When was the last time that you realized that you were wrong about something to do with following Jesus?

So, when was the last time that you realized that you were wrong about something to do with following Jesus?

If your answer is ‘I don’t know’ and you’re not Jesus then I would suggest that you have a problem.

The Bible is full of language about growth, change and journeying, some examples are:

  • Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12.1)
  • Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3.12)
  • Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.2)
  • And we all, who with unveiled faces reflect] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3.18)

We are supposed to follow Jesus as his disciples, devoted to life long learning. Obviously we can pass on the things we have learnt to others but in doing so we must never lose sight of the reality that we too are disciples who should be trying to continually learn from and to become more like our master.

In Acts we read about Saul who lived his life fanatically trying to serve and to please God but then he had an encounter with God on the road to Damascus, he realized how wrong he had been and his life was never the same.

Once upon a time I believed that the Bible taught that women couldn’t be called by God to be Ministers and I was puzzled by the Christians who weren’t seeing what appeared to be clear in scripture. While I was studying theology I wrote a paper to show that my understanding of the Bible was right but as I engaged with the various passages at a deeper level I was shocked to realize how wrong I had been.

Once upon a time I believed that Ministers are called to primarily to build churches up but then I realized a few years ago that Jesus is building his church and that our part of this work is to make disciples. This changed the way I engaged in ministry as I started to consider how to make disciples who can then in turn make disciples rather than just trying to keep the church functioning whilst doing a bit of evangelism on the side. The realization that Sunday services shouldn’t be the only gateway to discipleship and church came as quite a shock to me but as a result of embracing this, people have come to faith and been discipled who otherwise wouldn’t have been.

Once upon a time I believed that the point of church was to primarily to equip people to live out their faith in church life but then I encountered the concept of whole life discipleship which made sense of the scriptures in a whole new way.

Cleopas and his friend met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and when reflecting on their journey with him they said ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’

I hope and pray that our hearts desire is that Jesus would open the scriptures to us and that our hearts would burn within us as he leads us through change as we grow in our faith, becoming more like him.

Image: https://unsplash.com/photos/-Cmz06-0btw

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Praying for England on St George’s Day

Praying for England on St George’s Day

Honest about my faith

England flag in sunlightIt’s St George’s day. I’ve seen a lot of people today and not one of them has mentioned about it, as I drove around Colchester I didn’t see any England flags. If I hadn’t seen various things online I never would have known.

I think we live in a great country, but I think that there are also significant challenges that we are facing.

I’ve decided to mark St George’s day by praying for our nation. Will you join me?

As I have prayed, I was remembered this photo that I took recently. It was a beautiful day and the flag rippling  in the wind with the sun behind it was a beautiful sight. What it reminded me of was of our real need for the light of God to shine in and across our nation.

There is a lot of worry, fear and depression in our nation and I…

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So You’re Still Around?

I was at a meeting of Ministers in Colchester organized by New Wine and one of them greeted me with these words.

‘So you’re still around?’

There had made a very reasonable assumption that I had moved away because of my new job when I had actually remained in the area.

As we worshiped together later I began to wonder if we ever have a ‘So you’re still around attitude with God?’

Do we expect to encounter God in a gathering for worship?

Do we expect to encounter God at work?

Do we expect to encounter God in everyday life?

Do we expect to encounter Go when we are in trouble?

Do we expect to encounter God when life is full of joy and happiness?

We know that Jesus said that He is with us always but do we have the expectation that He really is with us always?

It occurred to me recently that for a people who believe that the all powerful and loving God is with them that we can try really hard to live our lives n our own strength, only calling on Jesus when all else has failed.

So, if you’re a ‘so you’re still around’ person in your expectation of encountering Jesus in the everyday, can I encourage you to call on him more. Try ‘thanks that you are still around at regular intervals in the day’. Look for God’s presence and listen for his leading and you might be surprised what happens.

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Broken Beyond Repair or Ready to be Restored?

How does this photo make you feel?

What do you see?

Is this a broken and beat up boat doomed to disintegrate on land or is it a boat that is ready to be restored and returned to the sea to fulfil it’s potential?

