Wrestling with God

One of those tricky Old Testament passages which always confounded me is the famous story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32 if you want to read it)

The idea always puzzled me, and more so that Jacob prevailed. How can a man wrestle with God and overcome?!

I received an epiphany of sorts on this, on the floor of a mixed martial arts gym where I used to train. The testosterone fuelled atmosphere and stench of stale sweat didn’t make for the usual setting of such a divine revelation, but hey if God can speak through Baalam’s mule? (I’ve met a few preachers who speak out of their ass too).

We were privileged to receive our Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training from a notable black belt, believed to be the first to bring the art to the UK. BJJ is an incredible art, and one that sadly I suck at. All the machismo and egotism goes away when you step out onto those mats. There is only trained or untrained. The art is designed to use an opponents strength and weight against them; I learned this the hard way when I got owned by a skinny 19 year old in my first session. Didn’t see that coming.

What the hell does this have to do with Jacob you may ask? BJJ is a grappling art. Part of the training is to grapple with people of the same level, people of a lower level and people of a higher level. Part of my training was grappling my teacher. Sparring with someone who could end your life in two seconds without breaking a sweat is a humbling experience. The feeling of utter helplessness takes your mind to a place where you face big questions. I have watched people of far greater strength and skill than myself spar with the black belt, and the effortless poetry with which he dominated them was awe inspiring. But his purpose was not only to demonstrate his power, as when God struck Jacob’s hip, but to allow me to fight. To allow me to perform moves which he could easily escape, but didn’t so that I might learn. Sometimes he allowed me to take the victory so that I could learn to struggle and to overcome. Sometimes I think it’s like that with God.

A pivotal moment in my walk with God was during one of the darkest nights of my soul. I time when I stood in the street shouting at the heavens like a lunatic, furious with God and demanding answers like Job. God took me to the point where I hated Him, and yet his love remained faithful to me. That was where I learned that His love and mercy are truly unconditional. My walk with Christ has often been characterised by struggle. I have wrestled with the Master, or rather He withheld His strength and allowed me to wrestle with Him, in order that I might learn to overcome.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV)

Have there been times where you felt like you wrestled with God?
What struggles have you learned from?
I’d love to hear some of your story in the comments section below….

Much peace.

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Tree Cathedral

Tree Cathedral

Took this photo today at Whipsnade Tree Cathedral. Such a beautiful and peaceful place, although I’m biased as I married my soul-mate there just under 6 years ago. If you could transplant some Californian weather here it could just about be the perfect place of worship.

My shoulders just ain’t broad enough…

My shoulders just ain’t broad enough

This is the conclusion I’m rapidly coming to. Many people warned me, and as per usual I didn’t listen. The cries of, “You’re doing too much”, “Don’t burn yourself out” and “Don’t spread yourself too thinly” all fell on deaf ears.

But the truth is I don’t think it’s how much I’m doing that’s the problem, or even what I’m doing. I think the problem is how I’m doing it. I haven’t even properly started on my change of work balance yet, and to be honest, I feel exhausted. Not really physically – 10 years in construction has taught me to recognise this well, not really mentally, but emotionally. Life was so much simpler when my eyes were closed to the reality of the world around me.

So
Much
Pain

A wise friend once told me that a part of ministering to the broken is to share the burden of their pain. And trust me, there’s plenty of it. So back to my point, my shoulders just aren’t broad enough to carry all this. And thank God they don’t need to be.

One of the obvious pitfalls of sharing God’s love with broken people (including myself) is the constant urge to fix everything. I’m a fixer, it’s what I do for a living and it’s what I’m good at. But people don’t need to be fixed. They need love, they need friendship and they need truth. Most of all they need pointing in the direction of the Saviour. Marriage started getting a little easier when I began to realise this.

My only hope of surviving my imminent foray into a bizarre balance of time shared between working as a good-news-sharer to the poor and marginalised, and part-time construction work, is to grasp this truth. And most importantly to recognise that other people’s burdens are not mine to carry, they are God’s. God’s children, whom he loves. He loves them far more than I do and in a far more redemptive way. Supposedly an old Polish proverb goes “When other people drag you into their mess, say to yourself: “Not my clowns, not my circus!” Love those crazy chaotic clowns!

