Authenticity, call, faithfulness, obidience, vocation

A Heap of Stones or the Presence of God.

I was in a queue at New Wine (a Christian Festival) and some fella in front of me, evidently a clergy person, was saying how they wanted to find up at a successful New Wine Church.

As I thought about I wanted to punch him!
Why is it the big and successful Churches especially in nice leafy suburbs seen to be sort after by clergy, yet those churches which need renewing, which are struggling and in trouble no one wants to come to.
Just as in the world of teaching it’s the toughest schools which actually need the best teachers, yet everyone wants to go where it is successful.
Yet I was thinking that actually this is asking God for a bit of an easy life, a comfortable cross to carry, a cushy call.
When I was 20/21 I worked for two Churches in the North of England, one no one has ever heard of but saw God do amazing and wonderful things, the other is famous and much much larger and I didn’t see God doing very much at all.
A Church living in it (glorious) past where God did wonderful things, but the past is just that past, gone. I vowed then that trying to revive smug carcasses, relics of the past, church morphing into a museum, was not something I felt called to but seeking where God was at work, or wanting to break in was where I felt drawn to.
Sometimes we get sedduced by a name of a successful church, leader, ministry or movement and what they have done, but again the question remains not what has happened but what is happening.
Sadly things that have mightily been used by God need to keep in step with him, the problem is we keep wanting to stop and to settle, where the spirit of God keeps pushing forward in waves, are we keeping up, or have we stopped, or stalled on our journey.
To often we want to go where God has been, rather than where God is going, what God had done rather than what God is doing, sat looking at his footprints rather than chasing his shadow.
We can’t live in the past, caught in history, rather that step into the future that God is beckoning us into.
Often we share stories of conversation of what God has done in our lives that want he’s actually doing… Sometimes the stories we tell are getting a bit old, our best history rather that what God is doing with us now, today, and where is God leading us on to the future.
So to close, let’s make sure our walk with God, our ministries, where we serve isn’t just resting sat back on its history but pushing forward chasing after where God is leading.
Tommy Tenny used the phrase “God chasers” and I like the image of this, running after Christ and wanting to keep in step with his spirit, not stopping, not settling, not coming comfortable and complacent, stuck in a rut, lagging behind where God is leading us, sitting out for a season or doing our own thing.
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Journey, Leadership, legacy, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, Life Together, obidience, ordination

Ten Years on…

Thinking about the guys being ordained this as and last weekend reminded me that for me and cohort we are coming up to the tenth anniversary of our ordinations (actually mine is in September).

