Grandpa was a gardener; in fact he was a great gardener. He
worked for the Laird up at the big house in Clackmannanshire, Scotland. It
became his occupation. He took up the job as a gardener when he came home from
the ‘great war’. He eventually became the head gardener so he must have been
good. His garden at home was as beautiful as the garden he was paid to look
after – he was more than the sum of the parts. He understood what he was doing and
gained great results. It was his vocation. Being a soldier was not his
Mum and dad were great gardeners, my sister and brother in law
have a great garden, and friends have great gardens…
But I am not a gardener!
There is a kind of certain despair that comes across the faces
of my friends when I talk about gardening because they know I am talking
eloquent rubbish and I don’t really have a clue. They are very kind and listen to
me with a sympathetic ear (or smirk behind their hands, this being more often
the case). Occasionally I get something right and this can raise a small cheer.
Over the years I have spent lots of money buying plants and herbs. Recently I
went to a specialist rose centre to buy some ‘bare root roses’ (?). When asked
by the assistant what kind of roses I wanted my mind went blank and I blurted
out coloured ones! The assistant then opened up a one sided dialogue all about
roses, I was rooted (no excuses for the pun) to the spot trying my best to show
I was taking in all this information and then she suddenly said, ‘I hope that
helps?’ I replied, ‘Tall roses please!’. What a dunce! I am not a gardener.
So I have two strategies.
Strategy 1: When I plant (bury) something in the ground, for
example a tall yellow flower, I pray over it just in case I am performing a
funeral service! If it survives then I realise that I have indeed picked up the
gardening genes from my grandpa.
Strategy 2: The right to life, enjoy a wilderness garden where
nature takes its course, only be brutal to the grassed area and cut it when
needed. No burial services! So from being made in God’s image, the great
gardener Himself, I don’t think I was vocationally around when the garden gene
And gardens appear so often in the bible; the Garden of Eden, The
garden in Song of Solomon, Garden of Gethsemane, and Mount of Olives. There are
Cedars of Lebanon being harvested, Hyssop, Cinnamon, and Myrrh and many more references.
Planting is everywhere in the bible,
plant vineyards’, ‘I built gardens and parks.’, and ‘You will be like a
well-watered garden. ’, ‘Those who work the land….’.
It is strange is it not with so many references to God’s
perfect creation, gardens, plants, seeds and tree’s that Jesus didn’t say ‘I
will make you a gardener of men.’
He did however say, “I
will make you fishers of men”.
I don’t dislike gardening, it’s the death toll that worries me; but, I do like being a fisherman. I can do that.
There is very much a pioneering dynamic to the work of CVM Cymru. We are a small ministry here in Wales, and much of what needs to be done right now is simply raising awareness of the need for men’s outreach ministry amongst local churches. Sometimes we find ourselves falling into the trap of thinking that this is all about the next meeting, the next presentation, and even the next event.
We certainly do need all the above, after all even with us men it is fundamentally about building relationships, trust and working together. But, reaching the men of our nation can never be reduced to a numbers game—we will never win the nation for Christ simply by having enough meetings with church leaders, or presenting a plan to as many Christian men as we can. I am also pretty sure that, as important as curry is for our health, we can never organise enough curry nights to propel us into national revival.
When I first joined CVM, I was really struck by the following statistic: on average it will take five years for a man to come to faith in Christ (from the first time he hears about Jesus). In that five-year period, he will need to encounter the Gospel at least thirty times and eighty percent of men who go on this journey are introduced to it by a mate.
What struck me was that we were statistically proving the validity of Matthew 28:19-20
‘Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
We win our mates for Jesus by hanging out with them, journeying with them, sharing Jesus whenever and wherever we can. This is all about relationship. It is all about sacrificing our time to see our mates come to know our Captain, Brother, Rescuer & Friend!
