Thursday, July 30, 2009

Being Teachable

As I mentioned yesterday the writing that I was really psyched about over last weekend has begun to bear fruit. Thanks for your prayers in that regard and you can begin to read some of the products. In yesterday’s edition of The Sentinel the main newspaper for the Stoke-on-Trent area I wrote the Yours Faithfully article which you can read by clicking here. It’s quite something to see your work in print especially as it’s one of the things to which I’ve aspired since my mum encouraged me in that area when I was a boy. I have been involved in editing and stuff before so it was quite a relief to see my finished article only had one or two minor alterations to what I submitted. Hope you enjoy reading it.

I had an interesting encounter the other day. I met a friend of mine who will remain anonymous for the time being. This friend is a result of the labours of the CSD team at the YMCA and he is a living testimony to me about the power of God to do the amazing in the lives of the unlikely. The friend always challenges me to live from grace and mercy and not a haughty position of pompous piety as if my experience of Jesus made me the expert my friend needed to make progress. My friend, however, is hard work.

The reason why my friend is such hard work is because despite his youth he appears to already have sufficient knowledge of all there is to know to survive in this life. Not to say he’s not open to others having their opinion, more to say it’s difficult to detect whether he is that teachable. What makes all the more heartbreaking is – in that cursed state of most human relations – he means well. He is not intentionally obstructive or off-putting in his self-observed omniscience. He endeavours to be as genuine as he can and as helpful as he can on most occasions. The trouble is, however, he just does not appear to be that teachable. Bad stuff happening in his life is not usually his responsibility; it is the fault of external factors as he is the victim in it all, never appreciating, however harsh or soft a rebuke, that this is the point at which he repents and takes stock of himself.

So for all his good intentions, I hope you can see with me, that my friend is not in a good position if he wants to make progress in life because if we cannot see the error of our own ways and make the changes and learn from others then we’re going to screw up quite a number of chances in life. Indeed life journey is all about character development, but if the character is not willing to be conformed to a better standard (let’s say Jesus to pick a name out of the hat) then really enjoying life can never be a reality.

This is where the grace of God comes more into the light, though, for as I relate to my friend and endeavour to love him as best as I can with the compassion of Christ, what comes screaming to my attention is how much I am like my friend in this way. Am I really that teachable? Do I really take on board the lessons life has dealt? I look at the stuff in my case files and notice how often I have made the same mistakes. I see the apparent willingness to change only to slip into the same habits again and appear completely oblivious to my state. I observe how difficult I’ve found it to seek advice to help me out of my predicament and how slowly I’ve ever taken that advice. In the middle of all that certain people have stuck by me, loved me, gently challenged me and strongly did so when the time was needed. That to me is the meaning of the proverb better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of the enemy. My friends give me those wounds when they’re needed (sometimes when they’re not, but better to give them than never at all). They’re also there to console and comfort when I get their point and hit self-pity mode so that I can snap out of it quickly and actually do better by … the grace of God.

I would love to say that these are things that happened years ago and now I write before you as a completely reformed man, but the reality is I’m still very much on that learning curve. That makes my dealings with my friend all the more crucial. As a beneficiary of God’s grace in my issues I’ve got to have that ability to extend that onto others, especially my friend. Not in the pompous piety of one considerably more advanced than him, but in the spirit of humility as a co-sojourner on life’s journey, susceptible to those pitfalls of pride that prevent us from contrition, confession and repentance.

So pray for my friend and I as we endeavour to walk after Christ’s example.

For His Name's Sake



Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jesus Knows What We're Like

Thanks for your prayers. It was a pressurised five days from Thursday to Monday but through it all with the love of Jesus and a good supportive family around me as well as a gracious church leader I managed to pull through. One of the writing assignments is scheduled to be published later today and I hope to be able to give the link. Another one is due to be published on Monday and there maybe a link to that as well. The third one may never see the light of day, but that’s all good as it fitted the purpose for which it was set out.

Now onto today’s blog. I have wanted to blog for two days at least, but felt time invested in the family would be better especially in the light of the sacrifices they’ve made for me. Here I am though and unusually I’m blogging in the morning, although what follows after this paragraph with an edit here and there was written last night. I just wanted to share what was on my heart on this particular issue. I think I’m of the mind that the fasting series will continue as of next month and use the remaining days of this month to just release some loose thoughts.

Here’s something you don’t read that often on this blog – a quote from scripture, KJV style!

