McDonald’s, Muscles and Math Geeks

Hi everyone. I’m Jake and I’m a 20-year-old ‘Jesus freak’ that likes an eclectic mix of music and any sports that involve a ball (except cricket…someone explain it to me?). I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute to this stream of blog posts which from what I have read so far have been pretty good and very encouraging.

So where am I from? Well I was born just north of Birmingham, England but have lived in Scotland for the past 8 and a bit years. I’m currently working as a church development worker for Thurso and North Coast Free Church in the Highlands of Scotland and on the side I am employed at Tesco…two jobs where I get paid to speak to people so I love it.

Amongst the other jobs I have worked in the past I have been a member of the Golden Arches Restaurant (McDonald’s) crew for a wee while and I try to keep fit and work my muscles and I don’t like Mathematics very much. A little random but it’s these three things I want to use as a springboard for my topic today; McDonald’s, Muscles and Math Geeks.

 

So what do McDonald’s, muscles and a math geek have in common?

Sounds a wee bit like the start of a joke but this question, or rather the answer to this question, poses an interesting topic for people. Growing is an important part of life and takes place all around us, inside us and is constantly happening. It’s taught in every classroom round the world to children of all ages.

Businesses like McDonald’s view growth as very important in order to make decent profits. Muscles need to be trained and to grow so that they don’t waste away and become gelatinous masses. Math geeks require a lot of studying crazy mathematical formulae and other numerical nonsenses so that they can grow in their knowledge. It doesn’t matter who you are, growth is important; right down from a baby taking their first steps or getting first teeth right up to the athlete training for a marathon or a student studying for a biology test.

Christians, you know, the crazy people that go to church and pray and stuff, well they, just like every other human being, grow. For Christians the aspect of spiritual growth is as equally important as any other type of growth. In the Bible, and particularly in Paul’s letters, growth takes the driving seat as being one of the most important factors within Christian life; in short, we, as Christians, MUST grow.

Here are a few verses from the Bible that show us that we need to grow as Christians just in case you don’t believe me:

“Like new-born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation…” 1 Peter 2:2

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18

childrens-shoe-1728295_1280

So to grow as a Christian is kind of a big deal then, huh? Well the Apostle Paul seems to think so and I’d bet my bottom dollar that taking what he has to say is true is a good idea. That challenge to grow can seem pretty weighty but I think we need to understand what is required of us. It’s not good to beat ourselves up when we don’t feel like we’re growing as fast as we should be, first off. When a baby takes their first steps and they fall over the parents don’t start yelling and telling the baby off for being so stupid in falling over. Rather, the parents and any onlookers applaud and smile hysterically at this baby’s few steps. Growth looks different for everyone and people will grow at different rates; we’ve just got to make sure it’s happening.

If we are to be growing, we need to ask ourselves a few questions in order to get an idea of where we’re at and where we need to be. Here is a wee evaluation that I find helpful to see if we are growing spiritually:

  • Self-Evaluation
  • 1) Complacency – Are we content to stay as we are?
  • 2) Comfort – Are we more concerned with our Christian habits rather than moving into a place that is uncomfortable in order to grow?
  • 3) Christ – Do we desire more of Jesus?

It’s helpful for us to ask ourselves these questions. Again, if you’re answers to these questions are along the lines of 1) yeah I’m pretty content to stay where I am, 2) I quite like being comfortable in my spirituality and 3) Jesus is just okay, then you definitely need to grow. You could be on the flip side though and be like 1) I’m so restless with myself and I just want to grow more 2) I’m happy to be moved outside my comfort zone and I make it a priority to undertake things which challenge me and 3) I desire more of Christ every day; good, but you have still got to work at it.

So how do we go after spiritual growth? Like where does the rubber hit the road and really start moving somewhere? How do we practically, realistically and spiritually grow?

I want to show you what I believe the Bible says in regards to how we can grow spiritually.

