Jesus was a loser, so you can be too

Nov 182013

I know I shouldn’t but I worry sometimes. I worry about whether I’m going to do well at things. I worry what other people think of me and my work. I worry about letting God down if I mess up or fail at something. I worry about failing instead of succeeding. I don’t want to be a loser. Who does?


We want to be winners, right? We want to achieve and succeed and do well. Of course we shouldn’t just want to do those things so that other people think better of us or like us more. Or to feel good about ourselves. We know that. But we should surely want to achieve, to be winners, to glorify God. Right?

Well, I’m not so sure. At least not in the ways we often think.

Jesus was a winner who lost

Jesus won. He defeated death. He defeated sin. He defeated the Devil. He won. I am not for a second suggesting that Jesus doesn’t have the victory. He does. But how?

There’s a book about the end of the world which I’ve mentioned here before. It’s by . It is a very good book. That title, though. Why not ‘Jesus wins’ or ‘God wins’ (‘Love wins’? Maybe not…)? Why ‘the lamb’? Well, because it was as the lamb that Jesus wins.

In Revelation 5, there is a scene where John the Apostle is weeping because there is no-one who can break seven seals and usher in the completion of God’s plans. But then he is told not to worry, because there is someone who can:

Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. (Revelation 5:5)


Brilliant! A lion. That sounds like a mighty victor to me – a lion can surely win the day – they are king of the jungle, after all. So John turns to see the lion, and what does he see?

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne (Revelation 5:6)

What? A lamb? And one that was slain?! That’s the mighty winner who saves the day and completes the purposes of God? A sacrificial lamb, all bloody and dead?

Yes. Of course we know that. We know that the way Jesus won was by losing. Victory through sacrifice. Triumph through defeat. In one of my favourite parts of the Bible (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) Paul shows his readers who were obsessed with worldly esteem that the cross is a scandal – it is God demonstrating power and wisdom in ways that look weak and foolish.

Jesus won – yes! But he did so by losing.

I’ll be a loser for Jesus!

I’ll level with you. I both love and hate this. I love it because I often feel unimpressive, defeated and a bit of a loser, so it’s nice to know that God has different standards of victory.

But I hate it (wrongly) because it means I’m not allowed to think like the rest of the world. When it comes to power, authority, victory and esteem, Christians don’t have the option of setting our value and sense of success in the same things the world does. And that’s not so easy all the time.

Whether it’s the money in our bank, whether we got that promotion, what car we drive, how many followers we have on Twitter, how people speak of us to our face, how they speak about us behind our back – or one of the million other ways people judge their worth and their success in this world – none of it is what counts for those who identify with the name of Jesus.

God has a different standard, and so must we. Even if that means we have to embrace weakness to be strong, make a sacrifice in order to be victorious, be defeated to know triumph.

Even if it means we feel like a loser.

Here are some words that my pastor, Malcolm, said in a sermon a little over a year ago. As he spoke these words, Mel and I both had tears in our eyes as we were struck once again by just how radical our God is.

Success (MD)

So I can’t be a winner, then?

This may sound like I’m saying we can’t set out to achieve, to advance, to succeed in anything. That’s not what I’m saying at all. We just need to be very careful that what we call ‘success’ is the same as what God calls ‘success’.

So, what motivates you? What do you consider success? What do you count as a ‘win’ in your life? Are your answers to those questions informed more by how the world views ‘success’, or by Jesus, who lost in order to be a winner?

And what means are you willing to employ to achieve those successes? Are they the tactics the world use, or are they modelled on Jesus, whose great victory was achieved by dying at the hands of those who sought to hold him back?

Would you rather be a winner in this world, or a loser for Jesus?

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My favourite thing about our church

Nov 152013

People sometimes ask me what the best thing about my church is (possibly because my church is relatively well-known). My answer couldn’t be more simple: my small group. I love so much about our church, but my favourite thing is our small group.

