Always Be Prepared

Life is busy. Responsibilities and commitments rarely abate, and new challenges require our attention and focus.

This is in addition to our increasingly cluttered lives. Lives where the in-between parts are filled up by technology, media – digital distraction. Like water finding the cracks in a pavement, so our empty spaces so easily fill up with things that are just a click away.

I have known times in my life where I have suddenly come to the realisation that it’s been a while since I’ve stopped, prayed, read my Bible etc.. This wasn’t intentional, it just sort of happened.

I may have become aware of this rather gently: no dramatic incident in my life, just a realisation of something familiar that was no longer there.

These unassuming moments where I return to my private life with my Lord can mask the danger that may have just been averted. Perhaps there were slight feelings of guilt, or nostalgia, but it didn’t feel like anything bad really happened. I, or others, weren’t seemingly hurt from this lapse.

But something bad could have happened.

Spiritual Preparation

When Peter tells the church to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV) he is in part instructing the church to think through the reasons for faith: to be able, when called upon, to explain the basis for hope. But there is more to the defense of the faith than having all the answers. We must be spiritually prepared too.

There is no strong apologetic that is not rooted in relationship with God. The “hope” we proclaim is relational. God, come to earth, to redeem the world. Sharing Christianity is not only sharing reasons for faith, but includes an active demonstration of the relationship between God and us.

When we spend time with God in prayer, when we learn of His truth through the Bible, we cultivate a spiritual preparedness. We’re more on God’s wavelength, so to speak. Then, when we are presented with an opportunity to share our faith, spiritually we are much more informed. By being closer to God’s heart and His truth we are more able to share it more quickly with others.

Taking Stock

I am surrounded by devices. My computer, my phone, my iPad, they’re all close by. It’s so easy to either always be checking for the latest update, email, score, or, be informed of the latest photo, tweet, or post.

The technology is great. It serves me well, but only when it serves me.

I have found that it’s useful to, perhaps at the end of the week, ask myself some questions – and be honest – about how I’ve spent my in-between time. Have I been purposeful with it? Have I prayed, have I meditated on Scripture, have I been active in involving God in my life? Or have those spaces been consumed by distractions that have crept in?

(If you have a hard time being honest with yourself, ask your wife or someone else close to you for his or her honest thoughts on how you spend your time.)

It’s not a question of grading myself, but a decision to prioritise the most important things. It’s not a religious check list to make me feel good about my life, but I genuine desire to be more in communion with my God who has shown incredible love and grace towards me.

All of this is incredibly beneficial to me, individually. Walking closely with God has knock on advantages in all areas of my life. But the other side of this is that one day it might be incredibly beneficial to someone else who asks you for “the reason for the hope that you have”. You’ll smile, and begin to explain the reasons for this amazing God who were just moments ago talking to and thinking about. And that could make all the difference.

Mind Games

The other week I was off work for 3 days due to a sickness bug, nothing serious just one of those bugs that seem to knock the stuffing out of you completely and leave you rolling about the floor wishing your mum was around to nurse you better.

I had to cancel meetings and miss a 2 day conference that I was due to attend. As I started to feel better and didn’t have to remain within 10 feet of the toilet, I started to feel sorry for myself in the way that only us blokes do. I was wishing that I had a little bell that would alert my wife to come running with the chicken soup and a cloth to mop my brow…

My mind began to wander to the missed opportunities due to cancelled meetings and I began to follow the conference on Twitter, realising that fantastic Kingdom business was taking place and I was missing it!

As these negative thoughts started to go round in my mind one thought kept on coming back: “God doesn’t really care about you”. Now of course this statement is totally rubbish and untrue, God loves us so much that he sent His Son to die for us, even when we were his enemy. But it made me realise how easy it is for negative thoughts to start in our minds. The enemy of course loves this kind of thinking and is actively engaged in trying to convince us that God is against us.

