Category: Christian Life

2016: Grief, Grace and Hope

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Last night I learned that one of my childhood heroines had just passed away. It’s not an over-exaggeration to say that alongside Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia fired my imagination and shaped my childhood playtimes like no one else! (I LOVED her later role in the Blues Brothers too!) Tragically, her death is one of a long, long list of celebrities who have died this year: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Paul Daniels, Victoria Wood, Prince, Carla Lane, Muhammad Ali, Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Andrew Sachs, Rick Parfitt and George Michael have all passed away in the last 12 months. I mean, famous people die every year, but 2016 does seem to have been a particularly painful year.

Like millions of others I have found this year especially hard to navigate. Social media has provided an outlet for an outpouring of grief, disbelief, and even fear, that has been quite staggering. But how should we respond when the rich, gifted and famous die? Perhaps more importantly how should I, as a follower of Jesus, respond?

Here are 4 ways I think are appropriate: (more…)

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Post-Sabbatical Reflections

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Tonight is the last evening of my first ever sabbatical that began at the start of July and ends in a few hours. It’s fair to say that A LOT has changed in the last 2 months:

  • I spent a week in the U.S (and got fat).
  • I trained for and cycled from Holyhead to Cardiff (and got slim).
  • I got to spend some quality time with my family (and got blessed).
  • We transitioned out of the church we planted 9 years ago (and got sad).
  • We reconnected with our sending church, Highfields (and got loved).
  • We moved from Pontypool back to Cardiff (and waged war on slugs – more on that in my next post).
  • We got 2 rabbits (one of which looks like Chewbacca – pictured above)
  • Our kids got a new school (as of tomorrow).
  • I pretty much stopped blogging!

But what I want to focus is on in this post is where I’m now at with ministry. To be honest I really wasn’t sure what 2 months ‘out of the game’ would feel like, or what effect it would have on me. It’s certainly the longest time I have not done any preaching in over 17 years and the longest I have not had to function in a church leadership position for the best part of a decade. So where does that leave me now as I’m about to dive back in to ministry?

For what it’s worth, here are my 2 overwhelming thoughts:

  1. I don’t NEED to be in gospel ministry
    It’s been so long since I wasn’t in full-time Christian ministry that until I took a step back I could neither remember or imagine what life as a ‘normal’ Christian was like. That was kind of a scary place to be because my ‘reality’ was one of preaching, serving, leading, living and giving as both a calling and a vocation. And I love this life – especially preaching – which is what I believe God put me on this earth to do. But as any gospel minister will tell you – it’s very easy for our identity, value and worth to be rooted in our performances as preachers, our effectiveness as leaders and our fruitfulness in ministry. And that’s certainly been true of me over the years – loving it when people tell me what a wonderful message I’ve preached and feeling crushed when people have rejected or criticised me.

    Which is why it was so encouraging that as I stepped out of leadership and stepped away from the pulpit I didn’t experience any of the withdrawal symptoms I expected. In fact I kind of enjoyed loving Jesus primarily as a disciple again. Studying the Bible for the sake of my own soul and the edification of my family rather than with a view to how well the stuff I was reading would ‘preach’. Praying more from a place of wonder and personal dependency than a place of pastoral obligation. Sitting with my wife in church for a WHOLE service – not just until one or both of us had to get up and minister in some capacity.It was so refreshing!And I guess what I’ve realised is that while I know that I have been gifted, called and anointed by God to preach his gospel and make disciples – I don’t NEED to do it. Now hear me right, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it – I know what my calling is and to do anything else would be rebellious and disobedient. But what I mean is that I am not primarily Dai the preacher. First and foremost I am Dai the disciple of Jesus – saved and made righteous by HIS works, not my own. Yes, I’m saved FOR good works, but they are not where my identity lies. My identity is in Jesus – the resurrected Christ.

    Furthermore, before being Dai the preacher I am called to be Dai the husband, Dai the dad and Dai the faithful member of the local church. These are all far more important callings than my personal ministry and if I were to neglect those things I would be a hypocritical preacher.

    So no, I don’t need ministry. I need Jesus. But by His grace I get to live and speak for Him, and so…

  2. I really WANT to be in gospel ministry!
    As I’ve stepped back from ministry and sought to press into Jesus, serve my family and purge myself of unhealthy ministry experiences and expectations, I have (especially over recent weeks) found myself getting more and more excited to step back into the ring. There have been 2 main reasons for this:

    i) Firstly, God’s Word has been getting under my skin again – encouraging me, shaking me, provoking me, reminding me that God still speaks powerfully and prophetically today. There have been several scriptures these last few months that have so stirred me that I have just had to share them with people. His Word is burning in my bones again!

    ii) Secondly, as we have moved into our new inner-city neighbourhood we have been excited by so much, but have also been greatly challenged by the scale of need all around us. As I have walked the streets and started to pray, often against the backdrop of sirens, idol worship, drug dealing and broken relationships I have been reminded again that the gospel of Jesus Christ truly is the ONLY hope for our world. And I have been given the privilege to seek to share that gospel and make disciples in this new context. What an honour!

So there we have it – my post-sabbatical reflections in a nut-shell. Please do pray for me and for our family as we step back into the fray. This coming week our kids start their new school and as myself and Michelle start to explore what this new church planting, gospel-ministering, disciple-making, community-impacting adventure is going to look like for us.

BRING IT ON!!

God is Faithful

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GOD IS FAITHFUL.

This is my testimony at the end of the most difficult year of my life.

It’s hard to put into words exactly how and why 2015 has given me such a kicking – but it would be fair to say that I have reached December 31st emotionally, physically, spiritually battered and exhausted. This year, more than any other, I have dwelt far longer in the valley depths than I have danced on the mountain heights. I have known more stress, wrestled with more doubts, shed more tears and known more fear and loneliness than at any other point in my life.

But I made it.

By God’s grace.

Because HE IS FAITHFUL.

God has proved His faithfulness to me in putting amazing people in my life, not least my wife, whose love, care and patient wisdom has blessed and helped me more than words can express. I have been blessed with a wonderful and supportive family, good friends and gracious leaders who have sought to guide and encourage  me throughout the year.

But all these people are in my life and a means of grace to me because my GOD IS FAITHFUL.

There have been multiple moments throughout this year when I honestly didn’t think I would make it to the end of the year sane or still in gospel ministry. Times when I looked in the mirror and didn’t even recognise the man looking back at me.

But I made it.

By God’s grace.

Because HE IS FAITHFUL.

God has also proved His faithfulness to me through His Word. I have battled to spend time every day reading the Bible, sometimes more out of discipline than devotion. And this year there have been more occasions than I can count when the dark clouds that I have felt gathering above my head were pierced by precious, powerful words of light from the Scriptures that delivered timely grace and sufficient hope for the day.

As I write this post on the last day of this year, and as I look forward to a year of unknown days and mysterious providences that lie ahead, I do so persuaded more than ever that I can’t do this alone. That I don’t have what it takes in and of myself. That I have nothing to offer anyone apart from Christ crucified.

But also utterly persuaded of this – that my God is unstoppably faithful.

And I can rest in that beautiful truth.

Happy new year guys!

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”
– Lamentations 3 v 22-23

Our secret weapon – JOY!

TopSecretfolderI’m quite a chipper person.

My glass is generally half-full.

I tend to see the best in people.

I sincerely love life.

And I do laugh…

…A LOT!

But I have to confess – this year has been hard! As previous posts have alluded to I have been through some pretty dark seasons of the mind and soul and while I am genuinely in pretty good shape at the mo, I am very aware that a dark cloud is never far away.

Sometimes it literally feels like I’m being stalked by sadness.

Trouble is – I’m not even sure why!

  • My marriage is strong.
  • My family is a blast.
  • My health is…fair to middling!
  • My finances are in order.
  • My church family is fab.
  • And I’m not harbouring any secret sin in my life.

So why does this happiness assassin keep showing up?

  • Is it because I live in the anti-depressant prescription capital of the UK?
  • Could it be the pressures of pastoral ministry?
  • Perhaps I’m getting too emotionally involved with human trafficking?
  • It is possible that I’m simply doing too much.
  • Or as I turn 39 this month perhaps I’m just preempting the inevitable mid-life crisis!

Who knows?

Actually, God knows.

And while I haven’t been able to put my finger on exactly why things are as they are, God in His grace has blessed me with a means of standing strong and fighting back. In fact, He’s given me a secret weapon.

“What is that secret weapon?” I hear you cry.

Well, quite simply – my secret weapon is joy!

It’s like my buddy Nehemiah said:

“do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
– Nehemiah 8 v 10

So there you have it – all we need is the Lord’s joy and we’ll have all the strength we need to take the happiness assassin outta the game, right?!

YES!

So the question is how do we get the joy of the Lord? I mean Paul told us to rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS, but HOW?! How do we get our hands on this secret weapon?

Well, a few weeks ago the Lord handed me the key to the gun cabinet, and I’ve been buzzin ever since. Here’s the key:

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation”
– Psalm 51 v 12

Ultimate joy is found in God’s salvation, nowhere else!

When I seek joy in anything or anyone else I am setting myself up for a fall because everything and everyone else is broken, fractured and flawed.

  • My wife is great, but she’s not perfect (neither am I!)
  • My kids are epic, but they’re still little sinners.
  • My health is deteriorating at a rate of knots!
  • My money keeps getting spent.
  • I love my ministry, but it involves people who, like me, are broken.
  • And while sin has no dominion over me, I still regularly screw up.

