Sweat more in Practice, Bleed less in War

Over the past few months I have been looking at intentionality in most of the areas of my life. One of the truisms that I have been coming to understand is that life doesn’t just happen. It really doesn’t. Woody Allen once said: “eighty percent of success is showing up” and whilst Woody Allen is a very intelligent and funny guy, on this occasion I think he is very wrong. I’m sure we can all look back on moments in our own lives where we did show up but the results were far from successful. One of the greatest gifts that God gives to each and every one of us is total and unconditional acceptance, and this is through the work of Jesus Christ. However, another gift He gives us is increased blessing and favour, and the way this blessing and favour increases is by following Jesus, being gripped by Him and, well yes, living with the same intentionality as Jesus did throughout His life on earth.

A great friend and mentor once said to me: “…victory is never in the outcome, it is always in the choosing!” So there are no promises here for an easy life, but there is the promise of Life.

Recently I have had a Facebook cover photo on my page and on that photo it has had the following quote from the Spartan Warrior Credo: “Sweat more in practice, bleed less in war”. I have to admit these words have gripped me since the first time I read them. They made me think about every discipline that I commit to in my life, and some of the disciplines that I know I need to commit more to as I follow Jesus. Take one example, reading the Bible and praying at the start of each new day. This is one of the hardest disciplines for most of the blokes I know, and it is certainly one of the hardest disciplines in my own life. Have you ever asked the question: “Why do I need to get up that bit earlier to read the Bible and pray?” Or, “What’s the point of it anyway?

Well let me share some of the personal observations I have been noting in my own life. When I do get up that little bit earlier to read the Bible and pray, I have intentionally stepped into the battle for my family and my own life. When I do string a few days together with this discipline I know that my family and I bleed less in war. I am a better husband, and a better dad, so I love my family much more more than I hurt them. The resources that I need to change the world around me, for the better, begin to increase significantly and I start to look a little more like the One I follow. To truly follow Jesus requires strength and intentionality. There is no other option, we have do the hard routines, we have to go into training, we have to practice knowing our very lives depend on it. Then, when we are called upon to fight for our faith, our families, the world and ourselves, we fight with God on our side and we bleed less.

What difference do you think it would it make to your life if you began to see your time in the Bible and in prayer each day, not so much as a religious chore, but so much more as training for the inevitable spiritual battle that we are all called up into?

And what difference would it make if we applied this thinking into all areas of our lives. As we often say at CVM, ‘…it’s time for a new kind of man’.

The accidental life is not worth living!” – Neil Postman

Image Credit: Nathan Anderson

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Our Epic Adventure

A few days into our ‘dad & son’ trip to southern Africa this summer, I realised I’d never been in this situation before. I’ve been a dad for 10 years, but this was the first time that I’ve had sole responsibility for any of my children for such an extended period of time. Here I was on a 21-day trip with my 10 year old son and we were spending every waking moment together, and then sleeping in the same tiny room too. The thing that surprised me was that I really enjoyed it! OK, there were times when the sole responsibility for his safety and well-being were all consuming, but we had a great time sharing some very special moments and building memories that will last a lifetime.

The main part of our trip was to be part of a Mission Direct volunteer team in Zambia, where we were decorating a newly-built rescue centre ready for a group of girls to move in and make it their home. However our ‘epic adventure’ started a bit further south, in Zimbabwe.

We were visiting ‘The Michael Project’ which was established about 20 years ago as a result of the needs of children at risk in Zimbabwe. Children make up half the population and 1 in 4 are orphaned, largely through HIV-related deaths, so the need is huge!


We visited several places where The Michael Project are working including a maximum security prison, a children’s home and a community based preschool. I recently became a trustee of the charity so this was a fantastic opportunity for me to see what they do first-hand. I met some of the children whose lives they have such a major impact on, as well as the staff team who make it all possible.

In Chikurubi Prison I met several children of the inmates in the female section who come to the day-care centre. The Michael Project provide a uniform, two meals a day and a pre-school education. The children live in the cell block with their mothers but the prison do not provide any food or clothes for them. Normally it is only children up to the age of 6 who are found here, but we met one boy who was 10. His mother had been killed in front of him and he was being cared for by an auntie who was imprisoned for being an illegal immigrant. He was malnourished, didn’t speak English and only had the clothes he stood up in. Tinashe, who heads up the centre, is finding him some new clothes and helping him to learn English and get a basic education, along with the other younger children.

