More to Come…

Ever feel like you left something Unfinished?

This blog has been like that for me the last few weeks. My ISP has let me down horribly and my connection speed was faster when I had dial-up 20 years ago.

I spent last weekend at a little reserve called Jongensgat near Stilbaai in South Africa. It’s about 4 hours drive from my home and it’s the most amazing place to go to reconnect with life and people who are important.

It has no cell reception.jongensgat-sea-1

No television.

No internet.

Cooking is done over a fire in a poitjie (kind of like a small cauldron) and takes 2-3 hours.

Everything is slow, intimate. Just the way it should be. There’s no

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interruptions from whatsapp or email. No inane television forcing you to tune in and

zone out mentally.

You get to reawaken from a slumber you don’t even realise you’re trapped in.

Basically you get to wake up and realise what the important stuff in your life is that is unfinished.

And 4 days there isn’t close to enough.

We left under a dark cloud. For those married guys reading this, some free advice: Be open and honest with your spouse at all times. This includes if you have a close friend of the opposite gender – even if he mother is your age (perhaps especially) – and you write her a note, avoid the greeting “Hi Beautiful”. If your wife finds this (and she will) it will cause an issue you may not have intended. What appears to a “Y” chromosome to be a friendly greeting to a friend carries VERY different connotations to your wife. Just don’t do it.

Thankfully, the location means we had nothing to do but talk through the issue and reach a resolution. I understood why it hurt her, she (I think) understood that it wasn’t intended as anything more than a face-value “hello”.

But I won’t be doing it again.

Four days. We arrived at 2am. I don’t recommend this. The sun will wake you around 6am. There is no escape to this.

But we had four days of watching Cape Robins hopping across the deck outside our door, rock dassies running helter-skelter around the cliffs and grass, and tortoises meandering about the area. The only sound is the crashing of the ocean, literally a stone’s throw from your door (if you have a good arm).

Peace. A chance to hear God again away from the bustle of everyday life.

I love this place. No distractions except what you bring – so pack selectively. A couple of good books, my laptop and a few selected DVDs to play on it.

And most importantly, an open heart to pray and hear God.

Four days.

In that time, my wife and I rediscovered part of why we love one another that in everyday life gets buried – we enjoy each other’s company. I had a chance to simply sit with God knowing I wouldn’t be interrupted by email, telephones, cell calls, messages or anything else.

And I was able to pray for an outcome to some issues we’ve been facing.

We’ve come home, and some of those issues which were so huge when we left are almost resolved. Job offers out of nowhere. Opportunities to move forward. Answers to uninterrupted prayer which had the chance to be truly prayerful and focussed on listening.

We spend too much time giving Go a laundry-list of demands and not enough time listening. Our prayer goes unfinished.

Take the time to go somewhere. Or just turn off the electronics for a day. Reconnect and finish that most important thing: the next step of your relationship. Intimacy.

Don’t quit, finish the task.

Let your spouse know they are the most important human relationship you have.

Let yourself remember the most important relationship you have is with Jesus.

Finish it.

I Will Give You Rest

We all get tired. Even Jesus needed to recharge from time to time.

There’s no sin in taking time out. Part of being human is we need to stop and recover from time to time physically, emotionally and Spiritually.

The key is to allow ourselves the time to do so.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been on a forced physical rest. I got sick. Not something that happens a lot, but when it happens, it hits hard. I had a viral infection that left me unable to walk in a straight line. Labyrinthitis. It’s a disorder of the inner ear and it left me unable to stand, read, write, walk, watch TV. Basically all I could do was sleep. Not something I’m historically good at.

So for most of the last 2 weeks I’ve slept and listened to sermons on mp3.

I’ve rested in a way I’ve not done for longer than I can remember.

Physically I’m not 100%, but I’m going back to work anyway. I can see straight, and the world is no longer doing circuits around my head when I sit up, lie down or do any form of exercise… like blinking. Hopefully my decision is the right one.

But I’m very aware I need more.

I have a hunger to go into the mountains and sit by a river, watching the eagles fish. Maybe catch a glimpse of one of the wild leopards that live in the area. otters-bend-jan-05-pic-22Perhaps watch the weavers build their hanging nests over the water. Just surround myself with Creation and let it revitalise me.

