We’re all prone to wandering from God. It’s not for no reason that Isaiah describes us as being ‘like sheep who have gone astray’. Sure, sometimes our relationship with God is fresh and fervent. But if we’re honest, it’s not always like that. Complacency can so easily set into our lives. We get distracted from what really matters. Priorities change as life progresses. Sometimes, the very breakthroughs we believed for become the blockage to our faith in Jesus. Ironic indeed.
The tendency to go our own way is exactly the issue with the prodigal son in the third of three stories Jesus tells in Luke 15. Yet what makes this tale different from the previous two parables is the extent of God’s love for people. For example, in the story of the lost coin, the woman searched and found it. Then in the story of the lost sheep, the shepherd went looking and recovered it. But in the story of the rebellious son, the father let his child go. This was an act of profound love on the Father’s part. After all, true love is unforced. Yet the father waited…day after day…month after month…year after year. The story teaches us that distance cannot limit the scope of God’s grace. The Father wouldn’t stop waiting. Why? Because he believed his son would one day come home. He had a conviction that the prodigal would eventually ‘come to his senses’ and be drawn back. That’s exactly what happened. The son’s return was met with underserved forgiveness and unmerited favour. That’s grace. Breathtakingly generous.
Salvation is 100% the work of God. It has nothing whatsoever to do with human achievement. We cannot earn a place at the Father’s table. Any hint of ‘merit’ indicates the existence of religion rather than authentic relationship. The only reason we can approach God is because HE has drawn us. His grace has made a way. He has been waiting for us. The story is not about prodigal rebellion. It’s all the Father heart of God.
In my own walk with God, I have found that I am not merely drawn to God once…but over and over again. His heart of love is what does it. How can I resist such utterly astonishing grace? It never fails to amaze me how much God loves his people. When the Holy Spirit tugs on your heart, don’t resist. Allow him to lead you to the place where you belong.
Have you noticed that the fear industry is booming at the moment? These are good days for things like suspicion, cynicism and gloom. They prey on people’s worst instincts, creating an atmosphere that is thick with the toxicity of distrust. It’s contagion blows into key aspects of society including politics, media and education, and it spreads confusion over a hurting nation. Church is not exempt from it. If you are the type of person whose disposition leans more towards negativism, then the sinister climate that hangs overhead will simply encourage unbelief.
Personally though, I’m resisting it. In fact, I find myself battling to protect against a pessimistic default. It could be the easiest thing for me to slip into a downward spiral of doom and despair. That’s why I choose my friends very carefully. It is never helpful to keep company with a vibe that panders to the prevailing culture and rolls with it’s hateful jibes. Better to acquaint with faith than fear.
Fear feeds negative culture and starves faith of it’s vitality. Religion loves fear because it provides an opportunity to manipulate and control people. That’s why Jesus reserved his most ferocious words for the religious establishment of his day. They thrived off the power that fear afforded them, playing on people’s anxieties with subtle yet brutal precision. The Pharisees hatred of Jesus was venomous because Jesus exposed their hypocritical legalism and preached a message of freedom instead. His word hasn’t changed. But neither has the spirit of religion.
When we understand the difference between religion and relationship, it changes everything. One controls you. The other empowers you. One holds you back. The other releases you into your God given potential. One leads to hate while the other to love. Interestingly, Jesus was never into religion. His message was totally relational. He came to set us free from the grip of fear, and into the loving embrace of God’s amazing grace.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul says ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear’ (2 Timothy 1:7). This verse is a massive statement. It tells us something about the culture that God wants us to carry in our everyday lives, and which changes the atmosphere around us. It is FearLESS, not fearful. It is FaithFUL, not faithless. The threat of fear can only be expelled by the power of love. That’s why the bible teaches us that ‘love drives out fear‘ (1 John 4:18).
There used to be a TV show called the Muppets. One of the puppet acts featured was a couple of old curmudgeons who were theatre critics. They were constantly carping and sniping at every performance they watched and they could never bring themselves to say anything kind about acts other than their own.
Sometimes, the Christian world can seem a bit like those two old disapproving muppets. Instead of modelling a generous and grace-filled culture which celebrates others, it often feels pretty cold and mean spirited. All the ‘expressions of unity’ in the world are nothing compared to the uncomplicated simplicity of warm encouragement and genuine appreciation. It’s not rocket science. But it really matters.
One of the biggest challenges facing Christianity in the UK is largely unobserved in its own ranks. Its called CYNICISM. This is a habitual way of thinking which is far more comfortable criticising than celebrating. I’m not sure it’s fair to say this is a distinctly British problem, but it is undoubtedly an issue for the wider Church in our nation. It doesn’t take long to pick up on its vibe in conversations and social media interactions.
