Being Different

This is a short break from the Lent series I’m writing as I feel it’s a message I have to share right now.

It’s a message for someone reading this looking for answers, and it’s a part of my testimony.

Regular readers know my brother died when I was young. This isn’t new revelation.

What you may or may not have found is that I’m different from other people – Christians and non-Christians alike.

I’m not dyslexic as far as reading and writing go, but my brain works differently than “normal” people’s brains (whatever “normal” means)

The technical diagnosis from a medical perspective is Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). It means I think in a different way to other people. There are drugs I can take to make me “normal”, and I’ve tried them. They nearly cost me my marriage because I couldn’t bear the person I became when I took them. It’s not a common reaction, but it does happen.

I don’t sleep well because my mind is always active. I’m writing this at 5:30am and I’ve not slept yet. My mind and body deal with this in various ways. I sleep a couple of hours here and there during the day as my body and mind allow me to.

I’m different.

I get the sense that this is a message to someone out there, so I’ll write this now as a letter.

Dear Friend

You’ve been going through a rough time recently, probably for a while now. I understand you feel alone, like nobody understands. Your friends all live their “normal” lives and you try, but you don’t fit in. You’re losing some of your hope as a result.

I get it. I’m different. I always have been. My mind works in a way that even my wife can’t grasp. I try to “fit in” and be “normal”, but it’s exhausting. I’m tired all the time and I’m guessing you are too. There’s a sense of isolation and you can’t find your niche. I’ve spent 30 years in that space and I realised something recently.

Being different isn’t the bad thing the World makes it out to be.

I see patterns where other people miss them. I see connections and links – especially in my Faith relationship – that others miss, and it gives me a deeper relationship as a result.

Jesus was a misfit. He couldn’t be pegged into a box by the standards of the World, and that’s a good thing. He pulled together concepts from the Old Testament and gave them a new perspective. He spoke into people’s lives and changed them for ever. The World couldn’t grasp Him, and it can’t grasp us because we’re like Him. We defy a prearranged category.

So did the disciples and Paul. They embraced their differences and changed the world as a result.

You and I can do the same. It’s not easy, in fact it’s often terrifying. We defy definition. I’m labelled as mentally ill as a result of it. Maybe you are too.

I don’t know your story. I don’t know what came across your path that God turned into something spectacular, but I know the World wants you to reject it. It wants you to be pegged into a box.

In the last 20 years I’ve been called a Pastor, a Teacher, an Evangelist, a Prophet and once even an Apostle. Maybe at some point I’ve allowed God to use me in those roles because I was open to being used, but I’m not a stereotype for any of them. I’m carnal in so much of my life. I have a temper I struggle to control – especially when I’m driving – and I get accusations of guilt thrown around inside my head constantly.

You probably know what I’m talking about. You doubtless have accusations thrown at you. Too loud or too quiet. Shy or overbearing.

I’m going to say what God has used people in my life to say to you. Get over it.

We have an enemy who seeks to destroy us and the gifts we have. Seeing things outside the generally accepted box is a gift. It’s not a popular one with our friends because it makes them look at themselves. Their accusations are a result of us hitting a nerve God has been prodding for a while (usually – sometimes we’re just prodding).

Remember Samuel heard God call to him in the night and answered “Speak Lord”. We need to do the same. To tune out the boxes the World wants God to fit in and see the magnificence of the big picture.

Your difference, and mine, are a precious gift from God. He’s chosen us because we’re tough enough to not buckle under the pressure to conform to the patterns of the World, but to allow Him to transform us from the inside to be a gift to the World.

Take heart. There’s more of us out there than you think. If you want to, you can write to me and we can share our strangeness together. I’d be honoured  to hear from you and if possible to meet and pray together, either in person or by skype. Write to me and I’ll gladly send you my details.

Don’t be afraid to be different. Every great man and woman of God has been different.

Remember you’re not alone.

Blessings

David

Lent 2016: Know the Word and Do the Word

There’s something we lose over time as Christians. It’s so subtle we don’t even realise we lost it, or that we ever had it to begin with.

Recognition.

Sounds odd to say, but we lose sight of recognising what the Word actually is.

John reminds us in the passage we hear at school Christmas pageants (in England anyway. I know the American system is too afraid of Christianity to allow it to be taught in public schools. Yes I know I just lost the American readers.) or blown with hot air from the pulpit during December but it gets forgotten the rest of the year.

In the beginning [before all time] was the Word (<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-AMP-26046a" data-link="[a]”>Christ), and the Word was with God, and<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-AMP-26046b" data-link="[b]”> the Word was God Himself. (John 1:1 Amplified)

It’s so subtle we overlook it. The Word was God Himself.

John goes to great lengths in his opening chapter to remind his readers that Jesus is the Word. He point out that the Word is God, not something apart from Him, but fully God.

We lose sight of Jesus as the Word most of the time. When our Sunday School teachers say we must learn to know the Word they mean almost invariably that we must memorise chunks of scripture to repeat to our parents.

We don’t recognise that the physical Bible, whilst it gives us a window into the heart of the Word is not the Word. Jesus is, and knowing Him comes through allowing the Holy Spirit to live in and through us as we read the book.

It means learning the heart of God and seeing with His eyes the way Jesus did.

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves. (John 14:9-11 NKJV)

 Jesus is explicit about His unity with the Father. The intertwining of Jesus and the Father is repeated three times in these three verses. Jesus takes this moment, just hours before He will be arrested, to remind His friends who He is – and they still miss the point after the arrest.

