The Big City, Hiraeth and Home

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I’m sat typing this in a Starbucks cafe at London Paddington station.

It’s not like the Starbucks that I’m generally used to visiting. It has minimal floor space, very hard and narrow seats, tiny tables…and no public toilets! I guess they don’t expect you to stay here long and certainly everyone seems to be in a rush! But then, for this plucky little pastor from the Welsh valleys, that kind of sums up my whole experience of the big smoke.

I’ve been in London since yesterday and I can safely say – I don’t fit in here!

In fact, while I am a born and bred Brit, I’d even go so far to say that London is completely foreign to me. Now before you think I’m being racist here, let me explain what I’m on about.

My Starbucks experience is not the only thing that is alien to me. Here’s just a few things that make this place so foreign to me.

Size – The buildings are huge. The bridges are huge. The shops are huge. Everything is huge because the whole city is flippin’ huge, which probably explains why they need all that…

Transport – Oh my days! This city is non-stop! There must be more bus stops and train stations in this one city than in the whole of Wales! You straight up need a PHD to understand those crazy maps and navigate all the barriers and escalators, and there should be public health warnings about all the pushy guys and gals who HAVE to get on the train before you. Hey ho, I shouldn’t be surprised at such logistical madness in light of all the…

People – There’s people everywhere. People from every nation under the sun, speaking every language known to man. I sincerely love the ethnic diversity and experiencing the rich diversity of all the people God has created, but that still doesn’t excuse all the…

Ignorance – Sorry London, but many of you guys are actually quite rude! You don’t seem to want to connect with real people. You sit on trains with hundreds of other relational human beings all around you, yet prefer to connect with you smartphone with your headphones in. NO ONE TALKS TO EACH OTHER!! This is the most un-Welsh thing I’ve had to navigate in London. Everyone is head-down on their own little mission. I think I was the only one who thanked the bus driver (NB it is an arrestable offence to not thank the “Drive” in Wales!)

Anyway, here I am waiting for my train in Paddington and missing my family like crazy after a bonkers last 24 hours, and here’s what I’m thinking -

I don’t belong here.

And I want to go home!

The Welsh have a fantastic word for this emotion – hiraeth – a word with no English translation that refers to a deep, deep longing for the homeland! 

Right now I am longing for Wales, especially the Eastern Valley and perhaps more specifically, Trevethin, because that’s where my family, my home and my heart truly lie. That’s where life makes sense to me. That’s where I feel I belong.

However, my experience of London and this strong sense of hiraeth I currently feel has got me thinking about heaven.

Truth is, right now here in London I am a foreigner. Everything is alien to me and I am alien to it. Which reminds me of something that Peter wrote:

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2 v 11 NIV)

As a Christian I am a foreigner, an exile in this world.

London is not my home, but neither is ANYWHERE on planet earth!

My citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3 v 20).

This sin-stained world, it’s systems, structures and insanity are alien to me. There are days when the madness, the sadness and the downright badness seems unbearable. Yes, there is beauty to be found, miraculous moments to be enjoyed and radiant grace does penetrate the dark clouds…but this is not home!

Home is with my Father.

With the family that His Son bled to redeem.

Where ultimately everything is going to make sense.

Heaven is my homeland and my heart aches for it!

However, I’m not there yet! I’m still waiting for my train to come. So what am I to do with this heavenly hiraeth? Sit on my backside, ranting, raging and despising the prevailing culture for being so hostile and foreign?

Nah, that’s just a waste a life and breath.

Hey, here’s a crazy idea – rather than resenting culture, I could engage it. I could believe that God hasn’t sent the train yet because there’s others He wants on board. Perhaps the gospel He has put in my hand is the ticket they need. Maybe His home is not full and He wants others to be part of His family too?

So come on Hankey, get off your backside and get busy! There is a mission-field all around you. There is a loving Father who still has rooms in His home for those who are currently alienated from Him by sin and enmity.

Don’t hide behind the hiraeth.

Rather, let it compel you to love, live and unleash the gospel.

The train’s coming soon, but it’s not here yet…

Should I join this local church?