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. – (John 2:23-25 KJV)

This came from a conversation I had with Authrine on Tuesday morning where I crossed on the nature of man being to not necessarily do as well for the common good as he should. So for example, I am convinced that there are people who know enough about technology to be able to have better energy efficient resources utilising natural resources like wind, sun, water, etc. That they do not invest in this is because of how it would upset the capitalist and fundamentally humanist (in the selfish sense) status quo.

The same thing is applicable with the reason for wars, maintenance of heavily flawed systems of government and finances and other related issues. The remedy isn’t far from reach but the effect to how things run would be too scary. As well as that although we like a quick solution and the signs and wonders, when the tide turns we’re quick to blame that which was meant to be our saviour into that which makes us a sucker. At heart despite our desperate desire to love and be loved there is something fundamentally self-serving about our natures that actually negatively impacts our other relationships.

This human nature issue led me to recall this very brief episode in the Bible and so I thought it was worth exploring it further. It’s quite an incredible statement to make in a world where people are so wanting to have their faith reciprocated by others to hear Jesus the one who apparently loves all actually not trusting Himself to people. Not committing Himself. Not getting caught up in the acclaim. Not loving the attention and setting up the Jesus of Nazareth fanpage on Facebook.

Not being specious or facetious but I don’t reckon Jesus would have a Facebook profile if He were around today. I don’t think He’d necessarily have a Twitter account either. I can barely see Him with an email account let alone blogging.

Don’t get me wrong, I reckon Paul would have had a laptop and a regular podcast on iTunes and Luke would have had a blog, Twitter account and a Facebook account. I dare say Timothy would even venture to have a MySpace and Bebo account. I just don’t think Jesus would have the time for these means of distant communication.

I think His energy would have been focussed on personal work in the flesh and time away to consult with His Father as to the way to go. In line with the scripture He would actually commit His life to those who were assigned to Him as His responsibility, i.e. His disciples. Even here as we’ve noted in scripture, this is only to a few, not to many. It’s one thing to serve others, but committing your life to others is something that you only do when specifically led by God.

As for a reality TV show, you can bet your bottom dollar He wouldn’t be seen anywhere near those things, let alone having a documentary team following Him as He walked the streets. He may not have allowed one to follow Him, but one would definitely follow just to get footage of the signs and wonders. I imagine Channel 4 doing one of their usual stitch up jobs in imperiously declaring this travelling talker as a charlatan and a harmless freak at best.

I only say that in considering what things are important to life today. Nothing wrong with social networking applications anymore than there’s something wrong with the TV, radio, mobile phone, regular telephone, computer, pen, paper, tablets of stone, smoke signals and the like. Just to say that when it comes down to it in as advantageous access to thousands of others around the world appears, there is nothing that beats one to one contact with no frills and spills. That way we can get to know people and hopefully know to whom we are to commit ourselves as. We can also be the beacon of compassion to see broken people made whole, bound people released, imprisoned and addicted people set free and those who are poor embrace the good news of God’s imminent Kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

This is not a critique of social networking developments or of modern communications. It is just to say that for all my love of writing and making the most of the modern technology to explore it more, I desire everyday to have those encounters with people. I desire everyday to have those holy moments that bring people closer to recognising God for who He is by His grace and mercy. Those sacred times of the realisation not only that there’s more to life than this, but that this something more is all there is to life and is worth so much that life should be forsaken in exchange for this life. Those reverential experiences when the mundane, trivial and mediocre fade into nothingness in the light of the love, holiness, wisdom and majesty of the Creator of the universe made flesh.

In the meantime I reflect further on a man who knew what was in the heart of man – knows what we’re like and still calls us unto Himself.

For His Name's Sake



Saturday, July 25, 2009

Updates and Churches vs. Denomination

Now I could just go back to the series on fasting and give another part of the amazing journey of learning about God all the more. I am excited to do so and have lots to write. In as much as I want to do that, and this is not the launch of another side-track series of posts on something else, I did want to create a gap in going from one series to another to establish another personal update.

First and by no means foremost I’ve already fallen off the wagon. Yeah, that’s right after spending a few months back in the library swing of things taking the books back on time having read them and everything recently I slipped back into the pattern of gaining loads of books, reading some of them but just not being diligent in remembering when they are due. As a result a number of books are overdue and I owe some money to Stoke-on-Trent libraries. I’m not proud of that, especially seeing as though I could have renewed the books by phone as well as online. I will learn from that and get better. Hopefully.

My mother is currently with us. It is still weird having a parent living in my home. It’s just odd having her ask me if she can use stuff and do stuff. I’m like … errr … this isn’t right … shouldn’t I be the one asking you? Still, it’s good to have her around. She is a great help with the children as Authrine and I need to get to work during the week. So I’m grateful to God for her life.

