Author Archives: abmyster

Dragon Skins

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I used to really hate change. I hated change to the point that I wrote an angry letter and petition in my gel pens when my parents wanted to cut down a large tree in our garden. I hated change to the point I sat on my own in church when my family decided to move seats. And I hated change to the point that I wrote a letter to Nick Knowles when we had to move house, spelling out my trauma. But, whether we like it or not, we are always changing. Not only that but it’s (usually) a really good thing.

I’m so glad I’m not the person I was ten years ago, four years ago, even this time last year. I’ll be the first to say that it can be scary to see how quickly our world is always changing; even today I went to buy someone a DVD and realised they would have no way of watching it. It’s amazing sometimes how fast things can move on. When my home town first got a Costa Coffee, I adamantly boycotted suddenly taking a much greater interest in the local coffee shops I had never before been invested in and yet now, in my job, it’s hard to think back to a time in my first year of university before our campus Costa Coffee arrived wondering where on earth we spent our time and how we survived. Obviously, not all change is for the better and it can often feel like with everything changing around us, we want to just stay the same but in many senses, we were made for change.

The beautiful thing in God’s family is that while Jesus accepts us just as we are, he doesn’t leave us that way. He is continually creating in us an ever changing work of art. This year we’ve got to learn about a lot of big theological words like Justification, Propitiation and Sanctification and we recently had a whole day looking at sanctification. A constant pursuit of holiness as we come to know Jesus more, and wonderfully become more like him. We looked at various definitions and examples and asked questions like why is it necessary? and why isn’t it happening quicker? But I was reading a book just a couple of days later and came across my favourite definition of sanctification yet. And here it is:

So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden – trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well….

…The water was clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he had said any words out loud or not. 

I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it there lying beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe. 

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s alright, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe. 

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good. 

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – “You will have to let me undress you.” I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it. 

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away…

…Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.* 

Change can be painful, and sometimes has been this year. At times I’ve been faced with things that have cut right into my heart; words of scripture, conversations with friends, challenging circumstances. So many times I have gone into things, and even the year, thinking I just need to bathe my leg when all the while I have multiple whole dragon skins to shed first. Thoughts, words, habits that I thought were harmless. And far too often have I tried to scratch them off myself. But this year I can say I have grown exponentially in my love for Jesus and am glad for every change he has made. I’m glad I’m not the same person I was when I started Relay and I’m glad he’s still not finished.

If anything was to describe my growth on Relay, it would be this story. At times it has been hard as I’m faced with my own sin and idols, but at the end of it I can say I’m a child again. A beautiful and loved child of God. Because the more I see of my own sin, the further I fall into his grace. I know that there is still a lot more to change and I pray that while it will inevitably be hard, I will enjoy the process and that each and every time I fail, I will be able to come back and say I am a child again. 🙂

*The Voyage of the Dawntreader C. S. Lewis

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Eternity Moments

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Recently a really wonderful fact dwelt on me and that is that we are made for the purpose of joy. As a North West team, we were asked what it means to be a disciple and we came to the conclusion that being a disciple is pursuing the happiness of God and living in the overflow of what he has done for us. Isn’t that wonderful?  To be able to sit here and say that our purpose is for joy? That we have God-given days of rest just to enjoy his creation. And what better time to appreciate this than a sunny bank holiday?

A lot of people say that there is a big difference between joy and happiness. You can have a real deep-seated joy without feeling happy all the time. I firmly believe this is true however if your joy never leads you to happiness or rejoicing, surely there must be something amiss? And, as I said, what better time to rejoice than a gloriously sunny bank holiday, and how rare that we would have two in a row. I love bank holidays because they always seem so full of spontaneous fun. While we tend to have some kind of days off on a weekly basis, a bank holiday always seems to be wonderfully surprising. Like we’re just not quite ready for that extra dose of joy and when it hits us, there’s nothing better. Someone told me recently that every Sunday (or sabbath day) should feel like a bank holiday. While sadly this isn’t always the case, they are at least a great reminder of what we were created for and these little bonus days for me were the climax of that.