I like numbers so here is a breakdown of 5 points that we can use to grow:

1) It’s not going to happen overnight.

If we get discouraged from not growing as fast as we want to or we feel like we’re not growing at all, we need to look back to our source; God is the one who helps us grow. Spiritual growth is a long, drawn out process that lasts a life time. Christians are Christians for their whole lives and they grow over their whole life. Here is a quote by one of my favourite devotional writers, J C Ryle:

“Gradual growth in grace, growth in knowledge, growth in faith, growth in love, growth in holiness, growth in humility, growth in spiritual-mindedness – all this I see clearly taught and urged in Scripture, and clearly exemplified in the lives of many of God’s saints. But sudden, instantaneous leaps from conversion to consecration I fail to see in the Bible.” – J C Ryle

In short, our starting point is God and he uses our lives to grow us.

2) We need to be open about our state spiritually.

Farmers don’t pretend that everything is going great if it’s not. Farmers are usually the first people to say if a season of weather has been bad or if the crops haven’t done well. We need to be honest about the seasons of life that we’re going through too.
Share with a Christian brother or sister about your struggles; we haven’t been saved to be isolated, God saves us into a family. We also need to expect to have times when we feel flat. We’re not always going to be happy clappy everything is dandy.

True Christian joy is knowing that Jesus is there with you through it all.

3) We need to prioritise.

Spiritual growth is important and I think we’ve settled on that.

As it says in 1 Peter 2:2 “Grow up in your salvation” we need to be growing up, we need to make growing as a Christian a priority. We need to make growing up important and the means by which we do that need to take fundamental positions in our lives. So whether that’s meeting for prayer with Christians friends, going to church, reading the Bible, listening to sermons online, whatever it is, prioritise it!

4) We need to lower our own importance.

“The right manner of growth is to grow less in one’s own eyes.” Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is one of my favourite writers from the Puritan era. What he is saying here is that in order for us to grow spiritually we need to grow less in our own importance.

As Christians that are wanting to grow we need to look at ourselves in the right way. It’s not about devaluing ourselves or slating ourselves or thinking of ourselves as muck but rather it’s looking at ourselves in the way God sees us. That, yes we are horrid and dirty and we make mistakes BUT with Jesus, God sees perfection.

The right way to see ourselves is to view ourselves as second.
In every situation, I am second. Whatever comes our way, whether it be a sibling wanting the choice on the TV or music in the car, whether it’s helping parents with shopping or laundry, whether it’s letting someone else have the last cake or choosing to forgive someone even if they didn’t say sorry, think ‘I am second’.

Only when we put Christ first and what He has shown us to do, can we grow spiritually.

5) We need JESUS.

Needless to say this is the most important part. Without Jesus we don’t grow, without Him we have no reason to grow. Here is a quote from a great theologian, Mr Tozer:

“The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly enemy of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people.” A W Tozer

We need to desire Jesus. If we are going to grow we have to be seeking after Jesus with everything we’ve got. Just like a homing missile is attracted towards a metal aircraft, we need to be ardently, zealously pursuing Christ. We need Him to take away our complacency, our stiffness, our lack of growth.

starry-sky-1246272_1280

With Jesus we will go through difficult times. The gospel isn’t a “get out of jail free card”. The good news of Jesus is knowing that He paid it all, that we owe it all to Him. If we pursue growth, if we fight every day for that deeper relationship, one day we will be with God. Let’s be more like McDonald’s, Muscles and Math Geeks and grow. I want to leave you with this verse that I find a real inspiration:

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” Matthew 25:21

Why the Charismatic Church and the Reformed Church need each other!

Someone recently lent me a book by Martyn Lloyd-Jones entitled What is an Evangelical? Needless to say, it had a profound impact on me.  I found I agreed with most of what the author said, whilst also disagreeing with him on certain points.  In some ‘Reformed’ circles, this man is put on a high pedal stool, which annoys me greatly, however he was a man greatly blessed in ministry and wisdom.  Many thanks to Josh for lending it to me, it has been a great inspiration!

