27 March 2017

'A rescue is just the start'

In 2014 gunmen entered a small school in the village of Chibok in Northern Nigeria. The men were part of an Islamist group called Boko Haran, which roughly translates to ‘western education is forbidden.' That day, 276 girls were taken into captivity, many raped, married off and brainwashed. There are no happy endings to this story and today most of those girls still have not been recovered.

Stephen Davis, a negotiator and advisor to several Nigerian presidents was recently interviewed about his involvement in trying rescue the girls. It was a tragic discussion on their plight and I confess my first thought when hearing this story was how it would make a good illustration. And in that moment, I heard Jesus whisper, ‘where is your heart Scott, these girls aren’t some convenient illustration they are prisoners.’ How easily we forget the real lives behind the headlines.

I wonder if you’d pause with me a moment before reading on to think about those girls right now. Pray for them and their distraught families. Pray for their liberation and healing.


At the end of the interview Stephen’s last words were ‘When you rescue girls out of their captivity, a rescue is just the start. Then begins the long rehabilitation process.’

That’s not a bad description of what the bible calls discipleship. Discipleship begins in something like a rescue. Colossians 1:13-14 says ‘God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating.’ (The Message Paraphrase)

But discipleship is much more than a rescue for some future heavenly state. No, Jesus’ greater ambition for our life is to look like him, flourish under his leadership and impact the world where you live. This part is considerably harder because there remains a lot of ‘dead-end alleys and dark dungeons’ in all our hearts. Or, as a good friend of mine said just the other day, we like to stay ‘stuck on the merry-go-round of stupid.’

I wonder, to what extent has the message and mission of Jesus been distorted and derailed over the centuries by an emaciated version of discipleship that starts and ends with a rescue, and disregards the ‘long rehabilitation process?’

Perhaps that’s why Jesus didn’t bypass the three years of training his disciples and just come for the cross. He would save them through the cross, but He made them before and after it. Jesus’ aim was not just to get them into heaven after they die but to increasingly think, feel and live like Him now.

There is an emerging truth in my life that is both old yet strangely fresh right now. Simply, to follow Jesus is to be a disciple. And to be a disciple is to become like Jesus in every way. To think, feel and live in the pattern of Jesus' life. There is nothing theoretical about discipleship.

It would only be a partial victory if the girls of Chibok were freed from their captivity and yet still lived in a prison of pain for the rest of their lives.  Likewise, the gospel announces we can be released from our prisons and step into a new life with Jesus. But that rescue is just the beginning and ahead lies a lifelong adventure in growth toward thinking, feeling and living like Jesus.

Does your life feel anything like a prison right now? Who can you tell?
If you are a follower of Jesus, what does your discipleship look like at the moment?
Can you think of one or two specific things that Jesus is currently working with you on?
If not, why not?

21 March 2017

Sinners like us

The Oxford dictionary’s word of the year has recently included pearls like selfie, emoji and post-truth. Somehow, I doubt the word sin has, or ever will make the list. If sin has a culinary equivalent, I think it would be the anchovy. Small, unattractive and overpowering. I don’t hear people use the word sin often and if I do, it’s usually a sour commentary or judgement on another person’s behaviour – and that’s really not fun.
What does it mean to sin? How do you feel about the word?

Sin is I think, much more than bad behaviour that misses God’s mark. It’s a power that causes people to become less. Less whole, less alive, less connected, less human.

When an angry mob threw a half-naked and trembling woman before Jesus on charges of adultery, Jesus’ direction to the crowd was that whoever had no sin could toss the first stone. I wonder what these angry men might have seen in that moment as they reluctantly looked into their hearts? What caused them to drop their stones of judgement from the oldest to the youngest? Perhaps the older men first saw the weight of a lifetime of secret lusts and failings? Perhaps they saw their own nakedness in the face of this terrified woman? Perhaps they realised that their self-righteous judgement was as destructive as the woman’s sexual sin?

Fact is, sin happens in everyone’s life. My problem with sin is that I excel at it.

Paul would write in his letter to the Romans, ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ And he would write in 1 Timothy 1:15 ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst.’ Paul isn’t just describing his former life, persecuting the first Christians. No, Paul sees his life as still flawed and in need of the transforming grace of God at every turn.

Paul also expressed this struggle between the old flesh life and the new life in his letter to the Romans. He’d celebrate that sin is no longer his master nor defines him, yet acknowledges that sin remains present and he has to choose between desires that flow from his old nature and desires that flow from the new. That lifelong re-forming process doesn’t remove our potential for sin, but it does enable us to live in a way that is more. More whole, more alive, more connected, more divine.

If our hope rested on being sin-free we’d all be hope-less. But true hope rests in God showing His scandalous kindness toward us in Jesus who came to save sinners like us, from sin like ours.

Sin lives on but it’s not what it used to be, so why make it what it was? Instead of sin being a battle we can’t win, now in Jesus, it’s a battle we can’t lose. So how do we deal with it?

500 years ago, Martin Luther wrote ‘all of life is repentance.’ If we would let our hearts and minds  swell with Jesus’ life and love, and if we would daily confess our sin and turn from it, well I suspect Jesus' way could increasingly look and feel like the very best way to live. And in the process, we might find new capacity to love others without the bitter impulse of judgement.

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 

(2 Corinthians 5:19)

15 March 2017

Designed for Desire

A 60 Minutes film crew visited church a few weeks ago to film a story about one of our members. The story aired on Sunday and while I thought it was great, my kids were a bit miffed that we only got 10 seconds of air time. Driving to school the next day my eldest daughter said, ‘Dad, were you disappointed you weren’t on TV?’ ‘No darling,’ I said. ‘I didn’t want to be on TV anyway. I’m not interested in being famous.’ Then, driving out the school gate, a little voice inside said ‘So why did you get your hair cut and wear new clothes that day?’ Busted! True, it was haircut week and staff photo day but ok I confess, something in me liked the idea of at least being glimpsed on TV. That’s a little embarrassing to share but I think it’s worth the confession.

We are designed to desire. It’s woven into our image-bearing nature. Desire is the fuel for so many good things. For example, the desire to be known, to be loved, to protect and provide, to explore, to create and to worship. But desire has a dark side. Desire that derives from our pain, our insecurities or brokenness promise life but ultimately steals it.

Even my best desires can be skewed, and thankfully I’m in good company with Jesus’ first disciples. Like that awkward conversation with James and John about who will sit on Jesus’ right and left. James and John even enlisted their mother in as a lobbyist.

I love that Jesus works with people who are still working out their desires. There is hope for me yet. How about you? Can you identify some significant desires in your life, good or not so good? Are there any mixed motives in there?

When we take time to honestly reflect on the things we do and why, we can become conscious to any unconscious desires. We then have a clearer opportunity  to submit those thoughts to the Spirit and pursue change.

I’m kicking off Lifewords 2017 with this topic because I know I need to keep checking my desires about this venture, and everything else for that matter. So here are 4 good questions worth asking about anything you are doing, especially if you are ‘doing it for God.’

Why am I really doing this?
Is there something I’m trying to prove?
Who am I actually doing this for?
What do I get out of this?

We are all designed to passionately desire. ‘Hunger and thirst,’ Jesus said. For righteousness, for his kingdom and mostly, for Him. Paul would echo this in Romans 13.14 when he wrote ‘clothe yourselves (your thoughts and desires) with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.’ I suspect that the more we keep Jesus and his Kingdom at the centre of our desires, our other desires will increasingly find their right place and healthy expression.

Do you have one or more desires in particular that you might need help with? I wonder if you’ll have much more success if you can be courageous enough to share it with a trusted friend? Freedom awaits.