Firstly a day of sun out in one of my favourite places, not just in the Lake District but possibly anywhere, Grasmere. A merry road trip, a long splash and paddle in the river, a taste of Grasmere gingerbread and walking along to the majestic background of the mountains. This is creation appreciation in a nutshell. It was wonderful, it was childish, it was perfect. A day to simply escape everything else, to take pleasure in without another care or worry. When I thought that was the pinnacle of satisfaction, we were blessed with another beautiful day. BBQ and Pimms in the garden, playing in the paddling pool and a fabulous walk down the canal. The kind of time where you don’t even need to talk, you can just walk along, listening to the sounds of creation, knowing that this day truly is gift. I came back tired, muddy and slightly bruised but 100% satisfied. Simple pleasures with good friends that bring exponential happiness. These are the best days. These are what I call eternity moments. The kind of pure, unadulterated joy you wish could last for eternity and know someday will. The kind of joy that gives us a hope for the future. The kind of joy we were created for.

While not every sabbath day has quite the same care-free, cheerful abandonment of a bank holiday, it is a reminder of who we are. To think we were made on day six of creation, meaning our first experience of this world was rest. Rest and enjoyment of the creation. That every day in creation has a clear beginning and end, except day seven, the day of rest. That is our goal, to love and delight in the Lord for all he has given us. Every day we have so much to be thankful for. So often I walk around blind to this, but so grateful I am for the days where you can’t help but be thankful for the wonderful world we live in. 🙂

One Team, One Dream

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This year I have seen incredible blessings and miracles and people coming to faith and often wake up and can’t believe this is my job! I get to meet with people as they meet with Jesus and share the joy over a coffee, go to baptisms of students that have decided to give their lives to Christ and share the treasures of the gospel with wonderful young people. And the best bit is, I get to do this for the next three years. I have the privilege of carrying on in this exciting work in helping students know the joy of Jesus.

University really is such a wonderfully unique time that goes far too quickly. Thousands of students coming from all over the country and the world wanting to find out who they are and what they believe. What a hope we have to offer. And we’ve heard it a thousand times, universities shape cultures. Full of the next doctors, teachers, lawyers and solicitors; psychologists, councilors, accountants and engineers; artists, writers, academics and designers. It’s a cliché, but only because it’s true. What if we could bring the gospel to universities and see the gospel shaping culture? What if we could meet far corners of the earth from our very doorstep as international students bring the gospel back to their own nations?

But it’s not always easy and we’re not going at it alone. It’s not our mission, we’re just invited to join. This year we had our most fruitful and exciting mission week I have seen and I strongly believe this is because it was defined by prayer. So many people across the country committed to praying for this, meeting up on a regular basis to pray for us and the students here in Lancaster and what we were doing. Students who, when asked about an 8am daily prayer meeting, responded by coming half an hour early every morning to worship the Lord before giving the day to him in prayer.

And this really has been the theme of my whole year. We’re not going in solo but part of a massive mission team and I am hugely grateful for everyone who has been praying for me and generously supporting me. This year, I’m blown away by kindness nearly on a daily basis. How humbling to have so many people joining and supporting me and the people in Lancaster. I personally find it strangely amazing to be praying for people I don’t even know, knowing I probably never will until we stand together in the Kingdom. What a thought! To be meeting with people you’ve never seen this side of glory and finding out you’ve been a part of each other’s journeys all along! And to think of all the people praying for the people I’ve met and known now – what a marvellous thing prayer is.

I’m super excited about what is still to come and getting to work with more universities and lovely students and very excited about all that God is going to do. It’s still quite scary but I am just one part in such a great team and I love it. Throughout the Bible we see God’s people selflessly providing for God’s people; Israelites giving inheritance to the Levites as they work in the tabernacle, Disciples going out without a spare shirt for their back as they go from house to house, churches from far afield supporting Paul in his ministry as he brings the word far and wide. How amazing to be a part of such a family. This is the Kingdom coming, ‘Freely you have received, freely give.’ This is something I have been blessed enough to experience first hand and pass on next year as I join in others’ missions too. Because ultimately we are one team with one dream: To make Jesus known. 🙂

Once Upon a Time…

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Over the past few weeks, we have been writing countless stories up in Lancaster. We too had our week of mission under the theme of STORY and we’re still making stories now. We looked at questions like where are freedom, love, truth and hope? We heard stories from a cabinet minister, a soldier, a bishop and an academic and testimonies from students and every day we had deep conversations about the biggest questions in life.

