Stop Grumbling and Start Shining

Palace_of_Westminster_at_sunset

The upcoming general election has seriously done my head in over recent days!

Historically I have always voted as you’d expect a boy from the Welsh valleys to vote – red! However, as this current election campaign has rolled on I’ve found myself increasingly disillusioned by much of what each of the parties have to offer. I’m tired of all the spin and sick of hearing politicians bad-mouthing each other. But I think what has affected me most deeply as I’ve watched debates and flicked through manifestos is the unavoidable, inescapable reality that we are not merely a non-Christian country…we are fast becoming an anti-Christian country!

But with the help of some insightful articles by Andrew Wilson and John Stevens, coupled with some great conversations with my mate Jim, here’s where I have landed…

i) The role of politicians is to represent the people they serve.

I dunno exactly what percentage of the UK would be Christ following, Bible-believing Christians, but it’s probably somewhere between 1% and 5% of the population. Let’s be optimistic and go for 5%. Basic mathematics tells me that 95% of the UK don’t follow Jesus and are not led by the teaching of Scripture. I also dunno how many of our MPs are Christians, but it’s probably a similar percentage. Therefore, why in the world should we be surprised that so much recent legislation and political decision making is at odds with a gospel worldview?! While 95% of our nation shakes a fist in God’s face and opts instead for a society that is free from the ‘shackles’ of antiquated religion, I think it’s fair to say that our politicians are doing a great job of representing the people they serve!

ii) The role of the church is to offer salvation to the people.

God’s people have always had a mandate to be part of transforming the lives of those around them. Israel was established to be a blessing to the pagan nations that surrounded her, which they generally sucked at! One of my favourite passages in Scripture is Ezekiel 36 where God promises to cleanse and restore His rebellious people.

Why?

Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord (v36)

Similarly, when Jesus gathered His disciples around Him to teach them on a mountainside, He gave them this charge:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5 v 14-16)

Furthermore, Paul encouraged the Philippians with these words:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2 v 14-16)

These verses in Philippians are especially poignant at a time when there is such disillusionment with politics and politicians. Imagine if one of the things that set God’s people…including me…apart from the 95% right now was that we chose to stop grumbling and start shining. To live, love, serve and speak as those empowered and impassioned by the gospel that is still the power of God for the salvation of all who believe!

iii) The politics will change when the people change

So if the role of politicians is to represent the people they serve. And the current political direction of our country is uncomfortable and undesirable for the 5% then PRAISE GOD because with the gospel in our hands and on our lips we have the power to see serious, seismic change because the gospel changes people and people change politics!

I love the story of Jonah the runaway revivalist. When he eventually rocked up to Nineveh, he didn’t tell the people that change could only come by rising up and dethroning the king who ruled over them. Instead he preached an 8 word gospel nugget to the men and women on the streets who responded in repentant faith, and such was the scale of the transformation on the street-level that word soon reached the king, who in turn brought in sweeping new laws that honoured God! (Jonah 3 v 6-9)

In conclusion then, let’s not allow the dire social mess and bleak political landscape that confronts us to steal our joy or rob us of hope. Rather, let’s see it as a divine moment to rise up as the people that God has commissioned and conditioned us to be. Let’s stop grumbling. Let’s start shining. Let’s step out with a fresh urgency to be on mission with Jesus to seek and save the lost.

Let’s see what God can do with five faithful percent who are on fire for Him!

And by God’s grace, let that change start with me!

Graced and Grateful

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A few weeks ago I posted a blog that clearly made quite a big impact on people. It certainly received more hits and sparked more interaction than anything else I’ve posted for quite some time. So, here I am 2 weeks later and I thought it would be good to do a follow-up post to give an update on where I’m currently at, as well as to reflect upon some of the things that I wrote in that post.

Before I get going I just want to say thank you to everyone who connected with me off the back of the original post. There were plenty of comments  left on the page, and the number of text messages, tweets, emails and conversations that I had in the following days was quite overwhelming. It is clear that, while many commended my ‘courage’ for posting what I did, others were understandably upset and concerned by what they read. To be honest I’m kind of in two minds about whether or not I should have posted what I did, how I did, or when I did! The last thing I wanted to do was upset anyone, either in my own church family, or friends from further afield. With hindsight I possibly could have waited a little longer and phrased some things differently, so if my words upset anyone I am sincerely sorry.