July has been a better month blogging-wise here than it has been of late. I’m particularly pleased to note that all the entries posted this month have been pure writing entries without the aid of YouTube clips and I hope to continue this for the rest of the month. From there into August, should God spare my life I won’t be too fussed. It’s just good to church out this material and be able to post it for your perusal as well as for posterity. The LJN’s have also picked up business a bit more over this month which is positive and I’d like to keep that going in August likewise.

Since 2000 if not since before I’ve been asking questions about church and how it should operate according to scripture. I have not come to a firm hard place where that exploration is concerned but there are some things I’m beginning to see. Firstly I’m not sure what benefit there is to denomination. Not ruling it out completely, but it’s something doing local church stuff it just appears as though there are more administrative man-made problems to do with the concept than the alternatives. Not to say I’d leave the denomination I’m in but it does remind that my faith in Christ and His church is not necessarily the same as wholeheartedly following the whole denomination game.

Secondly I’m very interested in growing as church – especially as a group of individuals committing to live life together and support each other’s spiritual development as they get to share their faith with others. Some things that should not be taken for granted are and it’s as though relationship with God and the brethren is not approached seriously. Then, however, there are glimpses of grace that reassures me that it’s worth persisting in and keep the faith in the Christ who gives His life for His bride.

These thoughts are set to play a significant part in some future developments, but just watch this space for more details as and when they arrive. I’m keen to focus on God and what He wants of me in this particular season and I believe He will guide me in every aspect of life in a manner that fulfils His call for me. I’m nervous about it and excited. Keep praying.

For His Name's Sake



Friday, July 24, 2009

Nothing Personal Part 4

Thanks for your patience, we’ve finally come to the end of the road and I can’t let go, it’s impossible, you belong to me, I belong to you. Hold on a minute – that belongs elsewhere doesn’t it? In any case, here we are at the climax of a minor detour from the thrilling fasting series that you’ve been reading with great interest. I’m looking at the theme of how things are not personal in the context of a journey from being insular to a more considered approach to different expressions of Christian faith. I’ve also identified my dear friend Pete Orton from Burton-on-Trent who has helped me in relationship reaching the position I’m in. In the last entry I laid the claim that the gospel itself makes some outrageous claims about the nature of humanity and how as a result it’s not going to be digested by everyone.

Do not forget the disclaimer from the first part! I won’t dwell on that, I know and you know it’s the thing to do before you think any further!

So we’re in the position that the power in the gospel is so amazing because it and it alone saves people – not intelligence, not works, not any other measure of man – only faith in the revealed Son of God and His restorative, atoning work at Calvary.

What does that mean for people who clearly have not accepted or even had an opportunity to receive this precious gospel? Well these people are susceptible to various forms of demon possession or at least loving the darkness. Apostle Paul sheds light on the issue in his letter to the church in Ephesus by stating quite clearly that our issue is not against people – flesh and blood – but against spiritual powers in high places – influential places, places that shape and guide ideologies, faiths, beliefs and the like in the world today.

So when I meet opposition from people the first thing I am to recognise is that it’s not the people. Having acknowledged then that it is not the people, the next step open to me is how to proceed from there. Often the best course of action is to leave the vicinity – no need for open warfare at this time. Equally sometimes it’s best to expose the force for what it is and expel it in the name of Jesus – that kind of stuff freaks people out, but that’s what we’re facing with a lot of people and we don’t appreciate it.

It has been exaggerated in places and its stigma has been used to turn people off from the reality of spiritual warfare, but I can testify that unless we recognise the forces behind people’s behaviour and beliefs we will either wear ourselves out trying to sort people out or worse still actively try to embrace those forces as we show ‘love’ to the people in the way of tolerating and endorsing their lifestyle. So what’s left to us is the task of finding out where there’s a demon behind the bush and following our Master’s example tell him where to go, i.e. behind us and far away from us.

Having been given all power in heaven and earth and commissioning us in the power of His Spirit we are told that we can meet this spiritual wickedness head on and experience victory by His authority. Personally this reality sometimes appears overwhelming and daunting and reading of spiritual luminaries who have faced tremendous spiritual oppression manifest in severe physical beatings does not entice me into the fray. Yet the reality remains that it is nothing personal I’m coming across when I meet staunch atheists, rabid liberal humanists and proactive almost militant supporters of other sects and religions. Worse yet it’s nothing personal when well meaning nominal Christians attempt to persuade me otherwise with the use of man-centred thoughts.