Looking back, the first thing struck me is the number of people I have lost touch with (other than the odd ‘like’ on facebook).
Yet as I think back, a few things struck me about the 10 years was…Thinking of some of the guys I trained with one thing struck me, two guys full of charm, charisma and great gifting both ended up in prison due to dreadful behaviour…
A real shock.
And a real tragedy.
Glittering prospects ended up crashing and burning.
So important to be people of integrity and appropriateness in all our relationships, and to hold ourselves to account with trusted people to have those transparent relationships… Perhaps if my former colleagues had done so, perhaps they might still be in ministry and real people wouldn’t have been hurt and the cause betrayed.
Made me wonder too whether we put too much store on people’s competence, charm and charisma and not enough value on character.
Another thought struck me comes from one of my prayer triplet, who was very doubtful and anxious about future fruitfulness, yet 10 years later he had achieved amazing things and now chair of the committee for mission for the Church in Ireland amongst other achievements.
I guess as I think of my cohort I guess I am reminded of the verse of the bible which talks of God opposing the proud but lifting the humble.
I remember having to write a letter to some emerging leaders as part of my arrow course and I remember writing do keep the most important thing (Jesus) as the most important thing, as it is so easy to get distracted and diverted. I have found that clergy can be like the government ministers in Yes (Prime)Minister who actually go into parishes and Churches full of vision and fire and end up becoming “native” being “house trained” by the congregation acting like the civil service in the aforementioned comedy programme. We want to tell people about Jesus and somehow we end up filling in forms about drains, and trying to pacify arguements over trivialities.
Ten years on I still love Jesus but feel as though I am only managing to hold into his church by my fingertips, the temptation (as with many people my age) is to embrace being ‘post church’ partly due to just seeing how unchristlike churches can be, sometimes behaving worse than the people who aren’t Christians in the world… This shouldn’t be so.
Sadly too often it feels like trying to lead the charge onward for mission only to find some unprincipled parishioner had left down your tyres… How do we challenge and change this culture? The challenge to challenge people who have been here decades and are twice our age, but people need to know that such behaviour jepodizes the community coming to Christ and coming to fullness and to be that salt and light of truth telling is painful, uncomfortable and difficult. We all want to be liked and yet the call has often been to be the grit in the oyster, the bringer of challenge, and to show and tell a different story, one of a different future.
This future is one of hope, and yet being caught in the middle of challenging churches, it is easy to allow our vision of hope to be deminished and to become jaded and cynical. How do we keep our hearts soft, our minds open and expectant for God to act, this is not nativity but rather remembering the greater story of a God who reigns on high and longs to partner with his people to turn this broken and upside down world the right way up for him.
And finally to end all, the last thought I want to share is the call to change and transform is a call to the long hall, it’s not glamourous, often it is hard to get back up after being knocked down and after disappointments, but even so it is worth it.
So to conclude, the challenge of the heart, the challenge to invest in character that lasts rather than charm and charisma that are pretty tempory,
To keep out edge sharp and keep the most important thing as the most important thing, keepin going even when the “home team” let us down and hurt us, and to keep going even amid the on going challenge to still be here and fighting, to still be remaining in the game is an achievement.
I’ll close with a verse that has blessed me over the last 10 years “Do not become weary in doing good for at the right we will reap a harvest if we do mot give up” Gal. 6:9.
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Commitment, Discipleship, obidience, Romans 12

The deliberate choice to be a LIVING Sacrifice for Christ…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12.1)

