Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Crossroad on the Journey to the God-willed life

This will be the last article and post for a while.
Besides a three-month moratorium last year, I’ve written and posted articles continually since before Facebook; over ten years ago. Nearly 7,000 articles later I’ve learned so much. It’s been a major way how God has interacted with me — to the sum of 30-hours per week for those 10-plus years.
But this isn’t just about the writing.
It’s about something more fundamental. There are imbalances to correct.
Like many of you I’m imagining, my life’s revolved around using social media, and it isn’t just the posting of articles; it’s the following of a plethora of other stuff — stuff quite frankly that takes me away from God. There are a million and more distractions from God, so it’s not just social media, but social media has become all-consuming, as the fear of missing out (FOMO, look it up) rides roughshod on the heels of my hurried modern life.
But there’s more to it still. The carnal concerns of consumption have overcome me too much over the past five or more years. I used to have a high degree of self-control regarding my diet. It’s been a while since I’ve been in that place, and given I’m deep into the ‘dangerous decade’, that is ages 44-54, I seriously have to create the changes necessary to ward off heart disease and Diabetes Type II, etc. If even 10 percent of my writing time went into exercise I’d do the exercise required to get and keep fit.
And still there’s more to it. Food and writing and social media have become comforts; and to some degree, idols. The average person may not think that, but I think that’s what God thinks, when they’ve become comforts I’ve routinely gone to. I need to once again be weaned from these comforts. It’s all a bit too convenient, and an irony, that I can write things to bless others when the very process of doing it can at times undermine my own walk with God.
What if God wants more from me? He certainly does! To seek Him more. To be fit and stay alive as long as possible for my family and so I can serve Him as well as possible. To get prepared for what is coming. To be a better husband and father. To be more focused. God certainly desires a revolution in me. I only have the one life. Once I’m gone, I’m gone. For my God, for my wife, for my children, and for those people God wills for me to serve. I must seize the day.
Writing is certainly one way God can and does use me, but it’s not the only way. Besides, Jesus isn’t the kind of King who will graciously allow me to put the cart before the horse like I have. Writing can’t be allowed to be an idol. Jesus desires true allegiance. So, I’m putting it down for a time. And it won’t be the last time this problem will arise.
It’s possible that this little piece might be refined over the next little while as I endeavour it to be a truthful record of where things are at.
Writing can only happen if it brings glory to God, and it can only resume once other factors of balance have been restored.
The social media must go, at least for a time. If it can’t be solely a tool for God (as far as I’m concerned) then I have no use for it. Social media is a counterfeit for true connection, yet it does connect us and many of us would never know each other without it. This is not about criticising a platform that has been a kind of home for twenty-percent of my fifty-year-old life.
This leads to the intent of writing this kind of thing. It’s only fair that I let people know what I’m doing in case people wonder ‘what’s happened to that guy who posted daily and now no longer does?’ Also, in hammering a stake into the ground, this kind of article helps me keep myself to account. God needs to make it clear under what parameters a resumption is to take place.
To the person who has taken the time to read this, thank you. I’m grateful that you’ve waded into this with me. I’m thankful for your prayers, as many of you are in mine.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Longing for God’s strength in our weakness

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There are times when I feel utterly dominated by a spirit of oppression, when there is no life in me, no energy, and every bit of strength in me is sapped.
Times like these I know I have strength in me, I just cannot tap into it. I feel paralysed beyond its access, as if shut-in entirely, silent even though I’m screaming.
No matter what I do or try I cannot seem to shake it, and I have resolved that such a spirit is not so much to be shaken as to be left as it is. Accepted. Welcomed. Embraced.
… then abandoned.
Yes.
Rather than get upset at this state of debilitation I have learned to let it be — to cease judging it. It will harm me if I get anxious over something that confuses me.
The truth is many of us are dogged by this kind of spiritual pallor, and it usually comes without warning.
As I find in myself the inability to escape what will drag me further down into the mire, I have learned to long for what I don’t have; God’s strength that is infinite and everlasting; a strength I can rest in; a strength that never judges me, but helps me divert from the bondage of a dead spirit.
We speak in terms so often in this faith life of having God’s strength, but we never do have it, only the foretaste or a promise. Yet that’s enough for us, because we know that God is good, and we know that resting in His strength is not about feeling His strength so much as it’s about feeling at peace in our weakness.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The John 21 Conversation