It can come across as personal and for the people themselves they can be so entwined in the philosophy and cultural norms that there’s no other way of looking at things. Yet what gives me hope and confidence is the Master and with that confidence comes a heart-felt compassion for people locked and captive to the forces of the enemy as I once was.

Within me then cries the same cry I made not so long ago for God to deliver them as He delivered me. For that same manifesto that Jesus read in quoting from Isaiah to be the reality for so many people who are otherwise closed from the power, glory and love of God’s Kingdom. I do not speak as one who is not susceptible to the wiles of the wicked one. I speak as one who has been the conduit for the malevolent forces of the wicked one to attempt to cause chaos in my home, the church and work. Yet I am the same one who has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and has been delivered time and again from the snares of the enemy. It makes the cry for deliverance in the Lord’s guide to prayer all the more important so that we are not trapped in sin and its consequences, but are set free from it to see God’s Kingdom come and will done on earth as it is in heaven.

It’s nothing personal – it’s everything spiritual, so we need to deal with it with the weapons of our warfare especially using the Sword of the Spirit to pierce through the ties that bind and bring liberty through the defeat of the enemy once more. Thank God for His Spirit at work in the lives of many bringing that deliverance and freedom to worship Him as they were created to do in truth and Spirit.

(I have a lot more thoughts on deliverance that I’m deliberating as to whether it’s worth posting them here on the blog. In the meantime what you can read for yourself is a recent six-part series of blogs on the LJN blog on this very subject – Deliverance, Deliver Us, Hear Me Out, What Hope of Deliverance, Is All Hope Gone, and When All Hope Appears Gone.)

For His Name's Sake



Thursday, July 23, 2009

Nothing Personal Part 3

I’m on the finishing strait of this mini diversion from the fasting series – after this just one more part to post and we’re done! The inspiration for this was a series of things happening on Tuesday that conspired to bring this about. I’ve shared my journey from being close-minded to a more considered approach to different expressions of Christian faith. I’ve also identified my dear friend Pete Orton from Burton-on-Trent who has helped me in relationship reaching the position I’m in.

Now what you’ve read up to this point has been fairly harmless stuff. These be Just mere thoughts from the head of a professing follower of Christ who is as flaw-ridden as the next follower. From here on, however, things may get a bit rocky for certain Christians and non-Christians alike. So before you start reeling off correspondence, remember the crucial disclaimer from the first part – remember it. Now the thing about disclaimers and this one is no different that you can still read it, read the rest of what I’m about to say and be offended. Be seriously aggrieved. Be mighty put off and think that in as much as you thought that CD was alright that he’s revealed his true colours and he’s a rather arrogant, nasty piece of work who has this high convoluted view of faith. Can’t stop you having those views or any others. Go ahead and have them. I’d like to think, however, that it wouldn’t change my views on things at this time. Still the disclaimer is there all the same.

The link between what’s gone on before and this series on Nothing Personal is that it was whilst I was with Pete on Tuesday that the things happened that brought about this series of thoughts. An incident took place among a group of us that left things in a rather baffled state. What it brought to mind was something I said to Pete later on and that was it’s nothing personal, it’s something spiritual. Earlier on in the day I had read Luke 9:1 about Jesus giving power and authority over demons and that verse in itself arrested my thoughts for the rest of the day and was useful for that scenario at least in encouraging me to fight the battle at the level at which it was being fought.

We’re reminded again of that bizarre episode in scripture where one minute Jesus appears to be calling Peter the rock on which the church will be built with the gates of Hades never prevailing against it, and then a few verses later he appears to be calling Peter the devil. Now I don’t know about you, but if I were Pete, I’d be a bit hurt and confused, because one minute I’m being called the rock and the next minute I’m the devil himself, what’s that all about?

Not only that but in another episode Jesus is talking to Peter about how the devil wanted to sift him as wheat but he’d been prayed for so that when he got over it he would encourage his brothers. So one minute he’s Pete, the next he’s the Rock, the next he’s the devil and then he’s the target for the devil! That’s quite a series of identity changes, non?

My understanding of what’s going on here is the reality of spiritual warfare and where we humans are in the midst of everything. Scripture points out that the prince of this world has blinded our eyes. The narrative of the mission of Christ is to a people who have been captivated by death, disease and the devil. Jesus has come on a rescue mission that’s why we refer to Him among other things as our Saviour. We’re also informed that we cannot serve two masters … that in itself is pretty indicative that we’re going to serve someone or something.