I take great comfort in the humanity of the disciples. Specifically their fallibility. They make mistakes. Thomas doubts. Peter hides. Philip asks dumb questions.

I take comfort because I doubt. I hide. I ask really dumb questions.

God chose to build the Church on people like you and me. Flawed and fallible, capable of intense love and unspeakable cruelty. I guess James and John didn’t get the nickname “sons of thunder” because they were timid.

So Jesus invites us to know Him intimately. Far more than an intellectual study of translations of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, He invites us to know His character. He longs for us to see His personality.

John Eldridge, an author I have enormous respect for, wrote an amazing book a couple of years ago looking at the personality of Jesus. “Beautiful Outlaw” breaks the mold of the dusty Jesus from the church I grew up in. The sallow features and spotless robes with sandals perfectly laced and a neatly combed haircut looking remarkably like a refugee from the 1970s singing “Stuck in the Middle With You” alongside Gerry Rafferty and Stealers Wheel were shattered for me when I read it and recognised the Jesus I’d met and given my life to. The character of the God I adore is a perfect version of humanity. With all our emotions, all our passions, Jesus is a real person. He’s approachable.

I met a great teacher called Mike Yaconelli in 1991. Sadly he’s no longer on this earth, and I believe the church here is poorer for it. He was a key speaker at the Greenbelt Art Festival in the UK that year. His messages inspired me and I bought a copy of his book, “Yak, Yak, Yak” and the tapes of the meetings. I took the book with me to a talk he was giving and afterwards went up to ask him to sign it. Not being the extrovert I am today I was nervous about this. I tripped over my words and dropped the book and the pen I had and felt like a complete fool. Composing myself I gathered up the pen and book and apologised for being nervous. He flashed a smile with a twinkle in his eye as he saw my pen – a white ball-point with a big fluffy purple head stuck to the cap. I’m a big buy – six feet tall and almost 200lbs then – and he chuckled and said “If I looked like you and had this pen, I’d be nervous too!”

It completely broke the barrier of nerves I’d had. We chatted for a few minutes and he signed the book. In that moment, the real nature of God broke through my nerves and I saw this man not as “The Teacher”, but as my brother. It was a pure work of the Holy Spirit shattering my preconceptions about him and myself.

In him I saw the character of Jesus. Almost mischievous in nature, breaking boundaries and conventions set up by men to bring real laughter and joy into a moment.

In that moment – and hundreds of others – I got to know the Word as He inhabited us.

But simply knowing isn’t enough. We need to do the Word.

I assure you and most solemnly say to you, anyone who believes in Me [as Savior] will also do the things that I do; and he will do even greater things than these [in extent and outreach], because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in My name [as My representative], this I will do, so that the Father may be glorified and celebrated in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name [as My representative], I will do it.  (John 14:12-14 Amplified)

Jesus invites us to do what He does. Just like He was doing what the Father did, He invites us to do the same and even more than He had done.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve not (yet) prayed for someone to rise from the dead. I’ve had occasion to pray with the sick and lay hands on people – with mixed results – and I’ve had people pray for and lay hands on me for healing of everything from sprained ankles to diabetes – again with mixed results.

I’ve never commanded a storm to be still or walked on water (I don’t think ice skating counts) and I’m often at a loss for words – believe it or not.

In spite of this I’m getting bolder. I’m making steps – albeit small ones – towards where I believe God is calling me and what I’m supposed to do when I get there. I don’t imagine when Peter climbed out of the boat his first few step were confident strides, and that’s how I feel right now. There are storms blowing around me right now which may mean me uprooting my life in South Africa and returning to England for a while. But I’m trying to do what I believe Jesus would do
if He were here in my place with the gifts I have and the resources I can access.

I don’t mind admitting I’m nervous, but I’m excited as well.

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m having counselling for PTSD at the moment. It’s traumatic and I’m having to re-live parts of my past I’ve tried to bury for three decades, but I can feel Jesus in this time coming in like a balm on an open wound. I cry for the loss of my brother now, something I’ve not been able to do for 30 years – and although it hurts, it’s cleansing. It involves allowing the Word to work in me and heal parts of me I’ve not allowed Him access to.

It allows me each week to be a little more whole than the previous week, and a little more able to do things Jesus put on my heart to do that I’ve been putting off in some cases for years. It allows me to do the Word as it is written in my Heart.

So I pray for friends in trouble. I offer help where I can. I do what I believe Jesus would do.

Writing this blog is a part of that. The other projects I have lined up are also a part of it.

We need to – as a group, a body – do the things Jesus did. It’s not just a select few who are called to pray for the sick and see them healed. Jesus never told someone who came to Him with a need to wait. He never said “You need to learn from this”. His actions were a perfect reflection of the Heart of the Father. He healed the sick, restored sight and hearing, cast out demons (yes I believe there are literal demons and a literal Hell) and restored the brokenhearted.

It’s time we start doing that. The early church were called Christians because it meant “little Christs” or “little anointed ones”. They did what Jesus had done. The blind saw, the lame walked, the poor had their needs met by their more affluent brothers and sisters.

We need to do the Word. So we need to get to know Him.

Intimately.

Lent 2016: Opening Old Wounds

This entry, while not strictly a part of the Survival Kit, is a part of my ongoing journey to healing which I have committed to share in this forum. It is testimony of what God is currently at work in me to bring me closer to the man He has called me to be.

31 years ago on 20th February 1985, my younger brother, Robin, died as a result of a road accident.

