To quote Noddy Holder ‘It’s Chriiiiiiiiiisssssstmaaaaassss’ (nearly).
One of the words used at Christmas is ‘incarnate’. That basically means in human form, made flesh. The Son of God ‘incarnates’ himself as a man. He came down to earth in human form to get alongside us, share our life and experiences, so he could help / save us. Now, don’t worry I haven’t lost the plot, there is a ‘dit’ coming ..
Back in the 80s during the Cold War, my ship was taking part in a massive NATO exercise, involving ships from all over the world. We were one of the ‘enemy’ units, our mission was to attack the US based carrier group. I hate to admit it but we were taken out fairly early, and had no operational weapon systems, either offensive or defensive. We could still ‘float’ and ‘move’ but had no ‘fight’ capability. So we were no longer a threat to the ‘enemy’.
An Australian frigate that was part of our task group attacking the carrier group, approached us. She was completely radio silent on comms channels. As she came up on our starboard side they used the loud hailer to outline their plan. They would sit very close on our starboard beam so that we would appear as a single radar echo. We would attempt to get close to the carrier group and then she would use her firepower to carry out an attack. We had become ineffective and as a fighting unit basically useless, but all of a sudden we were a viable option to ‘bring violence to the enemy’. We came under her self -defence systems, she could send over teams to help us with damage repair of our weapon systems and she had an attack capability. But as soon as the carrier group worked out what was going on we would again be a target. They would not be happy. The plan worked and we were able to get a missile off (well the Aussies were) and attack before we were seen … (then the analogy falls over coz we were both wiped out by air attacks, but hey ho).
And it’s a bit like that for us as Christians. Jesus came (and after his death and resurrection left us the Holy Spirit) to walk alongside us, to provide us with support, to bring us under the cover of his defence systems and to get us back into the fight, an effective part of the task group again.
So where are you this Christmas, in your relationship with Jesus? Feeling a bit ineffective and like there is no ‘fight’ left in you? Just about floating and moving? Going through the motions of a Christian life? If you want more then can I suggest you listen to the plan coming from the loudhailer and accept the help and safety that Jesus brought when he came to earth for us and started the next stage of his plan to ‘bring violence to the enemy’. But be ware you will become a target again, so make sure you fix up the broken weapon systems and get back into the centre of the task group where others can help and offer mutual support …
Until next time …. a very Happy Christmas and see you in the smoke of 2019 ..
Hands to action stations … but maybe after a nice bit of R and R alongside somewhere over the next week or so …
As I write there are many news items about hurricanes approaching the Caribbean and East coast of America.
This made me wonder, is this news?
Every year there are hurricanes that charge across the Atlantic hitting the Caribbean and East coast of the USA, we know and have known about these natural phenomena for ever and a day. So why is it news? Perhaps it is not news!
The there is Tornado Alley, an area in the middle of the USA.
‘Generally, Tornado Alley starts in central Texas and goes north through Oklahoma, central Kansas and Nebraska and eastern South Dakota, sometimes dog-legging east through Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana to western Ohio.’ (Wiki)
But when tornado’s hit this central zone is this news?
Tornados always happen; they are as regular as clock work so why is it news?
It is not news that nature performs natural events at certain times of the year or even on a regular basis; for example, the Severn bore occurs about 260 times a year with two tides per day; the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone Park erupts every 45 to 125 minutes and has been doing so for many years. It’s not really news. Surfing the Severn Bore is a ritual for some folks, but it is not news. Maybe something extraordinary happening as a consequence of a natural phenomenon is news; being trapped in a flooded cave system, stuck on Everest during a massive white out. Nature is in itself not really news, the consequential actions associated with the weather might be.
Personal news associated with age, heart conditions, prostate cancer, and diabetes is the kind of news that challenges us. It is also news that can and does affect the immediate family, probably not news they want to hear! But, how do we handle this kind of news? After all, the immediate consequences can be quite profound.