By nature despite being made in the image of God the curse of Adam means we do not have the natural default to serve God. So it doesn’t matter how good we look or what apparent good things we do or how good we are, at the essence of our being where we are meant to be connected to God there is a fatal disconnect. That disconnect has thankfully been sorted thanks to the Cross, but it is now for people to acknowledge that and thus go from serving gods to serving the One True God.

In the meantime we have all sorts of expressions of fallen man. Some are misguided and oblivious to how misguided they are. Some stumble in the dark but proudly denounce anyone who would have the arrogance and temerity to suggest that there is a truth to be found and a light to guide us to that truth – such claims, we are told by these experts, are dangerous and behind many of man’s inhumanity to man. There are many others and the theme is familiar – failure to acknowledge the Sovereign Creator of the universe.

This is what makes the gospel so incendiary in many places because it does have the temerity to declare a single all embracing, comprehensive truth. That truth is the existence of God and His role in His creation as redeemer coming in the form of a man to satisfy righteous judgement and restore man back to Himself to recognise their place to bring Him glory. People will not accept that. People will enjoy the love part of the story, and enjoy the bit about apparently being the object of the sacrificial love, but they will not accept responsibility or their own divisive, rebellious nature to a Power that defines Himself as Yahweh reveals in Scripture.

That is why the power in the gospel us so amazing because it and it alone saves people – not intelligence, not works, not any other measure of man – only faith in the revealed Son of God and His restorative, atoning work at Calvary.

In the final part of this series I’ll wrap things up and show how that plays a part in subsequent conversations with people who are not yet of the faith who come with particular … baggage. Make sure you join me for that final part of this series. As ever your views are welcome.

For His Name's Sake



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nothing Personal Part 2

So just to remind you we’re in a brief four part excursion from the main series on fasting. Connections will be made later on. What triggered this off was a sequence of thoughts and events on Tuesday that compelled me to write this series on nothing special. In the last entry I shared my journey from being a religious bigot completely close-minded to the ways of Christ outside my own tradition to one with a more considered approach to different expressions of Christian faith. Although I had reservations about the YMCA’s Christian ethos, I’ve got over it to be able to work where I am and forge decent relationships with others who have helped me develop that more considered position.

Now as I continue please bear in mind the disclaimer put to this whole series in the last post. Go on remind yourself of it, before you get upset and want to haul ass … metaphorically. Done it? Good. There, can’t say I didn’t warn you.

One of the most precious experiences to me in my time at the YMCA is knocking about with my counterpart in the Burton-on-Trent YMCA, Peter Orton. When I first met him I thought he was a freak. Now having got to know him a little better and spending some quality time with him on all manner of things I have come to the conclusion that indeed he is a freak. This is cool with me, though, because I can relate with a freak. I can relate with someone who doesn’t neatly fit in the categories and classifications that we have for people.

His rejection and alienation from even mainstream Christianity has made him an endearing and intriguing figure to me. As I’ve got to know him I’ve loved him all the more for his ability to come at things from leftfield and challenge the status quo.

I do not agree with his theology completely and some of it has left me baffled and confused as to who he thinks Jesus is. Sometimes I’ve thought he’s quite clearly barmy and holds views that could not be compatible with the Christian faith made clear in scripture. For all that there is enough of a shared passion to see Jesus made known to people who don’t know and get an aesthetic culture obsessed with looks and ethics to go beyond and engage with the spiritual.

At this, Pete is a past-master and is so much better than other Christians I know who can talk the right doctrine but have no track record with the actual mission aspect of this gospel to reach those who do not yet know with the good news. Pete’s reputation in his community as an ‘angel of the streets’ would be quite something if it came from the safe nominal Christians, but is all the more remarkable as the title comes from Muslims who have seen him action showing compassion to those in need of it.

Pete is for real – he’s an open, honest, fumbling, bumbling, flawed, inspiring, intelligent, considerate follower of Jesus Christ. My relationship with him sums up a lot of my newer approach to engaging with believers whose version of following Christ differs from mine. I have a choice – embrace where I can and befriend, or write off and distance myself from associating from such … freaks. The latter option is the easiest and to be fair in some cases it is the best policy because sometimes the freaks are actually more interested in being freakish than in bringing Christ to people’s attentions. That’s when the doctrinal divergences play a bigger part in things because it’s not just a disagreement among brothers it’s a disagreement about Christ Himself where the outcome is of no great concern to one of us (i.e. the outfreakishly freaky freak).

