Reso(u)lutions

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As the end of another year approaches – it provides me with a new opportunity for reflection and examination. This is a grace infused exercise meant to help me grow, as a disciple and as a leader. It’s not a guilt trip or a legalistic ‘to do’ list to breed shame or pride.

Here is a list that I designed for myself – and some of the questions/issues you might fond helpful too:

What can I celebrate?

What do I need to bring closure to?

What keeps tripping me up?

  • emotional
  • relational
  • intellectual
  • physical
  • spiritual

Who do I want to become?

Who do I want to influence?

What is my plan?

  • what disciplines do I need to adopt?
  • how can I master my diary?
  • who/what should I be reading & listening to?
  • who do I need to talk to?
  • how does my accountability look like?

Pauls’ leadership encouragement to Timothy is a helpful reminder here:

2 Timothy 2:3-6 (NLT): 3 Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. 5 And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. 6 And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor.

Test Before Taste

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Communion (or however your particular ‘tribe’ calls it) is such an amazing opportunity. Yet, like all good things in life, it can be taken for granted so easily. Another danger is that we come glibly and carelessly to His table. A legalistic approach that seems to only stress the preparation leading to the first Sunday of the month seems to miss the point and simply engages in a one off ritualistic awareness of the meaning of communion.

The Apostle Paul seems to address a whole host of dangers and problems when he writes with almost tweetable brevity: 1 Corinthians 11:28: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

Here are some questions that could be useful as we examine ourselves in preparation:

– Have I understood and experienced the Good News of God’s redemptive love demonstrated at the Cross?
– Do I recognise and admit my attitudes and actions that are the remaining relics of my sinful nature?
– Do I have a repentant desire to move away from sin to grace-led freedom and victory?
– Do I still stand/bow in awe of God’s lavish grace being made available for me day by day?
– Do I forgive as I am forgiven – living as a debtor that has been set free, to set others free?
– Do I embrace the resurrection power of Christ that enables me to live fully his kingdom in my world?

O MY SAVIOUR,
Help me.
I am so slow to learn,
so prone to forget,
so weak to climb;
I am in the foothills when I should be
on the heights;
I am pained by my graceless heart,
my prayerless days,
my poverty of love,
my sloth in the heavenly race,
my sullied conscience,
my wasted hours,
my unspent opportunities.
I am blind while light shines around me:
take the scales from my eyes,
grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.
Make it my chiefest joy to study thee,
meditate on thee,
gaze on thee,
sit like Mary at thy feet,
lean like John on thy breast,
appeal like Peter to thy love,
count like Paul all things dung.
Give me increase and progress in grace
so that there may be
more decision in my character,
more vigour in my purposes,
more elevation in my life,
more fervour in my devotion,
more constancy in my zeal.
Valley of Vision

New & Fresh

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There is plenty of talk about revival in the church – which betrays a genuine longing for God’s kingdom to break out in ever increasing influence. On the other hand, you have a perennial lottery like mentality – if we keep predicting it and talking about it – it might come true. The danger with that is the ‘cry wolf’ syndrome that creates a cynicism towards the subject.

J. I. Packer is helpful in the essay: “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion” in A God-Entranced Vision of All Things (pp. 100-104):

Revival is God touching minds and hearts in an arresting, devastating, exalting way, to draw them to himself through working from the inside out rather than from the outside in. It is God accelerating, intensifying, and extending the work of grace that goes on in every Christian’s life, but is sometimes overshadowed and somewhat smothered by the impact of other forces. It is the near presence of God giving new power to the gospel of sin and grace. It is the Holy Spirit sensitising souls to divine realities and so generating deep-level responses to God in the form of faith and repentance, praise and prayer, love and joy, works of benevolence and service and initiatives of outreach and sharing.

What would a revived/renewed community of Christ followers look like, then?

  • divinely supernatural community – this cannot happen by just working harder and dreaming bigger – it is a sovereign surprising act of God’s kindness and power
  • emotionally healthy community who displays visible signs of an encounter with God’s goodness
  • redemptively authentic and transparent community – where sin is not hidden in shame but exposed and redeemed by the extravagant grace and powerful Spirit
  • outward focused relational & missional community – that overflows with the streams of living water that come from Christ Himself
  • humble and anonymous spotlight-giving community in which Christ is the Star and we are the grateful and privileged best-supporting acts

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Psalm 85:6

 

Mary’s Choice

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Jesus seems to always build retreats into His life and ministry. Most of them involve secluded, lonely settings away from people.

Yet, there is one place that seems to be ‘home’ among people – Bethany, at the home of Martha, Lazarus and Mary. It was His place of rest among people. Where is that place for you?