Jesus used to go to the mountains to be alone with God. He went after feeding the 5000 to be with His Father and mourn John the Baptist’s murder. He knew how important it is to preserve this frail shell we walk about in. To go where we can quiet our mind away from the storms of life.

There’s a place not far from my home called Jongensgat where I used to go with my wife. 2 wooden cottages on a reserve with tortoises, buck, dassies and a multitude of birds. But the best part is there’s no cellphone reception, no TV in the houses, nothing except what you take with you. It’s a great place to just go and be. We spend our entire existence doing and forget we are human beings.

It’s a place to rest. Peaceful, tranquil. Choose your adjective. Amazing. Clear nights give unrivalled display of the Milky Way looking out South where the next land is Antarctica. It puts a real perspective on what I am, and how much I must mean to God that in all that around me, I still matter to Him.

I get to recharge there.

It’s not the only place I feel able to relax, but it’s the only one I know of with no internet, cellphone etc.

steve-jobs-terminatorIt’s vital for us to remember we are not indestructible. We need to rest. I learned that in the last two weeks. It’s easy to forget sometimes.

Every part of our life needs time to recuperate. If Jesus needed to take time out away from the buzz of life, how much more do we?

Modern life decries any need for rest as laziness or weakness, yet God initiated the Sabbath for a reason. We can only work so long before we break down. God designed us to work six days, then rest for one. Jesus rested when he needed it, He wasn’t afraid to take time out to recuperate.

So why should we be?

It’s not weakness to stop after working to rest. It’s a basic human need. Like eating or drinking. Nobody expects us to function without food or drink, but rest seems to be a different story. Taking down-time has been slowly whittled away as a right, and more and more we are expected to take pay in lieu of leave, but money can’t buy rest.

Jesus said “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV)

“I will give you rest”. Such a seemingly innocuous statement, yet such a powerful image.942dd-p1010010 Consider psalm 23 “He makes me lie down in green pastures”. Through the whole Bible, too many times to quote, the image of resting in God’s presence comes through again and again.

Perhaps that is why the World rails against rest. It’s a place where we can connect with God on an intimate level. Consider the way technology has invaded our every part. Everything goes through the tablet, smartphone or laptop these days. It’s almost unheard of for someone not to have a TV any more.

My wife and I don’t watch TV, just a few select videos and movies of our own choice. We avoid news broadcasts, because frankly they’re depressing and there’s the advantage of not having adverts thrown in. It means we have absolute control over what comes into our home – and we can watch what we find helps us recharge.

Take the time to switch off your phone tonight. Talk to your family. Play a board game with your kids. Buy a board game to play with your kids…

Switch off, tune in to God.

And let Him give you rest.

A World at War

Fierce

What General Weygand called the battle of France is over. I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can spitfirestand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

So said Winston Churchill on 18th June 1940 as Hitler prepared to try to destroy England.

“Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation.”

Almost 80 years later and the battle is somewhat different. England, Europe and most of the West is now a “post-Christian” society. The strange rattle in assorted London cemeteries and mausoleums is likely the interred who fought, led and died in that Battle of Britain turning in their graves.

The battle in 2016 is no less fierce than the one in 1940. It is more insidious. The tide of other faiths streaming into the West led to a need for “tolerance” that the countries they were leaving did not and do not reciprocate. Calls for sharia courts to be established in England were even heard from Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, just a couple of years ago.

What’s happened? Where are the people seeking to preserve Christian civilisation now?

Churchill lived at a time where Faith was an integral part of what it meant to be British. Strong role models through his youth and service, he called the nation to prayer during the war. Somehow I can’t imagine May doing that. Or Trump. Or Corbyn. Or any of the “leaders” dumped on an unsuspecting public today.

96953-calvaryencausticFaith is not considered important today. People who lived lives of honour and Faith in the past were respected and revered as leaders. Today they are considered weak at best, and the accomplishments men and women of Faith achieved in history are often sidelined, at least the part their Faith played in their resolve. Wilberforce is remembered as the man who abolished the Slave Trade in the British Empire, but outside a few who saw “Amazing Grace” with Ioan Gryffod, most people have no idea Christ played such an important part in that fight. “Chariots of Fire” is remembered for the soundtrack – awesome though it is – and Harold Abrahams’ achievement, but the sacrifice of Eric Liddell and the battle he fought for the principle of his Faith to not race on Sunday because it was a day for God is barely remembered. This for a man who ended up dying overseas as a Missionary.

