Where are you headed, but also how?

This photo was taking on a summer’s day in the UK (honest, despite the dark clouds!!). It is part of Hay Tor which is a well known granite outcrop in the area where we used to live. Many people come to it each year as part of their visiting the Dartmoor National Park.

Some will hike or cycle many kilometres to reach it. Others will park their car at a further point and walk up. Some stop at the higher car park and then it is only a few minutes to reach the top. Occasionally you might see someone paragliding or using some other aerial means to pass over the tor. The sheep and wild ponies graze and wander by meanwhile.

Where are headed at present in life? How are you seeking to get there?

I don’t just mean literally if you are about to go on holiday ( though if so, have a great time).

What are you on with in life? It is good to reflect on this regularly though without getting over obsessed about it!

Some of Jesus’ words spoken amid the concerns and worries there can be in life – “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33)

How might these words speak into our lives and where we are headed? How might seeking God’s kingdom impact our priorities, who we are and what we do?

It is not just about where we are headed but how we get there. The other day for instance I read from the book of Proverbs,

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out” (10:9)

One of the Merriam Webster online definitions of integrity is “the quality or state of being complete or undivided”.

  • Integrity – it is a big topic.
  • Integrity –  something vital for how we make our journey.
  • Integrity – a challenge to us all to consider how are we living. Both when we are seen and unseen. In our thoughts, words and actions.
  • Integrity – is there a particular area of our lives we need to address?

How is the journey we are all on?

Andy

 

Knowing or knowing about?

The photo above was snapped last night up at the lake near where we live. This one below was taken about 40 minutes ago:

The sky was darkening, the water becoming choppier. Then the lightning began to flash, the thunder rolled and the wind whipped up some more. The rain was really coming down heavily by the time I reached home. Sat here now,in slightly soggy clothes.

It is one thing to know about a thunderstorm, it is another to experience one! Admittedly this was far from the most dramatic one I have ever been in. The ex-Geography teacher inside of me loves to get immersed in such storms (in a safe way of course!)

David Benner in his book “The Gift of being Yourself” reflects on the call for each of us to truly know God and to truly know ourselves. In this, he writes of the importance of ‘transformational knowing’. It is one thing to say we know things about God but what about knowing God?

Consider these words of Jesus, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

The root word for what is translated here in English for ‘know’ is an intimate word. It means to know through first hand experience rather than just a piece of factual information or speculation.

Is such a knowing of God possible? Well according to Christ – yes it is. It is the essence of eternal life. Perhaps  some people view eternal life as just a vague hope for something to be there beyond the grave.  Yet according to what is recorded in the Bible, it is not vague and not just for one day. Eternal life has begun now for those who follow Christ.

I don’t mean of course, Christians do not die. Clearly physical death comes to all. Yet the belief in a definite not vague hope of life after death is rooted in eternal life begun in Christ now in this life!

Such a gift of eternal life is available to all through Jesus Christ. He made it possible through the cross.

Yet even for those of us who say we are Christians, where are we at in terms of knowing God? Are we growing in truly knowing Him or are we stuck we knowing stuff about Him?

I will not even begin to suggest that I have arrived in what it means to fully know God. I am grateful for the grace and truth that Christ brings (John 1:17) and the Spirit of truth (John 14) at work in us. He that ‘began a good work in you will carry it through to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 1:6).

Such belief is neither escapist or detached from the world in which we live. I believe that as we know God better, we can get to know ourselves better too. This in turn can have positive impacts in the way that we treat others and how our communities are influenced.

In ICL, we are drawing to the end of a teaching series called, “Spiritually Fit”. The core essence of this is knowing God – all else can then ripple out from that!

Andy

PS It’s still thundering and raining, lots of lightning – time to go and look some more!

 

Contribute not just consume!

The above is probably not as clear as it could be and therefore not as delicious looking as it tasted! American pancakes with various additions consumed whilst meeting with another local church leader the other day.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary gives various definitions for the word ‘consume’ including:

to engage fully, to utilise as a customer, to do away with completely, to eat or drink especially in great quantity, to spend wastefully…

Not all of the above are that positive!

We would do well as humanity to really give careful thought to how we are stewarding this planet that has been gifted to us from God. There is more than enough for all but not at the life style level the minority of us in the world live!  So therein lies some real challenges. Are we willing to embrace some changes so that others can benefit?

Are we contributors as well as consuming or are we consumers alone? Is it about what we can get, we can take, we can have? How do we approach our lives, our families, our work, our church, our neighbourhood? As consumers or contributors?