What is the remedy to building homes in tornado alley?
Are there consequences for building directly in the path of annual hurricanes?
What can we do when we are hit by our own personal hurricane?
There is good news that continues to confound mankind, which is reliable, personal and corporate; news that never fades or grows old and deliberately places itself in the path of mankind affecting each and every individual.
The Good News of the gospel message. News that when understood and accepted changes forever the recipients of this particular Good News. This news provides a clear pathway through the approaching hurricanes. Yes hurricanes do happen in life, but our news is such we can navigate through the mayhem, for our God is an awesome God, he will not allow more than we can handle. Jesus died for each one of us, but more than that! He rose again for each one of us, His human body appearing to the many followers who became part of the news story. If Jesus’ resurrection was enough to save you surely he will also stand with you in the hurricane or tornados of life, whatever they might be. As we get older we can feel that we have little to offer Gods kingdom work. Strangely enough He doesn’t see it like that. He takes each and every storm, building our character so we can give testimony to what Jesus can do. This testimony remains good news. And you are central to this story, for realise it or not, all that you have gone through or will going to go through testifies to Gods endless love and grace. Wow! Good news.
One of my favourite movie genres is the whole superhero thing. I just love the message that these movies tend to send out. One of my all-time favourite movie quotes is “…with great power comes great responsibility!” I am probably never happier than settling down for an evening to watch ‘Man of Steel’ or the ‘Dark Knight’ franchise.
Now, the reason for this is very simple—something inside me is stirred by the theme of using our strength to make the world a better place.
I remember when I first read ‘The Code’, it was Code X that caught my attention: “I will use my strength to protect the weak and stand against the abuse of power”. In fact, this Code has made it into my personal list of values to live by. So, the sixth principle I want to share with you is:
I will use my strength to make the world a better place!
As I have previously shared, I love the fact that Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” For me, this is one of the things that happens when the followers of Jesus use their strength to make the world a better place. We don’t just get to pray these words, we actually get to be the answer to that prayer ourselves. We get to see God’s Kingdom in lots of ways here on earth.
Well, in my humble opinion, every time we choose to do the right thing, even when we are inconvenienced, we make the world a better place. Every time, we use our strength to help those in need, or to stop other people from abusing those in need, we make the world a better place. Every time we tell those around us about the love of God, and we introduce them to Jesus, we make the world a better place.
What would it look like if every morning we were to wake up and the first thing we ask of God is “…how can I use my strength to make the world a better place today”? How different would our lives look? How different would the lives of those around us look?
I know a church leader who every night, before he cleans his teeth, asks God to show him any ways in which he has withheld love from his family. Most of the time he doesn’t need to make amends, but on those occasions that he has withheld love from his family he is able to put it right before going to sleep. His family are a great bunch of people to hang out with and I believe it is because he uses his strength to make the world a better place for them.
In each of the superhero movies that I have watched, whether it be Superman, Batman or Spiderman, the hero is far from perfect, but they all intentionally use their power for the good of others.
If we are followers of Jesus, then we have the life of Christ within us. With that kind of DNA, can you imagine what good we can achieve in this world?
The world needs us to relentlessly pursue God, to read His Word and live it out, to not let sin destroy us, to pray constantly, to live with passion and to use our strength to make the world a better place.
Can you imagine what that will do in this world in which we all live?
Deliberately putting your foot in it… really guilty.
How many times has the guilty verdict been announced by me to me, often! There are some broken eggs I can talk about. In fact some are in the public domain, shared with family and friends. As I reflect on this some of these eggs are gender specific! Usually they are shared with men as observations and warnings regarding certain unhealthy situations. I have tramped over many hills and valleys and learned to be careful about giving advice.
Some of the broken eggs became part of a confessional journey that has led to healing, both for self and for others. I had to recognise that eggs are fragile and contain life. Some remain broken.
