping life. Sometimes I’ve been joyful other times I’ve been sad but everytime I come back I have more scars to show and more wisdom to bring, the journey of life played back is an interesting experience. On reflecting deeper its been amazing to see the way God has been teaching me without me realising and just stopping and being in intentional community with God gives a clearer picture of what he is already doing in me.
I wonder if you have a sacred place, a place where the abiltity to stop and disengage from the world exists. For me its been one of the best things I’ve ever done and I wish I spent more time been still, even if just once a month. For one day spent in the courts of the king is better than thousands elsewhere. I’m only just starting to appreciate that.

Relying on God

This isn’t a particularly insightful blog but a simple truth that I rediscover constantly on my journey in life with God. Its a simple understanding that all God desires is for us to rely on him, that in our weakness he would show his strength. My prayer is that for me and for all of us is that as we surrender to our maker we would see his love, grace, hope and power fill our lives….

We’ve all probably experienced those moments when it seems like everything we put our trust in and everything that we’ve invested in falls down like the walls of Jericho. In my short-ish life of 21 years I have experienced a couple of times where these moments have been true, most notably when my amazing grandma sadly passed away. She was a hero to me and someone who loved me for who I am and for not who I wanted to be. Life was also hard in that time for other things too. Yet in that low place I discovered the power of our God and King as I sunk so low that to me all I had left was God. In my weakness God became my strength as I pulled through and saw God do so much through me and in me in those dark hours.

Yet its easy to forget this truth. We live in a culture where often we are judged by what we do. I find myself falling into the trap of advertising my life as been one of wholeness where I can do everything by myself. I often peservere to stop sinning and that in that God might do something, I often find myself  not needing God, that I can do things by myself. It’s in this place that I find myself operating in most of the time. I have enough money to support myself and do stuff I enjoy, I am doing really well at university, I’m involved in a number of church projects, I’m accountable to a number of people and I give people my time. I find myself wandering life with no real need to rely on God apart from the duty of the act or the things that I can do fail.

From this perspective it seems an admirable place to be, commended even. For the man who does not need to rely on anything else is surely a powerful man in Gods eyes. Yet throughout scripture this story does not hold true. In fact it seems that God does the very opposite. He took the Israelites into exile so that they would return to him, he took Abraham to the top of a hill calling for him to sacrifice his son and he led his people through the desert for forty years, he called Joshua to march around a city instead of attacking it and led Daniel to the lions den. It seems that the people who did the most amazing things in the bible were the people who merely surrendered themselves to God.

For me this is the place that I want to be everyday, fully relying on God. The challenge for me and I think for all of us is do we choose to rely on God, especially when all is well. Waking up every day and asking God to be my guide is perhaps one of the scariest things we can pray because often it means not going the way I want to. I often picture my life’s journey as a constant stream of perfection and its hard to lay down my dreams and plans when God tells me otherwise. Yet whenever I give my life over to God and just say have it your way God always pulls through, it doesn’t mean life is perfect but it makes more sense. Even recently as I turn my eyes back to God its been painful and I’ve not understood it, but I’ve never ever been let down by God and I’ve seen his kingdom come in my life and the life of the people around me.

‘Lord thank you for the cross that you made a way for us to be your sons and daughters in relationship with you. Thank you for my life and the things you’ve given me. Help us to rely on you in everything we do for we know your love, justice, hope and power will keep us going. Sorry that we get to the place where we don’t feel like we need you or love you. Humble us, even if it means breaking us, we ask that you would bring us to a place where we are fully reliant on you for in our weakness is when your strength is truly the most powerful. Help us to surrender even when its hard. Thank you Lord. Amen.”

amen

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

This is a song that we sing so often in our church, I’ve played it a number of times myself and have even done some amazing rearrangements that have brought a fresh lease of life to it. Yet so often I sing it without truly knowing the power of the words. Im very aware of the cross of Christ and how amazing the concept is of Jesus dying for me, yet that is all I sometimes leave it as, a concept, or rather thats what I let it become. I’m sure we all have moments in our life of genuine awe of our God whether it be from an amazing sunset, an encounter with Gods spirit or an amazing gathering with other believers there are times where the sheer wonder of God overwhelms us. I remember waking up one morning a couple of months ago in such a place of joy and peace because I knew that God loved me.

Yet so often these moments for me end up fading until the next moment of wonder and I end up becoming religious, doubtful or arrogant. In truth the last few weeks for me have been a mixture of those three things and its been startling to see the ease at which I’ve gradually let this wild relationship with God become nothing more than an ideology. I’m very good at putting up the fake mask of myself, the chilled out manner that everything is ok and I’m a good Christian when deep down I’m struggling and I’m broken. I’ve found myself becoming less content with who I am as the devils lies infiltrate my once well guarded heart that I used to protect every morning with scripture. The result is a dive for the world, almost like a prodigal son who suddenly starts reaching out for the ways of the world. I found myself caring more about the clothes I wear and the way I act than focussing on other people because my identity shifted from God’s love and what he thought about me to what the world thought of me.

Yet just like all things they never fully satisfy and never leave me feeling real like being with God and so with a heavy heart I turned back to God and just like the lowly son in the prodigal son I came before my father embarrassed and broken not daring to believe that God would look at me again in the same way he did a few months ago.

How wrong I was?

On coming into his presence I only felt joy and love from my Dad being welcomed back into his arms, the slate wiped clean, my sin pardoned. It was here that I truly re-discovered the words of that song amazing grace, for how amazing it is to be welcomed back by the King of Kings. You see this isn’t the first time I’ve turned my eyes from God and the first time I’ve made a dash for the world. Yet every time I come back to God I’m accepted and loved and I can’t understand it. The very fact that Jesus died for humanity, that he chose the cross just so we can be right with God astounds me when I know the amount of times I run away from God and reject him. It literally confounds me and all I can sing is  that song.

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound

That sav’d a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

I write this blog not just to share my own life and sufferings but because really God’s grace amazes me and I just want to share how amazing it is to be loved by God. Maybe you feel like the prodigal son and you keep turning away from God I hope that my story shows that even though it happens a lot God still somehow welcomes me back. Maybe you’ve never turned to God, literally its the best thing I’ve ever done and I would love to chat to you more about my own story of faith and now how its made my life religious but how its released me into freedom.

Jesus is my saviour, there is no better news than that.

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