Five years always feels like a long time to me. What will I be saying if over the next five years I see my mates all gradually coming to faith, and leading their mates along the same journey? The truth is, we will generally reproduce in others only what we are ourselves. If we want to build a movement of men, across this nation, who are all committed to introducing their mates to Jesus—have a guess where that movement will start?
Who is the only person who can start that movement in your world?
As I am writing this blog, I have recently been re-reading ‘The Code’ and this morning I tweeted the following (@WelshCVMbloke):
‘In following Jesus, we join a movement of optimism, hope & a sense of heaven on our shoulders. We are not moaners, sulkers, or cynics, because we know what we have been saved from. Our lives are characterized by a continual flow of grace toward others because of the grace we know’
If you have read ‘The Code’ you will recognise these words. My challenge to us all, and most importantly to myself, is this: do whatever it takes to rediscover the wonder of what Jesus has done for you. Live for it with a passion that is relentlessly unquenchable, get involved with a local men’s outreach group (start one if you have to) and let’s build a movement of men, across this nation, who are all committed to leading their mates to Jesus.
Don’t wait to do this, start where you are and let God’s grace flow from your life simply because you know what is like to receive that grace first-hand.
I’m a quarter Scottish. You never know, in these days of Brexit uncertainty, and political absurdity, that might come in useful. I remember going to visit my grandparents in Aberdeen as a child, and seeing in their hallway the Scott clan crest with the clan motto ‘Amo’ (Latin for ‘I love’). At the time, even before I’d seen Braveheart, I was a bit disappointed that the motto wasn’t something rather more adventurous (though reading about the Scott clan on Wikipedia now, their history is far from peaceful). As I got older though, and as I came to know Jesus personally, the motto of my clan meant (and means) a lot to me.
Years ago I did a training course at work where we were thinking about our purpose, and as I reflected on what this purpose was, ‘I love’ was the thing that popped into my head. I can’t remember what I did next with that thought during the training. However I can see now that I have found that purpose that I was being encouraged to look for, in my role as a manager. A couple of weeks ago I was at another training course, this time about how to give feedback as managers. One of the things that was said was about loving our teams, not in an HR-alarm-raising kind of way, but in the sense of really caring deeply about your team members. I would certainly say that I love my team in that way; the thing that motivates me most about my work is seeing my team develop, seeing them accomplish things, and growing in the process.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with my team for a number of years, and in that time I’ve seen them become parents, I’ve seen them get promoted as they’ve grown and succeeded in their roles. There have been challenging times too, as they have worked on difficult and stressful projects, and had the disappointment of missing out on promotions. I would like to think that I have supported them through those situations, and been a help to them when things have been tough. I can certainly think of many times when my managers have clearly shown (often in very different ways) that they care for me, and the impact that that has had on me. I think that in work environments full of deadlines, stresses, and pressures, ‘I love’ should be the motto of all managers.
I know a man who jumped
into a raging river torrent. The river was raging over the waterfall and there
was someone in the water being dragged into its undercurrent. This man didn’t
stop to have a conversation with anyone about what to do. He didn’t ask himself
or others for that matter, about courage. He didn’t stop to consider what a
hero looked like. He just reacted to a very tough situation and without thought
plunged into the turmoil. As a result someone’s life was saved.
When I went scuba diving
on a regular basis with the diving club I knew that there were strict
guidelines to follow to be a safe diver. Consequently, I also know that it only
takes a minute or so for someone who is panicking to drown. I was taught that
if you had to rescue someone who was panicking and thought they were going to
drown to approach them very carefully and with caution, they will grab you and
use you to hold onto in an attempt to save themselves, and you might end up
being the victim. Better to wait until they were ‘half drowned’, whatever that
So jumping into a winter
torrent and saving someone is a very brave thing to do.
Yes, it was brave, yes, it
took courage, yes, it saved a life and yes it made someone a hero.
England manager Gareth
Southgate praised the “courage” of his side after they beat Spain to
claim their first Uefa Nations League victory.
Southgate said his side
“showed quality” and were “brave”.