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If you are looking to join a local church, here are 4 questions that it may be helpful to consider:

1. Do I buy-in to the vision?

Every local church should have a clear vision. A church that has no sense of direction will soon wander off track and end up in all kinds of trouble. What’s worse, it will almost certainly sleep walk into anonymity and irrelevance. Now it would be easy to make the question of vision all about the missional or ecclesiological direction that a church is going in. And those things are important, but they are not primary. What is of prime importance is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In other words, is this church captivated and motivated by nothing less than Jesus Christ Himself? And is that enough for you? Many churches claim to have vision that is big, bold and adventurous. However, I want to suggest that you can’t get bigger, bolder or more adventurous than Jesus. Therefore the church that gets excited about Jesus week-in and week-out, that lives, breathes, models and and sacrifices for the gospel – that’s a church with a vision you should want to buy in to.

Any other vision is too small and unworthy.

2. Can I serve the mission?

A church that loves Jesus will love what Jesus loves. And the gospels, indeed the whole of Scripture is clear that Jesus loves people. Indeed He spilled His blood on the cross in order to redeem a people for Himself. Shortly before catching the cloud escalator to the Father’s right hand, Jesus left His boys with a mission statement that is still as ‘live’ as it ever was. We can probably sum up the mission of the church with just two simple word: making disciples. Therefore:

  • Is this church committed to Jesus’ disciple-making mission?
  • Are they about more than making converts?
  • Are they committed to a mission that extends far beyond what happens on Sunday?
  • Is every member equipped and encouraged to play their part in the fulfilling the great commission wherever they’re at?
  • Will I have opportunities to use my gifts to serve the church and reach the lost?

3. Do I subscribe to the theology?

The mere mention of the word theology sends shivers down the spines of many Christians. It seems to conjure up thoughts of high-brow academics who confuse the wotsits out of ‘ordinary’ Christians with their big words and cold hearts. Theology is for nerds and nit-pickers, right?

Wrong!

In truth we are all theologians (that is, we all have a view about God) and those of us who are Christians will also have an idea on what church is all about and how things should be done. The purpose of this post is not to say what theology is right and what theology is wrong (though I’ll tell you if you want LOL!!!!) But rather, to simply suggest that before connecting with a local church it is important to understand what a church believes. Some issues such as the nature of God, the atonement, the resurrection, the reality of hell, the infallibility of Scripture, salvation through Christ alone etc. are primary and you should not consider joining a church that holds a different position to you on such important matters.

However, there are also secondary theological beliefs that should also be thought through, such as what the church believes about the gifts of the Spirit, women in leadership, infant baptism, the Lord’s Supper, membership, the sovereignty of God in salvation etc. There is definitely room for disagreement and healthy discussion between Christians on these issues, and there are many fantastic Christians who I know that sincerely hold differing views on these matters. I have absolutely NO PROBLEM loving them, fellowshipping with them and calling them my brothers and sisters. However, there is no doubt that while secondary theological beliefs are just that – secondary – they are still important to work through when it comes to serving together in a local church. If you love praying out loud in tongues you may feel restricted in a church that believes the gift of tongues no longer exists. Similarly, if you believe that the teaching role in a church should only be held by men, you may struggle to sit in good conscience under the preaching of a female pastor or vicar.

4. Can I submit to the leadership?

This is potentially the most inflammatory of these points. Perhaps it would help for me to break it down into two parts:

a) Can you submit?

For many submission is a dirty word, and language such as “submit to your leaders” in a church context suggests a thuggish, totalitarian religious regime that wants to crack the whip and keep everyone in line! But submission is a fundamental requirement for all who want to be fruitful, faithful members of a local church. Consider this scripture:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13 v 17)

The Bible implies that we will have leaders over us and it challenges us to submit to their leadership. Notice that it doesn’t tell us to submit if we want, to whom we want, when we want. It simply charges us to submit. By joining a local church you are by default placing yourself under leadership, therefore choosing the right local church to belong to is crucially important.

b) Can you submit to these leaders?

As a leader I can honestly say that knowing that I will one day stand before God and have to give an account for the souls of all those I have the privilege to lead is sobering…and terrifying! Like the vast majority of church leaders that I know, I don’t take leadership lightly. 7 years into leading Hill City and I still struggle to believe that anyone in their right mind would want to be part of a church that I lead, let alone allow me to speak into their lives! I still shudder when I read the qualifications required of an elder, as laid out by Paul in 1 Timothy and Titus. And I know that those I am called to serve are commanded to watch me and learn from me and even copy what I do:

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13 v 7)

As you consider joining a local church, spend time getting to know the leaders. Ask them questions, and let them ask you questions too. From my perspective, I would welcome such dialogue with potential members. Here’s some things you should be asking:

  • Can you respect these leaders?
  • Will they teach God’s Word faithfully?
  • What does their life tell you about their leadership?
  • What does their marriage/family/Facebook reveal to you about their understanding of the gospel?
  • Do they have a faith that you (and your family) could aspire to imitate?
  • Would you trust them to speak into your life, both to encourage, challenge and exhort?

