I am God’s child

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God; and we are!
1 John 3:1 (NKJV)

I will never forget what it was like holding my children as newborn babies. They were so small and seemingly insignificant in the big scheme of things, but they instantly came to mean the world to me. I never got tired of staring at them, from their cute button noses, down to the incredible perfection of their fingernails. The love that I felt for them is one of the purest emotions I have ever experienced, and with each child, I found myself filled with a resolve to care for them with everything I had within me. The primal need to protect and provide for them was almost frightening in its intensity.

Now, it doesn’t take long for the reality of life with small children to come crashing in and cause some of the rose-tinted post-natal feelings to dim temporarily. Changing the endless supply of poopy nappies, routinely cleaning the weird milky sick that only babies produce, and mopping up the copious quantities of all other kinds of bodily fluids can be pretty relentless. Not to mention the sleepless nights. Did you know that sleep deprivation is a legit torture technique? True story!

Yet, even in the midst of the trials and tribulations that make up parenting a young baby, there were still moments where I would be privileged to carry one of my children in my arms as they slept. Where there was once a snivelling toddler moaning about being given the wrong colour plate, suddenly as if by magic, they would transform into my baby again! The glow of parental first love is revived, the stinkiness and hassle are all forgotten, and I’m back to being ready to lay down my life if they required it. This happened once at a friend’s wedding, and while my daughter slept I found myself singing gently over her:

I love you little one!
You are beautiful, so beautiful.
My beautiful girl, I love you!

As I finished singing, I sensed the small, insistent voice that I’ve come to recognise as the nudging of the Holy Spirit stir within me. To my great shock, He was singing my impromptu song back over me:

I love you, my son!
You are beautiful, so beautiful.
My beautiful boy, I love you!

For the briefest of moments, sensing the Father’s love, I allowed myself to feel what I have always wanted my own children to sense from me – just how deeply, truly, and passionately they are loved by their Dad. The tenderness of that moment took me by surprise as I realised afresh that I am loved with a great love, straight from the heart of the Father, expressed supremely in Jesus laying down His life for me and all the other prodigal sons who were far from home.

Unlike my own inconstant heart, our heavenly Dad doesn’t have moments where the hassles of looking after us get too much for Him, causing His affections to dim. Those who trust in Jesus are reborn and are privileged to be called the children of God. He views us with the devoted gaze of a father staring in wonder at their newborn child, always ready to care for us and provide what we need.

Living under the loving care of our heavenly Dad changes everything. We can live free from fear, safe in the knowledge that our Dad is the Lord Almighty and more than able to handle whatever difficulties we’re facing. Knowing that He loves us and that we have His attention, we can tell Him about what is worrying us, what is exciting us, what we would like to see happen and find peace in sharing our hearts with Him (Phil 4:6-7). As our good Father, we can trust Him to empower us and give us what we need to overcome in any circumstance, thriving and bearing good fruit no matter what comes our way (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13).

Perhaps the deepest thing of all is that we can live knowing that we are actually wanted, triply-desired by our Father; the first time when He made us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14), the second time when Jesus died for us even while we were still messed up and filthy with our sin (Romans 5:8), and the third time when we were given the right to be called His children (John 1:12-13, 1 John 3:1). We can live with a sense of significance, knowing that we are loved by the most important Person in the universe, who loves us so much that He literally moved heaven and earth to make us part of His family.

Before you do anything else today, rest in His lavish love.

Sing To The King – Eoghan Heaslip & Laura Story

Sing to the King Who is coming to reign
Glory to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain
Life and salvation His empire shall bring
And joy to the nations when Jesus is King

Come, let us sing a song
A song declaring that we belong to Jesus
He is all we need
Lift up a heart of praise
Sing now with voices raised to Jesus
Sing to the King

For His returning we watch and we pray
We will be ready the dawn of that day
We’ll join in singing with all the redeemed
‘Cause Satan is vanquished and my Jesus is King

What a Beautiful Name – Hillsong

You were the Word at the beginning
One with God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in You our Christ

What a beautiful Name it is
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a beautiful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus You brought heaven down
My sin was great Your love was greater
What could separate us now?