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Failure is an integral part our future. Humiliation is a key step in growth. Embarrassment is necessary for a heart to steel itself for more. Disgrace is not the end, but the beginning.
A resounding biblical example: Peter. He denies his Lord three times. And what does the risen Lord immediately do on the other side of the cross? Three times He restores Peter. Even as it happens that Peter fails Jesus three times, three times Jesus restores Peter — ‘Feed my sheep.’ Interestingly, that restoration was not about checking Peter’s love. It was about giving Peter the opportunity to hear himself say those words in his own voice, ‘I love you, Lord’. Jesus wasn’t patronising Peter in making him repeat himself. He wanted to propound in Peter’s presence that not only was he forgiven, but he’s restored to what he’s called to do — to lead God’s early church.
In the restoration of Peter, Jesus empowers him immediately with leadership of the church.
There’s no holding Peter back. There’s no grudge borne. There’s no criticism for a lack of loyalty. There’s no punishment. There’s no consequences. There’s only empowering and release. There’s only intimacy.
God is seeking to hold
John 21 conversations with us all.
In this age, as in any age, the gospel imperative is not about holding people back. It’s not about holding people back to pay for their failures. They repent, and we relent. Anyone who would hold a person to their damaged reputation should rethink it. Certainly, any spiritual leader. There is nothing like a godly contrition to prepare a godly heart for the future.
There is a rebuilding God wants to do in us; it’s part of something bigger; it’s God’s equipping for an even greater purpose. And failure prompts it.
God cannot use us as generous instruments of His grace
unless we’ve first been scorned by, and forgiven of, failure.
On the other side of a castigating failure, Jesus is saying to us, ‘Okay, are you ready… you love Me, right?’ It’s a rhetorical question. Jesus knows the answer, that we love Him. And if we truly love him, and never deeper than through redemption after failure, He will give us something to do that is incredibly important to Him, and that thing will be something incredibly meaningful for us.
When failure causes us to cease our wrongdoing, where it brings us to closer to God, contrition manifests a blessed anointing. Such a beginning out of darkness’s end is bright like the sun of new-day dawn.
Biblical leaders will sense the quality of a person’s godly sorrow for failure and, like Jesus, they will resurrect their hope by releasing them into deeper nuances of the Kingdom work, which is the commendation a contrite heart enjoys.
Jesus did it and so should we. That is to deepen relationships for the work ahead through forgiveness.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Joseph Moment

