Category Archives: Uncategorized

#Nofilter

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Who am I?
A question we all ask.
What is my meaning, my significance, my task?
Who am I and what is my purpose?
These are the questions that have the power to inspire us and to hurt us.

Am I just here by coincidence and chance?
Am I just filter, hashtag and share,
Liking and scrolling, endless people to compare?

Where do I need to go to truly find myself?
Thailand or Zante or somewhere equally far,
Wearing colourful trousers on a crazy ‘gap yah’?
Try a new hobby or pick up a skill,
Sky dive off mountains just for the thrill
One thing after the next so my life can be fulfilled.

Snapping away for my instagram story,
But all the time missing what’s before me.
Sat in an office clocking the hours,
Waiting for a promotion and economical power.
What hope do I have in a political party?
When the divided world causes more and more heartache.

Who am I? And why am I here?
Is this really just the question that we all fear?
Fragile and changing and often quite shaken,
Is my identity given or there for the taking?
Is it my achievements, my accolades and CV,
That put me on the identity scene?
My skills and experience that put me on the map?
Or is striving for success just a never ending trap?

Who am I? And why am I here?

What if there was something else?
At times we all want to be something we’re not.
But don’t ever be who people say you should be,
That’s the advice that was given to me,
Always trying to make a good impression,
Through work and experience and material possession.

Until I stop and know,
That I don’t have to put on a show, to be me.
I’m striving to achieve when all I need is to believe
That I’m a child of God.
The father’s delight.
Because the question really is not who I am, but whose I am.
Who I belong to is much more important because everything I am he has given to me.
He made me creative with gifts to employ,
To use me for glory, the father’s joy
Not by might or by power but by the spirit says the Lord God Almighty.
Because in the midst of this, in my confusion and sin,
Jesus came down and said I’m going all in.
Because despite who I am someone thought I was worth it all,
In fact,  thought I was worth dying for.
And now all that he had he has given to me,
My identity status: completely free.

How do I know?
I have 66 books all telling one story,
Of unfathomable love and unending glory
It’s not about who I am or what I have done
It’s about who he is and what I’ll become,
100 percent loved and 100 per cent me
A child of the King, that’s who I’ll be
As he loves me and shapes me after all that he’s done,
Crying out on that hilltop, the battle is won.

Now I have abundant life without an end,
An identity I don’t need to defend
Who am I? I’m I child of the King,
And that is a wonderful and glorious thing.
When the world is in chaos and all out of kilter,
I know that God loves me hashtag no filter.

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Kingdom Bubbles

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Mission exists because Worship doesn’t. John Piper

I write this, sitting in a beautiful marquee fit for a wedding, in glorious sunshine in my shorts and sunglasses, having just had an ice lolly, surrounded by coffee and chatter. This, for me, is the dream. I feel like I am living the best life.   But, more than that, wonderfully I fully believe that much of this is far more than a just dream.

This is Lancaster’s STORY week, where the Christian Union are inviting people all week to wrestle with big questions, explore key parts of life, share transforming stories and, in all of that, to meet Jesus. I’ve just had the privilege of sitting in a fantastic talk from a leading science professor in York about whether science compromises God. Usually a lot of these kind of talks go straight over my humanities-wired head but there was one thing that particualrly stuck with me on the question of miracles. It was an illustration of water boiling in a kettle and specifically the ‘Pretransitional re-entrant phase’. Now if, like me, your brain also finds that hard to compute, I’m not entirely sure I can completely help but from what I can gather, as the little bubbles of boiling water form on the surface, they give a pre taste of the next form of physics, in this case from a liquid into a gas, before they then rise up to cooler air, turn back into liquid and return to the rest of the water. If you’ll excuse the terrible scientific explanation of that, the idea is that miracles are the bubbles, a pre taste of what is to come, the next form. Or, as one writer out it: ‘Jesus’ healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only “natural” thing in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded’.

