Fear of death or a desire to live…?

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Having just had a life threatening scare in having suffered but survived a pulmonary embolism resulting from a post-operative complication resulting in a DVT in my leg I have been reflecting on the difference between a fear of death and a desire to live.

Having previously always been healthy but suddenly facing the reality of how life truly is a gift given by God each and every moment, I was surprised by the emotional and mental impact of my experience.

I know that I am certain of my salvation and as such have no fear of death which I know is not a termination for a believer like me but rather a transition to eternal life with our mortality being swallowed up with life because we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:4).  As DL Moody famously said; “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.” (DL Moody quoted in R.Alcorn, Heaven pp 31).

I know I have believed in Jesus and that Scripture assures such a person that they “will be saved” (Romans 10:9) and more than that also assures me that “our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you (me) to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).

In addition to this, the Holy Spirit witnesses with my spirit that I am the child of God, and because I am a child of God, I am also a future heir with Christ (Romans 8:14-17).

And yet to be honest, this week’s experience rocked me.  

So why?  I knew I wasn’t afraid of dying, so what was I feeling?  Why was I so emotional?

On reflection, the feeling was not so much fear, but more a fighting even desperate desire within me to live longer on this earth, to be with my wife and family and those I love and a sincere feeling that “the good works God had prepared in advance for me to do” (Ephesians 2:10) were not yet completed.  

I know without a doubt that all the days ordained for me are in my Father’s book (Psalm 139:16), I know that I can’t add one to them!  

Yet in me is a desire to live – to enjoy this life He has given to me with those He has given me, and to serve my Father’s purposes in this life.

Thank you Father God for every breath, may I truly live each day You give for You and for Your glory, Amen.

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Anger, sense and a restoration project…

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Do you ever envy other people?  I do.  

Now I know that envy isn’t what my Father wants from me but not all envy is that bad.  

I sometimes wish I could be the guy in the line at Home Affairs/Bank/Traffic licensing office…who isn’t getting riled at the inefficiency or the seeming absence of any commitment to serve others – I envy that guy who’s just calmly sitting there even seemingly enjoying the time away from tasks!

I sometimes wish I could be the guy of the squash who is playing top squash but just seems to be having fun and isn’t affected by dodgy referring calls – I envy that guy sometimes.

Scripture is so life-giving and practical.  Just yesterday I read again that;

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 19:11 ESV 

Now although I am who God’s made me and that includes all my physical, mental & personality attributes, Scripture also teaches me that who God made as Gareth – was tainted, marred by the Fall.  I am created in His image but that image needs restoring/re-moulding which is what happens daily as I listen to God through Scripture and obey the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

So when I say I am envious of someone else’s calmness in certain settings I am not expressing dissatisfaction with who God made me but rather dissatisfaction at the particular effect of sin in my life.  I see something of the image of God in that other person (regardless of whether they are a believer or unbelievers) and it draws me into the Holy Spirit inspired restoration God wants to do in me!

Hence, when I read this verse it doesn’t condemn me but calls me into what I know the Father wants to be in me by in terms of restoration.  As I read and listened to the Holy Spirit these were my personal reflections from this passage:

Anger that is ‘in-the-moment’ is bad sense because:

1) Anger clouds my vision  

2)Anger predisposes me to making rash assumptions regarding motives, meaning…

3)Anger makes me the focal centre rather than making God and others the focal centre

4) Anger is a slippery slope towards me sinning even when I have been sinned against

So how can I apply this to my life?  

Step 1: Identify the emotion (anger) early, report it to yourself

Step 2: Pause, count to three (seriously do it Gareth)

Step 3: Consider – What is making me feel this way? Have I misunderstood? Is God’s perspective and the other person’s perspective being valued by me? Is this worthy of godly anger?

Step 4: Is this something I can overlook?  After all to do so would be to my benefit. Or is it necessary confront but doing so slowly and in love, full of grace and truth?

For me, being quick to anger has been one of the old sin patterns God has been remounting me in making me more like the most incredible man who ever lived – Jesus.

As a son of God, I want to be like my Father who time and time again is described as follows; 

“…you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” (Jonah 4:2)

Father, today I want to be more like you, I want to identify, pause, consider & overlook where that is truly possible or confront in love full of grace and truth where necessary. Amen.


The God intended joy of generations

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  Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers. (Proverbs 17:6)

When you’re a child, if you’re fortunate to have one, a grand parent hopefully is just someone who clearly loves you and fusses over you and often spoils you saying; “don’t tell your mom!”

I remember being doted over by my one grandmother in particular, remember big hugs, a sweetie cupboard in the passage, secret visits to the fridge to indulge in some special treat, being taken to the local coffee shop run by the women’s association and having toasted sandwiches (I now realize these were not just culinary but also some form of bragging) sleep overs and board games and how we could do no wrong seemingly once we were near her!

Although I’ve not got there yet and hope to wait some time still before I do, on observation of others around me, simply adding the word “grand” to “parenting” is clearly something unique and special.

