Warner's TheoBlog

Thoughts from a disciple who writes


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You found me

I have thought long and hard about whether I should put this Psalm on my blog. I really don’t want people to think that I am on the edge of depression or about to lose my mind. I am not. But, at the same time, I know that my thoughts can become quite bleak and melancholy.

I was recently asked a question – “How would your life would look if I had not met Jesus?” I cannot imagine that, without Jesus, I would lose myself to a life of drugs and debauchery, but I can imagine that, without Jesus, my life would be dark, introspective and deeply negative, philosophically and spiritually. Father God gives meaning and shape to my life. Without him, I would simply be purposeless and lost because, as I look around the world, watch the news and hear the stories of people’s lives, I find little hope or relief from the state of humanity. The poor and humble are stamped on for the good of the powerful and well off. Everything is the same as it has always been. For every hopeful moment of progress there seems to be the same or more injustice and pain for the vast majority of the human race. The only real hope for the world is in Jesus.

This Psalm is the result of my cogitation based on that question. Whilst it starts quite darkly (although this is severely edited from the original 4 pages), it is not dark… it is full of hope. Read the second half first if you like.

A Psalm about being known

Without you, I stand alone,

once hopeful life becomes a howling waste.

No consolation in my own importance,

no purpose in life,

overwhelmed by the brief instant of time.

I have been overcome as I realise that,

when the music fades and my life is overtaken by reality,

there is only me for the blink of an eternal eye.

Born to breathe…

Death my inevitable end…

Dust my destination.

Remembered for a generation if I am lucky.

Subject only to the selfish ramblings of others,

using my brief flame as a justification for my own significance.

In truth there is senseless transitory breath.

Each one of us is unique, making it sadder still when we pass away.

Each person is temporary… unrepeated, forever lost.

Life is dust to blow away on the wind.

 

But, you found me.

You found me.

You know my name.

You are my Father.

You found me.

You found me.

You know me by my name.

I am not lost.

 

Insignificant no longer.

Apart from the crowd.

Chosen, called, redeemed…

I am a child of God

Uniquely made,

uniquely saved.

I have a name.

I am my Father’s son.

 

You found me…

I see you.

I recognise you…

Father.

You give life meaning.

In you there is purpose.

In your hand I was formed from dust.

Made so much more… your child.

I don’t understand,

I don’t need to.

I lay down my right

to know and comprehend.

I cannot find meaning without you,

man made boundaries just wont do.

True value is in you.

Only you!

 

I stand in your presence,

breathing deeply,

breathless in the gale of your Spirit.

I am alive!

Holy Spirit blows,

filling my lungs,

tears springing from my eyes,

breathless exhilaration in life.

I am embraced

for no other reason than love.

I am loved!

You know my name.

 

My voice cries out,

no longer lost in the vastness of the universe.

I cry out to my Father,

greeted with raptured attention.

You hear my cry

and respond in love.

My desires are reformed,

My will re-made,

More like Jesus,

No longer just for me.

Illuminated by everlasting love

Shaped by sacrifice and grace.

 

I am alive!

I have a purpose!

I have a reason to breathe,

to speak,

to write,

to live.

No longer an empty universe.

I am loved.

I am cherished.

I am given a purpose.

I belong.

I am yours!

You are mine!

My Father, Mother, Saviour, Friend,

Peace, Grace, Truth, and life.

My everything.

 

You found me.

You found me.

You know my name.

I am your child.

 

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Grasshoppers

The Bible is very clear. It tells me, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1) So why don’t I live like a child of God? Why do I, so often, quail in fear? Why do I act so weakly and powerlessly when the Bible tells me that I am supposed to be a powerful, Spirit filled, inheriting child of the King of kings?

Identity.

I simply don’t live in the light of the truth that God speaks to me through His word. I am a child of God, with all of the rights, privileges and power that this identity gives me. In John 14, I am told that if I know Jesus, I know the Father. That Jesus is the epitome of the Father and that I am called to be his friend and imitate Him. That by the power of the Holy Spirit, I am equipped and enabled to live as Jesus lived. To be light in a dark world, pointing to the Father God.

Without wanting to go into every verse and proof here (it is a blog rather than a tome), I believe whole heartedly that I am called and empowered to live as a disciple of Jesus with the same power that Jesus has. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Yet, in reality, I do not.

I am full of fear and I believe so many lies about who I am and what I am unable to do. I look at the world around me, the state of others, my own weaknesses and insecurities, and I withdraw in fear. I cower from what I see Jesus do, justifying it as ‘real’ and ‘pragmatic’ to do so. I look around me and say, “I am weak and insecure, and that is how everyone else sees me.”