Today started as a day where I began to feel like giving up, before I’d even really started. I was looking for a back door more frantically than an Irish Priest lost in the lingerie section. Two things have redeemed this day.

Number 1, I arrived home to find a delicious home cooked meal for me and the Mrs left on our doorstep. It was a gift from a busy Mum at our Church. “I don’t have any time or any money, but I really want to support you in what you’re doing”. Cue man tears.

Number 2, reading these two things:

“The mystery Jesus revealed to the Samaritan woman is the mystery contained in the life of each one of us: if we drink from the source of life, which is Jesus, we too will become a source of life;
we will bring life, the very life of God, into our world. Thus we fulfil the deepest desire of Jesus for us: his desire that we become men and women who are fully alive.” Jean Vanier – ‘Befriending the Stranger’

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT)”

So friends, if like me you’re getting back-ache from carrying the load, then just drop it. Right at the foot of the cross. Then join me, there’s spot right here on his yoke, saved especially for you. And it’s so much lighter, especially when we all pull it together…

Mistakes are not the end of the story

Had quite an emotionally charged afternoon on Saturday visiting my home church for their 25th anniversary. Must be about 11 years since I’d last been there.

Was good to spend time sharing stories and catching up with people who had great significance in the early days of my walk with Christ. It’s hard not to feel a twinge of pain looking back at some of the experiences of the last 11 years, there have been dark times where I’ve felt quite alone, felt the weight of the consequences of my own actions and those of others. The current minister hit the nail on the head with a short message which can be summarised as, “With our God mistakes are not the end of the story”.

Thank you God for redemption.

Moses and Joan Osbourne – What’s in a name?

“If God had a name, what would it be?
And would you call it to his face,
If you were faced with Him in all His glory?
What would you ask if you had just one question?” Joan Osbourne – ‘One of Us’

“But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” God replied to Moses, “ I am who I am. Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:13, 14 NLT, Italics mine)

What’s in a name?
Continue reading Moses and Joan Osbourne – What’s in a name?

A milestone day

Jeremiah 29:11

Kind of a milestone day today, my first team meeting since becoming a full team member at Azalea and my third visit to the Diamond Day at Ace Café marking two years since I first started hanging round with God’s Squad.

Started the day by sharing one of the most beautiful communions I’ve ever experienced. Some incredible life stories in the Azalea team, ministering to the broken out of our own brokenness. I’m deeply encouraged by what’s happening there, it’s exciting to see people taking initiative and working together to answer Christ’s call to the lost. I feel privileged to keep meeting brothers and sisters from all kinds of backgrounds who have, in their own way, kicked open the Church doors and launched an assault on the gates of Hell. As Christians step out in strategic ways, working in blessed unity, and begin seeing our ministry in the context of God’s Kingdom, change will come!

So now I’m back at home, trying desperately to distill a day of rich experiences into words, and failing miserably! If I could travel back in time and tell just a few stories to the bitter and cynical man I once was, maybe I could reclaim some of those frustrating years.

For now, I’ll take 5 in the midst of a manic weekend. Time to sit and daydream about the songs of victory we’ll sing when we share that communion meal in eternity….

“Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the lord : “I will sing to the lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; he has hurled both horse and rider into the sea. The lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him— my father’s God, and I will exalt him! The lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!” (Exodus 15:1-3 NLT)

So it’s not just me that does that then…

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Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig

That’s How I Roll

Writing a charity proposal while listening to Pantera. Cos that’s how I roll.

RIP Brennan Manning

Every Christian and spiritual seeker should watch this video, with an honest and open heart. This is the greatest of impasses. The crossroads where every soul must examine its self and answer the most important of questions.

