Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A Goal for Lent

Now it might seem odd that I am talking about ‘Post Lent’ as Lent is just about to start, but with every journey, it is important to have your eyes on the finish line. Lent is a time for fasting, but it can be done wrong, and with the wrong focus. So I have been asking myself what the right focus should be. 

While reading through the gospels researching times when Jesus fasted and benefitted from it, in preparation for lent, I read on past the events recorded in Luke’s gospel, one verse. And in this verse I thought it was really interesting to see what had happened to Jesus after His 40 day fast in the desert in which in was tempted to a higher degree than we would ever expect to be tempted. 

Lk 4:14 says that ‘Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…’. 

What is the link here, and is this something that we can hope for when we part take in lent for the right reasons. 

It is true that the bible never commands us to do lent, and some churches don’t practise it for that reason, but I believe it is also a choice in which to focus on our relationship with Jesus, putting aside all distractions, and things we might even depend on too much. 

Now Jesus fasted to the extreme and ate nothing at all for the 40 days, which can actually be very dangerous for the lifestyle many of us in western culture leads. If I was to not eat for 40 days straight, I would have to stop working out, I’d have to make sure I don’t walk too far each day, and I certainly would have a struggle with work, and concentration towards the end. What it did do for Jesus though was to learn to fully depend on God, His Father in Heaven. The temptations he faced would be a lot easier to resist if he had a belly full of food to help Him focus more. But when you are hungry and have the power to turn a stone to bread, it is very hard not to use that for personal gain. 

He was training Himself in this time, and this should be how 21st Century Christians should see this time too. It is very hard to resist a temptation if you have never had to resist before, and can be really hard to do when it really matters and when you least expect it. 

Jesus then returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. He returned with so much more mental and spiritual strength, and had found a new peace in His relationship with His father. He knew even more what His mission was, and the enemy would have a much harder time tempting Him from that path. You could say that He was so much more aware of the Holy Spirit in Him, because He had spent so long listening to Him, and being strengthened.

We celebrate lent now in the lead up to Easter to spend time to focus on the cross, and to strengthen our own relationship with Our Father in heaven. Now some of that language might even be a little much for some, but it is a time to put aside what we know distracts us, or what we think we just can’t go without. Unless its prescribed medication, or a certain diet, or water, we probably can live without it. We don’t realise what we put in the way of our relationship with God until we choose to go without for a while. 

So why don’t we just do 40 straight days like Jesus did? We still have to remember that Sundays are celebrations and feast days, days where we can enjoy these things, and hopefully, after giving them up for a while, be thankful for them instead of taking them for granted. 

There is also the important element of repentance. In the UK, and many other western cultures, the first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday. There a a few times in the bible (OT), where certain people who had been in a time of repentance (they knew they had done wrong, and wanted to show that they were turning to God for forgiveness), would tear their clothes off, dress in a sack-cloth and put ashes on their head. Now we don’t do this, and don’t need to as Jesus has paid the price for our sin, but we can still use this time to focus on how He has done it, and our need for Jesus. 

With so many distractions today, it can be hard to even recognise we need a saviour, that we need to be saved. So taking away these distractions can really help us to be thankful and spend time shaking off that guilt that we put on ourselves. 

So by focussing for so long on God, we end up being thankful for Him, and are so much more open for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, living in His strength and not ours, and therefore we are walking in the power of the Spirit. It then so much easier to be there for people, talk about our experiences and help others follow the same way, essentially teaching them.. Just as Jesus did on His return from the wilderness. 

Living in the power of the Spirit isn't about walking around being ‘holier than thou’ and telling everyone they need to change, or even praying for everything that moves being we are ‘oh so spiritual’ (yes I have come across both types of people), but living in knowledge of who we are in Christ (our identity), knowing that we are loved no matter what, and be open to letting the Holy Spirit work in us. 

If that means we have the courage to pray for someone to be healed then great, or if that means living in a more fruitful personal prayer life then thats amazing. It is through that, that Jesus’ power reaches others. 