How about you? How do you feel? Do you feel bruised and broken and ready to give up or are you open to God’s transformation with the belief that anything can change?

How about the places where we minister? Are we looking at some situations as though they are broken and beyond all hope or do we believe that God can really make all things new?

God,

Help us to see and to be honest about the reality that we face but help us also to look to you and to be open to your Spirit working miracles and leading us into the new things that you have for us.

Thank you that you meet with us in our brokenness, bringing healing and hope. Help us to take your hand and to follow your lead that we might step into all that you have for us.

Amen

The photo was taken by me along the Essex way between Mistley and Wrabness. There are no copyright restrictions on the picture and so you are free to reuse it.

 

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A Prayer for the UK

They lived in a time of despair and uncertainty, a people looking for hope and to these people, God makes a promise:

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. (Isaiah 9.2)

The Jews who first heard this message through Isaiah hundreds of years ago would almost certainly have taken it to be a promise of a military leader who would come and defeat all of their enemies. Their hope was to become a secure and sovereign nation again and they longed for God to make this a reality.

We now know that these words spoke of Jesus who was the Messiah but in an unexpected way, he rescued us all, not from other nations but rather from separation from God.

Jesus came into this world and the people who met him saw who God was, they received hope and they discovered what it was to live in the light.

At this time of great uncertainty in our nation we need the light of God to shine even more brightly and so this is my prayer for the UK at the beginning of 2019:

Jesus, may we see your light shining even brighter this year.

May all those who are walking in darkness find the hope and salvation that only you can bring.

Help us, your people, to let your light shine in us and through us.

Amen

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Jesus Wept

The shortest verse in the Bible provides us a deep and profound look into the heart of God:

‘Jesus wept’

As Jesus approaches the tomb of his friend Lazarus, he broke down and cried.

When Lazarus was seriously ill Jesus had been sent for but he hadn’t responded. Jesus could have left immediately and healed Lazarus and in doing so he would have saved himself the deep pain of mourning the death of his friend.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus knew that Lazarus would rise from the dead but this didn’t stop him feeling sorrow and pain in the meantime. The miracle was around the corner but Jesus felt the deep pain and loss as any of us would as he was surrounded by sorrow and grief.

In this famous story in John 11 we encounter Jesus who clearly knows it is all going to be okay in the end. He allows the tragedy to unfold and at the beginning of the chapter he appears indifferent. By the end of the account though we see the pain that Jesus felt and this makes it all the more astonishing that he didn’t intervene sooner.

God doesn’t always spare us the pain of life but we do know that as we endure the sorrows that life can bring that he weeps with us.

God is at work! Sometimes he rescues miraculously, sometimes he intervenes in other ways but in every circumstance he walks with us. As we cry out ‘why God’, our words don’t bounce off an indifferent God, rather our cries are received by the God who weeps with us.

God feels pain but he doesn’t run the universe in a way that causes him the least stress and anguish and he doesn’t distance himself from our suffering.

One day God will make a new heaven and a new Earth and in this new creation there will be no more death, suffering or pain. It would be easier and much less painful for God to begin this new creation now but instead he waits and is at work in the suffering and brokenness of this world. He is at work in the sorrow and sadness bringing hope, love and comfort to everyone who will receive from him.

If you are consumed by sorrow and suffering then I hope and pray that you will know the presence and comfort of Jesus who weeps with you.

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From Scattered Sheep to Sent Shepherds

It’s amazing how you can read a very familiar part of the Bible and yet see something new in it!

Recently I was reading about the time when Peter said that he would never deny Jesus (Matthew 26):

31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

What struck me was the quote from Zechariah 13.7 which talks about the sheep being scattered when the shepherd is removed.

Peter couldn’t imagine a scenario in which he would deny Jesus but I think that he also couldn’t imagine a scenario without Jesus being with him. (Although Jesus talked openly about his death, the disciples don’t appear to have understood or to have taken this on board).

Peter did deny Jesus and no doubt he felt terrible about this and so it is wonderful when he meets with the risen Jesus and is restored (John 21).

Jesus says to Peter ‘Do you love me?’ and when Peter responds positively Jesus commissions him to take care of and to feed his sheep.