Evangelicalism: Primary and Secondary issues

What is an Evangelical? © ICM books
What is an Evangelical? © ICM books

The whole point of the book (a series of lectures given in 1971), is to define what an Evangelical is; that they are one who focuses on the whole truth of the gospel, not jeopardising the primary issues, such as the Cross and the Resurrection, etc. He also is keen to point out a lot of matters which are not primary issues such as Calvinism, how the Spirit works, baptism, prophetic interpretation etc.… with which a lot of Christians can get carried away with and divided by.

When I read this, I was extremely glad when the author noted the secondary issues that should not get in the way of unity amongst Evangelicals. I would add to this, colour of church doors, the type of worship music that we use, whether or not we have pews, or the version of the Bible that we use. There are so many little divisions that keep us from this unity.  I am also very glad that he notes of primary issues that we must focus on, and that we should be careful of those who vary from us on these primary truths.  The Catholic Church for example, in doctrine on primary truths, varies lot and we must be careful.   However Lloyd-Jones’ view on creation I think can be a red-herring, and a hindrance to real issues. Ultimately, how God created the world is neither here nor there when it comes to salvation. It doesn’t bother me, what bothers me is Jesus and his Word being proclaimed in our land.

Nonetheless, unity in the church is a topic Lloyd-Jones focuses on and I would like to take it even further, that the many denominations need to have further unity. In doctrine we will differ on these secondary issues, but with all our aims in evangelising, in spreading the good news, we must unite, as this infighting is just us letting sin control us.

Doctrine and Feeling: the Balancing Act

Lloyd-Jones attacks both intellectualism and emotionalism in these series of lectures. Both, he feels, hinder the work of the Gospel and our walk with the Lord. He notes that especially those in Reformed circles, if they feel the Spirit and are baptised in the Spirit they feel they have to become Pentecostal, which he states is not the case!  How true is this!  All Christians should welcome such a wonderful gift and should not feel inclined to change denomination because of it!  In this, he notes that there has to be knowledge of doctrine, which warns us of the danger of ecumenicalism.  That because we think we feel the Spirit does not mean that doctrine no longer matters, it does!  That’s why there is still an important divide between Catholics and Protestants, etc… What Lloyd-Jones notes, is that both the Spirit and doctrine are vital for our modern day church.  That either going too far one way will become very dangerous and I totally agree with this.  I will later go into the Reformed-Charismatic movement as a way of reaching the balance, but for now it is important to note that balance is always needed in the church.

Lloyd-Jones notes of the danger of the growing ecumenical movement that he saw rise during his lifetime. As Christians, we need to be careful of sharing with other churches which vary from the primary issues of the gospel.  The Catholic Church and some other denominations need to be kept apart from fellowship for our own good.  How can we share evangelism platforms with those who compromise  on fundamentals?  Share a platform with those who do not believe in a personal relationship with God, who believe in an infallible man called a Pope and pray to Mary? The poor woman would turn in her grave, if only she knew!  I am not saying that there are not Christians amongst the Catholic Church, far be it from me to say such things, but certainly the leadership and structure of the Catholic Church should never be met in fellowship, they are incredibly dangerous.  I sometimes feel as though we think ecumenical movements are the only way to achieve unity.  That idea is wrong, we can have unity in fellowship with our denominations, evangelize together, but we have to recognize our differences and stop trying to water down and compromise on doctrine.

He writes that the church has to be constantly reforming. This is an interesting notion and one that I fully understand.  The church should not be relying on its traditions to survive; it should rather be looking forward, and constantly improving itself, adapting to new challenges and situations, and most importantly continually growing in the Lord.

Reformed and Charismatics: where’s the in-between?

I would know like to move onto an article that discusses unity in an interesting way. The term ‘Reformed Charismatic’ might surprise a few, but I think it is wonderful. By it, we see a church desiring to learn the word, whilst acknowledging the wonderful and powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

If you have read my post on Calvinism, you would know that I am deeply against labels. However, a recent post by the Gospel Coalition really stood out to me. ‘Why Charismatics and Calvinists Need Each Other’. I now aim to explain what the author means by the term ‘Reformed Charismatic’ and why I indeed agree with him.

To me, in simplistic terms, Reformed (Calvinist) churches focus on doctrine but can tread into problems with intellectualism, whilst Charismatic churches focuses on the Spirit, but can tread in dangerous waters regarding emotionalism. Both broadly describe themselves as ‘Evangelical.’ There is no balance in either of these camps. Having emotion and doctrine is no bad thing; God has given us emotions that allow us to express ourselves when words cannot.  God has given us doctrine to grow closer to Him.

The church needs to embrace both these. The Spirit is real, the gifts God give are real, and God is unchanging, so why would he suddenly withdraw them from us?  The gifts are wonderful, and experiencing God is a fantastic experience that can stir our heart to praise Him more. Interestingly, many ultra-Reformed-types love the writing of Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards, however, it can be noted that he describes of incredible encounters and experiences with God, the like of which some would denounce today.

At the same time, doctrinal knowledge is needed. To keep us from wandering from God, to help us know more of him and to really grow as his children.  To generalise the church here, we have gone to one extreme or the other, rather than desiring both.  We have become scared of doctrine, or we have become scared of accepting the Spirit, of losing control and letting God use us.  What we need to be is unafraid and let God work; we need to desire to learn more of him, whilst we long for his spirit to fill us, to overwhelm us, so that like the old Puritan John Flavel who knew ‘more of heaven from one experience with the Lord than all the books and sermons he had ever read’; or as D.L. Moody, “Stay thy hand Lord! Or the vessel will break!”

The dangers of both extremes are real, between stiff-upper-lip hermit hyper-Calvinists and bewildered Charismatics living for weekly-experiences and healings, perpetually worried about losing their salvation or grieving the Spirit.

Even in our worship we must see a balance. Now I do aim to do an article of worship later on in more detail; but even in our worship we must reform.  In many Reformed circles, the organ and hymns are seen as the right way, that praising God can only be done this way; it keeps the emotions under control and is right and proper.  In Charismatic circles, having the most up-to-date music, with choruses, and a variety of instruments is seen as the best way to praise God.  That God can only work when music is used and that music is the only way we can praise God can sometimes be the message shown.  Now both are naïve in their understanding of God, but both can be good forms of worship.  To the Reformed, I say, do not box God up and tell him what proper worship is, and do not be scared of your emotions, neither should you hinder the use of God’s gifts he has given people, nor not allow other instruments or new songs into the church.  To the Charismatic church I say, don’t let your emotions go unchecked, don’t be afraid of the old stuff and don’t get carried away by the music alone.  We need authentic worship that comes from our heart.  If both types of churches embraced each other’s style, with an authentic heart then maybe we would really see God work more and more!

Is what I’m saying ecumenical? Hardly!  Churches will always have disagreements over secondary issues, but when it comes to Evangelical Reformed and Charismatic churches, we agree on so much, and the denominations agree on so much.  By being a Reformed Charismatic, perhaps we can move to a position where the churches can come together to evangelise and fellowship more, presenting a unified Body of Christ, resplendent and effective in evangelism, ‘salt and light’.  It will keep us aware of the doctrinal truth of the Bible, and thus aware of heresies such as the Roman Catholic Church, whilst engaging with so many more churches around us.  It will allow us to have a church that is filled with the Spirit, and one that is strong in the word of God.

Concluding thoughts

We must learn to come together in unity; we must immediately pray for this unity and get rid of the animosity in the church and we must learn to accept our differences. May our prayer be the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane as John 17: 22-23 states ‘I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. May we be like Christ as Philippians 2:1-5 says Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’

Therefore to conclude, I think Lloyd-Jones’ lectures in What is an Evangelical? are as relevant today as they were then.  We need to see the dangers of certain movements, and of the liberal churches that are around.  We however, must move away from our extremes of intellectualism and emotionalism, and focus once again on the Gospel truth.  We need to embrace the Spirit, long for the baptism of the Spirit, for the gifts, whilst also having a strong knowledge of the biblical truths.  We need to be accepting of our differences, except when Gospel fundamentals are impinged on.  Although I am wary of labels, perhaps calling ourselves a Reformed Charismatic is a start in bringing a unity between Reformed and Charismatic churches, whilst also bringing together the gospel truths once more.  May you be blessed and may God burn in your hearts brothers and sisters!

Reflection on the US Election: No need to worry!

It has been a week since the people of America democratically voted in Donald Trump to become their 45th President of the United States.  Was I disappointed?  Undoubtedly!  Did I panic? No!  In this short blog post I aim to show you that there is no need to worry about such things!

Once the news broke, social media seem to almost explode. People were posting that it was the end of the world; that anyone who voted Trump was a bigot, a racist, sexist etc.…and hate and snobbery were unleashed in one massive go.  It was crazy, Christians and non-Christians were panicking, were making assumptions of people they had never met and were frankly terrified.  Now, rather than being all high and mighty about your political stand point, take time to listen to others, tackle the issue from their stand point.  Trump may not be my chosen candidate, but there is no need to worry.

So why do we not need to worry? Well I heard a sermon on that talked a bit about this recently.  The answer is quite straight forward.  As Christians, we do not need to fear or worry because God is sovereign.  He is a far bigger power than any president.  Sometimes in life we wonder why things don’t go our way or feel overcome by the difficulties in life.  But remember God is bigger than any of those problems.  Maybe he is using them to rebuild you as a better follower of Jesus, to trust him more, to grow in all of his ways.  God cannot be shocked, he knew Trump would be president; he is in and out of time!  He knows what will happen, so give your worry to him, rest in him. He says countless times in the Bible ‘Do not Fear’, we have nothing to fear if we are one of his children!  Those words were important for the early church and they are important today in political uncertainty.  And if you were a Clinton supporter then do not worry that even Christians voted for Trump.  They have their reasons, do not be so quick to judge, but know that God is above all of them!

We do not need to worry because we can make an impact on society by loving our neighbour. For some reason, we feel that only the big politicians can change society, that they can make all things good.  We put way to much trust into a single politician.  If you liked Obama, well he had problems, if you supported Clinton; she had a load of problems, just as many as Trump does.  Putting our entire trust and faith in politics is dangerous and messy.  As Christians, we can make a difference by spreading the word, by living out the word and by showing love.  No not a wishy washy kind of love, by a love that wants to see the poor and needy helped, a love that reaches to those who we disagree with, a love that keeps us balanced, and a love that shines for all to see.  So before you start ranting on Facebook or social media, take a step back, look to God, know that he is in control, that you have nothing to fear, not even death.  So start listening to those around you, whoever they may be; do not be so quick to judge, take time to understand even if they do not with you.

This is not just for politics. We need not worry about anything.  Of course that is easier said than done, and we are but human, but when worry and troubles find you, take a step back and know God is sovereign over all.  Whether this is with school work, essays, stress at work, family troubles, remember that all things work together for our good, and that Jesus is with you every step of the way.

For us, our focus point should always be Jesus and the cross. When we get lost in the troubles of the world, look up to Jesus because he knows your pain and fear.   Our focus point is never a political ideology or secondary doctrinal issues.  Our focus is Jesus and only him.  So when the worries of this world take their hold, remember Jesus and just how awesome he is.

I was just about to post, when this song by Chris Tomlin came to mind, so let me end with it, ‘Fear not’.  Rather apt no?

In Christ, and in love

Michael