Small group

Why I love my small group

It may seem odd that that’s my answer. We have phenomenal teaching at our church. We have great pastors at our church. Our church is embedded in the community around us. Our church is big. So why does my favourite thing have the word ‘small’ in it?

The answer is: community. Our small group is not just an activity, an extra night out, an extra Bible study, an extra commitment. It is all of those things, but that isn’t what it is at its heart. At it’s heart, we are a group of people who have made the commitment to share our lives together, to be deeply invested in each other’s lives. We’ve chosen to be a committed community.

And it’s the most authentic and beautiful community I’ve ever been part of.

This is from yesterday.

So what is our group like? Well, we do meet once a week. That’s important. When we meet we study the Bible together, we share how we’re doing, and we pray for each other. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

We are constantly in touch. We have a constant group chat going on our phones (25 messages so far today). We shoot prayer requests and practical requests to each other daily. We drive each other to appointments when needed. We eat in each other’s homes. We set ourselves group targets (X needs a new job, so let’s support X in prayer and encouragement till it happens!). If one of us has a need, we make it our group’s need, and then we meet it. Or if one of us spots a need in our community, we all work out how to do something. I don’t think there has been a week in months when I haven’t seen folk from small group at least 2 or 3 times a week.

Does this all sound familiar? It sounds like Acts to me. Acts with smartphones.

Small groups are inclusive

But it’s not just a holy huddle! We have people who are firmly part of our group who are … wait for it … not Christians! They study the Bible with us, and ask brilliant questions which stretch the rest of us. And the rest of us can ask them questions that challenge them.

These are folk who would never step into a church gathering on Sunday, but they are part of our community. One of those guys is currently having quite serious medical treatment, and as a group we have committed to getting him to and from his appointments. He’s also a fantastic cook, and he cooks yummy food for us all. He isn’t any less a part of the group. Would we like him to become a Christian? Yes. Does he know that? Yes. Does it make it awkward? No.

We can be inclusive, missional, serving together. None of that would be possible in the same way for a bigger group. Of course there are things that a big group can do that we can’t, which is why it’s great to have both! This post isn’t a polemic against big churches – I’m part of one!! – it’s just a call to seek out how we can promote deep and authentic community with people. And small is a great place to start.

Why you should have a small group

And here’s the thing – anyone can be part of a small group. I don’t see small groups as an add-on for the extra-committed Christian. Our group is about community and mission, two central parts of the life of a Christian.

If your church doesn’t ‘have’ small groups, start one! If your church does but you’re not part of one, join one! If you’re a little jaded because small groups have always just seemed a bit boring, then create one and decide to do it differently!

There are two ingredients to make a beautiful, committed and life-giving small group community:

  1. A small group of people.
  2. A collective decision to invest in each others lives, even when that is sacrificial. This doesn’t work unless you are willing to commit. Just like family, because it is a family.

Everything else comes second. Where you meet, what you do, who does what… None of that matters as much as a shared heart, a commitment to commit.

And if I haven’t convinced you yet, how about this: Jesus was in a small group.

So what are your experiences of small groups? And what’s stopping you?

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I’ve moved!

Nov 152013

If you’re reading this, you are doing so on a different website than you used to. That’s because I have moved to a different platform to support my blog. This is now on a self-hosted wordpress blog, not blogger. That’s why the url has changed to just

WordpressI’ll spare you all the reasons why, but suffice it to say that this platform is better and will allow me a lot more flexibility and stability as I continue to post.

This is also why I haven’t posted in a few days – I’ve been working on getting this new site up to scratch. Normal blogging will now recommence, and you can expect new actual content soon.

Get the most from the blog

This may be a good time, though, to point something out. Instead of checking here every so often to see if I’ve posted, or waiting for me to tweet or post a link on Facebook, you can sign up to receive email updates whenever I post.

It won’t spam you. It will send you one email each day that I post new content, and nothing else. You can do so by following the link in the little blue box below, or by adding your email on the right under ‘Subscribe by email’, or even by You can unsubscribe any time.

