Tag Archive: life to the full


2014 brett pool duncs

so today we fly back to americaland and i leave a changed man.

but maybe not in the way you would expect… i don’t feel like i have grown so much as i have regressed, but in a good way though. as in ‘returned to former state’ – or returning at least.

in some Christian senses i guess we have been living the dream – 19 months at the Simple Way [you know, the mecca of christian intentional community… will write something about that sometime], attending Wild Goose Festivals, CCDA conferences and involved in two non-profits… you know, changing the world. or something.

i was having lunch with my new mate Bill yesterday and i heard him say the words… he was talking about living an actively following Jesus life and really taking this stuff seriously and he threw in the line, “But of course you know all this, you’re living it”, which is great to hear of course, but my heart thudded a little bit when i heard it, because i feel i still have so far to go.

AMERICALAND: land of the free… king confused.

oh Africa, who looks jealously across the ocean at Americaland

land of hope, land of plenty

land of money and opportunity and adventure 

land of blockbuster movies and high speed internet and space tourism programs

and really bad mayonnaise. no seriously, i’m talking that stuff needs a new name cos that is NOT mayonnaise.

what the raiSIN-infested-custard were you thinking?

and i will be speaking in generalisations here so please don’t see it through a one-size-fits-all lens, and remember that Americaland is a huge country and our experience of it is largely Philadelphia and Oakland, and the church tribes we have encountered there and online…

but we have noticed that as advanced as Americaland is in many areas [and it is, or maybe developed is a better word because being more developed does not mean more advanced – i remember a glorious time when telephones were not able to be carried around with us and people at restaurants actually looked at and spoke to each other] there are some where it seems completely backward or in need of catchup. mayonnaise is one such area [throw all of yours out and start again] and another is banking systems [so much of backward in many areas of that] and public toilet doors [mind the gap!] and so on.

and your church. while there are incredible church congregations doing incredible things and while we have met some truly amazing and brilliant people and also been super privileged to find a congregation we enjoy being a part of in Re:Generation, your church as a whole [or in large pockets within the whole] feels very confused and in need of a bit of a shake up [and not because it’s not new or post-post-modern or ‘with it’ enough].

the church of Americaland has for a long time seen itself as the Saviour of the rest of the world in many ways – must. save. Africa. [wait, where is Africa? oh, there it is… must.save.Africa] but you seem to largely [remember the generalisations, if this is not you, let it go and move on] be taking your lead from the world and not from Scripture or the Holy Spirit [or the glorious combination of them both].

tolerance has become the big deal where the definition of tolerance has become ‘whatever you want to do or be is fine, anyone who tells you you cannot do or be what you are doing or being is intolerant and judgemental and Jesus who loved and embraced and welcomed all people is sad with those people for not just accepting everyone, however they choose to be. ‘

the church was always meant to be modeling the love of Jesus and the worship of God the Father and the power, love and discipline of the Holy Spirit to the world in a ‘Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Me’ kind of way which feels like it has been largely been replaced by a ‘this feels good’ or ‘this will keep people happy’ mentality which is just not evidenced all that much in the Bible.

there is also a strong sense of 1 Corinthians 1 dejavu going on…

12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Christ Crucified Is God’s Power and Wisdom

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Except that we have replaced Paul and Apollos and Cephas with John Piper and Mark Driscoll and Rachel Held Evans and Shane Claiborne… being influenced by people is great [follow my example as i follow the example of Christ – 1 Corinthians 11] but when you start following people, that is when it gets dangerous and the cross of Christ starts to be emptied of its power.

church of Americaland – the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing… once our message starts to make sense and be completely acceptable to all those around us, we need to be checking if it is still the same message of God.

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

and so, church of Americaland, there is so much good in you and so many passionate and committed people doing some incredible and amazingly creative things, but as a whole, you do seem quite confused and really in need of plugging back into your source and being led by Him. also it wouldn’t hurt for you to take some time in Africa [and beyond] just simply looking and listening and learning… you might be surprised at the work God has been doing there and what they might have to offer you.