Yet, I can no longer claim to be honest and believe the lies I tell myself. The Bible tells me that I am more than a conqueror, I am a child of God, and ambassador of Christ. That, if I am full of the Holy Spirit, I will manifest the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit, transforming the people around me by shining light into the dark world.

So what is going on?

“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33)

This short verse from the narrative of the spies who went into the Promised Land speaks to me quite clearly. Ten of the twelve who were sent out (the two were Caleb and Joshua) returned from their reconnaissance mission to the Promised Land with the words from Numbers 13:33. They had already shared with the rest of the people of Israel their observation that the fertility and fruit of the land were amazing… yet they did not think it was possible for the people of Israel to take possession of the land. They believed that the people who already lived in the land were simply too big and strong to be defeated by the grasshoppers of God.

“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

I can relate to the fear of doing something new. The feeling of being overwhelmed by what I see standing between me and what the word of God promises.

Yet the spies had had a pretty incredible journey to get as far as the spying mission. They had heard the word of God spoken, promising their freedom from slavery that has lasted hundreds of years, seen the plagues of Egypt and been protected from them, been freed from slavery, taken incredible riches with them as they left Egypt, been protected from attack by the very presence of God in the fiery cloud, crossed the Red Sea with the waters piled either side of them and watched their enemies drowned. As if that were not enough; they had been guarded and led through a wilderness, day and night, by the presence of God, been miraculously provided with water and food despite the fact that there were close to a million people in their group, received the book of the law from God on the mountain where his presence was manifest in glory, witnessed the power of God first hand and reflected in the face of Moses… and the list could go on.

Then, these twelve men, are chosen as the best representatives, each from one of the twelve tribes of Israel, to scout out the land that the God Himself, who has been with them, literally and evidently every day, had promised would be theirs. They had seen the fertility of the land and carried some of fruit back to the people as evidence of their story… and here they are. “We are not big enough to take the land.”

Notice, they did not say… “Those people are huge and we are small.” They said, “Those people are really big and they must have thought we were small because we certainly felt like we were small.” The report that they give is not based on the truth of the word of God or evidence that they have gathered, it is based entirely upon their own image of themselves.

“We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, chose to believe the word of God. They said, something like, “it will be hard, BUT GOD HAS GIVEN THE LAND INTO OUR HANDS! Let’s go for it.”

What was the difference? Simply put… Joshua and Caleb believed God before they believed their own perception. They came to the conclusion that, whatever their own eyes saw and their hearts said to them, the promise of God was more powerful and important. They chose to believe the world of the Lord over their own misgivings, fears, perceptions, thoughts and everything else.

That is what I want… Father God, what you promise I choose to believe. Please help me live in the reality of the things you say. Let your Kingdom come!

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)


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The glass bridge

I saw a video on Facebook today which I wish I had saved at the time. It was of the longest glass bridge in the world, over a chasm in China. The bridge is as long as three football pitches, about 1000 feet above the floor of the valley and constructed entirely of glass and steel. It has been designed entirely for the purpose and its parts are all far stronger than traditional building materials such as concrete.

As people crossed the bridge, the acted in interesting ways. A few of the people seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, striding out over the drop with confidence. Most people on the bridge, however, were showing fear and trepidation of one kind or another. Some walked with their eyes closed, shuffling along whilst holding the hands of friends. Other crawled along, forcing themselves to move through their fear no matter how slowly they went. Still others were simply incapacitated with fear.

All of the people who walked onto the bridge were perfectly aware that it was a sound structure made from glass that is stronger than concrete and wires designed in such a way that not even the fiercest storm will destroy them… yet fear took its toll. Their imaginations ran wild and the evidence of their eyes altered their behaviour, their brains battling between logic and fear.

It dawns on me that the glass bridge is the perfect metaphor for me. It is how I feel when walking into a room of strangers. I know in my mind that everything will be OK, that I have a right to be in the room and that there is nothing to be afraid of… Yet, despite my knowledge, fear dominates me. I force myself to walk into the room and, more or less, talk to a few people, but, after not very long at all, I will be standing at the edge of the room watching everyone else and berating myself for the fact that I am too afraid to talk to them.

As for evangelism, think of the person who crawls onto the glass bridge as a sheer act of will. Inching themselves out, only seeing the chasm below despite the structure that holds them. In no time at all, the simple thought of going out onto the street incapacitates me. In reality, I know I am safe on the bridge of God’s love, but my mind closes my body down and I am simply unable to overcome my fear as an act of will.

My feelings then betray me, telling me that, “it’s better not to try the bridge. It’s only a pathway to terror and no good can come of it. All you will get is a bowel juddering sense of fear and an overwhelming dose of self-recrimination for your pathetic failure of courage.” I HATE THAT BRIDGE. I hate what it stands for, as the very image of the weakness of my faith and what it does to me. I HATE MY FEAR!

