Author Archives: James

Masterpiece

“For we are God’s masterpiece.” Ephesians 2:10

Surely this truth has the potential to change our lives. Imagine what we would look like if at a deep, gut level, in our hearts, we knew the facts that the Bible repeatedly tells us: We are children of God, we were loving, fearfully, wonderfully created, God knew us before we were in our Mother’s wombs, He loves us so much that his one and only son was tortured and died for us. Would we still hang on that bit of feedback from our boss? Would we still need to incessantly compare ourselves to everyone around us? Would we still obsess over that text message? Would we still long for that reassurance, that pat on the back, that confirmation? This is surely the ultimate affirmation. The creator of the universe made us, knows every single fact about us, loves us more than we could ever love Him and has created us as His masterpiece.

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The outer man and the inner man

“Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:10.

I do not want to live a dual life, a life where I am busy doing things on the outside, and then periodically throughout the day feel like I have to ‘turn back’ to God in order to feel His presence. I think that most Christians desire to know the presence of God continually, they understand that relationship with Him is the driving force behind everything they do. There seems to be such a disconnect though with this desire for the presence of God and the reality of what our days really look like. Watchman Nee, in his masterpiece ‘The breaking of the outer man and the release of the Spirit’ argues that the work of a Christian is ultimately futile if the ‘outer man’ has not been broken as he can not properly exercise the ‘inner man’, his spirit.

The Holy Spirit dwells within us, the Bible repeatedly tells us this (1 Cor. 6:9). We, ourselves, are the greatest frustration to the work we want to do for God. The prayer I want to always be praying is that God, in his mercy, breaks, disciplines and changes all those earthly things that are in my mind and fill my emotions. He can then really have his way in my life.

I need to humble myself before God, to pray that His will, not mine be done.

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Disciple means servant

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14–15).

Many people know of the occasion when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. It has become a well known act of humility and service. What might be slightly less known is just how radical this act was when Jesus performed it at the Last Supper. For a teacher or host to wash to wash the feet of his guests would have been highly unusual in Jewish culture. This was a menial task which servants of the house performed. By washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus was teaching them just how radically they were to also serve others.

To truly serve someone means to put that person first, which may require sacrificing something on our part. This could be our reputation, our time, money, or even our lives. But this kind of sacrificial service is the key to really living. This brings about the most profound joy, bears the most fruit.

Being a disciple means being a servant.

 

 

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Christian or disciple?

I discovered recently that the word ‘Christian’ only appears in the Bible on three occasions. It was a term mostly used by people outside of the ‘Christian’ community to define all of these new, radical, Jesus followers that were springing up everywhere.

If I were to ask 20 people what word comes to mind when they hear the word ‘Christian’, then I would probably get 20 quite different responses. It is a term that is not biblically defined and so to some extent we can determine ourselves what it means.

The word that is much more frequently used by Jesus’ followers and the apostles to define their relationship with Jesus is ‘disciple’. But this word is a lot more frightening to start using as it is quite clearly defined – Jesus specifically teaches about what it means to follow and emulate Him.

In future posts I would like to try and elaborate on what it actually means to be a disciple of Jesus.

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Safe

The angel of the lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” Psalm 34v7

A friend asked me the other day if I thought that a guardian angel watched over my children. He pointed out the many times I wasn’t there to physically keep them from harm and the countless risks and threats that had been prevented in my absence. I did not have a ready answer for him but it got me thinking because as a parent the foremost thing on my mind is to keep my children secure.

But don’t we all need protecting? Don’t we seek out someone or something to keep us safe? We are fragile, we need to be protected. We take shelter from our raging environment. We hide or fight when an enemy invades. We cry out for support when hurt. I find the verb ‘encamp’ in the cited Bible verse to be so powerful and such a great image. It brings great comfort. And, importantly, it is not meant to be metaphorical.

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The Silence

Why do we fear solitude and silence?