REFUSE THIS THING

so for me, this trip has been so good, and two things stand out:

[1] connecting with people who are passionate about following Jesus – i have been leaning towards staying in Americaland for longer because i love the Re:Gen community we are part of and the opportunities to preach and work with young and older people there. God is doing some good stuff there and it has been great to be a part of it and i definitely feel like i have a lot to offer and hopefully learn from them… but it was one night in Hillbrow [my first, back in South Africa] that changed everything for me and reminded me how African my blood is. and i’m not so sure it was Hillbrow. it was spending time with Nigel Branken and his family, who in the messiest of ways, are trying to re-imagine their faith in Jesus and live where they feel He has called them, as well as meeting some other great people in that community that night. it was reconnecting with my buddy Rob and his wife Nicky who are in the midst of planting a church with some friends. it was breakfast with Bruce and Bex and hearing how they are wanting to have an impact in the community where they are. it was listening to my old youth mate Fezile and how he is wanting to create a program to clean up the township where he lives. and it was lunch with Bill, listening to how he is wrestling with really wanting to follow Jesus completely and how that feels like it looks so different from the regular Sunday church meeting he has been attending and how that affects finances and hospitality and work ethics and beyond. and it was sitting with a bunch of people over a meal discussing how we could give away the pot of money we had all contributed to, to meet the needs of other people we know. and more. conversations, people, ideas, passion for kingdom things and transformation of the world as we know it – seeing the kingdom come on earth and not waiting for the big escape from this messed up world

[2] getting hijacked with worship music – we had an amazing gift from an old youth friend Kerstin and her husband Carl in being gifted the use of their car which has been an incredible present to tbV and me while we have been here. but it took us a while to realise there was more than one cd in the car and until we did, there was this worship compilation that i would just play over and over and two songs in particular stood out for me, the one being by a guy called Ben Howard titled ‘I will be blessed’ [anyone who knows me well knows that that is a unlikely title for a song that would be liked by me] – just a completely haunting song that just overwhelmed me in some ways and the lyrics don’t do it justice at all without hearing it so head off to Uncl Google, but here is the chorus:

Oh hey heaven is the place we know
Heaven is the arms that hold us
Long before we go
Oh hey, heaven is the place we know
Heaven is the arms that hold us
Long before we go

but just the gift of worship and having it around me every time i have been in the car has been so great for me and an even bigger gift than the car itself. it feels like my very soul [the whoness of who i am] has been bathed in this river of just holiness and love and grace and brought me so much closer to God and helped me focus on Him. a reminder of Who and what this is all about.

i have a plane to go and get ready for although i feel like there is a whole lot more to say, but the focus of this post is that for me this trip has helped me to become a little more unsettled than i’ve been – hence the regression [which is usually seen as a negative thing but can also be describing something that returns to a former state] – one of the biggest dangers of life as a follower of Jesus is that we settle – with the way things are, with the routine of life, with the squeezing down of our passion and belief that God and His church can actually make a difference in the world and actually just kind of semi-give up and start to resemble everyone else, in a kind of boring and bland and grey kind of way…

that is NOT what we have been called to – we have been called to live and thrive and be agents of transformation in a world that is desperately in need of God… i am so glad this trip has rekindled some of the fire in me and so expectant [and nervous] about what lies ahead… we have been in Americaland for a reason – it has been both great and hard and amazing and difficult and frustrating and exhilarating and angrifying and more… but it has been good…

and i’m not sure what is next or how it looks or anything like that [we are committed to church and non-profit work til August] but i want to continue to fan into flame the things that God is starting to work in my life.

if you’re a praying person, i can definitely use a lot of that. we both can.

my nickname is FISH which stands for Faithful In Serving Him – i am definitely not worthy at all of carrying that as a description of who i am, but as a path i try to follow and live out and aim towards, that is something i hold strongly to.

i love Jesus. i love His church. and i believe that when the church starts being the church, every one of us, then the world will be completely turned upside down.

which, ironically, is right side up.