In the meantime with the humility to acknowledge that I am not omniscient and with the unity of the Spirit at stake I don’t batter my brother in the Christ with our area of difference. Where we can fellowship, we fellowship and where that no longer remains possible we part amicably. I’m not sure if I would have had the personal capacity to love Pete five years ago as much as I love him now, but I’m glad I can as he has helped shaped my love for Christ and widen my appreciation for all things to do with Christian spirituality.

Now the context developed in these two parts are important in considering the nature of the theme on nothing personal. The deal at the heart of Christian mission is not getting people doing good things or saying good words or appearing in the right gear. It’s about being reconnected with the Creator of all mankind and living life from that connection so that good speaking, acting, thinking and relating is sourced out of a complete devotion and solid connection to God through Christ by faith. That affects things on a holistic basis from the inside out. The alternative to that is what we’ll explore in the next entry – don’t miss it, I implore you.

For His Name's Sake



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nothing Personal Part 1

Now you’re probably thinking that I’ve gone off the boil on the whole fasting topic with the lack of new material on the issue. That thought is wrong. I am keener than ever before to continue on the topic. There’s a whole backlog of stuff waiting to come tumbling out on the issue as it regards to seeing wider than we do and what happens when the level of intensity increases in approaching the subject. All of that just waiting to burst forth and indeed some of it may have burst forth today if it weren’t for a significant occurrence today that sparked a range of thoughts and triggered the need for today’s blog entry.

Now as I sat to write, this evening, I had an onrush of words to the head and wrote those out. To give you a bit of insight into some of my writing processes I write a Word document almost every day called CD Notes. This will have on some of my things to do for the day and a scripture of encouragement. It will then note ideas, thoughts, reflections, web- stuff and other stuff that I get over the day. More often than not this will be the first place that I write the nucleus and sometimes the entirety of what will be the post for this blog. From here I’ll detach the text for the blog and put it in a separate Word document. Then I’ll look at the text and make any alterations, additions and amendments as necessary. Recently such was the extended nature of the notes I was making on the subject of fasting that it formed the basics of the series that you’ve been enjoying. This actually gives me something to look forward to when I write the blog for the day because I have the day’s reflections and the basis for what the entry is meant to be developing the thought. It’s not unusual that I’ll have a paragraph on the basis and the direction of the day’s thoughts will take a life of its own.

So as indicated I was of the mind today to continue with the series on fasting and have had the material building up in the notes from the days since the last post ready and waiting to publish. Yet today was different because of a number of strands of thought conspiring to trigger off what was meant to be a one off post. Yet after the initial writing on the CD Notes document as I transferred it to a document on its own it became quite clear that one posting on this subject would be insufficient. So the plan is that I’ll provide a brief detour from the current series with a four-parter on the topic Nothing Personal. I’ll endeavour to be disciplined – the two parts should be sorted with no need for further expansion. There maybe some connecting points between this and the ongoing series which I’ll make when we resume the series in the very near future.

I need to put this disclaimer on this article more than any other I’ve written and posted. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the denomination to which I belong, the local fellowship of which I’m a part or indeed the family of which I am the head. Also the views expressed in this blog may offend people of a particular philosophical or political disposition. Depending on who reads it will determine the level to which people agree or disagree with my perspective stated here. I can state clearly that I have not written this post deliberately to offend. It is not a provocative blog for the sake of it at all. I have endeavoured to make the entry as considered and careful as possible, but I have also sought to say what I’m saying without varnish or covering up the truth of how I feel on the issue. As well as that the views also come from my understanding of being a follower of Christ at this time. I am open to further teaching from scripture and illumination from the Spirit. Words printed here are not to be taken as my stance forever, amen. They are relatively subject to change. Yet I do feel very strongly about the issue in question.

OK with that in mind, as ever context is important to frame the topic for ‘brief’ perusal. My beliefs and faith has been stretched considerably in the three years that I’ve worked for the YMCA. As groundbreaking as the eye-opening time at university, my time at the YMCA has challenged, informed and recalibrated a lot of areas of my understanding of walking with Christ. I acknowledge the limited and rather close-minded approach I had to Christianity before university and it was still pretty evident when I started at the YMCA, but you cannot survive working for the YMCA unless you’re prepared to have your beliefs challenged.

One of the reasons for that is because the YMCA is an ecumenical organisation, that is although there are some YMCA’s that are strongly affiliated to a denomination because of locality and influence the organisation ethos is not to subscribe to one particular stream of Christian expression in the hope of being broad enough to embrace all as it fits the mission of the organisation. Now, such a stance actually swings the organisation in one way rather than another when it comes to the aforementioned streams of Christian expression. That is to say it is prone to be part of the liberal, open-ended, quasi-emergent end of the Christian spectrum. This is because such a part of the brotherhood is easier going about different forms of Christianity and as with most liberal expressions the only reluctance is with forms that are not inclusive and too heavily prescriptive.