Similarly, I acknowledge that there was definitely an element of unhealthy ‘self-pity’ that came through in what I posted. In fact, ‘unhealthy’ is probably the wrong word. ‘Sinful’ is a more appropriate term! I was recently challenged by an article I read explaining that, while the pressures on those in ministry are no doubt considerable and in some ways unique, there are also many blessings that I enjoy purely because of the life that God has called me too. These include:

  • Getting to eat breakfast and do school runs with my kids while most dads are already in work.
  • Having more time to study Scripture and pray each week than most other Christians do.
  • Enjoying more than my fair share of conferences and fellowship opportunities.
  • Pastoring a church who I know genuinely love me and my family.

To write of wanting to quit in the way that I did was self-indulgent, disrespectful and ungrateful and I have repented of this attitude. If it came across that way to you, then I sincerely ask for your forgiveness.

Finally (for this first bit), and perhaps most importantly, what I have been most convicted about was that to speak so flippantly of throwing in the towel was to totally disregard the privilege of the call of God upon my life. Not everyone is called to preach the gospel and serve God’s people full-time, and I acknowledge that this ministry was not and is not my idea. It was God’s idea. God’s call. God’s purpose for my life. He gave me this work to do for His glory and so He’s the only One who can and will decide when my work is done. I thank God that I never actually did quit, but God knows that I really wanted to, which means that in that moment my heart was both disobedient and idolatrous (I was seeking to be Lord of my own life). Again, I have repented of these attitudes.

However, having said all that, I think that there were still some very positive outcomes from my post. Firstly, it was actually very good for me to get what I did off my chest. What I expressed was very extreme…but that’s because what I was experiencing was also very extreme. It’s very tempting as pastor, leader, author etc. to present a phoney public version of myself as a strong, resilient, heroic man of God. The truth is, I’m not. I’m weak, needy and utterly grace-dependant. For what it’s worth I’m glad that I was able to be honest about that. To tear the mask off and let people see the real me. I really do suck…and it’s OK to acknowledge that, so long as where it leads me is not self-indulgent depreciation, but Christ-centred celebration:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12 v 9-10

Secondly, it is CRAZY how many ministers, pastors and full-time church workers got in touch with me to say that what I expressed was something that they either had experienced in the past or were currently going through, and to thank me for putting words to their feelings. If nothing else, I feel more compelled than ever to pray for other pastors and leaders and also to be quicker to ask others to pray for me. I humbly ask that you also would be in regular prayer for your pastors and leaders. God knows they need it!

Finally, I have been reminded again of just how genuinely loved me and my family are. People have gone above and beyond the call of duty to pour love on the Hankeys in recent weeks. Family, friends, brothers and sisters from my home church, my church planting network, my publishers, encouraging scriptures, sincere prayer, cups of coffee, offers of babysitters and holidays, even a timely hug…it has done my soul such good to know the love of God expressed in both word and deed and I am DEEPLY grateful for the people God has placed in my life, not least my incredible wife, Michelle.

So there we have it. As I reflect on recent turbulent days I do so with a mixture of humble repentance and gratitude for grace. I am persuaded that God is in the process of emptying me of myself so that He can fill me with more of Himself. This is both daunting and very exciting! Am I out of the woods emotionally? Spiritually? Physically? Dunno! But to be honest, I’m not sure that those are the right questions! Better questions would be: Am I secure in the grip of God’s grace? In the centre of God’s will? In the love of God’s people?

Yes I am!

So I’m crackin’ on to the glory of God!

The Lord upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.

Psalm 145 v 14

Resignation and Resurrection

I almost didn’t post this article. It’s one of the most raw and honest blog posts I’ve ever written and I wasn’t sure if it gave too much of a window into where I’ve been spiritually and emotionally lately. However, it’s all true and authentic and if it helps just one despairing Christian, even one engaged in gospel ministry, then it would have been worth it…


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2 weeks ago I faced what is undoubtedly one of the hardest moments I’ve ever had to face in my life.

It was a Wednesday evening and I had called an emergency church meeting.

I gathered myself, rose from my seat, walked to the front of the chapel, swallowed hard and turned around to address my Hill City family. Tears filled my eyes as I scanned the room. There in front of me were scores of faces. Some young, some old. Some of whom I’ve known for only a short time, many of whom I have had the privilege of journeying with for years. All of whom I loved deeply. I’m sure that some had clocked that something wasn’t quite right. Others I don’t think had a clue what was about to go down…

Guys….I’m really sorry….but I’m done….I can’t do this anymore….I can’t be your pastor anymore….I’m just done….I’m so sorry!!