Cynicism is usually wrapped up in the language of pseudo intellectualism and illusions of spiritual superiority. It is contemptuous of anything it perceives as different. But the tell tale sign of it’s lurking presence is the constant negativism which lies at its core. It much prefers to find fault than search for what is good. This ultimately leads to a sense of pessimism which contaminates local church life and is a killer of faith. What then follows is a downward spiral of doom, gloom, insecurity and eventually, the self fulfilment of its own fears. This is one of the major reasons why so many churches are dying a slow and ungracious death. The toxicity of cynicism is a contagion which smothers life. Leaders would do well to be alert to its subtle danger.
Whatever you do, don’t be a church cynic!! Check your heart to see if it has found a home in your life. If the very reading of this blog post stirs a reaction in you which is resentful and irritable, then this is a good thing. You’ve just been alerted to the existence of cynicism in your life.
The Church should be the very antithesis of worldly culture. Instead of accusatory and disapproving sentiments, the vibe of every local church should be positive, warm and encouraging. This is the shock to the system that is so desperately needed today. Merely talking about ‘love’ is as meaningless as explaining that water is wet. It needs to be articulated in a way that is real and authentic. Cynicism is no friend of true love. Thats why the alternative needs to be experienced. More than ever, people need to see what real love looks like. It is everything which cynicism is not. Here’s a good prayer to pray: “Lord, help me live your message. Amen”
Sometimes, it feels like the world is becoming increasingly judgmental and disinterested in understanding. When an accusatory culture rules the day, it creates a toxic environment where negativity and division flourishes. No doubt the thoughtless (and even abusive) use of social media has largely contributed to this vibe.
Yet in the midst of all the craziness, there are people – real people. No, not the caricatured stereotypes labelled by dogmatic idealism. Just down to earth, everyday people, each with their own story to tell. Truth is, everybody has one. But who will listen?
Some are able to articulate their stories better than others. But it’s our story that has led each of us to the point where we currently find ourselves in life. Our upbringing. Our circumstances. Our flaws. Our mistakes. Our joys. Our sorrows. Our disappointments. Our successes. The list goes on. These all form part of our story.
If only we took the time to listen a little more instead of throwing accusations. If only we sought to understand the experiences of others instead of judging them. If only we tried a little harder to see beyond the narrow idealistic argument to the grit of a path which has been walked before. Then maybe, just maybe, we’d measure our words more carefully and extend a little more grace. We all need it.
One of the greatest contributions each of us can make in our world today is to resist the pressure of merely running to the beat of the crowd. History teaches us how catastrophically dangerous this is. In a world of confused noise, wise people take time to think for themselves. One of the most helpful ways we can do this is to exercise the gift of listening. No-matter how much we feel we know, all of us have much to learn.
Above all other voices, what about the one that matters most? Who will believe his report? When God speaks, it’s usually quiet and still. It takes discipline and reflection to discern his wisdom, especially in the midst of a thunderously rowdy world. Yet his word is the one that is eternal consequence. Dare to stop. Dare to think. Dare to LISTEN.
At the wedding of Harry & Meghan, something happened which caused quite a stir. A bishop by the name of Michael Curry preached a brilliant sermon which had some real conviction & passion. These are things you don’t always find amidst the formal pomp and circumstance of a British royal wedding.
The response to Bishop Curry’s message by the stiff upper lip types was monotonously predictable. There was a great deal of murmuring from those who can’t bring themselves to recognise any different expression of church other than the established one. The BBC commentator patronisingly described Bishop Curry’s sermon as ‘forceful and uplifting‘. Say what?? Mr BBC man was uttering verbal clap trap of the most condescending kind. Honestly….the BBC…bless. Bishop Michael was different…and surely this should be well and truly celebrated?!!! He wasn’t being ‘forceful‘ at all. He simply sounded like a man who believed what he was talking about. That’s a good thing!!!
As I watched Bishop Curry preaching his brilliant message and the awkward reaction afterwards, my mind was drawn back to something that happened when we first planted the Junction Church in Loughborough. I’ll never forget chatting to a brand new Christian who’d been journeying with us. This zealous person had gone into town giving out flyers advertising our new church (something which we had not asked them to do). After receiving lots of positive feedback from passers by, a church minister who happened to walk by (wearing a collar) took one of the flyers and rudely asked what this was all about. As the new Christian naively tried to explain our heart, the minister then proceeded to scrunch up the flyer and grumbled words to the effect ‘we don’t need another church in this town‘ before abruptly walking off. The new Christian could hardly believe what had just happened. Truly shocking stuff…yet that’s just one story!! Surely it would have been far better to just celebrate a different kind of church instead of criticising it?
