Shrove Tuesday – Giving Up the Phone for Lent.

For the period of Lent I’ve decided to give myself space away from social media and excessive mobile phone usage. I recorded a short video below to outline why I fancy giving this a try, a few thoughts, and some of the rules I’ve put in place.

The Five Rules I’m putting in place are:

1. No Social Media | 2. No Text Messaging | 3. Limited Phone calls. | 4. No Internet Mobile Device Usage. | 5. I’m allowed emails (on my laptop only).

Hang on a minute! You are using social media! I found this link on facebook and twitter!” – I know, I’ve automatically set this blog post to send to twitter and facebook, but don’t worry I won’t be checking it.

Anyway, do post some comments on here or on the youtube account. Let’s get a conversation going.

10 Things I Learned in my 20s.

All has been quiet on the blog front the last couple of weeks – for a whole bunch of reasons. One of which being that I turned 30 and had some birthday celebrations! Despite joking around about growing old, needing a hip replacement soon, lacking any ability to use technology all of a sudden and other ‘old man’ banter – I’m actually feeling fine about this age. Infact, there are lots of things I hear from those far older and wiser than I who have shared great things about this coming decade in my life.

I’ve been pondering over the last few weeks some of the things I’ve been learning in the last decade just gone. I thought I would put them into a post on here, maybe it’s helpful for anyone in a similar position to me age-wise, or maybe you are in you are younger and just simply fancy some advice from somebody who is a little closer to the point in life where Antique programmes are vaguely interesting (just FYI, I’m not at that point yet!).

1. I really don’t know anything. I used to think that I know everything about everything. Then I came to a point where I thought “OK, I might not know everything but I’ll get there soon”. I’m now in a season where I’m comfortable not knowing everything, and in fact I tend to come at things in life with a sense of ‘I have no idea about this’, with a hope that I’ll learn something, but also I’m now fine to ask for help – most of the time 😉 The quicker we come to the point of realising that we don’t know everything, the better.

2. Qualifications are not everything. Now, hear me on this. Education is great. It’s important too. Work hard to get the grades you need in order to have a great chance to succeed in the area of life you’re pursuing or hope to pursue. We are so privileged to have the opportunity to learn so don’t waste it. But don’t base your life on it. Don’t let your identity as a person be based on your qualifications (or lack of). Most people I know don’t work in the area that they studied in at university, and loads of people I know who didnt get the grades they wanted on exam results day are actually doing fine! Also, the kinds of people who do like to go on about their qualifications – are usually a bit annoying actually.

3. Enjoy your free time. As time goes on you get less of it. Infact, your time becomes ‘communal’, shared by other important people in your life. This isn’t a bad thing, but its something to be aware of. Make sure when you get some free time, you are making the most of it.

4. God’s will is a field, not a tightrope. Too many people are deeply stressed and anxious about their calling from God. What does the future hold for me? What direction should I go in life? Sure, these are big decisions, but don’t think God’s will is some thin, difficult tightrope to walk along – that any sway to the left or the right or one wrong step here or there means total disaster and ‘game over’ in your life. God’s will is more like a field – there are very general boundaries that you can see in the distance, but there are so many directions to run in and so much space to play, try things out and enjoy. You may have a variety of choices, and the truth is God never leaves us, he’ll be with you no matter what you choose! So go have and a skip around in the field.

5. Be good. It makes life so much easier. Apparently when I was younger before school age, I made a decision and shared with my family that I was going to be good. When asked why, I told my parents and sister that ‘its easier to be good and saves so much hassle’ (paraphrased by the 30 year old me). I stick by that today. I’m not talking about staying silent when you disagree with something (although I can still be guilty of that sometimes), but I do see the importance in bringing goodness to other people, and situations. There are enough people in this world who like to stir up trouble and bring disunity amongst groups. Be somene who brings goodness and peace to others around you. One of my favourite verses is 2 Timothy 2:23 where it says “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” Sometimes the Bible says stuff so simply and clearly eh?

6. Don’t lose your imagination. It’s not considered normal for an adult to have an imagination.But its using our imagination that we can see things that don;t exist yet. The dreams and goals for your life, the ideas and inventions you would like to create. The places you would like to visit, the type of person you would like to be. Using our imagination is key to getting off the starting blocks to pursue what we hope for in our lives. Lets not mock imagination as something to grow out of! I once wrote about the importance of our imaginations here.