If you would like to help support the work of The Michael Project, as a one-off gift or a regular donation, you can do so via ‘give.net’ on The Michael Project website

Before leaving Zimbabwe, we were able to go camping with our friends, the Hobbs family, in a safari park a few hours drive away. We saw buffalo, impala and monkeys, as well as hippos and crocodiles in the river – what a fantastic experience!

After a one-hour flight we arrived in Zambia and were taken to a church compound in an area of Lusaka called Chamba Valley. We were staying in some guest cottages along with 16 other volunteers who had just arrived from the UK. This was all arranged by Mission Direct who offer volunteer trips to about 8 different countries around the world, in partnership with local churches, to help build schools and accommodation in the poorest communities.

Our main project was finishing ‘Vision of Hope’, a rescue centre that will house at least 30 girls who had previously been living on the streets. The staff try to reunite them with their families, get them back into education and give them a better future to lift them out of the hopelessness they have found themselves in. The new centre will replace an existing unit that is too small and lacking in basic facilities. There were window frames to paint, floors to scrub and lavender colour to apply to the outside walls – very distinctive! Each morning we spent several hours there and my son really enjoyed the decorating and being part of the team effort to prepare the building for its new inhabitants.


In the afternoons we were able to visit several local projects and churches who were caring for the many poor, homeless and orphaned children in Lusaka. One afternoon we went to ‘Chisomo’, a drop-in centre for street boys, we spent some time with Crispin who was the same age as my son. He had lived on the streets for quite some time and had recently started visiting Chisomo. We read a book to him about dangerous animals and showed him some pictures of our family and friends back home. We then went outside and played frisbee and catch. The more they played together, the more they both opened up and they were soon having a great time playing and inventing new games. Crispin came and gave my son a big hug when it was time for us to leave – we hope and pray that Crispin is able to find somewhere to live, get into a school, and be surrounded by people to love and care for him.

One morning we headed into the centre of Lusaka and walked around behind the inter-city bus station. There we found a group of 10-15 boys who called this alleyway ‘home’. They emerged from doorways and derelict buildings sniffing rags soaked in some kind of solvent that makes them ‘high’. We started talking to a boy called ‘Bright’. He was the same size as my son but was probably a few years older. He had lost his parents and had been kicked out by his grandmother because she was unable to accommodate him or feed him. Many grandparents end up caring for a large number of orphaned grandchildren, but with meagre incomes and very small houses, they are not always able to offer a home to all of them. We were able to tell Bright about Chisomo and encourage him to visit it to give him the opportunity of getting off the streets. Soon we were surrounded by a few more boys, they found my son’s fair skin and blonde hair fascinating and were all reaching out to stroke his hair and touch his arms. One boy even tried to take his shoes off to put on his own bare feet!


Before returning to the familiarity and relative opulence of home, we had a chance to visit Victoria Falls on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border and had another opportunity to see more animals in the wild. This time we also saw elephants and giraffe as well as a wide variety of birds that live along the Zambezi River.

After 3 weeks away, neither of us wanted to return home. We had experienced the beauty and wonder of Africa, but also the hopelessness and despair in which many people exist. We know that our brief visits will have brought a glimmer of joy to the people that we met, and our efforts with a paintbrush have helped create a home for the girls who have now moved in to Vision of Hope.

If you’re a dad and would like to experience a volunteer trip with your child, you can join CVM and Mission Direct in Moldova next July. More details on the CVM website.

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What’s Distracting You?

On last year’s Christmas list I mentioned to Santa that I’d like a copy of Focus by Daniel Goleman. 2016 was going to be a year of concentrated effort, where I pick off one task at a time and get things done. Goleman was to be my tutor in single-mindedness.

10 months on and I’ve read Part I (out of VII) and the book sits alongside a dozen or so other books I’ve dipped in and out of. This is no slight on the author – whose Emotional Intelligence is a must-read – it just turns out that I needed Goleman to read Goleman.
I am perhaps as some might say, distractible (I prefer to think of this more as allowing my creative processes to be engaged by new ideas.) Jumping from book to book, idea to idea, keeps my mind inspired, sure, but, alas, also distracted. It turns out it’s harder to hit goals when the goalposts are frequently moving.