had lunch with a friend of mine who doesn’t ‘go to church’ any more…

i know, i know, i should have been spending the whole meal challenging him about how important it is and how pathetically self-focused he is being and something something about the body of Christ and all that… but i was too busy finding the encounter so refreshing.

you see, Bill [let’s call him that – i know how friendly you okes can be to people who ‘don’t go to church’] is a guy who i have never even met before – when i was in a tax crisis a few years ago he volunteered his services and basically swooped in and saved the day and really helped me out – somehow we had become Facebook friends somewhere along the line and when he saw a need, he responded. i am so grateful he did.

one thing Bill told me is that he is tired of the nonsense of religiosity – he has been struggling with how church has been done and christianity lived out [or not lived out to be more precise] for years and is at the point of i want to be either fully in or fully out – i either believe completely or i walk away from this thing… but i can’t walk away cos i completely know in myself that this stuff is true.

having chatted to some mates of his they started meeting regularly [i think it’s on a sunday so they’re probably okay, even though the original ‘sunday’ wasn’t even a sunday, right?] and they eat together and pray together and share and do life and grow and are challenged and it sounds pretty churchlike to me [although they might need to work a little on their ‘church politics’ cos i’m not sure they’re fighting enough about that]

also he discovered this book that he has been reading [to the exclusion of all other books right now] which he has said has completely revolutionised his faith and helped him to really start believing again – the book’s name? the bible. no surprises there. but Bill has started hungrily devouring that book and his eyes have been opened in so many ways and you can just hear and see the life in him as he really seems to be grasping [or on the way to grasping] what this following Jesus thing is all about, largely for the first time – man, it was an exciting lunch for me…

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE DON?

this past week, Donald Miller [author of ‘Blue Like Jazz’ and other books and part of the Storyling blog which is helping people tell their stories well] confessed via Twitter and his blog, that he doesn’t often go to church in a post titled, ‘I don’t worship God by singing, I connect with Him elsewhere’ – it did not go down so well.

in fact, his follow up tweet read like this: Blogged about not going to church today. More shame and guilt @replies than I’ve ever received on twitter. I feel immense forgiveness.

in his follow-up blog titled, ‘Why I don’t go to church very often, a follow up blog’, he responded to a lot of the comments and feedback he received [a lot of which had missed his original point].

what i did not hear Don say was that he doesn’t want to be part of a community that gathers together and strengthen each other in the living out of the bible – what i believe he was reacting against was the idea that church is this particular meeting that takes place on that particular day at that particular place.

and i agree with him – for too long i have felt that the traditional description of what church is, is way too small. Church is a lot of the things that a lot of people see church as being. But i believe it is also a lot more.

this paragraph from Don Miller’s blog i found particularly interesting [and so largely true]

Neither am I arguing the current model should change. Millions are fed weekly through these kinds of programs. What I’m arguing is that nobody should be faulted for creating something different. Those who would argue “we shouldn’t simply create the church in our own image” forget it already has been created in our own image. First the image of the royal government then the image of the university or school and then big business and now moving toward the entertainment industry. The church has always been recreated in the image of the dominant institution in society. For the early church, that was the family. For our culture, it’s business and education and entertainment.

CHURCH IS AS CHURCH DOES

am i suggesting we should stop traditional church? absolutely not. what i am saying is that maybe it is not the best thing for everyone. and for us to look at other models of church and decide they are not biblical when our one may not be particularly biblical either feels just a little bit rich. and unhelpful. and maybe not all that true.

what is and has and may continue to be the problem for so long is that so much focus is put by so many people on the sunday meeting when i’m pretty sure that is NOT what it is meant to be about – it is meant to be about loving God and loving people and making disciples and looking after the least of these [starting with the church but really paying good attention to widows and orphans as well in there] and spreading forgiveness and pointing people towards Jesus [and the majority of those people will not easily step into a sunday church meeting building  – and why would they? weird stuff happens there – but they might step into a lounge, or stand around a braai, or hang out on the beach]

church is God’s people doing God’s stuff in the world. that really feels like a better definition to me than ‘that meeting at that place on that day.’

i’m pretty sure that Jesus did not die so that we could meet on a week to week basis in a building [ESPECIALLY if our lives outside of that building are not going to reflect it at all or enough]

and this conversation needs to be a much l0nger one because there are so many different angles to it [and i believe Don raised some good ones] – community is important as is accountability as is teaching and learning and serving and discipleship and communion sharing [but i love that my wife tbV gravitates so much more strongly to the idea of an actual meal for this than a quick sip and a dip although i think both can be valid and beautiful] and mission [both near and far] and so much more…

# when we say church is this meeting that happens in that place on that day, then we say anything else cannot be church [i don’t buy that!]