What a wonderful Name it is
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a wonderful Name it is
Nothing compares to this
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus
What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

Death could not hold You
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring the praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all Names

What a powerful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a powerful Name it is
Nothing can stand against
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

The Cause of Christ – Kari Jobe

The only thing I want in life
Is to be known for loving Christ.
To build His church, to love His bride,
And make His name known far and wide

For this cause I live
For this cause I’d die
I surrender all
For the cause of Christ
All I once held dear
I will leave behind
For my joy is this
Oh the cause of Christ

He is all my soul will prize
Regardless of the joy or trial
When agonising questions rise
In Jesus all my hope abides

Jesus my Jesus
For Your glory for Your name
Jesus my Jesus
I will only sing Your praise

It is not fame that I desire
Nor stature in my brother’s eye
I pray it’s said about my life
That I lived more to build Your name than mine

Why do I blog?

I have written a blog in one form or another for ten years. I have never been the most consistent blogger, and I sometimes wonder what it is about blogging that keeps calling me back. In particular, why do I find that the most compelling thing to blog about is my faith?

Some blogs are created by experts who aim to share their knowledge with the world; that is by no means this blog! I’ve not formally studied theology or biblical studies and I’m not a pastor, minister, or leader. I’m not a person of any great influence, and there’s no particular reason anyone should listen to what I have to say. What’s more, as far as I’m aware, there are no people clamouring to read my thoughts on life, the universe, and everything.

So why does this amateur Christian bother with blogging?

Obedience to the Lord

The main reason I blog is that I feel a sense of calling toward blogging. When I am reading the Bible or other spiritual/theological books, I naturally find myself drawn to write things down. This often goes into personal notebooks, or else to my social media feeds, but recently I have felt it important that I get more intentional about engaging with this impulse to write. This leads me to believe that blogging and writing is one aspect of what it is for me to faithfully follow Jesus and grow in His grace. It is a practice that I want to cultivate and grow in.

For myself

Personal discipleship

Before anything else, my blog is a place for me to explore what it is to know and love Jesus well. It’s a space where I can share the things that are stirring my heart, piquing my interest, challenging me, or else work through things that are niggling me. It allows me to share what I’m reading in the Scriptures, extended quotes from books, or link to other articles and blog posts that I’ve found useful. The blog format basically allows me to think out loud, but the fact that my thoughts are published for the world to see forces me to actually put some effort into presenting things clearly and concisely. This then prepares me for sharing my faith in the real world and stimulates greater growth in discipleship.

Better focus

My Myers-Briggs prayer is “Lord, help me finish the things I sta…” Naturally speaking, I find that I can too-easily flit from thought to thought, subject to subject, book to book, and project to project. Posting to a public blog requires a certain amount of discipline and provides an opportunity to overcome innate flightiness and focus on something in a deeper way than may otherwise occur.

A love for writing

A final personal reason for blogging is that I have always loved to read and write. Long before I ever embarked on becoming a professional geek, I wanted to be an author when I grew up. Since I don’t always feel grown up yet, I figure there’s still time and this blog is a good first step!

For others

While my main aim in blogging is personal growth, I know that some of the things I have written in the past have been helpful to others. Sometimes this happens deliberately, where I publish posts that I believe I have been led to write. More often than not, this happens by accident with something that I never intended to serve any greater purpose resonating with someone. Another aim in blogging, then, is to bless others with the things I write.

While the word ‘bless’ implies a warm and tingly feeling that all is right with the world, I believe it also covers the messiness and discomfort that we experience as we go through daily life. To that end, I’d also like to bless others by stimulating discussion and disagreement. The spiel above regarding my qualifications to write a blog was no mere exercise in humility. I don’t have everything sewn up, and I would value any challenge to the things I write so that we can all learn together.

