Tuesday, 26 February 2013

When the Spirit takes the wheel.

I wouldn't say that I'm super macho - but I wouldn't say that I'm a sissy either. If you punched me in the face I wouldn't cry.  Give me a glimpse of Jesus and I will, almost every time

There's something remarkable at play when a grown man openly cries in a room full of people - most of whom are strangers. I've often struggled (and therefore not bothered, regrettably) with explaining who the Holy Spirit is to someone who is yet to believe in God. But one way of explaining who He is, is by saying that He takes me from standing there thinking God is pretty awesome, to being on my knees, crying at how spectacular He really is. From nonchalantly thinking that He's changed my life, to being totally floored by the fact that His grace is poured out over my life EVERYDAY and that His only Son's life was brutally handed over on the cross, so that I might regain my real purpose in God.  

Basically, the Holy Spirit is the game-changer. It's where freedom is found (2 Cor 3 v17). It's the difference between trundling along in the slow lane of casual belief and having your breath taken from you doing 0-60 in 3 seconds.  

I can't clearly see what Jesus did for me without the Holy Spirit. I can't thank the Father enough without the Holy Spirit's intercession.  

Often, people are scared of handing control over to the Holy Spirit, afraid of what might happen. It's not hocus pocus or mind-trickery. It's not over-the-top or awkward Christianity. You'll need the work of the Holy Spirit to give you that panoramic view of God's love. And that isn't meant to sound like a pithy bumper sticker phrase. Without the Holy Spirit, God's throne really can look like any other seat in culture today.  

Baffled by the thought of going it alone without Him, Jesus assures His followers in John 14: 'And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you....All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counsellor  the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:16, 17, 25-27). 

Don't be troubled if you're struggling to see God for yourself - you never will do. It'll be like watching a 3D movie without the glasses. Ask Him for help. It may well floor you and make you feel vulnerable, but you'll see Him far more clearly. He's seriously spectacular!  

Do you believe? You're definitely going to need the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Marked apart.

This blog is going to be difficult for me to write. Not because it floors me emotionally, but because I'm typing with my left hand, while my phone balances precariously.

I'm sitting through a mammoth final sesh at the tattoo studio (appropriately named 'OhhMyGod' Tattoo Studio!). I don't want to specifically remark on tattoos - most either love them or hate them, and a blog won't likely change that. What I wanted to make an observation about is culture and more precisely, understanding how I've learnt (and struggled) to redeem parts of culture, while rejecting other parts of it.

As a Christian in 21st century London, there are so many quick judgements to make on a regular basis. Do I engage in that tricky conversation about a hot girl at work? Do I do that round of shots with mates at the bar? Do I watch the TV programme that everyone is banging on about? Is there a particular way I should dress or act? Is it wise to spend my money/time on such and such? Hours on Fifa/Poker/box set DVDs - you name it. Culture will pour itself into our lives at breakneck speed and discerning what is healthy to invest in and what we are to flee from, is vital.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul makes a helpful statement: 'For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.' (2 Corinthians 10:3&4 NIV)

As Christians, we wage war on a constant basis. Though we are part of God's Kingdom and living to shine amongst a culture riddled with defiance and sin (Philippians 2 15&16), our focus is on something completely different to most of those around us.

To reject outright all that culture breaths, would be stupid. To harness some of the good that culture breaths, would be helpful.

I love a few beers with mates. I love some of the amazing TV and films that are produced at the moment. I love art and music (in a variety of forms!). I love all kinds of international cuisine. I love social media. Being in the world but not of the world is tricky, but so important as we try to find ways of connecting the now (the world we live in) with the not yet (a future Kingdom).

Some Christians hate my tattoos, and would suggest that I have been a fool to get them. But they have opened up opportunities on numerous occasions for me to profess my faith, particularly in situations where it might have been harder to get that ball rolling. It's a huge part of culture these days that can be redeemed.

God is at work in the most ordinary of people. It takes discipline to reject the things that will blatantly bring Him no glory (such as drugs, greed, porn, selfishness - to name a few). But be on the look out for things that He can use - areas in your life or areas in culture that aren't necessarily sinful but that can be redeemed - your language, what you spend your cash on, even your Facebook status!

They can be very powerful weapons when wielded well.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

It's easy to downplay Jesus, especially when you look at some of the bare facts and ignore the insane number of miracles and prophecies that came to pass through his life, death and resurrection. The focus on fame and fortune today in our culture is at polar opposites with such an ordinary 'man of the past'. 

