Closing the gap between belief and practise

heavy iron spike driven into a wooden cross

I am on a journey. A quest to span the gap between what I believe and how I live. ​

As a Christian this should be pretty simple – just follow the teachings of Jesus and things will be fine. ​In practise I find that within days (if not hours) of resolving to be more committed in following Christ I have stumbled into the mire of selfishness and lukewarmness.

Therefore, I am going to embark on an outrageously scary project for someone like me who has long thought that spirituality should be internal and private: I am going to write as openly as I can here about my own attempts to live faithfully as a disciple of Jesus Christ while living and working in a secular society. There will be mistakes, blunders, laziness, sin, doubts and fears. As God wills there will also be worship, rejoicing, and faith. This will not be an exercise in ‘correct’ theology or preaching at you. Consider it more like a window upon a soul stumbling in the footsteps of John Bunyan’s Christian.​


Image: iStock

Making the best of my time

Why do I give my time to that low-priority stuff which could easily wait at the expense what is immediate and important?


How many hours have I wasted catching up on blogs, social media and whatever else is new on the internet? Then I find it is very late, my sermon is not yet finished and I’ve not done the dishes either. Why is it that low-priority stuff which could easily wait is given my time at the expense of the immediate and important?

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15–17 ESV)

The section of Ephesians this sentence is taken from discusses the works of darkness in which we should not participate in as Christians. Such things as foolish talk, crude jokes, impurity, coveting, getting drunk, and general unfruitful pursuits. Often in the New Testament the idea of  fruitfulness comes up – our lives are expected to bear fruit for God.

Great, so I’m expected to be fruitful on top of working full time, being a father, a husband, and trying to maintain our house. Where am I supposed to find time to be fruitful?

Godly, organic time management

God’s time-management principles are simple: stop doing pointless and destructive things, replacing them with fruitful pursuits. This is an organic model which fits our humanity better than trying to cram every minute with action and scheduling life in a manner more appropriate to a robot than a person. Jesus talks of pruning unfruitful branches to make the tree as a whole bear more fruit, a principle we can apply to our own lives. Not just adding more stuff to do but cutting away all that is unfruitful so what remains will grow better.

Fruitfulness is also a lifetime assessment – no tree bears any useful fruit in its first few years – in fact God commanded Israel to not eat the fruit of a newly planted tree for 5 years (Leviticus 19:23-25). Similarly, a tree cannot control the seasons or growing conditions around it.

Sometimes life is hard and our focus has to be on survival. Then seasons change and the roots which that down deep seeking living water in order to survive a drought enable great fruitfulness which could have come no other way.


Image: iStock

Go and do likewise

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36–37 ESV)

This man thought he was getting himself off the hook by asking Jesus just who exactly was his neighbour.

In response, Jesus demonstrates that he knew damn well all along who his neighbour is and has been ignoring God’s command to love him.

We also need to go and do likewise.


Image: iStock

John the Baptist gets high

Imagine spending thirty years of your life intensely focussed on what you are convinced is your entire purpose for being. The enormity of the task sometimes causes you to quiver and seriously doubt yourself, can you really pull it off? What if, in the crucial moment, you fail to perform what is expected of you? If this job is not done properly history will hate you for it!
It is the preparation which costs so much; constant vigilance, total discipline and self control, being unable to participate in most of the entertainments your peers enjoy. Every day – preparing and waiting – Oh the seemingly endless waiting.

Finally, after years of study and setting yourself aside for the task you know you are ready and the time is right to begin. With faltering voice at first you start speaking out, attempting to convince others of the message you have been given. Surprisingly the people respond. They see your sincerity, look past your idiosyncrasies and understand the message.

Well, the common people that is. The educated and wealthy start mocking and debating. They cannot see why your teaching is applicable to them, especially given their inherited position.

Yet, despite this opposition even your reputation grows until crowds are gathering to listen and act. People are taking it seriously, asking sensible questions about how to change injustice. Things are happening!