I wonder what Southgate
meant when he used the words, ‘courage’ and ‘brave’. Did he mean a type of
bravery or courage; perhaps he meant fearlessness or nerveless? Sport so often delivers
commentary that provides us with heroic statements, ‘His save was just heroic.’
‘He is the hero of the hour.’ In society
we have public bodies that have taken the word ‘hero’ and given it new status.
‘Help for Hero’s.’
I am often left wondering
what constitutes a heroic act, what does take courage? I don’t want to mix up the regular societal
use of the word courage, which could now mean anything, with those who run to
danger as a duty then go beyond that duty as an act of courage.
Think of the police at
Borough Market, fire fighters at Grenfell Tower, citizens who put their lives
at risk and died doing so on London Bridge; those who lost their lives because
of the courage they have shown; are these not the acts of courageous people, do
they not become our hero’s?
Certainly for the members
of their families who have had to confront their own fears at what a loved one
has done in saving or attempting to save lives, these acts may seem foolish. But,
are undeniable courageous.
To some the word ‘hero’ is
the only word to use, in its truest sense and meaning. Recent press coverage
announced the award of medals to those who displayed courage when getting involved
at Borough Market in London. Some motivated by duty had to confront their worst
fears, but still they responded. For one person instinct took over and they
went to help and paid the ultimate penalty. Yes, awards for courage were
rightly presented; to one family a posthumous award for their son’s selfless
I can’t recall, which
might well be because it hasn’t happened, when a footballer or sportsperson received
a medal for courage, or heroism.
Not every person in the
armed forces is a hero. This doesn’t stop the word being ascribed to them
because they wear the Queens uniform and take the Queens shilling.
My friend David has Daniel
(as in the Bible Daniel) as his hero.
My own hero is Jesus; because he became a human being, to be just like me when, he didn’t have to, so he knows how I feel today. His story is written on his hands and feet and on his side. It’s a real story worth reading. Jesus’ heroism needs careful thought and scrutiny.
Recently at Stanstead airport I was waiting for a plane,
something lots of us have done. I could smell wafts of pasties loaded full of
cheese and ham being consumed, litres of coffee and coke, full fat being
chugged. To my right-hand side I could see a group of people on their third
pint and finishing off with a cheeky glass of prosecco. All normal stuff.
To get to this place I walked through the brightest tunnel
of lights ever, illuminating seemingly endless shelves of perfumes and make up
with fellas frantically spraying themselves with 8 to 10 shots of the latest
must have scent.
Ok, so all of this is normal, but here’s the deal, it was
6am and I realised I was in ‘that place’. An in-between world where time and
normal life seems to be in transition. Like stepping into an old wardrobe that
was about to release me into a dream world. I was in between two moments. To explain this
let me impress you with my extensive vocabulary, I learnt a posh word for this
recently, to be honest I heard it in conversation and had to Google it.
The word is: Liminal.
A liminal space, as far as I can understand is that moment
where, for example, as you walk through the threshold of a door, you are
neither in the room you once where or in the room you are heading for, you are
in a liminal space. Basically you are in the middle.
Now, I don’t want this to be fatalistic, (look at me,
another big word) where I talk about how we are just passing through life on
earth and we are not yet at our final location, and in some way present the
current moment as irrelevant. That’s not what I want to do.
What I do want to do is perhaps take us to that incredible
moment instead in Dead Poet’s Society, you know the one! ‘Carpe Diem boys,
seize the day!’
Here’s the deal, a liminal space invites you to make a
choice, keep going forward and into the places and moments you need to or go
backwards and retreat. There is no place for a man in the door way of
liminality, indecision and hesitation. Go through or go back.
In my life I have realised that we get a load of these
liminal moments, decisions and choices. Should I say sorry or not, should I buy
that or not, should I marry or not, should I trust her or not…the list goes on.
As I sat there at the airport I realised that I was not in a
liminal space with how I thought about Jesus.