Also, please do keep commenting. I love to hear what you think about what I’m posting, and a few posts in the past have come about entirely because of previous comments on other posts – so please comment away!

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I am ‘Young Blogger of the Year’

Nov 102013

Well, this has happened now.

What an amazing evening last night was, and what a shock, honour and joy to win my category. I want to share a little of the evening with you all.

Let’s start at the very beginning

The awards were at The Brewery on Chiswell Street in London. Mel and I met with our friend James, all dressed in our best finery (I told you Mel’s dress was stunning!) and made our way there.

We immediately knew we were in for the classiest evening of our lives so far. It’s not that we aren’t classy people (we might not be), but in our lines of work we don’t often get to dress up, take drinks off trays being held by people, or eat food that good!

When we sat down, we got to know the folks on our table. They were fantastic company for the evening! On our left, the wonderful Gillian Scott – the man behind the brilliant ‘God and Politics in the UK’ blog site. If you haven’t seen it, check it out! On our right, Ian Paul and his wife. I read some of Ian’s books while I was at uni, so that was fun. He was there for his blog site ‘Psephizo’ (which isn’t as hard to pronounce as people made out).

I was thrilled by the results for our table. Gillian was named runner-up in the ‘Best Christian Blog’ category – that’s the big one – and Ian won the ‘Best Leadership Blog’ category. Then there was me.

The big moment

The ‘Young Blogger of the Year’ category was actually the first to be announced, so I didn’t have to wait long. As the nominees were read out, my heart started to beat very very fast. The brilliant was then named runner-up, our host called for a drumroll, and I couldn’t believe my ears as I heard my name announced as winner.

Mind. Blown.

After receiving my prize, I was beckoned over to say a few words. Which I did. I had no idea what I was going to say until I was saying it, but that seemed to work out ok.

The truth is that I am very touched. It is such a joy to know that this blog, which is a hobby and a way for me to process my thoughts and beliefs, also blesses others. It is so gratifying to know that others find what I have to say useful, encouraging and worth reading. So thank you, right now, for being part of that and reading my blog.

My favourite thing

I know, without a doubt, what my favourite thing about the evening was. The best thing was that the evening exists at all. This event (the conference and the awards) is important.

As I found myself saying in my ‘speech’, I am part of a generation that lives online, that cannot do life – cannot process things, cannot be – without the internet. The online/offline divide doesn’t exist in our brains, really. Social media and social life are intrinsically connected.

So to spend a day ‘Re-imagining the Church in a Digital Age’ and then celebrating the many fantastic folk who are doing just that already is a brilliant thing. An important thing.

I was astonished as I heard about people in different categories, amazed by the quality, creativity and diversity of ways folk are being church in the digital age. I will probably point to a few in the next few weeks . We were told last night, “Tonight is about us affirming and valuing diversity… Awards are about the affirmation of that which is good.”

And I haven’t had a better, or more affirming, evening in quite a while.

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What I’m feeling

Nov 082013

My thoughts are usually very well-structured, and so are my blog posts. This one won’t be, because my thoughts and feelings are a bit all over the place.

Three days ago, our beautiful and precious dog, Ralph, was hit by a train while playing with one of his best dog friends, Mishka, and they both died. It was a horrible evening, and we are devastated. I know some of you won’t be animal people and may not understand our grief, but we really have lost a huge part of our family, in a sudden and awful way.

We are grieving.

But I can’t stay off social media. I can’t stop checking the many supportive messages on Facebook and Twitter. And I also know I need to blog, so here I am. My online presence is so much a part of me (and this blog is a huge part of that) that I cannot process this all without doing so here.

So here’s what I’m feeling

I’m feeling many things. I don’t feel all of this all of the time, but I feel it all.

I feel devastated, shocked, sad, absolutely overwhelmed with sorrow at points. This shouldn’t have happened. It doesn’t make sense.