However, with the success your anxiety mounts. Things are surely going to come to a head soon but you still haven’t done the most important thing. What if you’ve missed it? What if dealing with so many people coming to listen and be changed has blinded you to the most important part of the task?

With such doubts in your mind every night you rehearse your message. Your tone is getting more strident and uncompromising. The ‘debates’ with the authorities are getting less like debates and becoming more like tirades against them. Someone is going to get real upset before too much longer!

Then it happens, after yet another heated exchange with the scribes. Looking up, the man walking towards you matches what others have described but more importantly you recognize in him an air of uncompromising sincerity. Now, after so many public speeches your words tumble out awkwardly and you hear yourself wondering out loud whether what you’d been planning to do is actually the right thing.

He smiles and reassures. Yes, your concerns are valid but stick to the plan. So it is done.

Then…

Well, words cannot describe it. Nothing you had imagined came near the actual event. But it happened, just as you had been told. Good thing the water was fairly shallow or you’d have nearly drowned! Not only the dove, but the voice also! The sign! YOU HAD JUST BAPTIZED THE SON OF GOD!

I am speculating here, but it is my guess that John the baptist – a young 30-year-old man – found it difficult to focus on his work for the rest of that day and probably was buzzing too much to sleep very well that night! The purpose God had given him in life had now been achieved!

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29–34 ESV)


Image of man jumping: iStock]

Nothing looks the same

Last Friday evening my wife and I went to a concert by New Zealand’s two best gospel singers, Derek Lind and Steve Apirana.

Steve & Derek regularly tour NZ in support of Tear Fund, playing for donations in local churches. Their concerts are humorous and spontaneous, these guys are relaxed and genuine. They also have depth, there is no flashy lights or stage makeup, what you get is real faith accompanied by experience and wisdom.

This particular concert has challenged me. It occurred at a time when God seems to really be on my case about reaching unreached people groups in hard places with the Gospel and love of Jesus. Then along comes the Christian singer who has been in my ears since 1989 and seriously reinforces that message!

In fact God niggling at me about missions work is nothing new either, over 20 years on that one too! (I’m a slow learner). There has also been a lot of background work needing done before I would be fit to inflict upon the world.

What I am finding is that my perspective is changing. I am seeing things differently, myself, my life, my place in the world, the realities facing others don’t look the same.  There is no undoing the knowledge I now have of how much suffering is happening in Burma. With that knowledge I am responsible (to paraphrase Brooke Fraser), I cannot just pretend it is not a problem.

Nothing Looks the Same

Fly the friendly skies,
nothing looks the same.
From this distance,
nothing looks the same.
Fly the friendly skies,
and hang your head in shame.
From this altitude,
nothing looks the same.

Was that a lightning bolt?
Nothing looks the same.
Was that a camera flash?
Nothing looks the same.
Is God taking photographs,
for evidence for blame?

From this distance,
nothing looks the same.

But under the spell of gravity,
there is dissonance and danger.
This voyeur gets to touch,
and taste and small and see,
This is not fiction,
it’s fact, and it’s stranger.

This is not a checkerboard,
these are paddy fields and fishponds.
This is not quaint,
it stinks and it’s ugly.

From this distance,
nothing looks the same.
From arm’s length,
nothing looks the same.
Even from 35 millimetres,
nothing looks the same.

Just remember this
at the end of a long hard day,
I get to fly away,
you get to stay

Nothing looks the same
Nothing looks the same
Nothing looks the same

Derek Lind – Nothing Looks the Same


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Pray for your kids – obedience

Mama and her 9 little ones crossing the road

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.(Ephesians 6:1 ESV)

I guess this is something most parents will be happy to pray for their kids!

Even Jesus had to learn obedience (Hebrews 5:8-9). As a husband obeys Christ and a wife submits to her husband, so a child is to obey both parents in Christ (see  Ephesians 5:22-33).

I cannot force obedience upon my children, but as their father I can walk in obedience to Christ, letting this be seen by my kids and showing them that as I am not a law unto myself so too they should be obedient.

And, of course, I pray that God will put within them a desire and motivation to obey!


