Integrity in Leadership: A Christian Response

Once again, the UK has found itself in a crisis of leadership. Once again, our Prime Minister has been forced to step down following months of controversy, in what is (once again) becoming a disturbingly predictable season of uncertainty for our country.

The Government itself has had a rocky decade, with its leaders dropping like flies and our Prime Ministers changing like the weather; this seems anything but the “strong and stable” government the Conservatives promised us years ago! Both online and in the media, Brits from all walks of life are becoming more and more vocal towards a government which has frequently been described as “shambolic“.

Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s a reason I’m not a politician. I do not envy anyone in the slightest for taking the reigns over what has been a difficult few years for our country. I’ve watched PMQs over the past couple of months watching Johnson endure a near constant barrage of personal attacks, scything questions, and unyielding calls for him to resign. They have been relentless, and have no doubt taken their toll on the man.

As a Christian, I believe vehemently in justice. I also believe in being generous and loving towards the unlovable – especially those I dislike! These two things can sometimes seem to be at odds, especially in this “age of outrage”, where to defend or even slightly empathise with someone is often seen as the equivalent of giving them your full support (which, of course, is nonsense).

Through it all, the question I’ve been reflecting on more and more in recent months is: is it right for Christians to speak up against our (if the Bible is to believed, God-given) leaders? If so, how far can we go? When it is it appropriate to speak up? And if we are all sinners, do we have any right whatsoever to voice complaints against those in power?

While the answer may seem obvious, in practice very few people seem to be able to do this well.

On one hand I see Christians who are quick to condemn without giving any second thought to gentleness or nuance; on the other, I see cries of “do not judge” whenever anyone gives off even a whiff of disproval. If social media is anything to go by, it seems we’ve become quick to either pounce on those we disagree with, or let our important opinions and views go unannounced due to an admirable desire to remain meek and humble.

In this post I want to look at what the role of the Christian should be when examining and perhaps even challenging unjust leadership in worldly institutions. Later on in a future post I’ll ask the same question in regards to leaders within the church.1

To do this, I’m going to ask 2 questions. Question 1:

1. What should our attitude be?

Before looking at what we should say or do, we first need to look at our own hearts and attitudes.

Several times in Scripture, Christians are instructed to pray for those in power. Some may balk at this, but if early Christians were able to pray for the Roman Emperors and Governors who at one point were very much out to get them, and if Jesus himself prayed for those who crucified him even as he was being crucified, I think it’s not too big of an ask in 2022 for us to pray for those in power in our country – even the ones we dislike!).

I will never preach my political views from the puplit. I will always encourage people to pray for those above us, though, regardless of how much we disagree with them, dislike them, love them or loathe them.

In 2 Timothy 2, Paul says to Timothy:

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”

2 Tim 2:23-25 (ESV, emphasis my own)

Those verses may have been written to a church leader, but I think the principles stand for all Christians. Yet give me 5 minutes on social media and I’ll be able to find you 100 examples of where these verses go unheeded.

In our interactions with those we disagree with, Christians must clothe ourselves with kindness, gentleness, and patience, without being quarrelsome. Too many Christians make “foolish, ignorant controversies” the focal point of their faith, and it does far more damage than good.

Christian: don’t be like the world.

You can pray for God’s blessing and wisdom on political leaders you cannot stand.
You can pray for the salvation of abusive worldly leaders without supporting them
.
You can pray for God’s blessing over those whose values seem to be directly opposed to your own.

As Christians, our attitude should be one of humility; our disagreement should always be charitable. Filled with gentleness, looking for ways to encourage, quick to forgive, slow to make assumptions, and always ready to give the benefit of the doubt. We should be praying regularly for those above us, especially those we disagree with, often remembering the mercy God shows us each day.

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.

Proverbs 29:11 (ESV)

That doesn’t mean we have to be pushovers, however. Which brings me to my second question:

2. Do Christians have any right to speak out against our leaders at all?

Quite simply; yes. I think we do.

In Luke 13:32 Jesus calls Herod, the Roman Ruler of his region at the time a “fox” – slang for a liar, deceiver, or wicked man, referring to Herod’s cunning and treacherous nature. Jesus himself was not shy about declaring the truth about Herod’s character.

Jesus was also not shy about condeming the Pharisees (the religious leaders of his day) for their wicked and unjust practices.

God’s public anger and wrath against unjust leaders in the Old Testament (using prophets to publicly speak against them, plagues to judge them and dogs to shamefully lap up their blood when they perished) isn’t exactly subtle.2

In his letters, Paul publicly rebukes several spiritual leaders who had gone off track.