I feel confused. Why did it happen?

I feel emptiness. I can’t get used to how quiet the house is, to not being woken up by him in the morning or having to put him outside last thing at night. There’s something (someone) missing.

I feel closer to Mel that I probably ever have in our three and a bit years of marriage.

I feel it isn’t real. If I’m honest, I don’t think I believe yet that I’ll never see him again. He’s just gone away somewhere and he’ll be back.

I feel totally overwhelmed and undone by the support, love and prayers of our friends, and especially of our church family at Gold Hill. Within 48 hours, our small group had rallied around, we had contact (a text, a tweet, a visit and a phone call) from each of the 4 pastors of the church, and we knew we had people to lean on. It was spectacularly moving for me.

I feel excited about the awards tomorrow night. This week has seen the highest traffic to my blog I’ve ever had. Messages of condolence were mixed on Tuesday and Wednesday with tweets, retweets and comments about posts. Which was an odd mix of emotions. But I’m still as excited at points as I was when I wrote on Monday.

I feel guilty for feeling excited about the awards tomorrow night. I should be sad, not happy. I should feel despair, not hope and excitement.

I feel numb a lot of the time.

I feel lucky to have shared these two and a bit years with such a wonderful, nosey, happy, friendly and enthusiastic-about-life dog. He taught me a lot.

I feel the need to say every couple of hours, in my head or out loud, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” It’s the only act of worship I’ve got in me right now.

I feel like keeping busy, but often can’t focus on whatever I’ve decided to busy myself with.

I feel happy when I think about the many happy memories of Ralph we have. We spent last night with the couple who owned the other dog. We spent the evening telling stories and laughing. It was beautiful.

Then I feel sad afterwards.

I feel no better for having shared all of this, but know it will have helped.



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I’m going to the BAFTAs! (almost…)

Nov 042013

Me: What you up to at the weekend?
You: Nothing much. How about you?
Me: Same, not much. Except I’m going to an AWARDS CEREMONY at an AWESOME CONFERENCE!!
You: Ok.

Yes. It’s true. On Saturday Mel, a friend and I will be dressing up all fancy (Mel got a new dress, and she looks stunning in it!) and going to an evening of awards as part of the Christian New Media conference in London.

Why I’m going.

I’ve not been talking about this too much, but the reason I’m going is that I’m on the shortlist for one of the awards. Or rather, the blog you’re currently reading is. My very own ‘Limping into Truth’ is up for the ‘Best Young Blogger’ category. I’m really very honoured and thrilled about this.

I’ve not blogged about it yet because I’ve not wanted to be all ‘self-promotion-y’ about it. But, truth is I was blown away to find I’d been nominated (thanks again, by the way, if you’re reading!) and even more blown away to find I’d been shortlisted. And when I look at the quality of the other bloggers in my category, I’m knocked off my feet. I want to point you to them now, because they’re great! They are:

  • – I love Sam’s take on things. He’s made me think and laugh in roughly equal measures, reflecting on everything from Halloween to deodorant…
  • ‘Stuck on the Rooftops’ – Mike is an English Lit student, and he writes just as well as one of them (is it ‘those’, Mike?) should! I love his honesty and reflections on life as it happens.
  • ‘Neill Before the Lord’ – This is Hannah Neill’s blog. First off, I love a blog site with a pun in the name. I just do. But I also love Hannah’s openness in sharing her spiritual life online.
  • Live Laugh and Love God’ – Claire’s blog is not just thought-provoking and encouraging – it’s so impressive that she blogs every day. Simple but meaningful daily reflections – love it.
I honestly recommend all of them. ()

Why I’m excited.

Anyway, back to the awards as a whole. Why am I excited to go?

I’m excited because we don’t get to do this kind of thing very often. Getting dressed up, having fancy food – it’s all a bit of a novelty for us!