As Proverbs says; “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged”

Then, when you become a parent you begin more and more to experience this God-intended joy in both directions.

You love your children, they’re yours and you love them the most.  Sometimes it feels like your heart is not big enough for the love that resides inside for them!   In fact you might well have even said that to those “grand parents” who sometimes in their zeal act as though they love these little people more than anyone…

And yet as grow older you also begin to see things, appreciate things about your own parents that are just clearer with age. It’s like the lens suddenly starts to come into focus as you mature you begin to see your parents with new clarity and hopefully you appreciate what you see. These are people God established a relationship with for you,  people who loved you, cared, sacrificed, provided, struggled through life’s challenges…

And as you see them and what they’ve done or struggled through more clearly as you can empathize with them as you too are parenting – I’ve found that my love and appreciation of them grows and deepens, and as Proverbs says; “the glory of children is their fathers.” (Proverbs 17:6)

Thanks you Father for the God-intended joy of generations!  Yes there are many for whom this joy has been spoiled or robbed by sin and death due to the curse of sin, but so to are there many who can still celebrate and thank God for what part of this joy they have experienced.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=12920829

This clip about a grand father, father & son provoked me last week to appreciate my own dad who just turned 70 and for whom I can honestly say; “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” – thanks Dad and Mom for being this verse for Andre, Lauren, Nicholas and myself and to all our many children! We are blessed, thank you Father God for the God intended joy of generations!

Plans steps & a loving Father

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We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” (Proverbs 16:9 NLT)

This week started as what felt like a normal week for me, a diary full of great people to meet with.  Multiple meetings to discuss how to see God’s kingdom advance in the lives of those around us, time to pray and prepare to preach, a time for rest and family…

I had a plan, and plans aren’t bad to have, but God determined my steps!

And so for me, this week hasn’t been anything like what I thought it would be – but I am so grateful to God that He orders my steps. I wasn’t visiting the hospital to find out I really needed to.  However, God determined my steps through the wonderful influence of people he put in my life and whispered to me by the Holy Spirit to go and get checked out…

For me, knowing that my sovereign Father who loves me determines my steps is not offensive in any way (as some find the idea of sovereignty) but is calming in the extreme.

And yet within the safety net of our loving Father’s sovereignty, He permits us freedom to make plans and decisions in such as way that somehow upholds our freedom yet does not restrict or limit His sovereignty – amazing.

Honouring

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This week I had an experience that has truly caused me to value each day and then I read Romans 16 and I love how Paul takes the time to write to individuals, men and women that he knows and loves, people he has served Christ with and people who are worthy of honour.

Honouring starts with seeing.  I love the Zulu greeting “Sawubona” which translated means “I see you”, the greeting is a recognition of the presence of another person and follows with finding out who they are (if unknown) and how they are doing.

Paul was ‘other-focussed’, as leader he wasn’t so focussed on himself or his task that he missed the people around him. I love it that this is a chapter filled with greetings and honouring of specific people for the specific ways they have served God and co-worked with Paul in the churches and in the gospel mission.

Paul couldn’t just call or sms so he wrote while he still could.  He didn’t just allow his gratitude to remain private positive thoughts about the 27 people he names here at the conclusion of his letter to the church in Rome, he made it known to them and to others as he honoured them.

What an example!

I have the privilege of leading a church and am surrounded by incredible men and women who share leadership with me out of a common love for Jesus and commitment to His mission!

Someone said that one of the main roles of a leader is – “to say thank you”.  I resolve to make the moments, to take the time to see, to look and recognize all the amazing people who are Oasis Church (not just leaders) and to honour them privately and publicly.

Who will you see and honour today?

Awe…

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Awe is a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear, a sense of wonder, amazement, astonishment, worship, reverence, honour, love and respect.

Awe is a response to something.  It doesn’t exist in isolation but rather is the result of something seen, experienced or encountered.  Awe is informed by the mind yet is truly rooted in a heart that has seen and surrendered to the majesty and might of almighty God.

And therefore awe is the opposite of irreverence, familiarity, contempt and indifference.  Awe is about perspective, having clarity concerning God, oneself, circumstances and others.

And yet, awe seems to be a fragile commodity.  One that’s not, easily obtained, is easily lost and or replaced.  In some way children seem to have a better grasp on awe than adults do.  They seem to just delight in and be amazed by things, they believe easily, express freely the joy of discovery and wonder…

Why is it we who are older aren’t more like these young ones with mouths and eyes wide open?

I want to find myself looking like the girl at the top of this post more often, speechless and yet captivated by God, who He is and what He has done for me, for us.

Awe is linked to worship, we won’t worship want we don’t see, we won’t worship what we don’t revere and are astonished by.  Like Moses who wanted God to reveal Himself, like Paul I pray; “I want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10).  I want to see more, know more, encounter Jesus more – whether through Scripture reading, prayer or worship with the saints, whether through ministering to people and seeing His mighty power – I want to know Him.  There is a song we sing in Oasis that expresses this desire (King of Wonder) which at one point goes something like; “the more we see, the more we love you”!