It can be easy to describe a mission tent like this as a bit of a bubble, but put in this context, that’s exactly how I would describe it! Here, in so many ways, we have a taste of what is to come. After a lot of hard work from many faithful people, we can fully and abundantly enjoy in a small part the mission of God that we get to be co-opted into. I saw worship and mission in drama, song, rap, testimony, hospitality, conversation, science and pictures. I saw people from all backgrounds and from across the country coming together in the tent and working together. We celebrated different areas of the globe each evening with food, entertainment and stories. We coated the whole week in prayer from people near and far, people with no prior connection joining together in prayer. I wish more than anything that I could bottle up this moment and save it; the feeling of the first sunny day of the year, the excitement of people coming closer to knowing Jesus, the peace you feel resting in the fruit of hard work. But, the thing is, as great as it may seem now, we’re here because we’re in for something so much better. That’s what we’re here to show. That’s what we’re inviting people into as we open the sides of the marquee to the open grass of football games and picnics. A little bit of heaven meeting earth.

That’s why I love it so much, that’s why I get so excited, because I know I don’t have to bottle it all up. One of the most common comments I’ve heard so far throughout the week from people coming in (after ‘it’s like a wedding’) is I wish this could be here all the time. We know that our desires are often far too small, C S Lewis makes this clear, because we can’t actually imagine what is really in store for us. More than just reggae grooves for summer vibes and quality coffee and good times but an eternal joy, an eternal hope and an eternal rest. This feeling; an early glimpse of summer on an unexpectedly hot February day, I believe on a very small yet comprehensible scale, is an early glimpse of something so much more and I cannot wait. As I sit here listening to ‘Here Come the Sun’, well, I could make a pun, but you get the idea. And maybe, it’s exactly fitting that it reminds people of a wedding. With recognised hospitality including a constant stream of food and drink and banquets put on each night, feeding hundreds with food from around the globe it’s hard to deny the tangible sense of of the Kingdom here.

Mission exists because worship doesn’t, but it also comes from the overflow of worship. As we experience the Kingdom first, we invite others in. I’ve been writing this throughout the week and as I sit here now, coming to the end, I sit surrounded by a group of students, volunteers and lovers of Jesus breaking into spontaneous worship, playing music together and singing songs of worship in many different languages. If this isn’t a picture of the Kingdom, I don’t know what is. Mission comes from the overflow of worship but the overflow of mission is worship.

And so we come full circle, where our only response can be to fall down in worship. A week of joyful mission leading to an eternity of worship and joy. After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. Revelation 7:9. 🙂

Relationship goals

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Then Jesus said to them, ‘Suppose you have a friend, and you might go to him at midnight and say “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.” And suppose the one inside answers, “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of your friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.’ Luke 11:5-8.

This little parable is often overlooked but I think it speaks volumes of our world today. I can’t be the only one who finds making friends harder as an adult than it was before. It’s all very well asking everyone to play as a child but we all too easily pass it off that now people are too busy, my friends all live far away and there just isn’t time for that kind of care free fun and friendship any more. But surely, made in the image of a triune God, we were made for relationship, isn’t that why we crave it, despite how busy we are? My question is, when did we grow up? When did the idea of friendship become an impossible task? And more importantly, what do we do about it?

It’s hard. We know that, people are messy and relationships take time, something that very few of us have, and despite trying to fast track them, it never seems to work, but something that struck me is how important it is to ask for help. I don’t mean in a needy, self-help kind of way, I mean in an open, relationship-building kind of way. How often we think that being a friend means we have to be the one offering help. I ask for help a lot. Sometimes, it’s because I really actually need help, but often it is because it values other people and praises their skills, or because while I could do something on my own, someone else could do it better or have more fun doing it, sometimes it’s simply because I’d rather be doing whatever I am doing with someone else. I was recently watching an interview about the millennial generation and how, for so many reasons, and often through no fault of our own, we are a generation of incredibly low self esteem. This is something that is fed into us by society every day whether that be through parenting, schooling, technology, whatever, I’m sure we’ve all heard it said that we live in a world of instant gratification, entitlement and burnout, none of which help us build relationships. I think we know that friendships take sacrifice, we just can’t imagine why anyone would want to sacrifice anything for us. But isn’t that the beauty of the gospel? Isn’t that the essence of relationship? If Christ thought you worthy of sacrificing all for you, then it’s time to take up our position as his child and replicate that relationship. Christ bought relationship through sacrifice, there’s no other way.

Let’s be shamelessly audacious in our relationships. Don’t be afraid to be a burden. When we worry too much about being a burden to others we are effectively saying I can probably get by on my own, no wonder this generation is being pushed into anxiety. Let’s not assume that asking for help means weakness, incompetence and neediness, let’s value others for who they are and what they can bring. I have been called strongly independent before but I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. I’d much rather be interdependent, after all, we all have something to offer.