Living Sacrifice is a funny expression, as well sacrifices are normally dead!
The dead animal is placed on the altar and it stays there because it doesn’t have any choice about it.
Yet a living Sacrifice, by nature of being alive, is on the altar by choice, and it chooses to stay there.
In other words it is saying that it is about giving God our whole lives, everything, all the time, everyday, 24-7, 365 until we die or Jesus comes again.
There are daft ideas going around too many Christians sub conscious of a ‘spiritual / secular divide’ the idea that God is more interested in Churchy activities with our normal everyday lives, it’s rubbish a much more Hebraic understanding of life is about a holistic life, something the early Church too had a better understanding of “the glory of God is human being fully alive” said St. Irenius and Ignatious said something along the lines of “the greatest glory we can give God is that of a transformed life” -although ironically it is actually God himself who transforms our lives-.
Yet in western thinking our lives are compartmentalized, and sometimes dualised (living totally different lives in the different bits of our lives)… This flys in the face of Christ’s promise in John 10.10 to give us “life in all its fullness” -He is talking about whole life, all our life, not just a section carved out for Church attendance or home-group, but everything. LICC have talked alot about our life on the frontline (where we are and where God has placed us) which is great, but its not far enough, because Biblically its not just the frontline that matters, it’s who we are -before God- when no one else sees us to. The Roman/Jewish Audience reading this epistle would know that to be God’s Sacrifice was an all consuming undertaking.
This means that God is interested in our time off, our family struggles, our marriages, how we bring up our kids, what are we like as a friend/colleague/employer or employee; following Christ means that every area of our life should be infused by him, Christianity is your life, not your hobby!
This leads me on to work out, how to actually put this into practice. As many of you know I struggle with wanting to be both boundaried and consciencious, surely they are not opposites but rather the same side of the same coin?
We all know the truth in the quote “that often the fruit of the Kingdom leads on the otherside of being inconvenienced!” I worry about when I was off sick people saying things like “sometimes you need to be a little bit selfish” -I know what they mean, and there is -like a lot of things a truth in that -how can you care for others when you don’t care for yourself (there was a powerful army advert about water distribution in the early 90’s) but the language and some of the thinking behind this worries me; also I have been told “sometimes you need to be ruthless” -again, I get something of the truth behind this, even if the word makes me really uncomfortable… but yet when I look at Jesus I don’t see selfishness and ruthlessness displayed in his life, and his is the life I want to live.
There was a quote which I find really challenging “The bigger problem is not about not succeeding, but rather succeeding at the wrong things”.
As I think about my life, the starting point is “who am I?” -Primarily I am two things (and to define ourselves as one without the other I believe will lead to a distorted Christianity) “A beloved child of God” and “a follower of Jesus Christ”.
Then think about that call to follow Christ, I am called to be a man, husband, father, son, friend and I believe God has placed within me apostolicy/evangelisticy calling ‘Encouraging Missional DNA and help build good incubators’…
My calling to be a good husband, good father shouldn’t be at the expense of being a good minister, but rather it should be being faithful to Christ in every area of life.
The danger is we short change one calling at the expense of another, is God honoured by being a great preacher but a lousy friend? Or a shoddy Church leader but a good family man? A great dad but a poor son? A good husband but a horrible employer? A diligent worker but not a nice person? You get the picture…
Somehow, and I haven’t got the answer to this, it is about living our wholes before Christ with integrity… Is our priorities the same a Christ’s. Is there a danger of either using the ‘spiritual secular divide’ myth to justify behaviour that we shouldn’t fall into? Or the other myth of “God, family, ministry” which doesn’t sound wrong (and in one sense isn’t) but is often a spiritual sounding way of blurring the boundries between callings and actual ends up with God moving from first to third place in our lives.
I talked last time about sacrifice and discipline sometimes being an uncomfortable part of the Christian life (and lets face it being a sacrifice here is not a fluffy image!). What is God’s calling on my life? Am I being faithful to one calling at the expense of another, is this a whole life (and remember God has a high view both of family and of work) or one bit out of alignment?
A good question to ask is who do I serve and who am I responsible/accountable too, and would they see Christ shining through my life as a whole, even the bits that aren’t the primary interaction with you.
A cliche phrase is about “if Jesus isn’t Lord of all, he isn’t Lord at all”…
Maybe take a moment and ask God to help each of us be faithful to all his callings not just the ones we prioritize. Learning to say no to the things he hasn’t called us to, and yes to what he has. Are we driven beyond the call, or not picking up that which we have been called too.
Ask the Holy Spirit to come and show us our lives as whole people, not just illuminate the odd compartment of our existence.
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call, Church, Ministry, Mission, obidience, vocation

Don’t leave it to the professionals, there are no professionals.

There are many things in life which are best left to the professionals, as my attempts at DIY often shout out loud and clear.

Sadly however this is often the mentality of people within Churches, mission, discipleship, justice and love -let’s leave it to the professionals, “I’ll just show up to Church, bung a couple of quid in the plate and let them get on with it”.

Some how we seem to have developed a ‘professional class’ of Christian which seems to misunderstand what a Christian is. I re-thought ‘professionalism’ when I worked in rehab, many of the people who are leaders in the world of rehab are also addicts in active recovery, when choosing a sponsor and addict is asked to find “someone whose recovery inspires you”.

I might be a Vicar, but I am also a wounded healer, a cracked vessel and a sinner in need of the grace of God, all I have to offer is that I know that Jesus is the one who heals, saves, restores and transforms he is the very embodiment and personification of love, the God of all Hope and he is able to meet us even in our most dark, broken and painful situations.

Louis Giglio once said “I am not all knowing, I am not all powerful, I am not all loving and all present, unlike God who is the great I AM, -I AM who I AM- I am all know, I am all powerful, I am all loving and I am all present” and he ended this talk with our identity as Christians which is “I know that I am not, but I know I am”.

Ultimately it is not the us in us that is worth anything but rather it is “Christ in us the Hope of Glory”.

Before the cross of Christ the ground is even, and all stand there, sinners in need of grace.

Yet this blog isn’t to knock the Vicary types, but instead it is to remind us of a truth that John Wimber once said: “Everyone gets to play”, mission, discipleship. justice, prayer and love aren’t for the ‘Super Christians’ it is something we are all expected to do, everyone, not just those with a leadership position.