The battle is fiercest where it seems quiet. Like a river seems tranquil where it is deepest, it often hides dangerous and powerful currents underneath. The devil has done an amazing propaganda job. He has convinced most of the West he doesn’t exist. Those of us who still believe in a literal Hell and Heaven seem to be in the minority, and are usually lampooned for saying so. For the record:

Yes, I believe in a literal Heaven and Hell.

No, I don’t believe “everyone goes to heaven” (see Luke 13)

No, I don’t care if that makes people think me a fool. Rather men think that than God.

Jesus was a fierce man. We lose sight today in the Reformation and Renaissance paintings, cherubic Jesus as a baby, spotless and freshly pressed white robes as an adult. Where is the force that started a stampede in the Temple? The warrior who set His eyes on Jerusalem?

Where is the army of the Church?

Sleeping.

Wake up. One word used to describe Jesus is “δύναμις” “dunamis”. The root of the word Dynamite. Explosive, forceful and unstoppable power. Hardly “meek and mild”. Meekness and weakness are not synonyms, in fact to be truly meek requires great strength of character. Humility is portrayed as self flagellation, which is actually a form of inverted pride and drives us away from God. Declare yourself to be what God says you are: no more and no less. Be exactly who He says you are, and don’t doubt it.

No matter the colour of skin or cast of features. No matter the gender. Remember the first to declare the Gospel of the Resurrection were women – Jesus chose a reformed hooker to tell Peter. Women had no legal standing in law then. Their testimony was ignored as unreliable. So Jesus turned things on their head and had His Resurrection declared by Mary first.

Fierce intention.

Planned aggression.

War engaged.

Standing Up

Being a Witness for Christ isn’t always easy.

In fact, in today’s climate it can be downright precarious.

The biggest issue right now is understanding the idea of “persecution”.

Huffington Post recently ran an article titled “8 Countries Where Religious Freedom Is Actually Under Attack”, the understanding being that persecution does not happen in the West, especially America, because nobody holds a gun/sword/knife to anyone’s throat/head and tries to force them to deny their faith or die.

And if that is all you understand persecution to be then they are right.

But 2 Timothy 3:12 says:

Indeed, all who delight in pursuing righteousness and are determined to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be hunted and persecuted [because of their faith]

(Amplified)

So we are faced with the need to redefine persecution. No, maybe decapitation and baking a cake are not physically the same. I’m not saying they are. But where is the line? What makes someone a sufferer of persecution?

Any action which forces someone to adhere to a rule that contravenes their belief in Christ can be deemed persecution. I admit, the clerk who refused to issue the marriage license was not my favourite person, but it was a valid stand she took. When she accepted the job, same-sex “marriage” was not an issue. The terms changed after she began working there. She was not the only person, surely, who could issue the license. So why was she forced to violate her beliefs for the sake of someone else’s or lose her job? Similarly, the couple who declined to provide a cake did so because of their beliefs. By standing by their faith over the hypocrisy of the World that tried to force them to provide their service to someone standing in opposition to their sincerely held beliefs, they have lost their business and reputation.

How is that different to the Romans forcing a sacrifice to Mars or Venus 2000 years ago? They lost their means of putting food on the table, paying for their homes, cars and any other obligations they may have had.

Because they stood up for what they believe in. They weighed the possible outcome – loss of their material goods – against what Christ said “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV). They chose to follow this command rather than compromise.

Western Persecution is insidious in nature. It convinces people that if there are actual demons they’re all in the Middle East or Africa. More often it presents itself as “reason”. “Logic” dictates that the resurrection couldn’t be true. And logically it’s crazy to think. But consider for a moment that at least 120 people saw Jesus after the crucifixion. The sightings were noted by non-Christian sources such as Pliny and Josephus. The disciples were prepared to die for the sake of not shutting up about it. In fact, of the Apostles (including Paul), 11 out of 12 were executed for talking about it. Only John died of old age, but wait: he lost everything financially that he had and died in exile. He was no longer a fisherman with a boat. Talking about Jesus and refusing to compromise cost him his business first.