Anyway…back to Bishop Curry. I loved his sermon. I love it that he was different. I love the fact that he dared to bring some warm passion into a context which can be cold and clinical. This is exactly what the UK Church needs more of. It’s something to be celebrated, not frowned upon. This is a new day and there’s change in the air. A new generation is rising up. It’s time to get with it. God bless Bishop Michael!!
I had to come to terms with a less than ideal situation pretty early on in life. This meant I was fostered from the age of 5 right up until my 18th birthday. So it’s been an interesting journey, complex and way beyond my control.
Thing is, sympathy is not the answer to hardship. Most people hate the idea of others feeling sorry for them. Actually, I’ve discovered for myself that God’s grace not only saves me but empowers my life too. It’s upon this truth where I’ve found true freedom. I’m so glad to be part of the Junction Church community. Here, I found family. Here, I’m safe. Here, I’ve grown and flourished.
In a less than perfect world, God’s grace has made a universe of difference to me. This doesn’t mean I suddenly have answers to all the complicated questions of life. I don’t. We’re all born into a unique set of circumstances. Everyone has struggles. Just because someone else might have been brought up differently to me doesn’t mean they don’t have their share of issues too. These normally just take a different form. That’s why it’s a mistake to measure a person’s inward wellbeing by their outward appearance. The two don’t necessarily equate. No-matter how good somebody’s life may look, the truth is that none of us are perfect.
So whoever you are and whatever you’ve been through, lean into God’s grace. Why? Because none of us are THAT good. But God’s grace really is THAT good. It has saved me. It can save you too. Lean in. Keep trusting. Allow God’s grace to shape your life. This is what will make a difference.
Hello. It’s me, now in your 40’s. I’m a bit older now…but not VERY old…yet. From your present vantage point though, you’ll no doubt reckon this old boy writing to you is ancient. Great thing is, I don’t really care. See, that’s what happens when you put a few years on the clock; you become less concerned about what people think of you. This is mostly a good thing, I think.
Now permit me to indulge in some patronising reflections which I know you’ll read with wry amusement. And by the way, be sure to keep that bizarre humour of yours, no-matter what anybody says. When christians try to turn you into an intense zombie like creature, resist it with every funny bone in your body. I promise, your humour will save your life…literally. Don’t worry if others are bemused by you. That’s ok. As long as you enjoy life, that’s what matters. Though probably best to avoid telling that misplaced joke at the funeral service you’ll take in about eight years from now.
Now then, you’re currently in your 20’s. I reckon this is the most significant decade of your life. The foundations you lay today are a prophecy of your tomorrow. So don’t be in a hurry. Just build slowly & well. And don’t worry if people havn’t recognised your potential. Quietly get on with it. Good things will follow….I promise.
Over the next few years, you’ll hear more and more clap trap about ‘going on a journey to discover who you really are’. I can confirm that your hunch about this is absolutely correct. Yes, it’s all complete and utter tosh. Never EVER try to find yourself. If you do, you’ll end up becoming the sick child of an even sicker society. This is not good. No, don’t ‘find yourself’. Instead, define yourself by your God given convictions. Never compromise on them…not for one moment. Carpe Diem…..seize the day. Cos you’ve only got one shot at this thing. So make it count.
Now Roy, can I please implore you to work a bit harder. I know you could easily get a first in your degree if you’d just put in a tad more effort. Just because you can pick things up quite quickly and remember details doesn’t mean you have an excuse to give as little attention as possible to your subject of choice. Theology matters….even more than music. Yes it does. Your 40 year old self wishes he’d worked a bit harder on this. Don’t be complacent. You’re going to need it because one day, you’ll pioneer a church called the Junction Church. And believe me, if you think the world is messed up now, wait till you see what it looks like in 20 years!!
Right, a quick word about friendships. They’re far more valuable than you currently realise. So cherish them…especially the good ones. In fact, invest in these a lot more. See, what gives quality to life is not money or stuff. It’s the people you do life with. There are many fine acquaintances…but not many great friends. So build great friendships. They’re more important than you presently realise.
Don’t worry about feeling too young to serve God. It won’t be long until you wake up one morning and discover you’re 30. From that point onwards, life becomes a mad race to the finish line (wherever that will be).
Ok, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m closing off now. Can I implore you though, over the next few years, choose your battles well. Some things you’ll be tempted to fight about just aren’t worth it. So channel your passions to what really matters. Live well. Aim for the ‘well done good and faithful servant.’ In the end, this is what matters most.
Be confident, but avoid arrogance. Be wise, but don’t be too cautious. Be passionate, but resist anger. Twenty years from now, ‘brexit’ will happen (no…don’t ask) and the world will become angry to boiling point. It needs a different vibe. The Church has to be a positive force for good, carrying the authentic good news of Jesus Christ. Don’t allow mean spirited Christians and religious politics to make you cynical. The world really needs something radically different. Fight FOR what matters.