I hate the fact that the bridge exists and that I can, in reality, totally trust it to keep me safe from falling but that the truth of my actions tell me that I do not trust it at all. I hate the fact that even the thought of it makes my fear rise like vomit in my heart, paralysing me to inaction and making me feel awful in guilt and recrimination. I hate that I feel so guilty and stupid for trying in the first place; guilty and stupid for failing; guilty and stupid if I don’t try at all. I hate the feelings, I hate my actions and, inevitably, I come to hate myself. Mostly, I hate the devil for, over years and time after time, training my fear to be stronger than my faith so that now I find even the thought of going out fills me with fear.

I pray… “God does not give me a spirit of fear, but of love, compassion and a sound mind. PLEASE Father, let me live as if this is true!”


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How can I be more fruitful?

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

This verse has been speaking to me a great deal in the last week. It comes from Jesus wonderful metaphor of the vine and the branches.

Jesus is the vine, the source of nourishment and that which is rooted in the soul. We are the branches, attached to the vine for our flourishing. Without the vine we can do and produce nothing. God is the gardener, managing and caring for the vine so that it is a fruitful and productive as it can possibly be. He cuts off branches that do not bear fruit, so that they do not take valuable energy away from fruit giving branches. He prunes those branches that bear fruit, cutting them back so that they can become even more fruitful.

This passage in John 15 warrants plenty of time. It is one that, I have found, needs to ferment and mature in order for it to become more clear.

There are several things that are swilling around my brain.

First, the branch MUST be attached to the vine. No branch can produce fruit if it is not firmly and healthily attached to the vine. A branch can survive for a short time in a vase, but it will die. The place for a branch to be is attached to the vine, so that it can be fed and grow. Verse 5 is very clear. “Apart from me you can do nothing”. It is in our closeness and attachment to Jesus, the vine, that ALL of out ability to flourish as Christians depends. Without it we can do nothing. Without it we are nothing.

Second, fruitfulness is the natural result of being a healthy branch. Branches do not produce fruit if they are separate from the vine, but when they are healthily attached they cannot help but produce fruit. Fruitfulness comes from Jesus. It is a consequential response to real intimacy with God. ‘Apparent’ intimacy will not produce fruit. Fruitfulness is the purpose of the vine and the branches, it is what the gardener desires. So fruit should be our purpose, but only as a response to closeness to the vine.

Third, pruning bloody well hurts. I am sorry to put it so crudely, but it is what I have found. I do not like bits being cut off of me and, if anyone has witnessed an expert gardener pruning a plant, pruning is a violent and surgical activity. BUT, and this is really, really important, pruning works. It is the best and, as far as I know, only way to nurture a plant to greater and better fruitfulness. Pruning hurts, but it is worth it to increase the yield of good fruit.

Fourth, a good vine takes time. It is over seasons that the fruit multiplies. Only with time can the gardener train and nurture a plant to excellent fruitfulness. With time, the link between the branch and the vine becomes stronger and more effective to enable the branch to flourish and produce fruit.

Finally, we should not pray for more fruitful lives. We should pray for a closer relationship with Jesus. It is only and always our closeness to the vine that will increase the quality and quantity of our fruit. If we want to see more evidence of the presence and power of God, then we need to be in the presence of God.

If I want to be more fruitful as a disciple of Jesus, then I need to be more firmly and closely attached to the vine. Apart from Him, I can do nothing.

 


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Submission and obedience

It was during a time of worship at the #RMLC14 that I felt God speak to me. It was simple yet profound.

As I was kneeling on the floor, lost in the presence of God, I was wrestling with Him. God has called me, for a time, to exist in a situation where my frustration is sometimes overwhelming. As I was saying, I was wrestling with God in prayer.

“Why me? Why must I go through this Lord? Why me”, I complained.

“Because I have asked you to”, God replied.

My reply was simple, “I will carry on because you have told me to”.

God spoke again, “No, I have asked you to. If I told you to keep going then it would require your obedience. I have asked you to keep going, because I want your submission”.

This conversation dropped into my head and I have been praying it through ever since. I WILL stay where God has asked me to be until, either, the situation is changed by God, or, He asks me and my family to move on to pastures new.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7)

Obedience is fine and good, but it is involuntary and so lacks love and honour for our Father. We can be obedient whilst still being rebellious in our heart. Submission, on the other hand, is the result of relationship, devotion and love.

Jesus saved us through his submission to the will of the Father (see Philippians 2). We are saved by grace. When we submit in response, then we are living in grace.