7. Enjoy the fun things, allow yourself to the excited about things. Don’t become boring. Many people live as if life is really tough, with the occasional fun moment thrown in. I seek to live like life is full of fun moments, with some moments thrown in there. One of the first things I did after turning 30 is go to a theme park and screamy my head off for the day. Proof of that is here.

8. People will do anything for you if you just love them. That isnt the reason to love people, but I notice that lots of people want things from others without loving them and they simply dont end up gathering people. Want to gather people for a mission? Simply love them first, and the mission will get done together. Treat people well and they will treat you well. If you can help other’s get what they want, they’ll be happy to help you get what you want. What we all tend to want is something relational anyway. We want friendship, unity, support, encouragement, guidance, prayer, teamwork. All relational things. Be relational, love people.

9. Fight the right battles. Some things are worth fighting for. Pour your energy into those things. Dont give your fighting, persuasion, and debating energies to things that ultimately aren’t that importnat in the first place. I’m still learning this one, but when you come against something or somebody you disagree with, people steaming in to change the situation take a step back, have a think: “Is this a battle worth fighting for?”. Try to see the bigger picture and decide if you ar egoing to fight for it or not. Want to know what I’ve noticed? 8 out of 10 annoyances aren’t worth fighting for in my opinion. That’s a huge amount of energy saved for a 2 out of 10 times a real battle comes along!

10. If you have a dream, do something about it. We’ve got plenty of dreamers, what we need are ‘Activist Dreamers’. People who want to do, see, achieve, become something, and then do everything they can to pursue it. I’ll never forget a time when I spoke with somebody about their dreams. They wanted to lead worship at their church. I had known this person for a reasonable amount of time, and the thought popped in my head that I had never seen them involved in anything musical at any church event before. After asking if they were involved in the worship team they told me they weren’t(!). I left that conversation totally confused – if we have dreams in our hearts, then DO SOMETHING about them. To pursure my dreams I’ve had to make some steps, some small steps, some massive leaps. but I always have the thinking of doing something.

If you had to do a similar post of lessons from your life, what would you include? I’d be fascinated to hear them so feel free to leave a comment below with your lists!

 

It is not about Trying. It is about Training.

Last week at my church I had the joy of preaching and introducing our August preaching series called 'The Soul Shift Series'. Click here to take a listen, and without merely repeating myself, here's a brief rundown of the message as well as the direction we are heading in over the coming month.

“It's not about TRYING. It's about TRAINING.”

So many of us try new things all the time, attempt things in life in order to better ourselves and improve our lives, and the lives of those around us – such as health, ideas at work, parenting and marriage tips, tricks and advice. But for various reasons, we often find ourselves failing, and then giving up. They rarely become part of our daily life, and they rarely become habits that are integrated in our lives. This is no different with Spiritual Disciplines. We may often be encouraged to read the bible, pray, have times of solitude and silence to seek God. But so often we try them out, they don't go how we thought they were going to go, and we give up. Why is that?

There are plenty of reasons most like, but I can think of a couple:

1. Comparison. We compare ourselves to others. “Look at how great they are“, “everyone else seems to find this so easy, but I'm useless at it.“, “I'll never be as good at them.” Comparison will be the death of us if we give it space. Check out Zeddie Little's picture (aka Mr Ridiculously Photogenic) at the end of his 10km race the other year. When I went for a run once I compared my terrible experience with the look of his. It didn't help!

2. We measure success on the wrong thing. So many of us assume when we try things, we'll be excellent at them straight away, and will see the benefit immediately, and when we don't experience that, we give up easily. Also, with Spiritual Disciplines we often think that the act itself of reading the bible, of prayer, or time alone with God is the goal. It's not. The Spiritual Disciplines are the tool for getting closer to God. The goal is ultimately to know God more deeply, to draw close to a Him, to develop a relationship with Him. Get the measure of what success is wrong, and you're bound to think of yourself as a failure or think that you are not hitting the mark somehow.

There is clearly something wrong with 'trying', the striving, the comparison, the attempting, the one-off 'giving a bash' style of attempting spiritual disciplines. The Bible helps us out. The Bible doesn't talk about trying, but about training. Ultimately, if you were asked to run a marathon, you wouldn't just turn up on the day and try, you'd need to train.