This is somewhat of a caricature of the YMCA’s Christian position, but is not too far from the truth where people like Malcolm Duncan, Brian McClaren and Rob Bell would be more than welcome. Dudes from the conservative evangelical end of the market would not be given the rule of the ranch because of their perceived compressing and depressing version of following Christ.

Now I am not comfortable with this end of Christian expression part of it is the ties to the upbringing I have and part of it is because of how destabilising I think it is with regard to the role of scripture and the mission of Christ. There’s also a reluctance to embrace something that appears to be more designed by the cultural trends of the time and shaped by the popular philosophies of the time at the cost of faithfully sticking with a gospel that in no ways seeks to be cool, trendy, in-vogue or in tune with the times.

Those reservations apart, one thing I am glad for about the YMCA is the role grace plays in negotiating those areas of disagreement around the shared ultimate value of Jesus Christ. So whereas in time past I would not only sniff and huff at some stuff that I might not necessarily agree with but outright remove myself from such heathens, now I make an effort at least to have an understanding of what’s going on. Indeed as I consider some of what they have to say I find myself nodding my head in agreement, confirming it with scripture and further broadening my understanding of this incredible God who goes beyond human comprehension and methods of definition. This process is as much down to relationships as it is exploring writings and teachings on doctrinal positions.

Again with the power of relationships and a particular example of that will be shown in the second part of this three-parter. It highlights again that this journey with Jesus is as much about people as it is about Jesus and failing either part of the relationship leaves things incomplete. Be sure to find out more in the next blog entry now.

For His Name's Sake



Sunday, July 19, 2009

DMCD Family & Friends

I won’t have time to blog properly tonight especially in continuing the fasting series although the good news is there that more material has been developed for it and I’m excited to publish it as soon as I can. Also on the good news front this is a very important week for me writing wise as I have at least three opportunities to really let that light so shine as it were. There are two articles for certain areas of the press that I’m putting together which is rather exciting. Then there’s a report I’m putting together with a friend in an ongoing series that I’ve got to knuckle down and churn out before the deadline. So this week is set up to be a challenging and promising set of days should I walk with Jesus closely through it. Your prayers are very much required in that regard.

This weekend has been a very good one for a number of reasons. Firstly it was a family weekend in a special way. I may have mentioned that my Mum’s in the country to help my brother following the joyous entry of the first child in the wonderful union of he and his beau Nicola. Recently we were able to send Abigail to spend some time with Mum in her child-minding role. This weekend we’ve gone down to MK where the second Dryden family live and have been able to spend some quality time with them.

So it’s one thing to be reunited with my Mum who I haven’t seen in a while. To top it off though my sister and her son Mattaniah were also in the neighbourhood and I haven’t seen her in quite some time. To see her again was especially pleasing and to catch up with her on how life has been was especially rewarding. The time with them all, however, showed just how much time has changed and for all the similarities and family connections that keep us tight, there is still the inevitable fact that things have changed.

I’ve changed, they’ve changed, things have happened and as a result things have changed. We are not the same three children running around our parents causing grief and mayhem. Indeed now my Mum is the proud grandmother to four of five grandchildren that she had around her this weekend. It’s a tremendous blessing and a significant landmark in how things have changed. I’m grateful for the different relational dynamics that make up family both that which makes us connect and that which apparently makes us repel against each other. It’s all a part of the mix and a good founding for similar issues that we can expect in church family and other social expressions of family.

The cake was already quite something, but what crowned everything off was a visit from an old friend who I caught up with. For privacy reasons I won’t disclose that person’s identity per se except to say it is a ‘she’ (which narrows it down significantly … not) and her impact on my life has been great in ways not known especially by her. It was so brilliant catching up on how things have … yes you’ve guessed it … changed. Also great reflecting on the challenges those changes pose for the future and those changes that lie there. It was also fascinating to explore a bit more into what makes up a person and sometimes it’s great fun realising just when you get a hang of the jigsaw pieces in your hand, another load falls into your lap and you have to work those out as well as fitting them in with the current pieces. People fascinate and it was such a pleasure and a thrill meeting my long lost friend.