I feel like (and I know I might be generalising here) that many Christians think that living in the power of the Spirit means going out, shoving the Gospel down peoples throats, praying in public to an extent that it makes people feel uncomfortable, judging others of their sins without even knowing them (or checking their own eyes for ‘logs’ first), and just lording their faith over others. 

Furthermore, I think that living in the Power of the Spirit is being sure of your relationship with Jesus, being sure of His love for you, and letting that love pour out. Jesus came out of that time in the desert knowing all of this, and He knew exactly who He was talking to when He taught in the synagogues, and did it with the authority He has from God, because He knew His identity, and spend time with Him. 

For lent this year, I am giving up TV and films and Xbox gaming, as I know I get distracted by binge watching Netflix shows. Annie and I did this last year, and it was very fruitful. My prayer is that this year it will be even more fruitful, and that we will come out of it the other side ‘living in the Power of the Spirit’ being more sure of who we are and more open to what God is doing in us. 

Thursday, 13 March 2014


Hello to all my readers, and supporters!

This is going to be a big update, spread over a few blog posts... There are a few reasons to why I haven't posted anything for 6 months, and why there hasn't been a paper newsletter...

Firstly, the first year of marriage is a hard one! However much people say that nothing will change when you get married, it does, it will, and it will keep changing... so I have taken a break to settle into this new life... I feel bad as there are many people neither of us have spoken to since the wedding or the blessing, or even published pictures for people to see... and it's not that we don't like you, it's just a lot to take in. I think the first year of marriage is the hardest because you have to make changes for the other person. I don't agree with people who say that they won't change or can't change... change is hard, but any marriage to work, both parties must be willing to change and adapt... and TALK! Next weekend is our 1 Year Anniversary, very exciting times.

From our Official Wedding Album
Secondly, so much has happened in the ministry, we have seen growth, and some of the youth going deeper in their faith. This term we started Youth Alpha, (for those who haven't heard of it , it's the Alpha Course for young people. If you haven't heard of Alpha, google it!) and also I created a small team of young leaders. There are many potential leaders in this group, but I needed to start with a few, and I have invested a lot of time to them too... So when I have had time off and holiday, time I would usualy spend blogging, or writing a newsletter, I have been spending time with my wife, and sleeping, and switching off with Netflix (Something which I have given up for lent, in order to spend more time blogging, reading the bible and talking to my wife...brownie points have come in their hundreds this month).

From our Youth Alpha Course we are currently in the middle of. 
So over the next few week I will be updating you all on what has been going on this year, the first Youth retreat in October last year, young leadership, Youth Alpha, the Youth Alpha away day where God met us and worked in my tiredness and weakness, the agreed extension to my time at Fishers Creek, our future plans (including Annie's exceptance for ordination in Sweden's free church, Equmeniakyrkan), and how you can help in prayer and financially). plus much more which all a little mushed in my head right now.

2 of the youth at the our Youth Alpha Weekend away! 
I will also be interspersing a few theological posts, using some of my sermons that I have been pretty happy with, and some of the teaching that I have been through with the youth, and the journey God has taken us all on. Last term we spent some a few months discussing mask's that we wear, either we choose them, or we don't realise we are wearing them and how finding our identity in Christ can help these masks crumble and that we can be way more true to ourselves that we ever though possible.

This is going to be fun, and good to reflect back on a very busy but fruitful year of ministry so far... not that I am bragging, just grateful for the position God has got me in, and the work He is using me in. It is all for His glory!

Over and out,

The Captain

Friday, 6 September 2013

The mystery of Liquorice.

This is just a short blog post to rant about liquorice and Swedish people.

Yes I am generalising, but all Swedish people LOVE liquorice, and its disgusting. I am trying to like it, keep and open mind about it and go back to eat it, but I still cant.

What is worse is that they add SALT to it. It's enough that the sweet itself makes you sick, but to then add salt, its just not right. Above is a picture of me trying some of my colleagues liquorice...

