Age, cost, Depression, Disappointment, Discouragement, doubt, Dreams, expectations, Experience, faithfulness, Grit, hope, Hopes and Dreams, Humanity, Risk and Change, self awareness, Spiritual Warfare, Step of faith, Suffering., Testimony, vocation

Looking back over my 30’s!

I remember 10 years ago about to turn 30!

30 -I couldn’t believe I was going to be 30!

30?!

I remember sat in a pub on the Quay -and called the Quay- in Poole.

I was all full of hope and excitement about life…

I was about to get married.

I was a year(ish) into my curacy and was about to be ordained Priest/Presbyter.

I was full of audacious dreams of the adventure God had planned for us in somewhere we did not yet know.

Today I’m feeling much more melancholy.

Looking back over the past 10 years have had some wonderful moments, particularly marrying Allana and our fantastic daughter.

But, I am asking myself 40? -How did that happen?

40,that can’t be right?

40!?

There have been some wonderful moments, seeing people pray prayers of commitment to Christ and meaning them, baptising adults, planting a Church -and a few new congregations-, seeing friends step into what God has for them especially those ordained (especially Sam)and seeing some wonderful Kingdom signs and wonders along the way too.

Yet there have been some tough moments too.

To be honest it feels a little like half way through a boxing match where you are dabbing your eye with a wet sponge and spitting blood into the bucket.

Sometimes when we stop we sometimes realise what a fight a season has been, how far you’ve come -and even if it doesn’t feel far, it is worth remembering that sometimes the shortest distances sometimes can be the toughest of drags. One clergy friend that had a tough time talked about “I ran with the ball and I made the 9 yards”. It might not feel a long way, but they were significant steps hard won and costly.

As I slipped into sulky mood, I began to have a bit of a self pity party with the people that let me down, the mean stuff people have said, the times plans didn’t go right and all sorts of bumps and bruises along the way.

Yet in it all I am sure I have learned stuff.

And despite sometimes feeling very confused, and even sometimes asking “God where are you?”, why is this happening” and “why did this door close?” I can still say (even though this has probably been the toughest decade of my life) that God has been, and is, faithful.

As I thought of that young thirty year old dreamer, I’m now a bit more gnarled and wrinkled, but we are standing on another new season.

The dream for God to take us, now the three of us (four if you include the dog) into new adventures into the unknown, with expectancy, again not knowing what the future holds, but knowing who it is that holds the future.

As I sit here, a bit battered, but still want that same dream to stay alive.

I think there is nothing spiritually mature about becoming jaded and downsizing our expectations of God. There is nothing Godly about playing it safe and going through the motions. There is nothing wise about allowing dreams to die and reducing and minimising your vision.

I love the C.S. Lewis quote that says “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream”.

why should the future look boring and safe? An adventure with Jesus might be tougher and harder than most of us thought when we surrendered our lives to him, but it is still the greatest calling we have.

It would have been so easy to keep on doing what we have been doing and just slowly die under the moany pessimistic emails, the endless cycle of harvest festivals and other annual events and preaching to people who have heard it all a million times but longing to preach to someone who has not heard it at all.

It is so easy to be safe keep your head down grit your teeth and think about your pension, yet I believe that God has so much more for all of us than our 9-5 prisons.

As we get older, sometimes the risks feels bigger (especially those of us with families) and the jumps feel further, and the costs seem greater and yet the truth of God’s faithfulness remains the same, constant.

So, looking back and looking forward, however it looks I want to pledge one thing, it will be about Jesus, the one who is the same today, yesterday and forever.

It will be uncertain although it is in the service of the only truly certain thing in this universe -Jesus is this life’s only true certainty.

So, although I feel like I’m sat on a stall, it’s time to return the gum-shield, step into a different ring and listen to the bell and see what God ahs in store for the next decade.

It’s not about how much it cost -although sometimes that does feel quite in your face at times- but rather it is about how great is the prize, the Kingdom, the pearl of great price, the one worth it all.

“were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”.

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Testimony

My first day at Bourne Country Primary School…

“You don’t believe in God do you?”

I admitted that I did.

Suddenly the whole table were doing (what was cruelly called) ‘spastic-impressions’ at me.

My heart sank.

It was my first day at Bourne Country Primary School in 1988 and I was ten. I was the new kid in school. My family had moved to Eastbourne in Sussex (and I really didn’t want to go). My dad was the new Vicar of the local Church.