Luke 10
38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” 41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Martha steals the show. At least at first glance. It’s like meeting Nigella and Kirsty, embodied in one person. Creative, warm, loud. Her food was famous and her hospitality made guests feel treasured and other women envious. She takes the initiative. She invites Jesus in. Her love language is action. Her delight is serving others. She is wired and animated…

Mary just sits down. Her passivity a stark contrast to Martha’s activity. She stops from her activity. She is quiet and simply listens to Jesus’ teaching.

Lazarus, we don’t know anything about him. Guys can be like that. Hiding away. Being distracted. Getting stuff done. Guys always get stuff done. Not wanting to be in the limelight, you know…

The scene looks calm initially but it doesn’t take long before the unhealthy attitudes come to the surface. When we don’t relate well to Jesus – we end up taking it out on people around us. Martha’s complaint seems justified. Yet Jesus surprisingly sides with Mary.

Martha doesn’t get the reaction she expected. Jesus speaks to her gently and redemptively. He doesn’t demean her instinctive desire to serve. He simply invites her to move from good to best! What was Mary’s secret, I wonder? Why did she do what she did? Was it just a personality trait?

Mary did not need to do anything FOR Jesus. No impressive mind boggling questions or extravagant displays of hospitality. She recognised that it’s much better to let Jesus do something for her. She was unashamed in her need for His wisdom. She was ‘poor in the spirit’ and humbly accepted her state – without insecure feelings demanding a performance that impresses Jesus.

Mary seized an opportunity. She knew that THIS was so unique. She knew WHO was before her. This was not to be missed. In the presence of divine royalty,  you drop everything, as at that moment, nothing else matters…

Mary was filled with awe. She was so amazed at what Jesus did and taught that simply being around Him was enough.

Mary was expectantly curious for more of His teaching. She knew what she already heard and like a mesmerised child waiting to hear another amazing bedtime story from a parent or grandparent, she was so eager to discover more from Him.

Here is the beckoning call to Jesus, right here and right now. He is the omnipresent Christ in you, the hope of glory. The Potentate of time and history – ready to welcome you at His feet.

come just as you are

come and be still
come quickly
come curiously
come to seek His face, not just His hand
come before the Christmas rush

The Times They Are A-Changin’

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2016 will remain ingrained in the history books as a turn-around year, full of unexpected and surprising political outcomes. The future will have the right to judge what the consequences of those changes will be for ordinary people in the UK and US as well as the global impact that awaits us.

More than ever I became aware of my sense of alienation from the political offerings available. I felt deep down that although I resonate with many causes – there is no political movement that fully can embrace Christ’s Kingdom agenda.

The secret? As Christ-followers we are are transcending the traditional dividing lines into another, deeper reality. The Dominican father, Herbert McCabe captures it perfectly:
“The Christian minister is meant to be neither the pillar of an established quasi-feudal order, as conservative Christians are inclined to think, nor is he the democratic representative of a quasi-bourgeois society as the progressives seem to suggest; he is a revolutionary leader whose job is the subversion of the world through the preaching of the gospel. He exercises authority amongst his people not as maintaining an established structure; he is the leader of his people in a movement towards a new community.

Matthew 5:13-16 The Message (MSG)
13 “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.14-16 “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

O, Lord, keep us from becoming distracted by pointless arguments and drinking further from the poisoned well of hatred and division. Keep our hearts tuned into a different voice and our eyes filled with the clarity that the tears of compassion can bring. Make us Your courageous but humble agents of love, hope and reconciliation.

 

 

 

Selfies, self and social media

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We live in a self obsessed and over exposed culture. Social media has created a framework to support our current insatiable desire for showing off. How did the previous generations use photographs before and how we do nowadays? I always thought that they immortalised precious memories to be shared with a very close circle of intimate relatives.

Now we parade and are under an avalanche of too many pictures that are either painfully trivial or almost inappropriately public. I wonder why? Insecurity? Comparison? Thoughtlessness? I guess most people are just carried by the popular wave….

The incessant social media addiction (and the secret of the owners’ financial success) that most users struggle with, is fuelled by pride dressed as either curiosity or attention seeking insecurity. You can only tell how bad you suffer as a social media user if you try to break free. This is a very revealing battle in our souls as Christ-followers. We struggle to make time for drawing near to God in devotion and intimacy, and often social media is a stealth thief of soul edifying moments.

This isn’t a vilification of social media. The context and culture of social media has pitfalls but can be brilliantly redemptive and positive too. The key is how we use it. We need to step back and evaluate. We need to filter and make wise choices. For some, social media is feeding the pride monster to such an extent, that signing off is probably best.

