Mark Kelly

Stories of faith and life


“The single greatest problem in communication is the illusion it has taken place.” (George Bernard Shaw)

I’ve come across the suggestion that we should communicate what we want to share until we’re bored of it, only then will others have just started hearing it and understanding it. This is a huge challenge to me personally, but I’m sure to many communicators. We’ve said it once, twice, many times, and still we find our message hasn’t been grasped by some even at the most basic level. But here’s the thing, it’s not generally these people at fault. We can assume and pressume too much. Presume prior knowledge in our listeners, assume the context is understood, assume our definitions are the same.

As communicators we need to make sure our message is engaging to as many as possible and as uncomplicated as possible. Boiling it down to the nub, as Andy Stanley says, if you’ve got one point, you’ve got a message, if you’ve got many, you’ve got a series!

I don’t want to be an illusionist leaving people with no real idea of what they’ve seen and heard. I want to be an effective communicator with a message that is memorable and repeatable.

“Winsome words spoken at just the right time are as appealing as apples gilded in gold and surrounded with silver. – Proverbs 25:11 (TPT)

Trust

I probably have a trust issue.

It takes a long time for me to trust someone truly, but when I have invested that trust in someone, I will stick with them through thick and thin. However, on the flipside of that, if that trust is violated, then I struggle with the desire to maintain a relationship with such a person.

For me, it’s all about a person keeping their word. This ranges from what some might see as insignificant, like being consistently late when you’ve agreed to meet, to not following through on a promise given.

But what do we mean when we talk about trust?

Would we trust our wife or husband to perform minor surgery on us if they’re not qualified? Would we trust our 9-year child to replace the brakes on the car despite how much he might be enthusiastic about trying? Or would we trust our longtime best friend to gear us up for a mountain climb when they have a fear of heights, and you know they’ve got issues even climbing the stairs?

Is trust something that we work with on a case by case basis?

For example, we trust our GP to diagnose a medical problem and advise the correct course of treatment. We trust that the pharmacist will label the right drug and give us the recommended dose. We trust our local garage to sort those brakes out instead of our 9-year old, and we might, if you’re mad enough, trust the people that strap bungee cords to our legs before we take a nose dive straight down!

I wrote at the start of this post that I might have an issue with trust, but as I write more about it, I find that I actually trust a lot of people and the services they provide quite a bit. So do we all as long as it’s the proper person or service for the job. We hand out a lot of trust quite easily really.

Maybe sometimes, however, our trust is misplaced with too many of us trusting what the news is telling us about the world, without investigating deeper for ourselves. The number of people that comment on just the headlines that they read via social media from random ‘news’ sources without actually even bothering to read the article is staggering. I find that many people fall for ‘click-bait’ headlines and get so angry and upset over something that would take two minutes to check against other sources.

We can also be fickle our trust. Take politicians as an example. Trust with these people is like throwing out confetti and trying to catch it again. We want substance from them to help gain our trust, but then we fall out with them if they don’t say what we want to hear.

We give it out trust easily in part, but we’re always ready to reel it back in again.

So is there anything at all that we can fully trust, now and always? Let’s take a look at a section of Proverbs 3:

5 Trust in the Lord completely,
and do not rely on your own opinions.
With all your heart rely on him to guide you,
and he will lead you in every decision you make.
6 Become intimate with him in whatever you do,
and he will lead you wherever you go.
Don’t think for a moment that you know it all,
7 for wisdom comes when you adore him with undivided devotion
and avoid everything that’s wrong.
8 Then you will find the healing refreshment
your body and spirit long for.
9 Glorify God with all your wealth,
honouring him with your very best,
with every increase that comes to you.
10 Then every dimension of your life will overflow with blessings
from an uncontainable source of inner joy!

I guess we’re stuck a little if we don’t even trust the Bible. But let’s go with it anyway and if you’re someone with little or no faith in God or His word, then take this as it is meant to be, as words of wisdom and encouragement.

I think that there is something potent in taking the focus off ourselves for a moment and placing it on something that is, in many ways, beyond our comprehension. The bottom line is that it’s hard trying to maintain a world where everything should revolve around me because everybody else wants it to revolve around them!

In this post, I’d like to let you know, or remind you, that I believe the person we can trust in the most is our Daddy-God, our Father in Heaven and Lord of all of creation.

