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).
The relational dynamic between the Old Testament prophet Elijah and his successor Elisha is always fascinating to observe. Elijah was a charismatic firebrand. His servant Elisha was an introverted thinker. Yet when Elisha knew he had a chance to pursue God’s call on his life, he ran at the opportunity…literally (1 Kings 19:20).
The idea of running denotes determination & commitment. You see, there are some things in life which require us to move fast. The privilege of serving God’s purpose is one of them.
It’s interesting to note that it wasn’t the mentor Elijah who ran after his student Elisha. It had to be the other way around. Elisha refused to rest on his laurels or become complacent with a sense of arrogant entitlement. Complacency is a dreadful hindrance to divine destiny. Elisha certainly couldn’t be accused of being apathetic. No, he ran after the man of God with focussed intent. By honouring the past, he was paving way for the future. This is critically important when it comes to fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives.
There’s a time to wait patiently, but there’s also a time to run vigorously. The latter means taking initiative, embracing inconvenience, committing to the long haul and refusing to be distracted. To the very end, Elisha pursued Elijah, not taking his eyes off the goal. At the moment when Elijah was taken into the presence of God, Elisha carried on the mandate and accomplished even greater things.
So what about you? How much do you want God to use your life? Are you running for it? Really running? There is no need to wait before you serve. No need to pray before you do it either. What God’s Church needs today are people who get on with it, passionate about running to get the prize of the most high call.
The most precious commodity in any relationship is…trust. When it is strong, magnificent feats can be accomplished. When it is weak, suspicion reigns and progress is hindered. The thing is, trust is something that needs to be built with intentionality. Here are five ways to construct it around your life.
This means avoiding gossip, a vice that poses as harmless chatter but is one of the most destructive forces to healthy relationships. It feeds suspicion, encourages fear and stirs distrust. Be assured, whoever gossips to you will also gossip about you. Resist it with all your heart. Choose to believe the best of others, not the worst. Speak life…always. That’s how you build trust (Prov 11:13).
Ambiguity may maintain the status quo for a while. However, it ultimately kills trust. When people don’t know where they really stand, this does nothing for the health and strength of friendships. It’s always better to be graciously honest and vulnerable. Proverbs 23:23 says ‘Buy the truth and do not sell it‘. This is what healthy relationships are built upon.
In a world where so many just seem to easily give up on each other, faithfulness is like pure gold. It’s what builds longevity into relationships, creating trust over the long term and proving commitment through the diverse seasons of life. God values it very highly (Matt 25:23). We should too.
Jesus defined greatness as servanthood (Matt 23:11). This means we don’t ever need position to serve. Nor do we need to be motivated or persuaded by some ulterior motive. Selflessness is one of the most powerful ways to build trust. It serves and serves and serves, without thought for itself. This is what Paul meant when he spoke about ‘honouring others above yourselves‘. (Rom 12:10). It’s the foundation on which trust is established.
How we respond to correction is a statement of our heart. Pride resists it. Humility receives it, even if it’s measure is unpleasant. In the end, a teachable spirit enables trust to be built and love to be established. Everyone has something to learn. Proverbs 29:1 tells us that resistance to reproof is something which breaks trust beyond healing. That’s why it’s wise to receive correction well.
Building trust can’t be rushed. It takes time. But it is totally worth it in the long term.
Developing great people skills is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself & others in your life. When you learn to relate well to people, they’ll always want to be in your company. That’s exactly what happened with Jesus. Thousands flocked to be around him because there was something about this man which made sense. He could converse with anybody…no-matter who they were or where they were from. We could learn a thing or two from him!
Here are 7 things to think about developing so you can excel in the art of conversation (they’re in no particular order)…
1) Seek to understand people
People will forget what you say, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. When they ‘feel’ understood, you create a connection with them that makes it far easier to build a meaningful friendship. It causes conversation to flow much easier.
2) Think ahead
Even before you meet other people, think ahead to the kind of questions you will ask them. It’s the lack of forward thinking that often stunts conversation and makes it difficult to engage with others.
3) Avoid awkwardness
Long silences and uncomfortable body language are all excruciatingly awful. They’re also totally unnecessary. Be open. Be friendly. Smile. Show initiative. Take interest. Ask questions. Think ahead (remember the previous point).
4) Don’t be too Intense
Just because you might see yourself as a ‘deep’ person doesn’t mean everyone else must start there. Gauge where others are at and try to make a connection with them. Intensity which happens too quickly simply exhausts conversation and ultimately makes it unenjoyable. You must work your way there.
5) Respect space
Be alert & sense when you’re invading someone else’s personal space. But be sure not to be too distant either. Conversation is an art that needs strong self awareness and a profound understanding of context. Remember, it’s an art.
6) Be humble
Name dropping and self promotion are deeply unimpressive, especially for high calibre people. Be far more concerned about showing interest in what others do than in mentioning your own achievements. Humility is an underrated characteristic.
7) Stay positive
The best conversations are created by what you’re for, not against. So create good vibes. It’s how you’ll get the best out of others. Negativity & gossip might be great short term tittle tattle, but in the long term they create suspicion & distrust. Set the right tone…and watch what happens.