Check out 1 Timothy 4:7, Hebrews 5:13-14, and 1 Corinthians 9:26-27. All these are speaking about training, which I go into more detail about in the message itself, so take a listen.

It's tough though. And there are various obstacles that we put in the way, and other obstacles that we face in our world/culture today when trying to train. I think of 3 words that we live our lives by:

  • Fast (we live our lives very fast paced, and very 'full' and busy).
  • Public (we are encouraged to 'share' in our lives. In many ways, some of this good, but it can drastically contrast with the idea of developing a private relationship with God).
  • Self-centred (the idea that we feel that we don't need God to get through our days). The upcoming weeks at church in Kerith will look at these in more detail.

Let's remember that God is a God of grace and love. It's not about trying to do, say or be the perfect person. This is about training in godliness. Training to be more like Christ. We are not in it to please people, or please ourselves, or please God. Remember that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. Thank goodness for that eh?

Personally, I can't wait to hear the next 3 speakers over the next 3 weeks at church. It'll be epic.

 

#tbt 6 – The Early Church Leadership Structure

Throwback Thursdays (#tbt), a look back at the story of the Christian Church, seeing what we can learn.

As time went on, the early church felt that they needed some kind of structure and organisation.

Around 60AD three titles were beginning to be used for leaders within the church. They didn't invent words. They simply used titles that were already used for similar roles outside of the church. Let's learn some Greek shall we?

Episkopos – nowadays we have use the name 'bishop'. The word meant 'overseer' or something like a 'foreman'. These people would oversee a few churches, most of which being under 100 people.

Diakonos – what we now call 'deacon', simply meaning 'servant'.

Presbuteros – what we now call an Elder. This originally was the name of 'a man of standing' in the community.

Giving people names and titles can be dodgy. Some let it go to their head and it can become a bit of an ego trip. But when you see what these roles looked like in the early church, you quickly see that they were hugely interchangeable. In reality, no matter what the title of the person was, there as a strong sense and attitude in them that all roles were servants, meeting the needs of others. Part of the bishops role early on was to look after the poor and needy, including ensuring that these people have somewhere to sit! If there wasn't a seat available the bishop would give up his seat. In reality however the roles of the bishops and deacons were very interchangeable. Not just the bishops would do this, but many would. There was a sense of all getting “stuck in”, and just cracking on with what needed doing. The modern equivalent would be anyone who spots a dirty toilet in the church grabs some rubber gloves and gets it sorted, regardless of title, position, salary or length of time serving.

No sense of a celebrity leadership culture here.

In fact, far from a celebrity culture, many people had trouble leading the church to take any notice of the bishops at all! There actually seemed to be a lack of respect and honour of the overseers. One of the early books (called the 'Didache') advising the early followers of Jesus urged Christians not to dishonour and ignore them, but treat them with honour as they would the prophets and teachers of the time.

So what can we learn from this? In some sense the church had it right by not putting leaders on some kind of celebrity or 'know-it-all' pedestal. Titles are not everything. No matter what position you may hold, no matter what name or job title you are given, you are called to serve. The early church seemed to get this. It's not about trying to look great or get 'promoted through the ranks'.

However, the early church weren't perfect. Dishonouring and not listening or following our leaders is no way to help grow the Kingdom of God. Sometimes we can be put off by structure and organisation, as if it is somehow against the movement of the Holy Spirit in church. The reality is, we need leadership, leaders that serve in the right attitude, but lead nonetheless. Taking the reins, paving the way, pioneering new ideas, helping keep priorities in the right place and giving direction to directionless groups, not being afraid to make decisions, big and small. We need leaders who can lead us in living in step with the Holy Spirit.

What can you do today to honour your leaders? What can you do in your role/title/position in the church to serve where is needed? What does it look like for you to 'do what is necessary' for those you lead? The church doesn't need positions and titles, it needs servants.

 

#tbt 5 – The Limited Law abiders

#tbt (Throwback Thursday) – taking a look back at the history of the church, and seeing what we can learn from them.

One of the mega sore spots of the early church in the first hundred years or so, one of the huge areas of controversy, debate, discussion and disagreement, was the connection and relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Across the growing Christian world, people would debate between themselves how much Judaistic laws the new Christian converts should adhere to. Stuff like circumcision, and the diets of the believers were called into question. Some argued that as Jesus was the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for, they should continue to circumcise their boys, and they should still refrain from eating the 'unclean' foods the Jews would not eat.