5 Trust in the Lord completely, and do not rely on your own opinions. With all your heart rely on him to guide you, and he will lead you in every decision you make.

It feels good to be able to put our trust in God. To be told that He can handle it, He’ll take care of us, and we don’t need to worry about a thing. Except sometimes it doesn’t seem to work like that, even amongst those of us who believe in Him. Right here in this book of wisdom, God knows that we’ll doubt, so He adds more to this first sentence, and He inspired someone to write it down: do not rely on your own opinions, or as in older Bible translations, do not rely on your own understanding.

It seems to me there is an encouragement here to fully invest our trust, all of it, in Him. Not to hold anything back just in case He doesn’t quite come through for us. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that word completely is there by accident and the last time I checked completely means totally, utterly, entirely, wholly, thoroughly, fully, absolutely, unreservedly, and quite often, unconditionally!

If we truly and fully trust God and we don’t pretend we do, when we give the whole of our hearts to Him, that’s our emotions and our thinking (when this passage of Scripture was written the heart was seen as the absolute centre of who we are which includes our cognitive functions) then we can trust that He will lead us right. And actually, as we trust, our we find that our decisions line up with His decisions. Our Daddy-God doesn’t want mindless automatons following His every whim and commandment, He wants people to trust Him of their own volition and to live our lives through that freedom.

I love what this proverb goes on to say: Don’t think for a moment that you know it all, 7 for wisdom comes when you adore him with undivided devotion and avoid everything that’s wrong.

We don’t know it all, and that is such a relief! Yet, our trust in Him brings us wisdom it says. We can handle anything and have a response for whatever comes our way. And for all that wisdom poured into us, all we have to do is give our Creator our devotion. He deserves it, unreservedly. He created us, gave us this world to enjoy and people to love, He is the cause of it all, and that is worthy of our devotion and thankfulness.

What begins with simple, but complete trust, moves into the realm of our physical bodies and our mental well-being: 8 Then you will find the healing refreshment your body and spirit long for.

When we stop being fickle with our trust and when we stop being short of giving it all to Him, we find that our worries and our issues are diminished. It’s not that worries and issues won’t happen, they will, but what’s important is our response to them. We are not the answer to our problem, God is. When we learn to turn to God in the first instance and not as a last resort, the long-term outlook is one of refreshment in both body and soul.

We don’t need any self-help books or the need to fill the pockets of positivity gurus, we merely need to trust that God will take care of it and will guide our actions and words through it, leading to real rest and good mental health.

So good so far, but then here comes the biggy, the issue we don’t like to talk about much, the thing we want to hold close and dear and quite often place a lot of our trust in: money!

9 Glorify God with all your wealth, honouring him with your very best, with every increase that comes to you.

I can hear the comebacks now: That’s Old Testament stuff and no longer applies to me. I give to many charities and have nothing left to give to the Church. I serve in so many other ways I can’t afford to give financially.

Even if I may be reading a little disingenuous with that last paragraph, I do think there is some validity in some of those arguments. But I attach to that that a caution that a little truth taken out of context can be shaped in whatever way you would like.

With regards money I can really only write from personal experience. I can testify that when I give to God from something I know I need to survive in this culture, something that feeds my family and puts a roof over our heads. I know that I have been blessed many times over.

That’s my experience, and I desire that we all experience this blessing too. Sometimes the blessing might come in ways other what than we expected. The bottom line is again, trust. Do we trust God with the money that I have worked so hard to gain?

The apostle Paul, who wrote a lot of the New Testament in the Bible wrote this in 2 Corinthians 9: 6 Here’s my point. A stingy sower will reap a meagre harvest, but the one who sows from a generous spirit will reap an abundant harvest. 7 Let giving flow from your heart, not from a sense of religious duty. Let it spring up freely from the joy of giving—all because God loves hilarious generosity!

I love this passage because it tells us that our giving should never be forced, but only encouraged, because it is only through giving that is done freely do we only ever feel the pure joy of such trust in God.

Maybe because God knew that this section of Proverbs can be tricky the writer reminds of this in the verse directly after verse 9: 10 Then every dimension of your life will overflow with blessings from an uncontainable source of inner joy!

Trusting in God brings joy. What adventures might we go, in mind, body and soul, when we trust Him completely?