In his book ‘Culture Care’, American Japanese artist Makoto Fujimura sends out a call that Christians should see part of their life mission as being called to be contributors to culture rather than consumers of it. What might that look like in each of our lives?  (as an aside if you read this before Sunday 18th, one of the seminars taking place is about ‘Culture and Faith’ It will be touching on such issues about culture).

In the New Testament, we can read these words:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8 New International Version

The context is about money to be given to help others in real need. Are we open to being cheerful givers with our money? More than this though – how about also with our time, our attitudes, the way we treat others? To be generous contributors in all kinds of ways. To have an attitude to give rather than to get!  (when we have a heart to give, we very often ending up getting along the way in some form or other anyhow!)

The verses quoted above show that to be a contributor, we need a heart to be a cheerful giver. Yet also we need to have hearts that trust God – “And God is able to bless you abundantly…” Do we believe that?

I don’t mean some kind of ‘health, wealth and prosperity’ distortion of the Gospel. Rather do we believe that God is able to bless us (which may not mean in terms of money!) so we can “abound in every good work'” – a big part of that is that we might contribute into the lives of others around.

So with God’s help and a heart to see others and the planet as He does, let’s seek to contribute not just consume!

Andy

 

 

Unity in a divided world?

An ancient song recorded in the Old Testament opens with the words,

“How pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity…”  (Psalm 133).

Then there is some imagery that possibly for our minds, it is hard to get our heads around. The song ends though with the words, “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Unity bringing God’s blessing…

Take a look in the news and we see plenty of examples of disunity. Even as I write, various governments in the Persian Gulf/North Africa have “united” to accuse another Gulf State of funding terrorism. At least one of those governments could arguably themselves be accused of being guilty of human rights abuses and funding terrorism. There are other tensions too within this “united” group!  

Of course, we see the headlines and are not privy to what is really going on behind the scenes. Let’s been praying that there can be resolution that is just and right for all those impacted and connected.

In the UK, where we come from as a family, there is a general election this week for a new Parliament. It has been called just under a year after what many saw as a very divisive referendum. Will the election re-unite people more clearly?

Over the past two weeks in the news we have witnessed bombings in Manchester, Kabul, London, fighting in places like the Philippines, Syria and Iraq and on-going protests in countries like Venezuela. Many examples where there seems to be all kinds of things at work to bring division between people (as well as people coming together to unite for instance in solidarity after the bombings)

Let’s be praying for this world.

We also have to face up to the reality that finding true unity amid diversity is a challenge. Enforced unity tends to be authoritarian and does not touch the hearts of people. Rather it oppresses and persecutes – think the Gulags as but one example. Unity as a slogan meanwhile can end up being no more than that and lacking any true substance!

Unity takes working at, it involves heart change, it takes prayer, it involves surrender of entrenched positions, it takes listening to others and understanding where they are coming from, it involves knowing what you believe but also how to communicate this in the context of others, it takes a willingness to make unity a priority.

So is the last paragraph a comment to the nations? Well not necessarily, for two reasons:

Firstly, I hardly think any political leader for example is going to be reading this.

Secondly, I think there is a call to ‘get our house in order first’ (Not that it is wrong to be speaking up about matters such as extremism, division, injustice, human rights abuses, the poor and the oppressed, the environment – personally I think as Christians, we should be doing so)

In John 17, a prayer of Jesus is recorded. It includes a heart cry for unity among His followers. His words include this:

“May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them, even as you have loved me” (17:23)

Sadly for many people looking at the Christian church, they see division. They see Christians sometimes more wedded to a certain political view than actually to Christ. They note the ridiculous number of different denominations (let’s be honest, it is ridiculous!)

Christ prayed for unity. Why? He gives two reasons in his prayer –

  • That the world knows that Christ came from God and
  • In sending Christ, this was(is) an expression of the love of God.

This world needs to know of the life changing and division breaking power of Christ’s love!

I recognise that there are all kinds of challenges to seeing unity among the church of Christ happen. But it is vital for each us to do our part to pray, live and work towards this. Otherwise we are choosing to ignore what Christ prayed!

A few practical suggestions:

Let’s ask the Lord to give us a heart for His unity in our lives and to seek His reconciliation among others.

Pray for our own congregation. Let’s be active in connecting with others and do our part to encourage unity around Christ, amid celebrating the diversity and working through differences.

Pray for other church congregations besides our own.

Speak well of other Christians and do something to ‘bless’ some Christians outside of our own church community.

Where there are differences, these do not have to be ignored and at times something may well need to be said. Yet let’s check our heart attitude in this.