# when we call organisations who are made up of God’s people doing God’s stuff ‘para-church’ organisations as in ‘outside of church’ or ‘not church’ then i don’t buy that – if church is defined as either the body or the bride of Christ then para-church organisations that are doing kingdom things fit into that.

# when the majority of the money that is given to the church is spent on buildings and things and the people who work in the church and so little of it is given out to the work and mission of the church outside of those who already believe, then i’m not quite convinced we have found the best way of doing it yet.

and more. this whole thing feels so much bigger than a lot of what we’ve made it and if we continue to hold on so tightly and rigidly to the current model we have then we may miss out, not so much on ‘the new thing God is wanting to do’ but more directly i think on the old thing He was always calling us to be.

so Bill, keep on my friend – you were an inspiration to me today and i look forward to connecting more and wrestling over this church thing together and i think so much of what you were saying and are feeling is completely on track – it’s not going to be easy and so many people are just not going to understand… but as long as you are looking to the Bible as your guide book and surrounding yourself with other Jesus-following people and calling out to Him and continuing to live a life that shines light and is salt and leaves behind the fragrance of Christ… well, all i can say is you are gunning for the right audient, keep on.

Be encouraged by Hebrews 12:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

[To read why ‘You should stop going to church,’ click here]

Hm, i really thought God loves you [part I] would go viral…

Godlove

Turns out that maybe that simple thought or Truth or knowledge of that Truth isn’t enough any more.

 

…or maybe we have simply started taking it too much for granted?

…or maybe we always did?

in the midst of gay marriage rights and Jesus feminism and Driscoll plagiarism and a glorious new pope…

in the midst of a world that has gone crazy with school shootings, race-related murders, genocide attempts and rumours of wars…

through the smokescreen of Hollywood comic sequel blockbusters, bad boy/girl singers trying to outdo each other in over-the-top antics both off and on the stage, and increasingly insane amounts of money being thrown at sports stars…

we can be distracted from that simple yet powerful Truth: God loves you.

God.

Loves.

You.

Can you handle the Truth?

We get a hint of it in this passage from the letter to the Philippian church, from chapter 2, where the writer reminds us of just how big a deal it was that Jesus [being God] left the comforts of heaven to become human and in habit our stinky, limited, painful world to walk among us and direct us to the Truth of His Love:

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

And it is in this passage from the letter to the Ephesian church where the writer gives us a greater glimpse of just how big the Love of God is:

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

And finally, in the letter of 1 John, we see these bold and beautiful statements:

1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Don’t skip so quickly to the next bit.

God. Loves. you.

God loves me.

That is so overwhelmingly hugely great and big and amazing and incredible and mind-blowing and we should constantly and consistently be heading back to that thought, that Truth, that essence of our faith [if we have faith in God… if you don’t, well then God loves you as well – He doesn’t wait until you’re clean and doing well and attending church and getting it right before He loves you. This story starts with His Love for you. God loves you now.]

For our good, and His, it is not a thin and shallow do-what-you-want Love, but one that invites us into relationship and calls us to the accompanying commitment, which can look daunting at times [and is, if we’re doing it right!] but also grants us access to living the greatest life imaginable, a life that takes into account all people and not just ourselves.

So take your time on that point, and don’t ever get too familiar with it that you rush over it or casually say it without really being aware of its full meaning.

And when times get tough or doubt sets in or life gets a little overwhelming [as it tends to do at times] or people are mean or unbelief starts to set in… then head back to that safe and comfortable place and be reminded once again, that God loves you!