There may be less eggs getting broken – age and wisdom help but there are still lots of eggs around. I see in today’s modern society the reinforcement that the individual matters first, and as long as you don’t hurt anyone, everything, within limits, is okay.
Of course breaking eggs gives us food.
How many ways are there to cook an egg?
Jesus took on a group of men with the long term view that they would succeed him in the business of evangelism, building the church and leading the church into the future. Not an easy task considering the new developments that were coming their way. Changes to career prospects, development of new skills, and a certain amount of prospective thinking talking about advances in future theology. A lot to take on board, but given a three year window of opportunity it was within their grasp with huge potential for high levels of achievement. Could it be they were the right men for the job? There must have been sufficient evidence within the interview process (that’s if you can identify the process) to confirm their appointments.
The journey to high level achievement was tough, challenging, at times fearful, at other times miraculous; it was always an adventure. But, and it’s a big BUT, eggs had to be broken. When it was all said and done we find Jesus alone being denied his Kingdomship. He had been deserted by this same group of men. You would think that this was enough for him to walk away. He had done his best, but that is to deny the character of Jesus. He went looking for them, finding them on a boat close to the beach. He had food ready for them when they landed; they had been fishing all night.
There was no hint of condemnation at being deserted. He came to restore and re-validate the relationship with these men, confirming that the future as laid out over the years would be bound up in these, his choice of men. For us this is the lesson: ‘you cannot unbreak an egg.’ Jesus deals in brokenness, Jesus went out of his way to pursue these broken men, he didn’t do the human thing and join the blame game. No, he did the only thing he could do and loved them. You might feel that you are a ‘broken egg’, but you remain a chosen, loved man.
When I was just a boy growing up the Welsh Valleys, me and my mates always loved going out onto the Graig behind our houses. For those of you who have no idea what ‘the graig’ means, it was a piece of common land that went from my village of Aberbargoed across to the next village called New Tredegar. Every summer we would literally leave our homes after breakfast and not get back till the early evening was drawing in. It’s weird but the summers just felt so much better in those 80’s years (Ed – try the 70s).
One of the essential tools that we kept in our pockets was a magnifying glass, it meant that we could burn stuff whenever we wanted. It’s funny but not much has changed over the years, insomuch as every year I smile when I hear the chants of ‘burn him’ at The Gathering. As you can imagine, me and my mates started so many fires I would not be able to number them. Most of these fires we just about managed to contain, but just occasionally we would temporarily lose control and, man, how quickly those fires would gain strength and momentum.
Now, before I go any further please do not view me as a pyromaniac, but as followers of Jesus I believe we need to get much better at starting some fires.
So, in this series of blogs, where I am sharing the ten principles by which I am endeavouring to live, I now come to the fifth principle:
‘I will fan my passion and zeal for the Lord into a wild fire every day!’
As a guy coming from Wales, I find it incredibly easy to get very passionate over so many things. Whenever I talk to Ricky, the CVM guy up in Scotland we always talk about our passion, we joke about the Celtic fire but in reality, there is passion in all of us, no matter where we come from. In many ways, as men, we have lost the ability to focus our passion on the right things and this makes us either very angry or it makes us passive-aggressive. I genuinely believe that God created us in His image and part of that image contains a healthy passion that brings life and goodness not only to ourselves but to those around us too.
I know that when I walk closely with the Lord, my passion and zeal is channelled through the Him and it easily gets fanned into a wild fire. The funny thing about these moments is that I find myself worshipping God more, praying more, laughing with my wife and son more, dreaming more, planning more, doing more and living more.
Because I was created to live a life fully focussed and passionate for my God, and when He sees me living it large for Him, He just heaps blessing and favour into my life and into the lives of those around me.
This really couldn’t be simpler; it’s about an uninhibited relationship between the Father and his children. But we so need to be intentional about enjoying God with everything that we have!