In fact Church (by which I mean our shared life together) is further described by Wimber as “the training place for the market place”, in other words by being together we should be more equipped and empowered to live the life that God is calling us to.

The Bible uses some great images of inter-dependency, for example, the body with each bit needing one another, looking different but being equal in value, or perhaps the idea of living stones built together for the glory of God.

We are called, empowered and equipped to serve Christ in his world, and yet sadly too many people don’t take responsibility for their own discipleship… A Vicar Friend once said of his congregation “they expect me to spoon feed them, but I don’t think this is healthy!” -He’s right, a good teacher teaches people to think for themselves, just as a parent teaches a child to feed themselves.

Yet this is something that happened in the early Church too, the author of the letter to the Hebrews challenges the people to move on and go deeper ‘leaving the elementary things behind”, Peter talks of “pure spiritual milk” but the implication is that milk will lead on to solid food, both writers are saying “you are still on (Spiritual) milk when you should be eating (Spiritual) steak by now”… You are splashing in the spiritual shallow end, when the call is to swim in the Ocean, so get off the side-lines, get out the baby pool, go for it and live the Christian life properly and fully.

Sadly too often we aren’t the disciples of Christ we should be, we need to own our own faith, taking the opportunities to grow, to serve, to learn, to be stretched/challenged/inspired/strengthened/grown…

In the wild, baby eagles are thrown from their nests by their mothers in order to make them fly (they are saved if they fall to the ground) but here God is saying, you need to leave the nest and fly.

God is wanting us to mature disciples equipped to serve him in his world with his calling surrounding us on every side…

“This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done”

Some lets be people that seize the moment, let’s not wait for someone better qualified, but take our responsibility for bringing something of heaven to earth…

We all get to participate and partner with God in his mission.

…After all Mission is really just “One beggar telling another where to get bread”

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call, expectations, Life in the Spirit, obidience, vocation

God’s not doing it, so wondered if you could do it Vicar?”

“God’s not doing it, so wondered if you could do it Vicar?”

A phrase I heard yesterday, it made me laugh, but I have been chewing over it in my mind all day.

It reminded me of a quote by A.W. Tozer: “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the Church today 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament Church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference”…
Archbishop Rowan Williams said that “Mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in” and scripture reminds us that if “God doesn’t build the house the workers labour in vain”.
The work of God and the work of his Church ought to be one and the same thing, yet we know sadly this is not always the case.
I could list the reasons why Gods Church sadly ends up getting out of step with Gods spirit and his heart, and it probably would sound like a real finger pointing and tub-thumping article, but that might not be altogether helpful.
Yet so often with Christian groups and Churches I want to yell STOP and ask afresh, “Where are you going? And is God leading you there?”
Or have you ended up there and Gods opinion on the matter is just assumed because your building has a cross on the top of it?
Or perhaps at Church meetings everything is descided before someone realises and says a quick prayer asking Gods blessing on what we have descided?
Moses was offered the opportunity to go into the promised land but without God going with them, Moses refused saying without God what would set them apart from the other nations of the earth.
The problem with the church, is the same as the problems of the human heart, it’s we want to be in control and we want things done our way and how we like them, we don’t naturally find sacrifice and surrender easy…
Graham Kendrick wrote of Church “each other’s needs to prefer for it is Christ we are serving” which is theological truth and wonderful aspiration, but the challenge for all of us in lets see this becoming a reality in our lives and in the life of us gathered together corporately as a Church.
Let’s be a group that talk less of our own needs, desires and opinions and instead seek the will, heart and direction of the one we are meant to follow.
Most theological problems stem from God not doing what we’d like him too, and then we need to ask is he involved in our mission? Or our we involved in his? Do we invite him into our Church? Or does he invite us into his? Whose leading who? Whose speaking and whose listening to who?
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Guidance, obidience, Risk and Change, vocation

Adjust Sails and catch the wind of the Spirit.