If all this is true, what it tells us here in Proverbs 3, then isn’t it the case that those of us who believe should look different to the rest of the world? How much easier will our mission to tell the world about Jesus be if all we have to do is tell the stories of our lives and for others to hear how free we actually are and not how we are locked up in some cell of religious legalism?

And for those of us who are finding it hard to take that step of trust, for those of us who might read this message and are still yet to give their lives over to something greater than themselves, I say to you give it a go. Acknowledge that you are not the centre of your world and you were never meant to be. That there is a greater individual, who goes by the name of Jesus who desires to be your Lord, Saviour and friend. And if I could give you a sample of the freedom found in Him, then I say look at the life of a true believer and see how they differently they deal with what is thrown at them.

You have access to it all too, just put your trust in Him today.

Pebble

How often do you find yourself just putting up with stuff? I don’t just mean significant things, I mean all the small things that aren’t much of an issue, but over time they develop into irritants, and then they truly start to get on your nerves. The reality is that it would only take a short amount of time to sort this stuff out, but for some reason, we create little workarounds and just put up with them.

I have a number of these small irritations that I’m planning on sorting out in the first few weeks of this new year. Let me give you a few examples: I’m typing on a Chromebook, and occasionally when I tap something it thinks I want to drag it and so the arrow icon changes and the button I’m tapping is highlighted. I know, a minor thing, right? It’s something I could sort in the computer settings, I probably need to just toggle a button. I believe it has something to do with the accessibility options.

Here’s another: At home, I quite often place the Sky remote on the arm of the sofa, so it’s easy to reach when I want to change to the channel. However, the amount of times that thing has been knocked off the arm and smashed on the floor as one of my little ones rushes past I’m surprised I haven’t needed to pay Sky for another one. The solution? Get into the habit of placing it on the side table which is mere inches away!

There are many, many other examples of these small annoyances and yes, you could class most of them as #FirstWorldProblems. But still, I think these seemingly little things are symptomatic of a larger narrative that some of us – myself definitely included – put up with rather than taking time to sort out. And to completely screw up a well-known phrase, we just need to ‘take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves’. I know this is referring to saving money well, but I also think it’s an excellent way to think about how we could get on top of all the little things we have to deal with in life.

If we get into the habit of taking time to deal with the small things how much better will we feel we can start to manage the big stuff?

I’m reminded of a tale about a man who was asked by God to push a big rock that suddenly appeared one night outside his cabin. Being an obedient and Godly man, he set about fulfilling God’s request. Day after day, and then year after year, every morning and evening he positioned himself up against the enormous and heavy rock and pushed, hoping to move it even an inch.

After many years of trying he admitted defeat and finally cried out to God that he just couldn’t do it. He declared himself a failure and fell to his knees in frustration. God appeared to him and asked why he felt this way, to which the man replied, “I have pushed against this rock, trying to move it from here to there and yet I have failed to move it even one inch.” To which God answered, “I never asked you to move the rock, I simply asked you to be obedient and push it. You are not a failure. Look at you now, you are a man of strength and fortitude. Compared to the man of many years ago, who would have struggled with a rock half this size, you could now move them with ease.”

Now the meaning of this tale is one of obedience and being prepared to face whatever challenges might be put before us, even though it may seem unfair and we cry out this fact to all who will listen. Sometimes it is a situation that is setting us up to deal with other problems, ones that we could not have handled without the more considerable challenge.

Oddly, I think we can also view this in reverse in that if we learn to deal with the small things and deal with them well, we are equipping ourselves to a degree for when the big issues come knocking. If we manage to form healthy habits and a mindset of bringing solutions that help deal with the minor, then we create a platform of action that enables us to deal with the major.

So my challenge to us all at the start of this new year is to deal with the small stuff, get it out of the way and don’t ignore it. Create a way around it, deal with it and see how much satisfaction we will feel when we tick it off the to-do list.

Conversely, we should also learn to look at the small stuff in a more positive light too. Maybe it’s a little thing that we need to be doing more of, like reading the Bible (or just picking up any book and reading it), taking time (however short) to think and pray, giving thanks to God for all the big things we have like healthy relationships, family, local church, and a job.

Soon you’ll no longer be ‘sweating the small stuff.’ You’ll be more ready than ever to face the next thing head-on … even if starts with just moving the remote control a few more inches to the right!