There was stunned silence as I went on to explain that it had all just got too much for me. That I clearly wasn’t cut out for pastoral ministry, or any kind of ministry for that matter!

I explained that I was exhausted.

Exasperated.

Discouraged.

Frustrated.

Wounded.

I was emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually shattered.

Quitting was the last thing I had wanted to do. It’s not something I’ve ever done before and certainly not how I had envisaged my church planting adventure to end. But here I was – a broken man, with no energy, no fight and, perhaps most worryingly of all – no faith!

The whole scene was pathetic…and thank God…no one actually heard or saw any of it because it had all happened in my head.

The resignation was real, but it never made it beyond my troubled, turbulent mind.

Truth is, if at that moment (3am on Thursday 2nd April) I had been put in front of my church family – all of the above would have happened. As it was, I was all alone with only my doubts, my tears and irrational fears for company. That was until my wife, Michelle, invaded the trauma I was experiencing and did more to arrest my slide into a personal abyss than she’ll ever truly know.

She didn’t chastise me. She didn’t tell me to pull myself together. She didn’t reassure me that it was all going to be OK. She just hugged me, listened to me as I poured out SO MUCH pain and confusion. And then spoke truth to me and prayed for me. One of the things that Michelle prayed was the key to my escape. She prayed something along the lines of:

Father, may the truths that Dai has been thinking through this week sink deep into his heart and transform him.

Literally, as she prayed that my mind went straight to one of the passages that I had been meditating on during the week as part of my prep for the Easter Sunday sermon. The passage was 1 Corinthians 15. However, by this point I was far too emotionally spent to study the Bible, so it had to wait til the following morning. And sure enough, the following morning God met with me in His Word and things started to change.

The first 57 verses of 1 Corinthians 15 are some of the most compelling words ever written about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. They reach their crescendo in this way:

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(v 56-57)

Those are wonderful words, but it was the following, final verse that the Holy Spirit was going to use to do His deep work within me:

THEREFORE, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(v58)

I emboldened and underlined the word ‘therefore’ because it is so crucial in how God did His work in me. ‘Therefore’ is a link word that essentially says “Because of X then Y”. Or in this specific instance, “because Jesus is not dead but is alive we…I…can and SHOULD be steadfast, immovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord!”

It was as if someone had turned on a light bulb that literally caused my heart to be flooded with light and hope. Jesus is alive – and He’s alive in me, which means that I am not condemned to having to fight…and to flounder…and to fail! Rather, in the power of the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave, my life and my ministry can and SHOULD be

Steadfast.

Immovable.

Abounding.

Those are big, strong words that even the most broken and busted up can build their lives on. They are the words that God used to heal my wounded heart, to restore my hope, refresh my vision, to rebuild my shattered confidence and to remind me yet again of my own dire need for the grace of the gospel of Jesus!

Armed with these truths I was able to take time over the days that followed to trace back to the source of where the wheels had started to come off. There were lies I had believed. Truths I had failed to believe. Sins I needed to forgive. Sins I needed to confess. A family who needed to be led by a warrior, not a wimp. It was as I prayed alone in my car on Good Friday morning that the fog truly lifted. That spiritual vitality and clear vision returned.

And by God’s grace – they have remained!

As I write this it all seems like an age ago. But it wasn’t – it was just a fortnight ago! Just 2 weeks ago I quit! It may have been in my head, but it was very, VERY real. I thank God for my incredibly patient, faithful, gracious wife who shone grace in to my life in my darkest hour. I thank God for the friends and accountability partners who I have confided in since who have prayed, supported, encouraged and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me. But above all I thank the Father that my Redeemer lives! Jesus is ALIVE and this truth, more than anything else, changes everything.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

A29 Conference: Behold the Man

One of the greatest blessings I have enjoyed in my 7 years of church planting has been my involvement in the Acts 29 church planting network. The quality of brotherhood, support, teaching and resourcing has been invaluable to both myself, Michelle and our church family. Therefore one of the highlights of the year is always the annual conference.

This year the conference, Behold the Man, is due to be held in Nottingham and promises to be a great few days:

If you are involved or interested in church planting, especially in a European context, then I want to seriously encourage you to get yourself booked in. More information about the conference can be found here.

Look forward to seeing some of you there!