Conversation is an art which needs to be lovingly crafted. Make it your ambition to get better and better.
Have you ever found yourself feeling lonely and abandoned? If so, well…you’re actually in good company. The bible is full of characters who experienced just that. One of them is the apostle Paul.
Today, Paul is celebrated as a hero of the faith, and rightly so. The former persecutor of Christianity became the man who wrote two thirds of the New Testament. His accomplishments for the cause of Christ are formidable, including pioneering churches all over the then known world and giving intellectual gravitas to theological principles. What a legend.
Yet despite his ‘success’, Paul was a lonely man. He often found himself isolated and misunderstood. For example, his most encouraging friend Barnabas left him in disagreement because of the latter’s cousin John Mark (Acts 15). On another occasion, Paul writes about his dear friend Demus who forsook him in order to pursue a selfish agenda (2 Tim 4:10). These are just two incidents of many.
Paul was clearly hurt by disappointments like this. He was human after all. Yet, there is never any sense of him moping around in self pity. He simply got on with serving God and fulfilling his calling in life, such was the measure of the man. You’d have to wonder if those who deserted Paul might not have done so if only they’d realised the magnitude of Paul’s influence both in time and eternity? Of course, hindsight is helpful…but foresight is far better.
I am personally grateful for the people in my life who’ve stuck by me when others haven’t, especially in times which were challenging and lean. Faithfulness is a virtue that is grossly underrated in 21st Century living. So many people just seem to give up at the first hurdle they encounter. Yet those who remain committed are rare…and more of an inspiration than they can possibly imagine. They know the worst, yet believe the best. They stay the course and live selflessly for God’s purpose.
If you ever feel abandoned and lonely, then resist the temptation to spend too much time feeling sorry for yourself. Throw yourself into the service of God. Turn your pain into purpose. The most fulfilled people are those who live for a cause that is bigger than themselves. Life is too short to be bitter & offended. Make every day count. Remember, what happens today echoes in eternity.
Picture the scene. It’s a balmy Virginia morning in early August – about 9am. The sky is brilliant blue and the sun is shining brightly. My wife and I are still buzzing from the day before when we celebrated the wedding of a beautiful young couple whose lives are bursting with joy and optimism. Now, in the afterglow of such a fabulous occasion, we’re enjoying a quiet breakfast under the shade of an Ash tree at a downtown street cafe. The vibe is peaceful and relaxed. We just sit there for an hour or two, chatting, laughing, drinking coffee, people watching. It’s all good. The name of the town? Charlottesville.
One week later, the heart of Charlottesville is torn apart by the hatred of racism. A mob of white supremacists (mainly transported in from other places) contaminate the atmosphere, turning it nasty and vicious. Destruction and death are the inevitable consequence of its bigoted ideology which is intent on creating division and promoting fear. It is evil, pure and simple. The awful carnage it creates is a wake up call regarding the menace which lurks deep within. Its sinister motivation masquerades as acceptable, empowered by stoking the fires of division. Suddenly, 2017 feels more like 1817. In many ways, these are even more dangerous times. The voices of hatred & fear are growing ever louder, taking advantage of the uncertainty that exists around the world. It’s how evil works.
The very notion that any one race holds superiority over another is not only utterly delusional, but is as contrary to biblical teaching as it is possible to get. Galatians 3:28 clearly states ‘There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus‘. It couldn’t be any clearer. We must never be silent at even the faintest hint of racist thinking. The bible is unambiguous and unequivocal about this. The same should be true for all of us.
My thoughts turn to Britain, the nation I love. We would be wise to reflect on the events of Charlottesville, and understand that the menace of bigotry lurks here too. The UK Church is not exempt from this, subtle though it may be. Instead of paying lip service and engaging in moral protestations which make us feel morally better, it’s far wiser to put Galations 3:28 into practice. Our actions speak far louder than our words. It’s always best to model what is right.
If any community on earth should be showing the way ahead, it’s the Church. We are one in Christ. It is His amazing grace which unites our hearts. There is no place for racism here, subtle or otherwise…ever.
When you read through the Gospels, it’s interesting to note the sadness that Jesus felt at pretentious religiosity. It hurt his heart more than anything else. His strongest words by far were reserved for the Pharisees. He fearlessly challenged their judgmental legalism and the hypocrisy which accompanied it. On the surface, they’d be laying down the law and condemning those who weren’t adhering to it. But behind the scenes, they were excusing and reprieving themselves for breaking it. It was a classic case of ‘do as we say, not as we do‘.
On one occasion, Jesus addressed the elephant in the room and said ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.’ (Matthew 23:27). Wow. Pretty strong stuff…and certainly not RC (religiously correct).
Sadly, there’s a religious spirit that still exists today. It feeds suspicion, instills fear, thrives off gossip and is quick to pronounce judgments. The thing is…we are all susceptible to it, me included. There have been times in my own life when I’ve felt the Holy Spirit tugging on my heart because I’ve veered into territory where he doesn’t want me to wander. Lets face it, none of us are THAT good.
