Searching for Hope

Searching for Hope

It’s that time of the year again. American leaders square off against each other in a bid to win their party’s nomination, and then ultimately – with the approval of the majority of the nation – the job of President of the United States. It’s a time of campaigning, rallying, and slogan raising.

I remember 8 years ago watching the story of a junior senator narrowly winning victory over Senator Clinton in the Democratic Party presidential primary, and then ultimately going on to win in the November national election. Barack Obama swept to power on the tails of a campaign that caught the imagination of many.

The core of his campaign was built on a message of hope. A vote for Obama is a vote for change for the better, essentially. One of the lines from Obama’s acceptance speech to the Democratic Convention upon winning his party’s nomination stands out to me:

“When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.”

The rhetoric of his speech hinged around this statement, evoking feelings of despair that many connected with. ‘Boy, it does feel like nothing changes!’ ‘It sure does seem like it’s always going to be this way.’ Then from the pit the speech soars and captures the imaginations and intrigue. From hopeless, to hopeful. Courtesy of some very talented speechwriters.

Because even when it seems hopeless and despair is de facto, there is a very human desire to want to believe in something better. Some of the wonderful stories we see and watch – Slumdog Millionaire, The Shawshank Redemption for example – connect so meaningfully with us because they capture the essence of hope, and the ultimate objective of hope fulfilled.

Google defines hope as, “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”

Hope

Hope is a wonderful feeling. I remember, when I was younger, I fell out of a tree on my Grandfather’s farm. I say I fell out, but really I fell through. A rotten branch gave way as I pulled myself up on it and I careened back to earth before I could let out a shriek. I didn’t fall from the tree to the ground so much as falling through the tree and all its branches to the fork in the trunk about 5 feet from the ground. And there I remained wedged, head down in pain and panic. My cousin stood there looking at me with huge eyes before he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll go get dad.’ A small feeling of hope briefly overcame the more immediate feeling of pain.

When the person in a car accident is told after the bystander has called 999, ‘Hold tight, help is on their way’ they are being offered hope.

That feeling of relief can sustain a person in dire circumstances, willing them to continue on. Which is why, when hope fades, so too, so tragically and so often, life does also.

When I felt hope, stuck in the tree, it was hope that my father and my uncle were near by and they would know what to do. They’d get me out. My feeling of hope was based on experiential knowledge. It wasn’t a disconnected hope upon by hope, but a solid expectation according to an experienced reality. Dad had been there before; Dad will be there again. For hope to offer true relief it must be connected to true reality. For when hope is not anchored in what is real, then with time and trial it fades. It was interesting to watch, over the years that followed Barak Obama’s first national victory, hope fade as many in America felt things didn’t go according to their expectations.

There’s a story in the Bible where a friend of Jesus, called Lazarus, dies. Jesus went to comfort Lazarus’ friends and family and finds Martha. Martha believes Jesus, had he been there, could have saved Lazarus.

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”” (John 11:21–24, ESV)

The Jews had an expectation of hope that in the last day there will be a resurrection of all people. This great hope was a sustaining belief through troubling times that in one day, things will come good. The dead will rise and grief will be done away with.

To Martha’s hopeful declaration to Jesus that Lazarus “will rise again” Jesus says:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”” (John 11:25–26, ESV)

The Jewish belief that one day the dead will rise is of some hope to Martha. To this belief Jesus declares himself to be that very resurrection, and furthermore life itself. Jesus takes an abstract concept of a future hope and declares himself to be that hope. History will then play out his own death and resurrection, anchoring his declarations and challenging people the world over to explore his statements, inviting everyone and anyone to trust in him.

Jesus then asks Martha if she believes him, to which in verse 27 Martha affirms she does. This same question is asked of all of us, ‘Do you believe this?’

A true hope is something evidenced, that requires trust. Jesus offers himself as grounding for hope; a future promise backed by a historical foundation.

Christians have a firm basis for hope. The foundation to their belief is rooted in actual events that happened in this world (see our series on the historical facts of the Resurrection Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4).

