Monday, 15 August 2011

Jesus, I my cross have taken

Jesus, I my cross have taken,
all to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
all I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.

Let the world despise and leave me,
they have left my Saviour too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me;
thou art not. like them, untrue.
O while thou dost smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might.
Foes may hate and friends disown me.
Show Thy face and all is bright.

Go then earthly fame and treasure,
come disaster, scorn and pain.
In Thy service pain is pleasure,
with Thy favour, loss is gain.
I have called thee Abba Father,
I have stayed my heart on thee.
Storms may howl and clouds may gather.
All must work for good to me.

Soul then know thy full salvation,
rise o’er sin and fear and care.
Joy to find in every station,
something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee.
Think what Father’s smiles are thine.
Think that Jesus died to win thee.
Child of heaven canst thou repine.

Haste thee on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith and winged by prayer.
Heaven’s eternal days before thee,
God’s own hand shall guide us there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission.
Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days.
Hope shall change to glad fruition.
Faith to sight and prayer to praise.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

What in the World am I doing?

This week is the Crosslinks SMILE gap year training conference. There are teams of Gap Year Students heading off to the Gambia, Uganda and Thailand, all on programmes where Evangelism, Service and Discipleship are key.

I popped over to give some talks on Mission. An afternoon session, broken into 3 mini-sessions from Isaiah, Luke and Acts.

We had a lot of fun, starting off by designing 'World Problem' Top Trump cards, thinking about presenting problems in the world. We then saw what God is doing in the world, in Isaiah 66, from which we were able to draw up a time-line, from when Isaiah received his revelation, through to Jesus's return, and his bringing in of the New Creation, and the eternal judgement. Then we filled in the timeline with how God achieves his mission of gathering a people from all nations to see his glory, 1) through sending a sign, the Lord Jesus, 2) through sending out people who have witnessed the sign, to declare God's glory out to the nations...

A break of light relief before looking at Luke 19, and Jesus' coming to earth to seek and to save the lost... by teams attempting to seek and save the lost (a jelly baby of course - in bowls of squirty cream)... using only their mouths... messy and hilarious! Then diving into Luke 19 thinking about Jesus' priority... proclaiming his message: good news to the rich, good news to the poor... good news to the well-fed, good news to the hungry... good news to the oppressed, good news to the oppressor... it's all about whether we see people as Jesus sees people - lost! For only two category will matter on that final day - those who submit to the Lord Jesus, and those who live as rebels and traitors to Him.

Next, groups headed outside, with a box of matches. A member of the group had to light a match, and tell their group members the gospel, before their fingers burnt... some hilarious squeals, screams and people totally crumbling under the apparent pressure of holding a lit match.

Then back together again, for a look at Acts 1 and 2, seeing how Jesus sends the disciples out to all nations (just as we were expecting from Isaiah)... and how then we today are equipped, with the Holy Spirit, and the disciples message (looking at the gospel content from the latter half of Acts 2)... to go out to all nations... while Jesus continues to work from his heavenly throne room...

Awesome time... real encouragement to see young people, eager to align themselves with God's agenda, of taking the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins, to all nations...

Sunday, 18 April 2010

His Kingdom...not yours

Been doing some work on 1 Peter for a CU talk in a couple of weeks... seems that Peter wants to give the Christians confidence, that while their life is now difficult, tough, pressured and as they are marginalised simply for being obedient to Jesus... so they need reassurance to stand firm... in 1:1-12, that confidence seems to be: God is for them (he chose them); they have an awesome, secure future ahead of them that will never perish, and not be taken away from them; and that even through trials - they can rejoice, deeply, for the most precious thing they have - their faith - is being refined to make it stronger, more beautiful, more pure...

They're exiles... in the world, but not of the world - set apart, marked out, as being obedient to Jesus. And that obedience to Jesus causes them to be reviled, mocked and maligned... but that should not be a surprise to them, for it is the pattern that Christ himself sets up, follows and experiences (as foretold in the prophets) of suffering in this world, but glory in the future world... that living hope, that awesome inheritance.

Reminds me of this quote (from Tripp):
"Jesus didn't give you his grace, to make your kingdom work... he gave you his grace, to invite you to a better kingdom!"