Current trends indicate that distraction – and especially digital distraction – could soon reach epidemic levels. From social media, to online games, to TV, constant news, and photostreams – our minds don’t ever have to sit still or chew over a single deep idea if we don’t want to. In all this noise it’s easy to become afraid of the silence. Asking questions of ourselves may be painfully hard, if we don’t like the answers, so we turn on and tune out and the big questions remain unexamined. As 16th Century French mathematician Blaise Pascal put it, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise Pascal on humanity's problems

If I’ve had a particularly distracted week I may look forward to the weekend, which affords me the chance to rest my brain, reset, and start afresh on Monday. I have come to learn that distraction, or avoidance, or “multi-tasking”, is incredibly tiring. Facing what we’re dodging, invariably takes less effort than we fear it might, and much less than what we would spend trying to avoid it.

Sometimes what we are manoeuvring around can’t be tackled by a weekend off. When anxiety churns deep within we need a greater comfort than a lie-in, a late lunch, and a few beers. The Bible tells us that real respite for the soul is not for the put-together and perfect people only (if there are any) but for those struggling and tired: Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

If we let multiple distractions run amok in our minds we will weary to the point of exhaustion. We have the technology now to satiate our schemes of avoidance, the motives of which are themselves as old as humanity. So let’s not let distraction abound unchecked, but rather make it our guide, leading us to ask why it is we can’t “sit quietly” and then, turning to God, be led into true rest.

Journey

Last time (for those repeat offenders) I talked a bit about my time in the Royal Navy, this time I want to tell you a bit about how that linked in with my being a Christian … Some people who call themselves Christians can remember the date or moment they decided to ‘follow Jesus’, but for some it’s been a gradual journey of discovery.  I was looking through some boxes of papers when we moved up to Chesterfield a few years back, and found loads of stuff including my joining and leaving forms for HMS Fisgard back in 1979, my first pay chit from HMS Collingwood (£124 for a month), my original ‘pay book’, my first Divisional Officers report and loads of other stuff, anyway in amongst this stuff was this:

Hopefully you can read it … its a form I signed when I ‘became a Christian’ whilst at HMS Fisgard … I had no idea of the date, I remember the event, but if I’m honest it was not like St Pauls experience in the Bible, where everything changed instantly on the ‘Damascus Road’… it has been a gradual process ever since then, with ups and downs, challenges and times when I’ve really let God down, but since that moment I have known that God is real, he loves me just as I am, and as a result of that I want to live my life to tell others about him … this whole journey thing was brought into sharp focus by something else I found.

This is a genuine Deputy Sheriffs badge from a bloke I hooked up with when HMS Southampton was alongside in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1984 on our way back from a Falkland Islands patrol. The few days were quite amazing … for example, we were in his unmarked police car, when he said to us ‘anything you guys would like to do?’ … my mate said ‘yeah, I’ve always wanted to get pulled over by the Highway Patrol’ … OK says Pat, and off he went accelerating to over 100 on the highway, we were soon being chased by a couple of motorcycle cops, who pulled us over. Patrick flashed this badge and said ‘these are two Brit sailors who just wanted to be pulled over’ … of course we had a chat, invited the two motorbike cops on board for a beer and that was that. As we arrived with Pat at the gangway one day, we pointed out that he should not bring his gun down the mess … so he opened the boot and casually tossed it in … with the shotgun, rifle, and box of what appeared to be stun grenades. We also were looking to get into a club late one night, but the place was full, and there was a queue … Pat just waltzed us straight to the front of the queue and we were in …. and I have to confess a few beers were consumed during that 5 day period … a classic run ashore, which resulted in me swapping a pair of ‘pussers’ (RN) overalls for his genuine ‘Starsky and Hutch’ style magnetic blue cop light the sort that you stick on the car roof (had an interesting few moments explaining it to a MOD Copper who searched the car one day at the dockyard gate …) … I still have all the memories … but I had completely forgotten about the badge … it brought it all back  …

