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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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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A lament of thanksgiving

I hate the door to my prison.

It stands, apparently immovable, between me and the outside.

It stubbornly refuses to move, to open or to fade away.

I remain here, in my prison.

 

Yet, this prison is a gift from you, O God.

A holy opportunity to spend time in your presence.

Your presence fills my cell and your voice is clear and fluent.

How wonderful it is to be with you.

 

My human nature rebels against the walls,

yet my spirit soars without limitation.

Time in your presence is never wasted.

True freedom resides in being where You want me to be.

 

I could kick down the door and run outside,

but all I would achieve would be to escape my freedom;

an escape from your presence;

an escape from your perfect will.

 

I will wait for you, O Lord my God.

I still yearn to see you open the door to my cell.

Because then I will be released

and together we will walk into the light.

 

Lord, come quickly.

Father, fulfil your promises.

Make real the visions of my youth and the promises you gave.

Lord, open the door for me to walk with you into the light.

 

I yearn to be free,

yet I will not walk out of my prison if you do not walk with me.

I no longer fear solitude,

because you are with me and closer to me than ever.

I am never alone,

because you are here with me, O my Lord and my God.

 

When the prison door is opened, I will dance into the light.

But,

until then,

I will dance in the dark.

 

I will dance because of your love and grace.

I will celebrate your mercy and open handedness.

I will cavort and spin and bounce and sway,

because you are God and I love you.

 

Be with me Lord.

Be with me, my Father.

I do not hate my prison cell.

I don not hate your presence.

 

I hate the sin that holds me here.

I begrudge the nature in me that needs to be changed.

I acknowledge this is the way by which you are changing me.

In truth, there is neither prison nor freedom, there is only your presence.

 

O my Lord and my God, do not wait forever.


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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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Children of God

Revelation!

There comes a time when things click. Something is said or happens and we respond, “Oh! Now I understand. That’s what it means”.

When revelation comes, the whole colour and meaning of the world changes. It is like putting on a pair of spectacles that make the world suddenly clearer. Before, one was hardly aware that the world was out of focus, but when one begins to use spectacles it is impossible to understand how ever one didn’t notice how fuzzy things appeared.

The shepherds had a choir of angels to lead them to the stable where Jesus was born and, after they had seen the new King of kings, they went home singing because their world was forever changed.

The wise men needed a star to guide them to the new born king and, when they had met him and bowed before him, there was no doubt that the whole world would never be the same again.

God had come to humanity, offering a way by which we can be forgiven, reconciled, welcomed and reunited with the Creator of the universe.

“Yet to all who receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husbands will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13)

The revelation of Christmas is simply this.

If we receive Jesus into the world and our lives as the son of God and saviour of the world, then everything changes. We are adopted by God the Father as His children. Not by birth or nature, but by the will and decision of God.

When we welcome Jesus, God welcomes us. Not because we are good or worthy or without sin, and certainly not because he has to welcome us, but because of Jesus. Jesus is our route to God. Jesus is the key that opens the door to the presence of the living, loving God which is otherwise hopelessly locked to us.

I am a child of the living God. I no longer have to be worried about belonging and having a purpose in the world. I am a child of God. I belong to Him. I am wanted by Him. I am welcomed by Him. Nothing else really matters.


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Living by Faith

I have been spending some significant time in Hebrews 11 recently. It is a remarkable chapter of the Bible that sets out the concept of faith and then uses a massive list of people from the Old Testament to illustrate it.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Hebrews 11:1-2)

This is the BIG IDEA.

When God speaks, we need to live by what He says.

This might seem obvious, but it is profound and important and it is key that those of us who are disciples of Jesus don’t just hear what this says, but live too. So I need to say it again.

When God speaks, we who live by faith need to live by what He says. Even if the world that we observe around us does not seem to conform to what God says, we must.

The writer of the Hebrews illustrates his point, time and again and here are just a few of the examples he uses…

  • Abel – offered sacrifice to God, giving the best that he had, even though he could not see the God that he was sacrificing to with his own eyes. He had faith that God existed and was worth the sacrifice.
  • Noah – built an ark in the middle of a desert to protect his family from flood waters that God had promised, even though it was not raining and did not even look as if it would rain at all. He was ridiculed and pilloried, but he had faith that God was right.
  • Abraham – left his home to travel to another country that God had promised, even though there was no certainty that it would all work out. In fact, God promised that the land of Canaan would belong to his family and he never saw the of this promise in his own in his lifetime. He had faith that God would honour the word that He had given and so lived in the reality of God’s promise.
  • Abraham – again, showed that he trusted God more than his own eyes. As an old man he was promised a son and a multitude of descendants, even though it looked impossible in reality. He had faith that God would honour His promise and Sarah gave birth to Isaac in their old age.
  • Abraham – yet again. Took Isaac, his beloved son, to a mountain top and was willing to sacrifice him according to God’s instruction, even though it clearly appeared to be categorically opposed to the word of God for a multitude of descendants. He heard the voice of God and obeyed. He trusted God over and above his own eyes and the good opinion of others.

“All of these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13)

These people lived by the words and promises that God gave to them, even when they seemed ridiculous in the eyes of the rest of the world. In many cases, they never even saw God’s promise fulfilled in their own lifetimes, but they trusted, by faith, that God was in charge and would see things come to fruition according to His word and time. They accepted that their faith was alien to the world that they lived in, but they accepted what God said as truth and lived according to it. They were willing to be derided and laughed at by everyone else, simply because God was greater than they or their situation.

SO what about us? Are we willing to live as aliens in our own world and have faith in the promises and word of God over and above our own good, preference or common sense?

Our job, as disciples of Jesus, is not to witness the fulfillment of the word of God. It might not happen in our lifetime and the story of the world is not about us to begin with. Neither is it our job to judge the word that God gives us according to our own preferences and logic. Our job is to live by faith… even when, to all appearances, the thing that we believe to be from God seems impossible or ridiculous.

We are not called to witness God’s act, we are called to be witnesses to God’s word!

By grace, it might be that God allows us to witness the fulfillment of His word in our lives but, if He does not, who are we to argue? If God is God then God’s word is true. Faith is believing this fact, accepting it and then living by it.

I would rather live by the truth of God’s word than by the understanding of the world… In all things. Because I have faith in God most High.

Of course, this stand on faith becomes problematic when what we believe is not believed, or even ridiculed, by the people around us. When the people around us do not believe what we believe or even oppose our faith choice. Just off the top of my head, the world I live in has different beliefs in areas that I believe God teaches particular truth on issues of sexuality, fidelity, marriage, honesty, creation, truth, divinity, faith, power, and so much more. The faith that get from my discipleship in Jesus is derided by our society, the people who rule the media and many of the people that I live among.

The question that I must ask is, “what does God say?” Even if God’s words is opposed to the voice of the many, I know that it is God’s voice I must listen for and, by faith, His path I must follow. Wherever that might lead.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)