"this is the true grace of God... stand firm in it!" 1 Peter 5:12

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The Training Church

Some helpful and thought-provoking quotes from Trellis and Vine, ch6 (The heart of training):

Training forms not only beliefs and abilities, but also character and

Training is loving someone enough to want to see them grow and
flourish, and being prepared to put in the long-term, faithful work
that will (in God's mercy) see that happen.

We are always an example to those whom we are teaching and training,
whether we like it or not. We cannot stop being an example. One of the
key tasks for the pastor and elder is to frame their lives so that
they serve as godly models for others - which is why most of the
requirements laid down for elders in places like 1Tim3 and Titus1
relate to character and lifestyle.

We are to set an example in striving for holiness, not in displaying
perfectly achieved holiness.

In relational training, the hearts of both trainer and trainee are
exposed. As we train ministers of Christ's word, we don't measure
progress simply by the performance of tasks, but by the integrity of
the heart.

Trainees likewise need to see into the heart of their trainers - the
sins and confessions, the fears and faith, the vision and realities,
the successes and failures. The life and ministry of the trainer is
the model for he trainee - not perfection but of godly desires in an
earthen vessel. This requires an honest, open sharing of our lives.

Programs and packages can provide a very helpful framework for
training. However, to make real progress in helping the Christians in
your congregation become "encouragers", they need more than a six-week
course. They need the example of seeing it done; and they need the
personal instruction and mentoring and prayer that addresses the
spiritual issues at the heart of becoming an "encourager". This takes
time and personal attention - before, during and after the structured
training opportunity.

The Trellis and the Vine is written by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, published by matthiasmedia

Friday, 10 July 2009

Helping Each Other #2

On Sunday I looked at ways in which we are slow or reluctant to be honest about our struggles in our Christian walk (Helping Each Other #1).

It was written from the point of view of the person struggling… and so today, I’d like to think more about how we can help others when they reach out to us – or perhaps, before they even do.

Kinda sounds obvious, but listening is crucial. It helps the person talk through what is going on, enabling them to express how they are feeling, and what’s going on in their life. Listening shows that we genuinely care and love them, that we want to understand and that we want to help.

It doesn’t mean just sitting there, empathetically nodding our heads… but as we listen, so identify with them, help them to see that they’re not alone, that they are not the only person in the world who is struggling in what ever area it might be. That’ll either be identifying with them from our own personal experience, battles, struggles and temptations – or perhaps (not limited to) back to something like Hebrews 4:15-16 – Jesus understands, he’s taken on flesh, he is not unable to sympathise!

Also, as we listen, we should be wanting to understand what is going on. This will no doubt mean asking questions - sensitively and appropriate to the situation – to ensure that we are not simply making assumptions about what is going on in their life… for example, you know a couple who have been dating/courting… and one of them comes to you and says, “last night we did something – it was a big mistake”… now, we could be hearing “we slept together”… or for others, the big mistake might simply be “we started kissing on the sofa”… actively listening, by asking thoughtful questions, albeit sensitively, will help ensure that we are hearing correctly, and so better able to respond in a meaningful way.

I wonder if we’re often slow to do this… I don’t know why we might be… but here’s a great couple of paragraphs from “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands” which encourages me to keep doing it – I recommend a read of it:

“Asking good questions is vital to helping people face who they really are and what they are really doing. As sinners we all tend to recast our own history in self-serving ways. We hide behind the difficulty and pressures of the situation or the failures of others. We look for external explanations, not internal ones. We are more impressed with our righteousness than we are horrified at our sin.

Because of this, we all need people who love us enough to ask, listen, and, having listened, to ask more. This is not being intrusive. This is helping blind people to embrace their need for Christ. It is helping people to see the foolish ways they have lived for their own glory, and the subtle ways they have exchanged worship and service of the Creator for worship and service of his creation.”
So, actively listening is not just to ensure we’re not hearing something different to what is being spoken, but also to help the person to work backwards, to help identify the root issue… that brings me to my second point.

Help them to think
As we actively listen to someone, so we want to help them think through what is going on, biblically. What is it that sparks an action, a reaction, a line of thinking etc etc.

The heart is the factory of idols, and we’re quick to believe the devils lies… so by actively listening, we’re wanting to help them think through 1) what idols are they worshipping; or 2) what lies are they believing.