A grandmother was busy making tea in the kitchen and needed a can of tomato soup, her house was old, and she still had a pantry where she kept food and other non-perishables, so she asked her 5-year-old grandson to go into this pantry and get her one. The pantry was just out of the kitchen and under the stairs. But the light in the pantry was out, and he didn’t really want to go. “It’s dark in there, and I’m scared.” he said.
 
She asked again, and her grandson repeated his no, a bit more firmly this time, but with growing fear. Being a good Christian woman she encouraged her grandson, “It’s okay darling, Jesus will be in there with you.”
 
So, the little boy walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. Looking inside, he decided it really was too dark, and so he closed the old, wooden creaking door and started walking away when a thought hit him.
 
He ventured back to the pantry and with a little more confidence and hearing his grandma’s words ringing in his ears, he peeked again inside and called out, “Jesus, if you’re in there, would you get me a can of tomato soup?”
 
Let’s talk a little bit about Halloween!
 
Did you know that Halloween was actually celebrated hundreds of years before the birth of Christ? The Celtic nations observed a festival they called Samhain (pronounced: sow-en) which fell on what eventually became October 31st. But unlike today’s Halloween, the Celts didn’t ‘celebrate’ it as a holiday.
 
You see, the Celtic New Year began at the start of November. The autumn harvest had come to a close and winter was just around the corner. At this time of year the Celts knew that the power of the sun was fading and for the next several months, darkness would prevail. For the Celts, this impending darkness was a scary time. Nature became cold and dark, and in their eyes – in the coldest of the darkest night – lifeless.
 
But there was something even scarier for them than merely wondering whether there was going to be enough food to survive. For the Celts, there was a something like an invisible curtain that separated the living from the dead. And they believed, at this time of the year, that that curtain was at its thinnest. On the evening of October 31st, they believed that evil spirits and souls of the dead would pass through this curtain, this barrier, and enter the world of the living. And when they crossed over, they would torment the living. Crops would be destroyed, babies stolen and farm animals killed.
 
To appease these ‘dead spirits’, various sacrifices, which could include human sacrifices in some cases, were performed by the Celts. A portion of what little food they had was also left out for the spirits, hoping that this “treat” would prevent an evil “trick.”
 
When you boil all this down to its most basic component, you find something really quite simple: Halloween came about because people are instinctively afraid of the dark.
 
We don’t like darkness. We’ve spent most of our human existence trying to get rid of it, first fire then eventually electrical lights. Darkness – literal and metaphorical – is a time when life becomes uncertain and even scary.
 
But here’s the immensely encouraging bit – Knowing that darkness has this kind of effect on people, the Christian God, through His Word, has made repeated promises:
 
The book of Isaiah from the Bible tells us that the reason the Messiah (Jesus) was being sent, was to “open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS.” (Isaiah 42:7)
 
In the Gospel of Matthew (quoting Isaiah) he tells us that: You who spend your days SHROUDED IN DARKNESS can now say, “We have seen a brilliant Light.” And those who live in the dark shadow land of death can now say, “The Dawning Light arises on us.” (Matthew 4:16)
 
Jesus Himself declared: “I am light to the world and those who embrace me will experience life-giving light, and they will never WALK IN DARKNESS.” (John 8:12) And “I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that all who trust in me will no longer WANDER IN DARKNESS.” (John 12:46)
 
Some time ago there was an atheist from the U.S. who gained some fame by trying to ‘sell his soul’ on eBay. Some local churches reached out to him after reading about it and asked him to come and share why he was an atheist. I don’t know whether he ultimately found Jesus, but after one such visit, he’s quoted as saying this:
 
“At one church I visited, some people were asked to write down how they felt before and after becoming Christians. They said things like ’dark and light’, ‘lonely and befriended,’ which got me wondering: Is being down, or lonely, or desperate, a prerequisite to finding God? Do these people think that others who have not yet found God are lost, scared or miserable? Do I have to go through some sort of trauma or crisis before finding ultimate meaning?”
 
What our atheist in this story didn’t understand was that many people who become Christians do so because they’ve actually seen how dark and lonely life can get. People become Christians because they’ve recognised sin and darkness in themselves and see the light of Christ as the best, and indeed only, way out.
 
We can’t successfully have a satisfying relationship with God when we live out lives in the darkness of guilt and shame. The dark stain of our past sins will always prevent us from having a close relationship with Jesus.
 