These are but a few examples. So while the Bible certainly calls us to love and pray for those in leadership – no matter how wicked they are – there are many descriptive examples of Godly men and women (and God himself) speaking out against corrupt leaders in their day.

Striking the Right Balance

God is sovereign. On that, the Bible is clear. Nothing happens without his knowledge, or without his allowance – but that doesn’t mean he morally approves of everything that happens. The Bible says all have sinned, but that doesn’t mean God approves of sin. The Bible may say God is sovereign in appointing leaders, but it doesn’t mean God approves of everything they do. This potentially mind-boggling train of thought is worth a whole blog post in it’s own, which I don’t have time to go into today (maybe in future) but if you’d like to read more about it, this Relevant article does a fairly good job of unpacking it.

With all of this in mind, I think it’s okay to speak out against corruption and political injustice when we see it. I think it’s okay to speak out against wicked practices, and I absolutely think it’s okay to speak out against rampant inequality.

The problem is that it can be difficult for us to strike the right balance between gentleness and speaking up. Some Christians focus so much on the loving and honouring part that they may not say anything out against injustice at all, even when God may be calling them to use their voice. Others will go too far in the other direction, abandoning any semblance of love, charity and generosity to spit venom at those they disagree with at the slightest opportunity. (And for the record: separating issues and people into categories such as “woke” and “unwoke” is entirely unhelpful and utterly foolish. That’s of the world folks, not of the Kingdom).

Christians have a God given impetus to use their voice for good. Proverbs 31 instructs God’s people to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” Christians are good at this, but some seem to be selective about doing it, especially when it comes to politics and hot-topic issues.

In fact, I don’t think it’s entirely unjustified when critics of Christianity point out that Christians tend to “pick and choose” what parts of the Bible we focus on. You’ll see plenty of Christians speak harshly and with hateful vitriol on topics like abortion and the LGBTQ+ community, but look for those willing to even speak up against policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and you’ll struggle a bit. It’s not as if the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about the latter either! Part of the problem is that very few Christians actually know how to engage well with non-Christians on these topics.

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

Proverbs 15:28 (ESV)

Lovers of Truth

Christians should use their voice. But the way we use it should be different to the way the world does. The world loves to pounce at the slightest whiff of controversy or outrage.  The world loves to attack, slander, lie and hate without listening. The world loves to react to headlines without actually reading the articles.

Christians should be set apart in the way we do these things.

We should be slow to speak and quick to listen. Willing to give the benefit of the doubt and to hear and understand the other side’s story. We shouldn’t just take things at face value, but weigh up the information given before speaking.

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

Proverbs 18:13 (ESV)

Unfortunately this is difficult in an internet culture where 95% of the most visited “Christian” Facebook pages in the US were controlled by Eastern European bot accounts. And if my own Facebook/Twitter feeds are anything to go by, Christians are as bad as everyone else (maybe even worse) at believing false information and speaking up on it before ever considering whether what they’re saying has any truth to it. I’ve heard plenty of pastors and speakers, in services or at conferences, give into sensationalism, sharing “shocking” statistics, headlines or anecdotes that, with a little research, are found to be mostly nonsense, or at least wildly overexaggerated.

Christians are to be lovers of truth, promoters of truth, and defenders of truth – however unpopular it is. Sharing dodgy information or political tripe from social media is not the way to do this. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy to “rightly handle” the word of truth – Biblical or otherwise. Sharing false information to make a point does not honour God; it actually damages our Christian witness.

Unfortunately, it’s much easier to take a false or sensationalist headline and get a reaction from it than it is to actually do a little bit of research and see if what we’re sharing has any weight to it. If we want our voices to have an impact, we have to make sure we’re speaking actual truth.

Once we’ve taken the time to do our research, listened to and understood arguments from each side, are convinced that we have the correct information, and that what we’re saying aligns with the Bible – then we can speak up.

So Christian: use your voice. Send letters to politicians, join in organised marches (including relevant non-Christian ones), and join in protests with a good conscience. Don’t be afraid of speaking out against injustice, but watch how and what you say when doing it.

Let your voice be used for good; the good of this world (which God created, loves and still thinks is “good”), the good of your neighbour (believer or not), the good of the oppressed, the good of our witness, for the glory of God, and the advancement of his Kingdom.

By the way, I’m aware I’ve not said much about challenging leadership within the church. That’s important too, but there are a few further considerations that need to be taken into account – I’ll talk about that in a future post.

Finally and most importantly, if ever in doubt, let Christ be your example:

Christ, who spoke up against injustice while praying for those who were unjust towards him.

Christ, who preached a message of repentance and judgement while being known as the “friend of sinners.”