This means we have to learn to trust others. It’s no secret that this generation are far more connected with social media and the internet. We all know that the internet can answer pretty much all of our questions at the greatest ease and we’ve learnt to trust Google, YouTube and Alexa. It’s amazing how many times I’ve asked a friend how to do something and they’ve suggested watching a YouTube tutorial. It’s true, Google, YouTube and Alexa are most often more correct in these situations, and definitely more efficient. But do you ever stop to think how much simple conversation we have lost because of it? Simply wondering over the unknown. Have you ever been in a conversation where a question has been posed, Google is inevitably consulted and the conversation immediately falls flat? We can trust Google to give us the right answers but it seems like a very narrow definition of trust if we haven’t yet learnt to trust our friends. Is trust always based on being right? It seems to me that what they’re really doing is making us more scared of looking stupid. Giving us a sure fire way to be proven wrong.

In a busy, time restricted world, we also don’t want to be an imposition. At least, we say we don’t but what this often means is we’re really scared of rejection. If the shameless audacity in this parable in Luke fills you with dread and makes you cringe, you’re probably not alone. But, if there’s something I’ve learnt from this busy generation it’s that nine times out of ten, people would actually rather have people come to them than have the bother of going out. It’s so easy to believe that if people don’t invite you, it’s because they don’t want to see you. But, despite what our minds might tell us, I would suggest it’s worth the imposition. Remember when we used to ask someone to be friends? Remember when we asked if we could go round for tea? And it worked? Think of the audacity of that! Be bold, if people don’t invite you, invite yourself. This parable seems counter intuitive because deep down we are scared of the response this man gets, but let’s not forget how this passage continues:

So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 

Okay, this parable isn’t exactly primarily an ABC of how to make friends but if we are going to build meaningful relationships, we need to be able to take risks. If a relationship is worth pursuing, it’s going to take sacrifice and not in a kind of coming-with-it-all-together, knight-in-shining-armour, answer-to-all-of-your-questions kind of way, it’s about sacrificing the things that are harder to give up. Our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our genuine attention. My relationship goals for 2019? Don’t be afraid to be a burden, make the imposition, learn to embrace rejection but carry on anyway. To be shamelessly audacious. To return to the simplicity of the playground. And how to return the favour? Friendships are hard, but I strongly believe they are worth the effort. My prayer for this year is to try in some small way to live up to the kind of friend of one of my favourite authors, Jane Austen: There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not in my nature.* 🙂 

*Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen.

This baby, just maybe?

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Christmas.
The Word became flesh, but what does that mean?
Well let’s gather round the nativity scene.
Tea towels on heads and tinsel in hair
For the heavenly hosts that were all gathered there.
Proud tears, Christmas cheer of mother’s whose hearts are full.
And so we go into the stable, into the cradle.
We see baby Jesus lying in the manger,
Cushioned with straw and free from all danger,
His smiling face, held in Mary’s embrace,
Proclaiming goodwill to all men.
Warm and endearing and charming is he,
But is this the saviour he came here to be?

We sing that this baby no crying he makes,
But four hundred years of silence he breaks.
The almighty God, says Isaiah,
Could this be the one, the chosen Messiah?

Who could fit the magnitude of God in a child?
He’s tiny and weak, vulnerable and fragile,
But every atom in the universe was his to compile.
A tiny baby who can’t even stand,
And yet as he lay there, holds the world in his hands.

The journey, the lodging, the birth, it wasn’t plain sailing,
To come down to a Kingdom where sin is prevailing.
But love isn’t failing.
Love isn’t failing because God is unchanging.
This baby, just maybe, the saviour of the world.
Starting a perfect life of no resistance,
While Mary holds him in her hands, he holds her in existence.

Yes he is King, but not as we know,
The Prince of Peace who came here to show
That splendour and majesty although his to enjoy,
Are not the comforts of this little boy.

To a world that is broken, ugly and torn,
A baby that’s weak and helpless is born.
A beggar, an outcast, a refugee,
Was born for those now to set them free,
This little baby born from shame and disgrace,
Finds us in ours as we meet face to face.
He didn’t come with all earthly glory,
Shouting from the rooftops his heavenly story,
But came as man with man to dwell,
So we can see and his story tell.