I’m also currently reading the Narnia books, I haven’t read them before but they’re wonderful. So rich, so beautiful.

But we’re all telling one story: Once upon a time, the Word became flesh and it changed everything.

Near the beginning of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, children Peter and Susan go to the Professor about the fanciful story their sister Lucy has made up about the world of Narnia. In response the Professor says, ‘There are only three possibilities. Either she is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth.’ Funnily enough, this is exactly what C.S.Lewis says about Jesus too. We often stop believing stories when they become implausible, but this is the most implausible story in the world.

 

I can’t claim to have seen Narnia on our campus but I did see glimpses of the Kingdom of God. Instead of through the wardrobe, we stepped into a big marquee on campus, but at times it really did feel like another world. It was beautifully decorated with a café and book stall open all day and buzzing with conversation. Each morning at half past seven, it became a space of joyful worship before giving the day to the Lord in prayer at 8. We then went out around campus talking to the students around campus, asking questions, hearing stories. Every lunchtime we had talks over food, every afternoon we had tea and questions time,  and every evening we had an international dinner followed by an interview with someone who’s life has been turned around by Jesus and stories powerfully proclaimed from the Bible. Every day we were telling the same story: The Word became flesh and it changed everything and not a day went by when someone didn’t become a Christian.

I couldn’t believe it. In fact I didn’t believe it going into the week, I would never have dreamed of such an exciting and fruitful week as this but who are we do define the limits of possibility? We stop believing in things when they become implausible but all week people were coming to see the implausible. We didn’t just hear stories of lives changed, we saw stories of lives changed. We may not have had a snowy forest with a large lamppost but we did see the Kingdom, people came in and left changed. People who said they just felt such a sense of peace and clam in the marquee, atheists whose curiosity got the better of them and left committing their lives to Christ, people who were searching and may have just found what they were looking for. It was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it, day after day, the Kingdom grew.

In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the Professor goes on to say, ‘You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then, and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.’ It’s implausible, even impossible. And that’s what we celebrate today; impossible grace. As I read on through the book I grew colder towards Edmund and more compelled towards Aslan as the children say ‘”Oh, yes! Tell us about Alsan!” … for once again that strange feeling – like the first sings of spring, like good news, had come over them.’ When Alsan went to negotiate with the White Witch, I didn’t want to read on because I knew what was to come. But what was to come was impossible grace.

I’ve also been reading through the account of the first Holy Week this week and one thing I’ve noticed it’s that no one, no matter what they thought of it all, was indifferent to Jesus. Much like Lucy’s story of the wardrobe, this was a story that they couldn’t leave behind or ignore. Whether friend, centurion, pharisee, relative, governor or student in a marquee, it’s not a story that you can just forget. No matter which way I’m reading it, hearing it, living it, seeing it, however, it is a story of impossible grace. 🙂

STORY Time

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Everyone has a story. We live off stories, we thrive off stories, it’s what makes us who we are. I have to say, having studied literature I’m probably a little biased but I love stories; hearing them, telling them, making them. That’s why I’m so excited about what’s going on right now. Christian Unions across the country have had or are having a STORY week in which they invite people to come and tell their stories, ask their questions and hear the beautiful story of Jesus.

‘The Joy of the Lord is my strength.’ That was my anthem last week as I had the delight of joining STORY Swansea. Not only did I get to hear inspiring testimony of olympians, scientists, bankers, ex drug addicts, but I got to see stories unfolding there and then. The sheer amount of people I got to stop and chat to handing out flyers on a gloriously sunny day. The faithfulness of the students handing out flyers and talking to people all day – one student having wonderfully given his life to the Lord just the week before and still boldly stepping out each day with a smile on his face to tell people about Jesus. The conversations I got to have with people , hearing their ideas and lives, it was a privilege to be a part of, it still astounds me every day that God would choose to use and bless me in this way. To hear people from a lifetime of suffering to say this is the hope they need, to hear people say that Jesus is knocking, to hear people say that all the suffering they have faced has been used for God’s glory.