We’re trying to help the person identify answers to such questions on such areas… to then be applying Gospel truths themselves, into their own life… to equip them to help themselves.

Point them in the right direction
Having thought a bit about the lies believed or the idols worshipped, so we can think about how the Gospel speaks into those situations, and help fill the Gospel armoury for when the battle comes again. Not that we’d expect change (or at least complete change) to happen overnight… but over time… and so we’d be looking to offer some accountability on what ever issue the person is struggling with – loving them enough to ask how it’s going, to be patient, still quick to listen, quick to understand, and lovingly continue to speak truth applied into the persons situation – but all the time, helping them, to help themselves.

Will we do this?

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Helping Each Other #1

Been thinking a bit, recently, about the kind of things that can stop us being honest about how we’re doing in our Christian walk. This afternoon I want to think about the kind of issues that mean we keep quiet about the real struggles we’re experiencing!

In the first instance, there is of course one place to go for the deepest comfort, Hebrews 4:15-16: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need” [ESV]

I don’t want to play down the large part this has in answering our question… and have blogged on that passage as a result of speaking on it recently at a CU (Drawing Near to a Sympathetic High Priest)… But is that the end of the matter? It should certainly be shaping our thinking and prayer life. Yes it’s where we should start and come back to time and time again… but there are most likely areas of worked out practice that must surely follow!

We don’t like to admit weakness
Our pride is a funny thing – it gets in the way of so much! Even our own felt needs at times! I know just how much of a struggle it is to admit to someone some area that I’m struggling in or failing in. The fear of intimacy, of being known for who I really am, is a big stumbling block in asking for help – both from God and from friends. It can be easy to generate an external “persona” – worn on the outside yet not representing what’s true on the inside. If we’re all lulling ourselves into the sense of feeling that we’re all doing fine, it’s easy being a Christian, we’re all loving the Gospel and winning the fight against the world, the flesh and the devil - then raising our hand and saying “it’s really hard!” is tough to do in this context. Maybe we feel our reputation simply won’t let us be honest about how hard we find it. These are all things that compound the problem, as people really have no idea how someone is truly feeling - so how will they ever be in a position to help? That leads me to my next point.

We don’t like to be served
I know this might raise a few eyebrows… “we’re not called to be served” I hear you cry! I know that, really I do… but maybe such a response is part of the problem too! In asking for people’s help, are we not then asking to be served? Whether it’s talking about the issue, praying together, or something more practical… so we are asking for help… we’re asking to be served. Again, our pride doesn’t want us to feel weak, to feel a reliance or dependence on others… and so we don’t ask for help when it’s the very thing that we need. Again, maybe a fear of intimacy is a bit of a root cause… as we’re open and honest with others, so it leaves us open and vulnerable… it leaves us open to being unintentionally, or intentionally, let down by the people we open up to – and that can hurt! Though even here, we’re reminded of Jesus’ closest friends i) falling asleep during the moment of great sorrow for Jesus ii) running away from him when he’s handed over to be killed. Yet, Jesus loved them, and treated them not as they treated him!!! We must follow such an example – see people as Jesus sees them, no matter of the kind of behaviour that might be reciprocated in our reaching out to others, or opening up to others! It can take time, effort and energy to build such friendships – especially in London where “local parish” doesn’t really exist. The hard thing also, is that London has a high turnover – so it can be hard to keep building such friendships when year-on-year such friends head off elsewhere (times marked with joy and sadness alike!). But a caveat, a danger about being served: we mustn’t let it take priority of that of our great high priest being the one we totally rely on, and who will never let us down. We must be careful that we don’t come to rely on anyone else but Him!

We don’t like to have an unfilled diary
Random point here, perhaps, but I’m aware of times, even in the past term, when I should have made time to meet up with people who have been struggling! Yet my diary is often so filled up in advance, that making time for such occasions that arise without warning, has been rather difficult, and so catching up has been put off by 1, 2 or 3 weeks. The ministry we’re involved with can be intensive, with talks to prepare, small groups to lead, and regular 1-2-1s… but perhaps we need to be less diary-intensive… give ourselves some free blocks where we can be available for friends in need. This is just a thought at the moment – but it’s one I’ll be chewing over more!