So these are the reasons I find myself constantly drawn to blogging. Hopefully, you’ll find the things I write interesting and useful. I’d be even happier if you ask questions, leave comments, and in any other way engage with what I write. It may even be that seeing my reasons for blogging has made you want to get going yourself. In many ways, that would be the best outcome of all!

Sovereign Over Us – Vineyard

There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You’re sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You’re teaching us to trust

Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You’re with us in the fire and the flood
You’re faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us

You are wisdom unimagined
Who could understand Your ways
Reigning high above the Heavens
Reaching down in endless grace
You’re the lifter of the lowly
Compassionate and kind
You surround and You uphold me
And Your promises are my delight

Even what the enemy means for evil
You turn it for our good
You turn it for our good and for Your glory

Even in the valley, You are faithful
You’re working for our good
You’re working for our good and for Your glory

Just remember who you are

As a Dad to two girls, I have watched the latest live-action version of Disney’s Cinderella a time or ten! The last time it was playing in our house, the final showdown between Cinderella and her wicked stepmother caught my attention. Having done her utmost to trample over Cinderella’s happy ending, the stepmother is surprised to find that the King himself has come to seek his bride, and there seems to be nothing she can do about it.

She first tries to forbid Cinderella from descending the staircase where the King awaits to return the glass slipper that would prove her identity. An officer of the King rebuffed this attempt, and so the stepmother wields her final weapons: intimidation and scorn. Her words reveal the contempt that filled her heart: “Just remember who you are, you wretch!” Driven by jealousy and spite, the stepmother seeks to put Cinderella in her place. With all the venom she can muster, she tells Cinderella that she is nothing; a worthless wretch, who is only fit to serve her and her daughters.

Here is the dramatic climax of the story. Will Cinderella believe her stepmother’s lies? Has she been broken enough by the abuse she has received? Can she believe that there is a happily ever after if she can muster the courage to go down the stairs and meet her date with destiny?

Those of us who follow Jesus have a similar enemy. He comes against us breathing out lies about who we are and what we are worth. Where there are sins and temptations, he takes delight in reminding us of them, always suggesting that we are a lost cause. Where we have been hurt, he tells us that this is what we deserved all along. In the midst of fear and tribulation, he breathes out words of despair and doubt – “How could God possibly love you? You’re a wretch; a worm. You are just not worth bothering with!” In this way, the enemy intimidates and denigrates those whom God loves.

All-too-often, he doesn’t actually need to say anything at all. When we sin, we wallow in self-condemnation until we feel we have suffered enough. When things go wrong, we rarely rise up and fight against the situations we find ourselves in. We simply accept the opposition and go on believing that it’s our lot in life. Beaten down, we kneel in the dust and let the thief come to kill, steal, and destroy, living far below the abundant life that Jesus came to bring (John 10:10). Our own conscience, doubts, fears, and worries suffocate the good news of Jesus Christ – that we are forgiven, loved, accepted, and included in Him.

Like Cinderella, we have a choice before us. We can continue to believe the lies, and remain holed up in the dusty attic that has become our prison. We can live out our lives in glumness and misery, and console ourselves with the thought that at least we’ll get to go to heaven one day.

Or we can do what Cinderella did. We can refuse to believe the lies, and choose to meet with our King. Cinderella’s Kit left no stone unturned in the search for his bride, even joining the search party personally. In the same way, Jesus, our King, has moved heaven and earth to seek us out. He left His home, became just like us, and died our death that we might live. He then rose again so that He may claim His bride and be with us forever.

Our King longs for us to know Him in closeness and intimacy. The desire of His heart is that we would accept His view of us, and live in daily fellowship with Him. He is willing us to step out of the prisons we find ourselves in, descend the staircase, and find out the truth – that we are truly loved by the King!

Today, shut out the voice that condemns – whether it be demonic or your own self-condemnation and pride. Turn your ear to heaven, and hear your King speak:

“Just remember who you are, my beloved!”