I might have only been ten but I knew I had committed social suicide at that school.

I had only been at that school about ten minutes.

As I went through secondary school I did get a hard time about having a dad as a Vicar and for believing in God.

I remember asking once “why is believing in God so bad?” –the response was “’cos it’s gay!”- which really wasn’t what you’d call a compelling argument. Basically, people didn’t believe in God because it wasn’t cool to.

But whether or not something is cool or not doesn’t effect whether it is true or not.

Ironically with hindsight the people who telling me ‘Christianity wasn’t cool’ were also proudly showing off the lilac and luminous yellow shell suits!

But I must admit as I grew older I did wonder if I was simply a Christian because of the way I was brought up… Maybe I’d been brainwashed? But by that point it didn’t really matter anyway as to be honest although I believed God existed, I didn’t really have much to do with him! My belief in his existence didn’t really make much difference to my life! I was what theologians called an ‘egocentric isolationist!’ –I’m quite impressed that I could spell that!- basically meaning I believed God existed but would rather do my own thing than take any note of him.

All this came to a grinding halt when I was 19.

When I was 19 friend of mine called Sam died suddenly I remember walking along the beach in Eastbourne, the rain beating down violently and the waves roaring, whilst I shouted at God that ‘I did f***ing believe in him!’

Just think about that as a prayer for a minute… ‘I don’t f***ing believe in you!’ – Clearly I did believe in him otherwise I wouldn’t have been shouting at him!

For me I didn’t want God to exist because I was angry with him. Strangely if God didn’t exist then none of the things I was angry about could have been his fault

Was it Peter Pan where whenever someone said they didn’t believe in fairies one died? Maybe I was trying the same thing?

What I didn’t know was 6 months later I would be kneeling on the floor of a Church, with tears in my eyes, telling God that I wanted to live the rest of my life as his follower.

What about you?

I wonder how many people reading this don’t believe in God because they are hurting about life and want someone to blame? –Maybe that’s you?

Yet there might be other people that struggle with the whole philosophy about God’s existence… they may not have an axe to grind, they’re just unsure and exploring. Maybe that’s you?

Or maybe you are somewhere between the two, lots of questions, unsure of whether or not God exists, but this question eats away at you… If this is you, I’d challenge you to pray this simple pray “God, if you are real, show me!”

I believe this prayer could change your life!

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Testimony

My Story…

I’m a Christian… but I’m not a Christian because I’m English! –although some people really think that!

Some people think being a Christian is short hand for being a nice person… but there are lots of really nice people, that aren’t Christians!

I’m not a Christian but because I’m English, I wasn’t born one! I’m not a Christian because I think I’m a good person, to be honest I quite often disappoint myself!

In fact my dad’s a Vicar!

That still didn’t make me a Christian.

In fact now I’M A VICAR! (Still feels weird writing that!) Yet that still doesn’t make me a Christian!

Being a Christian is a choice I made… In fact it’s a choice I make every day!

First time I thought seriously about faith was when I was littler, maybe four or five… My dad was training to be a Vicar in London and we were at a very dull Church in Cockfosters (-When I tell school kids I say North London as they giggle too much at the word Cockfosters)!

Now we were sitting fairly near the front of Church, and I was looking up at this Vicar… now when you’re a kid everyone looks huge! He was also standing in one of those pulpits, and I was looking up at him, and could see straight up his nose… I was thinking, man, it looks like epping forest up there!

…he was also one of these people who spit when they talk, now sitting on the front row was really a bad place to be! I was thinking, wish I’d brought an umbrella –or a pair of welly’s!

He was talking about God, about judgement, about how we had all sinned, how we’d offended a Holy God… God was judge of all, King above all Kings, rar rar rar…

Anyway, my little knees were knocking together in the pew… I was pretty scared.

God sounded like some horrible headmaster that I was scared off.

You know when your little and you pull the covers over your head? Okay, so maybe that was just me?!

Anyway, I thought God was pretty scary… but as I said earlier my mum and dad are both Christians, they told me that Christians aren’t people who are scared of God but rather people who are friends of God.

In fact the whole story of the Bible is of a God who loves us and wants us to be in relationship with him… That’s the main message of Jesus, who lived, died and rose again so that I could have a relationship with God, so that you could have a relationship with God!