The circumstances were that he was on a road he wasn’t supposed to go on because it was a dangerous road with a 60mph speed limit. He was turning right across the traffic to a slip road that was invisible until you were almost on top of it (as a result of his death the roadway has now been changed and is highly visible). He was where he shouldn’t have been, doing what he had expressly been told not to do on a route I had taught him some weeks earlier. The road in question led to a slip-road to the main North-South dual carriageway in the area, the A1, and a road bridge over it. I had taught him a game of sorts. Stand on the bridge and wave at the truckers in the big-rig trucks as they came up to the bridge. Mostly they would wave or sound their horn as they went by. For a kid it was a great rush to be seen and acknowledged by “real” men in the form of these tough drivers.

He was alone because we had had a fight and rather than go with him I had gone out with a friend.

The driver, who out of respect I will not name, never stood a chance of preventing the accident. I have never held what happened against him. Robin’s death was caused by a child making a childish move that could not have been predicted. The driver was not to blame.

I hope he finds this and can understand that I hold no ill-feeling toward him, rather I sympathise with him since as a driver myself I have caused injury to a pedestrian I could not avoid. The action was a terrible tragedy and I truly hope he has been able to forgive himself and not allow guilt to dog him the way it has me for 31 years.

My therapist – yes, I’m a Christian who sees a psychologist. Deal with it. – is helping me open the wounds. I’ve been blessed in that he has qualifications in theology as well as psychology and our sessions have a hefty chunk of pastoral counselling as well as psychological stuff in them. It was something I insisted on in finding the right persona for the job.

Time does not heal wounds. They close over and rot from the inside out if left to fester and not dalt with properly at the time.

My wife and I are watching “Grey’s Anatomy” at the moment, one season every two or three days. Today was difficult. The storyline was a child killed in a road accident and the sibling blaming herself, then the next episode showed one of the central characters being diagnosed with cancer in her brain – a different type to what killed my dad, but just too close to home.

The writing is excellent, but the acting is superb. I felt every emotion the characters went through as the story unfolded. As a result I can’t cry any more tonight – I’d die from dehydration.

Wounds, left to their own devices don’t heal. I have a first class vascular surgeon, Dr James Tunnicliffe, who treats injuries to my feet. I should mention here I can’t actually feel about 30% of my feet and as a result injuries happen that get left untreated will result in me losing one or both legs below the knee. So far the good doctor has been able to save both feet, and I am waiting for my faith to mature to the point where the nerves are restored. I do not believe this illness – diabetes – was “sent” to teach me something. It’s simply not in God’s nature to do that.

Wounds become sores. Sores become lesions. Lesions become infected and before you know it you have gangrene in what started as a pebble in your shoe and one of the best doctors in the country is telling you there’s a possibility you’ll lose your leg.

Emotional wounds are no different.

I was wounded when Robin died. I blamed myself because of the fight we had. I blamed myself for teaching him the route to the A1. I blamed myself for not going with him.

The 12 year-old inside me still does. Healing that child is a work in progress.

My wife is a doctor – and a damn good one. She treats regular stuff, which in South Africa is anything from a scraped knee to AIDS and TB – something First-World governments should consider – as standard day-to-day medicine. She has excised infected boils on my skin and flushed the area. It involved re-opening an old wound to get to the infection underneath, and it was extremely painful.

Until the wound healed.

God is doing that with me at the moment. He has opened up a 31 year old wound that has been eating me from the inside and crippling me every day since 1985. It’s painful. It’s unpleasant.

At the time all I let myself feel was bitterness and rage, and I feel that all the time. Bless her, my poor wife sees the worst of it that I show. Mostly I try to keep it venting to my sessions and my time alone with God. I tell her about it, but she deserves better than to catch the anger and venom that has been building up for so long.

We all have these wounds. I won’t presume to name them, but I know everyone I know is damaged in some way, and they all try to hide it – well, most of them do.

I’ll move on with the next part of the guide to survival in my next entry. This is simply to let you know that you’re not alone in holding onto the pain you carry.

And that Jesus wants to take it from you – if you’ll let him.

Lent 2016: Knowing God

If you had [really] known Me, you would also have known My Father. From now on you know Him, and have seen Him. (John 14:7 Amplified)

A central part of the walk we have as Christians is knowing God.

Not knowing about God. Knowing Him.

Having relationship with Him on an intimate level.

Jesus makes an extraordinary statement to the disciples in this chapter. Something 2000 years later we’ve become so used to as a concept that it loses its impact for us.

When the Temple was built there was a room, the Holy of Holies, which was where the Spirit of God dwelt. Once a year the High Priest would make the sacrifices necessary to be ritually clean and enter this room with a rope tied around his leg so if he was struck dead by the Spirit of God he could be pulled out of the chamber.

That Spirit is the representative of the Father. Nobody had dared look on God – not even His most faithful prophets in the Old Testament except Moses. Men could not stand in His presence because His Holiness would consume them.

Jesus tells the disciples that they have seen the Father because they have seen Him. He rebukes Philip for doubting this by asking to be shown the Father, telling him that he’d basically missed the point of the previous 3 years together.

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.” (John 14:10-11 NKJV)

I know about God. I’ve been a Christian 30 years and have actually read the entire Bible – and for a guy who has concentration issues around ADD that’s going some. Especially with the genealogies.

I wish I knew God as well as I know about Him. It would make my life much easier.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep relationship with Him through Jesus and the Holy Spirit is in my heart, but I have this problem. It weighs about six pounds and sits just above my shoulders and between my ears. My brain is a big problem.