But don’t for a minute think that this is some fanciful irrelevant impractical desire.  Paul Tripp says;

Awe of God should be the reason I do what I do with my thoughts. It should be the reason I desire what I desire. Awe of God should be the reason I treat my wife the way I do, parent my children the way I do….should give direction to the way I live as a citizen in the wider community…  

Awe of a God should lift me out of the darkest moments of discourage gun and be the source of my most exuberant celebrations.  Awe of God should make me more self-aware and more mournful of my sin while it makes me more patient with and tender towards weakness in others.  It should give me courage I would have no other way and wisdom to know when I am out of my league.  Awe of God is meant to rule every domain of my existence. – Paul Tripp

Awe is not some peripheral thing for the Christ follower, it is central to the heart motivation of our lives.  Without awe we quickly descend into mere external moralism and or a faith that is dead and dry.  Tripp says that there is a spiritual danger that lurks here and it’s that when awe for God is dead, it is quickly replaced by awe for ourselves (pride) and so Tripp goes on to say that;

If you are not living for God, the only alternative is to live for yourself.
– Paul Tripp

As a leader one of my greatest responsibilities is to stimulate awe in others, yet awe is caught not only taught.  Awe is based on knowledge of God but it is more about the state of ones heart in response to what one knows about God. What I have come to see is that it is impossible to lead someone to a state of awe – if such awe is absent in your own heart.
Just like a tour guide in a great city like Rome – you don’t want the person who has just read more books than you.  You want your guide to also have walked the streets before, seen the city before, you want someone who knows the people, the history and the culture.

Similarly, if you’re doing an expedition in the Himalayas, surely you want the  Sherpa who has scaled Everest or K2 themselves, before you’ll feel they are qualified to guide you up the slopes.

Likewise, as a leader you can’t take people where you haven’t been yourself, where you not just went years ago but where you regularly are… What a provocation, as a leader!
May I, may we, not be those in whom there is an “awe deficit” or where the wonder has been lost.

I’ll close with the lyrics of a song by Leeland called “I wonder”, words that have been my song lately;

At the stars in the night, I wonder
At Your lightning in the sky, I shudder
Your glory is a blanket that covers, every living thing

I’m in awe at the majesty of who You are
Your love is a seal burnt inside my heart
All of the day I want to be where You are
Holy Father

And it feels like there’s not enough praise inside of me
With all these words, all my heart can sing is holy
You are holy

Jesus Christ
You bled Your love, laid down Yourself
And gave me life
In naked shame You hung and You were lifted high
Here I lay in awe and wonder
I am afraid, for no one’s ever sacrificed and loved me this way

So on my face I fall under Your heavy grace
Here I lay in awe and wonder
And I wonder

I’m in awe at the majesty of who You are
Your love is a seal burnt inside my heart
All of the day I want to be where You are
Holy Father

And it feels like there’s not enough praise inside of me
With all these words, all my heart can sing is holy
You are holy

Life is a gift

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  May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:5-7)

God gives us life! And God gives it to us every day, we don’t self-sustain, can’t self-sustain ourselves – life is a gift of God literally everyday.

I know it’s not the main point behind the verses above but in the last 24hrs the words;

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live…”

Have taken on fresh meaning for me as I know God has kept me from what could easily have been a life threatening condition residing in me and yet seemingly innocuous and unseen.

God grants life to you and to me.

Today I am gladly unwrapping that gift, will you? 

Today I am thanking God the Giver of that gift, acknowledging that my Heavenly Father is the source, will you too?

And what does God my Father want me to do with this gift I’ve received again today?

to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May I, may we in Oasis Church live in harmony with one another in such a way that demonstrates our having been given life by and united to and in Christ.

Thinking about it for a moment, hamorny requires diversity!  All signing the same note or all playing the same instrument in the same chord is a group of singers or musicians but for it to be harmony what’s required is diversity that joins together to create something greater together than the individual comments can be apart.

And there in lies the wonder of the church of Jesus Christ – a community of faith who have been granted life, who are now living, serving God’s mission with these moments we are given in harmony with one another despite our diversity in such a way that  underlines what has happened to us in Christ and in such a way that brings glory to God.

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

In closing this idea Scripture appeals to you and to me, to be welcoming, to receive one another, to accept one another into our lives and homes!

Why? Because that’s what God has done to us, for us in sending us Jesus. God took the initiative to reach out to you and I, Jesus made the first step towards us, Jesus left His comfort zone in order to reach out to you and to me so that He could live, be understood and ultimately die in our place for our sin and rise again victorious for our resssurection and eternal life!

So too today, may we, may I welcome others as I have been shown this heavenly welcome. Today let me, let you use this life gift to harmonize with others in the church and to extend God’s outstretched welcome to all.

The result will be that people will be loved and God will be glorified as He should as He is the source of all of this.