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Genesis tells of a moment in Joseph’s life when he provided a commentary on his life in one sentence:
Speaking to his brothers who had abused him, and having come into power enough to banish them, Joseph says, You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result — the survival of many people. (Genesis 50:20 CSB)
Astonishing. That Joseph could comprehend the overall Kingdom purpose in his suffering. That Joseph could forgive his brothers for their betrayal. That Joseph seemed to have grown beyond his impetuous youth. That Joseph led as the godly prime minister of Egypt, the heathen nation, under Pharaoh. That Joseph, used of God, led in such a way as to interpret the times and institute decisive wisdom.
Psalm 37 is a wisdom psalm that promises the vindication of the faithful in verses 5-6:
“Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act,
making your righteousness shine like the dawn,
your justice like the noonday.”
Indeed…
The faithful will wait unto eternity for their vindication,
but how good is God when it comes about in this life!
This is what I term The Joseph Moment. So very many of us await our respective Joseph Moments. That time when vindication will come. In the tradition of Habakkuk 2:3, vindication as revelation does not tarry; the moment when justice as foreseen does directly come. If not here, it will come in the swiftest moment over the horizon.
But there’s a test, if it comes this side of eternity:
The Test
Joseph’s moment came. He could have vanquished his brothers but didn’t. He could have let the power of his prime-ministership go to his head, but it didn’t. He could have missed God’s plan and purpose for what he had suffered in his life, but he didn’t. The biblical account tells us that Joseph must have been tempted to respond through vengeance, but he didn’t. He continued doing the best he could despite the unjust and unjustifiable circumstances. He genuinely grew through betrayal, getting better not remaining bitter.
In his redemptive moment, Joseph was proven pure as refined gold and silver. All the dross of resentment had been burned off. He had prepared well for his redemptive moment, and thank God he had!
If our Joseph moment comes in the council of witnesses on this earth, when we’re still so sin-stained, will we respond as Joseph did?
You see, vindication is its own test; it’s not in and of itself the reprieve and justice we always imagined it to be. We must pray that our hearts receive the Joseph moment in humility enough to glorify God which is always the wisdom of God’s gift of grace expended to others through forgiveness.
While we wait for our vindication, let’s pray we have the spiritual fortitude to withstand the temptation of retribution when the moment comes.
Only the pure of heart deserve vindication, and so if we’re honest, we’ll honestly not hanker for a moment that could reveal the identity that falls short.
Just as we’re tested by the praise we receive, as much and more are we tested by the grace we bestow (or not) when God heralds justice.
Other Bible verses worthy of reflection in context:
“A crucible for silver, and a smelter for gold,
and the Lord is the tester of hearts.” (Proverbs 17:3 CSB)
“The fear of the Lord
is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7 CSB)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Times like now call for discernment

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It can be difficult to discern what God truly wants in this age or any age. There are disparate voices in the world and church, just as much as there seem to be conflicting Scriptures in the Bible. When leaders cherry-pick verses and passages to suit their angle of persuasion, and they oppose each other using the same holy instrument, the world of Jesus spirituality suddenly turns murky, even scary, especially when it comes to choosing the ‘right’ ethic to own and espouse.
I deliberately keep this non-specific, because I believe it’s true not just of this age, but of all eras.
The world is largely growing tired of organised religion — by that I mean, religion stands on a precipice just now; it is being reformed. But the divide between ideologies seems to be more evident than ever. No longer are people choosing to remain closeted, though such a choice was almost always an unconscious one. People are looking and seeking and moving more than ever, and, as people power gains ascendancy, the church is being radically reformed.
The trouble is the times are pleasing yet perilous.
Can people power be trusted when cults form through a charism of a solitary leader’s coaxing? It almost doesn’t matter. Movements will be violently organic. It is as it shall be.
Consciences are deciding, and the masses are forming, and those masses can seem either (or worryingly both) prophetic or dangerous to the person who knows their Bible. On the one hand, they can appear to be bringing the Kingdom, yet on the other hand, they can seem to be ushering in the end times, both long prophesied about in the Old Book itself.
Jesus spoke on both the bringing of the Kingdom and the end signs to watch for, as did the Hebrew Scriptures.
All we can do is discern the trajectory of true faith. All we can do is turn routinely back to God, knowing that repentance is both right and real for those who know their God, for the Kingdom is at hand, the Lord is near. All we can do is seek to discern truth as we pray for the Spirit to reveal it, then to trust our discernment of it, all-the-while applying a wise distrust of our capacity to discern for the long haul.
There is a darkness descending in an age of light,
the promise of an ending in the coming of night.
These times a war rages and only the spiritual discern it. Our only real defence is to continue to look to the Lord, to worship God alone, because a sign we’re close to the end times of our time is allegiance to prophets who say they’re for God, but aren’t, and are only in it for themselves. Those are along all positions of the religious and political spectrum. Those rites of passage into an evil realm exist for any of us, and any of us can prove to lead in such a way. None of us is beyond being used as an instrument of evil, and for leaders it’s doubly so. It’s time to be awake!
Faith in this day is allegiance to Jesus alone,
and only the surrendered heart can discern it.
How do we learn to trust our spiritual allegiance to community? We need to see the community we align with sold out to Jesus alone, yet we need to continue to monitor for it. We need to see the Shepherd in our midst. We need to see care and concern and consideration and compassion.
Times like these call for discernment.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Loss of life for gain of gospel

