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Mirror Maze

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Sometimes, looking around at our world, it can be hard to see what good leadership looks like. This can be particularly prominent at the time of elections and political change. We all say that we would would like a good, strong and just leader, but do we really know what this means? Do we actually know what we are looking for?

We search and search, scroll and share, but are these thoughts even our own? In an echo chamber of social media and opinions, shouting our thoughts out loudly, only to have the same ones coming back. But is that actually all we want anyway? Are we actually just walking round a mirror maze, forever looking for a way out but only ever seeing a thousand reflections of ourselves staring back? We think we’re so grounded and well rounded but could it be that we’re so used to seeing different projections of ourselves and our thoughts that we can’t see anything else?

We try to look beyond ourselves to someone else, someone to follow but are they really immune? Even those at the top, are their thoughts even their own? Constrained by parties, policies, advisers and most of all by us; their own mirror in the maze.

We all want a world that is just, but again, do we know what justice is? It seems now that justice is knowing without a shadow of a doubt that you are right. Administering justice then is letting everyone know that you are right. Justice is having the moral high ground in a situation and sticking to it no matter what the cost. Justice is fighting your cause whatever that cause may be. Justice is shouting the loudest in the face of opposition to settle your soul. It seems only fair when we know we are right that “the truth will out”. But what if we are only right in our own echo chamber?

Do we actually know what we are looking for? Or are we all just lost in our own mirror maze?

When talking about leadership, we often turn to Christ’s humility in the church as the perfect model: “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage: rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” What a character profile. Is this what we see in our world today? When we look at those with power, can we honestly say they have this mindset? That they do not use it to their own advantage but make themselves nothing? Can any of us say this? When we volunteer for a CV or do jobs that are seemingly below us is this what it means to have the nature of a servant? Or is this just the duties?

Luke describes servant hood with this story: “Suppose one of you has a servant ploughing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’.”

What reward are we looking for when we take on these duties? Jesus made himself nothing by coming in human likeness, reminding us that’s what we already are, what we all are; unworthy. Whether a literal slave or going for prime minister, this is what it means to have the nature of a servant, not just the duties, to have the mindset of Christ, not just the works. Unseen, unheard.

I was recently reading a book that gave a beautiful picture:

The [carpenter] had completed preparations to make a cupboard, each board cut accurately to size, planed and aligned. Now he gathered up the nails of various sizes and different heads for the final assembly. Holes were bored to receive the heads: the nails were placed in position in turn, and then hammered home, covered over with wood filling, and the whole varnished, so that in the completed article, no nail was seen, only the cupboard as a whole. Were we willing to be the nails, in the hands of the master carpenter? Would we grumble at the painful blows of the hammer, or would we remember that the hammer was held by nail pierced hands? It was He, not our circumstances, nor our fellow-missionaries, who was choosing us to take our hidden place in His church.*

It’s easy to look at those in power and slate leadership but how much does that fit me? Willing to be hammered until no one can see me or even know I was there? In our individual fight for justice, do we just step into the maze and shout loudly until we see ourselves reflected back in affirmations and agreement? Do we continue arguing because we know eventually the truth will out or do we follow the one who brought silent justice in the face of opposition? When questioned on truth, Truth himself said nothing. Not letting people know he was right, not continuing the argument, not fighting hard for his opinion, putting others down or shouting the loudest, but all the time still trusting that the truth will out. Administering the justice of a servant.

When we step into that maze, what would it be like to see someone else’s reflection staring back at us? What would it take to be greeted with the reflection of a broken, disfigured, forgotten nothing? Could it be that this is the most glorious reflection we could see? Could we ever really believe that? 🙂

*Give Me this Mountain, Helen Roseveare

 

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Not such a Small World

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This summer I have the privilege of heading out to Moldova on mission to partner with the CU movement there and I was recently reminded of a wonderful verse in the Bible:

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.

I was actually staring at a world map when I realised that this verse simply doesn’t blow my mind enough. Frankly, I read this verse and I think I know what this might be like. One of my favourite things is to hear people worshipping and praying in another language, particularly if you can hear more than one language at once. I think this is so beautiful and such a picture of Revelation and what is to come. Even more do I love it when I get to experience a different nation in their home country and see just how wonderfully and differently the gospel plays out in different contexts. I suddenly realise if just for a small moment that the gospel is so much bigger than I had ever before appreciated. What a wonder to see with my own eyes how multicultural this news is, news that spans and crosses all boundaries.