I’m excited because I love my blog and I love that others love it too. I have loved doing this since January, and I’m really psyched I’m not the only one.

I’m excited to hopefully meet the four people who’ve produced the four great blogs linked to above.

I’m excited about spending the evening with my gorgeous wife and great friend.

But most of all, I’m excited because I think social media and the internet matter. So much of the world’s way of working is online now. Business, education, and – yes – social life. I think social media can get a pretty bad rep, but it is a phenomenal tool which can be harnessed for amazing good and for the growth of the Kingdom of God. I’m excited to spend an evening with people doing just that.

I’m excited!!!

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Halloween, Jesus and Eschatology

Oct 312013

Tonight is Halloween. There is lots flying around the internet at the moment about how to engage, or whether to engage. This post – which will be a bit more theological than most of mine – is my contribution to the debate.

My thoughts hinge around this word: eschatology.


Eschatology is the whole area of theology to do with God’s plans for the culmination of everything. The end times. Judgment Day. Christ’s final victory over everything – this is the stuff of eschatology. There are many divergent views in the study of eschatology, and opinions are often fiercely-held.

The best book I’ve ever read on the topic is . He deals with all the contentious stuff, and he even shares where he sits in the debates. But he is very clear that we cannot be absolutely certain about a lot of it until it happens. The one thing he’s unbendingly certain of is the one thing he was willing to make the title of the book. The Lamb wins. Jesus has the victory. He defeats everything, and He reigns victorious.

But therein lies the theological rub. Because there are two equal but opposite dangers when talking about Christ’s victory, dangers which the church from its very earliest days have fallen into.

The first is to think all this eschatology stuff won’t happen for a long time, and in the meantime we’re in a battle that we could lose. That ignores the victory of Jesus on the cross, that Jesus, ‘having disarmed the [dark] powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them by the cross’ (Colossians 2:15). Jesus victory has been won through his life, death and resurrection. He has already won.

But that leads to the second danger, which is to think that because His victory has already been established (which it has) and is so certain (which it is), it has already come in totality and is complete (it is not). The Bible is very clear that those powers which Jesus defeated at the cross – sin, death, the world, the devil – are still around in our present age. Their downfall is certain, but still in the future.

Folk in the early church fell into both these traps. In response, we see on the pages of the New Testament what a lot refer to as an ‘already, but not yet’ way of thinking about eschatology. Jesus victory is already present, but not yet complete. I believe that’s biblical, and I believe it’s true.

How ‘real’ is Halloween?

So what does this all have to do with Halloween, then? Well, in one way or another, Halloween is about darkness. It is either celebrating or playing around with or tackling dark forces in the world. Forces of death, the demonic, ultimately the Devil himself.

Those are the things over which the victory of Jesus stands. That eschatological, ‘already but not yet’ victory.

And when I look at the way that our theologies affect our view of – and engagement with – Halloween, I see us getting close to those two dangers at various points. (There may of course be valid societal reasons for our views, but for now I’m interested in the theology that motivates us.)

Danger 1: we are unduly scared of Halloween because we are afraid of the powers it represents, and forget that those powers have already been made into a public spectacle. They have been named and shamed.

Danger 2: we are too blasé about Halloween, saying there is ‘nothing to fear’ because nothing dark has any power anymore – it has all been defeated after all, right? The truth is there are dark forces at work in our world, and we can’t pretend there aren’t.

We need to tread a delicate path between the two. We must recognise that the darker side of Halloween exists, it isn’t benign or devoid of impact and force. But we also know it is not the highest power. There is a power far greater that has already put to shame all the ghouls and spooks that Halloween can glorify.

So how to respond?

I’m not going to give answers to questions like ‘How should we deal with trick-or-treaters?’ or ‘Is dressing up as a skeleton wrong?’ That’s not what I’m trying to do. There are probably many right courses of action.