So how did we get from that first Christmas night,
With the star of Bethlehem shining so bright,
To our world that is shaky, hazy, uncertain,
To a people that are broken, messy and hurting?
From shepherds and wise men and angels and sheep,
To a world that spins on hate crime and angry tweets?
But love isn’t failing, because God is unchanging.
Because the baby came in the muck, mess and grime
The light of the world, his light, to shine.  
Because in my pain, he knows my name,
He’s walked on this earth and been through the same,
And more than comfort he takes all the blame.
So put away the cuteness of the nativity
And come to the muck of the manger and see.
Let us never lose our wonder and awe
At this little baby who was born in the straw,

So we can stand here and say, “it is well”,

God is with us,

Emmanuel.

More than this

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There has to be something more than this.

How often are we left thinking this? When life gets really busy. When things are overwhelming.  Even just in the every day. In the lead up to Christmas when the weeks are spiralling away from us, it’s December before you know it and suddenly we realise all the things we haven’t yet done.

You’re losing control, losing control of what this world has become, where your happiness lies, where your worth stems from. There has to be something more than this.

A simple answer would be yes there is, something that’s greater, someone who is.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded again how true this is. We had a week of events on campus, each one looking at this question and exploring the gospel. It can be easy to forget just how exciting this really is when you’re stuck in the middle of every day life. In this More Than week, I was reminded of the excitement of the gospel by people who didn’t even know it. People coming in, desperate to have their questions answered, to get stuck into the scriptures and not just hear the gospel but really experience it.

What was really exciting was seeing people there I’ve been praying for each week but never before met. The students I know and love growing in their faith and keen to share it with those around them. The daily reminder of outrageous love, that there is so much more than this life. Someone came in saying, ‘I see just how much love you all put into these events and I’ve got to know why.’ What a question to be asked! What a testiment to the week! We love because He first loved us. He loved us with a love than can be so alien to the world that leaves us thinking there must be more. So often I forget how lucky we are to be able to do this, to be a part of this.

Born to be a sacrifice, to carry a cross, he spoke it is finished, it’s over, he lost. Well, that’s what they thought. Jesus has risen, he died in your place, you’re rescued, forgiven, saved by grace. Jesus has risen, as God said it would be, he’s generous and loving, we’re abundantly free. When you choose to know Jesus, there’s no perfect candidate, he came to save the lost, the broken, the inadequate.

It really was such a joy to see students reaching out, lots of them for the first time, experiencing the thrill of mission as someone comes to know Jesus. And they weren’t the only ones going in slightly scared, this was my first misison at this university and while I’m still very much still muddling my way through, how comforting it is to know that Jesus came to save the lost, the broken, the inadequate, and not only that, delight in working with them in misison. This still baffles me each time I think of it, particuarly in a week like this, how much easier it would be for God to build the Kingdom without us, without me. When I fail and mess up and say the wrong thing and miss the opportunity as I so often do. When I’m scared and don’t think I can do it and don’t understand why He would want me involved. But this is where my happiness lies, this is where my wealth stems from.

Because he is more than suffering, identity, success, Jesus is more than life’s big test. This world will bring wonders that we all strive to attain but for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.* 🙂

*Words taken from Edge Hill student, More Than promo video

Rule Breakers

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What a wonderful day to celebrate. 31st October and we have a lot to be thankful for.

It’s easy to think in this world that we just live by a list of rules. Don’t jump in the puddle without wellies, don’t use the tea towel to dry your hands, don’t put your feet on the seat. But today we celebrate a rediscovery of freedom, a freedom also known as grace. And it all started with a man named Martin and his church notice.

Martin was a monk so he had a lot of rules to follow and he was good at following the rules. Rules about when to pray (always), when to eat (hardly ever) and how much money to give (everything). His confessions were long when his songs were out of tune or his prayers insincere and he spent hours catching up each time he missed. While other monks payed people to do their duties for them Martin would save his for the collection plate to save the souls of those he loved after hearing things like ‘When the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs’. In fact between releasing souls and paying people to perform your duties it seemed that it was hard for someone who was poor to enter the kingdom of God. However, despite not being allowed personal study of the Bible, even Martin knew there was something wrong here, so close, yet so far from something Jesus once said himself. Something had to change and he was prepared to fight for it.