In his book “walking across the room” Bill Hybels talks about just getting to know people, and letting the Holy Spirit work through us as the relationship develops… Its about intentionally friendly and intentionally open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

At some discussions about where to go and what to do with PINTS OF VIEW tonight, we  felt that in many ways what we do with projects like PINTS OF VIEW, Street Pastors or Town Center Chaplaincy is we are primarily giving God our time to use as he sees fit, bringing across our path those he wants us to meet…

A picture of wind surfing, putting up the sail and letting God direct us, okay sometimes to catch the wave of the spirit we do have to listen to his voice and occasionally adjust the sale, but primarily it is about intentionally making ourselves available to God and what he wants to do with us (and in us).

Yet the more I thought about this, this is more than just a missionary principal, but actually what the whole of our life is about, offered to God, letting him be the wind in our sails… and yes at times we need to heed his voice and adjust the sails so we can best be used by him, ready and expectant.

Which made me ask, what does a life look like that is ready, available and expectant of the Spirit at work.

When I think of God directing my steps, this alters the view of everyone I meet, those I hang out with and chat too, and as I think of my life being lived for God’s Glory it makes me think differently about how I work, what I do, about the brothers and sisters in Christ who share our Journey with us too and how  do I encourage and inspire them to adjust their sails to catch what God is doing in their lives too.

Its not about our plans, strategies or giftedness but simple echoing the sentiment of Isaiah (6) when he says “here I am send me”.

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Authenticity, Discipleship, Holiness, Leadership, Life styles, obidience

Some Lessons from Puppy Training…

We have a new puppy Teddy.

The world of Dogs and Puppies is a new world for us, but one we are beginning to enjoy exploring.
Learning to nip our bad habits in the bud.
The first thing is that dogs need training, they need to know what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.
Most young animals bite and explore using their mouth, it’s normal, but as no one minds a puppy gently chewing your finger but no one wants a Great Dane munching your arm.
If the puppy is never taught not to bite, the problem will grow and become worse.
A great rule is, let’s deal with things early, let’s challenge minor stuff before it grows and grows; better to deal with a chewy puppy that face the jaws of the hound of the Baskervilles!
 
Obedience.
A dog needs to learn to hear their masters voice, and are trained to leave their distraction and coming running. Wow! What a picture, I want to hear my master (Gods) voice, leave any distraction and come running.
Puppies however would much rather be eating your slippers than running to your side.
They learn however that obedience is something which brings reward and blessing.
A lesson I need to learn as do I not heed the Fathers call when I am too busy simply chewing a slipper?
 
But the hard work happens beyond the Puppy Class.
The other lesson I have learned from puppy classes is about “putting the work in at home”.
Just sitting in a class for an hour a week is not going to train our puppy for life.
Yet sadly many Christians think partaking in a religious service and sitting politely through a sermon, will somehow transform us, without us having to put any work in ourselves.
Its easy to know the theory with training puppies, or living the Christian life, but making the theory our default setting is a much tougher, longer and more challenging journey.
 
Conclusion:
Let’s be brave and sort things out early (saving us problems long terms!)
Let’s learn to hear our masters voice (learning to avoid those distracting slippers and learning the joy and reward of obedience).
Let us take our discipleship seriously not just for an hour a week at special classes.
What do you reckon?
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call, cost, obidience, vocation

Double Yoke?

Jesus said: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” -note it s still a yoke and. Burden, but not a heavy one we can’t carry-.