They want on to say that I could be friends with God, but needed to say sorry for the wrong things in my life, ask Jesus into my life, and live for him…

So I said a little sweet prayer, dear Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for the times I’ve been naughty, I want to be your friend, help me to live how you’d like me to, please come into my life, Amen.

Did okay, for bit, well, ish… anyway it really went down hill when I moved to Eastbourne, all went down hill when I fell for an older woman, I was 10 ½ and she was nearly eleven.  Her name was Sam. –Samantha-. Her dad was churchwarden where my dad was the Vicar.

You know when you’re a kid you go out with someone, but you don’t actually go anywhere!

Anyway, I moved to Eastbourne, and realised that the kind of life I wanted to live the kind of life God wanted me to live were two very different lives!

For a while I had a foot in both camps, don’t know maybe that’s where you are?

Half in… I guess I thought of God as a heavenly insurance policy, I said “the prayer” so I’d be okay if I got hit by a bus, but in terms of making a difference my every day life not really! I could talk the talk, all the gear but no idea, outwardly I looked alright but my heart wasn’t in it!

I’d pray if I thought I’d get a detention, I might read my bible if I found it on one of the rare occasions I tidyed up my room!

Anyway, when I was 19, I was coming out of the off licence and I met my friend Sam, she had gone proper off the rails… I used to think, I know I’m a bit bad but I’m not as bad as her!

Anyway, she was having a fag outside londis, now this offy overlooked my dad’s Church. Sam asked me if I still went along to Church.

I replied that I’d rather find out about God when I was 40 or 50 and settled down to be boring!  (How agest was I!)

But you know what that was the last time I ever spoke to Sam as she died a couple of weeks later… totally unexpectedly.

Now, I was used to people dying. I worked in a Nursing home, but Sam was my age, she was my friend, she did many of the things that I did…

It made me ask all those big questions again, what about life and death?

Or more personally…

What about my life?

What about my death?

I wrestled with these questions for about six months, and on Easter day, I ended up in Church with a mate from work –I hadn’t meant to go, I sort of stumbled into it!-

Anyway this crazy vicar guy was talking about the prodigal son. A story Jesus told about a son who leaves home with a load of money from his dad and ends up skint working in a pigsty (luke 15).

Yet it felt as this story was my story.

I’d gone away from God.

I realised that was where I was. In the pig sty, in the poo!

I had a choice, stay where I was, or get up and no longer play at being a Christian, but do it properly.

I made the choice… I said to God, “You know how much I’ve messed it up, you know I’ve not been a good Christian… I really want to follow you and live your way for the rest of my life…”

You know what? As I prayed that prayer I felt such an awesome sense of God’s love, that he loved me, that God welcomed me back.

Which is exactly what happened in the prodigal son story… the father (whose meant to be representing God) saw his son (meant to be us) whilst he was a long way off –a familiar spec in the distance- and rushed to meet him threw his arms around him, kissed him and threw him a party!

That was a long time ago now! (I’m now 32!).

I’m not saying lifes been cushy since (as it hasn’t) but it is the best choice I have ever made!

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Testimony

A bit of my story…

You don’t believe in God do you?”

I admitted that I did.

My heart sank.

It was my first day at Bourne Country Primary School in 1988 and I was ten. I was the new kid in school. My family had moved to Eastbourne in Sussex (and I really didn’t want to go). My dad was the new Vicar of the local Church.

I might have only been ten but I knew I had committed social suicide at that school.

I had only been at that school about ten minutes.

As I went through secondary school I did get a hard time about having a dad as a Vicar and for believing in God.

I remember asking once “why is believing in God so bad?” –the response was “’cos it’s gay!”- which really wasn’t what you’d call a compelling argument. Basically, people didn’t believe in God because it wasn’t cool to.

But whether or not something is cool or not doesn’t effect whether it is true or not.

Ironically with hindsight the people who telling me ‘Christianity wasn’t cool’ were also proudly showing off the lilac and luminous yellow shell suits…

But I must admit as I grew older I did wonder if I was simply a Christian because of the way I was brought up… Maybe I’d been brainwashed?

But by that point it didn’t really matter anyway as to be honest although I believed God existed, I didn’t really have much to do with him!

My belief in his existence didn’t really make much difference to my life!

I was what you’d call an ‘egocentric isolationist!’ –I’m quite impressed that I could spell that!- basically meaning I believed God existed but would rather do my own thing than take any note of him.