Hope built on certain expectations does not disappoint. It is a wonderful life-affirming, future-expecting, confident understanding that becomes a hallmark of a true believer. It is truly thrilling and greatly desirable. For the Christian, the hope of Christ is what we have come to believe in and what we proclaim to this world. We have hope because of who Jesus is, and what Jesus accomplished. Now that’s a hope worth campaigning for.

Truth & Courage

So this year I wanted to focus on something that would challenge me and keep me moving forward in my faith.

I was thinking about what that could be, and on one day found myself between meetings so I went to the V&A museum.

I came across a couple of sculptures, initially I just spent some time looking at them from a distance. When I went closer, I read all the info and it turns out these two sculptures depict two scenes, one was called Truth and Falsehood, and the other Courage and Cowardice.

With truth and falsehood, truth was wrestling falsehood, had him by his forked tongue and was pushing his mask back to reveal….truth.
The other had courage wrestling with cowardice, courage had her foot on a shield bringing cowardice into submission, I liked these!

Courage is something we need, and it can take shape in so many ways, but what happens is that all around us is fear and despair, which can erode this courage and fight against our calling to be kingdom men.

The fear of ‘suppose’ or the thoughts of ‘what if’ can rob us of this courage and drive, that we start to question and query, we stop looking kingdom and start looking at the raging waters around us.

Combine that with truth and you have something very potent! Truth, whenever I have spoken it or acted in it, or built my life around it pushes back the mask of falsehood. It grabs the tongue of lies and smashes a huge hole in the ability to control and contain us as Jesus men.

On about 70+ occasions Jesus opens a conversation with ‘I tell you the truth!’ we need more of that! I want to advance into 2016 with Jesus Truth & Holy Spirit Courage, how about you?

Image credit: Photo by Duncan Hull / CC BY 2.0

Searching for Purpose

Searching for Purpose

I grew up following my father’s job around the country. Dad was a submariner in the Royal Navy, which for a young boy was the coolest job in the world. When dad would come back from patrol, smiling, in uniform, he’d carry that distinct ‘I’ve been underwater for a month’ smell. I loved it. Sometimes, when he was away, I would choose to sleep underneath my captains bed – in my mind mimicking a submariners quarters – and ever since I’ve always been comfortable in cramped spaces.

I don’t think I really minded not having dad at home when he was away at sea. As I grew up I came to think of dad’s job as special. Visits to HMS Neptune (the naval base on the Clyde) were turned in to contests to see how many sub-machine guns and Land Rovers I could spot. Little boy heaven.

I remember one day, watching one of the then brand new Vanguard class submarines out on the Clyde, spotting some protestors in little boats trying to make a nuisance of themselves. Back then, as now, the national nuclear deterrent was the subject of much controversy. Dad was watching with me and pointed out some smaller, darker boats. He told me that the people on those boats, armed to the teeth, fit as Olympic athletes, dressed in camouflage with green berets, made sure that the protestors didn’t get too close and cause real problems for the submarine. So who were these modern-day aquatic knights? These Defenders of the Nuclear Arsenal? They, said dad, were Royal Marines. And they, to me, were the second coolest men in the world.

So when, at 18 I was wondering what to do with my life, I thought I would become a Marine. Disillusioned by school and the seemingly purposeless path through higher education to a job, a mortgage, retirement, and death, I chose the Marines as my answer to life. I reasoned that joining the Marines wasn’t like starting another job. This wasn’t a 9-5 casual thing. I wasn’t to be a person, playing at a job during the day and living for the weekends, but a Marine: a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year identity that provided cool work from time to time.

And so I went off to Commando Training Centre, Lympstone, for a weekend of tests to see if they’d let me join the privileged ranks. During that selection opportunity I picked up an injury during one of the tests and didn’t finish the weekend. I was utterly deflated. This was the first time I had had an injury. I dodged them all through school, thinking that the other boys were faking them to get out of rugby practice. This injury undid me. I was made rudely aware that I was fallible. I was breakable. And what I didn’t realise then, but what I’ve come to see over the years, was that something much deeper was going on inside of me. At that time I was searching for meaning for my life. Something to make it all matter. Having rejected school and other pursuits, I set my goals on the military. When I fell at this hurdle I didn’t just come up short on one test, but flirted with the very edge of despair, toying with the fear that my life might just be, ultimately, purposeless.