On our own, we’re unable to remove sin from our lives, but amazingly God did this for us. He came down in the form of a man and gave Himself up for every wrong thing we’ve ever done. He died on a cross and rose from the dead to give us life and enable us to live in the light.
 
John 1:4 tells us that: Life came into being because of Him (Jesus), for His life is light for all humanity.
 
In Acts chapter 9 there is a description of a confrontation between Jesus and the Saul (who became the Apostle Paul and wrote a lot of the New Testament). In the telling of this story, we find that God literally lunged Saul into darkness:
 
Just outside the city, a brilliant light flashing from heaven suddenly exploded all around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a booming voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
 
5–7 The men accompanying Saul were stunned and speechless, for they heard a heavenly voice but could see no one.
 
Saul replied, “Who are you, Lord?”
 
“I am Jesus, the Victorious, the one you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you are to do.”
 
8 Saul stood to his feet, and even though his eyes were open he could see nothing – he was blind. So the men had to take him by the hand and lead him into Damascus. 9 For three days he didn’t eat or drink and couldn’t see a thing. (Acts 9:4-8)
 
For three days Paul waited in Damascus – blind, fearful, and praying for all he was worth. He knew that he’d sinned against the Messiah that his people had waited for for generations. He was afraid of punishment, he was afraid even for his very salvation. Then a man named Ananias – sent by Jesus – came to him. And when Ananias laid his hands on Paul, it says that ‘something like scales’ fell from his eyes and he could see. Ananias reinforced the commission Jesus had given 3 days earlier, and when he’d told Paul all this, Ananias said firmly: “So now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised, and wash away your sins as you call upon His name.” (Acts 22:16)
 
Paul wrote later in his life to the Christians at Philippi: “Live a cheerful life, without complaining or division among yourselves. 15 For then you will be seen as innocent, faultless, and pure children of God, even though you live in the midst of a brutal and perverse culture. For you will appear among them as shining lights in the universe, 16 offering them the words of eternal life. I haven’t laboured among you for nothing, for your lives are the fruit of my ministry and will be my glorious boast at the unveiling of Christ!” (Philippians 2:14-16)
 
Paul was telling the guys in Philippi that is was their job as Christians to “…appear among them as shining lights in the universe, offering them (people of the world) the words of eternal life.”
 
Of course, Jesus had already told us that.
 
He said: “Your lives light up the world. Let others see your light from a distance, for how can you hide a city that stands on a hilltop? 15 And who would light a lamp and then hide it in an obscure place? Instead, it’s placed where everyone in the house can benefit from its light. 16 So don’t hide your light! Let it shine brightly before others, so that the commendable things you do will shine as light upon them, and then they will give their praise to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
 
So how do we do that? How do we let our light shine? How do we “offer words of eternal life,” to people still in darkness? God has given us a job to do. He’s not going to do the whole thing for us. It’s ours to do. He desires us to help others understand what they’re missing without Jesus.
 
Here’s an interesting thought: Paul was not saved on the road to Damascus. He was saved in Damascus when Ananias did his job and obeyed Jesus – when he went to talk to Paul.
 
Acts 22:16 tells us up to that point, Paul’s sins had not yet been washed away. Ananias said: “So now, what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised, and wash away your sins as you call upon his name.”
 
Paul’s salvation could be said to hinge on Ananias doing what God asked him to do. God had sent Ananias to Paul to lift him out of his blindness. God sends believers out to others to help them out of their blindness – to help guide them out of darkness.
 
When we (Christians) talk to people about Jesus, God doesn’t expect us to do it all by ourselves. Holy Spirit is working behind the scenes to change their hearts. Jesus had already worked on the Apostle Paul’s heart long before Ananias showed up.
 
In the same way, Jesus tells us that one of the main jobs of the Holy Spirit is to expose sin (John 16:8). God’s Spirit works behind the scenes to soften the hearts of those we talk to. We pray – and prayer should be at the start and at the heart of all that believers do – and as we pray and share the Good News of Jesus Christ, we are confident that God is (and has been) working behind the scenes to help us do what He’s asked us to do.
 
If, like me, you’re a believer, that we need to tell people why we are Christians. We need to tell them what’s so important about Jesus that we’re willing to build our lives around Him. Why we would sacrifice so much of our time to worship Him and honour Him!
 
