Saturday, December 29, 2018

4 Questions that have Changed my Life.

As 2018 draws to an end there are many questions in my mind. Some are biblical, like "why do bad people prosper?" (Psalm 73) and "shall we accept good from the Lord and not trouble?" (Job 2:10). Maybe years ago Christians would have been discouraged from asking too many questions about their faith, but now we realise how mistaken that can be. Questions are good if they stir us up to think more deeply, and perhaps to find answers. Even if they don't achieve that they serve as pointers to a better way of understanding all that is around us. Here are 4 questions that have changed my thinking and my life over the years:

  1. "If you were arrested today and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" I was first asked this in the 1970's when Christians were being arrested in large numbers, especially in Communist countries. They continue to be persecuted right now, in even greater amounts, and even up to martyrdom. I heard on the BBC news that in 2018 around 250 Christian believers per month were killed for their faith. This has finally caused the UK government to act, beginning with an enquiry led by the Bishop of Exeter that will report back by Easter 2019. The question changed me in the 70's and challenges me even more today.
  2. "What is God saying to you through all of this?" It was 1998 and I had just been released from a long spell in hospital, mostly in Intensive Care, after an illness that had nearly taken my life. It had forced me to relinquish my ministry and leave the leadership of a great church that I loved, and had subjected me to a condition known as the most physically painful borne by man. As I tottered around my local shops, a dear friend met me and asked me this. I did not have the strength to punch her! Rather, her question floored me like an uppercut to my soul. I was so busy pleading for healing and trying to survive that I had not for a moment considered that God might be saying to me in all this. The Bible says "faithful are the wounds of a friend" and this lady was a faithful friend to me that day! My attitude was changed for ever by that question and I still seek to hear God in every situation I face.
  3. "If you only had one more book in you, what would you want to say?" The person who has been editor of 3 of my 4 published books, asked me this in 2018. Maybe I do only have one more book in me - only God knows, but this question has served me well. It has focused my mind on what I am learning and want to communicate to others. In a phrase - "God can be trusted" - that's what I want to say! What if you only had one more sermon to preach, letter to write, or year to work? Even more crucially, what if you only had one more day?
  4. "What would you do if you were 10 times bolder?" I was at Leadership Academy with my good friend and colleague Matt Gregor when we were asked this powerful question. It has stayed with me like a mantra every time I face a challenge about the church I serve, the people I meet or the circumstances I face. I want it to be my provocation throughout the coming New Year. I long to be able to say that by the end of 2019, and by God's Holy Spirit's power, I will have been ten times bolder than I have been thus far. A similar question is "what would you do if you knew that you could not fail?" Hmm. Food for thought.
Have a very happy, prosperous and peace filled New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Step Away from the Treadmill

 We spent three days in Southampton last week as I needed some tests done in the hospital there and whilst in the city we visited the famous West Quay shopping centre. Wow! What a temple to the gods of Christmas shopping! There was so much going on but none of it related to anything I could recognise as linked to the real reason for the season. Not one of the songs being played so loudly was a carol or mentioned God and you could be forgiven for thinking it was Santa's birthday coming, or an event promoted by the Society for the Protection of Elves and Reindeer!

I love the atmosphere of a real family Christmas and the whole celebration of God's great gift of His Son. I also really enjoy this festival of lights in the middle of a dark and dreary winter here in the West. One thing that does bother me, though, is the pressure that it seems to put on upon us all. The need to prepare for a perfect Christmas Day - to get or to give the very latest gadget - to ensure that our kids have all they want or ask for - the rush to make sure we have got everything in before the shops close for 24 hours (yes only 24 hours and some may even stay open then!).

There will be many Bible readings in churches up and down the land in carol services this year. The one I don't expect to hear is my favourite, in the Message version. It goes like this:
Jesus said: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matthew 11:28-30).

How I need to learn those "unforced rhythms of grace", rather than stumble along in the clumsy footsteps of so many who seem to head for Christmas, lemming-like, heads down in the rush of this crazy season. I don't think Jesus came into the world to give us stress, headaches, pressure and a sense of impending failure. He came to search out and to save people who are lost. He came into a messy stable to bring the fragrance of God instead of the stench of cow poo, and the light of God's glory instead of the shadows of self-doubt and fear. So step away from the treadmill. Put down your heavy bags and choose to walk with Jesus at His pace, His peace, and His perfect plan.

Happy Christmas!

Friday, December 07, 2018

The very highest energy of which the human mind is capable

"Brothers and sisters, pray for us". This is what St Paul wrote to the new believers in Thessaloniki towards the end of his first letter. He knew that these were young Christians, recently converted from paganism or Judaism, and very green indeed. Yet he recognised that he needed their prayers, and would not be able to function in the teeth of fierce hostility where he was (in Corinth) if God did not help him. He had entered into a partnership with those whom he led where they each depended upon the other praying for them.

Later, in his first letter to Timothy, St Paul sets out a further vital imperative in intercessory prayer. "Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation." (1 Tim 2:2 The Message). In the case of the UK, there has not been a more urgent need for such praying in probably 50 years. Next Tuesday, the British government is facing almost certain defeat in a motion to endorse the EU Withdrawal Agreement that Prime Minister Mrs May has signed with the EU leaders in Brussels. Whatever your opinion of this deal, or the whole matter of the UK leaving the EU, the leaders elected to the House of Commons need our prayers at this time. We should also pray for Theresa May and her ministers that they may have supernatural wisdom - it looks like they're going to need it!

Whatever happens, don't be afraid. Look at my previous post and repeat those wonderful fear-fighting Bible texts! God is in charge, but He does call us to join Him by prayer - training for reigning if you like. So, even if you are a new Christian still wet behind the ears, St Paul's advice is good advice, and what we should be about in the next few days. “The act of praying is the very highest energy of which the human mind is capable” (E M Bounds, Power Through Prayer). So why not rise to it now!