But in our heart, I believe we should have these attitudes:

  • We should recognise we are in a battle, and that light isn’t the only side there is in that battle.
  • We should not be afraid of darkness, because we know it is doomed.
  • We can, in some ways, laugh at and poke fun of the darkness, because we know it is cheap and doomed and desperate. (That’s how Halloween started in the first place…)
  • We should recognise we have a message to speak into the darkness, that Jesus is the King of Light.

The one thing I think we can’t do is just board up our doors and ignore it. If we’re in a battle, let’s engage in that battle. If we needn’t be paralysed by fear, let’s engage boldly. If we know Jesus has the victory, let’s engage hopefully. And if we know we have a message, let’s engage actively.

What might that mean for how we engage with Halloween in practice?

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I’ve changed my mind

Oct 282013

I was asked a question recently as part of a staff retreat day: When was the last time you changed your beliefs? It’s not an easy question, but a good one.

Why I don’t like changing my mind

Changing my mind about what I believe is true has a lot of drawbacks. It means accepting that previously I was wrong. That knocks my pride. Given that I can sometimes (because of what I do and the way I am) be quite vocal about my beliefs, it means admitting to others I was wrong. That really knocks my pride. Also, because our belief systems are a whole organic body of interconnected ideas, it means having to rethink a lot of other things, and learning how to do things differently in light of it all. That’s effort. Also, changing my mind about things I used to think reminds of the very real possibility that things I believe now are also wrong. I was wrong before, I could be again. That’s probably pride again.

So, mostly I don’t like changing my mind because I’m prideful, but also a bit because I’m lazy.

It’s far easier to decide something is right and then just stick with it for life, being able to hold to it tightly with a clenched fist that will never be prised open.

Why I have to change my mind

Here’s the thing, though. That’s not good enough. It may be easier to have beliefs and ideas of truth that are like that, but that doesn’t make it right. And after all, I believe that truth is to be entered into with a limp, not a stride.

I need to change my mind about things because (as much as I might not like to admit it) I can be wrong about things. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and still have all the same convictions I do now, because it means I won’t have discovered all the ways I’m wrong about things now. I’m fallen. I’m broken. I’m wrong.

But I don’t want to stay that way if I can help it.

So, how about it?

Perhaps I can see the benefit in letting go of some beliefs in favour of new ones because I have changed my mind quite a bit recently. Here are some examples:

  • My beliefs about the fundamental goodness and badness of humanity has shifted significantly recently.
  • My understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit has changed quite a bit in the last year.
  • I have a different view of ‘mission’ than I used to.
  • My view of what preaching should look like has drastically changed in recent times (though I don’t always demonstrate that in practice – see above, re. pride and effort).
  • I no longer have a view of language, words and grammar that see them as unchanging. Language evolves, words don’t have fixed meanings. This has been a pretty big thing for me (also, check this out!).

Some of you reading this may have been on the receiving end of rants about some of those pre-change (especially the grammar one…) If so, sorry about that!

So, what about you? When was the last time you changed your mind? And when will be the next time?

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Oct 092013

A few weeks ago I missed an opportunity, I think. I was preaching, and the sermon was on Jesus as our ‘great high priest’ from the book of Hebrews (4:14–5:10 if you must know). As part of it, I said this:

“Jesus is the perfect high priest because he entered into the grittiness and the reality and the pain of our existence. Life can be very hard indeed, but like the high priests of Israel, Jesus knows that. He has sympathy because he knows how it feels. He knows every last bit of it, more than we know”

And then I moved on. I sort of wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d explored some of the many ways Jesus really did identify with our situations, not just as clever illustrations but because people there that Sunday (including me) were doubtlessly in some of those situations themselves. It could have been far more powerful and useful than what I did go on to say. So now I will, with twelve real things Jesus struggled with on earth.

My hope is that some of this will be of comfort to you. I would be astonished if at least some of this isn’t something you have faced or are facing. Know that you are not alone.