Jesus takes Peter, the ‘Scattered Sheep’ and commissions him as a ‘Sent Shepherd’.

It’s reassuring to know that Jesus doesn’t respond to our failure with rejection, but instead he sees our failures as growth and learning opportunities.

Jesus’ question to Peter isn’t about professionalism, level of commitment or even holiness. It is about love! If we love Jesus and we allow his love tom transform the way we are living then how much we succeed or fail doesn’t matter.

Peter was far from perfect. In Acts 10 he says ‘NO’ to God but even in that moment he was open to change and he learnt from his conversation and encounter with God. By the end of that chapter his attitude is different as he surrenders to God afresh.

Some of you reading this might feel like ‘Scattered Sheep’ but you need to know that God doesn’t write us off to be afraid, alone and lost forever. God longs to restore, strengthen and to build us up. If we love him then he will help us to become ‘Sent Shepherds’.

God is looking for our love, not our perfection but if we do love and walk with him then he will help us to grow and to become more like him.

Jesus quoted from Zechariah 13 and the start of that chapter speaks of the Messiah, what he would accomplish and the resistance he would face.

‘On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity’ (v1)

Jesus, our Messiah, died to offer cleansing from sin and impurity. We don’t need to be perfect to know him because his sacrifice cleanses us.

We don’t have to be good enough to know Jesus but we are called to love him.

Zechariah 13 finishes with these words about God’s faithful people who he would

put into the fire;
    I will refine them like silver
    and test them like gold.
They will call on my name
    and I will answer them;
I will say, ‘They are my people,’
    and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’”

This was certainly Peter’s experience and it will be ours if we continue to love, look to and to call on God. At the end of the  struggles and difficulties we will be left with ‘They are my people’ and ‘The Lord is our God’.

If I owned sheep, I wouldn’t promote one of them to become the shepherd but this is what Jesus does and is doing!

God, I pray that as we love, look to and call on you more that you would transform and change us. Help us to be secure enough in your love and acceptance to accept that we will fail and that when we do to have the confidence that you will lovingly restore us. Thank you that you will never leave us or forsake us. Amen

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It’s Your Superpower too!

He spoke to me in a moment that I wasn’t feeling my best.

I had a lot on my mind and I was feeling weighed down but he didn’t know that.

He said

‘I’m glad you are going to be our regional minister. You are so creative and I appreciate your creativity’.

He was just being honest and the kindness of his words would have been appreciated on any day but on that day his words changed how  I was feeling dramatically and made a huge difference.

You have a superpower!

Yes, you. You really do have a superpower and it’s called encouragement!

Encouragement is so simple, it costs us nothing and yet it can make such a HUGE difference.

I got home yesterday evening after a long and heavy day. Everything had gone well but I was absolutely exhausted. I needed to send a quick email before I switched off and as I started to type an email popped in that said

Thank you for your MOST helpful focus on dreams  (you can read about that here) which affected much of my thinking and praying over the summer holiday.

I now have dreams for the coming term!

Every blessing as you think and pray about your dreams as you begin regional ministry.

It only takes a few seconds to say a kind word, to send an email, to write a card or even to give someone a chocolate gorilla.

Who can we encourage today?

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In the Hands of God

I love this sculpture of giant hands outside of Woodbridge Quay Church. When I was in the area recently I took this photo of my daughter curled up as a reminder that she is safe on God’s hands. I want her to have and treasure this picture as a reminder that God is with her always and that he is holding her.

Yesterday morning at church we were about to pray for children, young people and teachers and other staff members starting a new school term. I remembered the picture and showed it to everyone (thank goodness for the Dropbox connection between my phone and the church computer). This was supposed to be a simple encouragement to people starting a new term but it turned out that the picture spoke to someone else. Someone shared that when they saw the picture that they cried and then they knew what to do.

It is worth reading the story of the hands and how they represent so much more than what I have described here. The words I HOLD AND AM HELD are written on the hands and these words ‘bear witness to the act of putting our trust in God. In faith we hold onto Him – He is our Strength and our ever-present Help. Our Hope is in Him and He holds us securely and lovingly as our Father God.’