Very early on this wound up the Apostle Paul no end. The more your read Paul's letters in the New Testament the more you see how much of a straight talking, no nonsense kinda guy he was. And it seemed this issue really did his head in. He strongly felt that as Jesus stated that he had come to 'fulfill the law', that we no longer had to be bound by the laws the Jews led their lives by because of us now living in the times of the New Covenant.

Anyway, we can read in Galatians all about this, and Paul was so annoyed by it he really laid into those still following Jewish laws in his letter to the Phillippians when he said “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh!” (Phil 3:2). When you see the original words he used in this sentence (“Kunas, KaKous, ergatas, Katatomen”), Nick Page makes a great comment that 'It is as though Paul spits the words out'.

Paul was clearly a guy who saw the power of grace, and the power of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. That we are no longer bound to laws, traditions and the limitations they bring. But instead we are in a time of grace, where we can break free from not just Jewish laws and traditions, but more modern traditions and laws that we put on ourselves. We don't necessarily cirumcise ourselves for God, or amend our diets and refuse foods as unholy, but we can place other man-made laws in ours lives under the guise of 'holiness', when in fact they are meaningless and often limiting to us.

Sometimes the idea of grace confuses us. We look for laws in our lives, we look for boundaries and traditions to hang our faith onto. Traditions aren't all bad, but when they dictate how we relate to God. Or how our church looks and runs, we will come across problems there. We starts saying that we and others have to 'be like this' or 'regularly do that'. Our faith becomes more about our 'doing' than 'being'. Oops.

What man-made laws and traditions have you put into your life that are holding you back from the fullness of God's love, grace and freedom he has given you today? Maybe these self-laws and traditions have been there for years, ecades even. Be like Paul. Be harsh to the laws and traditions in your life that are not worth the time, remove them and receive the freedom from Jesus today.

 

 

#tbt 4 – The Mighty Preparation

Another week of Throwback Thursday (#tbt) has come around, and this time I'd like to take a step back and look at a big picture. Before we get ahead of ourselves cracking on with the story of the church eras, I want to let you know about something pretty cool I'm learning about.

The simple truth is, Jesus came to Earth at the perfect time in history. Infact, it was like the world was prepared for his coming. Let me explain.

Jesus arrived in a world that was led by the Roman Empire. Because of this various things happened and were evident, such as:

  1. The Greek language was widely known. Similar to today with English, many people across the known world spoke Greek, it was a global language.
  2. Also, the Roman Empire areas known for its cultural diversity, good communications, stable economy and good trade routes. They build roads to make travel easier. You could call this a 'globalisation'. With the Romans in charge, the world felt like a smaller place.
  3. The Romans also allowed religious freedoms. They didnt care what you believed, as long as it didn't upset or impede or weaken the Roman power.
  4. Meanwhile across the known world various spiritual awakenings and expectations were evident- the Jewish people were expecting the imminent arrival of their Messiah, Zoroastrians (one of the world's oldest religions) were seeking enlightenment, and something new. Also the Greeks were very open to new theologies and ideas, as well as Buddhism spreading, causing much religious and spiritual debate. In short, people were open to and looking for something new spiritually.

Now, take a re-read of those 4 points and now think about the spread of Christianity. There were plenty of other factors too that aided the spread of the gospel. It's clear to see that the world was 'poised' for Jesus and the spread of his message. Sure there was persecution and some awful times, and struggles and obstacles to overcome, but it's clear to see how the world was ready for Jesus to come and make an impact. God's timing is perfect eh?

In his book 'A History of the Christian Church', Williston Walker makes this great statement about traits that a religion must have had in that time in order for it to thrive in the society it was birthed in. Take a look at the underlined bits, look familiar to a certain faith to you?

In summing up the situation in the heathen world at the coming of Christ, one must say that, amid great confusion, and in a multitude of forms of expression, some of them very unworthy, certain religious demands are evident. A religion that should meet the requirements of the age must teach one righteous God, yet find place for numerous spirits, good and bad. It must possess a define revelation of the will of God, as in Judaism, that is an authoritative scripture. It must inculcate a world-denying virtue, based on moral actions agreeable to the will and character of God. It must hold forth a future life with rewards and punishments. It must have a symbolic initiation and promise a real forgiveness of sins. It must possess a redeemer-god into union with whom men could come by certain sacramental acts. It must teach the brotherhood of all men, at least of all adherents of the religion.”