Grapple with difficult questions. For instance:

  • In the world today, there are church leaders/church movements seemingly actively supporting oppressive governments, how do we respond to this?
  • There are issues of doctrine, sexuality, ethics and politics that Christians have varying views on. How do we still unite around Christ whilst acknowledging and working through such differences?

Seek to understand where others are coming from, rather than holding sweeping or uninformed opinions. Avoid judgmentalism that says things like “oh they are too traditional” or “they are not Spirit filled” or “they are too liberal” or “they are too evangelical”!!

Be a global Christian. Seek to be informed about what is going on across the planet and how we can learn from other Christian traditions even from out side our own culture. Pray for believers around the world including all those persecuted for their faith.

Do all we can to be “Christ’s ambassadors” with a “message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5) among those in our circles of influence: families, friends, neighbourhoods, study/work places, what we put in social media and elsewhere online.

“How pleasant it is when people dwell in unity… For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Andy

 

 

Kabul, how to respond?

I had a train of thought in my mind to write about as we approach Pentecost weekend. I was going to comment about how our ‘being full of the Spirit’ calls us outside the doors of the church world. That with the Holy Spirit’s help, the good news there is in Christ, should be making a difference in our neighbourhoods and work/ study places. I would have linked this with a couple of Bible verses.

Then the bombing happened yesterday in Kabul, Afghanistan… killing 80 and injuring 100s. Many families impacted.

Reported in the media though unlike with the Manchester bombings, there does not seem to be much being said by political leaders in outcry!  (Not that I mean by that to take away from the tragedy of what happened last week in Manchester)

May be we become all too familiar with attacks in places like Afghanistan or Syria. Or for those of us living somewhere like Netherlands, a city like Kabul seems very remote and disconnected from our lives here.

Yet whether it is those mourning in Manchester or Kabul or those Coptic christian families attacked in Egypt last week, whether it is people caught up in the on-going tensions in Venezuela or the Philippines … these are real people, however quickly the media or political leaders may move on in their focus.

How to respond? Perhaps for some fear or despair can take a grip. For others, it is a rallying call to wipe out extremism and work for a more peaceful world.

As followers of Christ, how do we respond

  • in prayer?
  • in the way we speak about such situations?
  • in our actions?
  • in the way we treat those that are different or even that we disagree with?

What does a Holy Spirit led response look like to what we see in the news? What does such a response look like for colleagues, friends, family or neighbours going through a tough time? How can we be ambassadors of hope even when it seems there is none?

In Matthew 9:36, we can read of Jesus, “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them…” May we ask Him to give us such a heart for the world around us.

In Christ, our lives are secure – we do not need to fear troubled times or even death. I don’t write that glibly or to mean that troubles won’t impact us. But rather our lives are ultimately in Christ –

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Romans 8:35

There is hope for this world in Jesus Christ. Amid all the complexity and challenges that humanity faces – there is hope. Amid all the divisions and misunderstandings- there is hope. Amid the pain, anguish and grieving- there is hope.

What does such hope look like in a meaningful way?

This post may well generate more questions than answers. Yet I encourage us to grapple with such questions as we pray and think about how to respond to what we have seen in places like Manchester and Kabul.

Andy

 

Love our neighbour(s)?

The photo above is part of the street where we live. It is a peaceful street generally – though there was one occasion a few months ago where near this spot, a plain clothes policeman grabbed a guy who ran past me and bundled him into a police car!  But generally it is a peaceful street, in many ways an ordinary street, certainly not a famous one or a road that appears in the media.

What do you think about where you live? Both literally the street where you are, but also the immediate neighbourhood and the town/city?

Is it somewhere you see that you are just “passing through”? Is it just somewhere incidental to what you do in life?

ICL’s key Bible phrase is a “planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour” (Isaiah 61:3)

Can I encourage us all to pray about having a sense (if we don’t have it already) of being ‘planted’ where we are living?  Even if you are only in the Leiden area for a few months.

Also let’s take time to consider how can we actively reach out with the love of Christ to those in our neighbourhoods (not just in our work/study places or families). Not that I mean this to be an ‘extra’ to add to an already impossible list of things to do! Rather I encourage us to consider how can we build connecting in our neighbourhoods, into the rhythm of what we do already?

For instance,

  • Pray for our neighbours
  • Take a walk in the neighbourhood and pray.  Be open to chatting with others (and if you are the only international, don’t worry – many Dutch people speak English at least). I get it if you are an introvert that it may feel more of a challenge – I am an introvert too and do not always find it easy.
  • Invite some neighbours round for a meal (you have got to eat regularly anyway)  Let’s not worry about being top chefs! If it is a real worry, invite them round for a drink and cake instead.
  • Pray about other ways to be a ‘blessing’ in your neighbourhood.