And the rest, they say, is history. Well, very important history as it turns out which brings us to where we are today. One where our friend Martin went from rule keeping hypocrite to a radical activist, brewing his own beer, smuggling nuns in beer barrels and marrying a runaway nun. Now that sounds more like the monk life I could get on board with. He later described his faith as “a living daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” He did indeed give it everything but not in a joy-sucking, coin-counting routine, filling in his sticker chart of monk duties but in a living, daring willingness to embrace his father’s love. It was a history where many followed in his footsteps, spanned years and wars, threw up controversy and turned a few heads, all because a group of people realised that we don’t have to live by unreasonable and impossible rules. While everyone around them told them that a gospel just of grace was too good to be true, they realised that it was exactly because of that that it must be true!

It’s so easy to think that that was all nice back then but, as we said, that’s all history now. We’re hardly going to try and pay our way into salvation and you certainly won’t find us smuggling nuns when we do. But how often do we count our success as a child of God through what we do? Through numbers, through hours, through hard work? And how often do we really respond with a living, daring confidence in God’s grace? Or do we make the kingdom of God so expensive and by doing so, make grace so cheap?

I’ve just come back from a weekend away where we sang the chorus:

“Who the son sets free, oh is free indeed, I’m a child of God, yes I am.
In my Father’s house, there’s a place for me I’m a child of God, yes I am.'”

What a beautiful truth to declare. We have so many people to thank for pointing us back to the one who bought our freedom. What a day to celebrate! 🙂

Wonderfully Fearful

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It probably won’t surprise a lot of people knowing my commitment levels and reading speeds that I am still reading through the Narnia series but I am onto the last book now, The Last Battle. And it’s got me thinking about how actually, life often does feel like a battle. Sometimes it can feel like just as we have one thing at bay, another challenge hits and we end up feeling like a master juggler being asked to unicycle on a tightrope. But then something struck me about something Jill said in The Last Battle. As she is going into battle, she says this:

“I was going to say I wished we’d never come. But I don’t, I don’t, I don’t. Even if we are killed. I’d rather be killed fighting for Narnia than grow old and stupid at home and and perhaps go about in in a bath-chair and then die in the end just the same.”

I think this is what ministry can feel like sometimes. There’s no doubting it can be hard, that’s a given, but I’ve never once wished I was somewhere else, doing something else. I’ve just started a new job and with that, there are inevitably challenges. Everything’s new, you’re still finding your feet and you don’t quite know what you’re doing. Some days it’s an absolute joy in every way, some days it just feels like you can’t keep going, but on none of those days could I think of anything I would rather be doing. It’s fair to say, I’m not facing the possibility of being killed on a day to day basis for what I do but still something with what Jill said resonated with me.

When you start something new, there is often a fear of doing something wrong, that’s inevitable. What’s a problem is when it overshadows the fear of not doing anything. Because there’s a healthy kind of fear, the kind of fear that reminds us we are not infallible, we are not infinite, we are not indestructible. Psalm 139 tells us “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” We tend to love that verse as we see it cross stitched on cushions, painted in watercolours across our walls and decorating our notebooks and journals. But how often we read it as “I praise you because I am wonderfully made.” But that’s not what David writes. David praises God because he is fearful before anything else. Because he has someone to be fearful of, someone who is infallible, infinite and indestructible. In fact, if we were to make a list of the ‘heroes of the Bible’, when pressure builds and ministry is hard, their common denominator would not be that they were wonderful but that they were scared. Martin Luther described faith as a living, daring confidence in God’s grace so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. That terrifies me but in the most wonderful way. How exciting to have a faith like that.

But then there’s the other fear. The fear that drives us away from anything, the fear that leaves us growing stupid and old at home. Because Jill says that we all “die in the end just the same”. It may seem like a depressing thought, but her fear is not dying, her fear is dying having not done anything. While we may sit here and say it doesn’t sound all that cheery, who can really say they’ve read right through to The Last Battle growing up without at some point running to the back of our wardrobe desperately hoping to be there ourselves? Who has read through the the perilous quests of The Hobbit without wanting to explore Middle Earth or grown up with Harry Potter in all his magical scrapes and dangers without at some point sitting at home waiting for that acceptance letter from Hogwarts? That’s what ministry is like, only more thrilling because it’s real. It’s not standing at the back of an empty wardrobe, it’s not dreaming of another world, it’s not sitting at home waiting it’s real people with real lives and real battles. It’s fearful but it is wonderful. It’s messy but it’s worth it. 🙂