The danger comes when we start to focus on and believe the negativity that can often sneak into our thinking. We start believing the lies that the enemy is subtly telling us, often placing these thoughts over the truth of scripture. After allowing these thoughts to affect my thinking for a few hours while I was feeling sorry for myself, I was quickly brought back to what the Bible says about the matter. I really love the weapons that God has given us in our daily battles with the enemy and the reminder to put on our armour every day.

Put on all the armour that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks  For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. So put on God’s armour now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground. Ephesians 6:11-3

As we face new challenges each and every day let’s remember to put on our armour, resist the enemy’s plans and focus on the truth contained within scripture and not the negative thoughts that can often plague our thinking.

Photo Credit: Henry Hustava

Keep Looking Up

I was a bit early arriving at my meeting in a town centre church and as it was Scotland’s one day of summer I decided to go for a walk around the town. This is something I really enjoy especially in a town I am visiting for the first time. As I still had a good few minutes before my meeting I decided to grab a coffee, sit outside and watch the world go by.
As I enjoyed my well-deserved coffee, I began to notice that people were walking around looking down. No one really seemed to be looking up, smiling or acknowledging each other. It was almost like they were trapped in their own little bubble.

This got me thinking as to where we as Christian guys fix our gaze. Often we are filled with sorrow or regret and we are constantly looking backwards. We analyse things that happened in the past and replay it in our minds over and over again. Often we try to imagine what would have happened if we had done or said something different. I am sure that you don’t need me to tell you that this is a totally futile exercise and just causes us further hurt.

Another thing we constantly do is keep looking around, especially when we have a problem. We are worrying about a situation or a problem, desperately looking for a solution, trying to do everything on our own, in our own strength. Of course we are men and can fix anything!

Instead of constantly looking backwards or around us, we need to refocus our attention upwards. Faith looks up towards God and what He has done and is doing for us.

When we are struggling with sorrow or regret over something that has happened we need to fix our gaze upwards and be reminded of what it says in Ephesians (Message Version) “Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free!” You see when we gave our lives to Jesus, all our sins in the past, present and future have been were dealt with and we don’t need to constantly drag up the past in our minds and beat ourselves up about it.

When we are faced with problems and situations that cause us to worry, it’s time to stop looking around and trying to fix the problems in our own strength. We need to look up and be reminded of God’s promises as in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We must make prayer our first port of call and not the last, trusting that God has it all under control as He has promised.

As I was sitting outside that coffee shop, I wanted to hold up a sign that says “LOOK UP”. Advice which I also need to heed every day as I too get fed up looking at my shoelaces.

Keep Looking Up!

Photo Credit: Dennis Ottink

Win At All Cost?

There is not a week goes by without some sort of sporting scandal. Whether it is officials receiving bribes, athletes getting caught up in a doping scandal, footballers diving or acting like they have been shot when someone goes anywhere near them. The pressure to win at any cost is immense, with often-huge sums of money at stake. We often hear phrases like “It’s not the taking part but the winning that counts” or “wining isn’t everything, it’s the only thing!”

Don’t get me wrong, I am very competitive and I always want to win but at times I need to ask myself at what cost? Am I willing to give up my integrity, my credibility or my witness as Christ’s ambassador to simply be declared the winner?

It was so refreshing to read about 24 yr old Ivan Fernandez Anaya, who was lying second in a Spanish cross-country race. The Kenyan leader, Abel Mutai, thought he had crossed the finishing line, and pulled up 10 metres from finishing line. Anaya could have seized his chance, but instead he shepherded Mutai across the line, coming second. He said afterwards that he recognised Mutai as the winner, and didn’t want to exploit an error. Mutai was the winner, but Anaya was the real champion!

I have way more respect for Ivan Fernandez Anaya than I do for any diving footballer or drug cheat athlete. His integrity shines through him and is of great encouragement and also challenge.

What about you? Are you willing to risk your integrity just to win? We are often the only windows of Jesus that many people have, are you up for turning others away from Jesus because you wanted to win at all cost?

The bible reminds us that we will always be found out when we cheat “He who walks in integrity and with moral character walks securely, but he who takes a crooked way will be discovered and punished.” Proverbs 10:9 (Amplified Bible) Is it worth cheating just to win? I don’t think so!