Christ, who’s main focus wasn’t the political powers of his day, but on his coming Kingdom, the urgency and importance of repentance and salvation, and of the sovereignty of God throughout it all.

Christian: use your voice – but be set apart in the way that you do it. For in the end:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)

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Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments! If you found this helpful, please feel free to share it.

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  1. For the record: no, I’m not going to talk about the Nazis, or Dictators, or even Roman Emperors. Plenty has been said about living under those kinds of leaders already (and I refuse to succumb to Godwin’s law). 
  2. Please note that some of these examples are descriptive, not prescriptive – God sending plagues against his enemies doesn’t mean Christians are called to send plagues against ours!

5 reasons you may have Spiritual Apathy (and tips for overcoming it)

During the COVID19 pandemic I’ve had several similar conversations with folks in my congregation. From experienced, mature leaders to new Christians, at some point most people have commented the same thing: “I’m finding it hard to engage with God just now.

For some people, this means their Bible reading has taken a hit. During the months of lockdown, the desire to open their Bible and engage with God has been non-existant. For others, this means their prayer lives have been affected. With no desire (or realisation of the need) for prayer, people have found their connection with God to be lacking. For others, the desire to attend church has gone, their Sunday routines having taken a knock after 18+ months of lockdown. In many conversations, the term “spiritual apathy” has come up, and I think it’s a fitting term.

I’m betting for many of you the above conversation sounds familar. Having reflected on this (and having gone through it myself), I’ve put together 5 reasons why I believe this happens, and how I think we can begin to break out of this.

1. Lack of Gathered Worship

One encouragement I’ve found myself giving to people over this past year and a half is this: if you’ve found yourself struggling Spiritually since not being able to meet together, be encouraged. I’d be more worried if the sudden lack of meeting together didn’t cause any change in our spiritual or thought lives!

The church is the people of God. The local church is when the gathered people of God come together to worship. At services we come to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Thess 5:11), to sing over one another (Ephesians 5:19), to sit under the proclaimed word of God together (Colossians 3:16, Acts 2:42), to take communion together (1 Cor 10:16), to pray for one another (James 5:16, Ephesians 6:18, 1 Tim 2:1), challenge one another (James 5:16), and to enjoy being with one another (1 Thess 5:11, 1 John 1:3). All of these things are hugely important for a healthy spiritual walk with Jesus.

Many of us have lacked these things over the past year and a half: it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that many of us would find ourselves struggling as a result! “Going to church” isn’t just something we do to tick off another box on the “Good Christian” card – going to church is an act of worship, a decision we make to come be with the gathered people of God and remind ourselves of his goodness, grace and mercy.

In Acts we read that the early believers were devoted to gathering together, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer.

In Hebrews, we are encouraged not to give up meeting together – which hits a lot harder when you realise that document was originally written for Christians who were being persecuted for doing so.

Gathering together is Biblical. As good and helpful as “Online Church” has been, it simply can’t replace being together and worshipping God in person. Don’t get me wrong – online streaming has it’s place. Our church started an online service the year before COVID hit, with the intention of reaching those who couldn’t make it to a physical gathering for whatever reason. We reached people in countries where there was no legal gathered church, and we were able to connect to local people who weren’t able to leave the house due to physical or mental health reasons. We created pastoral teams who were able to visit some of those who had been connecting online, and it was a blessing. Our church will continue to offer online services to those who cannot make it, but they will in no way replace the physical gathering of the church.[1]

The solution:

Get to church. I know you’ve been out of habit. I have been too. I know how easy it is to sit on your sofa in your pants, turn on YouTube and watch church like you would any other Netflix show. I know how convinient it is to watch church whenever you want. I know how less stressful it is trying to get the kids out of the door in the morning. But trust me; for your own good, for your own spiritual growth and health; get yourself to church. If you have to fight to get into the habit again, make it happen. If it means the kids will grumble for a few weeks, let them grumble.

Your church may not have the kids programme ready again. The music may be different to before. Wearing masks may be difficult and weird (if that’s still a thing where you are) – but who cares. Get yourself to church. Get yourself into the habit of worshipping with other believers. If things like masks, distancing or following guidelines stops you because you think it isn’t right, then just do what Jesus says; die to self, get yourself humbled and go along. Don’t wait until this restriction or that restriction is lifted – just get yourself there (unless you have to isolate for health reasons). If you don’t want to go to worship God with your brothers of sisters because some aspect of the service isn’t to your taste, you’ve made an idol of the service. Die to your own desires, die to convinence, repent, and get yourself there. You’ll thank me later.