In the New Testament it says: “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you” (Galatians 4:18). In so many ways, we have lost our passion and zeal for the Lord as a nation, but God has never lost His passion and zeal for us. At CVM, we are building a movement of men who are committed to living well and to leading their mates to Jesus. You and I can lead that movement from the front!
But to do this, we need to be more and more intentional. So, ‘I will fan my passion and zeal for the Lord into a wild fire every day!’
Now feels like a good time to open the Bible, blast some worship music from YouTube (other providers are available) and just enjoy being with God.
Whilst having to deal with probate of a deceased friend, I became aware that I had become aware of a lot more deaths recently than I had been for some time. My own recent ill heath reminded me of the possibility that I am only human.
So how do you say ‘Goodbye’?
As I considered this more carefully the word began to take on a more formal aspect. For example, the insurance man completing his business and saying ‘Goodbye’. I’m sure there are other examples where the use of the word Goodbye is part of the informality of business. There is no notion or expectation other than both parties goe their separate ways.
Yet the reality seems to be that we avoid this word, it’s a kind of taboo word; so much easier to say, See you later, Ciao, Cheerio, Bye bye, I’ll ring you, We must share emails and keep in touch, Catch you, Ring me, I will touch base soonest. Why do we do this?
Are we seeking to retain some hopeful link and if so why?
Why is saying Goodbye such a difficult thing to do. Yes of course we see the finality of death when we attend funerals, where there is no hope of ever seeing that person again. It seems that we may wish to cling onto something that is profoundly human, and to say ‘Goodbye’, is such a dramatic cutting off from the last strand that makes us human, life itself. Life itself has a fragility about it because we all live with the conclusion of the truth that we are finite. Goodbye, I am moving away from you, I will not be in touch; I will not be reached by you. Goodbye.
I wonder if Jesus’ humanity stopped him saying, Goodbye. It seems to me that he did everything in his power to avoid saying it. There are enough references to alert us to the fact that he told those around him to wait, he would be back. Maybe, Goodbye, was irrelevant? The offer he was making was for a radically new life and he would confirm this with evidence and proof by returning from death and demolishing Goodbye forever. This changes things, because by not saying a formal ‘Goodbye’, the word itself had lost its meaning. The prospect of being forever separated is lost.
Maybe Jesus really was saying, ‘See you later.’
Of course some situations are too painful for anything other than retaining some prospect of reunion. Hope and faith provide the promise of reunion, unless the words of Jesus have had no impact on life and then Goodbye really does take on finality.
When I’m describing someone, age, height, and colour come to mind then I move onto characteristics, nice smile, sense of humour, shy etc. Sometimes when I have had someone described to me I’m misled when I eventually meet the person, they don’t fit the description, forcing me to make up my own mind and understanding about the individual. I have to do a double take and create my own picture or image of the person.
There are many people who have only seen me in my business mode. Their perception is based on some of the characteristics of who they think I am. As this perception is business related they see professional decision making, honesty, decisiveness, punctuality as well as respect for the work that is being undertaken. Whilst at the Tuesday night five a side football they may see an aggressive, get stuck in footballer; then in the pub later a decent bloke willing to share a joke and buy a pint.
The family on the other hand have their own view.
Its getting near my 70th birthday; looking back takes a bit of time because it’s been a journey with much going on, but I ask myself this question. How much has my character been moulded by the life I’ve lived and by being one of God’s men? I don’t believe that character is gained by lying on a beach in the south of France. It is those things that come at us either by choice ie marriage, birth of children; or forced on me such as illness, marriage breakdown, bankruptcy. Ultimately character is about how we handle these situations. In the marriage vows there is a part that says, ‘For better or for worse.’ Because the wedding day is such a perfect day, full of hope for the future we might assume that only good will happen!. But, when we make that vow do we understand or have any perception what ‘worse’ might mean?
Character is moulded by life’s experience and events, and how we handle them.