Right then, I’m off. Hopefully I’ll be in touch in another 20 years. Until then, keep giving it your best shot. Stay adventurous and love the journey, bumps and all.
p.s. Just a heads up. In a few years from now, you’ll meet a young lady called Lydia. Marry her…no questions asked. She’s definitely the one.
What do traffic lights, doctors surgeries and online deliveries all have in common? They keep you WAITING!! Funny isn’t it. In our insanely fast paced world, we still have to wait for stuff. Even in a restaurant, who are you served by? A waiter. In century 21, good things still take time.
Currently, I’m finding myself in a season of waiting. Personal health challenges have really battered me over the last 6 months. The medical people are still trying to get to grips with what’s going on. The main symptom has been serious fatigue which has resulted in me having to pause a large portion of my life, including postponing my teacher training course.
I’m still serving at church every Sunday. See, being planted in God’s house is a non-negotiable, even in this tough season. For me, it’s all the more important since this is my community which I absolutely love. Yet because my energy levels have been badly depleted, some of my responsibilities are currently on hold. I just thank God for pastors who love me and stick by me no-matter what, behind the scenes where no-one else really gets to see. I can tell you, the Junction Church is seriously blessed with the best of the best.
Yet, for the first time in my previously energetic life, I have found myself in a period of waiting. Waiting for a miracle, waiting for the doctor’s report, waiting for recovery. I didn’t choose this struggle. But this is where I am.
So instead of denying the wait, here are 4 lessons I’m learning to embrace. I hope my reflections help you:
1. Patience is a virtue.
You can’t always do a lot about your circumstances. However, you CAN control your response. Patience is the manifestation of self-control, which is part of the fruit of the Spirit.
2. Prayerfulness needs to be a priority.
In order to manage the tension of waiting, prayer must take a precedence. In periods of waiting, anxiousness can quickly develop. Yet when we pray, we exchange our apprehensions for the peace of God. This is a peace which transcends understanding. It’s a life saver!
3. Perspective is crucial.
What has really helped me develop perspective in my season of waiting has been to focus on God. I remind myself of what God has done, can do and will do. When we focus on Jesus, we recognise that waiting is a season, not a destiny.
4. Pain is part of the process.
The truth is, waiting hurts, especially for a guy like me. It’s frustrating not knowing what’s actually going on with my once fit and healthy body. It’s arduous sleeping 3/4 hours in the day, 10 hours a night, waking up and feeling exhausted. Waiting for your miracle hurts. Yet the pain of the process reminds me I’m alive. Waiting is a refiner of character. No, it’s not pleasant. But it makes us better. Read a great blog about this HERE http://junctionchurch.net/2017/06/07/god-wounds-roy-todd/
Whatever you’re believing for in your life, lets learn the art of patience. God is at work. Have the courage to trust him. We’re gonna get through this. Keep going!!
If you want to live a life that is unfulfilled and ridden with the fray of disappointment, then spend it trying to prove some kind of point. Problem is, no-matter how passionate you are about your ‘point’, somebody somewhere will always be disappointed in you. You’ll eventually find yourself on the receiving end of frustration’s irk. The ‘point’ then becomes obsessive, egocentric and plain downright silly. This is a story which many people have lived.
Here’s some advice. Don’t do what you do because you have something to prove. Do it because you LOVE it. Life is far too short to waste time proving yourself. You will find you’re far more productive when you chill out and start enjoying yourself instead. This isn’t about running aimlessly…but pacing yourself to the rhythm of God’s grace. It’s refreshingly unforced.
A few years ago, I had lunch with Sir William Wright (founder of Wrightbus). I asked him what the secret of his success was. He replied in his typical understated way, ‘I love buses!!‘. Behind the jokey retort was a brilliantly serious reality. This man absolutely loves what he does. Even in his 90’s, he still goes into his office every day to work on new bus designs. The company is one of the most successful in N Ireland.
As a church leader, I determined some time ago that I won’t engage in silly politics. For a start, I’m no good at it. I also can’t bear the sheer tedium of it all. Is my thinking flawed? Probably. But I guess it’s better to be honestly flawed than dishonestly pretentious. Surely it’s better to just quietly get on with it, no fuss? It seems to me that it is, at least, an honourable way to live. I’m simplifying my life so that things I’m no good at don’t veer me away from the simplicity of doing what I love.
How about you? Maybe it’s time to put your ‘point’ away? Live positively. Instead of maligning what you don’t love, model what you do. Give it some time. Eventually, they’ll come knocking on your door asking ‘how do you do that?‘. And when that happens, you’ll find yourself distinctly unimpressed with the question. It’s got nothing to do with techniques or methods – and everything to do with love.
You only have one life. Don’t waste it. It’s God’s gift to you. Live it. Love it. Enjoy it.