Most people have the same problem – especially those of us unfortunate enough to have been born in Western cultures. We have scientific “answers” to the miraculous that on the surface explain away the need for God and as a result we end up with our faith often becoming little more than a “Get out of Hell Free” card in a transcendental Monopoly game.

My walk in the last ten years has led me to a simple conclusion: I’ve spent too much time learning about God in the past and not enough time getting to know Him on an intimate level. I have intellectual understanding of the historical context of the scriptures and the politics of ancient history, but my experience of the person of God has been put on the back-burner in many ways. Prayer became little more than an intellectual exercise of passing along information, as though I were giving a daily update to my line manager.

Not good.

Jesus calls us to a real relationship with God on a level humanity had lost through Adam.

If we spent time with our wives or husbands talking the way we do to God our marriages would never last a month.

My wife and I do things together. We find reasons to be together. We look for TV shows and movies that we can watch and enjoy together. We build a relationship by spending quality time together. It’s not always easy and it’s not always pretty, but it’s worth it. I’ve seen superficial marriages fall apart at the first bump in the road because the couple didn’t know each other. There was no unity between them so when hard times hit they couldn’t survive the storm.

Our relationship with God needs to be on a level that’s more than superficial. Jesus spent time alone with the Father to be close to Him. Somehow we forget that we need to do that – especially in the West. We have a nominal “quiet time” where we sit and give our daily report, but then we go on as if it’s nothing more than a habit.

Often that’s all it is.

I have several Muslim friends. They are devout and pray five times a day, ritualistically bowing to the East and chanting the same prayers over and over again. They are so desperate to show God they are decent by praying and chanting and eating the right food and drinking the right drinks that they are blind to the fact that they serve the practice of the religion.

We need to be more than that. Jesus died so we could be more than that.

Jesus sacrificed His life so we could have not a religious experience, but a deep and meaningful relationship with Him. He went to the Cross so we could know Him.

It’s easy to slip into a religious routine. Routines are important to the Western society. We are governed by punch-card jobs and timed to the second when we start work. Most employers don’t care how long after the end of your shift you work as long as you start on time. Stay late – it’s expected – and it goes unnoticed. Arrive two minutes late once and you get a formal warning for tardiness. We see this pattern in our work, our schools and our churches. Everything is done to a formula.

Religion replaces relationship and we exchange knowing God with knowing about Him – and we don’t even notice. Instead of laying hands on the sick we send them to a doctor. The disciples and the early church shared everything they had with each other so nobody was in need. They sacrificed personal property for the sake of their neighbour. Today we live in a world where high walls make good neighbours. They prevent us being distracted by the sight of the poverty at our doorstep and allow us to finish our lunch in peace.

How different things are now from then.

The difference is the level of relationship with God. Peter didn’t get the faith to see the cripple at the Temple healed by watching “Survivor”. Stephen’s faith to forgive the men who were killing him didn’t come from an episode of “The Amazing Race”.

These men and women knew God and saw signs and wonders as a result.

We can too.

It was a privilege to watch the late Dave Duell pray for a young teen at a conference and see the boy’s leg grow to the same length as his other one. I’ve met two men who were raised from the dead and one man who has prayed for it – and seen it happen. These men know God.

I’m learning to know Him. I’ve not seen anyone rise from the dead yet, but I’ve not had anyone ask me to pray for it either.

Knowing God takes time. It’s important to take the time to get to know him.

When we hit a crisis – and that’s what these messages during Lent are about – we need to be able to call on the Father we know and not a doctrine we’ve read about.

So have a quiet time, but make it something fresh. Sit and wait to encounter God in a new way and get to know Him.

Lent 2016: Getting Perspective

Lent is a time when – traditionally – we give something up. 40 days (not counting Sundays) running up to Easter where we sacrifice something to draw closer to God.

In theory, anyway.

I’ve never been good at that side of things. I’ve been involved in prayer and fasting both on my own and as part of a group praying toward a common outcome, but the Lenten sacrifice has always been like a New Year Resolution for me. It usually lasts about a week, then I’m back to normal with a shrug and decide to try next year.

Hopefully this year will be a bit different.

I heard a tape set (yes, I’m over 40) back in the mid 1990s by Andrew Wommack focusing on John’s Gospel, specifically chapters 14-16. He called it the “Christian Survival Kit”. He’s also made a set called the “Christian First Aid Kit” based on the same chapters. The most recent versions are available at www.awmi.net for download along with several hundred hours of other teachings. What I’ll write here is not meant to compete with Andrew’s messages, but rather to try to show how a deeper understanding that began with those tapes 20 or so years ago has impacted my life and walk with Jesus, and (hopefully) get across the message that if it can make a difference for me, it can make a difference for anyone.

These entries will have more of a journal-type feel to them than most of my blogs, and be more testimony based. This is deliberate and the result of a lot of prayer before moving into them.

I’m impulsive. I do things quickly, sometimes it appears recklessly and without thinking about possible consequences. I know this about myself. I try to be more measured, but then this whole “carpe diem” bit grabs me and I act on my gut feeling. It’s served me reasonably well my whole life. I trust my instincts from my guts as it’s where I’ve always found God speaking to me first.

Take marriage for example. I dated a girl I met at school for about 3 years, sharing a house with her for the last year of that time. I didn’t follow my gut then, which told me it would be a bad idea with poor consequences emotionally for both of us. When the relationship ended we both got hurt and hurt one another. It was years before we established a distant friendship. My second serious relationship followed a similar pattern. I listened to my head, not my gut, and we were involved for about six months. There were good parts, but I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship. After we broke up we tried to be friends for a while, but I couldn’t sustain it. I tried to reach out a while ago but I guess I hurt her too badly and my attempts went unresponded to.