2. You’ve become (dis)content with stuff

I have a love/hate relationship with my phone. I love that I have almost all of the collective knowledge of human history packed into a tiny black rectangle that fits in my pocket. I love how convenient it makes things. I love how much easier it is to communicate with people than it was 10 years ago. But I hate how much I think I need it. I hate how much time I find myself spending on it. I hate how distracting it can be, and I hate that picking it up and checking it has become a habit.

I can watch almost any TV show I want at any time, anywhere in my house. Gone are the days when you’d have to wait until your favourite TV show was on in order to watch it. Gone are the days when you had to wait until 9pm for a film to come on, or when you had to go through the bother (lol) of putting a VHS/DVD into a machine to watch something. Gone are the days when you had one TV and you had to watch whatever the boss of the house was watching (or if you were “rich”, you had Sky in different rooms).

Instead, if I want to watch a film in my bedroom, I can pull it up on my laptop, or put it on my phone. No matter where I am, any time of the day. If I’m sitting on the toilet, it takes me all of 4 seconds to pull up my favourite episode of The Office on my phone, turning a 2 minute task into a 15 minute one – much to the annoyance of everyone else in my house.

There are downsides to this too. Our phones are almost too convinient. If I take my Bible out to my garden bench with the intention of reading it, but my phone is in my pocket, 9/10 I’ll end up sitting staring at my phone while my Bible remains closed. 15 minutes could go by, and before I know it the only little time I had to myself is gone, and I’ve wasted it. If I’m going to read my Bible, I’ve had to learn to put my phone (and my kindle, and anything else that could distract me) away into another room. I don’t have the self control to choose myself, so I have to figuratively cut my hand off to remove the temptation.

The Bible somtimes describes being in God’s presence like being at a banquet; being in the presence of the Lord is like being at a table surrounded by the finest wines, meats, breads and fruits you could find anywhere. When we susbtitute God for stuff, it’s like replacing all of that good food with a bag of Haribo. Sure, they might taste nice and make us feel good for a short while, but if that’s all you eat you’re going to end up with diarrhoea. Haribo is good occasionally, but you can’t live off of it. The same is true of our distractions. They’re good things, that can often turn bad if we don’t learn to control them.

The solution: Set limits. If your phone distracts you, don’t take it to bed with you. If you’re easily distracted, get yourself a paper Bible and read that with your phone in another room. If you need to downsize to a dumb phone (something I’ve thought about often, but haven’t had the courage to do yet) go for it.

If you’re always on Netflix, get a friend or family member to set up restrictions with Parental Control. Limit your time, and don’t let them tell you the password to change it, no matter how much you beg/ask/threaten them!

3. You’ve reduced “God” to feelings or emotions

Disclaimer: I am a card-carrying charismatic. I’m a firm believer in the (correct) use of Spiritual Gifts within the church. I fully believe in the laying on of hands and in being filled afresh with the power of the Holy Spirit.

I love an octave jump in my worship music, an uplifting chorus and a good, catchy repeating bridge. As a worship leader, there is no finer sight for me than seeing a congregation on their knees or with their hands raised and eyes squeezed shut in euphoric praise.

HOWEVER…

While those things are good..like everything else good in this world, we can misuse them, and ultimately make idols of them. And a very big reason I think people don’t “feel” God any more is because we’ve reduced “God” to something we feel. The buzz we get when the beat drops, when the drummer drops out and comes back in perfectly, the emotions we feel as our favourite song is belted out, or when the worship leader or pastor stirs us up, or when the person praying for us talks particularly loudly and uses all of the right buzzwords.

Though I’m currently falling more and more out of love with modern worship trends, I’ve been involved in enough worship bands and events to notice that there is a very real temptation for us to want to create an experience more than anything else.

God does not suddenly arrive when the beat drops. The Holy Spirit is not waiting behind the stage for the chorus to welcome him in. The presence of God is not dictated by the talent of the worship leader or the atmosphere in the room. Prayers are not answered based on how loudly and passionately we can ask them. And the danger for modern evangelicals, especially in charismatic circles, is that we equate experiences or feelings of “God’s presence” with these things.

Our Senior Pastor and my mentor, Peter Anderson once commented that he’s able to worship God in any musical setting, and I think that’s a hugely important point.

If you’re used to upbeat worship music and you can’t “connect” with God during a traditional service with hymns and an organ, it was never God you were connecting with in the first place. In the same way, if you’re used to more subdued music/singing in church and you find yourself unable to worship The Lord with a live band and fancy lights, you’ve put God in a box.

If your opinion on whether or not a sermon was “good” (which, as any preacher will tell you, is a horrible word for describing any message in the first place) is based on how many times the preacher got you fired up enough to shout “amen” loudly, you may have bought into hype more than you have the Word.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you “feel” God in a place of worship – if you are a believer, sealed with the Holy Spirit and standing in the presence of other saints, the Lord is there. He is closer than you can comprehend. Don’t make the mistake of confusing the endorphins exploding through your head wtih the tangible presence of the Lord.