But its that little card that has served to not only bring back memories of a particular moment back in 1979, but it has highlighted a difference … that badge was great at the time, but I had completely forgotten about it. The physical card too I had forgotten about, but the decision I made that day changed my life ….  although like the badge, I put the card away with other stuff, I could not put Jesus in the box as well … he has journeyed with me all the time .. are you journeying with God every day, or have you put Him in a box of memories up on a shelf somewhere? If so its never too late to take him off the shelf and make him part of your life today …. Don’t hesitate if you want to find out more … contact me at the CVM office or your mate who wears sandals with socks and sings kum ba yah …

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GETTING GEARED UP

GETTING THE GEAR AND MAKING THIS SOCIAL

When I started my Ironman training the first thing I did was get the right gear I needed: trainers, shorts and spent hours looking at bikes. (Didn’t buy one don’t panic!) Before I had even started to train my swim, ride or run I was online looking at the right stuff I needed to compete.

CVM have spent more than a decade building up the right gear for you to grow in your faith, to build a passion and heart for the gospel and to forge a desire to reach the lost blokes around us.

We have a network of men’s groups that will put fuel on the fire and get stuff really moving. We have seen guys meet Jesus through the resources, the men’s groups and events all over the UK. We know that this stuff works, and getting the right resources, gear and standing with a band of brothers is essential. BUT!

The gear, resources and strategy without the heart and conviction to do something for the kingdom of God will be useless. You need to give a stuff about the blokes you know who don’t know Jesus, and that it bothers you that these fellas are skipping into hell without a voice calling them from that path. Otherwise it’s a bit like me shopping for trainers when I don’t even want to go running.

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, actually, no I’m not sorry at all. The reality is we need to care, we need to reach our mates with the good news that Jesus is alive. I remember hearing our Scottish Director, Stephen, telling me his testimony over a cheeky Chinese meal. He said ‘all these Christian fellas would talk to me about the weather, football, cars but never tell me about Jesus!’

We have got the best news guys, our saviour is alive! Here at CVM we want to resource you, tool you up for the fight and plug you into a group of guys that have caught the evangelism virus and are sneezing over everyone. (sorry, awful illustration!)

Our heart is that you stand with us, build that heart for the lost men around you and commit to being part of the team reaching out. We can do it, we can see the culture shifting, with the amount of men saved in the UK impacting this country incredibly. We can see families gospel, communities, towns and villages impacted with the Gospel and set ablaze with Jesus people.

Don’t do what I did with the Ironman! Count the cost, get fuelled up, be transformed and with the right gear, together we can see a million men introduced to Jesus!

Image Credit: Martin Kníže

Check out our new Team CVM Podcast that we launched TODAY!!!

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MIND GAMES

A few times when I was at the gym training for the half Ironman, I would be on the treadmill and just give up. I would be running well, and be on around 45 minutes, slight knee pain, bit of discomfort but ok, then I would just literally stop running, switch off the machine and go home.

After thinking it through I realized I was actually losing the mental, mind battle that you need to train for the long haul.

I would start this inner Q and A in my head whilst running through the boredom. ‘Why am I doing this? This is enough, I have run far enough today, I need to get to work, quick shower and I can go home, it’s nearly lunch time, was that my phone ringing?’

Once that Q and A had started the inevitable happened and I just stopped, it was so powerful that all the work getting to gym, all the food I had eaten for that training session, the time and energy spent just getting this couple of hours to train was wasted. Weird, or is it?

A section in the bible I love is this:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2

I think that when we give ourselves over to Jesus, to his plans, his power and his will, even our minds can be transformed. When you get pitched a curved ball in life where does your mind go? When the wheels come off and the toys have all been thrown from the pram where has your mind gone? Sounds silly but even when we don’t get things our own way or in our preferred timing, when our favorite team loses or we suffer some sort of defeat, where does your mind go?

‘That’s it! I can’t do it anymore.. I have had enough’ (That’s where mine can go.) How about when you try something, you step out and stick your head up and friendly fire knocks you back? You take criticism and ridicule for being that bloke who tried something. Then where does your mind go?

I think that this transforming of our minds is gradual but so vital in forging gospel men, a new kind of man who can take defeat and get up again. A new kind of man who can lift his head and know that the field he fights in, the strength he has and the identity he carries is more than his own. When our minds are transformed to be like that of our saviour we take on a new way of thinking, a new way of being us. When that happens we are able to begin to test and see what Gods will is! Instead of our mind folding inwards and imploding, we can see beyond and get a glimpse of the bigger picture being formed.