I had heard all about him, read about him in the bible and
gathered the intel needed to get me to that door threshold. He was an
incredible teacher, wise man and the most compassionate, loving person humanity
has ever seen. At the threshold I was faced with some more information, the
bible says that Jesus is God’s son, and Jesus lived a perfect life, died a
criminals brutal death and rose again to life after 3 days. The bible tells me
that Jesus accomplished that to make a way for me, a sinful fella to be
forgiven, have a relationship with God now and when I die, to share eternity
OK, now I am well and truly on that door threshold. That is
a lot of information to take in, should I turn back from the threshold? It’s
ultimately my choice and there is no one pushing me through. So I stepped
I don’t have all my answers, far from it. I have discovered that following Jesus has cost me everything, but I know now that this was the best decision of my life. I couldn’t stay at the threshold, the in-between place, I had to make a choice. And so do you.
There was silence around
the table and the silence was eloquent!
Top chefs cooking in the
competition for the BBC programme ‘MasterChef’.
Women and men at the top
of their profession, Michelin starred, restaurant owners from high end eateries
providing some of the best food prepared with the best ingredients.
One chef, in turn
presenting their dish before the judges and their peers; asked his peers,
“What do you think?”
There was silence around
the table. The silence was eloquent!
The judges disliked it;
messy, overdone, underdone, tasteless, not seasoned, not what we expect from
this chef, he has cocked up there!
His peers, professional,
the best there can be… ‘Mmmm, it looks good’ – cut away to another scene. There
is no more commentary.
I wonder how the chef
felt. Did he just put too much into it, forgetting to taste his own food, was
he concentrating in the wrong place and had victory in sight? One thing I am
sure of, that when it came to the tasting and judging, the silence was
This was condemnation of
the chef’s ability, the concern not to criticise a fellow professional who had
made a mistake. The silence was eloquent; he didn’t need more than the silence
to be made aware something was just not right, his face gave the game away. He
Jesus, in front of Pilate facing
a life and death situation was challenged by a question, “What is truth?”
The man Jesus, who
preached truth, was being confronted with the question he himself owned. “I came into this world to testify to the
truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” John 18:37-38 NIV
Pilate finding nothing
wrong with Jesus or his comments, but questioning ‘what is truth’, moved on
from this question; Pilate would continue to look after his own interest. He
offered the crowd Jesus freedom. But unlike the chefs who responded with
silence there was a profound roar from the crowd who wanted Jesus condemned and
another man freed, “NO not him (Jesus)
give us Barabbas!” So Pilate gave up Jesus up to the crowd. Truth was not
The Old Testament book of
Ecclesiastes reminds us
“A time to be silent and a time to speak.” Ecc:3:7 NIV
Jesus was plied with many
questions, but he kept his silence whilst those around vehemently condemned
There are different types
of silence and many that have a purpose. Jesus was not going to pander to
ranting crowds, or officials, or those in power who were not prepared to
sacrifice their position. Jesus didn’t take the easy way out; his silence was
not the eloquence of disappointment. It was the silence of the way to the
cross. His silence to those around him was the flame that fed their fire; his silence
was their reproach; “A time to be silent
and a time to speak.”
We have a new place of
silence, given as a gift of God, it may not be the conventional silence but it
is a gift;
“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 NIV
Two final thoughts:
Did the chef go off and
reflect on why his peers were so silenced by his cooking?
Did Jesus become silent – to be still and know God?
Have you ever been misunderstood? You’ve said something, put
something out there on the socials, had a go at raising your voice and sharing
something of you but you’ve been misunderstood? A moment when you found the
courage to share something, to throw out an idea or a sentiment, or even more
maybe to share an idea original to you but you ended up being character
assassinated and taken down.
Have you felt that?
Maybe you’ve discovered a lie about you that’s gone arounds
your mates, family or at work. Social media warriors have latched on to the lie
and taken it out into the cloud and back again, but it was a lie, not even a
shred of truth.