All this came to a grinding halt when I was 19.

When I was 19 friend of mine called Sam (Samantha) died suddenly I remember walking along the beach in Eastbourne, the rain beating down violently and the waves roaring, whilst I shouted at God that ‘I did f***ing believe in him!’

Just think about that as a prayer for a minute… ‘I don’t f***ing believe in you!’ – Clearly I did believe in him otherwise I wouldn’t have been shouting at him!

For me I didn’t want God to exist because I was angry with him.

Strangely if God didn’t exist then none of the things I was angry about could have been his fault?

What I didn’t know was 6 months later I would be kneeling on the floor of a Church, with tears in my eyes, telling God that I wanted to live the rest of my life as his follower.

I remember the last conversation I had with Sam, she was sat opposite the Church where my dad was a vicar, and she said “Do you still go to Church?” -and I said “to be honest I’d rather find out about God when I’m 40 or 50 and settled down to be boring!” -horribly ageist I know, but that is what I said…

Yet here I was in Church, not quite sure how I got there, feeling pretty uncomfortable, and then the Pastor said “maybe someone here has recently said “I’d rather find out  about God when I’m older and settled down to be boring” -it felt like God was talking directly at me, despite believing in God it felt like a scary shock, God was really real, really spoke and knew me and my heart…

What about you?

I wonder how many people reading this don’t believe in God because they are hurting about life and want someone to blame? –Maybe that’s you?

Yet there might be other people that struggle with the whole philosophy about God’s existence… they may not have an axe to grind, they’re just unsure and exploring. Maybe that’s you?

Or maybe you are somewhere between the two, lots of questions, unsure of  whether or not God exists, but this question eats away at you… If this is you, I’d challenge you to pray this simple pray “God, if you are real, show me!”

I believe this prayer could change your life!

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Evangelism, Listening, love, Mission, Testimony, Worth

Three Stories Entwined…

God’s Mission is all about stories, his story and our story (or testimony if you like Churchy speak) join together, the events of the cross, empty tomb and the upper room of Pentecost 2000 years directly affecting our real and everyday lives today, now.

We are all called to be witnesses and to testify to what we have seen and heard.

The Bible really values the importance of Testimony, it says in the book of Revelation “they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony”.

Our story meets God’s story in a beautiful harmonious melody, as the two stories blend together, the stories playing (more or less) as the creator/composer intended.

And yet today I want to talk about mission and evangelism (I know I do keep on talking about it), often people ask me what I think makes a good evangelist, and when I give my answer they look at me like I’m a bit mad (and they’re probably right!)… My answer is simply “Listen. No, really Listen, hear their story”.

We are often so keen to talk about how our story and God’s story joined up, that we don’t ever listen to other people, we don’t ask their stories.

Yet when we don’t listen to them, we do God a disservice, because I believe God will have been at work in the lives of all we speak to (although his fingerprints may have been unnoticed)… Part of listening is enabling them to see the hand of God in their lives, to see him gently tap on their hearts drawing them to himself.

Listening also conveys love and value. One of the most beautiful and powerful things we can do for another human being is to listen to them, I mean REALLY listen to them.

Also, as we listen to their stories, then in mutual exchange of relationship there will come an opportunity to naturally share our story.

We so often what to push our stories down peoples’ throats and not listen to them, or we listen long enough to think of a pithy comeback but not at any real depth, we forget Peter’s approach to faith sharing “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that you have, but do so with Gentleness and respect”… yet part of gentleness and respect is getting to know people, building relationships, loving them even if they don’t want (at this time) to hear your story and listening to them.

Also, as we listen we hear more clearly, as we listen that should change us, change what we say, alter us by the encounter and so then more patient fruit is more likely to be fruit that will last than seeds that fall on the path (don’t take root).

Yet as we listen to someone else, we also, by God’s grace and mighty paradox, find that we are hearing God speak to us.

Street Pastors talk of double listening, listen to what is going on (both what people say, and what the community is saying, the listening that happens with your eyes) and listening to the still small voice, the Holy whisper of God’s Holy Spirit.

So, mission I believe is about hearing and telling stories, listening and interacting in God’s stories, listening and interacting in the stories of those around us, and celebrating the ultimate concerto seeing not only our story combined with God’s story, but also the stories of those around us join in with both our story and the story of God, part of the  local melody of the chorus of God in his Church.

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