So, all that to say, with the preparation for that and other work commitments, blogging has not been a priority for the last five days or so. This could also be reflected in a reduced amount of blogging this week with the things planned, but I hope not as there are so many wonderful developments to share and of course this series on fasting has really captured my writing bug and I don’t want to let that go until I’ve done justice to it. So plenty to keep dmcd busy and off the streets! As ever just keep praying, having Mum around the house should be interesting and a tremendous blessing to the family dynamic here. It is also a precursor to a very hectic end of summer affair in and among which, I really want to stay focussed on God and what He’s calling me to do and responding faithfully to that. Thanks as ever.

For His Name's Sake



Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fast and the Curious: Desperately Seeking God

As I thought that brief intermission from the series has allowed me to feel refreshed addressing this important issue of fasting. So where we’ve been is the ignorant start that led to an awareness of why fasting is so important. Nothing happens out of context so relationships have played a key role in growing in this area. There are significant bonuses found in the hugely underrated spiritual discipline. The last stop in this journey is a most remarkable episode that should have had lasting implications for me.

Indeed I would love to be able to tell you that from there I grew in stature and favour with God and with man as my spiritual devotion went from strength to strength in such areas. Sadly that would be lying. Events took a turn for the worst near the end of 2004 and 2005 was a rough year of sorting and sifting personally and corporately. Near the end of that year, though, as the light became a bit more evident fasting again became a key tool in helping me get my bearings on what it all meant.

I remember during the end of year festivities a group of us as men spent a day fasting at a friend’s house. It was the first time I remember fasting since the year before. My brother was visiting me in Stoke at the time and he was able to join us as we reflected again on the nature of fasting and it was so humbling to be able to learn things about fasting that put a lot of the mess of my life at that time into perspective. It was literally a time of humbling recognising that fasting is about seeing me for who I am in the light of an awesome, holy, omni-you-name-it God.

It regularly comes to remind me that the focus should be on Him to inform everything else in life. Downfalls occur when that focus has shifted, which is easy to do because that is the fallen nature of man – hence idolatry. It was a very sobering time of prayer and reflection in conversation. I remember David’s contribution in that session about the sheer physical insignificance of the human in the light of God being something that should humble us. We are the great Big Cheese (especially seeing as though I hate cheese).

The one reason why they call acts like fasting a spiritual discipline is because it is such a useful tool to remain focussed on the whole point of being a disciple. The seeds to my downfall at the end of 2004 were familiar ones of being busy.

I was even reflecting near the beginning of the week the episode of Jesus with Mary and Martha. The scene is sadly too familiar in Christendom and is somewhat reinforced by the Protestant ethic. Here is Martha, noticing that the Master is in the house and so will need serving. She is toiling away ensuring things are sorted, but as she labours alone she grows somewhat frustrated that her sister is sitting at Jesus’ feet taking in what He’s saying. Finally fed up she asks the Rabbi to instruct her sister to lend a helping hand. Jesus, however, rather than commending Martha on her practical helps and works, actually suggests that Mary’s option was the wiser.

Life and especially church life can keep you wrapped up in a routine of going from service to service and supporting one thing and another. It feels like it is one activity blending into another and before you know it you’re caught up in the fatal rat-race of keeping active because life is in the activity. You can more than rationally explain works-based faith on this reading.

Now I don’t want to dismiss the importance of actually doing something. By no means am I promoting a comatose spirituality full of wistful contemplating and ‘breathing in’ more of God. The danger however is to be defined by the things we do, rather than being defined by relationship – child of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Where fasting is a wonderful reminder of that simplicity is like Mary, fasting says I am desperate to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear what He has to say to me. So desperate am I for seeking God that all else matters not even that which I’ve claimed to be fundamental like food and drink. This does not matter as I afflict the body to seek out the Saviour.

In the madness of a busy life we can lose sight of that and fasting as a disciplined exercised properly arrests that mentality. It shifts the focus from what I do what He has done and what He continues to do. Fasting arrests my hyperactivity and leaves me more in awe of what God has said and has to say on my current situation. With senses so attuned to how His voice speaks and the content in it – whether in the Word of God or through a casual conversation, or wherever else – we end up with a better perspective of who we are and who He is and like Mary will have invested in the better portion.

The Christian journey is such, though, that even in the depths of despair and hopelessness as He helps you pick up the pieces of your broken shattered life it in itself will be a cause for rejoicing just to consider that amazing love and compassion that would allow Him to use experiences like this to hunger for Him more. It comes across counter-intuitive, but as events would show, sometimes the most painful of times is exactly what needs to happen to draw us closer to Him even in fasting and prayer.

For His Name's Sake