Tuesday, 6 September 2016

How was your summer?

To say that I've had a good summer would be an understatement.

At present, it's the last full day of my time in the United States. A time of good weather, good food, and good friends. A time of rodeos and road trips, and of the concert of my favourite band Blink 182. A time that started in Texas, and despite being spent in 11 different states, will also finish in Texas. But that's just been the last two weeks...

In June, I was relaxing on a sunny beach in Portugal with a good friend. In July, I was back in my second home of Latvia, leading a team of young people on a mission trip. During this time, I also received news that I had graduated University with a first class honours. August was non-stop action, filled with summer schemes and an SU camp, and of course my trip to Texas.

But to call my summer good would not only be an understatement, it would be an injustice. Not because using a different adjective such as 'great' or 'awesome' would change anything, no. But because the longer I think of all my experiences in the last three months, and the deeper I reflect on these moments, the more I realise that I have had a 'privileged' summer. It hasn't just been good, it has been a privilege.

An Instant with Eternal Significance

I really felt God speaking this word, 'privileged', to me during a Scripture Union camp in Ballycastle, up the North Coast, at which I am a leader every summer. To see an 11 year old get up in front of her peers, and leaders, and to share her testimony was truly astonishing. To hear about how her perception of God had changed, and how her relationship with the Father had grown, was profound. She shared how she became a follower of Jesus at this very camp two years ago, and prayed a prayer that changed her life with two of the leaders. One of these leaders was me.

Seeing this incredible display of faith, and hearing about Jesus' transformation of a young person's life, was emotional for me. If this girl was standing here being used in such a powerful way by God at 11 years old, then I can only imagine how massively God will continue to use her in the future. Despite the fact that I maybe wouldn't ever see her again, or be able to continue to disciple her in her faith, to be a small part of her journey, and likewise for her to be a small part of my story, is nothing other than a true privilege.

'Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.'

After this evening at camp, I've been spending a lot of time reflecting on all the children and young people that I've had the privilege serving and serving alongside this summer. Children and young people who are growing up to be men and women of God. Growing up and stepping out for Christ. Growing up to change the world for His glory.

I don't want to just rejoice in these privileges, but I want to give thanks to God for them. It will forever blow my mind how God uses ordinary, flawed people like myself for His Kingdom works.

How about you? How was your summer?

Monday, 4 April 2016

Don't Save Your Palm Branches

Today is the first day back to work, school or bread and butter for most people after having a well-deserved break over Easter. I'm back to University tomorrow, and already Easter seems like a distant memory, a fleeting thought.

So that's my question to you... When does Easter finish? When do you start to forget about Easter and start looking forward to the summer? Is it when you're back to work or school? Is it when you finish your last Easter egg?

When we get past Easter, and start heading toward summer, we tend to forget about everything even remotely related to Easter. When I say Easter, I don't mean a general concept or holiday. I mean the true meaning of Easter, the foundation of my faith as a follower of Jesus. The death. The resurrection. The hope and promise of salvation.

Every year at Easter, on Palm Sunday, you'll hear the great story about Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The donkey. The palm branches. The praise. Check it out...

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, 
“Hosanna to the Son of David!” 
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
- Matthew 21 v 8 - 9

This is such a great passage! It compels us to give Jesus all the praise and glory that He deserves. But how come we rarely hear about it unless it's Easter? Everything this passage epitomises, it all seems to get saved for one or two weeks during the year. Why do we only break out the palm branches at Easter?

The message that Christ is King - our Lord and Saviour - is one that indeed we should be celebrating like the crowds in the passage. My problem is simply that I don't do this enough. You see, we kid ourselves into thinking that praise and worship are actions, but they're not. They're attitudes. They're lifestyles. Shouldn't we be living a lifestyle of praise as followers of Christ?

So as we move past Easter, and head towards summer, let's bring our palm branches with us.

Let's not save our palm branches just for Easter.

Monday, 14 March 2016

'I am the vine'

Ever tried growing a plant? It's hard work. It takes effort. 

The plant needs to be fed. It needs light, it needs water. The plant needs to be nurtured constantly in order to grow to the point where it can bud or produce fruit

In the same way, living as a follower of Jesus takes effort too. Just like a plant won't grow without water or light, we can't grow spiritually without reading the Word of God, praying and having fellowship with Him and others. We need to nurture our relationship with Jesus if we want to see fruit in our lives.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing"
- John 15 v 5

In the very next verse, Jesus reminds his followers that it's not a choice to bear fruit. Rather, if they continue to abide in him, then they will see fruit in their lives.

"If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned"
- John 15 v 6

Followers of Christ don't have an easy job. We've big boots to fill. We're trying to live like Jesus, the Son of God himself. But that's exactly what it means to follow Jesus; that's exactly what it means to bear fruit. That the characteristics of Jesus should be evident in our lives for others to see. What exactly do these fruit look like? Well Galatians 5 v 22 - 23 lists the Fruit of the Spirit as:

It's important to remember that growth takes time. Seeds aren't planted and the next day bear fruit. They take a lot of time and effort, constant nurturing. It's all about a process of transformation

‘Your life, as a believer, if you’re a believer, should look far different today than it did this time last year. And far different last year than it did the year before. You should be growing in the fruits of the Spirit. You should look more like Jesus every single day.'
- Clayton Jennings

What a challenge. Think back to last year... have you been growing? In a year's time, as you sit back to now, how much will you have grown?

Don't neglect your growth.

'I am the way, the truth and the life'

Where are you going?

“I am the way and the truth and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through me"
- John 14 v 6

We all remember the first part of the verse, don't we? It has almost become a Christian cliché, a nice encouraging verse that we can quote and sing about, but it's important we don't overlook the second part to the verse. There is only one way that leads to Heaven. Only one way that leads to eternal life. That way is through Jesus.