This story of Paul’s conversion is recorded three times in Acts. The first time, it’s merely a fact of church history. The other two times – Paul is telling people why his life was changed. He had a life-altering confrontation with Jesus, and he wanted others to know about it.
 
If you’re a Christian, your story might be about why you were baptised into Christ (why you became a Christian to begin with), or it might be about something that has happened since then that has made God even more real to you.
 
We could have a powerful worship service every Sunday at the church where I lead (Freedom Church in Leeds, come and visit us if you’re in the area!). The singing will be inspirational. The prayers touch our hearts. The preaching might even bring us to our knees in repentance. And the fellowship will be outstanding.
 
But we can’t really class anything as successful until we’re indeed convicted of the need to help open the eyes of our neighbours, friends and family and help them in their journey from darkness to light. From the power of Satan to the power of God. By placing their faith in Jesus where they will receive the total forgiveness of sins and be made holy, taking hold of the inheritance that He gives to His children! (Adapted from Acts 26:18)
 
That’s a significant part of what God called us to do. If we fail in this responsibility, a lot of people will spend their lives – their eternal lives – in a very dark and uncertain place.
 
God blinded Apostle Paul for those three days as a lesson. He intended this physical blindness to drive home the spiritual blindness that had symbolised Paul’s life to that point. And that object lesson was so powerful that Paul later wrote: “Yet I was captured by grace, so that Jesus Christ could display through me the outpouring of His Spirit as a pattern to be seen for all those who would believe in Him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
 
Because of that blindness, for the rest of his life, Paul understood that he had been brought out of darkness into light, from the power of satan to God, and that he had received forgiveness … and a place in God’s family.
 
On Halloween, don’t shutter your home, don’t ignore the knocks on the door. Buy some sweets and welcome people with a big smile and bright eyes. Take the opportunity to be the light in the darkness. Let your story shine. Take opportunities to share your faith when conversations about Halloween inevitably come up.
 
And one final thing … don’t be scared of the dark!

Question Mark

From a very early point in my life, I realised the power of asking questions. Why? Because more often than not I got answers! My favourite kind of book that I asked for as a gift for birthdays and Christmas was the kind that often had something like this as a title – ‘1000 Answers to 1000 Questions’. Asking questions gave me answers to life’s little puzzles. Why do we not spin off the Earth if it’s moving so fast? Why is the Sun hot? What are toenails made from? Why do we cry? Why was I born ginger?

I was the boy that always asked the questions, that seemingly everyone else around me was too embarrassed to ask because they thought it was a stupid question. But, I learned, the only stupid question is the one never asked. 

Asking questions without fear or hesitation enabled me to move on with what I was doing or planning to do. Asking questions didn’t make me a bookworm (though I love books), it didn’t make me an academic (though I like to learn). Asking questions actually created a person of action. And so I went on to discover that if I wanted to get stuff done not only did I have to not shy away from asking questions, but actually I had learned to ask the right questions. The one appropriate for that moment. The question that would quickly get to the bottom of the issue, the question that landed the plane, the question that enabled me to move on.

However, even writing all that, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like discussion, that I don’t want to get stuck into a good debate throwing opinions and facts about like confetti, seeing what pattern they make when they land. But ultimately, it is all for a purpose, to advance, to move forward, to further the mission, to execute the plan, to get the job done. In other words, I like to take the initiative, start digging the hole, while those around me are still talking about what type of spade to use.

I want to encourage people I influence that they can be a people of action and independent thought. By taking the initiative, they can change their city, their nation and the world in so many excellent and fruitful ways. There are many contemporary Christians who have, asked questions, listened to God’s reply, took a risk, used their initiative and have impacted the Church and society:

  • John Kirkby took the initiative in creating something that now helps thousands of people every year across the world become free of debt starting Christians Against Poverty. Incidentally, this was founded in 1996 in Bradford, Yorkshire.
  • The Alpha Course since its humble beginnings in 1971 has literally helped bring millions to faith in Christ. And although we honour those who came before him, Nick Gumbel grabbed the initiative after being asked by Sandy Miller of Holy Trinity Brompton in 1990, to grow the course into the faith-based juggernaut it is today!
  • The Trussell Trust organisation is a charity based firmly on Christian principles. The Trust began its work helping the homeless children of Bulgaria find a safe place to sleep. Soon after Carol & Paddy Henderson, who founded the Trust and named it after Carol’s mother, took the initiative and brought principles of the Trust to the UK and began to work out of their back garden shed helping to store food and deliver food to those in need. Thus the Foodbank was born.