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

[Psalm 23]

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

[Psalm 121]

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

[Psalm 34]

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

[John 3.16-17]

 

technology

remember a time when you ate a meal without feeling the need to share it with the world?

when phoning someone meant waiting til you got home and then doing the dial thing and having to wait til each number played out before doing the next one?

do you remember trying desperately to hold that unwieldy monster of a camera absolutely still so you could get that one perfect picture [or being completely lavish and taking two so you could choose later which one to print copies of] of that nature scene?

or when laughing out loud was something you actually did instead of something you typed our on a keyboard or phone?

i imagine many of you have watched this video clip:

 

and i’m not suggesting that we should return to a time when none of these things were available or saying that you should never engage in any of these things…

but i am encouraging you to not forget to actually live life every once in a while, instead of just reporting on it.

# if you’re a food photographing instagram junkie, then try eating an incredible meal out without taking a single picture of it just once in a while and letting your tastebuds hold the memory of what was a delectable feast

# leave your phone at home once in a while when you go out and just be out and uncontactable and by yourself or the people you are with

# experience a whole event without taking a single photo of it – rely on someone else’s pictures or better yet take a moment to store that scene and moment in your memory and revisit it from time to time… or take a journal and capture it in words and descriptive images

# have a coffee date with a good friend and TURN YOUR PHONE OFF and don’t look at it once the entire time you are spending with them – take a moment to consider the message this sends to them about how important they are to you at that specific time.

and more. technology is great and i would not want to head back completely to ‘simpler times but i do want to live and experience life, which sometimes can be enhanced by phone cameras and tablets and laptops and social medias… but can often also be distracted by those same things and so making regular time and commitments to unplug and mute and put down and just experience life and engage with people face to face and take in moments for what they are [as opposed to having a whole folder full of pictures of things we didn’t get to experience because we were too busy taking photos of them]

live life to the full. sometimes with the use of technology. but also many times without.

don’t forget to just be.

this passage is a favourite among favourites for me… and there is a lot of good here, but i am particularly talking about chapter 12, the first two verses:

Romans 12.1-2

Romans 12.1-2

‘Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

It begins with a ‘therefore’ which is always a reminder that this is part of a bigger story [so never just take one verse by itself] and it is quickly followed by an ‘I urge you’ which tells us that this us something Paul really wants us to hear…

We are reminded that whatever the call that is about to be given is, that we respond to it ‘in view of God’s mercy’ – it is so important that we constantly are reminded of this piece as i think it helps us keep Jesus-following as more of a relationship and less purely a religion – what we do, how we live, who we are is all as a result of the facts that God so loved the world [John 3.16] and even while we were still sinners Christ came to die for us [Romans 5.8].

Having said that, the bit i normally skip over is the bit about how us offering our bodies as living sacrifices [die another day – reference to Luke 9.23 – deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me] is true and proper worship… so maybe a song or a few songs on a Sunday isn’t enough… or a dipping of your hand in your wallet to toss some leftover cash into the plate perhaps… God wants you!

Then, in order to end up at the place where you have tested and approved what God’s will is, there is a don’t and a do.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world.

the way of Jesus is typically the way of swimming upstream – in most cases, if you look around you and everyone is doing the same thing, there is a chance you are not dealing with the kingdom of heaven – look at the life and teachings of Jesus – many times He opens with, ‘You have heard… but I tell you…’ and often He is doing things that are counterculture [such as hanging out with drunkards and prostitutes, giving time to women and children who were the ‘be seen and not heard’ of His day, touching lepers, dining with tax collectors…]

i would take it a step further and say, sadly, that in a lot of cases today you could read this verse as, ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this church’ – where churches are full of hate and not love, exclusion and not invitation, judgement and not mercy and compassion, self-centeredness and not outward-focused… well in those cases if we looked at them closely enough we would see that they are not really  church at all.

the point is that it is not enough to compare yourself to other christians and take your standards from there – we need to be lead by the Holy Spirit through the reading of the Bible, especially when it comes to the words and the ways of Jesus.

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

what will transform us, is changing our mind. having it renewed by God. and i believe this is an ongoing process. when last did you invite the Holy Spirit to change the way you think about God and life and other people and the way you spend your money and the way you talk to your parents etc?

if our mind has been transformed, then our actions will likely follow. but if we simply try to change our actions [with no transformation of mind] then the results are usually short-lived and ineffective. although, having said that, i do believe that sometimes when we start by changing our actions with the intention of changing our mind, then often the path of doing the transformed action brings the mind along and it is transformed along the way.

[For my next favourite verse which deals with how CRAZY HUGE God’s love for us is, click here]

[For the growing list of all my favourite verses, click here]

responsibilityOne of the evolutions I would like to see happen in my life in 2014 is a move towards taking greater responsibility for my actions (or at times, lack thereof).

Charles Finney once said, ‘It seems to be a law of human nature that when a person is accused of wrong, either by the conscience of any other agent, he must either confess or justify.’

We have become masters of justification, right? One of the biggest conflict causers in the first year of my marriage to the beautiful Val (tbV) was games. We love playing games, but we are both fairly competitive, and so often the end of a game would translate to one of us, or both perhaps, being in a bit of a mood (like a tsunami is ‘a bit of a wave’, you know). I would generally be in a great mood if I won, because I like winning games. But often Val would be in a bad mood if she won. And it was always my fault. Because I used to be a very bad loser.

And it was not usually overtly bad violent angry throwing-my-toys losing. No, it was much more subtle than that, and really not intended maliciously from me. From my perspective, i like to understand why I lost – if it was a strategy thing, I want to be able to figure out why it went wrong, so I play differently the next time. So it generally came from the place of me trying to analyze my game and figure things out. But to Valerie, the message was very clearly ‘Well, you couldn’t have won because you played better, it must have been luck or a bad move on my part of something I don’t understand yet.’ And so my response to losing – to justify instead of confess – took everything away from her winning. In essence I was robbing my wife of everything I liked to experience when I win a game. Not cool, Mister Fish! (and 10000 apologies, lovely wife!)

That is such a great illustration for how so many people do life, don’t you think?

Politicians… Sports stars… Movie producers after a box office bomb… Young children… me?

But not you, right? Of is some of this starting to ring some alarm bells?

When something goes wrong, the tendency is to explain it away, to cover over the seriousness of it, to justify and make excuses as to why it was not our fault.

i imagine that often it might be a combination of factors, and so perhaps a great question to start with might be, ‘What responsibility do I have in this situation?’ of perhaps, ‘How much of this do I need to own or own up to?’ Starting at that place instead perhaps ending up there after working through all the possible excuses, may be a great place to start in terms of growing character and even seeing more success happen. Because those questions, if asked honestly, can really result in much growth.

Well, for me, as I think about 2014 just being a few days away, this is something I want to be working on. And sticking it on here is the biggest form of accountability I could think of… take a month of two and all me how it’s going (and let’s hope I don’t justify!)

Starting in my game playing seems to be a more easy-to-track area… but then in my marriage, and in my friendships, and in the workplace and youth ministry, I need to learn towards confessing being my go-to place. Asking the hard questions honestly, keeping an eye on procrastination and distraction tendencies and having people check in on me.

That feels like a great and healthy evolution to see taking place in my life in 2014.

What is one thing you are going to be working on?

excuses[To head back to the start of this series, click here]

 

I learned the first three verses of Hebrew 12 at Christmas time in the city of Amsterdam in Holland in 2000.

it remains one of my favorite go to verses and is both highly challenging and encouraging. it is also an excellent verse to consider as we had towards the new year, time of new beginnings and so on…

i was doing a discipleship training school (DTS) with youth with a mission (YWAM) and before we hit the streets, we were all given a scripture to learn and then pass on to someone we met.

i feel like so much of the gospel message is contained in this passage:

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‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scoring its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.’

As you look ahead to the beginning of a new year, why not give this first part some significant time and attention:

# Throw off everything that hinders:

what is there in your life that is hindering you in your walk with God? besides obvious sin which we will get to in a moment, could it be that your current lifestyle is so busy, that you don’t make regular space or time for God? time to read the bible… time to talk to God or simply be still and listen to what He might be wanting to say? time to honestly wrestle with the ideas of scripture and what that means in terms of how you live your life… What can you put into place as you head into the new year that will remove that hindrance and help strengthen your walk with God? Regular time in your schedule, someone to meet with, perhaps a new book or journal to help you be intentional about this?

is there maybe anger or disappointment or confusion that you are feeling towards God for something you feel He has or hasn’t done? Maybe removing the hindrance is as simply as speaking or writing it out. Addressing your feelings with the confidence that God is secure enough on His throne to be able to take whatever you have to share with Him. And deeply desiring the interaction with you.

is there a distraction in your life, a time waster or procrastination activity that is stopping you from living a fuller more effective life? is it a computer game that is draining hours of your time or perhaps a facebook application or a site like Instagram or Pinterest [or even Facebook itself?] that turns minutes into hours without you realising, day after day? perhaps it is sport or tv watching or music? a lot of these things aren’t bad things in and of themselves… but when they start to rob you of a couple of hours per day then perhaps there are more useful things you could be doing with a lot more of your time. Is there something you need to reduce or cut out of your life as you head into 2014? 

maybe it’s a relationship? It could be a dating one or else just a friendship which is proving detrimental to your life and well-being. It could be a toxic relationship that is influencing you in a negative way and every time you spend with that person you end up doing stuff you don’t want to do or becoming the kind of person you don’t really want to be. It might be a bad habit in your life that is affecting your marriage or a family relationship… or even something that you have done that you need to apologise for or repent of. it could also be the lack of a relationship that is hindering you in your walk with God? someone to mentor or encourage you or even just to be able to listen to your struggles or pain. If there is someone who needs to be added or possibly stepped away from, maybe even just for a season of time, then make a plan to initiate that.

So whatever it is, and it could be a number of different things, and might even be more than one, if there is anything that is hindering you, distracting you, preventing you from living the fullest life you could be, then make a plan to throw off everything that hinders so that you can start the new year well.

#Cast off the sin that so easily entangles:

– is there any sin in your life that needs dealing with? Decide now to get intentional with repenting and walking differently from now.

– is there perhaps some sin that you have minimalised by calling it something else? a bad habit or “just who i am”

– is there sin you’ve given up on because ‘i cant help it’ has become your go to defence?

Know that God is bigGER. Know that He is able to do more than you have experienced up to this point. Know that He desires to help you to cast off any sin that causes you to be less than who you were designed to be. Take it to Him, confess what has been dragging you down and resolve in His strength to walk away from it.

One of the greatest pieces of mentoring advice i ever got was to “Keep a short account with God” – much like a bar tab that you keep adding to, the less frequently you deal with your sin, the more it builds up and often shames you into not even wanting to approach God at all. So make regular times of confession, even if it is something you have struggled with for a long time, just keep going back and restoring relationship and inviting Him to empower you to take it down completely.

Cast off the sin that so easily entangles.

The rest of it is the how. And it is quite simple [in one sense] The best way to run the race we have been called to [which is always a kingdom of God building race] with perseverance is to throw off the things that have hindered and cast off the sin that has entangled your legs and to “Fix your eyes upon Jesus” – so we need to regularly make sure that our gaze is firmly on Him and be reminded that He is cheering us on loudly [He is in heaven interceding on our behalf] and it is in Jesus Christ that we can “do all things” [Philippians 4.13] What makes is a little easier is knowing that Jesus [A] is the author of our faith – He created us and knows how this thing works well and so it makes sense that we look to Him for guidance and strength, and [B] endured the cross – He has experienced life and death on earth and so He knows the struggles of temptation and physical duress. He is not commentating as one removed, but He speaks to as as one who gets it.

Powerful, powerful stuff and a scripture worth committing to memory and living out well.

[For my next favourite verse – Romans 12.1-2 – click here]

[For the growing list of all my favourite verses, click here]

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