Image Credit: Martin Kníže

Feeding On The Truth

I’ve been struck once again by the reminder that the simple things in life so often are the most important things. And it’s those simple things that we can lose site of as our lives invariably tend towards the complex.

As my wedding anniversary approaches I find myself flustered, as I can’t quite locate the perfect present that I am looking for. We’re going away for a few days and now there’s a time crunch. I should have taken care of this earlier, but I haven’t. I worry about not getting something and failing to show my wife how much she means to me. In the mean time, the stress of the present-buying as well as concluding other business before we leave is getting to me. I sleep less when I’m stressed, which makes me more irritable. Only when I pause for a moment (after successfully locating the gift) do I see the irony in all of this. In my effort to play the husband I lost of site of being the husband.

The Heart of our Gospel Message is the Gospel

The job of sharing our Christian faith is part and parcel of what we signed up to. Evangelism isn’t a role for an expert who has all the answers, but a call to everyone who has made Jesus Lord. But boy are there days when we wish we could outsource this obligation to the pros! More answers, more knowledge, more persuasion, more compassion, more time, more patience … if only I had more.

We know we are saved by grace through faith alone, as Ephesians says:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[1]

If I them therefore saved by grace, and not my works, how am I reflecting this in my evangelism? Now I have spent time and I have spent money to learn and prepare to “give an answer for the hope”[2] that I have. I read books and I listen to podcasts and I attend lectures. And all of this is good.

But the core of our message is still a message of grace. I wasn’t chosen by God to be adopted into His family on merit. It was totally undeserved. Therefore, I must never, ever let me efforts cloud the message. My doing must never get in the way of demonstrating what Christ has done for me.

The Apostle Paul boasted in his weaknesses[3]. The man who wrote much of the New Testament and was to early church planting as Michael Phelps is to American swimming knew that his efforts and his successes were nothing compared to the glory of the Resurrected Jesus. That’s why all of his efforts only promoted Christ, and didn’t bring attention to himself.

Sadly, I am still a long way from this.

Feed on Truth

C. S. Lewis, of whom William Lane Craig believes all modern Christian apologetics is indebted to, once wrote, “A man can’t be always defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it.”[4]

C. S. Lewis - Reflections on the Psalms

After moving to Oxford 5 years ago my life was once more synchronized with the academic schedule. Suddenly I was thinking in school terms again. This means that the Summer is actually the end of my year and the time I think about what’s on the horizon, what I’m planning and hoping for.

Defending the gospel is only good when it is defending the gospel. It becomes complicated when we defend our own ideas, or justify our personal actions. The heart of the gospel message is the gospel itself.

A good friend of mine is fond of reminding me to ‘Preach the gospel to myself’. In my struggling and my striving I was reminded to tell myself what the gospel is, again and again. And as Nathan helpfully reminded me, our “personal life and intimacy with God is the fuel and it is essential to being able to run this race, cover some serious ground and see stuff happen.”

To defend the truth we must be feeding on it. We must be being transformed by it. We must be inviting it to permeate all areas of our life. We must be willing to drop everything for it and to hold nothing back from the light of it.

It as this point that my heart echoes John Newton who said:

“Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am.””[5]

[1] Ephesians 2:8–10, ESV

[2] 1 Peter 3:15

[3] 2 Corinthians 11:30

[4] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

[5] John Newton, The Christian Spectator (Vol. 3, 1821)

FUEL UP

Another essential part of training for a triathlon, that I had helpfully ignored was the need to give the body the right fuel and at the right times.

If I am honest this came to a head after I had been eating a huge dinner at 8:30pm followed by a glass of wine to wash it down and a slice of chocolate fudge cake. (The one with a moist chocolate centre)

I sat there, feeling ill with horrendous heart burn having planned to go running on a 6 mile hilly course the next morning at 6am. Yeah, it didn’t happen, instead I popped a couple of Rennies.

Getting the right fuel in when training for stuff like this is so important, physical instructors at the gym are always talking about winning the war in the kitchen before you get onto the treadmill.