Then there is my wife. We met in 2001 online. Chatting online was strange for me, and I felt my gut tell me to be completely open with her – so I was. We met in person, got engaged and got married by the end of September 2003. It’s not always easy, but I’ve never regretted it.

But this is about perspective.

Time – they say – heals all wounds.

Garbage.

All time does is allow us to either let a wound fester or give us perspective on it so we can let God heal it. Time on its own only brings in loss.

Jesus tried to tell the disciples on the night of the Last Supper to see things from His perspective. The perspective of Eternity.

Do not let your heart be troubled (afraid, cowardly). Believe [confidently] in God and trust in Him, [have faith, hold on to it, rely on it, keep going and] believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and I will take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also. And [to the place] where I am going, you know the way.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going; so how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “<sup class="footnote" data-fn="#fen-AMP-26675a" data-link="[a]”>I am the [only] Way [to God] and the [real] Truth and the [real] Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:1-6 Amplified)

Jesus asks the disciples to place the same trust in Him as they do in God. Complete, total and absolute trust. When He sent them out in His name earlier in their time together, the disciples cast out demons and healed the sick just at the power of His Name. This was not a new concept to them. Everything in the following chapters was reminding them of what they already not only knew, but already walked in.

He puts an eternal perspective on things, reminding them that this World is not their final destination, but a stop along the way to His Father’s House where a dwelling place waits for them. The King James edition describes it as “mansions”. Whatever form the dwelling place takes, the important thing for perspective is that it is with god and Jesus whatever happens here on Earth. He reminds them that He is going ahead to prepare their (and our) places for them.

I tend to lose sight of that perspective when a crisis hits.

In the 30 years I’ve been a Christian there have only been a couple of times when I’ve kept the perspective Jesus wants us to keep as the waves broke during the storm. I’m forgiven, not perfect. We all are.

It’s more than important that we remember that. It’s vital to being able to keep our feet in the storm crises that hit us all too regularly.

With my second relationship the crisis was life-threatening illness. I lost perspective and could only see the injustice of the issue. The resulting insensitivity I showed drove her away and I resented her for that for a long time because I couldn’t see with the right perspective to offer what she needed her partner – fiance at the time – should have offered.

Perspective defuses anger instantly. I didn’t have a handle on that then. I couldn’t see the perspective I needed to have because I was unable to take a breath.

I’m still impulsive. I still get angry – very angry. So angry it threatens to consume me sometimes. It has an impact on my marriage so I’m seeing a therapist to get a grip on it.

He asked me if I remember the story of the man at the pool that Jesus asks if he wants to be well. I’ve heard people speak on that passage. I’ve taught on it myself.

It’s the first time anyone put my shortcomings in the spotlight of that perspective. And I got angry. Then I was finally able to ask myself why.

My anger is born out of pain, and a deep desire to avoid it at all costs. The irony is that avoiding that pain by embracing anger actually causes more pain than it solves.

I like Thomas in this chapter. He asks a question and isn’t rebuked. Not every question gets a rebuke for faithlessness from Jesus. Mary asked how she could have a child since she was a virgin and the angel explained. Zechariah asked how it could be possible he would be a father and was rebuked by being struck dumb because of how they asked. Or rather because of the state of their heart when they asked. Thomas, he
re, asks from the place of not doubt, but seeking instruction – a teachable spirit. And Jesus responds by teaching him. He’s asking how he can get the perspective Jesus is talking about. What does he need to do to gain the offer Jesus is giving them. There’s no doubt of the sincerity of Jesus’s offer here, just a man wanting to receive the offer.

This passage, more than any other, should put to death any notion of all religions worshipping the same deity.  “Jesus said to him, “I am the [only] Way [to God] and the [real] Truth and the [real] Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” The only Way to God.

It again comes to the point of perspective. Once we accept that Jesus is the only route to relationship with God we can move on in confidence and get away from (in my case) the anger holding us back – or whatever it is that blinds us to what God is offering through Jesus.

Look through a telescope and it enlarges whatever you point it at. Turn it round and it shrinks it. We live our lives with the telescope backwards – especially in Westernised cultures. We focus on the problem right in front of us, not the possibility that God is and has the solution to it.

Turn the scope around. It’s not easy, but it’s always possible.

Get God’s perspective.

Coming to Lent 2016: Friendship after Loss

It’s a fine line sometimes to find friends when we’ve experienced loss.

I’ve recently started to unpack some baggage I stored away in 1985 when my younger brother died. Revisiting those emotions and trying to finally after 31 years to heal what turn out to be very raw wounds has been harrowing to say the least.

At time of writing I am committed to seeing someone to help me through this over the next few weeks. He thinks we can work through a lot in six sessions. Given the intensity of the sessions already past I think it could go either way.

Here’s what insight I’m learning about myself and how God is working into the centre of the pain now that I’m finally letting Him. The next few weeks will probably see more entries in this vein as I explore my past and what I’ve allowed it to turn me into today.

I’m angry.

In fact, I passed angry many years ago and moved into rage. Furious and uncontrolled rage. I thought it gave me power and drive. I used it to keep myself going when I felt like quitting as a teenager after Robin’s death.

Let me tell the story…

February 1985 was cold. I was busy with growing up in a town in England called Stamford. It’s in the East Midlands near Peterborough and Leicester. Robin and I were just starting to move from the “constant bickering” phase of childhood brothers into the “friendship” phase that (usually) continues throughout adult life. We were beginning to do things together that didn’t involve “accidentally” turning off his computer game as he was about to set a high score or outpacing him so I could be on my own.