Reading Mark 6, we see the people question this 'ordinary' Jesus that stands before them. 'Where did this man get these gifts? Isn't this the carpenter?' 

And they took offence at him (v3). 

Without a glimpse of his majesty and splendour, it's easy to think this historical do-gooder is just a character in folklore or nursery rhymes. Wasn't he just born in a stable? Wasn't he just the adopted son of a tradesman? Wasn't he just born to a teenage mum? Wasn't he just a carpenter? Wasn't he just a poorly-travelled guy from the outskirts? Wasn't he just some random figure in history?  

It seems so easy to replace the very powerful with the very plain. 

It's easy to think of Jesus as so ordinary that he must (surely) be make believe - and it's easy to take offence at him today as well. Why does such a man have the right to speak into our lives and offer such a radical solution?! Surely someone so distant in the past, who was captured, tortured and buried, cannot impact my life in 21st century London? Surely a story so far-fetched is closer in connection to Santa or the Tooth Fairy than being a genuinely life changing option? 

If you fail to investigate this Jesus further yourself, and just rely on the snippets of opinion about him circulating modern culture, then you'll likely take offence at him too, just as they did in the days prior to his crucifixion

There is a beautiful, ordinary and very very unassuming quality to Jesus. One thing I always find so fascinating is that God, the Saviour of mankind, walked dusty roads to get to work. He ate, slept, sneezed, laughed, learnt and yawned. It's through the seemingly incredibly ordinary that the extremely extraordinary happened.  

Don't let the everyday, 'ordinary' details, stop you from delighting in a far more grand picture.

He was a carpenter. But He was also far far more.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Where the paths get even more narrow

There's a place that people are often led to. It has rougher terrain than the usual green pastures and it's climate isn't always bright and sunny. The paths are incredibly narrow and the guide doesn't normally use a light to illuminate the necessary steps - he takes his visitors by the hand instead - such is the care they will need when treading along it's pathways.  

Some get held up in this environment for quite some time. They are used to demanding that their guide takes them from A-B at their speed; revealing truth, direction and results as quickly as he can, like it's an on-the-go fast-food snack. He's into more long-term nourishment though and will often slow things down from time to time. He will often show them milestones on the journey on more than one occasion and when he continues the journey down a familiar path or sends the itinerary round and round in circles, they are likely to get angry, hot under the collar and start doubting that he even knows what he's doing. It's hard for them to see the beauty of the surroundings when it has all become so seemingly commonplace or not what they were expecting/hoping for. 

But, you see, he does know what he's doing. He has been guiding people down this path time and time again. Generation after generation. As each person finds themselves in this difficult of places to navigate through, they always want a quick-fix solution to get them back to their familiar track - to the landscape where they think they know the route better. Where a guide isn't so obviously necessary. Where his hand-led direction isn't so vital. Those places are usually called Comfort and Control.  

This tougher terrain is called Patience.  

The guide is more than happy for you to be there every now and again, even if it's not where you'd hope to be at that precise time. He knows that if you always got what you wanted at the exact time you wanted it, he'd probably never get quality time with you - so he doesn't mind Patience because it's where you speak to him the most. For it is there that he can teach you best about the grander schemes waiting in the forthcoming chapters. It's in the frustration of being there that he can reveal just how intimately he guides you; just how carefully he has chartered those most narrow of paths.  

Walking the pathways of Patience are so important. Your time spent on those tracks are best dictated by the guide - stray from his grasp and it's so easy to get lost and infuriated with your surroundings. But stick close to him and it becomes a season of great training. He'll explain to you that your frustration being there can breathe fuel into your dreams. 

He doesn't promise never to lead you to Patience (he almost certainly will in fact) - but he does promise never to leave you while you're there. The outlook can sometimes look bleaker and the pathways more treacherous - but it's a place where you will get to know your guide much more intimately as he helps you navigate through. Don't lose heart if you're in Patience at the moment - God, your guide, is still right in front of you and he knows precisely where he's taking you. He knows that time in Patience feels like it moves a lot slower than in other places and that really is OK!

Pathways out of Patience are often linked to places such as Breakthrough, Maturity and Responsibility.  

Keep trusting, regardless of your circumstances, regardless of the time frame involved.