  • In war-torn Korea in 1952, God moved the heart of Everett Swanson to take the initiative to help the orphans of that country, so the seed of what would become the organisation Compassion was born. An organisation which over time has helped at least 1.8 million children from 25 different countries have a future filled with hope, which has enabled them to support their families, their communities and their nations.

There are so many, many more people I could mention, over so many many different ministries and organisation big and small, some not even well known, just going about their business doing God’s work after taking the initiative to do what they felt called to do.

It’s worth saying at this point that as a Christian without the prompting or assurance of the Holy Spirit, sometimes our initiative might take us off on a path that isn’t so good for us. So when taking the initiative, we need to make sure that our motives line up with the values of God’s Word and exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit. Without this, we might find ourselves rationalising all sorts of excuses for what we are doing – as someone wrote we might, “find ourselves running blindly into oblivion.”

And then there might is the opposite of all that, and we come up with all sorts of reasons not to take the initiative and do something. Our excuses keep us from giving our best, fear of change keeps us in a proverbial jungle of worry and despair. If we’re ever feeling like this, let’s take encouragement and challenge from Scripture and not what we see around us. For example in Ephesians 5 and part of verse 8 and verse 14 it says:

“…Your mission is to live as children flooded with his revelation-light! And the supernatural fruits of his light will be seen in you – goodness, righteousness, and truth…” (Verse 8)

“…Scripture says, “Arise, you sleeper! Rise up from your coffin and the Anointed One will shine his light into you!” (Verse 14)

Here are  some questions to help us process how we are to handle how to be a person who takes the initiative:

  1. How do I exhibit initiative in my daily life?
  2. What can I do to develop a better attitude of taking the lead with initiative?
  3. What blocks initiative from working and being exhibited within me?
  4. How can I learn how to still take the initiative, function better, stronger, and indeed faster, even in times of uncertainty and stress?

When we develop within us a character that is able to take the initiative, it will help us power through setbacks, failures, adversities, persecution, opposition, injustice, ingratitude, and get over the favourite excuse, “we have never done it this way.”

And it is worth noting that we don’t all need to be the leader to use our initiative. And in fact, as someone who is generally leading the activity or strategy, there is nothing more fulfilling or makes my heart fly, when a volunteer (or employee) takes the initiative in presenting an idea and who then goes on to work out that idea.

So we don’t always need to be the leader, as Christians, it’s as much about motivating yourself to grasp what Christ has in store for you. It’s the moving of yourself and using your ingenuity to serve. We, ultimately can’t make a stand for Him or move for Him, if we don’t rise up and get off the sofa. Making a move and getting on with the life Christ has given us.

One final question: What is it that God has spoken to you about being or doing in this present season where you need to take a step out in faith and take the initiative so that you bring glory to God and make His name known?

 

*This blog post is based upon a series I delivered in July 2018 at Freedom Church, entitled: ‘Something for Nothing? (Initiative)’. You can find the video for this here: 

Team Jesus

In years gone by, I’ve generally been the first person to jump into a team building game. You know the kind, ”We need all 15 of you to get from this side of the room to the other, you can’t touch the floor, you have use of only three drinking straws and a cup, GO!”

I’d give it a few seconds to let others start suggesting ideas, and in the silence that generally follows while the thinkers are thinking, I’d begin to giving orders as to how we might get the task done. I’d rarely have an endpoint in sight – I just needed to get this team rolling!

My interpretation of being a team player was to lead from the front, take action, motivate and encourage. You might think this is good, but I knew that to get my idea as the preferred one, I’d have to cajole, manipulate and ultimately try and control the situation. Here’s the thing though: Whenever you start to manage people, use clever arguments to get your way, or split hairs with the words people use, you’re on a path that leads to somewhere that isn’t wholly honest and in no way righteous or good – no matter how jovial and team-spirited you might appear.

The organisers of such team building days, generally just saw the outcome and saw that it was good. Mission accomplished, the team successfully made it across the imaginary, shark-infested waters. In most companies, the result is what’s important; there’s still a dog-eat-dog competitive spirit in a lot of businesses. We see this in shows like ‘The Apprentice’, albeit this is edited at times to show the worst of people, but you know … no smoke without fire. The attitude to use, abuse and undermine others to help oneself scramble to the ‘top’ is the accepted modus operandi!