So, we give off false impressions, we don’t like to admit weakness, we don’t like to ask for help, and we’re all perhaps a bit too busy when someone does ask for help! It maybe starts to breed a culture where asking for help becomes the extra-ordinary, rather than the ordinary.

What will we do in response?

(see also the follow-up post here)

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Drawing Near to a Sympathetic High Priest

Imperial CU this evening... speaking on Hebrews 4:14-16... some cut-down thoughts from it:

How do we feel when we’re struggling in the Christian life? How do we feel when the fight to keeping going as a Christian just seems too tough? When we’re tired and weary… when we just feel like giving up… when that temptation that we fight hard to resist… just overcomes us once again…

I’m guessing we probably feel weak, pathetic, guilty, frustrated… ashamed… And the question for us is – how does that then make us feel towards Jesus?

I guess we might think Jesus is angry at us… that he’s shouting down – “I can’t believe you just slipped up again”… If we feel weak – maybe we hear Jesus saying “you’re feeling like this again? Come on – pull yourself together!” If we feel ashamed, that we’ve let Jesus down in some way – we then picture Jesus shaking his head, tutt-ing in disappointment.

And how do we then respond, to Jesus?

Well – we keep him at a distance… pushing him away from us… either because we fear his anger, or because we fear his disappointment… And so Jesus becomes this distant figure… a figure just stuck in a stained-glass window somewhere… We make Jesus out to be a figure who didn’t experience these kinds of trials… we can think it must have just been easy for him to live the Christian life – he was perfect after all – God Himself… it must have been easy for him and that his expectation is that it should be easy for us…

"Since then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Heb 4:14-15
Jesus takes on flesh… that he might experience life in the flesh – that he might experience life just as you and I experience it… so that he would be a merciful, sympathetic high priest… able to help those who are being tempted… because he was tempted in just the same way as you and I are tempted. So what did living in the flesh mean for Jesus? Well, chapter 5, verse 7 tells us – look ahead to it… chapter 5, verse 7:
“in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears…”
I’m sure we’re all aware of Jesus’ heart-wrenching prayers in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus heads towards the cross… but this verse points not just to the garden, but to his entire life… the days of him being in the flesh… And it was hard… it hurt… so much so that it lead him to cry out to God… to cry before his God… with real tears, in real pain and anguish… as he battled to live for God…

Granted he hasn't experienced every detail... he never had to sit a fluid mechanics exam, and he's never actually sinned... but He has been truly one of us… he’s experienced real life, with real suffering, with real tears… and because of this he can sympathise with us…
When we’re exhausted in living for God
When we’re let down, hurt or betrayed by good friends
Bereavement, mockery
Parents who think we’re crazy
Persecution for our faith
The attacks of the devil we face each day

And Jesus says “I understand – I’ve been through it too… and I’m not ashamed to be associated with you… I stand alongside you in all the temptations you face…”

Jesus isn’t a distant figure who looks down at us and thinks to himself “come on guys… I can’t believe you’ve just fallen into that sin again”… or “come on – grit your teeth and pull your socks up”. No – we can cry out to Jesus in our weakness… we can cry out to him about how much of a struggle it is… we can cry out to him at how much of a battle it is… we can cry out to him about how much it hurts… we can cry out to him, and cry with him... And all the time Jesus is replying “I know….” “I know exactly how you feel”… “I’ve faced the same things… I know how tough it is… ”
"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Heb 4:16
The writer encourages us… in our weaknesses, not to hold Jesus at a distance…But rather, to draw near to him... to go to him. Knowing that the one who represents us before God acknowledges how difficult it is… and that he sympathises with our weaknesses.

And we should go to him… with confidence... Not fearing that he’ll be angry… not fearing his disappointment with us… but knowing that the one who represents us before God understands how hard it is… he sympathises with us...

We can draw near with confidence… because our high priest – our mediator - was like us, and so knows what it’s like for us… he sympathises in our weaknesses and replies “I know… I understand”

That’s what we really need when we’re struggling isn’t it?

To draw near to God… through our high priest… our mediator – who knows and understands…
To draw near to God – who offers mercy and grace in our time of need….
To draw near to him offers mercy – forgiveness for where we’ve failed…
To draw near to him who offers grace – strength to keep going, to keep battling as we live for Him each day…
"We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need"