Our security isn’t rooted in likes and comments. They are like opiates. Short term and damaging solutions to much deeper problems. We all long for acceptance and freedom. Only in Christ we can discover the ‘real deal’. As we battle our insecurities, we do well to remember these old wise words written long before the selfie generation by Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”

Refresh

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It’s holiday season for many of us. A great chance to refresh and recharge ourselves. I often thought that would come naturally but now I wonder if there is a science to that as well. Fancy that: preparing and executing a good rest…

There are some helpful thoughts here – written to Christ followers who were living under constant pressure. While their pressure would have been significantly different than ours – pressure is still pressure.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Don’t believe the lies: often due to weariness and discouragement – it can feel like your life has become isolated. It’s easy to develop a victim complex. Throwing accusatory mental glances at all those who don’t do what we do, as much as we do, the way we do it…. Subtly selfish. Deeply toxic. Elijah experienced it – straight after his greatest victory for God. Our feelings can be terrible liars. The antidote is the act of slow reading and meditating on God’s Word. It will speak the truth about who God is but even more importantly who we are in His plans. Use this time of rest to embrace truth – a healthy truth that we are not alone in this race.

Declutter your soul: There are things we need to let go off.You can’t plant something new in a ground filled with rocks and weeds. Look at your soul as a planting patch and allow the Spirit to show you those things that are burdensome ‘baggage’. It could be unforgiveness, bitterness, frustration with people, an unhealthy sense of insecurity, lack of patience, anger… Bring them to the Saviour who died for these sins. Embrace grace. Gaze at Him and see His selfless love. Own it, deep down and let it shape your whole life: thoughts and words.Let this time, become a a significant occasion to fall in love with your Saviour.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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A former British Prime minister observed: “The price of greatness is responsibility.“ Today the number one political leader of the country had his last say. What a fall from grace, after the resounding and unexpected victory of the last general election.

Ironically, he pulled the trigger on the bullet that actually finished his political career. Looking at his decision to step aside, it brings back to the forefront that pivotal leadership issue: when is it right to fight and cling on and when is it right to step aside. This will always be a tricky issue for any leader.

There is no formula, but there are at least two key leadership issues that determines the right attitude.

Haughtiness versus humility. Leaders will almost always find defeats disappointing. Yet a good leader will discern whether they were the cause of the defeat or the redeemer of that defeat. Not all mistakes are an immediate cause for retreat and often the leader in question might be best placed to rebuild after the mess. There is humility in stickability. Other times, the humble thing is to step aside. A good leader will look in the mirror and evaluate ruthlessly. They will chose respectable critics and weigh-up the criticism and give someone else the chance to build again.

Courage versus convenience. Rebuilding after failure is messy. The outcome will be unknown and there are no guarantees that one’s reputation might be salvaged. Dealing with criticism and even a healthy dose of doubt, can be crippling. Sometimes, the easiest route is out. But that isn’t always the most responsible. Healthy leaders undergo an honest soul searching evaluation of their motivation. If they quit because it’s easier, they should also explore a courageous alternative. A good mentor or friend could be useful sounding board in this circumstances.

The truth is that no one, maybe not even the former prime minister, or even his closest confidantes mighty now if this was the right or the wrong leadership ‘move’ or whether the motivation might have been honourable or not. One thing is sure, history and time will be fairer judges of that.

Leaders will always have to make choices. Difficult choices. And those choices determine the quality and longevity of their leadership.

CELEBRATION OF IMPERFECTION

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Yesterday, as I was carefully mowing the lawn, I kept noticing geranium petals falling on the slightly cleaner mass of green grass (don’t think manicured lawn a la beautiful English estates). A bit frustrating as they seemed like leftovers who were spoiling the work I had done.

I was reminded that this would have been an intentional artefact as part of a zen botanic landscape. Wabi sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism, particularly the tea ceremony, a ritual of purity and simplicity in which masters prized bowls that were handmade and irregularly shaped, with uneven glaze, cracks, and a perverse beauty in their deliberate imperfection. The Japanese philosophy celebrates beauty in what’s natural, flaws and all.

Perfectionism is an unattainable pursuit and perfectionists are a pain to live with. Yet often many of us fall into that trap. Some do it out of a sense of insecurity or simply trying to please someone that might never be satisfied anyway.

There is somehow a beautiful freedom in an imperfect life. It gives others permission to be be imperfect too and it is a fertile ground for humility and grace – relying on God rather than ourselves.

I remember reading a story about an old Orthodox senior monk shocking his fellow younger apprentices one evening at the dinner table. The monks would observe very strict dietary fasts that often exclude luxurious items of  food such as sugar, meat and oil. After their prayer before an evening meal as they sat down, the old respected senior monk (starets) pulls a little bottle of oil and uses a tiny drop on the food. As they were all in disbelief, one plucked up the courage and enquired about the apparent ‘faux pas’. The older monk explained how that drop of oil will keep him humble from bragging that he kept the fast with such valiancy.

The apostle Paul battled the frustrating imperfections of his life – yet learned that he was at his strongest in his weakness – utterly dependent on God’s grace.The same is true for me and you…