I was going to be 13 in the April and Robin would be 10 at the end of March. I remember that I remembered how I felt the night before m 10th birthday. The reality that the next time there would be a change in the number of numbers in my age would only happen in 2072 held me with awe. I had no doubt that I would reach 100 years old, but wasn’t sure what I’d do until then. Robin had asked me what it was like to enter “double figures”. I couldn’t answer. I didn’t know. I just did it, like everyone does.

Snow fell at the start of half term break. Robin was in bed having had an operation to expose permanent teeth the previous week. The Wednesday would be Ash Wednesday, which meant on Tuesday we got pancakes!

On the Wednesday Robin would be allowed to go outside for the first time since the operation. His mouth had healed enough that the cold air wouldn’t give him pain in the wound. I was going for a walk with a friend from school – this is long before Facebook or Twitter. Back then we actually went out and did things like walking and cycling as kids. Robin pestered me to come along but I wanted some time with one of the few friends I had without him tagging along. A typical argument with flared tempers and he went off on his own and I went off with Marc.

My memories of that day are very clear. February 20th 1985. I have almost no memory of before that day. My entire childhood blanked out before that day. Remembering was too painful. It is still excruciating for me to even try to remember. Sometimes something will slip back in that I know is a memory because it’s something I never told anyone about, so they couldn’t tell me the story so many times I didn’t know if it was a memory or not. But some of it is very present. Moments with him. The gradual change from hostility to friendship between brothers and the forming of a life-long bond.

Marc called for me around 9:30. The argument with Robin ensued and ended with words spoken in anger by me. He went his way and I went mine with Marc.

We walked miles through the wintry countryside. Stamford is more built up now than it was back then. The housing estate was big then and had more than doubled in size last time I visited the town about 8 years ago – it’s about 6000 miles from Cape Town so I don’t get back very often. We talked about stuff 12 year old boys were interested in. Guns, school, teachers, the relief of being off for a week. Our brothers. Marc had a younger brother too, but he and Robin didn’t know one another. We talked about flying as we both wanted to be in the Air Force. Normal boys stuff.

On the way home we went past my dad’s old boss’s house. Mr Walker was out in his garden and we stopped and chatted. He was very fond of Robin. George Walker was retired and I knew him independently of my dad as one of the bass singers in the church choir. Robin had just joined alongside me as a treble. He had a beautiful voice. I was the head chorister and soloist, but it was obvious that the solos would not be mine once Robin hit his stride as a singer. As head chorister I got to mentor him a little bit. I was proud to. It was a part of the whole friends bit we were growing into.

I got a chill through me while we were talking to Mr Walker and we went back to Marc’s home to play in the snow. It was about 12:30 now. We’d been playing for a while when Marc’s mum leaned out of the window. My dad had just called to ask them to send me home as Robin had been in a slight accident and may have to go to the hospital. I ran home – it wasn’t too far for a 12 year old to run – and was laughing at the thought of teasing Robin over having a plaster-cast like I’d had the previous year as I opened the gate.

In front of me was what was left of Robin’s bike.

It had been mine originally. Bright red with “Snipe” written down the frame. I’d traded up for a more adult bike and Robin had inherited this one, although his new more adult bike was in the shed. He hadn’t used it much as it was still a bit too large for him, but the speed he was growing it wouldn’t be long.

Now the red bike was buckled in half and twisted in a grotesque shape, the back wheel no longer vertical to the front and even if it had been it would only have gone in circles.

I can still feel the knot in my stomach as dad opened the back door.

I was sent to quickly run – not allowed to use my bike – anywhere I knew Robin might have gone. It was normal for us to let other kids we were friends with use our bikes and us use theirs. I went looking, but I already knew I wouldn’t find him. Not after dad told me where they found the bike.

1pm I was back from my search. The police were there now waiting for me to arrive to take us to Peterborough Hospital. That meant it was serious. Stamford Hospital couldn’t handle major cases so they got sent to Peterborough. Flashing blue lights at 100 mph to Peterborough. 15 miles in about 8 minutes. We got there and mum and dad were asked to identify the boy in intensive care. I was shown to a side room and given a cup of tea. With about 8 spoons of sugar in it.

2pm. It was Robin. He was on a ventilator but hadn’t stabilised from the trauma yet. the next few hours would be critical. He was not showing any higher brain function. I remember them saying that but not really understanding what it meant. They said “coma” and “persistent vegetative state”. I knew what that meant.

They arranged a taxi to take us back to Stamford. I threw up about a mile from home so dad and I walked from there. Mum went back in the car.

2:30pm We got back and mum was calling the family to tell them what had happened. Dad took over.

2:45pm So much was happening it didn’t feel real. I expected to wake up any second.

3pm The phone rang – an incoming call. Dad answered I think. “We’re very sorry to tell you…”

Robin’s heart had stopped at 2:55pm and they felt given the extent of brain damage he had suffered that trying to restart it would not be in his or our best interests. That was when I learned he was actually “living dead” when we’d gone to the hospital. No higher brain activity meant brain-death had occurred.

The doctor arrived to treat us for shock and we had to get her a cup of tea to steady her nerves when we told her Robin had died.

The vicar, John, arrived
at some point and tried to comfort us. It didn’t feel real. I felt like the victim of the sickest joke ever.

5:30pm I was allowed to call Marc. All I got out was “He’s dead. Robin’s dead” before I broke down and so did he. Our dad’s took the phones from us and my dad explained to his what had happened.