Now that the weather is hopefully generally better, it is particularly a time where perhaps we are more likely to connect with others. Let’s be actively open to being a ‘planting’ that makes a difference and displays the Lord’s splendour where we live, work and study.

Andy

 

 

Check the label!

Check the label? When I am sorting the washing out, I need to make sure I read what the label says. Otherwise we can end up with some dyed disasters!! There have been one or two over the years.

Now, doing the washing is not that exciting a topic! Well, I guess for may be someone out there it is but I cannot say it rates high in my life. I am happy to do it but it is just one of those things.

This said, doing the latest load, got me thinking about labels.

Check the label!

Firstly, how easy it can be to ‘label’ other people whom we do not understand or have a different point of view from us. Let’s seek to not do that to others, to not ‘demonise’ others wherever they are coming from. That does not mean we cannot disagree with others but let’s pray and think about how we can interact with grace as well as seeking to walk in truth ( “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” John 1:17)

Again and again in the news we can read/hear of racist, xenophobic or other labelling that just divides and leads to more tension and torment. Let’s seek to be different – at all times!

We might say, “oh but I am not like that!” Why not pray and reflect, ask the Lord to show you if there is any prejudice or labelling of others in your life?

Check the label!

Also with labels, what about the “labels” on our own life? What do we believe about ourselves? Where have such beliefs come from? How does belief in God ‘speak into’ that labelling in our lives?

Check the label!

Lastly, if we say we are a ‘christian’ – what does that label mean for our lives? How do our colleagues, neighbours, fellow students, family members and others view that? For many on the planet, sadly the word ‘christian’ does not have positive connotations. This is especially true in some cases if you add  in a word like ‘evangelical’.

The word ‘christian’ was originally given as a nickname (check out Acts 11 in the New Testament). Christians: “belonging to the party of Christ”. It was a label given by others in the multi-cultural international buzz of 1st century Antioch. Those who were following Christ seem to have been noticed, as many people in that city came to know Christ (Acts 11:24)

These were ordinary people who by the grace that there is in Jesus Christ and with His help, sought to live like Christ among their fellow citizens. There is no need to glamourize them or make them out to be ‘super-saints’. Yet there is a sense that this was one label that fitted.

What about for us? It has become slightly in-vogue in some contexts to say, “I am not a Christian, I am a Christ follower!”. I can understand that, due to the baggage for some, that is associated with the word ‘christian’. Yet this said, whatever we say of ourselves – Christian, Christ follower, Jesus seeker…  what do our lives show?

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is a call for that newness to work through in every area of our lives as we follow Christ. This includes how to we live out such new life among others. Not from a point of view of arrogance or like we have ‘arrived’,but in the active knowledge of the love, grace and mercy of God.

This is all part of being ‘spiritually fit’, of living in wholeness (shalom).

Andy

 

Growing healthily?

If you live in the Netherlands, then both of the photos above will probably be familiar to you.

You will definitely recognise the one on the left – it is flower season when the fields north of Leiden, in the Bollenstreek are awash with colour. The sides of roads are dotted with cars parked at all kinds of strange angles, as people seek photo moments, including the compulsory selfies : )

The photo on the right will be familiar for those who shop in a certain supermarket and have picked up ‘moestuintjes’ when buying their groceries. This is our tray of those that are surviving at present!

Whether it is large fields vibrantly awash with tulips, hyacinths or daffodils or a small tray of seedlings fighting for the light, in both cases to grow there are certain things that are vital. These include good soil and the right amount of water. The latter is not one we always get right with plants in our home!!

What are we doing to nurture growth in our lives? Actually, let me ask another question – what does healthy growth even look like?  Take some time to reflect on that afresh.

If you are reading this as a Christ follower, does what is written in the Bible actively form and shape your view of growth?

A plant needs the right nutrients. So do we! What are we feeding our lives on? Who or what are the main influences sowing into us?

As to water…

I saw again on the news this week about those facing famine in countries like Somalia, where rain has continued to not come and crops have failed.  Water is so vital and also something that in a country like the Netherlands we take for granted.  Let’s be praying for those caught up in famine situations and where possible, do what we can to respond practically…

In John’s Gospel we have these words of Jesus recorded,

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”By this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  John 7:38-39

Christ promised the Holy Spirit for all who follow Him. Are we being open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives – at work or study, in our families or neighbourhoods? Are we allowing Him to shape how we respond to life circumstances or in reaching out with Christ’s love to those around us?