Having talked to others since, I don’t think I’m alone in the realms men looking to things in life to define their existence. Careers, women, fun, toys, hobbies – we look to people and things to bring us an identity. So often these things, fragile and easily breakable, let us down. Failure in relationships or in work can lead to deep despair as lives built around shallow purposes collapse in bits.

To this problem the Bible offers us hope. Instead of looking to things on this earth to define our purpose, the Bible points to the person of Jesus as the doorway to all fulfilment:

“So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:7–10, ESV)

Jesus’ story here, full of imagery familiar to his original listeners, depicts him as the doorway to the sheepfold. The doorway to the sheepfold was the way to safety and prosperity (if you were a sheep); it was the essential path to success. We – the sheep – to find life must go through the doorway that is Jesus. There’s no set of rules concerning careers or earthly relationships here. There’s no Buzzfeed ‘Top 21 Things You Must Do Lead A Purposeful Life’. Just an invitation to find fulfilment through the person of Jesus.

If the fundamental problem of mankind is that we’re missing something that we can obtain for ourselves, then we’ll find it in the things of this world. We’ll find it in work, relationships, possessions etc. But we, the collective we – humanity throughout the ages – have tried those things and have found them scarily susceptible to collapse given enough pressure. There are few things worse than thinking you have found the meaning to life and then one day waking up to find that it has been snatched away from you.

However, the Bible describes the fundamental problem of mankind as something that we can’t provide for ourselves. We are in a hopeless state, lost and cut off from our true purpose. It’s to this damned problem that Jesus offers hope. In dying in our place, for our sin, settling our account, reconciling us to himself – to God – by rising again and defeating death He offers us a purpose that nothing in the entire Universe can take away from us.

The passage above ends with Jesus offering us life, abundant life. Life to the fullest, were we can find purpose in our careers and our relationships and our possessions. Not in the essence of the thing, the object, but in the way that we and they reflect the purpose of God himself. We are free to be Marines, and husbands, and white water kayakers to the glory of God, knowing that it’s not in those things that we find who we are and what we’re worth, but it is in the saving act of Jesus 2,000 years ago.

Abundant life is the state of deepest freedom, which releases you to be all you were made to be.

Currently the BBC are running a great recap of on the classic FA Cup upsets of all time. Bradford, up against the mighty Chelsea, didn’t – according to many people – stand a chance. A mighty gulf separated the two teams in both league and class and the pundits and commentators on the day thought that it wasn’t case of who would win, but how embarrassing it would be for Bradford.

However, freed from fear and expectations Bradford played the game of their lives. In one of the greatest feats of Giant Killing the beautiful game has seen, Bradford were the epitome of freedom unleashed. That day they were freed to be all they could be on the football field, and the team took their chance. The rest is history.

We like Bradford can find freedom in a moment and taste something of a deeper reality that eludes us for most of the time. The choice before us then is between living for a moment to define our purpose, or letting our lives be defined by one person who releases us to a lifetime secured with ultimate purpose.

Seeking The Light

To celebrate my wife’s ‘significant’ birthday I decided to book us a short break in Iceland (not the one endorsed by Peter Andre). This was a desolate stony expanse of God’s world, haunted by howling winds, bubbling geysers and fiery eruptions – I sure know how to treat a lady! Catherine had always wanted to see the Northern Lights, one of those ‘Bucket List’ things, so I figured this would be the ideal present.

The planning was meticulous; children packed off to family for the weekend, cold weather gear filled our suitcases and the vital Icelandic phrase learnt: “Við viljum stórt glas af Sauvignon Blanc og jafnvel stærri glas af bjór vinsamlegast” – you could look it up, but I’m guessing you won’t need to! We’d hired a car and booked a cracking little self-catering apartment, so everything was set for five days of exploring by day and at night, chasing that elusive light show we hoped to see.