Jesus said “I have come so that you may have life and have it to the full”. -Note not an easy or cushy life, but a life that won’t be boring, pointless and dull.
Jesus said “If anyone wants to follow me, they must forget self and carry their cross and following me” -A dangerous challenge, a surrender of absolutely everything in our pursuit of Christ and his call on our lives.
These are massive promises from the mouth of Christ himself, and yet the question I have wondered as I try to follow Jesus in my life, is how do these three promises work together in my life?
Its a promise that (although stretching and challenging) what God calls us to is not too much to carry, yet in living his way he is promising it won’t be dull or purposeless possibly even a ‘white knuckle ride’. Yet the challenge we need to ask, who are we living for, ourselves or Christ? Are prepared to give up everything in our call to be faithful to Christ as we walk where he leads us.
God knows we need and want purpose in our lives, he chooses to partner with us in his Kingdom not because he needs our help, but because partnership with him gives us encouragement and joy. His way of living is the best way for us, and life as it should be lived, and the best way for those around us, a call of a life that blesses other people, a chance to build with gold, silver and costly stones not wood, hay and straw which is burned up in the fire.
Yet sometimes the Christian life feels so overwhelming and the call so tough and difficult, and I wonder how Jesus can call this a easy yoke or a light burden?
Yet as I began to think about this more, I began to ask myself, is the heavy and weighty burdens Christ’s yoke or a yoke I have put on myself?
Am I weighing myself down with my expectations of myself which God isn’t asking me to do? Or live up to the expectations of others (both real and imaginary)?
Am I trying to please people in a way that ties me down rather than sets me free (the “fear of man”. as some Christians call it, is real and difficult)….
Am I trying to wear the Yoke of Christ, without taking of the Yoke of this world?
Have I double yoke on my shoulders? -God’s Yoke and Mine, clashing together never meant to co-exist on our shoulders.
If so, lets claim the promise of Christ, to liberate us from the Yoke that Christ never meant for us, for “those the Son sets free will be free in deed”.
Let Christ lift from your shoulders any  Yoke that is not from him.
Or perhaps the Yoke is right, but you are meant to have other partners shouldering some of the weight if so “ask the Lord of the Harvest to send more workers” and pray we may have the humility and grace to allow someone else to help and bless us.
Maybe too, this Yoke needs to strengthen our faith and relationship with Christ, perhaps we need to ask him to help us, to say “God unless you help me I cannot carry this Yoke”.
Often in our points of desperation often become points of breakthrough in our Christian life”.
So, lets think of our lives, and the Yokes we are carrying, give it to the liberate, share it with the family of the Church and lay it before the Holy Spirit our Helper and equipper.
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Guidance, Jonah, obidience

Lessons from a SatNav.

Bill Wilson (leader of the worlds largest Sunday School) once said “Christians often quit before the miracles kick in”.

It’s so true, in a consumerist society, we are better at following when “the Suns shining down on me and the worlds all as it should be” than when it’s a cross carrying struggle “the roads marked with suffering and there is pain in the offering”.
Yet often it is in the times of suffering, challenge and sacrifice that we see some of the most fruitful and beautiful advances of the Kingdom of God.
Jackie Pullinger, a great missionary inside the walled city in China seeing amazing miracles with heroin addicts, didn’t see anyone become a Christian until 7 years into her ministry, now she is seeing amazing fruit from her work.
I wonder if I had been in her shoes whether I’d have been faithful and obedient enough to “hang on in there” with what God had called her too, or would I have got on plane home after a couple of (seemingly) unproductive years.
Jackie Pullinger once famously said that “God wants us to have a soft heart and hard feet, whereas we want to have a hard heart and soft feet”.
Jesus says that “no one puts their hand to the plough and keeps looking back is worthy of the Kingdom of God”, when you are ploughing you need to keep looking forward, otherwise the furrows become crooked and no good.
When we take our new puppy Teddy out, he is constantly distracted by sights and smells all around him and keeps pulling on the lead wanting to go off in various directions. I see so many gifted Christians, getting distracted and wandering off course, never ending up doing all that God has called for them.
When using a SatNav I soon realised that it expects you to keep going until it tells you to stop or change course, I think there is wisdom from the SatNav, we as Christians should keep going until God tells us to stop, rather than like the puppy pulling off everytime we see something enticing (often another dogs’ poo!) which diverts us from Gods call.
The question is what is God calling us to?
Are we prepared to follow this call for the long haul, maybe the rest of our natural lives?
What is God not calling us to?
What entices us and captivates our eyes, it might not be in itself a bad thing, but if it pulls you away from following Jesus then don’t make eye contact with it.
Yet, even if we have wandered from the Path we should have followed, even if we’ve quit when maybe we should have pushed forward, Grace goes ahead of us.
And God in his grace re-routes us like our  SatNav returning us back to where he wants us to be, often even redeeming the twists and turns we shpuldn’t have made, but become used by him for his glory, grace and mercy to shine out  from.
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