Photo Credit: Abigail Keenan

Hoping for Victory

I remember listening to the radio as Manchester United beat Bayern Munich in extra time to win the 1999 Champions League final. There’s something slightly magical about listening to a game, having to rely on the commentators description of the events unfolding before their eyes, reconstructing it in my mind. Perhaps it’s the extra effort required on my part to ‘see’ the game, that means it sticks in the memory that much longer.

The Liverpool v. A. C. Milan 2005 final, with that thrilling second half comeback before the penalty shoot out, is another that lives long in the imagination.

And now there’s another game to add to the list. On the face of it there was nothing special about this Premier League Monday-night London derby feature. Except that , this time, if Spurs lost to Chelsea, Leicester – the team that only months before were 5000/1 to win the league – would be champions with two games to spare.

I had listened in on the 1-1 draw that Leicester conjured up at Old Trafford the day before, slightly disappointed that they didn’t get the win there, but still believing they’d wrap it up soon. So Monday evening, as I pottered around the house, I tuned in as Spurs went 2-0 up against Chelsea. Tottenham’s form this year has been stunning, and Chelsea’s has been too, albeit for other reasons. So this was perhaps to be expected.

But then Chelsea pulled one back not long in to the second half and there was a rise in hope that, with just one more goal, tonight would be the night. The tension crept up as the second half progressed. And then Hazard scored; quiet all season but adds a line of his own to the incredible story of Leicester’s indomitable march to victory.

With just a few minutes left of the match, I found my wife and told her what was going on. She paused, looking up from her novel, and smiled. Earlier in the season when I was getting increasingly excited about a potential Leicester victory she told me that she was happy, but that she’d rather wait for the movie complete with the love-story angle added to it.

At 2-2 I could sense Spurs were fighting with everything they had, straining to find a way through and take the challenge to Leicester just a little bit further. The match was being drawn, between two sides I’m usually not that bothered by, yet it felt like Scotland were 1-0 up against England in a Euro final. The clock couldn’t tick down fast enough.

At the final whistle it was done. Leicester had won the Premier League and it felt like the whole world was beaming. I smiled, laughed a little, shock my head and went and told my wife. It was such a beautiful story, and a sorely needed injection of overwhelming genuine affection for the Beautiful Game. Leicester had done something truly remarkable in a world where we even fail to get excited about space travel anymore. Newspapers from countries that don’t even rank football in their top 3 sports ran headlines crammed with enough superlatives to compose a thesaurus.

‘Could they do it?’ we asked at Christmas. ‘It is possible?’ We wanted to believe it was possible, we wanted to hope that there was a chance for a team lacking the usually required financial punch, armed instead with grit and team-spirit, to defy the very worst of odds and make history. As the season progressed, the growth in goodwill from near-everyone else was matched only by the rise in belief that it could happen.

Hope soared on Monday night and carried a team, a city, and a legion of adoptive fans, to swirling heights.

The Bible describes those that know God as people who “dwell in hope” (Acts 2:26, ESV). Leicester’s remarkable achievements on the football pitch inspire and cause us to rejoice, but they also serve to remind us that the human soul is made for hope, to dwell – to live constantly – in a state of hope. This hope, from God, is of an assured victory of good over evil, love over hate, life over death.

We see dimly now, but one day we will perceive the unrestrained emotion of triumphant, glorious hope fulfilled across every inch of our lives and throughout the entire world. That’ll be some celebration.

What was that all about?

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the ending of the longest war in history. The 335 Year War (as it is now known) was a conflict between the Netherlands and the tiny Isles of Scilly off the south west coast of Cornwall. It all kicked off way back in 1651, during the second English Civil War, but throughout this long period there were no casualties, no battles, not even a single shot fired. Probably because, for the vast majority of that time, neither side was even aware that they were at war! It’s a fascinating story, which I’d recommend looking up.