Now, having said all that that’s not to say we may not physically feel things in services. Some people are so afraid of the above that they push too far in the other direction. There are times to weep. There are times to be joyful and cheer and celebrate. There are times when I have been prayed for and physically felt like lightening was shooting through my body. There have been times in private prayer when I have felt a buzz so far and beyond any (legal and illegal) high I’ve ever had. God can’t be put in a box, but he also can’t be shoehorned into fuzzy feelings.

The Solution: I don’t really know, to be honest. For this to change we need to see a cultural shift and an open, ongoing conversation in our churches about what our gatherings are really about. We need to get rid of the cancerous “hype” culture that can so easily invade our services.

Perhaps for a season we can adopt a “less is more” approach – many churches are having to worship differently after the COVID-19 pandemic, and maybe this is a season where we can relearn how to worship in a different setting to what we’re used to.

Perhaps even just acknowleding that we do this is a good step in remedying it…in which case, there you go! You’re welcome.

4. You’ve Lost Sense of the Holiness and Greatness of God

Coffee mugs can be a lucrative business for Christian organisations. It’s not uncommon for me to visit someone and to see a cup decorated with an encouraging verse like John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11 (😬), Psalm 23:1, etc on them. These are nice, comfy, cosy coffee-cup verses that give us as much warmth as the tea we drink from them.

There are some verses I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a coffee mug though. For example, take a look at this passage from Nahum:

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
    the Lord is avenging and wrathful;
the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries
    and keeps wrath for his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
    he dries up all the rivers;

Who can stand before his indignation?
    Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
    and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
The Lord is good,
    a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
    But with an overflowing flood
he will make a complete end of the adversaries
    and will pursue his enemies into darkness

Nahum 1:2-8 (ESV)

How many of those verses have you seen on coffee cups? Not many I’m guessing! But it’s not as if those verses are any less true than the warm fuzzy ones. The truth is that we sometimes struggle with talking about God like this – even though the Bible doesn’t hold back. I think deep down that’s one of the reasons for our Spiritual Apathy.

One of the seasons when I’ve been most in love, fired up and passionate about the Lord was atfer reading J.I.Packer’s well known book “Knowing God”. Packer described the majesty, power, wrath, love and jealousy of God so powerfully and simply, it blew me away at the time. It was so incredibly liberating having truths about God presented in such a way. It reminded me that:

God is God. I am not.

God is in control. I am not.

God is Holy. Without him, I am not.

God knows best. I do not.

God’s morals are absolute and good. Mines are not.

God is big. I am small.

God is God. I am not.

It hit hard because there is a very real temptation in our conversations about God today for us to present him simply as our buddy. Our pal, who exists simply to empower us and make our worldly lives better. With our pal God beside us, there is no challenge we can’t face! If our problems are Goliath, with God we become David!

Honestly? That’s utter tosh.

Here’s the thing: you aren’t David. And if you’re going to make the mistake of imposing yourself into that story at all, you need to know that who you actually are is one the Israelites cowering in the back, unable to conquer Goliath yourself. Jesus is David. You aren’t.

[He may cringe about it today, but Matt Chandler’s sermon “God is for God [link]” still one of the best of recent years. Go listen to it. I’ve included the extended version as the hype Furtick stirs up (rightly or wrongly – I’ll let you decide) before it is a good example of what I sahred above. It also juxtaposes perfectly with Chandler’s sermon!]

Jesus may be our kind, Gentle and Lowly saviour, but the book of Revelation also paints him as the vengeful redeemer, coming to earth with a sword in his mouth (his word) to proclaim judgement on sin, sinners and to tread on the “winepress of his wrath”, with the wine swirling around his feet representing the blood of his enemies (put that on a coffee cup and see how well it sells…). He is the meek Lamb of God, absolutely – but he’s also the Lion of Judah, and Lions have teeth. Or as C.S.Lewis puts it:

Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.

C.S.Lewis, “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”

When we forget how big, mighty and sometimes scary God can be (remember in Exodus whenever God appears his people are terrified by his presence?) it can lead us to be apathetic or even uncaring about whether or not we take him seriously.

The Solution:

Remind yourself of the vastness of God.

If you’re wondering how to do that, let me suggest a couple of things. Number 1: ongoing confession. It’s not something we often talk about today, but ongoing confession of sins is a discipline the Bible commands us to do. I’m not talking about sharing your sins with an annoymous priest in a box (although talking through your struggles with a Pastor or trusted friend will certainly help), but confessing our sins to God.