With such a question, I am not suggesting anything spooky or strange. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit as one just like him; to help us in following Christ in the midst of life –  even now in 2017.

I sign off for now – time to go and check on our plants : )

Andy

Resurrection and life

It was only two months ago that there was snow on the ground here in Zuid Holland. There was not loads of it but enough to crunch under foot and have a snowball fight or make a snowman. How many of us have already forgotten though that the snow was around?

Easter weekend is here. Matthew in his Gospel records an angel declaring, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (28:6) Christ was not defeated by death, he was not held in the grave. He was alive – he is alive! Still changing lives in 2017.

If it is easy to forget the snow from two months ago, perhaps it feels a big ask to really get hold of those days back in the 1st century when Christ gave his life on the cross. In any reckoning for us, it seems a long time ago. Yet Easter weekend is a call and an invitation to…

  • remember
  • reflect
  • confess
  • receive
  • pray
  • celebrate.

There is much beauty in this world but also much pain. The attack on Coptic Church communities in Egypt on Palm Sunday shows again that followers of Christ are not immune from troubles on the planet. (Please pray for those communities). In the context of the realities of our own life challenges and what we read in the news, let’s

remember all that Christ did on the cross to deal with the weight of sin (for instance the hatred that drives people to bomb others),

reflect on what it means for us in relation to Christ’s sacrifice and how we live,

confess anything that we sense we need to put right with God,

receive afresh his forgiveness where we need it and his empowering to follow him,

pray for others to know Christ’s love, including those who grieve or are caught up in tough situations here at home or elsewhere in the world. Pray too that the Lord shows us how we can express that love to others.

Yet also let’s not to forget to…

celebrate –  that Christ is alive!

“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). He was then and he still is.

Happy Easter!

Andy

Who is this?

If you had to choose from the following, which would you go for?

   

All three photos were taken on a trip last week to the Isle of Wight in the UK – I was with my dad and one of my sisters.

One question of course is which one of the three did we go on? (a clue is given at the end! Meanwhile, guess!!)

You would possibly have been surprised though if I had included a donkey in the pictures. Yet that is the means of transport that Jesus Christ chose when he rode into Jerusalem a few days before his death (and resurrection).

The city would have been heaving with pilgrims. There would have been celebration, anticipation and remembrance all rolled into one. But also perhaps for many, a bitter reminder that they were occupied by the Romans. As for the occupiers themselves, there was possibly heightened tension wondering if there would be any trouble.

Into this Jesus rides, coming from the Mount of Olives. Both in connection with ancient prophecies yet in other ways too, his riding in on a donkey proclaimed that he was King . Not a King that some were expecting, who would overthrow the Romans.

Though that being said, the Roman Empire is long gone but Christ is still changing lives in 2017 with His kingdom life!

Prophecy quoted by Matthew for instance, declares, “see your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey”.  (Matthew 21:5)

What kind of King? As I wrote He did not topple the Romans. Yet the Bible holds the promise that one day He will return and that “so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11)

The wars, famines, disasters, strife that we see will be brought to an end. There is real future hope in Christ. Hope amid the reality that at times we all have to walk through tough circumstances.

Belief in such a King is not escapism from the life we live now. Christ as King, Christ as Lord calls us to follow Him and live out His kingdom values where we are. This honours Him and can be a great benefit to others. The Gospel can also raise objections from others of course.

Will we seek to live ‘kingdom lives’ with His help? Among other things, to do this in the way we treat others. Let’s make that real – think colleagues, fellow students, neighbours, family members.  How do we respond to injustice and division between people? Do our lives point people to Christ and His life changing grace?

Christ is not some constitutional figurehead. He is not a ‘king of convenience’ for us to let out of the cupboard at Christmas, Easter and other events that suit us. How do you and I respond to the thought of Christ as King? What does it mean for our lives? In what ways is it a challenge but also an encouragement? (The Bible again and again reiterates that ultimately all things are in his hands and we can trust him).

At the end of Matthew’s account of the ‘Palm Sunday’ entry, people ask of Jesus, “who is this?”  (21:10)

That is a vital question. How we respond will shape everything else in how we see Christian faith and our lives. Who is Jesus? Who is the one who chose that day to ride in on a donkey?

This Easter season, how do we answer the question, “Who is this?”

Andy

(As to the transport, let’s just say I got some smoke in my eyes when I looked out the window. Did you guess correctly?)