I just picked up some sweets, and Swedes do sweets well, but they mix the liquorice in with the normal sweets. I feel like I should try, make an effort to accept this part of the Swedish culture. Really embrace their odd ways of life, and I will really try. Running long distances, skiing down steep slopes, having coffee instead of blood running through my veins, eating lots of dairy, and cycling on the right is all fine... but this one will take some getting used to.

Anyway, for those of my supporters who read, my next newsletter is about to be released. If you are new to this blog, and would like a copy, please email me, and I will add you to the mailing list. Its a bumper issue with a review of my first year on mission. Hope you are as excited as this dog...

Friday, 21 June 2013

Glad Midsommar from Sweden!

Today is the Swedish holiday of Midsommar, celebrated on the longest day of the year. The origins of the festival is prominently pagan, however it has shed all of its original meaning in 2013, and it now just a Swedish tradition where you meet friends ad have BBQ's. Much like every weekend in the summer now. 

The idea is that you make a hole in the ground, and put a large pole in it and dance around it in a folk-dance fashion. 'Like a maypole?' I hear you British readers think. Yes! However, the shape of the pole is a little more symbolic of fertility than bells and sticks. 
The head dresses you see Annie and I wearing are the typical Midsommar crowns that we made at the start. Normally just the women have flowers in, but I wanted to really experience the culture. 

It was great to get a taste of this Swedish holiday. My wife tells me that Midsommar is the second of two days of the years when all the shops close, Christmas Day being the second. The advantage of this being that Sunday is the start of the Midsommar sales, much we see of Boxing Day in the UK. 

I am getting used to the Swedish way of life. With this time of year bringing many bank holidays. In Sweden, the bank holiday isn't just the day it self, but the day after as well. Not something that I hear many complaining about. 

We are having a Midsommer BBQ this evening with friends, so we are hoping the weather holds out. Annie tells me that rain is also common for this day, which is a little disappointing. It doesn't dampen our spirits as much as the ground though. 

Glad Midsommar! 

The Captain

Monday, 17 June 2013

Sermon on the Creek - Social Revolution

Yesterday I preached at Fishers Creek. It was my first full sermon to the congregation. I have done many talks, some as long as 45minutes to the youth and a few 10-15 minute short sermons and discussion introductions in the main church, but this was the first time I was providing the main teaching of the meeting. And it went well. Over the last 3 years full time, and 2 years in volunteering I have been training, for all different types of ministry, also including relationship building and discipleship, the gift of teaching is something I have really been praying for. In the last year, I have been starting off/carrying on a youth ministry and within that, I have been preparing from 2 to 4 lots of teaching a week, on all different areas of the bible and the Christian life. So it was a nice feeling to have done my first full sermon.

The title was Social Revolution and was on 1 Corinthians 7:17-24. It was a hard passage as it was in the middle of Paul's instruction on marriage so could be quite confusing as to why it was there. I looked deeper and found something quite remarkable. Paul was challenging the attitudes of the people who were struggling to see that they were free in Christ, and also under Christs authority at the same time. The metaphors of circumcision and slavery can be confusing but as always with biblical interpretation you need to understand the context a book or letter was written in to get the full meaning. 

It comes with a challenge for us though, to look at the attitudes of the situations we are in at the moment. We constantly want to be in better places, and have better jobs. We want better smart phones and technology (my struggle here), some people want better friends who can do more for them. But maybe we are in the place God wants us to be already. We are free, but not free to do whatever we want to without a care in the world, but we are free to choose God, and to choose His way. These are just a few highlights, if you want to read the full thing, then there is a link below. My favorite thing, was the structure of this passage, it can be compared to a club sandwich, an image I used from a book by Kenneth Bailey on the Culture of Paul's letter to Corinth. (Not the actual title). It worked very well for the sermon. 

I am pleased it went well, not in a proud 'I'm so good' kind of way, but in humilty, pleased that my prayers for this gift are being answered and humbled that I could be used to encourage the rest of the congregation in this way. I really enjoy teaching and I hope I get many more chances in different settings. I will try and share more of my teaching with you, and I will share future full sermons.

If you want to read it further, you can download it here

And look out for a year review newsletter coming your way in the summer. 