Download the prayer prompts:

31 Days of Prayer; Children

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Image of ducklings: iStockphoto

A humble friend of Jesus

What would it be like to have an intimate friendship with Jesus? I have been pondering this lately and can’t get away from what Jesus said  to His disciples:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17 ESV)

The core of what Jesus is saying is that His friends love one another and bear the fruit of the ‘upside-down’ kingdom of God.

If I want to deepen my friendship with Jesus I will walk in love. That sounds wonderfully easy, just be kind and loving. And if I was kind and loving by nature it would be easy. But I am not and it isn’t.

I am sinful by nature and despite  being grafted into the life-giving vine, I’m still wild and need pruning in order to bear kingdom fruit (Romans 11:17, John 15:1-2). Love is not my natural inclination. Besides, God’s definition of love is a lot higher than the world’s.

The friends of Jesus love their enemies, have no fear for their lives, are humble as children are, daily deny themselves, are not anxious, hope in all things and endure all things. That is not what I am like by nature, I need God’s Spirit to create this fruit in my life. (See Matthew 5:44, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:4, Luke 9:23, Luke 12:22, and 1 Corinthians 13:4–7).

Fortunately Jesus knew His disciples well, knows human nature well, knows me well and knows you. He knows that we are not already holy, He requires of us to simply begin the journey and humbly entrust all we are into His hands. If I do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Jesus, He will make the fruit grow.

It is good for me to keep reminding myself what Jesus expects of His friends, that way it is no surprise when He demands these things of me. I am better prepared then to humbly walk with Him rather than resisting and sinfully going my own way – tearing friendship apart.


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Image of Tibetian friends: Moosa_Kahn

My snakes and ladders spiritual life

snakes-and-ladders

Goal: To follow Christ faithfully all my life.
Reality: Stumbling through life barely seeing, fearful at times that I have completely lost my way.

My spiritual life doesn’t contain much ‘plain sailing’. It is much more like a game of snakes and ladders in which I plod along for a bit, climb to heights occasionally, to be brought back down again by all too frequent attacks from the serpent.

No doubt spiritual attacks from the evil one(s) are fairly constant but some have a more crushing impact than others, bringing me tumbling from a proud place way down into the pit. Perhaps because I thought I was doing OK for a while.

All this climbing and falling, up and down, delight and despair, confounds my will to live in Christ. I want to walk in obedience, for:

…whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17 ESV)

Yet this proves impossible, my wretchedness oozes through (Romans 7:24). I certainly am under no deception regarding the reality of my own sin (1 John 1:8), yet this condemns me because acknowledging my sin shows I am walking in darkness (1 John 1:6).

Both chapters 8 & 9 of Romans and also the book of 1 John address what following Christ is really like – blameless in Christ yet wandering off into the darkness and filth of sin. John blatantly writes:

I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin… (1 John 2:1 ESV)

In the end I take up the words of a hymn in prayer to God:

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
(Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing)


Image of Snakes and Ladders game: Flickr, Sezzles

Don’t be radical, be faithful

Do you love Jesus?
Really?

Do you love him enough to die for him?

Where is the evidence?

We are hearing and reading plenty of calls for ‘radical’ commitment to Christ these days, it seems to be a bit of a trendy stance to take. However, I’m not sure that Jesus actually wants us to be radical, certainly not in the sense of being ‘extreme’ (another cool way to describe oneself). When Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” he did not tell him to do something radical, he told Peter to serve him faithfully (John 21:15).

True, Jesus did tell Peter he would lay down his life, and he had already left everything he had in order to follow Jesus, in fact Peter had no hesitation in leaving his job to follow Jesus (John 21:18-19, Mark 10:28-29, Mark 1:16-18). In current terminology this would be labeled as a radical commitment. But consider what Jesus was actually demanding from Peter – follow Me, to the exclusion of all else. Serve My people, care for them in My name. Jesus called Peter to be with him and to lead others on the same path. A path of weakness and failure (John 13:37-38), a path of obedience (John 14:15). Have a read of Peter’s epistles – he consistently exhorts us to be faithful and obedient, for example:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV)

We tend to like the idea of being able to summon up the willpower, emotional energy and faith to make a radical decision which will place us on a course of unusual devotion and service for Christ. In my experience the choices with guaranteed ongoing consequences are generally not good ones.