1 John 1 says:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)

Confessing our sins and repenting isn’t something we do once then never do again, nor is it something we do to please God. We’re forgiven and saved upon confessing our faith in Jesus, absolutely. In Christ, we’re forever put on God’s good books. No, ongoing confession and repentence is something we do for our own sake. Or as Tim Keller puts it, repentence is a gift. It reminds us of the gospel, of our need for Christ, and is like having a reset button whenever we stumble and mess up. Ongoing confession and repentence is one of the vehicles God uses to make us more like Jesus every day. [2]

Why do I suggest that? Because it humbles us. It reminds me of who God is, and who we aren’t.

Secondly, it reminds us of our need for Christ. When I pray and confess, I am reminded of how powerful, mighty and forgiving God is, and how powerless and weak I am.

God’s grace is sufficient and amazing, and the reason for that is because of why we need his grace in the first place. Don’t despair though, because:

5. You May Have Forgotten How Much this Holy and Mighty God Loves you

God’s wrath and his love go hand in hand. We can’t talk about his wrath without his love, and talking about his love doesn’t hit as hard if we don’t first talk about his wrath.

What am I saying? The God of all creation, who describes himself as holy, jealous, wrathful, vengeful, who hates sin, who is above everyone and everything loves you.

How do I know this? Because the terrifying wrath of God was thrown upon his Son in our place. Jesus willingly went to the cross (John 10:11, 17-18). Jesus went to the cross, knowing the joy he would eventually experience in seeing helpless sinners like you and me come to sit at God’s banquet table, as part of his family, warmly and lovingly invited in.

Jesus the Lion is also Jesus the Lamb, and he is gentle and forgiving towards those who would call upon him. You may have your flaws, and you may still struggle with indwelling sin, but in and through Jesus, those are washed away as nothing by the flood of God’s love and mercy.

You may feel Spiritual Apathy because you somehow have it in your head that God is done with you, he’s sick of you failing and failing again, or he’s mad at you because you’ve ignored him the past 18 months. Don’t give those thoughts any space in your head. God’s love for you is not dependant on anything you do or don’t do – it’s based entierly upon what he’s already done. It’s based on the love and obedience of his Son, who loved you enough to die for you in the first place.

The Solution:

Remind yourself of the Gospel every day. Print out some tracts or some of the promises of God that you can pin onto your wall and remind yourself of them. And again; get to church. If you’re at a good church, hopefully you’ll be remined of the above truths every time you go. And when you’re surrounded by other men and women in the same position as you, singing over each other and reminding each other of the goodness and faithfulness of the God who made you, it acts like a cleansing flood, washing away all of the doubts and niggles you have – at least for a little while – which is why we go back every week!

Prayer, Bible reading, being excited about the church – these things aren’t for God’s benefit – they’re for you. My encouragement to you today is that if you find yourself in a season of Spiritual Apathy, the Lord doesn’t love you any less because of it. He is able to sustain you, uphold you and fully restore to you the joy you once had. Acknowledge these things, confess these things, push into him, and let him do the work.

J

  1. Incidentally, and this is totally anecdotal, but from my conversations with pastors from different circles, it seems those who have stopped or limited their online usage are seeing a much higher percentage of their church return to physical services than those who continue to offer a strong online presence. Something to ponder on.
  2. Some like to argue that the above verse doesn’t apply to Christians and that it’s written to non-Christians, but the tense used in the language and the context of the rest of 1 John renders that argument null.

Jesus, Lord of the Storm

A couple of weeks ago I preached on Matthew 8:23-27 – the famous passage where Jesus calms the storm on the Sea of Galiee. As I was leaving church that evening, I got speaking to another pastor from our church. We joked about how it often seems as if God tests us on what we preached the week after preaching it. He was preaching on the demon possessed man the week after, and we both joked that if the above was true we were in for an interesting couple of weeks!

We laughed, we hugged (legally) and wished each other a restful Monday.

As is normal, the post-preaching slump hit on Monday morning – only this time it didn’t really go away. The rest of the week, as it turned out, was a stormy one. In fact if I’m being honest, weeks later the storm still hasn’t subsided. Just as we joked I found myself being tested on the very thing I’d preached on.

While I’d argue Matthew’s main point in sharing this was to show the primarily Jewish audience that Jesus is God – Lord over nature – I don’t think it’s a stretch to draw out the principle that Jesus is also sovereign over the Storms of life. Storms in the Bible often represent difficult circumstances and situations, after all.

As part of that message I linked the passage of Jesus in Storm with Jonah in his storm. The two passages have several striking similarities, but maybe that’s a discussion for another post…

Where do we turn?