Let me be really honest here, whenever I talk to a Christian bloke who is struggling or has hit a wall in his life or some form of temptation, I will always get the same response to this question: ‘Tell me about your prayer life and when and how you read and study the bible?’ The response is this, ‘er…yeah struggling with prayer actually,’ or ‘yeah I haven’t picked up my bible in a long time.’ The apostle Paul talks about being ready to ‘devote ourselves to prayer!’ Now that’s serious stuff! Colossians 4:2

Your personal life and intimacy with God is the fuel and it is essential to being able to run this race, cover some serious ground and see stuff happen.

Think of it this way. If I had a seed and wanted to plant that seed to help it grow I would do a few things. I would prepare the ground, ensure that it was in a spot to get a load of sun, plant the seed and ten keep it watered.

Think about how you fuel the seed of faith that has been planted in your life or that you are sowing into the lives of others. (It is important to say that God makes these grow, that’s what He does) but our part is to ensure it is being given the right stuff!

When we struggle with temptation, or to pray or read the bibles the challenge is to have a look at the fuel we are putting in. Many times when I have done this in my own life and with others, what we have found is instead of feeding the seed with prayer, the bible and honest living with other Christians, the seeds getting a cocktail of compromise, secret sin and zero prayer and bible time. Yet we are still surprised that our faith is struggling!!!

Get the right fuel in, get yourself alongside some Christian fellas with undefended hearts, pray and read God’s word and your faith will be fuelled beyond belief!

Image Credit: Martin Kníže

COUNT THE COST

So, confession time. About 2 years ago I took part in a triathlon, it was a sprint distance tri and it was awful. I consider myself to have incredible explosive power, pushing something, pulling something, or lifting, but physical endurance strength is, well just not something I’ve got. (yet)

This year I signed up to do a half Ironman tri, building on the last one and raising the bar. The point of this was to raise a £1k for the CVM coffers.

I realized early on that I had made yet another terrible mistake and had chosen to ignore that small inner voice of reason and logic. In the end, after trying to get in shape and go from virtually no running, cycling or swimming ability I had to reluctantly throw in the towel.

This was actually a tough decision to make as I had worked hard at training but just hadn’t realized the investment needed and time it would take to get me anywhere near race fit.

The point in sharing this is, that I think we can also go into the ‘Christian life’ in a similar way, without a clear vision and commitment to the cost this is going to have. We can even sell a version of Christianity that prescribes to the same model, and I have done it. This and the next 3 blogs are going to look at the way you train and count the cost for this Christian race we are in!

• Count the Cost
• Fuel up
• Mind games
• Getting the gear and making this social

So that’s the outline for the next 5 blogs, put that doughnut down and get yourself a dry cracker. Lets train.

When I signed up for the Ironman, I was sold on the trophy, the title and the branding. It looked great and something that would be a great head turner to have in the office when people visited. I can ride a bike, I can swim and I can run so what’s the problem?

What I hadn’t realized until very late on in my campaign of terror on the treadmill, was that to get to the fitness level I needed it would mean a 20 hour schedule of fitness each week. This covered miles and miles, hours and hours of training, and I just wasn’t ready to pay that cost, and it slipped away. Eating the right things, not drinking the wrong things, sleeping early and getting going early. Weekends out running and cycling.

The thing is, I think we can buy into a Christianity that leaves us in the same place. We can discover Jesus and the life he has for us. Forgiveness of sin, a hope for today and an eternal promise of life to come, something after death. Amazing, and wonderfully true! But we can quickly turn that into an emotional, needs based message. Jesus will meet your needs, he will nestle you under his wing and you will feel like your feet never touch the floor.

The reality is, to follow Christ is a call which costs the most. To really die to ourselves and pledge your heart, mind and body, your devotion and obedience to him is actually very costly.

A fantastic old school British evangelist was a guy called Leonard Ravenhill, and once he said this ‘the problem is not enough Christians have been to their own funerals.’

Now that sounds harsh, but his point was that we need to know that Jesus and this new life we have, really is something new, the old has died and gone. To put Jesus and his kingdom first will cost and even Jesus tells people to count the cost before getting involved and possibly falling away before the finish line.

Jesus uses strong words and even says that if we follow him this means carrying our own cross! Jesus explains this a bit by using a couple of everyday examples, here is one of them:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?
Luke 14:27-29

What does it mean to take up your cross and follow Jesus? What does it mean to count the cost, to really be sure this is for you and that you will not lose sight of the path half way along your life journey with Jesus?

