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Thursday, 28 November 2013

License to sin

What is freedom in Christ all about?

I was discussing with a friend recently, the train of thought which states that surely if we have freedom in Christ, we basically have this 'license to sin' because we'll be forgiven anyway?

I'd love to know your views on this discussion because these are just my thoughts... dialogue is much better than one persons thoughts. So leave a comment and start a discussion.

Thought process... "I really want to... and sure I'm a slave to my human nature... so I'll do it and then apologise... and it'll be fine"!?

Romans 6 answers this very definitely for us..."What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey - whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed you allegiance. you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."

I think there is a common misconception that once we decide to follow Christ, He will just forgive us of anything we do. Even with the best of intentions... just the small sins... He will sort it all and understand. In some ways I want to say yes. In so many ways I want to say no. With this attitude, not only are we not trying to be like Christ (we are just trying to get away with stuff and therefore we need to re-examine our hearts and ask ourselves whether or not we are REALLY following Christ)... but also I think we forget that it is not impossible for us to get tangled up in sin again.

Galatians 5:1 says 'It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery'.
It is all about choices, and today we each have the choice to stand firm, or to let ourselves get entangled by our old ways, or by the temptations of daily life. If I am truly a disciple of Jesus, I should be seeking to do my best and to love others in every area of my life... not because I have to... but because I want to. Because He has transformed and renewed my heart and mind (Romans 12:2).

Jesus gives us freedom from sin. That is why He died for us. But if we don't see our freedom in its true light (a freedom which in order to keep us safe like a parent looking out for their child, has boundaries and restrictions), then we might find ourselves running into the arms of entrapment and not of true freedom.
A book I read recently used the example of a young girl who is groomed and enticed over the internet (an all to common occurrence), and runs from home toward a freedom she thinks is ahead of her with a mystery man she's met online who seemingly wants to give her all that she's ever desired. Except the truth is that when that girl runs into her new reality, she finds herself more trapped than ever.

This is a misplaced freedom.
Rules and restrictions from those who loved her misunderstood.
What we perceive as freedom can be far from it.

True freedom is aligning your desires to the desires of Christ, so that you feel free to choose what is right, good, Holy and pleasing! Freedom is found in transformation. It is a renewed will. Sometimes it is restriction. Boundaries keep us safe and stop us from walking into a life which is not as green as it might seem.

This statement "I will hold myself to a standard of grace and not perfection" is true and I see the sentiment. However I would like personally to try and hold myself to the standard of perfection, but with an understanding that I can't and won't manage it, and with a knowledge of grace. If I hold myself only to a standard of grace... I might fall into the trap of making excuses for myself and becoming complacent toward grace. It seems like a really small and petty line to tread... but most lines we tread are thin and delicate. this is just another of those "there must be a middle point" thoughts.

"What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!"
No. We shall NOT sin because we are under grace and not law, and so out of thanksgiving and praise for this wonderful grace we have received, we will strive to be better people than we could possible ever wish ourselves to be.

And the best part is, that when we mess up (which we will no matter how hard we try), there is grace.
Thanks be to God.

Friday, 15 November 2013


I have just finished day one out of two of the XLP Mentoring training ( It was such an incredibly insightful day, full of facts and statistics which were pretty difficult to swallow, and also full of little anecdotes to get us excited about running the project in our own area.

What stood out from the day for me was the video you'll find below.
It talks about something which I have been thinking a lot about from several angles and for several reasons lately. Loneliness. I went on a different training course last weekend in London called the 'New Media Conference', and it was really excellent because it was not a way of selling the use of new technology for your church work (which was what I expected), but instead as well as highlighting it's many benefits, the speakers also talked at length about the very real pitfalls of our 21st century online world, particularly for pastoral care ministry. Katherine Welby was the most inspirational speaker of the day for me, as she very bravely made herself vulnerable to us and explained how in her experience of being at both ends of pastoral care online (receiving & giving) things often got messy and were certainly not always what was needed nor appropriate at the time. What she really needed was to be coaxed out from behind the safety net of a computer screen which was in actual fact holding her captive.

From the two days these are my main take away points.

"Loneliness is the most common ailment of the modern world, made worse by social networks - we are collecting friends like stamps & lacking real connections".
People are ceasing to deeply get to know one another and instead we are editing ourselves for our own self promotion of only the desirable parts of us that we want to portray (a pretty profile photo, a witty status, a loving message sent but never followed up, a shiny life that never has it's down days). It changes who we are because we are not who we are telling the world we are and therefore no-one really knows us. Young people today (and in fact all of us) are experiencing an identity crisis! Social networking gives us the idea that we will never have to be alone because we have x number of Facebook friends.... however on the contrary, it is pushing us to spend more time behind the screen than with real people who we can share real tangible experiences with. We are faking experiences to help us feel connected when we really just feel ALONE! How did we get to a place whereby on our birthdays, 100's of people wish us well on Facebook, but barely anyone bothers to pick up the phone and actually say it? Clicking a button is not difficult. We are permitted to be lazy and not really care!! This is not cool people!!

1/10 young people feel like they cannot deal with daily life (this is heartbreaking!). Let us be people who are not paid to, but who volunteer to mentor a young person and invest our time and finances into their lives. To get them away from the screens of the 21st century if only for an hour a week, and show them that someone wants to get to know more than their twitter feed or latest post on Facebook. The people in my life that have mattered the most have been the people who took the time to sit with me and listen to what I had to say, what I'd been through, and where I wanted to go. Those are the people at 22 that I thank God for. We can be those people to someone else. In fact I will count my life a bit of a waste if by the end of it I have not played a role like this in someone's life, in some capacity (be it informal or formal).
I crave for people to know me and really know me. And so do you. XLP are starting from a really great place... with our young people. They are the generation who, because they are so normalized to the 'Apple driven world', are in my opinion the most at risk of feeling isolated and unknown.
Hope is the refusal to only see a situation the way it currently is - And I for one want to join with XLP in saying that 'I refuse to believe that this is a lost generation'.

Some stats from 'YoungMind' which should spur us on to want to advocate for our young people and be a part of their journey from loneliness, poor mental health & poor life choices, towards holistic well-being & living the life Christ died for them to live...

- 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 - 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder - that is around three children in every class.
- Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm.
- There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68%.
- Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression.
- Over 8,000 children aged under 10 years old suffer from severe depression.
- 72% of children in care have behavioural or emotional problems - these are some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
- 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder. Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

If I expect a certain kind rescue...

I love this wee paragraph. It was written on a blog I follow and it spoke straight at me. 

'If I expect a certain kind of rescue, then instead of being helped I feel like I’ve been harmed. Instead of being pointed to Jesus; I look back to myself. Grace becomes law: some truth I’m not learning, a bit that I’ve missed. These are the things I tell myself: Jesus didn’t die simply to fix my eating disorder or my drug addiction or my lack of self-esteem. He dies because I don’t get His love and grace – and I can’t apply it to my own life. I can’t do any of it; that’s why He dies. That’s why the gospel is good news: I can’t – but He can. And He does; not in the way I expect. Not in the way I want.  But He’s done it. Really. “But I don’t feel it!” He’s died for that too.'

'If I expect a certain kind of rescue...'
I've always had in my mind the kind of rescue I expected God had in store for me. The day that Jesus would just zap me and I would be free from the 'stuff' in my head. I think we all have those fairy tale expectations sometimes don't we?!
I've expected Him to zap other people to. I prayed so hard for so long that he would miraculously, in one split second, change and heal the inner workings of my beautiful sisters mind last year, and help her to see clearly how valuable and precious she really is... expecting her rescue to just be her walking out of hospital suddenly enjoying her life again. The reality was that I came home and sat in hospital with her on Christmas Eve just crying by her bedside as she slept, and her healing is taking time. It is happening - I can see it - but it is a long and slow process and there is some backwards and forwards steps to be taken just like there is for most of us. It's not the kind of rescue I had in mind. I hold the same expectations for the 'rescue' I expect from God for myself and all those I love. But mostly it's not the 'zap' we hope for which is disappointing I'm not going to lie.

But hold on... God already rescued us... He rescued us from death and in the most beautiful way... in Jesus dying for us. He's done it... it's won...'it is finished'. Yes, there are trials here... but the battle is won so why are we still acting like the battle is still happening?

In the midst of it all 'instead of being helped I feel like I've been harmed'. Somehow the fact that things continue to be difficult can seem worse than them happening in the first place. Not because the situation is any worse, but because I didn't get the rescue I expected and so I might feel like I've been cheated of something.
This is not the right spirit or attitude. This becomes not about God - it becomes about me. It's not even about being angry at God because He didn't, or doesn't seem to be doing something I asked of Him... instead it becomes about my lack of faith or about my lack of enough prayer or my lack of being good enough or worthy enough of being rescued or having my family rescued as a result of my prayers. It all stems down to not seeing the bigger picture and looking too inwardly, at what I want and what I think is justice, because it would make my life or the lives of those around me so much easier.

She went on to write... 'Jesus didn’t die simply to fix my eating disorder or my drug addiction or my lack of self-esteem. He dies because I don’t get His love and grace – and I can’t apply it to my own life. I can’t do any of it; that’s why He dies.'...
YES! This is spot on.
Sometimes I feel as though I understand His love and grace... and I think I do... the problem lies in the application. We are often so happy to explain it to others in need and help them apply it to their lives... but most of the time when it comes to turning the mirror round on ourselves and telling our own reflection those things, we just don't get it. We so often don't feel as though we deserve it...even though we feel that everyone else around us does. I believed and believe 100% that my sister deserves her rescue and all of God's love, but I still question if I do... It's that mentality so many of us have that ... "Yes they should be healed and forgiven, but for some reason for me it's different". Why is this? Do we feel as though we need to earn it?
But... thank the Lord He died for me... that way even if I can't apply it to myself ... He can. And one day I'll get it. One day you'll get it. You'll understand that just as you believe it is true for your friends and family, it is also true for YOU. Even if you don't feel it.

God's grace and love don't always look like a knight in shining armor type rescue, or an immediate healing, or a YES to that prayer you've been asking for, for so long, or a sudden change in your thought patterns... This is not a failing on your part or on God's. God just has a different plan. Trust Romans 8:28 'We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them'. You might in some circumstances need to let go of the 'rescue' you had dreamt up... but leave it to God... He's got it and He's big enough to take it. And it's for you as well as for everybody else.
'Love your neighbor as yourself'... if you don't love yourself... you're not going to love your neighbor very well are you?

Your Grace Finds Me - Matt Redman

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Stop asking why... start asking to whom can I turn...

What an incredible trailer. What an incredible truth. 
"We need to stop asking WHY, and start asking to whom can I turn?!"
So many of us can identify with that 'rock bottom' point. That place in our lives and emotions and minds through which we see no hope and no way out. But there is a way out... there is a hope. There is a God who loves you, knows all about the pain you feel... and feels it to. Let Him carry you.

I've just finished reading Nick Vujicic's book (you will have seen him in that trailer) - the book is called 'Unstoppable; Life without limits'. He is the famous American preacher who was born without limbs and seemingly without a hope of a normal or fulfilled life. But with Christ that statement was not his reality. The book is incredible... it tells of his journey with God as He grappled with the why of his condition yet came out the other side with the realisation that the why didn't necessarily matter, just as this clip reveals to us. Perhaps for most of us we will never get an answer for the why, or the closest we get to an answer is 'so that we can one day help someone else'. But what Nick came to grasp was not the reasons behind being born without limbs, but who he would turn to to help him to live a life of hope, meaning, and joy despite the disability he faced. It's an incredible must read book... it's encouraging... it helps you find perspective... it gives you hope that with Jesus Christ, JOY is what you will find.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Are you a Mary or a Martha? Does it matter?

Mary & Martha... Luke 10:38-42

I preached on this at church on Sunday and I thought I would share it here too.
Mary and Martha was the topic I was given to look at because we are following a series this year at Saint Stephen's, looking at different bible characters.
My first thought about these 2 ladies was this... they were both very much loved by God. In this story 2 very different personalities are being shown. Mary to me represents a free spirit who is spontaneous and willing to challenge conventions and society, unafraid of what those around her think (perhaps in today’s society she might be an activist standing up for people who don’t have a voice, or the friend who never turns up on time because she/he got side tracked by something exciting on the way). Martha in contrast is task orientated and a ‘doer’ who is servant-hearted and has a gift for hospitality - although perhaps she is a bit controlling or even a 'busy body' (She might be the CEO of the company, or the busy mother who never let any ball drop and still turns up to the parents evening with something baked from scratch and looking neat as a pin).
Regardless...both of these women are loved entirely and wholly by God. Both of them have a role in the Kingdom of heaven. Just as a father might have 2 daughters who seem opposites in their personality type yet could never say which one he loves or appreciates more (perhaps not unlike my own dad)– so too does Jesus value and love these two women equally and abundantly.

We are all very different people. Some of us are more like Mary and some are more like Martha. But God loves us all the same.

Last year on my internship at King's we each took a personality test called the Myrrs Briggs test which is widely used and you might have heard of. It assesses qualities such as how extroverted you are, and whether you are organised or spontaneous for example. My best friend Mim and I came out as the very opposite on this second point, and this was very true of us. I would wake her up 5 minutes before we left for work with her packed lunch and breakfast ready, and she would try and coax me into spontaneous trips to the woods on our Saturdays off. She was spontaneous and I was a control freak. What we came to realise was the benefits of each other’s personalities and we learned a lot from one another. She definitely became a slightly more organised and measured person, and I learned to let go considerably. We were different, but we were equally as needed and valuable to our team. We are both women who God loves fully not despite our different qualities, but because of them. He created us with different traits to play different roles in His Kingdom, both an absolute necessity. There is just no favouritism with God when it comes to His children. This doesn't fit in with our western world view. We work on class, status, wealth… we have a hierarchy (I’ve worked in a prison and even there, there is a hierarchy). We are constantly comparing ourselves to our neighbours, secretly hoping that we are just that little bit better or more holy or more valuable than they are. We would never admit this of course, but the superiority and relief that we all feel when our earthly position is just that little bit above the person in front of us, is what we humanly crave. We try to get as far away from the feeling of worthlessness as possible; a feeling that comes so easily when we appear not to measure up. But in Gods Kingdom this hierarchy of comparison does not and will not exist (Yippee).
We need to transform our communities starting with our churches, by showing them that we see ourselves no higher or lower than they are. We are no more or less gifted, we are no more or less beautiful, and we are no more and no less valuable than any other person in our lives, or out there in the world. To me, once I have gotten over the worldly view of injustice in that truth, I find it entirely freeing. Mary and Martha, you and I, are every bit as loved as the other.

I use Psalm 139:14 a lot with my young people because I love the truth it speaks. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Each of us. Wonderfully made by God.

Just because God loves us and accepts us and created us as we are, does not however mean that God does not correct us when we are off track, or notice when we are and we can see that in this story of Mary and Martha. In fact that is part of His love and the love we show to others, and it shows a real relationship. E.g. If someone I don’t know comes to correct me on something I’ve done, I take that a lot less kindly and seriously than if someone I know loves me, knows me and is for me, comes and rebukes me. It takes someone who loves you completely, to rebuke you in love. As we might lovingly correct our children, God lovingly corrects us His children and those we love.
I want you to contemplate for a moment why you attend your church (if you do), or maybe why you are reading this blog? Is it to listen to God, to worship Him, to sit at His feet and hear what He has to say to you? Or do you attend church in order to be busy? Are you reading this out of boredom?  Do you attend church because that’s just what you do on a Sunday, because it’s your job, to please your other half, to look good, or to find value for yourself in serving others? Why is it that you attend church and/or participate in "church culture"?
There is so much in life to be distracted by. We have kids to look after, jobs to fulfil, partners to attend to, church events to organise and attend, things to worry about, tears to cry, facebook friends to stalk, tweets to send, blogs to write... In Martha’s case she had Jesus to entertain and to feed. Surely most of these things we do are all legitimate things to be distracted by and are at least not negative in themselves – particularly feeding Jesus. They are good things that we do. They are – but not at the expense of sitting at the feet of Jesus, searching for what He has to say to you, and seeking His relevance for your life. If you won’t take time out to sit and listen, you’ll never hear.
Details are hard to let go of. Feeling like we need to get stuff perfect is for some of us a big challenge to let go of and it seems like this was true for poor Martha trying to get it all right and to please Jesus in the only way she knew how. I understand that. But details that get in the way of our true relationship with Jesus are not worth anything. Mary discovered the one thing worth worrying about – Jesus. She realised that what He had to tell her and what He could reveal to her, was in that moment, all she needed to be concerned about. All you need to be concerned about right now as you read this, is what Jesus is teaching you when you sit at His feet, read His word, and focus on only Him.

Busyness is a worldwide problem, but I think particularly for Christians. There is so much to get involved in and we feel as though we must be everything to everyone. But we can’t be and we mustn't try to be. Only God is everything to everyone. We must find instead our part to play. Psalm 85:8 says “I will listen to what the Lord says”. We can’t listen or find our part if we are too busy to hear what He is saying because we are packing every minute with ‘doing stuff for others, living life, or even doing things for God’. Don’t make yourself so busy that you miss out on the amazing things He has for you. This is a lie and a tactic that Satan tells us and uses against us. He makes us so busy that we have no time for dialogue with God and no time to rest in Him. We become tired and weary and soon we wear out completely until we are either of no use, or we decide we don’t want to do it anymore. Don’t let that happen to you. STOP. Busyness is not holiness.

For me it is in Jesus’ response that this story becomes alive. He says that it is Mary that has got it right. The one just sitting listening … not the one trying to work to please Him. If this doesn't sort out the good works vs faith debate on some level, I don’t know what does. It comes back to Psalm 139, we need to remember we are fearfully & wonderfully made and therefore not valued because of what we do, but because of who we are. Faith and attentiveness to your relationship and discipleship journey with Jesus is what He really cares about. To me this says ‘Come as you are’. It’s as though He is saying ‘By all means please do these things, but don’t come trying to please me, working all hours to feed me the best food, serving in churches, doing charity work, working hard in your jobs and home lives, if you are not willing to sit with me first. The way you are is enough and that is how I love you’. Jesus just wants your rest. He wants to be the beginning and end of your day, of all you do, the alpha and omega. Yes God delights in the actions of the Martha’s of the world who work to serve Him diligently and give so much of themselves to him and to others; in fact we would be lost without these beautiful and selfless people. But primarily He wants us to rest in Him and sit in awe and appreciation of Him and what He brings to our lives – and out of this we can then work with His strength, His blessing, and with the right motivation to serve Him in everything we do. In fact if we don’t then sooner or later (if not already if you are a Martha type which a lot of us are) your service will end up being bitter service where you feel unappreciated or you will burn out becoming unwell or overtired. This is because you will cease to serve out of God’s heart because you haven’t allowed yourself to rest and feel it for so long.
Jesus says in Mark 6:31 “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest”. This is a practical human need, and one which will only enhance your work and service. Even Jesus as a human needed this so why would we be any more able than Him to work without rest?
I am on a journey with this and so this sermon is a really important one for me to have had to sit and think about. A phrase which has really spoken to me recently is this – Jesus calls us to “Work out of a place of rest, do not rest out of a place of work”.

  • So will you, and have you, been sitting at Jesus’ feet as you've read this, putting everything else to the back of your mind. 
  • Will you let Jesus speak into your life even if it’s at the expense of burning the dinner or missing Strictly on TV? 
  • Will you prioritise the way Mary did and the way that Jesus calls us to?
  • DO you see the potential and value in yourself & in your neighbour? 
  • Will you follow Psalm 46:10 “Be still & know that I am God”. 

Mary’s maybe you need to look around and encourage the busy bodies who are avoiding the quiet by keeping going, to sit with you and prioritise Jesus. Or maybe you need to lend a hand somewhere so that the Martha’s feel they can take the chance to stop. Maybe we are swaying too much in the Mary personality direction and actually Jesus would have something to say to us then, as He clearly gives us the example of the Proverbs 31 woman who is often working hard and diligently for those around her and the Lord. Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time for everything. There is a time for rest and for work.

Martha’s maybe you need to take time out and give yourselves rest in order to redirect your heart back to the real heart of the matter. Jesus. Just take a check on your motivations so that your service can stay focused and remains glad & joyful service rather than worn out and bitter service.

We all need to understand that whatever our personality type, God made us that way for a reason – so your challenge is to find that reason and to rejoice in it.

We are NOT the same... but we are all EQUAL