The untapped riches of God’s glory and grace unfold for the one who surrenders what is vanquished for the voluminousness of God’s kingdom.
What does that mean?
It is entirely possible, as we let go of that which once defined our life, to forgive the fact that the worst possible thing has taken place, that we come to be compensated by a knowledge of God we always hoped might be possible but never, until now, experienced.
So, what I’m saying is two relatively impossible things occur in the same season — we are blindsided by loss and backwashed into grief AND we come to encounter the real and risen Lord Jesus in a way He can only be encountered — through loss and the grief that overwhelms us.
Loss and grief hasten us to the valley of decision. Will we fight for what is now gone — an utterly ridiculous concept — or will we let it go, for safe-keeping in the arms of God? As we let it go, forgiving the nature of life to take from us, God ministers to us through His risen Son via the Holy Spirit, through the vacating of our sorrow from a soul pregnant in anguish. And yet we will return again and again and again to the impoverishment of brokenness until all our grief has been consumed by the fire of God; a process of many months or years.
It is well for the pure fact that
through adversity we’re destined to grow.
What I’m suggesting is this: even as we share our sorrow with God, knowing He is present, God’s Spirit showers us with the kind of empathy impossible from human hands. It is important that we can share with humanity, vital for healing and recovery, but our chief sadness is saved for the God who knows us like no human being can.
This is the epitome of prayer, that, there in a beached emotionality, we encounter God in a kind of communication beyond words. And all because we’re enduring loss.
Not to empty the truth of its intensity, or to trivialise solemn matters, but to expound the imagery, loss is an access-all-areas ticket into the mosh pit of God’s Presence. Loss is the avenue through which we enter the streets of grief, where we finally have communion with the Presence of God, through surrender.
To a person of the world, life sucks because of loss, and through loss they enter any one or a number of perils, like addictions, because they cannot stand the grief.
But the person of God finds it is too much for them, the moment breaks them, and there, as they lie in a thousand pieces strewn through the crags of life, only God can instil the reformation of what loss has deformed.
Life’s deformation was the necessary prelude
to God’s reformation.
Only through the purposes of God, through surrender, do we rise, like the phoenix out of ashes.
The gospel is won into our hearts not through an external blessing but through inner privation.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What’s the point of reliving my pain?

Photo by Amadeo Muslimović on Unsplash


Talking about grief, trauma, devastating life events is hard; many people don’t see the point. ‘Just be happy’, ‘focus on the future’, ‘going back there doesn’t serve any purpose’, ‘what’s the point of reliving my pain?’
Many people over the past ten years have asked me, in a sort of perplexed way, ‘why do you bang on so much about pain and the sad things in life? Shouldn’t you focus on more positive things?’
So, why would I write so much on pain and much less on the joys of life?
It’s because I know that it’s only when we deal
with our pain that true joy comes into view.
It’s because I know we cannot be truly happy or free without being completely prepared to face our truth — including the very things that came against us to hurt and harm us. Jesus says, ‘The truth will set you free.’ (John 8:32)
Many of these things that have come against us we never chose. But they happened. So, there’s no point staying resentful or in denial as if we could wish these facts of our lives away by ignoring them.
When we begin to accept the things we cannot change, we’re on a trajectory toward true freedom and joy.
It takes courage to live this life well. Little blessing and more ultimate pain is served up for those who meander through without processing their feelings, while much blessing and less ultimate pain is served to those who bravely traverse the truth that life dishes up. Little blessing comes from those who refuse to enter their pain, but much blessing comes from those who face with God what the Lord promises to heal. True servanthood comes out of humbly facing the hurts of life.
Facing the hurts of life is about resolving not to be paralysed anymore by fear. It’s fear that stands in the way of freedom. But if we step beyond our fear, which I agree seems to be a massive risk, we stand to be rewarded.
If we cannot face the hurts of life, what happens? We continue along the road to disconnection and ultimately narcissism. Unresolved hurts in us propound our capacity to hurt others. The disconnection of emotional emptiness refuses to meet loved ones in ways they need from us. Without dealing with our pain we cannot empathise, we become more entitled, and we tend to exploit others through manipulation.
What’s the point of reliving my pain?
It is the step necessary to begin the process of healing it.
And even if we commence a journey of a thousand miles with a single step, all that’s required of us is to keep stepping. That we can do. All the way out of our pain and into a reality of life that accepts pain come what may.
If we enter the process of healing our pain, we do so with the appropriate, wise support; knowledgeable, trustworthy people, listening with you to the Spirit of God, are the best guides.
Imagine, from there, living in a way that anticipates and even expects pain. As we step out of our homes and into the days of our lives, that’s God’s magnanimous invitation to us all; step bravely into the coming hurts and all will be okay, for the Lord is with us.
Imagine with me the possibility of God’s pleasure beyond the pain by allowing pain its inevitable place.
True pleasure makes an acceptable place for pain. Indeed, if we can accept pain, nothing can really harm us.
It may sound bizarre, but to relieve our pain we need to be prepared to relive our pain. It’s not done haphazardly, though. Done with guidance, kindness, care and support, we may find more of what we’re looking for deep within the pain itself.
For further reading, ponder Ecclesiastes 7:1-14.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