Have you felt that?
How about a great mate who you’ve trusted with something you
love, a precious secret or item that means so much to you. Then you discover
the depth of their betrayal, the thing you loved so much just thrown away,
discarded or mistreated.
Have you felt that?
Have you been in town or on the bus and without warning,
without reason or logic you get a slap or a kick from someone focused on doing
you some physical harm? It stings your logic processors as you try and quickly
work out what is going, how should I react and who even is this?
Have you felt that?
Perhaps now with the rise of social media and our inability
at times to unplug from its tentacles, you’ve known the mocking voice of
gossip. You know people are talking about you and sharing their disappointment,
or just plain maliciousness vented at you.
Have you felt that?
When experiencing some of these and others, and I heard a
voice reply to my inner questioning. That voice was Jesus’ saying this:
Yeah. I know
He knows the crushing weight of being misunderstood and the bitterness
of lies being told about him. He knows the moments when friends have failed him
and left him at his most crucial moments in life. He knows physical pain from assault and
attack, crushing injustice. He knows the hurt from gossiping about him, people’s
agendas of hate and envy. He knows.
Jesus isn’t a statue or lifeless effigy in your nans house. He is alive and lived the same life we are living now. He understands and knows the reality. You can trust him.
The health benefits of running to work for 20 minutes through Central London are probably mixed at best. Whilst on the positive side I’m getting exercise, but I’m pretty sure that the fumes from the traffic and air-conditioning outlets are not working wonders for my lungs. Still, it is much much much nicer than being squished on the Central Line, and a pair of trainers a year works out a lot cheaper than taking the Tube twice a day.
Running through Central London, something that strikes me is the number of people sleeping rough and living on the streets. Numbers have definitely increased over recent years. Being a chicken, and someone who will happily avoid awkward situations, it’s all too easy to run past people who are asking for money. I feel challenged by this every day, and I feel even more challenged having just written about the money that I save each year by not taking the Tube. What exactly am I doing with that money…?
It’s very clear what God’s attitude is towards the poor, and the response He expects from those who do have something to give. God says in Deuteronomy 15:11, ‘There will always be poor people in the land’, and sadly, however many years after those words were said, we can see that they are still true. Straight after those words though, God commands us ‘to be open-handed towards your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land’. Doing nothing isn’t an option: ‘Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses’ (Proverbs 28:27 (my italics)).
What should our response be then? If we see someone asking for food, should we always give them something? I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this, but one small thing that I try and do each week is to buy a copy of the Big Issue. The Big Issue’s motto/mission statement is ‘a hand up, not a hand out’, and when you read the story from a vendor at the end of each magazine you see the impact of that mission. For just 10p more than the price of a single journey on the Tube, the Big Issue helps me to do something practical and positive to help someone. It’s certainly not the only response I should be having to the homelessness I see every day, but it’s a start.
Guilt: a word that may or
may not figure too much in your thinking.
‘An awareness of having done wrong or committed a crime, accompanied by feelings of shame and regret’ (Thanks to Encarta Dictionary: UK)
When we think of guilt we may
think of law courts. Recently a fire officer, distraught and devastated at not
rescuing those trapped in a burning building, used the word ‘guilt’. He ‘felt
guilty’. It is possible to feel guilty
for a number of reasons, as guilt carries with it a set of feelings that are
associated with shame, regret, sorrow, pain and injury.
There are a small minority
of people who commit acts and they have no remorse, no feelings of wrong and have
no regret. I wonder if with the decision to condemn Jesus to death Pilate had
any remorse, regrets; or even negative thoughts?
Many of us will be
familiar with the word, Sin. A very powerful word. I’m not going to try and explain it, look it
up and fix it in your mind, When I became a Christian the word sin came into my
vocabulary, until then the word was a religious word and meant nothing to me.
But guilt was a friend that I knew, it revealed itself when I did something
that was wrong or felt wrong; like nicking a mars bar from the sweetie shop!