Sometimes I have those moments where I feel like I’m glimpsing glory as I call it. Most commonly when I’m surrounded by a roomful of people that love Jesus shouting his praises and our hearts sing with one accord. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that but it’s those times when I can’t help but smile uncontrollably that I stop and think this must be a little but of what it’s like to be living in glory. To experience just a taste of the sure hope that we have. Well I think I was glimpsing glory last week. To see one person give their life to the Lord on Tuesday and come back on Wednesday saying it’s been just such a great day, so happy, so free. The Kingdom was growing in Swansea, the Lord is saving mightily. The joy of the Lord really was my strength – it may have been exhausting but it was brilliant, every minute, seeing the joy Jesus brings to people, that’s what puts a spring in my step as I walk around campus, that gives us strength and keeps us going. Whether it was talking late into the evening, praying with people as they step out in faith or driving along the beach listening to the Greatest Showman so loud we couldn’t hear ourselves shout and eating horrendously big ice creams by the sea, I like to think I was glimpsing glory. Someone recently said the Church or more broadly Christians are just walking each other home. I think that’s wonderful and so true, as we go through this week, we’re just bringing people home.

This is why I cannot wait for STORY Lancaster next week. Inviting people to come into our big marquee all week to share their stories, to hear stories, to make stories, to see lives transformed, because this is just the beginning.

My story? I’d say my story of walking with Jesus is one of shattered dreams. Shattered dreams but an infinitely better reality. I’m a dreamer, I won’t deny it. I dream about every way my life could go, the best possible things I can imagine happening. I dream of distant futures as I’m falling to sleep, I’m lost in daydreams of everything this world could offer me. But dreams don’t always come true, sorry kids. But I have a reality that is so much more than I could ever imagine. I plan things out in my head all the time and yet rarely are these the things I love the most. My story is being constantly surprised by the new blessings God gives me, turning my life in a new direction far away from any of my dizziest daydreams. Did I expect to be living like this had you asked me five years ago? Definitely not. Am I glad? Definitely. My dreams are limited to my imagination but thankfully God is not. It certainly makes things a lot more exciting that way.

In his letter, John tells us that God is love. He doesn’t say God is loving or love is godly, but that God is love, it is his very nature. With that in mind I was thinking about a few lines of a well known song:

Love, love changes everything,
How you live and how you die

Yes Love, love changes everything,
Now I tremble at your name,
Nothing in the world will ever be the same

Love, love changes everything,
Days are longer, words mean more,
Love, love changes everything,
Pain is deeper than before,
Love will turn your world around,
And that world will last forever,
Yes love, love changes everything.

We get to spend a week and a lifetime sharing the greatest story ever told. Everyone will have different responses to this story, that’s what makes us all so wonderful and unique, but if it’s true, it changes everything. 🙂

 

Heading Home

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I’ve recently been asking questions about what the future holds and last week I was at a New Years Training Conference thinking about those same questions and mostly what God has to say about them.

It was a fantastic week not least because of incredible teaching but such wonderful worship. It’s times like this when we’re all standing together singing praises, full of such joy that I think I taste a little bit Heaven. I remember how beautiful is the God we serve and how wonderful it is to serve him together. One line from a song I LOVE stuck out in particular: ‘Bringing reconciliation to a world that longs to know, the affections of a father who will never let them go.’ Isn’t that beautiful? On average a person makes 70 decisions a day, 25,480 decisions a year and about 2 million in their lifetime. That’s terrifying. That’s a lot of decisions to make, some of them very small like do I have ketchup or BBQ sauce? Should I wash my hair today? Some of them a lot bigger like what do I want to do for a job? or where do I want to live? But one choice I can make every day is to know the affections of a father who will never let me go.