6pm I was sent to a friend and neighbour’s house while mum and dad went back to the hospital. Originally I was to sleep there as they were going to sit by his bedside. There wasn’t any point now.

Sometime later that night I was collected and taken home. I didn’t sleep that night. I just lay awake staring at the ceiling.

I remember dad washing the coat Robin had been wearing by hand. Blood in the water. Blood on his hands. Robin’s blood. Tears on his cheeks.

Then I lost him. I began to shut down the memory of having Robin in my life.

My friends Marc and Kevin (whose family I’d gone to when mum and dad went back to the hospital) supported me as best they could. I’d known Kevin my whole life. We’d grown up together. Marc had been a good friend despite peer pressure at school to distance from me. I really appreciated that. We’d been friends for about a year having only met at secondary school.

Time passed. At some point that week I went and visited Robin’s body at the funeral home. He was so cold. I didn’t know a person could feel that cold. The funeral was a week to the day after the accident. During that week I don’t think we had a full hour to ourselves. Friends and neighbours couldn’t visit enough to check on us.

Thursday 28th February 1985. The day after the funeral.

I don’t remember a single call or knock on the door that day. Or the next. Or the next.

For everyone else it was over.

Marc and Kev were better. They knew him and we talked about it. But after a few weeks they didn’t want to talk any more either. I don’t blame them now (I did then).

I was utterly alone. I felt I had no friends to turn to and couldn’t talk to mum and dad about it.

I felt abandoned.

Over time – which hardens a person, it doesn’t heal – I learned to fake it. I put on a face for the World like Eleanor Rigby. There were a few people who I let my guard down with though. As a dancer at a boy’s school I’d had it tough finding anything in common with most of my peers, but there was one person at the dancing school who I let myself open up with. We were friends by default initially, then later there was a real friendship. She was the first person I truly cared about after Robin’s death. I never got a chance to tell her as she changed class and I was too insecure to call her. The friendship gave me hope (although a joke played by some of the boys at school unwittingly damaged it – the guys in question I’m certain would not have done what they did had they realised what I’d go through as a result). But hope remained as I knew I could feel something other than pain.

I made a lot of mistakes because of the anger I felt. I got involved with a girl I shouldn’t have simply because she was interested in me. I didn’t know who I was inside at that point and we both ended up hurt because of it.

It was incredibly difficult to find real friendships after losing Robin because of the pain of losing him. Even today, 31 years later, my friends are few, and all significantly younger than me. Partly this is circumstances as I studied as a mature student, but partly it was “safe” for me – I could keep a distance. But it’s a lonely way to live.

Friendships change over time, and especially over distance. Emigration to South Africa in 2003 caused me to lose touch with many people who were very dear to me. Facebook has helped me get back in touch with some of them, but some things pass for ever.

Loss of that nature takes a toll on any friendship. I never imagined growing up that there would be a time when I could say it was over 20 years since I’d had contact with Marc or Kevin, but that day came and went almost 5 years ago now. The friend I had at dancing I’ve lost touch with, although I’m in touch with one or two others from the class.

It’s about trust. Friendship after loss is about trust even more than before. Losing Robin made me face mortality too soon. I didn’t trust people (except one or two) to live long enough to be friends and not cause me pain, and I didn’t trust myself to be able to not cause them that pain either.

That was, and is, the hardest thing.

Trusting yourself again.

This has been a rather long entry to get to this point, but this is the most important thing I’ve learned in the last 30 years:

Loss is part of living. So is friendship.

Central to truly Living is Faith. Through my Faith I have been able to connect with a handful of people over the years by trusting God had put them in my life.

Trusting God was the key. It allowed me to trust myself enough to risk developing friendships I didn’t control. I let Him control them.

And loss still happens. At any given time in the last 25 years there have been a core of about 4 or 5 people at most I would be able to completely drop my guard with at any given time. They saw behind the mask.

Through this season building up to Easter 2016 I’m going to be visiting places inside myself and recording them as testimony here of how God is at work in me. It probably won’t be short entries, and they almost certainly won’t be pretty, but they’ll be real.

Revelation tells us we overcome the enemy by the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of our Testimony “ And they overcame and conquered him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, for they did not love their life and renounce their faith even when faced with death.” (Revelation 12:11)

So that’s what Lent is going to be about. A raw testimony of what God is doing in me as it happens. What it means will probably change over time, but I’ll be open and blunt in these entries. My guide will be John 14-16 for the most part.

My dearest friend who has never let me down has been with me since November 1985 inside me since I gave Him my life. My Jesus, My Saviour.

Fully knowing this may get me classified as overly religious I say this: I give Him all honour and Glory and Praise for what He has done and continues to do in and for me. I don’t care what the critics may say. I will not be silent. He has been the truest friend any of us could have, and I’ve met many people who only found that friendship in it’s fullness the way I did.

Friendship after Great Loss…

Typical Christianity and Stereotypical Christians

About 4 years ago I wrote on here Unforgiven about struggling to forgive and who it actually hurts – namely ourselves.

There’s a lot of banter in the news these days about what a “Christian” should be – in accordance with the world’s definition.