1. Jesus had a job

How many of our struggles come because we have to work? Or have to balance working a job and living the rest of our lives? Jesus wasn’t just a roving preacher-man for His whole life – He was a carpenter. He had a real job. He knew that struggle.

2. Jesus was ‘used’ by people

Jesus was exceedingly generous with His time, healing, teaching and friendship. That meant there were folk who took advantage. In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals 10 men with leprosy. Only 9 come back to thank him. The rest just wanted His service and then they were done. Of course, Jesus kept being generous anyway. He knew that struggle.

3. Jesus got angry

Jesus wasn’t oblivious to the things around Him that were wrong. Look at John 2:13-17 (turning tables in the Temple) or Matthew 23:13-39 (strong words to the religious elite). He saw injustice – usually perpetrated by the religious powerhouse – and it made him furious. And He couldn’t help but act on that anger. Of course He still loved those He was angry with. He knew that struggle.

4. Jesus was misunderstood by those closest to Him

Our family and those we grow up with know us best, a lot of the time. But sometimes they are blinded to who we’ve become, or they don’t like it. When Jesus went back to His hometown, He was so underestimated that He couldn’t realise His potential there (Mark 6:1-6). And later on (Luke 8:19-21), He recognises that He shares far more in common with non-relatives because His family just don’t get Him. But He still loves and looks after His family (John 19:25-27). He knew that struggle.

5. Jesus suffered bereavement

And He wept (John 11:35). He knew that struggle.

6. Jesus ‘failed’ at evangelism

Not every conversation led to a conversion. The rich young man couldn’t accept what Jesus demanded and left (Mark 10:17-22), and many of his own followers dropped away as things went on (John 6:66). He didn’t have a 100% success rate. He knew that struggle.

7. Jesus had anxiety for the future

Knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t always help. Jesus knew what lay ahead of Him as He prayed in Gethsemane, but He still struggled with it (Luke 22:39-44). He knew it was God’s will, but He didn’t want it to be. He knew it was right, but He didn’t want it to happen. He was scared about what was to come. He knew that struggle.

8. Jesus was tempted with sin

The temptation Jesus faced in the desert was real (Matthew 4:1-11). He was tempted to put Himself first, to show off, and to take glory for Himself. All of this was a real temptation. The writer(s) to the Hebrews makes it clear He was tempted ‘in every way’ (4:15). But Jesus withstood temptation. He knew that struggle.

9. Jesus was abandoned by His friends

Judas betrayed Him (Matthew 26:14-16). The disciples fled (Matthew 26:56). Peter denied knowing Him (Matthew 26:69-75). All His loyal friends and followers, who He had chosen and poured His life into for years – every single one of them – deserted Jesus. He poured Himself into them knowing that, of course, and was willing to forgive them (John 21:15-17). He knew that struggle.

10. Jesus was persecuted

He was beaten physically, mocked, punished for things He had never said, or for things He’d said that were true. And eventually He was forced to carry His own torture device up a hill and was crucified on it. All for being obedient to God’s will and kingdom. He knew that struggle.

11. Jesus experienced ‘political’ manoeuvring

Jesus’ opposition didn’t like Him and they were scared of Him, but they didn’t deal with it openly. They engaged in back room deals, gossip, half-truths and outright lies. They were plotting (Matthew 21:46). And Pilate (John 18:28–19:16) knew there was no real case against Jesus. But instead of saying so, he tried the politically-sensible way out – Barabbas. That didn’t work, but instead of sticking to His convictions that Jesus was innocent, he let Jesus be crucified to keep the people happy. All politically-motivated. He knew that struggle.

12. Jesus felt far from God

While He had mostly enjoyed a very close and intimate relationship with God in His life, as He hung on the cross God was nowhere to be seen or heard or felt. ‘My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?’ This wasn’t imagined. God had turned His face away. When we feel God is distant, God’s Son knows how we feel. He knew that struggle, too.