Well, the thing here for me is that this is capturing the reality of what is really at stake. Your life depends on it. My ironman failure caused me a few weeks of ridicule at the hands of my beloved CVM team, but this, this is something very different.

This choice we make will impact our eternity, it changes where you and I will be 10,000 years from now. Jesus makes it so clear that he wants you to be in his kingdom, in his company and to enjoy the place of a son, welcomed back into the family.

Maybe today, just take a moment to think about what the cost of all this is to you. Spend sometime maybe just recommitting yourself to Jesus, your energy, your time, your wallet, your hopes and plans, your family.

Image Credit: Martin Kníže

8 Strategies to Assist You in Your Evangelism

QUICKFIRE: Jonathan Sherwin from CVM on Vimeo.

The CVM Quickfire Conference is day of TED-style 15 minute talks by ministry specialists covering a wide range of topics for men’s ministries. In this talk, ‘Conversion Through Persuasion?: Looking at how we can deploy arguments, questions, and illustrations effectively as we do the work of an evangelist’ I attempted to get through 8 points before the klaxon sounded (see the video above if you want to know if I made it!).

Conversion Through Persuasion?

Evangelism is a spiritual struggle. It’s a bloody, vicious war. There is no Geneva Convention or International Court of Justice imposing civility. Our enemy is not a gentlemen and he is out to totally, utterly ruin all that you love, cherish and seek to protect.

In this war we have been given tools, and I believe the role of persuasion – arguing, illustrating, and questioning – is a weapon that we are to deploy in this war.

Timothy was told by the Apostle Paul to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). We’re shown that evangelism is both a task, as well as an office or role (Ephesians 4), and a task that in the Great Commission (Matthew 28) all Christians are called to.

As we think through how to use persuasion in evangelism here are 8 points to remember.

1. Being & Thinking | Feeling | Doing

Michael Ramsden is fond of talking of the Ontological Root of the Gospel. That is, the core of our Christian message is that it’s not what you think or what you feel or what you do that makes you a Christian, but that the very centre of who you are are is changed – redeemed – by God himself. That central change is the root of the Gospel.

Michael’s point is I think incredibly helpful. A Christian is someone who’s heart has been redeemed by God.

So then, focussing on that, we are freed to use our thinking, our feeling, and our doing to show Christ. We are to reflect our salvation in what we think, what we feel, and how we act. So too we can illustrate across all these areas.

Each one of us has a different personality. Some are more cerebral, others more in touch with their emotions, and still others who are intensely pragmatic. By illustrating the Gospel in a way that connects with the hearer we can demonstrate something of the message, but without forcing the listener to conform to that pattern of behaviour.

A change of our thinking, of our feeling, of our doing, comes out of a change of our being. We don’t change who we are to become a Christian – our core is changed by God and that then goes on to change everything else.

2. Persuasion is a skill

The art of persuasion is, according to Sam Leith, rhetoric. And rhetoric is something to be learnt. It is a skill.

I know what some of you may be thinking: rhetoric, just verbal tricks and cunning collections of words to sell your point. A go-to in the politician’s hand-bag of tools.

Rhetoric does appeal to emotions, to reasons … yes! But deployed correctly they serve truth.

Of course, rhetoric is a skill that may be used for the wrong reasons but for goodness sake, don’t stop using it because some guy in a bad suit and appropriately coloured tie is misusing it in a fancy palace like Westminster!

Blaise Pascal said that we ought when sharing the Gospel to,

“Make them wish it were true and then show them that it is.”

Our individual testimonies – our stories – share something of how we have met Jesus and have been changed. We appeal to our story to share something of the Ultimate Story, or as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis referred to it, the True Myth.

3. Stand on Scripture

The basis for our confidence in the Gospel does not ultimately rest on our experience but on the revelation provided to us through the Bible. We don’t stand alone on reason, nor on emotion, nor on action, but on the Word of God.

Because the Bible is a reliable revelation that may be trusted we can stand firm on the foundation that it provides. This sure footing offers a position of strength and a starting point for all our creative efforts in sharing God’s truth.

Having a foundation is a powerful thing. Having a strong foundation that doesn’t rest on who we are, what we know, how we feel etc. provides a deeper assurance that when relied upon in our evangelistic efforts helps to make our efforts all about Christ (as revealed to us) and gets us out of the way. It’s not about us; it’s all about Jesus.