One of the practical challenges I asked during the message was the question of how we deal with our storms. Are we like the sailors in Jonah’s storm, who prayed to every god under the sun before going to the true God? Or maybe we’re like those sailors who tried their best to fix the problem themselves by pointlessly throwing their cargo overboard?

Or are we like the disciples, who instinctively cried out to Jesus in the midst of the storm “Lord, save us!”.

To those without faith, my point was that there is no one else in the universe other than Jesus Christ who can save us from the storm of death and God’s wrath. To believers, my challenge was to ask where they go to when they face storms of life – do they go straight to their idols and false gods (Netflix, food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, etc) – or do they instinctively cry out to the One who can actually deliver and sustain them?

The week after preaching that, and in the weeks that followed, I found myself faced with that very question. When storms come, do I instinctively go to my loving Father in heaven, or do I turn to the things of the world to comfort me?

If God really was testing me then I can honestly and wholeheartedly say that I failed the test.

In the days and weeks after that message things weren’t easy. Jodie, myself and the kids all got sick, which lasted a couple of weeks. Finances grew tight as we were hit with unexpected expenses. A member of our congregation passed away. During the COVID pandemic I haven’t been as pastorally hands on as I would have liked to be, and have had to deal with the after effects of that. The logistics of planning in person services and gatherings again – organising venues, teams, etc – simply became another burden rather than the joy it should have been. My mental health and general mood began to slump. In recent weeks a situation has arisen that is extremely difficult for myself and those close to me to deal with.

In all of this if I’d heeded my own words I would have turned to the Lord and trusted him for everything. But I didn’t – at least, not at first. In the weeks proceeding that message prayer became a chore. Picking up my Bible became a constant battle of the will, which I often lost. I had planned to write an accompanying blog post along with my sermon but I couldn’t find the mental energy to start writing again.

Instead of turning to Jesus, I found myself turning to some of the very things I’d pleaded with people not to turn to. I became very aware of my hypocrisy, and had to laugh at how true (almost prophetic…?) that light-hearted, tired conversation with my pastor friend at the end of that busy Sunday turned out to be.

So why am I writing all of this?

Well, me being a hypocrite who sometimes doesn’t even follow his own instruction does not stop Jesus from being perfect and good. It does not stop the comforting power of the God who loves us from comforting and loving us. And when we do fail to turn to him in the storms of life, it does not mean that he abandons us. Quite the opposite, actually.

He Knows Me

A couple of mornings ago I found myself in the outside seating area of a McDonalds. I’d dropped my car off at a nearby garage to get parts of it fixed and had time to kill while I waited. So I went to McDonalds, got myself a coffee, sat outside and opened my Bible.

Now, one of the things I’m often saying is that we can’t just treat our Bible reading like a tick-box exercise. Ten minutes spent reading the passage our Bible reading plan tells us to read like robots every day is better than nothing at all, but if that’s the only way we engage with the Bible…it’s not going to do us much good. The Word of God is living and active. It is alive; it speaks to us today, in our present circumstances. There are passages, parables, poems, prayers, instructions, proverbs and truths about God that can guide us in every situation we can face. One benefit of getting to know the Bible intimately is that you get to know where to turn when you need to hear the comforting, encouraging and sometimes rebuking voice of God.

That morning I didn’t feel like going through my reading plan (sorry Jeremiah, but God’s judgement on Assyria had to wait) so I turned to one of my favourite Psalms, Psalm 139. Here’s the first few verses:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

    you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down

    and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue,

    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,

    and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Psalm 139:1-6 (ESV)

I took my time to chew on every word, every line, every verse. And as I did, the comfort that washed over my soul was like a warm blanket, and the peace of God filled me in that McDonald’s outdoor seating area.

Like this, but in McDonalds.

God knows me. He knows my heart. He knows the frustrations and thoughts I have but (rightly or wrongly) choose not to give voice to. He knows when I feel distant from him, why I feel distant from him – even though he never is. He knows how fickle I am, and he knows how aware of it I am. He knows my hypocrisy, he knows my failings, and he knows my occasional tendancy to run from him rather than to him.

He knows every thought I think, good or bad, gentle or sinful.

There is no hiding before him. All is laid bare and exposed before the God who made and knows our hearts. It is a scary thought – but it’s also a comforting one.

He is With Me

Psalm 139 (which I’d encourage you to take time to read through just now) reminds me; that in all of this, he is with me. He is before me. He is behind me. He surrounds me. There is not a place I can go, physically, emotionally or spiritually, where he is not present. There is not a situation I can lead myself or fall into where his arms aren’t ready to embrace me with love, grace and mercy.