John Ortberg said, ‘God’s primary will for your life is not the circumstances you inhabit, it’s the person you become.’ Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in chasing God’s exact will for my life. God cares about each and every one of my choices but cares more about the person they make me. And thankfully, he is in the business of redeeming people in their mistakes and bringing them home. Another song we sang, more familiar to many, comes to a great climax in the last verse with the words, ‘And Christ shall come with shouts of acclamation.’ Personally, I always put the word acclamation in the generic category of ‘proclamation’, ‘exclamation’, ‘declaration’ and all the other ‘…ations’ until I actually looked it up. According to the dictionary, ‘Acclamation’ means ‘loud and enthusiastic approval.’ Synonyms include: praise, applause, ovation. Again, isn’t that beautiful? That one day, Christ shall come and loudly and enthusiastically approve of me? That even in all my mistakes and bad decisions, he will come applauding, not because of any choices I have made but because of the choice He has made. As I start a new year and think about all the choices I will have to make, most of them probably wrong, that’s something I’m happy to shout about. It’s hard to even really comprehend.

I’m very excited about this year, even if I don’t know what it holds yet because singing that well known hymn in a roomful of people that love Jesus reminds me that this life is just leading us home. And, like any good Sat Nav, I will inevitably make a whole load of wrong turnings, have to recalculate and make the odd unexpected U turn but ultimately, it’s not about the circumstances they lead me to inhabit but the person they lead me to become so that I can look back and say I know the affections of my Father who will never let me go.

I’ve been blessed with opportunity this year, a blank page to write my story or a winter’s morning to etch my footprints in the snow but I’m happy not to hold the pen or navigate the walk because wherever I’m heading, I’m heading Home 🙂

My Treasure

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I’m not really one for forward planning. At least not in the long term, it’s not my greatest asset. But God is the King of forward planning and nothing demonstrates this better than the Christmas story. From the beginning of time, this story was planned. In fact, there are 39 books of the Bible all acting as a trailer before Jesus comes to earth. Much like this life is acting as one long trailer for what comes next. Although that’s the thing, it’s not long, and I’m not very good at planning for it. I’m not very good at committing to things, maybe because things in this world are so fragile, so fleeting.

But God was committed. He was committed to the fragile and the fleeting. He was committed from the very beginning to come down to our earth as the great hymn writer Charles Wesley tells us ‘pleased as man with man to dwell’. What a precious gift. The question is, what do we do with this gift now? Where are we going to keep our treasure? We’re in that week between Christmas and New Year that I absolutely love. The excitement has come and now we get to eat all the leftover food, spend time with the family and we get to play with all our new toys. I think it’s my favourite time of year. We are living in the light of Christmas. And I get to just enjoy the best gift of all.

But as I look forward to New Year, I’ve got a lot of big decisions to make. I want to enjoy my treasure looking ahead to New Year and beyond. I hope at some point to get better at forward planning but something I’ve learnt so poignantly this year is that I am investing in a much greater future, a much longer future and a much more exciting future. That’s a future I want to plan for. But just how do I store my treasure in Heaven? I’ve recently come across a song that I think answers this question so beautifully. It’s called So Will I and as I plan my New year’s Resolutions, I think this makes a pretty good list.

If the stars were made to worship, so will I.
If creation sings your praises, so will I.
If it all reveals your nature, so will I.
If creation still obeys you, so will I.
If the mountains bow in reverence, so will I.
If the oceans roar your greatness, so will I.
For if everything exists to lift you high, so will I.
If the wind goes where you send it, so will I.
If the rocks cry out in silence, so will I.

If you left the grave behind you
If you gladly chose surrender
If you gave your life to love them

So will I.*

Like the stars I was made to worship, like creation I was made to reveal your nature, like the ocean I was made to roar your greatness and like the wind I want to go where you send me. You left the grave behind you, gladly choosing surrender to give your life to love. That’s some New Year’s resolution. I absolutely love this time of year, living in the light of Christmas, while everything is still new and exciting. While the gifts are freshly opened and peace and joy dominate with smiles all round. Much like the wind, I don’t know where life will take me this year and it will involve, like any time, some relatively significant decisions but I’m slowly learning to plan for a different future and what a way to enjoy the treasure of Christmas. 🙂

*Words taken from Hillsong So Will I