Is Jesus Enough?

http://dobbse.net/thinair/2004/05/finger-pointing.gifThe challenge of preaching is that your preaching is challenging.  They say that when you point the finger there are four pointing back at you (or at least 3 fingers and a thumb!).  When you stand with a microphone and the responsibility to voice what God is wanting to say to that group of people on that evening through that particular passage – then every word you utter resonates straight back in your heart too.  At least I hope and pray that it will never be otherwise!

On Sunday I preached a message that hit me with a challenge that will resonate for some time to come.  This isn’t a comment on the quality of the preach, but rather the significance of the word God gave me to speak.  You can listen to it here, but this is the crux….Is Jesus enough?  Just Him, not what He brings, gives or is able to do, but simply Him?  Whether we understand or not, even when the way he seems to act (or fail to do so) offends our sense of what he should do…is he still enough?

My text was John 6:25-40 – a conversation including Jesus’ famous declaration that “I am the bread of life!”  But what struck me is how this conversation is Jesus returning to the crowd he withdrew from at the start of the chapter in order to give them another chance to invite him in.

http://www.beliefnet.com/Prayables/Scripture/Loaves-and-Fishes.aspxYou see, the chapter starts with the feeding of the 5,000.  There is a crowd of thousands in a remote place and hungry.  So Jesus feeds them with a little boy’s packed lunch.  Jesus isn’t just generous and offers to buy everyone dinner, he does something totally beyond, something utterly unexpected.  Jesus doesn’t play by the rules we play by, he doesn’t even bend them slightly, rather it’s like he’s playing a totally different game.

Yet the crowd miss the point.  Confronted with a miracle that’s meant to be a sign, to be evidence of who Jesus is, they miss the invitation to receive Jesus and they simply see the free lunch.  They search around for some concept within their understanding of life with which to label Jesus.  They call him the ‘Prophet’ they’re expecting – not God himself come in human form – and then they try to control.  We read that they wanted to sieze Jesus and make him King.  So Jesus withdrew.

You see Jesus didn’t come to help us play the game of life better, to live a better life.  He came to give us a new life, to bring us into a new game, to enable us to live by different rules – where God himself is with us, our Father, our faithful provider.  Yet so often when we experience something of God’s power or an answer to prayer, we focus on the gift not the Giver, we seek to maintain life as we know it and simply add God on top.  We tame God with a label we understand and seek to control.  Jesus withdraws.

http://revbickers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/e100-bible-reading-challenge-miracles_3.htmlThe very next event is another miracle.  The disciples are in a boat in the middle of the lake and a storm has arisen.  Jesus doesn’t just swim out like a hero to help them, he walks on the water towards them.  He plays by different rules.  The disciples are terrified, but all they need is Jesus to say ‘It is I’ and they invite him into the boat.  They don’t wait for a deeper explanation, to understand fully, to know what to do.  All they need is to know it is Jesus and they invite him in.  We’re told that immediately they reached the other side.  By inviting Jesus in they find themselves playing the other game, His game, with different rules.

The conversation Jesus has is him giving the crowd another opportunity.  He challenges them to lift their eyes from ‘food that spoils’ and to see the ‘food that lasts to eternal life’ right in front of them.  He explains that the only work they do is to believe in and receive Jesus.  To let Jesus in.  When they ask for a sign his message is simple – you’ve seen enough already – I’m here.  God himself has come in human form and stands in front of you – you’ve seen enough to know I’m good – all that remains is to invite me in.

I’m challenged.  How many times have I seen God move, experienced incredible provision, seen physical healing, known emotional change in my own heart?  And yet I’ve quickly focused on that provision not the Provider.  I’ve wanted Jesus so long as he continues to do what he has always done.  I’ve gained some understanding of how God works and I’m happy for Him to do so within those boundaries…but I don’t want anything that disrupts my grasp on how life works, on how God works.

Sometimes when it seems that God has stopped doing what He once did the issue is that we’ve started to control, to focus on that particular provision, to limit what God is allowed to do in our lives.  We’ve focussed on gift not Giver and so the Giver withdraws.  The incredible news is that He’ll always give us another chance – but are we open to the conversation?  To the challenge of our understanding and priorities that centers on the one simple question: is Jesus enough?  If we had nothing else, if He ceased to do all that we’ve known Him do before, if He gave us only himself – is Jesus enough?

The disciples amaze me.  After many have left because the conversation was so offensive, Jesus asks if they are leaving too.  They reply: ‘To whom would we go?”  These men left everything before they saw a single miracle, simply at the invitation to ‘come follow me’.  They’ve gone so far that it doesn’t matter if they understand or not, if they like it or not, they have nowhere else to go but where Jesus is.  I want to be in that place, to say ‘Jesus, you are enough, more than enough, no matter what – all I want is you.’

How about you?

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Leadership Journies 1 – Rest and Confidence

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-FkX3Cvglwgw/UO96WHj16qI/AAAAAAAAM7c/BGq8dvvLXKY/s1600/L+plate.jpgOne piece of advice I’ve heard from almost every leader I’ve come across is this: never stop learning.  It doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have or how many letters come after your name – there is always more to learn.

I’m at the start of my ministry.  And I’m in this for the long haul.  So I want to learn.  I’ve had the privilege of growing up under the leadership of some great men and women.  Everyone learns from mistakes and experiences, but there is little point repeating mistakes of those who have gone before if we can avoid it by conversation!  So I’ve started to meet up with as many of these leaders as are willing to simply to learn whatever they can teach me.

The first man I met with was my old youth leader and a huge influence in my teenage years – Steve Delves.