Now, despite all that I have written here, I probably wasn’t as bad as all that. I did genuinely try to leave space for others to speak and share ideas, but if they didn’t line up with mine, even roughly, I’d use carefully considered words, and play on emotions to get something near to my way.

In my early work life I was mostly viewed as a good ‘team player’ – as far as my bosses at the time were concerned, I was in fact regarded as a natural leader of teams. But the way I went about trying to work out what the bosses wanted and manipulate the ‘game’ to that end wasn’t righteous, and indeed not based on the love of Christ. But back then I didn’t know Jesus, and I thought, on the whole, I was a good person.

I think that maybe a lot of us struggle to understand what it means to work as a team, possibly even in the local church, where we operate primarily as a team full of volunteers. On the surface, we might play well together, but unless we have the love of Christ flowing through to our actions and affecting our decision making, we too can fall prey to looking good but have no authenticity and genuine care for how the team is doing as a whole.

As Christians, when we have the love of Christ flowing through us our team is one where everyone cares about the other, and we work for the common cause of our united mission – to enlarge the Church, extend God’s Kingdom rule over creation and see people come to Christ, free at last from worry and burden.

The pioneers of the early church were people, men in fact, with weaknesses and shortcomings. It’s fascinating that Jesus picked those that most people would never have considered for the important role of founding or starting the early church.

The fact is that we’re all on a journey of change. But the fact that we still have some character flaws and weaknesses doesn’t mean we are doomed to failure. We can do great things for God, we can get to where God is taking us as long as we genuinely desire to become more like Jesus.

How did Jesus handle the weaknesses or imperfections of His team members? Firstly, He didn’t wait until they were perfect before He chose them or started using them. Yes, it says in Matthew 5:48, that Jesus tells us we are perfect, it also says that we are TO BE perfect like our Father in Heaven – which in my mind suggest two things: Firstly, this is how Jesus is choosing to see us, choosing to deal with us in this context. But secondly, this is not as we are now, but as we are going to be, as we are becoming. In other words, if we use the Greek word instead: teleios, we use a word that also means maturity, rounded, whole, to be complete as God is. God does not say one thing and thinks another; God does not pretend compassion while really not caring at all. God is sincere, whole, and wholehearted – and we should be too.

Each of us has a seed in us, a potential, skill, gift, experience that can enlarge the Church and do our part in advancing the Kingdom of God. But if we drawback, hide our gift, or bury our gift we actually limit the enlargement the Church can experience.

Growth comes when each of us plays our role, gives our very best, gives our full support. Talents are increased when they were put to use (have a read of Matthew chapter 25 from verse 14 to see what I mean). The church can’t really grow and enlarge to its fullest capacity if we’re holding back and not utilising what God has put in us.

Our value is shown in how we work well together as a team, in how we help to build up the Church so that it looks and acts more like Jesus!

 

*This blog post is based on part #2 of a sermon series – ‘Something for Nothing?’ delivered by me at Freedom Church in May 2018. You can view this sermon here:

Red paperclip with white paperclips

“Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in His eyes.” (Romans 12:2)

Our hearts are not meant to seek after or engage in the sinful activities this world promotes. Our number one desire should be to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, transforming our thoughts, transforming our minds, transforming our hearts – and as we do so we become passionate about what He’s passionate about.

Being in the world, but not of it, means we have the opportunity to bring light to people who are in spiritual darkness. We are expected to live in a way that shows there is something “different” about us. Maybe we need to do a daily check:

  • Am I obviously different from the world?
  • How much of my life, is really that different to those who do not follow Jesus?
  • Does my life show that I am different because of my relationship with God?

We know that there are some fantastic people out there, doing good, helping change the world, but their difference doesn’t lead people to Jesus. And that is the point of our lives – to point people to Him.

Paul’s message to the Romans is unequivocal: Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world. Be different, show off your changed heart. Make every effort to live, think and act like a person who knows Jesus, as a person who has been saved, as a person who seeks to bring honour and glory to God!

 

This post is an excerpt from my latest sermon – ‘Something for Nothing?’, that I recently delivered at Freedom Church (May 2018). You can view the full sermon here: