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…

hostages

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

What a snowman taught me about church

Snow

So this week I got schooled by a snowman!

As a church planting pastor and a parent of 4 young children I am acutely aware (and thoroughly unapologetic) that I talk about Jesus A LOT and that the vast majority of my illustrative stories involve my beautiful-but-bonkers family. So this week’s ‘message’ includes my kids…and a larger-than-life snowman!

The story begins on Saturday morning with the Fab 4 abruptly waking me up by jumping on me, whacking and screaming the joyous news that “IT’S BEEN SNOWING!!”

I rose (grudgingly) and looked out of the window to see for myself, and sure enough, an army of ninja snowflakes had fallen silently through the night and blessed us with a good couple of inches of the wonderful white stuff. And I knew that this could only mean one thing on a family day…

SNOW FUN!

So we wolfed down our brekkie, donned our fleeces and waterproofs and headed for the ‘big field’.

It’s fair to say that the kids were buzzin as we crunched our way along the pavement, to the excited chorus of voices describing the various snow sculptures they were about to create.

“I’m going to build a snow tiger” said Elen (8), to which Ezra (4) replied “I’m making a snow elephant”.

Josiah (6) announced that his project was to carve out a snow bat, whilst Anastasia (4) was adamant that she was going to create a “snow baby pig” (NOT a snow piglet, a snow baby pig…cos apparently there’s a difference!)

We reached the field and after a few frenzied minutes of “chuck snowballs at dad” they each set to work. In fairness to the big 2, they just got down to business, while the twins quickly discovered that it’s one thing to have a vision, it’s quite another to make it happen…and dad was quickly called in to help.

It probably took about 10 minutes for the big 2 to get bored/frustrated enough to ask their dad for help as well…which left me with a bit of a dilemma – I’ve only got one pair of hands and I was going to need 4 if I was going to be able to offer all the help that was being asked of me.

But then I had a crazy idea… Continue reading

Leading a Church and Baking Potatoes

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I’ve been thinking a lot about potatoes recently, which in turn has got me thinking about my experience leading a church.

Perhaps I should elaborate…

A few weeks ago Michelle made tea for the family and the food that she served up was jacket potato. And it was GOOD!! I guess I would define a good jacket potato as having a thick, crispy, tasty skin on the outside, with a soft, creamy centre (preferably smothered in melting butter!) on the inside. And this particular potato was all of the above!

In truth that spectacular spud was a far cry from the baked potatoes I used to endure as a self-catering bachelor. Those bad-boys were the polar opposite – the skin was always thin and papery while the centre was hard and glassy.

So what accounts for the difference?

Certainly the fact that Michelle’s kitchen skills are far superior to mine deserves a mention. But there’s more to it than that! The difference, I would suggest, lies in the means by which the potatoes were baked. My bachelor spuds were always microwaved. I was never one for planning ahead so if I fancied a jacket potato I’d chuck it in the microwave and 3 minutes later my solid, glassy, semi-edible spud was ready. Invariably I would try to mask it rankness by marinating it in butter and drowning it on beans, but there really was no hiding the cold, hard truth – it was mingin!

So why are Michelle’s spuds so much better?

In short, it’s because she cooks them in the oven!

Michelle is far better at planning than me, so whenever jacket potato is on the menu she preheats the oven and chucks the spuds in a minimum of 4 hours before munch time! Sure it takes A LOT longer than a microwaved spud, but the end product is infinitely more impressive!

All very interesting…but what the dickens has all this got to do with church leadership?

Well, here goes…

When I planted Hill City 7 years ago I was a cocky, immature 30 year old who thought he had all the necessary skills required to lead a church.

How wrong I was!

In reality, there is so much more to being equipped to lead a church than the ability to draw a crowd and preach a sermon. It’s worth noting that in the “qualifications of an elder” verses in 1 Timothy and Titus the vast majority of qualifications are about character, not skill-set.

And just like a good jacket potato – you can’t develop character in a few microwave moments. Rather what is needed is a significant amount of time in the the deep heat of the oven.

At numerous points during my journey in church leadership, especially during times of trial, testing and personal attack, I have found myself praying this prayer:

Lord God, please give me thick skin and a soft heart!

And over recent years, by God’s grace, I think it’s fair to say that He has been answering that prayer. But here’s the kicker – the Lord doesn’t toughen our skin and soften out hearts for the trials but through the trials!

They are the means by which God toughens us up and tenderises our hearts.

And just like baking potatoes – there are no short-cuts!

The reality for every church leader, despite what they might think about their qualifications and spiritual maturity, is that there are specific qualities and character that can only be achieved by coming through the flames of affliction. (Trainee leaders and Bible college graduates really need to grasp this!) This has certainly been my experience as I have experienced, and continue to experience, times of pain, frustration, confusion, betrayal, rejection and suffering.

It’s also worth noting as well that it’s a loving God who controls the heat. Some of the issues, situations and struggles that I face in leadership today would have destroyed me 7 years ago – my skin would not have been tough enough to endure the pain and my heart would have been too hard to respond with grace instead of bitterness.

But it’s amazing what 7 years in the oven can do to a man! And how awesome it is to know that all of my trials are serving a purpose. God is using them to transform me into the man and the leader that He wants me to be.

Here are a few scriptures that I have found helpful on this:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1 v 2-4)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 1 v 6-7)

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5 v 11-12)

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
(Luke 21 v 17-19)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5 v 3-5)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
(2 Corinthians 4 v 7-10)

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 10)

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
(Hebrews 12 v 7-11)

So in conclusion, a good jacket spud is thick skinned, soft at heart and perfected in extreme heat!

So is a good church leader!

Blessinz.