Jesus-centred spiritual formation – Dallas Willard and Don Simpson

I have just started reading a book that has been on my shelf for several years: Revolution of Character, by Don Simpson and Dallas Willard. The book is an abridgement and distillation by Simpson of Willard’s book Renovation of the Heart. Recent sin in my life has made me hunger again for robust and deep spiritual formation, yet I’m still wary of legalistic effort-driven approaches to personal holiness because I know they don’t work.

This summary of spiritual formation from Revolution of Character gives me hope that there really is a grace-empowered, Jesus-centred way of spiritual formation that can bring true life transformation (emphasis mine):

Christian spiritual formation is focused entirely on Jesus. Its goal is conformity to Christ, a process that arises out of purposeful interaction with the grace of God in Christ. Obedience is an essential outcome (see John 13:34-35; 14:21).

However, we cannot manifest Christlikeness through a primary focus on external behavior. When externals are the main emphasis, spiritual formation doesn’t really happen. The process falls into deadening legalisms. This is what has happened so often in the past. Peculiar modes of dress, behavior, and organization don’t change the heart.

Externalism was a danger even in New Testament times. But “that Christ be formed within you” has always been the true watchword of Christian spiritual formation (Galatians 4:19). This watchword is fortified by the deep moral and spiritual insight that while “the letter of the law kills, the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

To illustrate briefly, Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5-7) refer to various wrong behaviors: acting out in anger, looking so as to lust, heartless divorce, verbal manipulation, returning evil for evil, and so forth. But as abundant experience teaches, to strive merely to act in conformity with Jesus’ expressions of what living in the kingdom of God is like is to attempt the impossible. We may work hard at it and keep up a good front for a while, but eventually we fall flat on our faces.

Holy Spirit – Kari Jobe

There’s nothing worth more that will ever come close
No thing can compare, You’re our living hope
Your presence, Lord

I’ve tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free and my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord

Let us become more aware of Your presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness

Rediscovering the beauty of Christ – Brian Zahnd

All who have placed their trust in Christ are, by definition, on a journey that requires repentance and rethinking. The Greek word typically translated as ‘repentance’ in English could be translated ‘change your mind’, and is a fundamental practice for disciples of Christ. Thankfully, most of us don’t have to do it as Brian Zahnd has done in recent years and worry about pastoring a mega-church through the change.

Soon after coming to faith, Zahnd was influenced by the Jesus movement. He started Word of Life Church with the desire to share Jesus Christ with those who don’t know Him. As the church grew, it fit comfortably into the independent charismatic/evangelical mould. As time went on, Zahnd found himself hungering for a deeper faith, which he discovered with the help of the early church fathers. As he has radically re-oriented himself around Jesus and His Kingdom, Zahnd has both written books about his journey and managed to lead Word of Life Church in the same direction.

In a recent blog post, Brian Zahnd shared about different metaphors and images that could be used to describe the journey of discovery he has been on. He shares a few metaphors that he finds helpful, and explains why he doesn’t like the motif of deconstruction. The full post is well worth reading, but I found the last few paragraphs particularly inspiring, dovetailing nicely with the name I have given this relaunched blog:

My journey of rediscovering the beauty of Christ was mostly a journey I travelled in prayer. It’s true that I read a ton of good theology, but this only changed my mind. My heart was changed as I learned to sit with Jesus in contemplative prayer.

Don’t deconstruct…pray. Sit with Jesus. Gaze upon his beauty. See the beautiful image of Christ lying under the patina of distortion. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Then wipe away the false varnish with your tears of gratitude. This is restoration, not deconstruction. This is what will save your faith.

Check out the full post:

Deconstruction or Restoration? – Brian Zahnd

Deconstruction or Restoration? Brian Zahnd In describing my journey of rethinking Christianity over the past twelve years I’ve used a couple of metaphors. One I call “End of the Line.” I first used this metaphor when speaking to the staff of Charisma Publishing six years ago.