Steve was the first person to release me into positions of leadership and got me to preach.  I’ve met few people as comfortable in who they are and as able to draw others out into the people they’re made to be.  Yet the main things we spoke about were rest and confidence.

http://feministing.com/files/2013/02/work-life-balance-sign-post.jpgHow do you balance work and rest?  When you’re role has no clear time boundaries, you can feel always on call, you’re in a vocation rather than a career….how do you not overwork?

Steve took me back to the beginning, back to Genesis.  On the 6th day God created man and woman – right at the pinnacle of the creation, the final act.  On the 7th day he rested.  So what was humanity’s first day?  It was rest.

Often we think we have to work before we can rest, that we have to get everything done and dusted before we can even think about stopping.  Yet the first day of man was to rest.  We work from rest, not rest from work.

Steve found this insight in Mike Breen’s book Lifeshapes, but it’s something that has influenced him greatly. Rest is the source of our work, not the reward for it.  Right at the heart of this blog is the understanding that we are called to be faithful, not effective.  This faithfulness is itself the most powerful course, because as we walk hand in hand with God, he moves through us.  It is His strength that achieves His purposes through us.  We rest in Him and allow Him to work.  In a sense, our biggest job is to give up control, which takes incredible trust, which takes a deep awareness of the love of God.

No wonder Steve went on to say we have to be really careful to make sure our plumb line in deciding how well we are doing is what God is saying, rather than what people are asking.  Yes, we care and love those around us, but we are called first to respond to God’s lead rather than the demands and felt needs of those around us. Father God cares even more than we do for every person in our minds, He will not neglect or leave anyone stranded.  Responding to God is in itself the best way to respond to the people around us.

We’re called to be faithful and faithfulness comes from rest.

If you could give any advice to your younger self when you began leadership, what would it be?

You know more than you think you do.

Steve explained that most of the angst and stress he felt during leadership came from insecurity in himself or God.  Confidence in what he was thinking, decisions he made, ways that he led would have settled him far more.  It’s not that he would have done anything different, but he would have enjoyed it far more – been more at peace – worked from rest.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-ent-FNvEbyM/USOCpWwIScI/AAAAAAAAAvs/VLluVWvb72o/s1600/How_Confidence_Can_Improve_Your_Life_and_Fitness_Goals_From_Empower_Your_Body.jpgWe are always learning, we are never the finished article, there may well be better ways that we could do the things that we do, but we’re not called to be the best.  We are called to be faithful.  To fix our eyes on God, give up control, and allow Him to do whatever He wants to do through us.  When we focus on walking in that relationship with Him, on being the people God has made us to be, we can have far more confidence in who we are because our confidence is in the One who made us.  Don’t second guess as if it all depends on you.  Keep right with God and trust as if it all depends on Him.  Here we find peace.  Here we find rest.  Here we see God move.

Where the greenhouse used to be

I was surprised, not so long ago,

In the garden of all places,

Where the greenhouse used to be.

Small patch of land, soil and some paving slabs,

I grabbed my spade and began to dig.

I’m not sure why I did.

Boredom perhaps, curiosity.

I’d done the rest: Flowers, shrubs, ponds and plants,

Every inch of garden, Carefully crafted and nurtured into growth.

Except this patch.

I don’t know why I waited.

The rest had taken time alright,

Year after year of dedicated time,

But perhaps I waited because I knew what I would find

In that corner.

Vague memories of what used to be,

Or just a sense of something new that would change the way things are.

Still, one day, I dug.

Crack.

Spade blade on something hard.

A rock? Too wide.

I dug a little wider.

To my surprise I found,

A chest.

I pulled it out and set it down,

In the corner, where the greenhouse used to be.

Muddy chest, once new, now locked and rusted shut,

Through years of being almost disappeared under layer and layer,

Of life.

Soil and weeds, over years, months and weeks,

Gradually covering,

As people, places, things I used to know,

Priorities so important once, now forgotten,

Disappointments and unmet expectations,

Dreams dreamed and not quite reached,

Or altogether ripped apart,

Like passing minutes and grains of earth

Layer upon layer covered that chest

Until it lay forgotten.

Now found.

I opened it.

It wasn’t easy.

Through lock and rust I had to thrust.

I hesitated, I didn’t want to break it,

Didn’t even know if what I’d find was good or bad, or nothing.

But something told me I had to do it now,

To wait another moment was to risk another burial.

It had to be done. So done it was.

You’ll never guess what I found inside.

Not medieval coins or ancient crockery,

But a beating heart.

Fragile, weak and small,

But still alive.

Protected in this shrine of grubby memories of earth and time.

And the strangest thing, to my surprise,

I knew this heart was mine.

Distant memories echoed in my mind of a time

This heart beat in me.

A time before it sunk beneath the years,

And days of people, things and places,

Shattered dreams and broken promises,

Wasted time and mundane mediocrity

The simple stuff of life allowed to gather,

And to cover what should have been it’s source,

Not half-forgotten, hidden, buried deep,

Where the greenhouse used to be.

I heard a voice.  Still, calm, it whispered:

“Pick it up.

Pick it up and put it in.

It’s never too late for new life to begin.

Your heart is beating still,

Kept alive through time by mine,

The source of life even when unseen,

But now you have a chance to start afresh,

To know your heart and know mine too,

To dream again with hope and expectation,

Based on me and not on you.

The new begins today.

Pick it up.”

Pick it up.

Did I?

Will you?

A faith buried through years of life, distractions, hurts and joys,

Is still a faith that beats with life never too late to be awakened.

Things will change when we let Him in,

Re-discover dreams, allow ourselves to feel again,

But change brings life, and life in all it’s fullness,

When it’s nurtured by the gardener,

Not buried in the corner

Where the greenhouse used to be.

Pick it up.