The stereotype fits one of two extremes:

  1. The Hard-line Conservative. These guys are almost as bad and in some cases worse than the Pharisees of Jesus’s day. They wander around yelling “You’re all going to Hell, Directly to Hell, Do not pass ‘Go’, Do not collects $200”. Their “gospel” is a list of their accomplishments whether they are financial, “philanthropic”, or pseudo-spiritual in nature and they espouse that one can only be a “real” christian if their behaviour is the role model. Their emphasis tends to lie in what we must do: repent, regenerate, seek Christ (their version).
  2.  The Hard-line Liberal. These guys are more wishy-washy about their beliefs. They tailor the gospel to fit the person or group they are speaking to and not offend anyone, thereby offending everyone often. It’s hard to find a solid foundation for their stand in scripture but they assure you it’s there. They emphasise the “positives” of their brand; forgiveness, salvation, christianity and heaven but – as William Booth noted in the early 20th Century – they don’t (often) mention the Holy Spirit, repentance, regeneration or Hell.

The problem is, when we talk to the average “unchurched” person they therefore have one of two expectations:

  1. Everything Christ did is only complete if I add my effort into it and never even think about anything other than Jesus ever again
  2. I can do anything I want because Jesus loves me and forgives me so let’s party now and we’ll have another one in Heaven

Naturally, neither of these is remotely accurate.

“Evangelicals” get lumped in with the right-wing xenophobic, misogynistic, sexist, racists who twist the Bible into a hammer to oppress anyone who dares to disagree with their specific interpretation if they mention Hell.

If they don’t mention Hell then those same people get lumped in with the radical left-wing that says anything goes and in the most extreme cases indicates that all religions worship the same god anyway – pantheistic beliefs like Paul attacked in the New Testament – so what does it matter.

I don’t fit either stereotype. I’ve been labelled as both and told I can’t really be a Christian because I don’t fit either on the same day in the past. I believe that most typical Christians would fall into the gap between.

The problem is it’s the stereotypes that grab the headlines.

I don’t fit the mold.

I watch movies a “good” christian shouldn’t watch. I’m not talking about over-sexed stuff, but I enjoy a good action movie like Braveheart, Home Front and the Terminator series. I enjoy the pure fantasy movies that have come from Marvel’s stable recently like the Avengers and X-Men series that bear no resemblance to real-life at all, and I particularly enjoyed Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and the Narnia movies in recent years.

Not your stereotypical christian’s choice in movies.

I also spend a lot of time in the Word. More time than I do in movies. I listen to sermon recordings most nights before (and sometimes while) I fall asleep for several hours at a time. I focus my thoughts as best as I can during the day on what I find God in when I wake up. Some days it’s easier than others, but it’s always there.

I look for where Christ leads me for regeneration, not to make myself regenerate. I look for the direction He leads me in for healing of a physical and emotional nature. I’ve received miraculous healings of a sudden nature many times when I’ve been injured and I’ve seen dramatic changes in my daily health as I draw closer to Him. There are things I’ve not received a full healing from yet, but I know that has more to do with my ability to receive than His willingness to give.

Now don’t get all tied up with that. My ability to receive has nothing to do with my works any more than yours does. I simply have a block in my head that stops me being able to believe it’s done. Those blocks get broken down over time and healing progresses. I was healed of gout about 11 years ago when it got past the block in my brain that I could be healed of it. I stopped the medication as a result of that faith and have never had a problem since.

Please note: Faith produces Action – Action does not produce Faith!

I take medication for diabetes. Have done for over 15 years. Diabetes is classed as a “progressive” illness, meaning it gets worse as time goes on, affecting eyesight, kidneys and other issues. When I was diagnosed I wasn’t equipped spiritually to rebuke the diagnosis or receive healing for it. It progressed for a couple of years then something changed in me. I listened to an old tape from a conference I had attended several years earlier given by Dave Duell, and it shifted something inside me. I began to be able to receive that which God has for me in some areas of my life. In the case of the diabetes it has stopped progressing. I’ve changed medications for more modern drugs than I was taking, but not had to increase my medication levels, and in the last six months I’ve begun to see the levels of excess sugar in my blood stream dropping first to normal levels, and now more regularly to low levels – indicating I may be able to reduce my doses.

I’m going to say this again: ACTION DOES NOT PRODUCE FAITH!

I have faith that I am being healed – at the pace I am able to receive it, not necessarily the speed God would want to heal me. I believe God wants me healed more than I want to be, but I’m human. He looks at me (or you) and sees His Son. I (or you) look in the mirror and see every flaw and sin between us. As a result I don’t get perfect results receiving for myself. Often when we pray we get better results of answered prayer when we pray for a stranger or a friend than for ourselves because it’s easier to ignore the enemy’s jibes about their past than it is about our own. I know that’s what gets in the way for me – well, that and my stubborn heart. So 16 years after I was told this issue affected me, and had been doing so for some time, I was told I have the eyes and kidney function of a non-diabetic last year.

It’s a small personal victory, but a victory nonetheless.

I don’t claim to have completed the journey of Faith in this issue, but I’ve started down the road.

That’s a “typical” response for today’s Christians – especially in the Westernised world where modern healthcare and conveniences mean we can forget to rely on God for our every need.

In developing countries there is a deeper understanding of God’s true Nature as our source and as a result many more testimonies come from those countries than the West of miraculous healings, provision and other miracles.

The modern stereotypes diminish God in the eyes of the developed world to a fable or myth and the Bible as nothing more than a code of ethics and stories for children.

But we are inhabited by the Holy Spirit. It’s time to shake loose the stereotypes and get back to the core of the Gospel. We need to find the words to say we’re not stereotypes.

Let’s get back to believing the way Peter did when he spoke on the day of Pentecost and 5000 people
joined the Church in Jerusalem. The way he did when he met the cripple at the gate of the temple and commanded him to walk in Jesus’s Name.

We have the same Spirit.

That should be typical Christianity…