What challenges us, changes and completes us

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Something has struck me as I’ve studied those who’ve grieved; a commonality that all seem to share. I know it personally, and it is indelibly real.
Those who are challenged at the depths in some ways master those depths. And, as a friend has only recently added, those who have been to such depths ‘discover that they can (now) minister to those depths in others.’[1]
Those who are challenged are changed and, of a sense, a lost part of who they are is completed; they ‘graduate’ from that person and walk on in a newness of person. To embrace it is healing.
What challenges us, changes and completes us.
Those who are challenged are changed because a completeness comes into their existential realm; they carry about themselves the losses they cannot quite let go of. This can seem rather like a weight, a burden, but really it’s better thought of as a testament of what was endured. It will never be forgotten. It does not need to continue to be painful, yet at times such pain is in itself an important requiem of a former part of our lives, and such pain ought to be honoured if that’s possible.
The secret way of suffering is
success in the succession stakes.
Suffering marks the end of something
and the beginning of something else.
Suffering is a portent that somehow
enriches our experience of time,
which is often experienced as pain.
Suffering takes us beyond where we are. It forces us to create a new normal. It commands the attention, and though we may resent it or be depressed or develop an anxiety disorder, it creates sufficient crisis that we cannot stay as we were.
This in itself can be seem to be such a massive loss; having to let go of an identity we were perfectly content with. But it isn’t always and doesn’t have to be.
It’s a blessing to have been challenged so much that we’ve been changed to completion. We don’t always see this early on though. It can take the passage of years before we more fully embrace the suffering that caused us to grow. And still there’s the remnant of regret, which is a depth we’ve learned to live with, but that goes on with us; a dear and unfortunate spiritual possession we carry for the remainder of our lives.
The normality of life never shifts us.
It’s only pain and pressure and challenge that changes us. God must get our attention somehow. Then we realise, once we’re over the resentment of hating what’s been done, that God is ever fashioning the good out of evil.
Something must die in us before new life can rise.
And new life only rises once death
gives way to the possibility of hope.


[1] Attribution to Pastor Peter Randell, senior pastor at Waratah Christian Community Church in Western Australia.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