My grandfather went to war, he was at the Somme, wounded and gassed, having recovered he returned to the front. As a machine gunner he killed many of the enemy, he was bombed and shot at, he recounted how trench warfare was deadly, kill or be killed – he survived fighting on many fronts throughout the years of the war.. He never talked about the war until the night after my grandmother passed away. He and I sat up and he shared the story of his war. It was horrific, no wonder my grandfather locked it away. I do not believe that he was the man he was meant to be, war changed him. He was a very gentle man, father of five girls, a gardener. I wonder what kind of man he would have been.
It seems to me that Jesus never veered from the character of the man he became. He could be relied on, completely moulded in the image of his Father. I hope that my character is moulded by being Gods man and I am becoming the man he wants me to be.
Since I first committed my life to following Jesus Christ, the one thing I have found most difficult to do is PRAY! Particularly in the early days it just felt like I was doing nothing when I should have been doing something. I can remember the frustration of asking people, much more mature in their faith, for advice and hearing them say “…let’s pray about this!”
“Just give me some advice that I can act on, will you!”
I now know that much of that reaction came from a deep inner belief that I needed to come through on stuff, make life work, sort things out myself. I really believed that this was all part and parcel of what it meant to be a real man.
But solving every issue in life, and constantly being the answer for everyone around me is just an impossibility and I’m sure God wants to keep it that way.
Because the life that God promises us depends on us walking closely with Him. It flourishes when we depend on Him.
So, the fourth rule by which I am endeavouring to live life by is “I will pray as though my life depends on; because in truth it does!”
Just over two years ago I was at an evangelism conference in Aberystwyth and after the conference had finished, I decided to walk along the seafront, essentially to ‘kick the bar’. If you have no idea what I am talking about you can google the tradition of ‘kicking the bar’ in Aberystwyth. Now, I do need to add that Aber, as it is affectionately known, is literally my spiritual home.
Whilst, I was walking along the prom, I felt very strongly that God was saying to me that I needed to bring my family back to Wales for good. This was, in many ways, great news for me but I knew it might not go down too well with my wife. The back-story here is that we have moved around a fair bit, and I had assured Jo that we would stop doing that. So, whilst the idea of moving back to my homeland was great news to me, I didn’t have a scooby how to explain such good news to my wife.
I remember going to the handrail, and looking out over the sea and praying one of the frankest prayers I think I have ever prayed:
“Father, I love the idea of coming back to Wales but if this is something you are telling us to do then you need to tell Jo—because I am not telling her, AMEN!”
I literally left it there, and I didn’t breathe a word to Jo about that particular revelation.
The following summer, almost by chance, I was back in Aber with the family. Once again, we were walking along the seafront when Jo suddenly said ‘I think we should move back to Wales’. It was literally in the same spot that God had said it to me all those months before and where I had prayed (as if my life depended on it) that God would reveal His plan to my wife.
For the record, we now live back in Wales, in North Wales, and daily we see why God wanted us to come back.
Now I know that had I tried to start that conversation, Jo would not have understood. It would have caused stress in the family and everyone would have felt unsettled. But God had to reveal the plan to us both, in the way that He did. You see, it would not be long before we would begin to see life getting tougher and tougher for us in Cheshire. If we had not been cultivating a life of prayer, as a family, the events that happened to us would only have confused us and possibly taken us out, at least for a while.
Instead, as our life in Cheshire started to unravel, we had confidence that everything was OK, and we ultimately had nothing to worry about because God had a different plan for our future. A plan that no longer involved Cheshire!
There are so many other situations where life and stuff has come at us from left field, but we have had the ability to maintain confidence in God’s planning because we pray!
I know that I cannot solve all of my family’s life issues, but as they used to say in the AA adverts ‘I know a man who can’! Praying as if my life depends on it means that my ability to remain calm under pressure and to think much more clearly is massively enhanced.
So, ‘I will pray as though my life depends on it; because in truth it does!”