These are just a few thoughts for you to ponder as you consider joining a local church. If I missed anything or if you want me to clarify anything, why not post a comment below? Let’s connect.

Blessinz.

IF I WAS GOING TO PLANT AGAIN… (PART 2)

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This is the second part of a short church planting mini-series. You can read the first post here.

If I was going to plant again…

1. I wouldn’t start with a vision for what the Sunday ‘event’ should look like

When I planted Hill City it’s fair to say that I didn’t have a clue what the dickens I was doing. The vision didn’t really go much further than “Love God and tell everyone about Jesus”. If there was one thing that I did have it was a clear idea of what the Sunday event would look like. Admittedly, I knew that our core team needed to grow beyond the the “2 adults, a baby and a pit-bull in the living room” phase before my “vision” could be realised. But I knew what the goal was – a windowless basement venue, dark walls, grungey artwork, a LOUD sound system, a smoke machine and a gnarly pulpit crafted out of solid Welsh oak (honest!) The church would consist largely of drug-addicts, criminals, single mothers and psychopaths (all of whom would be leading the church within a few years). I guess I envisaged a Sunday event that looked remarkably similar to Adullam’s cave.

But I really didn’t have much of a vision beyond that.

WHAT A PLEB!!

For those who’ve ever attended a Sunday gathering at Hill City, you’ll know that very little, if any of the decor I dreamt up has ever been realised (not even the pulpit!) And while we are blessed to have ex-addicts, single mums and former criminals in our church family, we also have those who are wealthy, married, professional, elderly and spiritually mature too! For what it’s worth, I think that God’s vision for our Sunday gatherings is far better than my plan. But I also acknowledge that I missed something MASSIVE in those early days – namely that there’s A LOT more to church planting than the Sunday event. In fact, the Sunday gathering should almost be an afterthought – the logical outworking and expression of the church whose DNA was already being established behind the scenes.

A few weeks ago my eldest son, Josiah, excitedly reported to us that he’d learned something important. In his own words, he had discovered that “church isn’t a building – it’s people standing on each other’s heads!” Not sure where he got that from, but he was probably closer to what church is really about than I initially was! Church is about Jesus and His people, not buildings, programmes or Sunday events! Certainly when Jesus said “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16 v 18) He was not talking about a physical building with staging and a smoke machine. He was talking about His people, His body – the church!

If I was going to plant again, I’d start with a vision of Jesus and His bride and let everything else flow from that!

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The Fellowship of the Unashamed

My sister sent me this yesterday, and I thought it was so epic, I’d share it here at the Rant.

Enjoy…

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An African pastor was overwhelmed by rebels who demanded that he renounce his faith. He refused. The night before they took his life, he wrote the following lines on a scrap of paper:

I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed.” I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals!

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, lean by faith, love by patience, lift byprayer, and labor by power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought , compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or burn up till I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops.

And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me. My colours will be clear.

Biblical Manhood Conference, Cardiff

On Friday 3rd October my good friend Gavin Peacock is coming over from Canada to teach at 2 conferences for men that I am involved in organising. One is the Courageous conference on Saturday 4th October (more info about Courageous here). The other is a conference on Biblical Manhood that Acts 29 Wales is organising and that is being held at Highfields Church, Cardiff:

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Be great to see you there.

Tough Mudder in Photos

Done!I DID IT!!!

Incredibly, I managed to complete the entire 11.5 mile course on Saturday, completing every obstacle (apart form the Funky Monkey bars, that apparently 60% of people fail!) What’s more incredible is that of those 11.5 miles I ran at least 10 of them!!! (The furthest I’ve EVER run before is 6 miles!) Though, I did run SLOOOOOOWLY at points :-)

In truth, however, I only completed the course because of the support and encouragement of the guys with me. James Richards, Nathan Davies and Andrew Gwyn were solid friends and invaluable getting me to the finish line. Of the 20 obstacles there were 3 that I physically couldn’t have completed were it not for the boys dragging, pushing and pulling me over. I’m going to post more about that in a few days.

For now, I am glad to rest my smashed up ankles, reflect on one of the most exhilarating and inspiring days of my life and celebrate the grace of God in helping me to raise over £1,200 for Open Doors.

Here’s some of the photos of the day courtesy of my good friend Mr Caleb Jones:

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