I think that there is more to say here, and I am sure that there are many, many more passages from the Bible that I could look into. But I don’t think I have finished cogitating on this idea yet and so I will leave it there for now. I would be interested to read you response and thoughts on the subject of submission over obedience.


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Paying the price

I wonder if, for too long, the Christian faith has been presented as an easy option?

Let me start by stating that Jesus has paid the price for our salvation, once and for all. We are saved by grace, not as a result of our own righteousness. In this way, the price that we simply cannot afford has already been paid, fully and unequivocally, and salvation is free. BUT…

However, it is not salvation that is at issue, so much as it is the life of a disciple.

To paraphrase Bill Hybels, if the Christian faith is only about salvation, why are we still breathing? Why is it that we are not, as soon as we believe, taken into heaven? What happens after salvation? It is after we are saved that God asks us to pay a price. We don’t have to pay it, but we are given the opportunity to do so over the rest of our life on Earth.

Richard Taylor, at #RMLC2014, talked about an aeroplane where the ones who are in first class are simply those who are willing to pay the price expected to upgrade from standard seating. All of the passengers are heading for their destination, but some have paid more and so find more on their journey. The difference between standard and first class is not where one travels, it is how one travels.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

These words of Jesus do not say that there is a cost to salvation. Anyone can hear the words of Jesus, comprehend the meaning and believe in the truth. Yet, there is a difference between those who believe and those who follow. Following Jesus costs more, but it means more too.

To follow Jesus we must give up our own preferences and life choices. We must choose to submit our future to him, living in a way that is consistent with his teaching, even if it is different to what we have always known. This might mean that we strain, or even lose, relationships with family and friends who do not agree with us or understand our faith. It might necessitate a change in our priorities of time and effort. Following Jesus will almost certainly mean that we have to sacrifice our need for control over our own destiny, choosing to live by faith instead of knowledge.

Following Jesus ALWAYS leads to change. We will change, our lives will change, our relationships will change and our view of the world that we live in will change.

The Cost of following Jesus is simply that we have to follow Jesus, wherever he leads us… even when it results in derision, persecution and, possibly, death.

Why? Because Jesus Christ is the only way for the people of the world to be reconciled to the God who created them. He is the only way to be forgiven from sin and the only path into the presence of the living God. Further, the people of this world NEED to see the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It is through the lives of the disciples of Jesus that they will find the evidence of the truth of salvation by grace. We are the body of Christ!

To be saved does not mean that I need to be a disciple of Jesus. I don’t have to pay that price. But, because I am saved, how can I not follow? How can I not dive into God? The question is this… am I willing to pay the price so that my fellow men and women of the world might taste and see that Jesus is the way to full and wonderful life?

“Where else can I go? With you, Jesus, are the words of eternal life”

End Note – This blog is the result of my thoughts following the @RMChurches Leadership Conference in Norwich (#RMLC2014).


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The Parable of the Treasure (a retelling)

It has been a long time since my last Theoblog post, but now it is time to start posting again. If you like what you read, please share it around. There are also a great many posts in the archive so please take a peek. Comments are more than welcome as are retweets, shares, and the like.

I am going to start off this new era with my take on a parable of Jesus…

There was once a man who, whilst he was working in a field, found a treasure of immeasurable worth. From the moment he found it, he knew that this treasure was of greater value than anything else in the world. Greater than anything he had, would or could ever possess. So, he buried the treasure once more and went off with the firm intention of selling everything he had so that he could buy the field and gain the treasure for himself.

Whilst he was hurrying to do so a pretty young lady caught his eye and he stopped to talk to her. He thought, “I will sell everything later to buy the treasure” and took the pretty young lady for a drink. The man and the lady got talking, time passed and the man still firmly intended to sell everything and buy the field… later.

In time, the man and the lady married, found a house to share together and had a few children. He often thought about the treasure and, every time it came to mind, he firmly intended to sell all that he had to buy the field where he had found the treasure. He even went as far as to go to the auction house where he could sell everything, and was surprised when they offered him a job. The treasure would come a little later, he decided.

The man worked hard, smiled, was patted on the back, celebrated, enjoyed his children, house, pet dog, food, drink, holidays in the sun, sadness, fun and a cottage on the continent for dreamy days and family gatherings. All safe in the knowledge that the man knew where the treasure was.

When, eventually, as a much older man, he got around to being able to afford the time to be able to buy the field the old man handed over the money, took his spade and dug down to find that the treasure he had found all those years ago was still where he had left it. And he wept as he looked on its beauty and was overwhelmed once more at its immeasurable worth. He wept for all of the time he had lost without the greatest treasure in the world.

The man fell down dead and went to heaven, leaving the treasure in the field where he had first found it. Unused.