The days were filled with some of the most spectacular scenes we’d ever encountered. Despite, on the face of things, an inhospitable land outside of the main city Reykjavik, it was heartening to discover places and stories of men and women thriving alongside some of the most challenging features of God’s creation. Each afternoon we would check the Aurora Borealis app to determine the best location and time to see the magnificent display, and would plan our evening accordingly.

How much effort do we put into seeking the one true light of the world, fully available every day (and night)? “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5. Christ, creator of life, is that light of the world. When we follow in His light we can avoid walking blindly and messing up. He lights the path ahead of us so we can see how to live. Of all the lights we can seek, allowing Christ’s to shine in our lives is the perfect guide we need to stop us from stumbling.

On the third evening, and after much searching, we were blessed with flickering green lights over a crystal clear ocean. The show wasn’t as spectacular as it might’ve been, but great reward for patience and still sufficiently stunning to render us in awe of God’s amazing creation. On the plane coming home Catherine shared with me another ‘bucket list’ ambition. It turns out she’d really like to hand milk a cow – if only she’d mentioned that sooner!

Image Credit: Marcelo Quinan

The Revenant (15)

The-Revenant

Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Paul Anderson,  Brad Carter.

Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20 on Twitter)

“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe … keep breathing.”

Revenant: a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead … which makes the title of this epically brutal ‘survive-em-up’ spot on.

The ‘revenant’ in question here is Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di Caprio on surely Oscar winning at last form) – a real life frontiersman and fur trapper in the 1800s who underwent an incredible wilderness ordeal to try and find revenge.

Strap in then for a seriously perilous thrill ride of survival, where the extraordinary power of the human spirit is writ large in breathtaking cinematic style. Glass’s experiences of the uncharted American wilderness are certainly not for the faint of heart. Brief highlights include a brutal bear attack, beatings, being shot at with arrows and guns, freezing conditions and surviving on no provisions, plus being left for dead by his own friends. Broken limbs, life threatening injuries and a hunting party of bloodthirsty natives tracking him, Glass’s quest for survival is the very definition of ‘against the odds’.

The bear who mauls Glass is a work of cinematic genius, terrifying and brilliantly realised – this is the best on screen bear since, erm, Paddington … although anyone looking for a Paddington sequel here will be severely traumatised!?

Villain of the piece is back-stabbing scumbag John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy also on good form) whose betrayal of Glass sets up the main plot. The sheer force of will that sees Glass battling enemies, the elements and physical ailments in order to exact bloody vengeance is a glimpse into the dark motivations that lie under the civilised surface of man. This is a decent man who chooses a terrible course of action in order to exact a form of justice and find inner redemption. In the process he burns up his soul along with the astonishing physical torment he has to endure.

Director Iñárritu brings jaw-dropping cinematic spectacle to this snowy tale, the scenery is liable to transfix you with wondrous shots of forests and mountains which wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery.

The Revenant packs a compelling story, aided by a top notch cast. The two leads are ably supported by Domhnall ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Gleeson and Will ‘Maze Runner’ Poulter in particular.

This is a movie that will make you appreciate your nice warm home and safe existence just a little more. Highly recommended!

Thinking Material

What would drive a decent man to kill? Film’s like this have the power to convey the unimaginable – to drag you out of your everyday comfort zone and test your endurance, challenge your emotions and leave you considering the ‘what if’s’.
Could you find the sheer bloody mindedness to overcome impossible physical odds and wreak vengeance on someone who had wronged you? Is that even an acceptable response? I’m not going to go all ‘what would Jesus do’ on this plot because it’s too savage and raw to draw too close a biblical theme from. But echoes of revenge and ‘justice’ are the thoughts that Iñárritu’s Revenant will leave you pondering and I’d highly recommend that you give it a try even if revenge survival westerns aren’t your usual ‘thing’…

CVM Rating:  ****  4 out of 5 stars

Related Films: Unforgiven, The Hateful Eight, Open Range

Searching for Meaning

Searching For Meaning

I remember clear as day the thought in my mind as we swung out on the blind bend to pass the car in front of us, high up in the Alps: “I hope they’re right!”