Check out this last bit…

“However simple the beginnings of Christianity may have been, Christianity must possess, or take on, all these traits if it was to conquer the Roman Empire or to become a world religion.”

Williston Walker and others call this the 'Mighty Preparation'. Gods timing is perfect. He sent Jesus to Earth at the right time in history in order to save us, and get the message spread as quickly and effectively as possible. Jesus was sent for 'such a time as this'. The truth is, if God can send Jesus at a specific time in history, he can do the same for you (and has done!). You are here at this time in history of r a purpose. How can you use the traits of today's world to further advance the message of Jesus? Something to think about. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

#tbt 3 – the ‘Jesus is coming back tomorrow!’ crowd.

This is the 3rd instalment of Throw Back Thursdays (#tbt), a quick chance to briefly learn something from the story of the Christian Church. This week, let's look at two things:

1. The early church believed and expected that Jesus will come back at any time, certainly within their lifetimes.

2. So they'd do anything to ensure as many people as possible know him before he does return.

Let's take a little look at this.

If someone says to you, 'I'm heading out but don't worry I'll be back soon', we have unconscious expectations of what 'soon' means. A few hours, a couple of days, a year or two. Depending on the situation, we can make good solid guesses and assume 'soon' can be quantified. Unfortunately, the early followers of Jesus had never seen anybody ascend to heaven before, so they had no idea when Jesus would return. Quite rightly, they decided to live, speak, behave and declare the truth as if Jesus could come back at any moment, and that he probably will come back at any moment (certainly before they die).

This was the natural way of thinking. It wasn't in their minds at all that 2000 years later he still would not have returned, so they geared their whole lives towards the fact that Jesus may come back tonight or tomorrow morning, so we'd better tell as many people about him before he does come back, and we'd better make sure as many people as possible are ready for him.

So what did this look like for some of the early Christians in the first couple of hundreds of years of the church? And what can we learn from it?

1. The sheer audacious declaration of Jesus. The followers of Jesus gave their lives to speaking about Jesus to whoever would listen, and plenty of people who wouldn't listen too. Certain members of the early church had no regard for pomp or ceremony, they didn't care about how they may look to the crowds or the authorities. They felt the urgency and high importance of telling people about Jesus, so that when he comes back, they will know him.

2. They made some silly calls. Their deep concern for people to be safe in the knowledge that they were saved, led them to start baptising babies. There were other reasons for this too, but part of their of their thinking was to ensure that any babies who either died before they made a commitment to Jesus were 'covered' by being baptised, but also in the urgency of seeing the world changed for Jesus before he returned to Earth, they thought they'd get babies baptised in order that they were safe and saved just in case he returned during breakfast. The problem with this is that it isn't in the Bible. Oops.

With the benefit of hindsight now, we can see the error in this. At my church, we have 'believer baptisms', where we baptise people who are at a point to understand and have received and believed the simple message of the gospel, which as far as I'm concerned, is what the Bible says.

But through the urgency of things, the church panicked somewhat and started something outside of Jesus' teaching, as they thought they were doing the right thing.

Here's the lessons. Firstly, I know for sure that Jesus will come back to Earth one day. Do I live like it? Not with enough awareness. Do I speak to people like he may come back to tomorrow? No, most of the time I speak with them about Jesus in a way like they could choose a chocolate bar in a petrol station and it wouldn't matter too much (please no don't hate me, just trying the honest thing!). Do I live my daily life with an expectation of Jesus to show up? Not as high and expectation as I'd like. How about you?

Oh yeah then there's the whole 'baby baptism' thing. What can we take from this? I know for me my passion or fervour for something can be so strong I get blinded by the other truths I know to be right, leading me to make silly decisions. My desire to do the right thing needs to be a thought through, explored passion rather than a thoughtless, chaotic and Theologically weak passion. Blind passion can end up in stupid places. Aware, alert and eyes-wide-open passion can be both Biblical and powerfully effective. What areas of passion and urgency In your life do you need to keep your eyes wide open in to see the truth and wisdom as to how to take it forward?

Hope this is helpful anyway. Feel free to leave comments with thoughts, feedback, opinions etc. Till next time!