Yes, I confess and live in hope that the police have lost the trail… But I
couldn’t say I was committing a sin, I just felt guilty. And I think that this
is the point, guilt brings out feelings. Guilt and feelings are bedfellows. In
my history of being aware of right and wrong there is buried from sight those
moments when, (and only if I dare to look) there are still feelings attached to
things that I have done that make me feel guilty.
No I didn’t murder anyone,
become a slave trader, smuggle drugs or any other major crime. I know there are
people who do these things and worse. And there are those who having met with
the saving power of Jesus and having renounced act’s that generate the bedfellows
of guilt and feelings, still feel the shadow of guilt.
For some reason guilt
continues to be a shadow from the past even though I am forgiven and have been
born again through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I am a new creation.
The shadow persists and when it reveals itself it can remind me that I am
If you have a shadow from
the past that brings on feelings of guilt I believe I have the answer. Well not
literally me; as you might expect when we turn to Gods word He has the answer, the
antidote to cure the shadow that rears its head and plagues us, the shadow of
In the bible the book
called Psalms, Chapter 32 second part of verse 5 we read this:
“I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord – and
you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
Wow! That’s just the best
good news; ‘You forgive the guilt of my
sin.’ I don’t need to carry the shadow of feeling guilty. So not only do I
know the love of Jesus and his salvation, Jesus forgives the guilt of my sin.
The burden has been lifted.
No matter whether it’s caused by a stolen mars bar or something much more horrendous, the guilt I felt and its associated feelings have been forgiven. It’s a great verse; ‘You forgave the guilt of my sin.’ Thank you Jesus.
As part of my morning walk with God I
listen to the bible and some worship to help me start the day and focus things.
At the end of my walk I head over to Spotify and listen to some Rend Collective
Songs. One in particular recently has been on repeat, big time! It’s called; Undignified.
Here are some of the lyrics to give
you an idea:
I am dancing as David danced In the thrill of a wild romance I’m in love, and I’m not ashamed Love’s a fire that won’t be tamed Oh, my soul, was not born to be caged
OK, let’s step back a moment and get
some context. You can read about this moment in 2 Samuel 6:14-23. ‘And David
danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen
Why? What was going on? Well David and
his people were bringing the ark of the Lord back into their community as God
had instructed them to. As the ark was moving forward David was in front of it
dancing with everything he had, I liked that.
David was caught up in the thrill of a
wild romance, he was unashamed of his love and passion to worship God. This is
powerful and I personally felt that for me, I needed to unlock this level in my
own faith walk with God.
But, here’s the rub with this one,
just a few months before, David and the boys tried moving the ark, but it hit a
rut in the path started to fall and a lad called Uzzah reached out to steady
the ark from failing. In this moment Uzzah was struck dead instantly. Now, we
are not doing a theological essay here but, we can summarise that this was a
bad move and the ark was something so connected to God that no human hand could
survive touching it/his presence. It was a big deal.
David was angry about this, angry with
God. The progress of the ark was halted because it splintered the relationship
for a time while David went away and processed it.
The point I am trying to make is that David
went from angry and upset with God to uncontrollable joy in the presence of
God, he gave God the full spectrum of his life and emotion. It is ok to go to
God with your anger, even if it is about him and something in your relationship
with him. It might feel irreverent, but I actually don’t think it is. Can Jesus
take your anger at him? Frustration at him when you feel let down, hurt or that
life is just so brutally unfair? Yes he can take it. What you discover is as
you take this raw emotion at the end of both scales, anger and joy, to Jesus he
transforms you. Works it through, deals with it and helps you deal with it.
The song goes on to say, ‘my soul was
not born to be caged’. These emotions, moments and the ‘stuff’ we go through in
life can cage us spiritually and perhaps this is one of the rarest things about
the life of David in the bible. A man who tasted victory and defeat both
personally and professionally, but he knew how to be real in his walk and
relationship with God.