And this is the thing, having experienced just a few different cultures and generally seeing other places on TV and in the general media I think I have a good feel for the world and I so I feel like I can grasp what this picture of Revelation might be like. But I have no idea.

Moldova is not a place I’ve been before but I’m excited for this to happen again and after a weekend of orientating myself with the culture and seeing people out there, I already feel like I have a real heart for Moldova. I know that I’ll have even more of a heart for Moldova when I go out there, once I’ve met the people out there, made connections and built up relationships, it’s only natural that you would care more for people that you actually know. Even when we think of the most influential, inspirational missionaries we may know of, they usually have a real big heart for one particular place or area. The absolutely mind boggling thing is that Jesus has that heart for every nation and every people. The nations we know nothing about, the people we will never meet, the people that are so completely different and incomprehensible to us, he has the same heart.

I realised this staring down at the world map. I realised that Europe is actually pretty small in the grand scheme of things and the two countries I’ve visited outside of Europe are actually just pretty small. I realised there is quite literally a whole world out there that I have never and probably will never see, at least this side of eternity. I realised how many languages there are that I have never and probably will never hear. I realised that while I like to think I know about the world, I really know very very little.

And yet this only makes Revelation all the more exciting. The other week I went on one my favourite drives between Lancaster and Leeds, first skirting the forest of Bowland before sailing through the Yorkshire Dales. I saw beautiful hills, lambs on the road, lakes actually sparkling in the sun, dry stone walls, yellow stone cottages covered in wisteria, cows, horses, buttercup fields, a pony and trap, undercover forest areas. It was a banquet of what I thought to be every treat that a landscape could offer, every beauty you could dream up when thinking of the countryside. And yet, driving through that seemingly ever changing scenery, thinking this really is what the New Creation will be like, so pure and glorious, thinking how much more amazing that there is SO much more to offer. That what I can even imagine is only the smallest taste of beauty and glory that doesn’t even scratch the surface. This really, is nothing! When I think of this beauty multiplied by the amount of countries, nations and cultures, those I know of and those I don’t, my mind starts to be a little more blown. What a generous God we have.

And the best thing is that right now Jesus has the same massive heart for each and every one of these people and places and one day we will too, and that’s amazing. The world is big and wonderful and one day, I will stand with people from every nation, tribe, people and language. This side of eternity, I really can never imagine what this will be like, but one day, I will hear all languages worshipping and see all the world in all it’s beauty and glory and that needs to blow my mind more.

The Last Night

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The night before you died, what would you say?

Who can find the words? Who knows what to say?
This is what Jesus chose on his final day:
“Peter, you’ll disown my on my hardest of nights”
But Peter, he tried t put up a fight;
“I’ll live for you, I’ll die for you, I’ll go where you go”
But when put to the test, Peter said no.
“Peter, we’ve walked on water and you didn’t fall,
I sent you out to answer your call,
I taught you to be a fisher of men,
but all of that was way back when –
when you saw me and loved me and called me Messiah,
when the clamour around me grew higher and higher.
But now I’ve come to take on your shame,
not for power or wealth or for status or fame.”

 
He loved his saviour but when the cock crowed,
they asked “are you wiht him?” and Peter said no.
The Romans lied, Judas spied and Peter denied even knowing him.
Because knowing him means owing him our lives,
not pretending we are perfect and not cunningly disguised,
but knowing there’s no cost for the life that was lost
when Jesus died –
for the sins and the lies that the Father despised.
Jesus died.

But what if I am Peter?

You call us to go so we can show
the light of your grace to those who don’t know
Grace.
For every person, situation, background and place
there’s grace.

Because Jesus talks of a house which has much more space;
the kind of house where each person has a special place –
“My Father’s house has many rooms
Peter, I know you’ll deny me but there’s one for you too.”
No matter what gender or status or race,
All people on earth are partakers in grace.
Because knowing him means owing him all that we are,
for something more wonderful and glorious by far.
He knows us, he loves us, he calls us his own,
He fights and he bleeds and he beckons us home.
“I am the way, the Truth and the Life,
In laughter, in good times, in suffering in strife –
One day you’ll see me in all of my glory,
and then you can say, ‘this is my story:
I’m loved and accepted for all that I am,
because he took my place as sacrificed lamb.
No matter what gender or status or race,
all people on earth are partakers in grace.'”

 
*Based on the words of John 13:31-14:14

 

#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.

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.