Yet, there’s a strange comfort in self-righteous religiosity. It’s like a prison that makes you feel that God is pleased you are suffering for truth. But this is a false comfort and its thinking is not only flawed, but dangerous. You see, truth is releasing not restricting. Jesus taught us that when we know the truth, ‘the truth shall set you free.’ (John 8:32). Living in unhindered integrity is a beautifully liberating experience.
Of course, truth must always be accompanied by grace. Without the latter, all you get is the harshness of legalism, judgmentalism, condemnation, self-indulgence and the inevitable hypocrisy that goes along with it. However, God’s grace allows us time and space to be honest and vulnerable with ourselves and others. That’s why 1 John 4:18 says ‘love casts out fear‘. It’s not a choice between truth OR grace. It’s both.
It is time to graciously but fearlessly challenge the spirit of religion. It does huge damage to people’s lives and robs so many of the joy of real relationship. The challenge begins in the heart.
Ok, it’s time for me to fess up. When we first planted the Junction Church five years ago, I was a bit bothered that our largest demographic was students. We didn’t plan it this way, it just happened. It’s not that I ever had anything against students either. No, the very opposite actually. I love them. They are the most incredible bunch of people to hang out with. They keep me fresh, laugh at my daft jokes, ask GREAT questions, are loads of fun to be around and I have learned SO much from this generation. But five years ago, I thought we would never establish a decent church with such a high percentage of students. Then I had my epiphany and I suddenly realised…silly me! Students don’t stay students for very long.
Five years later, those very same people are no longer at uni. They’ve graduated. And guess what? Loads of them have made the Junction Church their home. They’ve found a community where they can get planted, grow, develop, inspire others, encourage potential and love people to life. Now they’re the driving force of our church. They serve behind the scenes, lead the teams, are pioneering a new campus and they’re carrying great culture everywhere they go. They are sons and daughters of the house who profoundly understand that good jobs are easy to find but good churches are not.
I think I’ve learned a HUGE lesson in all this. Never underestimate what God can do. Truth is…He’s often doing more behind our backs than in front of your eyes.
In those early days of pioneering the Junction Church, the demographic of our community meant that offerings were pretty meagre. It’s not that there wasn’t generosity. No. It’s just that people genuinely didn’t have much to give, which meant paying bills could be slightly challenging (yup, churches have bills too you know)! Sometimes before a service would begin, I’d nip out and withdraw cash from my own account and then put it into the offering. Afterwards when the team would tell me that we’d had record giving that day, I’d cheekily smile because I knew that I’d put most of it in!! The things you do just to encourage yourself when you’re pioneering a church!! But God constantly challenged us to hold our nerve, to keep showing up, to keep being generous, to love people and serve faithfully. Today, it’s amazing to see the Junction Church in Loughborough and Leicester bursting with life. In many ways, it feels like we’ve just got going. The potential is huge.
We must never underestimate the potential of people’s lives. If you have a bunch of students in your church, invest in them and keep sowing well, especially in times of lack. God has this amazing way of using our feebleness so that his glory can be seen. Remember, today’s seed is tomorrows harvest. Don’t underestimate God. Its amazing what He can do.
There’s a fascinating story in Luke 24 about two men walking along the road to Emmaus (near Jerusalem). The vibe of their conversation was downbeat and melancholic, reeling from the bitter disappointment of Jesus death a few days earlier. Their hopes had been dashed since the one in whom they’d rooted their trust was no longer with them. Devastating stuff.
Meanwhile, a third man who joined them on the journey seemed strangely oblivious to recent events. As they offered him explanation regarding the tragedy of what had just occurred, they were so lost in the fog of confused perspective that they failed to recognise the identity of the person in their company. It was Jesus himself….right there with them, listening to them, walking with them through their pain.
The two men on the road to Emmaus are like a lot of people today…living on the right side of the resurrection but settling on the wrong side of a revelation. Sometimes, our ponderings and wonderings can be so slanted by the bias of our own subjectivity that we completely miss the reality of what God has actually accomplished. Little did the two men know that while they were wallowing in pitiful dispair, Jesus had just been through hell for them…literally. You see, there’s always more going on than meets the eye.
Disappointment happens to all of us. However, it’s always a mistake to camp in the valley of hurt. God intends for us to pass through it, not live there. Making pain our identity is merely surrendering to earth’s facts without submitting to heaven’s truth. As followers of Jesus, we are to keep trusting through the challenges of our pilgrimage. God doesn’t always owe us explanations for the more challenging paths we tread. Wise people settle this in their hearts…and dare to keep following.
When your heart feels conflicted by hurt, be kind to yourself and avoid the pitfalls of unnecessary guilt and overanalyses. Sure, it’s good to reflect. However, allow your reflection to be shaped by revelation, the reality of a God who has experienced his own wounds, who feels your pain and whose heart toward you is pure and unadulterated. When you know deep down that you are deeply loved, there’s powerful healing in this truth that can overcome any hurt. Surely this explains Isaiah 53:5… ‘by his wounds, we are healed.‘