Over and out,
The Captain

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

New Newsletter!

So I have finally got my new newsletter out. It should have been a few weeks sooner, but the end of term is a month sooner in Sweden (they only have 2 terms of school), so by the time we were back from the honeymoon and the blessing in England, we both realised exactly how much work we had to do. Including a new newsletter for those of you who have been praying for me and supporting me in different ways.

I will post soon with details about the wedding, and the blessing with pictures but for now I wanted to give you access to my new newsletter and update you on a few more things. Here is the link to the PDF that you can download. 

I have also been talking a lot about how this would be a weekly blog and I would be sending a lot more updates your way. That was the plan, however things haven't happened that way, and I am just reflecting now on what has stopped me from doing that. One of the reasons that could contribute to it is a fear that a lot of people in ministry have, and that is the fear of failing, or the fear of being wrong. 

My first blog, Writings of a recently born-again Christian, had a lot more theological content and I felt more confident. I was new to be a Christian and I felt I couldn't really go wrong, but now I am in a position of authority in some way, I am on a leadership team of a church and sent as a mission partner to another country. In a sense I have a way to fall if something I say isn't really right. 7 years ago, if I was wrong I was new and humble enough to be corrected. But shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't I be in a position of having more humility now? Shouldn't I be more accepting that I am human and can make mistakes? Instead it seems I have fallen into the trap of being proud of where I have gotten to, and have a fear of losing this. So much that if I am quiet then I can't say anything wrong. 

Now some of you might think that, yes, that is fine, proverbs 17:28 says 

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent;
with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

Which has its place, for sure. If you go back one verse it talks of how the truly wise have fewer words today, and in the next chapter of proverbs, we read that fools have no understanding, they just want to air their own opinions. Now I know I might upset some friends who are also bloggers, but this has been on my mind when I have considered blogging about a subject. I don't want to come across as just airing my opinions, but for what I have to say to have some kind of theological base. I have seen all to often in the Internet where someone has made a comment that is not quite theologically accurate whether it was a mistake or they meant to write it, to have the comment section full of other believers correcting them in full 'preaching' essays, or some judging fools telling them they are blaspheming and have somehow lost their salvation by writing that post. Very rarely do I see loving comments, or intellectual conversation around the subject. And to the onlooking eyes, which could easily be from someone who is considering the Gospel as truth, this is not giving a good picture of a Christian set apart for Christ.

I am very aware that I have lost my cover of being a new believer, so I can't hide behind that, but I think seeing those responses has put me off my desire for blogging about relevant subjects of how we can respond to our culture through our faith, in a world where being a Christian is harder and harder, and people are choosing to live easier lives within the distractions that the world has to offer. But I also remember that 7 years ago, my blogging sharpened my understanding of scripture, because conversations would lead me there. It also gave me the desire to know more, which was a factor in leading me to retrain as a youth pastor, and work with the awesome youth I work with now. 

Those who know me, know I am an extrovert and need to process outwardly. I also encourage people to question things. Even ask the hard questions of our own faith, to challenge of belief so that we can end up in closer relationship with Jesus. I am reminded of the man who doubted Jesus, and said 'if' you can... Then in his repentance declared 'Lord, I belief, help my unbelief.' How many of you readers need to pray this once in a while? I think in the Christian lifestyle, nothing is simple. Things happen daily to shake our faith in Jesus. And it is in those times we need to pray this pray. 'Lord, I believe in you, I believe you love me, and died for me, despite what I see in the news of the hurt and pain. Please Lord help my unbelief and help me overcome my doubt.' When we doubt we lose hope, and without hope we lose sight of Jesus, and His work on the Cross. If we weren't to doubt I often wonder what the result would be. We would have our faith, but our relationship with Jesus wouldn't go anywhere. It's like having a friend who you know is there, but you have no interest in knowing more, knowing why they do the things they do, or what their aim in life is. It's almost like a dead end. This doesn't fit into what Jesus says a life following Him would look like. He says that He came so that we could have life, and have to the full (John 10:10), so lets ask ourselves the questions, and expect answers that go beyond our wildest dreams, answers that will open up our minds and see what God really wanted for His people, and we might even catch a glimpse of heaven.