Reading it myself got me thinking about how, in our lives, we can be involved in lengthy periods of conflict, yet often with little recollection of the original ‘disagreement’. What was it all about, how did it start and why has it lasted for so long? Maybe it’s a friend that we don’t talk to anymore; a neighbour we avoid; or someone in the family we simply can’t be in the same room as.

On a well known counselling organisation’s website, advice concerning the resolution of conflict seems to fall under three less than encouraging headings:
1. Resolve it
2. Let it go
3. Minimise contact or cut off completely

Thankfully the Bible has plenty of good advice on the subject. God tells us that His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8); His ways are much higher than our ways, and invariably run counter to our ways. So if we’re serious about achieving peace in our relationships, we need to respond to conflict God’s way.

In the majority of cases, drawn out periods of conflict come from a dislike (often a deep dislike) of another. However difficult the dislike is to solve, we should be demonstrating the unconditional love of Christ to the person or people we’re in conflict with (Luke 6:27). If we say we love God that includes loving all those created in His image (1 John 4:20-21). No matter what the disagreement we should never stop praying for those we’ve fallen out with. We should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19). We should take a step back from the hostilities and consider whether we share common goals that are bigger than our differences, appealing to those common interests as we seek a resolution. Of course we also should forgive as the Father forgives us (Coll 3:13). When we recall God’s infinite love and forgiveness we are much more able to love and forgive others.

With the signing of a peace treaty by the Netherlands ambassador, Mr. Rein Huydecoper, on 17th April 1986, I’m relieved that we no longer have to choose between Royalist or Parliamentarian armies when visiting the south west! But what about those long unresolved conflicts in our lives today? We’re unlikely to get 335 years to settle our differences, but if we prayerfully commit today to healing those old wounds, God can do truly amazing things through us.

Only An Excuse

excuses

My pastor from church sends out a daily text to a number of people, a little snippet or thought for the day to encourage and equip the reader. One of last weeks texts included this quote from Willis Whitney – “Some men have thousands of reasons why they cannot do what they want to; all they need is one reason why they can.

As I read it, it really struck home to me and challenged me big time. Even now as I write this blog I know that I need to go for a training swim as part of my Grand Challenge later in the year but hundreds of excuses are flying through my mind as to why I shouldn’t head to the gym and swim at least 60 lengths.

Often we know that we should share our faith with our work colleagues, guys in the gym, mates in the pub and even our family members but when it comes to it we can all think of thousands of reasons not to.

“What if they laugh at me?”
“What if they ask me a tricky question that I don’t know they answer to?”
“They wont listen anyway!”
“The probably wouldn’t be interested anyway!”

These are just some of the obvious ones that immediately spring to mind, I could go on and on with excuses.

But, as Whitney says in the quote above we only need only need one reason as to why we can and that reason is faith. Throughout scripture we read about ordinary men doing extraordinary things all because of their faith. They knew that with God all things are possible, not in their own strength but in His.

One my favourite portions of Scripture is Hebrews 11, the faith hall of fame, hear we read about spiritual giants and the great things that they accomplished, all because of their faith in God. Its inspiring reading and its my go to passage when the task ahead of me seems too big.

Not only do we have faith that enables to do amazing things, we also have permission from Jesus to go and join him in the adventure. As we read in the Great Commission, Jesus confirms his authority and gives us His permission to go out into the whole world.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

So lets be inspired by the faith of the great men of Scripture and use faith as our one reason as to why we can.

I am off for that swim!

Making the Man (Part VI)

making-the-man#6 Decline of compassion

I remember being in Brazil and chatting to a wealthy Christian friend of mine and asked him about the poverty all around us. In the region of Brazil where I was living you couldn’t go out without being pressed right up against abject poverty and misery all around you.

People begging, people holding terrible wounded and diseased body parts desperate for money. Stopping at ANY traffic light you are approached by at least 2 street sellers whilst you watch a street performer juggling or spinning a plate for money at the traffic light. (Bit of a different Brazil than the postcards!)