We appear to be apprehensive about spending scarcely twenty minutes just sitting down, doing nothing, listening to nothing, thinking of nothing in particular, simply allowing ourselves to exist in the moment. Every technological advance, everything mass media and advertising throws at us is aimed at ensuring that we do not have to stop and contemplate, but instead move and do things quicker. A recent advertisement for a well-known mobile phone company recently summed up modern thinking very well when it half-jokingly claimed that impatience was a virtue. Such is the very real need for communication to be faster.

I would argue that we fear solitude because there is something at the very heart of ourselves that we fear. Shall we call it a soul? It is seemingly unknown. If we had the time and space to reflect then we may be forced to confront our own mortality, discover more about who we are and ask ourselves real, deeper questions, possibly disquieting questions. Everything modern society creates is therefore perfectly suited to combatting this fear and (thankfully) allows us neither the time nor the desire to have to find out.

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Spiritual workout

Assuming belief in the supernatural, if humans have a spirit, can it grow?
Christians would answer affirmatively, but maybe the real question is whether its’ development is something that they take an active part in. Physical training is undoubtedly vital for sportsmen and women, who live lives dedicated to getting the best out of their physical bodies and skills. They commit to following a monitored diet and fitness regime. They don’t expect to simply turn up and be able to perform and play to the best of their abilities. Similarly, I believe that if Christians are to take their faith seriously, then the same principle of training and commitment to a certain lifestyle needs to be applied. Whilst Christians are saved by God’s grace, and cannot earn their salvation, they are clearly responsible for their lives and how they live them. St. Paul says that “while physical exercise has some value, spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next” (1 Tim 4:8). In my view, the question of what this “spiritual exercise” looks like can best be answered by studying the spiritual disciplines such as solitude and fasting that have long been practiced throughout the ages and that were also central to Jesus Christ’s life – Christ was tempted by the devil whilst in the middle of a long period of fasting and before he was arrested to be crucified, He purposefully spent time alone in prayer.

See: Dallas Willard – ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines’.

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Strength

I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint   Jeremiah 31v25.

I have been feeling emotionally and physically drained recently. A few weeks ago I completed a Masters in Education which took me over five years to do, with the last six months proving to be especially grueling.

Reason dictates that in order to restore strength I should now rest. My default position in any case is to watch movies whenever I can and put my feet up. The problem is, it only works up to a point and doesn’t bring back much ‘strength’.

Society is full of books and people who give us step by step plans designed to help us feel rested and strong, whereas the Christian way of life almost seems too easy, as the first thing that God often wants from us is to just spend time with Him, primarily through prayer. The simple act of doing this may be ‘refreshing’ for our souls.

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To be frank…

“The thing that keeps God out of our lives is not our sin. It is our compulsion to pretend, to cover up our nakedness with fig leaves, to climb sycamore trees in order to see without being seen”.
Pete Greig. God on Mute. Page 78.

I’ve been challenged recently to be constantly and habitually honest in prayer. I’ve realized that I actually find it a lot easier to be honest to those closest to me than to really be honest to God. I find in prayer that it is all too easy to follow the same old format, to repeat the same fixed expressions, true and meaningful though they are. Even after looking through the Psalms and seeing how brutally honest some of those laments are, even after reading and talking to others about how God responds to our honesty, how it unfazes Him and how he responds to it, this still hasn’t meant that I’m any closer to being honest with God on a daily basis when I shut the door and pray to Him.

Possible Solution: Pray for God’s help to be more honest!

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On the streets?

Why are there homeless people living on the streets of your city? They are there because they want to be there, right? Your government provides enough housing, enough help.

Although there are people living on the streets because they want to ‘drop out’ of society, a significant number are actually there because of addiction, mental illness, domestic abuse, and a lack of governement support.

I read two interesting articles about this today. The first highlights how easy it is to become homeless, the second reports that homelessness in the UK has risen by 26 percent in the last four years, with a lack of affordable housing being one of the principal reasons for the rise.

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/25/how-i-became-homeless-cant-happen-to-you-think-again

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/25/homelessness-crisis-england-perfect-storm

As a Christian, the response is simple:

the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.    Matthew 25 v 34-36.

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