However, I have seen this with pastors who are well know for their evangelism, and have done great things to open up faith, who have really asked these questions and helped people find answers and have been victimised by their church, but when newcomers ask the same questions they are praised for it, encouraged to ask these questions. Something doesn't seem right there. If anything, the pastors who are asking these questions are leading by example of a living faith in Jesus, who satisfies our every need.

So I want to blog more, and write about relevant subjects about faith in our culture, but I am afraid when I see pastors being accused of heresy because they want to reach out to more people. I believe the Gospel is relevant to all people, but everyone comes from a different angle, and views Christianity and the Bible differently, so we need to find out where people are at. I know I am blogging with the risk of people challenging me, and I am open to correction in my writings, but I know by looking through the Acts of the apostles that we need to take risks to challenge this generation, the next generation and many generations to come. I, like every single person on earth, am not complete, I am still being created. I will not be finished until my last day on earth, and I am learning constantly through experiences and passing these on. So please remember this when you read this blog and all other blogs for that matter. 

My prayer, is that we are all in 'iron sharpening iron' correspondence, and critiques can be given in love and received in humility. We might not get it right, but that's why we have Jesus to correct us and set us straight. We can't get it right on our own. Ever. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Settling is hard...

So it has been a while. I enjoy blogging a lot but a lot of the time I have to want to write about something important that would take an interest, but in the last 4 months the start of my mission has been hard. For those of you who know me, my can-do attitude and positive mindset has been telling the rest of me that 'Sure, its easy to start/take on a new ministry, learn a new language, settle into a new country AND plan a wedding will be EASY. I can do that, I can do anything.'

Well I was wrong, it is not easy. There has been no time to settle, when my schedule was full from the start, Wedding planning with your wife-to-be is a challenge when you have a difference in organisation styles, not to mention a difference in style and culture. Swedish is probably the most difficult of the european languages to learn (not that I've tried many, but its definitely harder than French or Spanish). I'm just glad we aren't planning this wedding in Swedish. Then 'Ja, √§lskling!' (Yes, darling) would be my only response.

So after a good start with learning Swedish on the government funded course I have delayed my classes to concentrate more on the young people, and plan our wedding. I have learnt a lot about prioritising the right things in life, and that Annie who will be my wife in 28 days time is a high priority and making this day the best day is important for our marriage and our calling in God's kingdom. This was a hard decision as me learning Swedish i important for me to understand Annie's culture, and a huge part of being a missionary. The highest priority though must be God, and doing His will. There is a constant pressure in life between pleasing people and pleasing God. And I want to be pleasing God in all that I do.

Equal to that is the job that God has sent me here to do. I love the youth group, and the youth are brilliant, and I need to be spiritually and physically fit to lead them. At the moment we have been going through a series I have adapted from my time at St B's called the 'Soundtrack to Life', using music videos and current media to access life issues we all go through and look at what the Bible says about them. Last week I used Ed Sheeran's 'Lego House' to talk about Jesus as our rock, and that God has the power to rebuild us into what we were meant to be. This is the lego house I built for it...

This is my masterpiece. As you can see the bottom is not very well made, which made my point in the teaching. Maybe I'll share that with you someday.

The biggest thing I have learnt about being on long-term mission is to not jump in too fast to what you are doing. Take time to see what culture you are moving into, and don't feel the pressure to do more than you have to. I have seen burnout before, and I am no use to anyone in that state. But more than that, just being here, I know God is using me to do his work, even in the small.

I also want to that the people who are supporting me, God is providing for me very well here. I am starting to make new friends, however much I am missing friends and family in the UK. I will be sending out a newsletter very soon. If you haven't received my october newsletter yet, then please let me know and I can send you a link.

Anyway, some of the feedback I got from my blogging is that they are too long, so hopefully I will be writing shorter blogs and more often.

Thanks for reading,

The Captain