But God’s salvation…that’s different! The blood of Jesus NEVER runs out! His forgiveness IS limitless. His love NEVER fails. His grace IS sufficient.

I still remember the day that Jesus saved me. I was 15 years old and as I surrendered my life to Him I experienced His mercy in a powerful, life-changing, future-shaping way.

I was clean.

I was accepted.

I was joyful.

I was home.

But sadly, that joy has not always remained with me.

To my shame, I think that when I experience a lack of joy it is directly linked to sin and a loss of wonder in the salvation of God. I think that’s where David got to when he prayed that God would restore the joy of His salvation in Psalm 51.

So here’s where I’ve landed – I need God’s help to stay fixated and fascinated by the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ:

“When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.”
– Charitie Lees Smith

My secret weapon is joy but it’s the gospel of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ that activates that joy. A single step away from the cross is a step towards joylessness, despair and a butt-kicking at the hands of the happiness assassin! Therefore humble repentance is the only way to lay hold of the secret weapon of God’s pure joy. And when I’ve got that joy, I feel invincible, because the source of my joy, Jesus, is invincible. And because His grave is empty my heart is full.

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!”

Refugee Crisis: 5 ways to get engaged

My previous post has generated so much interest and sparked so much discussion about how best to respond to the current European refugee crisis that I felt that a further post was necessary. Here are 5 ways to get engaged:

1. Get clued up

I was going to put prayer as the first thing we should do, but controversially, I’ve put this ahead of prayer. That’s not to downplay the importance of prayer. Far from it. Intercession is the most crucial thing that we can do! But I’ve put this point first because I believe that getting clued up will help us pray with more clarity and more compassion.

How do we get clued up?

Well obviously the news is a good place to start, especially right now as we are being bombarded by a torrent of information from pretty much every available news source. But there is certainly more we can do. A really helpful thing to do would be to speak to those who are already on the frontline of local outreach to refugees and ask them to give their perspective on what the greatest needs are. Similarly we can read articles and books from experienced practitioners. Furthermore we can contact our local councils and others who are responsible for policy making and coordinating emergency provision. Getting educated from these kinds of sources will really help with the next point…

2. Get on your knees

If you’re anything like me you probably look on at the refugee crisis as it unfolds and feel totally overwhelmed. What difference, if any, can I make? This is actually a healthy place to be as it’s when we feel small, weak and incapable that we are perfectly positioned to cry out to the only One who is wise enough to understand the situation in its totality and strong enough to do what’s right. Sometimes prayer can feel like a token gesture that we do when we don’t know what else to do. That is the wrong perception of prayer. Prayer is where the power is at:

“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
– James 5 v 16

Can I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to take God at His Word and to spend some serious, considered time on your knees on behalf of those who are suffering right now. (If you don’t know what to pray, the Evangelical Alliance have written a model prayer you could use).

3. Get in touch

One of the most simple yet practical things you can do is to write to your MP / AM and express your concern for the current situation. Tell them that you, and your church, are burdened about what’s going on. Ask them what they are doing about it and implore them to press our government for meaningful action. Furthermore, if your church is willing and able to help out practically let them know. There are some helpful pointers on what you could offer here. You’d be surprised how encouraged they will be to know that there are people in their communities who are ready and willing to serve. It also testifies to the life and love of the local church. Finally, you can also put pressure on the government to act by signing this official home office petition.

4. Get your wallet out

There will always be opportunities to give financially. Already my inbox is pinging with messages offering opportunities to respond. Tear fundWorld VisionOxfam and Open Doors are just a few of the organisations you could give to who have people at work on the ground. However, you might also consider helping to support a local ministry that is serving refugees and asylum seekers who have already made it to the UK. I guess this is where I’d like to raise one specific opportunity for those of us in South Wales to consider.

My friend Liz Perret-Atkins runs an outreach in Cardiff. Every Thursday she and her team of amazing volunteers at the Rainbow Centre bag up loads of food and give it out to the scores of asylum seekers who attend. They also faithfully share the gospel with these guys each week. I have had the privilege of speaking at the Thursday morning outreach and it is incredible to see how the work is growing as more and more men, women and children from all over the world come to receive food. Apparently they had 75+ there this week and there will be more again next week. I was there last week and the demand was so great that they started to run out of food. Liz shared with me that it is becoming increasingly difficult to finance the work as it is entirely donation based and funds are short. If you have some money that you would like to donate to a gospel-centred practical outreach to refugees and asylum seekers then I can personally vouch for Liz and the ministry at the Rainbow Centre. If you would like to give then get in touch with me (contact details are here) and I’ll put you in touch with her. Alternatively you can text a donation to 70070, citing “Matt25” plus  “£ (amount)”.