4. Know what is provoking your spirit

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16)

The Apostle Paul launches into his apologetic in Athens at Mars Hill after having “his spirit provoked within him”.

Our individual worlds are increasingly larger and the Gospel opportunities are seemingly endless. We are more connected than ever with easier travel and greater communications abilities than ever before.

In our modern world it can be hard to know where to act or to what we are called. Paul had his spirit provoked and took it as his cue.

So what is provoking your spirit? What can’t you let go of that can be used a starting point to share something of Jesus? We are each to be going after what is that we each are meant to be going after. We’re all different (thankfully) and who we are is to be used to reach those we’re called to.

5. Pick the hardest battle

Evangelism is a series of battles. In the Bible the church is often related to as an army. To do well we need to perform just like any army: we need to show discipline and courage.

After the British army in World War 2 had been beaten out of Burma back into India by the advancing Japanese it had to heal. The army was in a bad shape. They were plagued by malaria and bad morale. Their enemy was brutal – unlike anyone they had faced before They were far away from home and far away from comfort.

Sickness in the camp, lack of motivation, and attacks from the enemy: these things bring armies to their knees.

In ’42 they went kicked out of Burma and it took them nearly two years to fight their way back in.

And as they advanced, they picked their battles. They knew the enemy was fierce and that if they were to succeed they would need to engage in some brutal assaults. The war wouldn’t be won by sneaking a little victory here and there. They would need to crack the enemy at his strong points.

Where is the battle fiercest in your friend, in your office, in your family? What is the main stronghold?

It won’t do any good dealing with the brazen academics and their philosophical questions if the main issue in front of us is one of loneliness and fear, and a search for God that hasn’t yielded any answers so far.

Martin Luther said this:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Don’t Construct Straw Men

We need to take the person we are sharing Christ with seriously. We need to treat them and their objections to Jesus with all seriousness.

When someone offers a problem don’t reduce it down to a bite-size chunk. If anything, build it up in to a really big problem and then hack it to pieces.

6. Use words

You will have of course heard the phrase, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.’ This maxim we are told is to be attributed to St. Francis of Assisi – but in truth there’s no record of him ever having said it.

And if even if he had said it, it’s just not true.

God preached the world into existence in Genesis 1:3. Jesus, in Matthew 5, “went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying …”

Stephen preached his own funeral. Paul reasoned with the Athenians, and before that he preached at Salamis, and Antioch, and Iconium, and Lystra, and Derbe, and Perga. He preached all those sermons with words, and that was on just one journey!

Words have incredible power. A friend of mine who is a leadership coach to large international companies often says, ‘Words create culture’.

The right word at the right time can bring life. The wrong word at the wrong time …

7. Illustrate: Use authorities people recognise

Paul, in the Athenian court, quoted from Greek poets and philosophers. He’d done his research. Or perhaps this was just part of his education.

He was establishing common ground. But I’m not sure if I were Paul I would have gone to those authors first. By this time we remember Paul had seen the resurrected Christ, had his life incredibly altered  from chief Christian persecutor to chief evangelist. Post-conversion Paul looked nothing at all like pre-conversion Paul.

If were Paul I think I would have been strongly tempted to say, ‘Look at me! Look at my life!’ But he didn’t. He pointed to Jesus, preached on the evidence of the Resurrection, and borrowed the authorities of his day to make a point.

It’s often said that “all truth is God’s truth”, so when we find nuggets of gold in our culture – the arts, the media etc. – we can borrow these to point to Ultimate Truth.

8. Conversion is through the Holy Spirit

Look, Richard Dawkins never sent anyone to Hell and you’re not sending anyone to Heaven.

The heart of a person can only be redeemed by the power of God. He will use you to illustrate, to demonstrate, and to advocate but the final solution to man’s deepest problem cannot be dealt with by humanity. We all need supernatural transformation and it is the Christian’s great honour to witness God taking people from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13).

We cannot save ourselves and we cannot save others. But once we have been saved we bear witness to the truth of God as we have had it revealed to us.

This liberation from sin is also a liberation from self. Our friends and family members don’t  – thank God – rely upon us for their salvation.

We’re freed to spend our lives pointing to the One who spent His life for us.

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