PLAN B CHURCH

Here below is a vision for the church in this day, or for any day. This is Plan B Church:
A church for a world that doesn’t work; for a people who lost hope in the vain promises of the world long ago; for a people who discern the lies but don’t want to fall into cynicism.
A church for a life without answers. A church committed to resting in questions that embrace mystery.
A church for those whose lives have arrived at the fact that Plan A doesn’t work.
A church for every person who craves true connection and God’s acceptance through the practiced though imperfect love of others; for persons seeking a deeper reality of connectedness.
A church for the person who is desperate to love and be loved with the safe love of Christ.
A church that is a safe place to come and to rest and to grow at the Holy Spirit’s pace; a place to be safely vulnerable.
A church where the Beatitudes of Jesus are the pinnacle of our vision and ministry.
A church where faith and repentance discussed, explored, lived, where believers bear fruit that leads to social action.
A church where all are genuinely welcome and find that their brokenness is embraced.
A church where church is not an institution but an anywhere place where the first are last and the last are genuinely first, and leaders continually embrace this and keep themselves accountable to this.
A church where leaders are marked by servant-heartedness, steward-mindedness, and love people with a shepherd-love.
This church is a Plan B church because it’s a church for those for whom church didn’t work.
This church is a Plan B church because it’s firmly rooted to God’s Plan B — the upside-down kingdom represented in the Beatitudes of Jesus.
This church is a Plan B church because it exists to proclaim hope for the oppressed, release for captives, good news for the poor, and recovery of spiritual sight for those who acknowledge they’re blind.
Being a tiny community, this church is committed to being a seed — to joining the extrapolation of the Plan B Church concept alive and well in more suchlike tiny communities all over the world.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Embracing vulnerability when you’re too weak for anything else

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The gold of the gospel is that it reigns over all systems of oppression indefinitely.
It takes within itself a consummate defeat, and yet, knows only victory. It refuses despair choosing to believe in the goodness beyond death.
Indeed, authentic belief transcends any notion of doubt, and sees only the action of God in the absence of God.
The gospel has a presence about it that turns the very moment of utter despair into a hope that successful people will never understand let alone experience.
It’s the style of the weak to know something in their brokenness that strong people have no idea about.
A weak person, having experienced the power in vulnerability, will never wish to be strong again.
They are shown an eternal power that blows apart all human power, leaving it hopelessly forlorn of answer. And only when there is no human power to draw from. Yes, the rock bottom stage is where vulnerability is driven from. Vulnerability can come from no other place.
Vulnerability only works when we’re too weak for anything else.
We must be smashed to smithereens to warrant and partake of it.
This gold of the gospel is so sensationally powerful we only need to experience it once, and we’re forever won to its universal and pressing truth. And as we embody this truth we’re destined to experience it more and more.
This truth is astounding: suddenly out of the jaws of death, as ashes comprehensively smother every remnant of visible hope, there is a rising that pushes past demise and breathes a life that one has never known before; a life that leaves the old experience of ‘life’ in its wake.
Resurrection converts darkness into light, day from night.
And all from a weakness intended to completely flummox us.
What is it that differentiates two opposite forms of despair? One that brokers an irrepressible hope from a despair that is tumbling, barrelling, traumatising? One drives us into the purpose of search that cannot ultimately give up even if it does momentarily. The other cannot get past the magnitude of it all. And yet, magnitude takes us deep enough to make us expansively weak.
This is the difference the way I see it. One despair refuses the logic of reality and is caught up in a vision of a different reality some time off. It’s prepared to be patient, to bear suffering well and occasionally not-so-well, to suffer indignity after humiliation, to have hopes dashed continually. It does this because there’s no logic in remaining in despair. It realises that hoping for a fantasy is better than the hellish despair of present. The other despair cannot get past the present reality and cannot see beyond it to the relief that’s coming. It cannot see the value in obedience as a power for attracting good. It finds it impossible to bear the state of pain that is thrust against it.
This other despair is nonsensical from the other side.
Despair bears no comparison to hope.
Hope is worth the cost.
Hope is worth losing the present for. It is worth the pain that blindsides hope. It is worth building upon. And only from weakness are we arranged in such a way to be forced into a choice. But blessed is the position and the choice, to remain weak, to accept it, to rally from weakness in a regaling vulnerability that resists denial, anger and bargaining.
What I speak of here is a real possession of the regenerate person. Indeed, it is the fruit of regeneration.
But regeneration comes from honestly letting ourselves fall into the hands of God; by refusing to rely on any semblance of our human strength.
The less we need to try to help God to help us,
the more we give up trying to overcome in our own strength.
And if we offer no resistance in our despair, but hope alone in God,
then we will discover from there, God can do all we need Him to do.