5. Get the red carpet out

Finally, we can get involved by opening our hearts and out homes. If you live know of any refugees who have come into your area, why not make every effort to welcome and befriend them. Be the one who chats to them at the bus stop or in the park. Smile at them. Serve them. If you don’t personally know of anyone who has come to this country under duress, find out what is being done for refugees in your area and volunteer you help. If no one is serving refugees in your area – you and your church should start something up. Serious! A coffee morning. Toddler group. Anything…

Finally, a few crazily radical ideas on how you could roll out the red carpet for refugees and asylum seekers:

  1. Could / would you host an individual or family in your own home at your own expense? Could your church building be used as emergency accommodation? If so, tell your local council. Tell your MP. Obviously be wise and realistic, but also be compassionate and courageous. There’s more chance that the government will let refugees into the UK if they are persuaded that they will not be alone in having to make provision. How beautiful it would be if the church of Jesus were at the front of the queue to serve in this way!
  2. Could / would you be willing to provide emergency, or even long-term, foster care for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children? If so, Home For Good are collecting names of those who are interested here.

A gospel response to the refugee crisis

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For several days I’ve been considering writing a post about the refugee crisis that is currently gripping Europe (I call it a ‘refugee’ crisis, not a ‘migrant’ crisis as the press have been referring to it as, because the difference is significant!) However, having just seen a horrifying photograph of the corpse of a tiny Syrian child washed up on a Mediterranean beach, I’ve decided I need to write!

Thing is…I honestly don’t know what to say.

There are so many voices speaking into the situation right now – from those pleading for mercy to those screaming ‘bolt the gates’. I must confess that I was tempted to launch into an undignified rant about how our nation is selfish, mean and has lost it’s gospel heart. But I don’t want to merely be another voice amidst the cacophony of conflicting opinions. Neither do I want my words to wasted. Rather, I want to bring bigger and better words to bear than my own. I want to hear what God has to say about what’s going on.

I want to let the Bible speak.

Now, this is by no means a comprehensive study on what Scripture has to say about refugees, but it should be a good start. So here goes:

(more…)

Thoughts on following Jesus in the current cultural climate (Pt.2)

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This is the second part of the mini-series I started a few months back that looks at the challenge of following Jesus in the current cultural climate. In the first part I argued that as the prevailing culture becomes increasingly hostile to the people and mission of Jesus we would do well to recognise the reality of our current context and to remember the words of Jesus in order to gain perspective and find comfort.

In this post I want to present a further consideration for what it means for us as God’s people to follow Jesus in the current cultural climate. In short, we need to…

Repent of our sins

I read this verse in the book of Proverbs recently and it really struck a chord:

Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people.
Proverbs 14 v 34

On many levels it would seem that there is far more sin than righteousness on display in our nation at the moment, and that increasingly sin is celebrated whilst righteousness is ridiculed and rejected. So as a nation – far from being exalted we are reproached. However, it is UTTERLY crucial that we don’t look around at a society that neither loves nor fears God and to start blaming anyone and everyone who doesn’t see the world as we see it. Rather, our primary concern should be introspection and repentance.

One of the weird things about where Christianity stands in our culture right now is that it hasn’t always been like this. As I have stated previously we are now very much in the margins (where we belong) as are Christians in cultures the world over. But what makes our situation so (tragically) unique is that as recently as 60 years ago the Christian faith was front-and-centre in our land. Our laws, our values, our worldview and our aspirations were all deeply influenced by the gospel that had so dramatically shaped our society.

But here we are in 2015 and we have let go of the gospel.

Or we have twisted the gospel to suit a changing cultural narrative.

Or we have made the gospel a private affair and effectively put our lamp under a basket.

However, how we got here and whoever is responsible is really not the point anymore!

We are where we are – and the buck has to stop with the people of God.

Therefore, the buck stops with me!

Following Solomon’s dedication of the temple  in 2 Chronicles 7 the Lord appeared to Solomon and spoke these words:

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7 v 13-14

God was clear that when the nation was in distress the onus was on His people to respond. However, their response was not to point criticising fingers at surrounding ‘sinners’  or to rage against the godlessness of a Christ-less culture. Rather, what was required of His people was that they humbly turn, pray, seek their God and repent of their sins!

Saints, the brutal reality that we need to face up to is that the sin which is wrecking our society is also festering in our own hearts. I am not immune to iniquity, immorality, corruption and compromise…and nor are you!

If there is a lesson that I am being forced to learn more and more as I continue to follow Jesus it’s that I need His grace as much today as I ever did. The vile, stinking husk of my old self lurks in the shadows and leaps onto my back to pull me down at every given opportunity. Seeking to stand, fight, pray and prevail is an exhausting, humiliating and relentless struggle.

But there is no other way!

If I want things to change then I must be the first to turn to the Lord for mercy.

Repentance will always precede revival.

And repentance starts with me!

Will you join me?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
– Hebrews 12 v 1-2