Sound familiar?

Things never start at maximum throttle. Any movement trying to derail Christianity will first have to undermine the idea of Christianity. So a Just God becomes a “Loving God”, which He is, but then the idea gets warped. We end up with “How can a ‘loving God’ condemn people to Hell?” and rather than point out the system of Free Choice He set up in the Bible it gets capitulated into “He wouldn’t” and POW there goes the need for repentance. Everyone suddenly gets a “Get Out of Hell Free” card and so there’s no fear of the coming wrath and judgement. It’s been going on so long now that we can’t grasp the idea that there can be a coming Judgement. Next, trivialise the ideas. Armageddon and Judgement Day are suddenly movie titles with Bruce Willis and Arnie, and Satan looks a lot like Gabriel Byrne.

We are living in the situation where we see people expecting Salvation without sacrifice, Christianity without Christ, Forgiveness without repentance and heaven without hell, just like William Booth predicted. What began as a minor blip is now the substantive belief system of the majority. Alarmingly, many evangelicals are stuck in it as well. It may be what makes Trump’s cohorts so dangerous. They at least recognise there’s something wrong. (No clue how to fix it, but it’s a start!)

So what do we do?

Firstly, we must look at ourselves. Examine our own life and get any plank out of our eyes. It’s not easy, but if we are going to be Ambassadors of Christ it is absolutely essential.

Secondly, quit compromising. True, not everyone who disagrees with us is persecuting us, but equally true, it doesn’t mean none of them are. If standing for Christ will risk everything it might just be the right thing to do.

Finally, brace for impact. We need to anchor deep to weather the storm coming. So many Christians I’ve met have fallen silent at best and away from God completely in some cases because they have never built ready to weather a storm. The storm itself cannot kill us. It cannot take what is most precious, but we can surrender it. It is vital we don’t quit when things get tough. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Ephesian 6:13)

Stand firm and be a Witness of Jesus Christ.

Keep Calm and…

Carry on Learning

23rd August saw the 17th anniversary of my dad’s death. I don’t usually keep track of the day, for several reasons – not least of which is that the event was a major part of the trigger that launched me towards depression and four [failed] suicide attempts.

Keeping calm isn’t my strongest suit. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have a short temper. But I do consider myself to be a lifelong learner.

We essentially have two options in life. Growth or death. There is nothing else.

For over a year after my dad died I actively sought death. Instead of allowing myself to grow, I sank into a black pit of depression.

Just a few weeks before dad was diagnosed we had gone to a conference in Devon, just for the day. It was around the time of the Columbine shootings.I remember as one of the teachers had to return to his church in Littleton. We listened, worshipped and prayed. We went and had lunch, then the afternoon and evening sessions. Great teaching and amazing worship. Then a call for someone with cancer to go and receive healing. Nobody moved.

I didn’t know at the time, but my dad was already taking massive doses of painkillers for headaches. And I mean MASSIVE doses. A box of Nurofen a day.

A month later he collapsed with a massive brain tumour. He lived just 3 months more.

We both learned a lot from the experience. One important thing I learned was that not every minister gets it. At my dad’s bedside the day he went Home, the vicar came to pray with us and for him. He asked Jesus to take dad to himself and give comfort to those left behind. He said we can’t know God’s plan.

Dad had fought this sickness. Even then, he was fighting. I told him if he wanted to go that we’d be ok, even though I wasn’t sure. John, the vicar, was a decent guy. He wanted to do the right thing. But my dad was 56, just 12 years older than I am now, and far short of three score and ten. God limited man’s days to 120 years after the flood. 70 or 80 was an observation by Moses, not a decree of longevity by God. There were prophetic promises spoken over dad just a few weeks earlier that went unfulfilled because of his death. God’s Word does not return void, but we can curtail it’s effect.

When Jesus went to Nazareth in His ministry, the Bible says He could do very little in His hometown because of their lack of faith. He was not honoured because they thought they knew Him.

They didn’t.

They knew their concept of Jesus. Son of the carpenter. Brother of James and son of Mary. His earthly siblings were still living there. They couldn’t see the forest because their own trees obscured it.

I love to look at nature. The complexity of a flower and the intricate design of a pollinating Beeinsect like a bee or a butterfly. I try to not allow my own concept to prevent me seeing the glorious design God has put in place. Bees are truly incredible creatures. There is so much we owe this humble insect, yet most people seem terrified of them. Most people don’t get that if a bee stings you, it dies. Stinging is not on a bee’s “to do” list every morning.

The bee flies because it has no concept of aerodynamics. I’d never get into an aircraft that looked like a bee because at school I studied aerodynamics. I don’t know how a bee flies. It shouldn’t.

But a bee doesn’t know it shouldn’t, so it does. Simple faith.

I sit on chairs in the faith that they will hold me. I’m a big guy, 220lbs, and there have been times that faith has been misplaced. But generally chairs hold me. Otherwise I’d stand all the time.

I learn.

We do what we know we are. Proverbs 23:7 says “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” The context is of a selfish rich man paying lip-service to giving, but the concept holds true to all of us. We cannot behave in a way other than how we perceive ourselves to be. If we are not committed to growth, we will perish. It’s that simple.

Growth is not just the concept of new ideas, but to be prepared to stand fast on ones that have stood for thousands of years despite current societal and political trends. It’s hard when the World labels us “backward” or “x-phobic” (whatever the “x” of the moment is). But I’m more concerned about opposing God than man. We all should be.

God doesn’t change. No “shadow of turning” as the hymn puts it. “Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not; As thou hast been, thou for ever wilt be” (Great is thy Faithfulness).

We forget because remembering puts us in a quandary. There is no genetic reason for most behaviour. Including homosexuality, but not limited to it. Nature vs Nurture would seem to suggest heavily that Nurture – or errors in it – plays a role, a significant one, in our development.

I was accused often of being gay at school because I wasn’t a sportsman I was a musician, and outside school my main hobby was ballet. At six feet tall and about 190lbs I was the least likely dancer you could meet, but a dancer I was. I loved it. It was a “safe” place for me. I got the chance to express something through dance I couldn’t anywhere else, even in music. But I never doubted my sexuality. Very definitely NOT gay! I learned that respect for women Marilyn Monroe spoke of in one movie, a girl can walk through a backstage area nearly naked and not be molested, but put the same girl fully dressed in an office and she’ll be harassed was the sentiment. I forget which movie it was, I seem to remember a billionaire pretending to be a normal guy to woo her in it. I just remember the idea and thought about it a lot. Several of the girls at dancing were also at the sister-school to the boys school I went to and the comments the boys made were usually disgusting about them fully dressed. I can honestly say I never even thought that and I’d seen WAY more than they had over the years. The ladies were people to me, not objects.

I also learned young that looks change in a second. It’s folly to base a life on appearances. What taught me was the story of Simon Weston, the young officer badly burned in the Falklands War in 1982. He became a hero and a celebrity after his injuries on the HMS Sir Galahad scarred him physically, but the strength of who he was came through.

Learning is not optional.

Actually, I suppose it is. We can walk around ignorant if we choose to. Dad used to say “You can lead a horse to water, shove it’s head under the surface and waggle it’s tongue up and down. It drinks or it drowns!” He never literally tried it, but as a teacher he saw it with kids in his care, and the colleagues he worked with. The older, more experienced ones retired as the younger, inflexible and arrogant became the bosses and learning was replaced with memorising for testing.

The burden of working with the short sighted system pushed him into retirement.

We try to carry more than we should much of the time. We forget or ignore Jesus’s 8e422-unequal2byokeinvitation to take up His yoke and let Him give us rest, so we end up laughably unevenly burdened.

The result is burnout on a massive scale.

I know many people, formerly solid foundation (seemingly) based Christians who have walked away after a rough time hits them.

Broken marriages, depression, rejection by churches that should know better. They contribute to the destruction of the lives of the men and women, and the children they bring up.

Sadly, it’s too often the case. The psychological persecution is more effective than threat of a sword or a gun. A better example for the enemy’s camp is to turn one away from God, because that’s what people remember, not the thousands who stay, but the one sheep that wanders off.

But if we remain open to correction and growth, we can withstand anything.