Much peace to all X

Capturing the moment

This has to be my favourite photo that I’ve ever taken. The colour and composition may not be great but it really captures something of the moment, and more importantly, the subject. Every time I look at it I almost expect Terry to start talking to me! So here’s to all the proper photographers who’s God given gift enables them to frame people, places and moments. Thanks for sharing some of God’s beauty with us.

Sean Stillman on Zac’s Place

Please check out this video about Zac’s Place Swansea, a place of special significance to me.

Law And Grace

“There are certain pious moderns who will not allow the preacher to speak upon anything but those doctrinal statements concerning the way of salvation which are known as ‘the Gospel.’ We do not stand in awe of such criticism, for we clearly perceive that our Lord Jesus Christ himself would very frequently have come under it. Read the Sermon on the Mount and judge whether certain among the pious would be content to hear the like of it preached to them. Indeed, they would condemn it as containing very little Gospel and too much good works. They would condemn it as containing all too much of the legal. But we must never let be forgotten Christ’s emphasis: the law must be preached, for what the law demands of us, the Gospel produces in us, else ours is no Gospel at all.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon

A Friday Morning Musing…

So, as Bob Dylan once wrote, ‘The times they are a changin’. I’m currently in the process of a shift in work, lifestyle and (to use a horrible Christian jargon term) ministry. One thing that has come out of the countless application forms, retellings of my life story and newsletter writings that have characterised the last few months, is that I find writing incredibly therapeutic. Also, every once in a while some reads through my poorly constructed prose and gleans some kind of encouragement from it. With this in mind I’ve decided to start sharing my thoughts in a ‘blog’ of sorts. Being lazy and increasingly technophobic this format will have to do for now. So, if for some unknown reason you decided to read any of this, read it in the understanding that it’s more for me than for you. Something about attempting to communicate my thoughts in a way which others can see is a salve to my over-active ADHD brain.

My musing for today is this…. What a curious thing it is for us Christians to claim to be ‘In the presence of God’? Having read the Old (and New) testament quite a few times it seems pretty clear that God is not a fan of what us Christians call ‘sin’. This is basically an old fashioned way of describing a cock-up, a little foible or a monumentally destructive behaviour. These leaves me with a problem, because (don’t tell anyone) I make a lot of those. And I don’t mean in a polite preacher’s false humility kind of way, I mean I’m a bit of a bastard. I remember reading somewhere many years ago in a little ‘Thought for the day’ words to the effect of “as the years go by I’m more amazed at the goodness of God and more ashamed at the blackness of my own heart”. Those were the probably the first words of extra-biblical Christian literature that I really connected with.

There is this great dilemma of the goodness of God and the incredible fallibility of humans, especially humans like me. We Christians preach a God of forgiveness and mercy, but how often do we really live like we believe it? How often have we cast and angry eye at the behaviour of others to mask the shame of our own actions and attitudes? The late great preacher and lifelong alcoholic Brennan Manning said this:
“French philosopher Blaise Pascal said. ‘God made man in his own image, and man returned the compliment’ – the God of so many Christians is as superficial, petty and judgemental as they are”
More words which resonate with me. My only concern is that many in what is known as the ’emerging church’ seem to take these ideas too far, and somehow lessen the weight of the very sin which led God to sacrifice his own son, something of himself, to be tortured and killed as a sacrifice in our place. And at that pivotal moment in history (without getting into a debate about how God exists in linear time) the unrelenting hatred of sin and unimaginable mercy of God are acted out on a hill in an area of the world which has seen little of peace and forgiveness since. Utterly mind blowing.

So here I sit, a couple of millennia later, still wrestling with, and at once comforted by, an idea which the mightiest empires known to man have tried to crush. Which has outlived countless sects, wars, philosophies and nations. Which has brought the most savage of men to their knees and strengthened and empowered the weakest of underdogs. Maybe I’m to be scorned for still being fixated on this most basic tenet of the Christian faith, or maybe this glorious juxtaposition is the foundation upon which all we understand about Our God is built. I am loved.

Much peace to all.

(Photo by Rich Pearce instagram @rich_)

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