The idea behind ‘Radical Christianity’ is basically a return to the roots of what Christianity is all about. However, the way the word ‘radical’ is bandied around these days it is effectively used as a synonym for ‘extreme’. I can understand the appeal of calling people to a ‘radical commitment’ to Christ or ‘radical discipleship’, but in the end it becomes yet another meaningless phrase that sounds impressive while having no content.

In the real world of living as a Christian in our homes, workplaces and communities, extremism is not going to get us very far. There is an attractiveness to the idea of making a single decision that will have flow-on consequences of increased faithfulness to Christ in all areas of my life. Unfortunately discipleship doesn’t work that way. From what I’ve seen the decisions which have unavoidable flow-on consequences are generally stupid, selfish ones and the flow-on effects are all destructive (eating too much, drinking too much, spending too much, saying too much, lusting too much, driving too fast… ).

So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
(1 Corinthians 7:24 ESV)

Paul wanted to draw the Corinthians’ attention away from their circumstances and emphasize that the full Christian life could be lived anywhere by anyone if lived in deep communion with God. Do we really believe that? Really?
Redefining Radical (Part 2)
What ever happened to a theology of calling and vocation? by Skye Jethani

The path to great devotion and service to Christ is one of small steps repeated often, it is narrow and hard (Matthew 23:11-12). Learning obedience and faithfulness occurs in the small mundane details of killing selfishness, pride, coveting and a myriad of other sins. The greatest in the kingdom of God is the servant, not the most radical (Matthew 23:11-12). Someone who is great in the eyes of God will be overlooked by others.

The evidence of my love for Christ is seen in the little, automatic actions, thoughts, words and choices that I make every day. These mundane details display, or betray, any love I claim to have for Jesus

…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,
(1 Thessalonians 4:11 ESV)

Simple, not easy

I was listening to Matthew Chapter 7 as I walked home this afternoon and noticed how simply Jesus taught. He did not make it complicated to understand how to be righteous – simply listen to what He said and put it into practise, simple!

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”
(Matthew 7:24 ESV)

Simple to understand, certainly not easy to do. In fact, if the path I’m on is easy, that’s a good indication I’m on the wrong path.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. “
(Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

The call and commands of Christ are easy to understand but impossible for a sinful man to obey. I must become something I am not – a little child (Matthew 18:3). A little child believes Jesus when He says it is better to enter life with one hand or one eye than to be thrown into hell with two hands or two eyes. A little child does not rationalize away sin or hell, he confesses the sin, trusts Jesus, and walks on with Jesus in obedience. I don’t need more knowledge, I need to know Jesus and live trusting Him completely.

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “
(Matthew 6:31-33 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed this week (145 – 162):

145) The means to dispatch large spiders without getting too close! (i.e., flyspray).
146) My 17 year-old watch that still goes great.
147) My Mother-in-law making my favourite cake.
148) Contemplating God while washing dishes late at night.
149) Being mesmerized by the patterns of light summer rain falling silently on a pond.
150) Gentle ‘plopping’ sounds as the rain gets heavier.
151) Dragonflies hovering.

152) A dog eager for me to throw a pine cone into the pond for him to chase.

153) School camp.
154) A washing machine.
155) warm, sunny days to get washing dry.
156) Memories of my own childhood adventures.
157) A swim for two dogs who are hot and panting.
158) A gentle, cooling breeze (see Jonah 4:8).
159) Warm sunny days helping to burn away the fog.
160) Clean water to drink.
161) A dog who is expert at finding lost tennis balls to play with.
162) Hope in Christ deeper than any circumstance or emotion.
163) A new road layout, no more walking alongside trucks.
164) The simple, brain-clearing rhythm of walking.