Sex Trafficking and Salvation – Stories of Redemption from Moldova

Next Thursday evening I am thrilled to be running an event in Cardiff that I am busting to let you know about and to invite you to come along to:

RED SESSIONS Poster March 2015

The speaker for the evening will be Vladimir Ubeivolc, founder and director of Beginning of Life (BOL), Moldova.*

Here’s a bit about Vladimir:

Vladimir Ubeivolc was born into a country in crisis. In 1972, his nation of Moldova was still part of the Soviet Union, and his father was a devout Communist. When the Iron Curtain fell in the year 1991, things only got worse. Moldova became an isolated economic backwater, earning the dubious distinction of Europe’s poorest nation. In turn, family lives have fallen apart; violence against women is common, the divorce rate has reached 70%, and countless women and children have been sold into human trafficking. In the last ten years, more than 30,000 Moldovan women have disappeared without a trace.

Inspired by God, Vladimir Ubeivolc has returned to his home country to help solve this problem. As a child, Vladimir’s Christian mother passed on a keen interest in God. In his early twenties, Vladimir committed his life to Christ and at 23 he enrolled in Chisinau Bible College to study Christian Education. He later went on to complete his degree at Saint-Petersburg Christian University and while there, he met his wife Yulia.

While Yulia studied for her MA in Psychology, she began working with pregnant women in crisis. Her passion for pregnant women and single mothers continued to grow as she encountered numerous victims of trafficking and rape who desired abortions because of their circumstances.

After graduating, Vladimir and Yulia married and moved back to Vladimir’s home town of Chisinau, where they witnessed many women in desperate situations. In response, Yulia began a support program—offered through their church—which provided counselling and material assistance to vulnerable women. Vladimir became an active teacher and was appointed the Dean of the Christian Education department at Chisinau Bible College.

But it was not until Vladimir enrolled in the PhD program at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in 2000 that he began to see Yulia’s work as a part of the church’s mission. As he studied Luke 4, he had a revelation that he was called to help those outside of the church, building bridges to serve needy people in society. With this new thinking he joined Yulia to grow her vision for women in need. They named the new ministry Beginning of Life (BOL).

The situation in Moldova is still dire. But the hundreds of women that have been helped by Vladimir and Yulia’s ministry can truly say that they have found a new beginning of life.

This exciting event will be held next Thursday (12th March) 7pm at Minster Christian Centre. Admission is free but an offering will be taken towards the work of Beginning of Life.

Hopefully see you there.

* Moldova was described on the Nefarious documentary as the ‘Frontier of Failure’ in the battle against human trafficking in Europe.

How should we pray for those being persecuted by Islamic State? (Repost)

I posted this last year, but in light of recent atrocities I felt I should edit and repost it…

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Events in Iraq, Syria and, more recently Libya, have affected me very, very deeply.

The brutality being unleashed by the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) across the middle east is unlike anything I have ever heard of or comprehended. Children decapitated and cut in half. Women raped and sold into slavery. Entire families being buried alive in mass graves. Christians crucified and beheaded. Property seized. Churches burned. Hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing into the deserts and hills to escape, many dying of thirst and exposure before ever finding safety.

It is sheer evil.

There is no other way to describe it.

Admittedly, not all who are suffering are Christians, as it seems that anyone who doesn’t hold to the same twisted ideology as IS is likely to be annihilated by the merciless Jihadists. However, many, like the 21 Egyptian Copts decapitated on a Libyan beach, are Christians. They may look different, dress different, speak in a language I can’t understand and observe customs and traditions that are foreign to me, but they worship the same Jesus – and that makes them family.

Furthermore, the Bible tells us that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer, compelling us to remember those who are suffering for the sake of Christ.

I have to confess that I have been struggling over recent days to know how to ‘remember’ them. I have had no problem remembering their suffering as it’s pretty much all that I can think about. The problem that I have is knowing how to remember them in prayer! Sometimes I am stunned into silence. Other times tears are all that I can muster! However, when I can bring myself to pray, here are some of the things I have found helpful to focus on:

1. Remember who God is
A phrase that I live by and that I have used to encourage others over many years is this: “God is good and He is in control.” I have to confess that when I look at Iraq right now I find it harder to believe those truths. But they are nonetheless true! God is good. And He is sovereign. The Bible proclaims these truths over and over again. The horrors of Iraq tell us more about the depravity of the human heart and the inability of mankind to make sense of, let alone a difference to, the chaos of this fractured world, than they do about the nature and character of God. So as you pray, do so secure in the knowledge that God is forever love and that He still sits on the throne. Nothing that is happening today is happening outside of His control or outside of His care. Remember also that we pray to the Father through Jesus – a Great High Priest who understands suffering, sorrow and slaughter from first-hand experience:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
(Hebrews 4 v 15-16)