It’s not because I’m awesome, or because I deserve it. In fact the Bible says that before God brought me to faith I was incapable of doing good. I was incapable of loving God. I had absolutely nothing to offer him, but while I was still dead in my sin, Jesus died for me. He didn’t die for some future, perfect version of me. He didn’t die for the Jordan I could one day become. He died for the sinful, helpless, or as my calvinist pals would say, totally depraved version of me.

Since I am in Christ and am covered by him, despite my ongoing battle with indwelling, lingering sin, I am justified, and made perfect by the blood of Jesus Christ.

His righteousness surrounds me in my coming, in my going, in my successes, and in my failures; in my devotion and in my wandering.

I was bought, saved and welcomed into the family of God not based on anything I’d done, but based purely on his mercy, goodness and love. And as Paul said in Romans, if Jesus Christ saved me at my worst, how much more will he save me now, that I’m alive and justified in Christ?

There is nowhere I can go to escape God. There is no place, be it in my own soul, or in my current situation, where he cannot find me. Even the darkest darkness is light to him. If I woke up tomorrow and somehow found myself in the depths of the sea, or floating in space in some galaxy billions upon billions of light-years away, the Lord my God would still be with me.

He is patient. He is kind. He does not boast. He keeps no record of wrongs. He is slow to anger.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We can’t reduce God to a sippy-sappy being who is nothing more than a projection of our own emotional longings. He is jealous for us. He is a Good Father who does discipline those he loves. He is storing up wrath for those who reject the mercy offered by his Son.

But for those of us in Christ, we need not fear these things. Jesus overcame the storm of death, and endured the storm of God’s wrath himself. He faced them so that we wouldn’t have to.

And because of that the storms of life are like nothing to him.

Trust him. Love him. Turn to him.

Even if you’re a hypocrite with a tendancy to wander like me, take heart; Jesus is our Good Shepherd, who will never abandon his sheep.

Christ is our anchor in the storm. He is sure and steadfast. He will never fail. Never give up. In him, we are never alone.

Take heart, believer: In Christ, the storms may come…but they will never overcome.

J


Agree? Disagree? Want to say something? Please leave a comment! If you were encouraged by this post, please feel free to share it on social media or with your pals.

Why are you writing a blog?

Great question! One I’ve asked myself many, many times over the past few months…

My name is Jordan. I live in a small town in the south of Scotland, just outside of Edinburgh. I am a Christian.

I became a follower of Jesus in 2012, after having no religious upbringing at all. Years later I found myself serving as one of the Pastors at City on a Hill, Edinburgh.

I was raised in a small town in the South of Scotland. (If anyone wants to know what that was like, go and listen to Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges’ first two live shows. No one else sums it up as accurately as he does.)

My worldview was shaped in that wee town, and by the time I was 21 I thought I had things mostly figured out.

Then I met Jesus Christ. I fell in love with him and his word, and he began to shape and change me. 9 years later, my worldview has changed, but without the theological or cultural baggage that many people who grew up in church have.

I am a man who finds himself politically and culturally homeless. My views are usually too conservative for my liberal pals, and too liberal for conservatives. I’m too left leaning for righties, and too right leaning for lefties. I’m too unapologetically charismatic to be reformed, but almost reformed enough (little r, not big R) to make some of my fellow charismatics a little uncomfortable.

So rather than giving myself an anyeurism by holding in all of my conflicting opinions and thoughts, I thought I’d give myself an outlet through this blog.

I’ll post about stuff that’s going on in the world – stuff relevant to my life, at least, and stuff that I know enough about to talk about (fellow bloggers – take note).

As a lover of the Bible, I’ll also post regular devotionals and reflections on certain passages as they come up in my life.

When I write, I write with the ordinary folk at my church in mind. For those who haven’t been theologically trained, for regular folk who follow Jesus, and perhaps even for folk who don’t know him. Most posts are in the form of easy to read articles, with a smattering of millennial pop-culture references you will either get or shake your head at.

This blog isn’t particularly academic, nor does it try to be, though I do my due diligence and try to make sure everything I post is well-researched and balanced. If you notice any mistakes, please get in touch.

I’m educated, but I don’t have a PhD. I’m definitely not a leadership guru. I don’t want to be an influencer. I don’t care about people knowing my name. I’m the most unlikely person I can think of to be in the position I’m in. I get things wrong sometimes, and I’m always open to having my viewpoints challenged and changed.

At the end of the day, I’m just a sinful man who was loved, purchased, saved and made holy through no doing of my own. I’m surprisingly sacred.

If you enjoy my rambling, feel free to comment. If you don’t, thanks for the page view.

Looking forward to disagreeing with you soon!

-J