This mate of mine looked me in the eye with a hint of remorse and said ‘mate, to be honest I just don t see them anymore.’

Whilst I was shocked, I also could start to understand how this guy had arrived at this conclusion. There was just a huge disconnect in how he could help, having grown up around this his whole life it no longer seemed like something to be fixed, so it was filtered out. Compassion had almost gone, and a sense of concern for the needs of those around had gradually been dissolved.

But this is the obvious way in which we can sense or not sense compassion, I think they Bible has another way of seeing it. But first there was a great moment in the film Superman returns between Lois and Superman. Superman takes Lois into space and asks her this:

Superman: Listen; what do you hear?
Lois Lane: Nothing.
Superman: I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn’t need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.

Nice one superman but Jesus did it better: ‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ Matthew 9:36

We might look out and see comfortable people, lives seem to be in order with a new car on the drive and two holidays a year. But the thing is Jesus saw though all of that veneer! A spiritual condition and spiritual need that the Bible identifies as sin. This may seems bit weird but I think when we look out we don’t have much compassion that moves us to pray in this way because we don’t see the same thing. We see stuff that indicates someone who isn’t in need (materially) so no compassion for the eternal path they are on! Does that fit?

I am doing it all the time, but the truth is without Jesus there is spiritual poverty and that needs to be seen, embraced and moved a heart of compassion for the church to respond.

Creativity

God created the universe and He made man in his own image……. this is mind blowing!

Therefore may I suggest that we think outside of the box and focus on how each one of us could be more creative this week.

This may be with our hands such as photography or gardening, Churchill relaxed by building brick walls!

We could be more creative socially…start a prayer triplet. Visit an elderly man who may be lonely and take him for a pint at your local. Go for a long cycle ride with a mate or your son.

Someone challenged me to focus on my ministry of being a husband. That is very creative and involves every heading that I could possibly mention in this short blog!

One of my friends observed that many men who have very creative jobs want to switch off their brains on Sunday at church. Is this is a cop out? Sometimes the best refreshment is to do something as challenging, but completely different from, our normal tasks. It is important for church leaders to challenge men with creative activity rather than them becoming passive spectators.

It is good to do what you are passionate about and invite others to join in. I think CVM call this level one! This is not a big deal, just start in a small way with one other person.

I`m a retired civil engineer and I have found voluntary work socially very demanding and creative. And a joy!

Making the Man (Part V)

making-the-man#5 Decline of self-discipline

As you might expect from Proverbs in the Bible, is this wisdom about self-control and discipline: ‘A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.’ Proverbs 25:28

Cities of that day had just about all their defense in the walls, you just need to read up about Nineveh and how arrogant they had become trusting in what they thought was an impenetrable wall around the city.

If you imagine a field and around it is a wall, at certain point part of that wall is attacked. The wall might get damaged and some repairs go up and the wall is back again. The attack can hit that same spot again, then again and again. Each time work is done to repair but the repairs are getting less and less and the strength and integrity on the wall is compromised. After time that wall has gone and the space has now been occupied, that section of land is no longer owned and the enemy can enter the field at any time whenever they want.

Imagine that field is you and me, our lives. Self-control keeps that perimeter up, of course we pray, accountability and meeting with other Christians too, but outside of those moments when you are at work or in private it’s the self discipline keeping it together.

When sin starts to hit that wall it can turn up in lots of ways. Subtle glances at the attractive women you know, or the channels late at night or the whispers of more money and power if the rules are moved a little. After time and without warning the walls have been breached and that section or area in your life is no longer surrendered to you. It rampages your field without invite and stays for as long as it likes.

I think self-discipline and control is like a muscle that we build, strengthen and notice. Ignored it wont grow but focused on and built up it will start to work, even when we don’t realise it. Kurt Hahn identified this as something g lacking in the society of his time in the young men of his time. Has it changed for us today? Had it changed for you personally today? As Christian men and brothers we can train together to build a core strength of a spiritual self-discipline. Where iron really does sharpen iron, maybe you’ve got a wall to reclaim!

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