2. Pray for our brothers and sisters:

The saints of Iraq need our prayers. Here are some important things that we should be praying for our brothers and sisters:

  • Pray that they would receive the protection and provision that they so desperately need.* (Psalm 18 v 1-6)
  • Pray that they would know the comforting presence of the Prince of Peace. (2 Corinthians 1 v 3-7)
  • Pray that they would be filled with inexpressible joy in the midst of unimaginable pain. (James 1 v 2-3)
  • Pray that God would fill them with supernatural love for their enemies. (Matthew 5 v 43-48)

3. Pray for the terrorists 
The story of the Apostle Paul reminds us that God CAN transform the heart of a terrorist:

“I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15 v 9-10)

However, the Psalms also give us words to pray for God to deliver swift and decisive justice to perpetrators of evil:

“O God, break the teeth [of the wicked] in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!”
(Psalm 58 v 6)

Therefore our prayer should be “Lord, Save them or stop them. Redeem them or remove them!”

4. Pray for the gospel to advance

We are currently studying the book of Acts in church and it is striking how the Lord so often used times of extreme persecution to spread the gospel further afield:

“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria…Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8 v 1 + 4)

As we hear about thousands upon thousands of Christians being displaced by persecution, let’s be praying that the legacy would be the gospel preached more widely and more churches planted across the region.

5. Pray for global leaders

We really need to be praying for global leaders right now. Politicians both in Iraq, in surrounding nations and the western nations that are also involved in this mess. Pray that God would grant them both wisdom and courage:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1Timothy 2 v 2)

Pray also for the pastors and other Christian leaders on the ground in Iraq. Pray that they would shepherd God’s people well, that they would know epic grace as they seek to lead their small, suffering flocks through turbulent times, and that they would model King Jesus with their words and actions.

6. Pray with eternal perspective

This is so vital! We forget in the comfortable west that persecution and death aren’t the worst thing that can happen to Christians. While we should certainly not be happy to see our brothers and sisters suffering as they are, and should be crying out to God for mercy on their behalf, we need to remember that they are blessed.

Yes, BLESSED!!!

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5 v 10)

Those who are paying for their faith with their lives are being sent home to Jesus. As we pray, let’s remember that heaven is the blissful reality that awaits all true followers of Christ. In heaven there is no more sorrow, pain, death, tears or terrorism. That’s why Paul could write:

“to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1 v 21)

7. Pray without ceasing

Finally, let’s not stop praying about this. Prayer is hard and unglamorous. But let’s not jack it in. Rather, let’s take a leaf out of a persistent widow’s book and keep asking, seeking and knocking until our God responds:

“And [Jesus] told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
(Luke 18 v 1-8)

OK, that’s enough from me.

Let’s pray…

* If you want to become an answer to your own prayers and contribute financially to the persecuted saints in Iraq you can do so through Open Doors here. Alternatively you can sponsor me as I raise funds for Open Doors this coming weekend here.

Jump School Kickstarter

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I have many friends in church planting circles, but my friend Peyton Jones is among the best!

His passion for Christ, coupled with his love for planting and planters means that he’s always got something up his sleeve, and today I want to tell you about the latest thing…and to ask you to get behind it if you can!

Here’s the lowdown…

Jump School is a church planter core team training series. It will give your core team the training they need in 6 easy steps.

As a church planter trainer, the most commonly asked question by planters that I get is “How do I train my core team?”

My name is Peyton Jones and I’m a serial church planter. I plant a church, raise up leadership and move on to plant up another church. In addition, I help planters in all parts of the world plant their church.

This video series uses a World War 2 theme where we will be following a team of paratroopers as they jump into Normandy to free enemy captives and take No Man’s Land.

During these six training videos I will walk you through essential core team training.

You will be able to show these videos to your team of planters, ensuring that they are equipped, ready to plant, ready to Jump!

The 6 part series focuses on evangelism, getting your priorities right, understanding the need for the Spirit’s power, and various other topics.

The goal of this project is to advance the kingdom of God rapidly, not stuff somebody’s pockets.

My upcoming book “Jump School: Unleashing Gospel Commandos on an Unsuspecting World” will serve as a leader’s manual to the church planter.

In addition, I will be producing a study guide as a resource for your core team.

Here is a sample of an unfinished episode:

If you like the look of the project and want to be part of getting Jump School off the ground, why not head over to the Kickstarter page and pledge your wedge?

Blessinz