Quite what the French car we were overtaking thought, as our Rover 218 with 6 kayaks on the roof screamed (OK, struggled) past, I’m not sure. ‘Les idiots’ is a mild guess.

But thanks to our trusty two-way radios, we felt confident, ish. We were travelling in convey, a sort of default Brits-abroad move that has been bred into our DNA across generations of international explorers. The lead car would radio back to tell us that the road was clear and we can overtake. This way we spent less time in the mountains and more time on the rivers. Made perfect sense at the time.

Thinking back to that part of my youth I am reminded that an act of following is always a step of faith.

Now following might be one of the most natural things to us in the world. As children we learn by following examples of those around us. We grow up following behind leaders: teachers, sports captains, parents etc. It’s a very naturally assumed relationship.

But as we get a little older we often begin to question these relationships. ‘Why am I following this person?’ we might muse – which is the polite expression of an inward belief that we can surely do better ourselves. Questions like this one also come, rather quickly I suppose, after we have been let down. As children, grown-ups can do no wrong. But that doesn’t last for long. A let down by a leader rocks our faith in the assumed understanding that the leader has our best in heart, that they know and care for us and are competent to take us to where we need to go.

Sooner or later we all realise that our leaders – other people – are as flawed and limited as we are. People we look up to can wound us deeply when they fail to live up to our standards for them. A toppled hero can be devastating. A quick look at public reaction when much-loved celebrities become embroiled in scandal is proof enough of this.

This is true everywhere. Work, sports, and yes, sadly, even within the church.

Some will cease following others, and follow their own desire. They’ll set their own path and appoint themselves captain of their one-man ship. And of course, we don’t all look for meaning by following people. We follow teams, brands, entertainment, fashions, the recycling code …

In John’s gospel Jesus makes a series of ‘I am’ claims. He uses these to communicate who he was to his hearers. In one scene Jesus is standing in the treasury – part of the temple in Jerusalem – between two great lamp stands that held many lamps as a representation of the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the desert at night time.

The pillar of fire was the presence of God, and in following it, the Israelites moved from captivity to their own Promised Land.

In a similar way, we I think seek to follow people, things, desires, dreams … in the hope that they will lead us from where we are – what might feel like captivity to us – to our own Promised Lands.

Jesus, using the two great lamp stands as his illustration, points to himself and says,

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, ESV)

Jesus’ invitation is to follow him, and in him find meaning in this life. Jesus doesn’t make this statement without support however. He doesn’t say to people to follow him without looking at who he is, without investigating his life, his death, and ultimately his resurrection.

Vulnerability and Passion

The tragic thing about a let down is that the real hurt comes not in the sting of the moment, but in the shutting down of that part of us so that we don’t get let down again. People, dreams, hopes: it sucks when they let us down. So we say to ourselves it won’t happen again.

We might sing about all those years of hurt experienced since England last won a major football competition and say we still dream, but we dream with our armour on. We hope against hope that something good will happen, but we also limit our excitement.

When a person lets us down we can vow to never trust to that level again. A failed marriage, or bad boss really can change us. But as Brene Brown rightly points out, “Our capacity for whole heartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken hearted.”

Passion, whole-hearted commitment, when we have it drives us to great things. It brings life to our world. But realism says that we should be careful; we should watch out. Jesus asks us to watch him, to see who he is. He asks us to learn that he will never let you down, that he will “never leave you or forsake you.”

The power of Jesus’ perfect life and perfect love to us is that it allows us – and requires us – to take our armour off of our hearts and become wholehearted again. Wholehearted, passionate people, who yes can be hurt and let down by others, but who know that they are following one who will never, ever wound us. By following Christ supremely, we can follow others lightly, allowing their talents and gifts to bring out the best in us, and absorbing their mistakes through the love we have been given by God in Jesus.