This list is by no means comprehensive. When I moved on in my sermon, I said this:

Jesus isn’t sitting in heaven looking down and judging us thinking ‘What are they doing? It can’t be that hard!’ He’s there shouting ‘Come on! Keep going! I know it’s hard, but I promise it’s worth it! Keep going! Keep going!’

I really believe that to be true. Jesus knows what we are facing, and He cares. God bless you.

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Oct 052013

Hello again, internet. It’s been a while since my last post, so sorry if that’s disappointed anyone. It has been a rather busy summer, and this is one thing that slipped a little. But I’m back.

What do we mean when we say God speaks today? It’s something I hear quite often. Or I hear people say “God said to me…” and I want to interrupt and ask “How?” or even sometimes “How are you sure it was Him?” It’s been on my mind recently, and here are a few thoughts I thought worth sharing.

God does speak today

I want to start by saying this: I believe strongly that God does speak, and He still speaks. The God I follow is not one who spoke many years ago, and then retreated from the world, never to step into human history again. Jesus ascended to heaven, He’s still there, and He’s Lord of history now in a very real sense not just in a ‘That’s what I say I believe on Sunday, but on a Monday who cares?’ kind of way.

And part of the way He is directing human history, directing His church (He isn’t just ‘the Lord’ but ‘OUR Lord’), is by speaking to His people, His friends.

I also believe that the fullest revelation He has given us is in His Son, Jesus. In Hebrews 1:1-2 we see that while God has spoken in a variety of ways and contexts, His fullest revelation is Jesus Christ, His Son. He is not the final revelation, but the full one, and if God speaks in any other way – through the Bible, through His Spirit, through other people – then that revelation must sit under, be understood through and be weighed against the person of Jesus.

Our job is to listen

So that all said, how do we hear God. Well, we need to listen. I had a friend recently who, when I asked what I should do with my life (results here!), told me to become great at listening to God. And he was absolutely right. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realised something: God is speaking to us in so many ways, and we need to tune ourselves in.

It’s very easy to listen to someone if they’ve shouted our name, grabbed our attention and then look us directly in the eye as they speak. God does that. I believe God can speak to us in an audible voice, and that sometimes He does. He can write in the sky, whisper in our ear or rearrange those little alphabet fridge magnets on so they say something directly to us. He can do this stuff.  He does do this stuff. Those times, hearing isn’t too difficult because it’s so direct.

The problem, I think, is that we can sometimes expect God to do that for us all the time. We are so busy waiting for our big ‘Thus says the Lord’ moment that we miss out on what the Lord says. Sometimes, listening is harder work than that. Abraham is one of the people in the Bible who walked closest with God (he’s called ‘God’s friend’!), and he had a direct voice from God approximately once every 25 years. Was God not speaking the rest of the time? (I actually find that statistic very comforting.)

What listening looks like

God has spoken to us far more than we often realise, and that is because too often we want the voice to be specific to us. What do I mean? We want God to tell us what He wants us to do. Us, here and now in our own situation. We forget, though, that through His word He has already told us. Make disciples, pour ourselves out on behalf of the poor, seek justice, proclaim God’s truth boldly, seek holiness. Isn’t there enough to be going on with there?! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I mean sure, we have to figure out what that means for us right now. Making disciples in 21st Century Britain is very different from making disciples in 1st Century Israel, but then Jesus didn’t really tell them how to do it. He told them what to do, and then He remained with them by His Spirit while they figured it out and got on with it. We need to figure some of this stuff out too, instead of expecting all of it to be given straight to us.

This post is getting longish now, so I’m going to wrap it up. It may sound like I’m saying God speaks to us only through the Bible, but I’m not. I believe the Bible is God’s primary way of speaking to us, but not His only one. I’ll do a post soon on some of the other weird and wonderful ways we should be listening to God’s voice.

But however God speaks, directly or indirectly, we need to decide to be people who are attentive, who listen – even if it means some hard work.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on different ways God speaks to us, so if you have any please comment!

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