Although there are many many different ways to live life, Jesus makes it clear that there's only two destinations. One way that leads to Heaven, and all the other ways that lead to destruction:

“Enter through the narrow gate. 
For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it"
- Matthew 7 v 13 - 14

The only way is through Jesus... What does that even mean? I live a good life, I believe in God, I pray sometimes, I help people, I've a good job, a nice house and a lovely family. Surely I'm going to Heaven? Well actually, only people who give their lives to Jesus go to Heaven. That's the only way to be saved. Jesus is the only way.

So now you know how to get there, where are you going?

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

'I am the resurrection'

What was your favourite bed time story when you were younger?

Was it a nursery rhyme like Humpty Dumpty? Was it a fairy tale like Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Or maybe you were like me, and appreciated any of a number of classic Roald Dahl stories.

One of my all time favourites from Roald Dahl's books was George's Marvellous Medicine. As a young lad with a big imagination, I used to love dreaming of creating my own marvellous medicine one day and imagining what all it would do! If you have never read any of Roald Dahl's books, then do yourself a favour and check them out after you finish reading this blog of course!

They were great stories. And I used to get lost in their worlds with my imagination. But at the end of the day, they were just that. Stories. Fictional characters in fantasy worlds. Creative, engaging, interesting, yes, but ultimately made up. I loved reading them, but I never mistook them for reality.

The question is, however, when we read the Bible, is it also just a nice book of stories and fairy tales? A collection of made up characters, in a fantasy world, and their interesting stories. Or is it real? Do you believe it?

In John 11 v 25 - 26, we're posed this very question by Jesus Himself...

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus sums up the great news of the Gospel. That if you believe in Him - call yourself one of His followers, and live a life getting to know and glorifying God - then you will spend eternity with Jesus in Heaven. Then He asks a question that we all have to answer one way or another, do you believe this?

Is the Bible a nice book to read before bed? A great collection of stories to be enjoyed and get lost in. Or is it much much more. Is it truth and life spoken from the lips of the Creator Himself? Is it real? 

Do you believe this?

Monday, 15 February 2016

'I am the Good Shepherd'

One of my fondest memories of sheep was last summer.
That must be the strangest way I've started a blog, but let me explain...

Every August I have the privilege of helping at Causeway Primary Camp, a Scripture Union camp based in Ballycastle for p5-p7s. On the Thursday, we always take the kids to Watertop Farm for a day of outdoor pursuits. Last year while we were there, one of the farmers was shearing the sheep in the barn, and we were all able to watch. As if that wasn't cool enough, one of the sheep didn't fancy being bald and did a runner into the crowd, which was us. When we tried to stop the sheep from escaping the barn, he jumped into the air and head butted the leader of our camp. It's a great memory.

Sheep. Shepherds. It's common imagery used throughout the Scriptures, and last night at YF in Helen's Bay Youth we were looking at Jesus' latest 'I am' statement. You guessed it, it's about sheep...

I am the good shepherd. 
The good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep.
- John 10 v 11

So Jesus is the shepherd, and we are the sheep. Sounds simple enough, right? But so what? How is Jesus like a shepherd, and how are we like sheep? I think one of the best passages to understand the Father-heart of God as our shepherd is found in the Gospel of Luke. It's found in the form of a parable, told by none other than the Good Shepherd Himself. Check it:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’
- Luke 15 v 4 - 6

Amazing. God doesn't just care about the collective group of sheep, He cares about each individual sheep. As Serena quite poignantly put it at YF, Jesus knows each of us not by our number but by our name. He's a personal shepherd. Jesus guides, protects, and provides for not just the flock of sheep, but for every single sheep. He isn't just a shepherd, he's my shepherd. Your shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.
- John 10 v 14

The Good Shepherd certainly knows you on a deep, intimate and personal level. But the question that we must ask ourselves is, do we know him in the same deep, intimate and personal way?

If you're a sheep in Jesus' flock, 
don't you think it's time to get to know the Shepherd? 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

"I am the gate"

An Arab spy had been captured and sentenced to death by a general of the Persian army. The general had fallen upon a strange and weird custom. He permitted the condemned person to make a choice. He could either face the firing squad or pass through the Black Door.

As the moment of execution drew near, the general ordered the spy to be brought before him for a short, final interview, the primary purpose of which was to receive the answer of the doomed man to the query: "Which shall it be -- the firing squad or the Black Door?"

This was not an easy question, and the prisoner hesitated, but soon made it known that he much preferred the firing squad. Not long thereafter a volley of shots in the courtyard announced that the grim sentence had been fulfilled.

The general, staring at his boots, turned to his aide and said, "You see how it is with men, they will always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. And yet I gave him his choice."

"What lies beyond the Black Door?" asked the aide.
"Freedom," replied the general, "and I've known only a few men brave enough to take it."

Just like in this story, we all have a choice in our lives. Choose the door that leads to freedom or choose certain death. Jesus explained this decision when he said...

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.
They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; 
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
- John 10 v 9 - 10

Entering through the door, or gate, does not just bring freedom. It brings safety and protection. In Biblical times, the shepherd used to sleep at the gate of the sheep enclosure to protect the flock from wolves and thieves. In this same way, as Christians, we are protected and watched over by our shepherd Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, we are promised to find green pastures and have life to the full. But you only start to receive fullness in areas of your life when you make use of the pastures! Reading God's Word, spending time with God in prayer, having fellowship with other believers. That's how to make the most of the green pastures. That's when Jesus starts to work in your life. And that's when you start to feel fulfilled.

Sounds like grass is pretty green... So my question to you is...
why wouldn't you go through the gate?