Lighting Up The World

The nature of light is that is exposes and reveals what is around us. It identifies what is truly there.

We are told that followers of Jesus “will not walk in darkness” but as people in the light we will see the world truly. Jesus lights up the reality of the world, the good, the bad, the ugly, and shows us how things really are. He doesn’t sugar-coat it, or provide a fluffy cocoon to shield us from this brokenness, but he instils in us bona fide hope for the future and strength for today.

The theme of light has been explored by many minds over many years, perhaps because its qualities and properties are fascinating.

C. S. Lewis in 1944 delivered an essay to the Socratic Club at Oxford University (a university whose motto was and is Dominus illuminatio mea ‘The Lord is my light’) entitled Is Theology Poetry? His concluding words, now surrounding the plaque laid for him at Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey:

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

An Example To Others

After being awarded the Ballon d’Or title, this weekend was all about Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou stadium. The 28 year old argentine striker presented his fifth ballon d’Or trophy to the on looking fans, players and coaching staff.

At the award ceremony it was to be Messi’s night with him gaining 41.33% of the vote, followed by Cristiano Ronaldo with 27.76% and fellow Barcelona team mate Neymar Jr coming third with 7.86%. Messi’s victory means that between them, Messi and Ronaldo have won the award over the past eight years.

Here’s why Messi won the most prestigious football award for 2015:

  • 61 games, 52 goals and 26 assists.
  • A goal every 101 minutes and an assist every 202 minutes
  • Best minutes-per-goal rate
  • Directly involved in 49 goals in La Liga – 34 scored and 15 assists – which was the joint most with Ronaldo in 2015 across the top five European leagues.
  • Scored in all six club tournaments in 2015, as Barcelona won five of them.

The delights of his footballing prowess have once again been awarded; recognising his talent and ability to outclass his opposition. However, with the award comes the responsibility of being the best. As the best player in the world, Lionel Messi has the added responsibility (like many famous footballers) to set a good example to those who look up to him. Setting an example to live by is not an easy task and many fall short of their potential to honour God. Here’s what the bible say’s about being an example to others:

‘Always set a good example for others. Be sincere and serious when you teach.’Titus 2:7 (CEV)

‘Make your light shine, so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your father in heaven.’Matthew 5:16 (CEV)

Many of us look up to footballers. They are our heroes; at times we think they have the lifestyles we’d like for ourselves. Unfortunately, far too often footballers lose sight of their purpose and fall away from the good and positive influence they can provide society. Something John warns us to about when he says:

‘Dear friend, don’t copy the evil deeds of others! Follow the example of people who do kind deeds. They are God’s children, but those who are always doing evil have never seen God.’3 John 1:11 (CEV)

I urge you to remember in your prayers footballers like Lionel Messi, who although may feel a million miles away, does have a huge influence over many who look up to him. Pray that he may set an example that honours God and all that is good.

Forward or Back – You Decide

I absolutely love wildlife programs; I could literally watch them all day. I am constantly amazed at the wonder of God’s creation; I marvel at the new discoveries made and how perfectly in balance nature is. It is no wonder I join with the Psalmist in saying “Let them praise the name of the LORD, For He commanded and they were created.” Psalm 148:5

I was watching a program recently about Kangaroos and I learned that they are one of only a handful of animals that cannot move backwards along with Emus and questionably Penguins and Alligators.

I loved the thought of only being able to move forward no matter what the situation or circumstance is. Even when danger is apparent there is no option but to move forward, I like that notion.

Sadly as Christian men danger is all around, whether it’s the enemy whispering his lies into our minds at vulnerable moments, friendly fire coming our way as we poke our heads above the parapets, the pressure to blend in rather than stand out in the workplace or the trials of day to day to life, danger can be all around us.

Too often as we face danger instead of moving forward we retreat, move backwards and stop journeying forward into what God has called us. At times we spend so much time looking backwards, focussing on the defeats, the attacks or worse still retreating because of the fear of potential danger that isn’t even there.

I want to encourage you to keep your head up, keep moving forward not backwards. Trouble will come, we will make mistakes but don’t let the fear of the danger cripple you from moving forward and having a go in the first place.

As we move forward into new territories it is important to look behind us and realise what we learned from our successes and more importantly our failures but don’t dwell there. Don’t think that because you failed once then you are a failure full stop, that’s simply not true, its a lie that the enemy feeds us to hold us back and keep us down.

As we move forward into whatever God has called us to lets keep these words of Paul firmly in our minds.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

Image Credit: Eamonn Maguire

Good vs. Great

My son Micah is 5, he came home from school on Friday saying that the teacher had asked him if he could ride a bike, to which he said “no, not really.”

This bothered him, he came home and asked me straight away to get his BMX out so I could teach him again. (I had tried before but I learnt that the timing for this type of thing is with your kids, not you).

We couldn’t get on the bike that day, so he waited. The next day it was all he wanted to do – so after church in the bitter cold, we went out with his bike.

I was amazed, after a few moments he was peddling along with only a few wobbles and crashes into the back of parked cars. No damage done.

I praised him and told him for ages how good he was on his bike – which he heard, but something else happened which taught me a good lesson.

Don’t give up on what is great, by holding on to what is good.

I don’t know who said that but it came to mind that cold Sunday afternoon.

He was riding good, and had managed more than I thought possible in just an hour that afternoon. He began to pedal standing up trying to go faster, he’d zoom past me and even tried a bunny hop (Jumping the bike off the ground!)

bmx

He was unwilling to give up on being great on the BMX by just settling for being good.

I was really impacted by it and immediately started to think about my faith in Jesus and how easy it is to settle for ‘good’ and lose sight of ‘great’. Good is comfortable and fears change. It can numb me and switch me off to the needs around me which need Jesus and His kingdom truth spoken in.

I want my faith in Jesus to be marked by risk taking,thinking big, being bold, praying for the miracles, asking big and expecting huge things! What about you?!

Are you living with ‘good’ when ‘great’ is on offer?! Great could mean trusting and walking blind at times, where the cost and possible difficulty can seep in, but I think, it is where we need to be… What about you?

The Side To Life Even Football Can’t Solve

While the chaos of a hectic Christmas fixture list has dominated the news over the past couple of weeks, there was one piece of breaking news that unfortunately showed a side to life that even football can’t solve.

A week ago, Martin Ling, now ex manager of Swindon Town FC, resigned from his position at the club because of ‘health reasons’. Following Mark Cooper’s sacking, Ling, now 49 was appointed on the 3rd of November and remained in charge of the League One side for 56 days. Having previously taken time out of the game due to depression, Swindon Town was Ling’s first managerial role since leaving Torquay United in April 2013.

Ling’s departure from football came at a time that is so often the hardest for those living with mental health problems. However, those living with mental illness know how much of a struggle it can be year round, yet it remains one of the last taboo subjects with many people struggling to speak about the subject.

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans an uplifting message to those experiencing a variety of circumstances, we can presume this included mental health issues:

‘I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!’ Romans 8:38-39 (CEV)

Paul goes on to offer up his prayers:

‘I pray that God, who gives hope, will bless you with complete happiness and peace because of your faith. And may the power of the Holy Spirit fill you with hope.’Romans 15:13 (CEV)

For some, mental health issues come and go while for others it can be a strenuous battle. With new figures suggesting as many as one in four people are affected by mental illness, there has never been a more prudent time for us to tackle this taboo subject with an honest and heart felt approach.

Mind and Soul is a Christian organisation dedicated to supporting people with mental health issues and has more on how to approach mental illness. Follow the link for more information.

If you are affected by mental illness, then do not endure in silence – turn to a friend or your local GP. As for Ling and all those living with mental health issues, we keep them in our thoughts and prayers remembering that the Lord is, ‘a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high’.Psalm 3:3b (NIV)

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