What a wonderful reminder.

Posted in creative communication, Faith, God is our father, God is with us, God loves us, Life experiences, Loving God, Loving one another | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Walk that Began 16 Years Ago

Earlier this month, my wife Tracey and I walked the West Highland Way which is a 96 mile trail in Scotland that runs from Milngavie to Fort William.

In a sense this journey began In 2002 when we drove along a part of the route and we were left in awe and wonder by the majestic scenery and views so much so that at the end of the drive we decided that we wanted to walk through this amazing countryside. On our return home we bought a map which suggested breaking the walk into 8 stages and we did some research into the places we would have to stay, we got very excited but then we realized that the journey would be much too long with our two sons who were both under 5 at the time.

Over the years our talk about walking the Way lessened and with our two daughters arriving the journey was still impractical and so over time our precious dream was lost.

During the second part of 2017, Tracey and I started walking each Friday as a way of finding some space together in our over busy lives and as we got up to the distances required to complete each stage of the Way our dream began to re emerge. We started to dare to believe that it was something we could actually accomplish and we worked out that with the help of some lovely relatives and a Scripture Union camp that we could be child free for the time we would need to travel to Scotland and walk the Way. In January, the dream came alive! We booked accommodation for each night of the walk and we stepped up our walks and also began increasing the weight in our backpacks.

As our walk start date drew nearer we got more and more excited but with the heat wave our training walks got shorter and shorter and a combination of factors meant that some weeks we didn’t walk at all in July and early August.

On day 1 of our walk we were due to be walking 14 miles and somehow we ended up walking 16. Around the 8 mile mark I was exhausted and so we stopped for a rest and I stumbled through the rest of the day but that evening I could hardly walk. I have to be honest and say that I thought my walk was over but in the morning I felt not too bad and so on day 2 we walked the few miles towards Conic Hill (see picture below) before heading up and over it (just over 350m high).

At the top of the hill I was so encouraged but by the end of this day and the next day I was limping into our accommodation (on day 3 I didn’t arrive until 9.45pm).

I started to work out if I could use public transport to skip a bit of the route on some days but then each morning I felt okay and so off we went.

No one was more surprised than me when we reached the finishing point and I had somehow managed to walk all of the way.

In 2002 we had a dream and that dream was lost for many years. I wonder if this is a parable or picture of our personal or church life?

We have this great dream of the Kingdom of God which is a reality in which people’s lives are transformed, where people recognize that God is king and where we clearly see God at work.

Perhaps in some of our churches the dream of the Kingdom has been replaced by the reality of what we can see around us. Instead of talking about God and what he is doing, our discussions become dominated with phrases like ‘we are very small’, ‘it will never work’, ‘we don’t have the resources’ etc.

As we walked our walk and lived our dream, I really struggled and at several points I nearly gave up and I wonder if this is a parable or picture of our personal or church life?

Perhaps you have leapt out in faith and you’ve ended in a place where you don’t have the resources to finish what has been started. This is the point where we can either trust in God or panic, where we can persevere in our walk with God or go off looking for quick fixes to try to make things safe and sensible.

The wonderful thing about living the dream of the Kingdom of God is that it is all about Jesus! We think that to be successful in Kingdom terms that we need vast resources and lots of people but in contrast, Jesus started with 12 and when he sent them out he told the to take nothing with them for the journey. We think we need to be powerful but in contrast Jesus taught that we need to become like little children. The dream of the Kingdom involves a complete reliance on Jesus rather than us trying to stretch what we have to be enough.

What dream has God given you? If you aren’t sure, then consider how can you create space to receive God’s inspiration and leading?

If you are believing for that dream to become a reality, are you willing to rely on Jesus or are you trying to build His Kingdom in your own strength?

As we walk the Way with Jesus, it’s encouraging that he is with us always. Let’s look to him allowing him to lead, strengthen and inspire us as we travel with Him through life.

Posted in Being honest about our faith, encouragement, Faith, Following Jesus, God is with us, Kingdom of God, Life experiences, Listening to God, Relationship with God | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments