Hot off the press! Travel: in tandem with God’s heart (IVP UK)

It’s here!  From October 18th (today!), Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart is available on:

The Publisher’s Website (*ebook and paperback)

Amazon and with free postage to Europe: The Book Depository

The Evangelical Bookshop (*cheapest, and includes free postage to UK)

Unbound Cork (*10% off when you enter “welcome” as giftcode when paying)

All good local bookshops

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Travelling for weddings

My wedding calendar:
May: London, UK
June: County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
July: County Wicklow, Ireland
August: London, UK
September: Marrakesh, Morocco

And I could go on…

From chatting to other young graduates in the Christian scene, I don’t think I’m unique in getting wedding invitations for each month of the year (though perhaps I am a social creature!). It’s a wonderful thing in many ways, that young people still believe in such radical, counter-cultural principles such as love being a choice that one commits to for life. Love is truly the most liberating freedom loss of all time (even if many of us as millenials doubt it, and struggle to commit – either to God or to a person).

But in other ways, the way the west has individualised and internationalised life and society, means that the way we do weddings baffles me, and our habits of thinking of attending many weddings as a good “Christian” thing to do, also makes me ponder.

I have previously written that in Christian mission, the “good” is often the thing that gets in the way of the “best”, and I want in some ways to say that applies here too regarding weddings in two ways.

Photo Copyright and taken by the amazing www.kristianlevenphotography.co.uk

Firstly, if you’re like me and are always on the road to weddings, and each month are forsaking your home community to do so, there’ll be an impact. You’ll be potentially a quarter less effective or useful in your home church, and it’ll impact your finances. For me who is then away on annual leave, or preaching or visiting family some other weekend of the month, it means I’m not in Sunday church for half the month. (Not a worry to you? Here’s some other posts I’ve written.) But for want of sounding stingey and rather heavy-handed in my implications of community life, let me move onto something that has me thinking more.

Secondly, what is the purpose of attending a wedding?

  1. Because you have to? – yes, sometimes you’re a relative, and relatives culturally often feel they can’t say no.
  2. Because they’re an old friend? – often its being invited to someone who was an influence in your life, or whom you influenced in life in the past.
  3. Because they’re a current friend? – most often we don’t need to travel far to our current friends’ weddings, but sometimes we do still.

So which of these would I consider not going to?

Well, no hard and fast rules can be drawn up, nor should they be, but the vows at one wedding caught my attention:

“Do you as a congregation, before God, promise to uphold and support this wedded couple, in any way you can in the years ahead?”

“We do” came the chant back from everyone enthusiastically.

But did I?

For this couple (a generic, hypothetical couple), they were people of my past life – deep friends from years ago. A couple who were unlikely to ever live in my country, nor to contact me apart from social media. Perhaps if we crossed paths in a city again, we might say hello, but ultimately, I knew things weren’t going to be the same again.

So was I realisitically, before God, going to promise to support them in the years ahead?

a. By prayer? There’s only a certain number of couples, missionaries, individuals and friends I could ever say I pray regularly and meaningfully for. “God bless all marriages” doesn’t quite cut it for me.

b. By contact? Once I’ve prioritised my home church community, my family, and perhaps then my inner circle of friends (non-Christian friends as well, of course), it doesn’t leave a huge lot of time to invest in others in life. I’d want to think twice before promising to God that I’d support a marriage.

c. By not doing anything unhelpful? Well, one could take a very hands-off approach and say that (depending on wording of the vow) that I would be supporting them, as long as I’m not negatively influencing them! But I’m not sure we’d want to be so scrouge with our words as to only allow for this.

Ultimately, I would conclude that weddings that have these vows for the congregation, bring the wedding back to The Church, and ground it in a living community that is geographically located. In some ways, this is very helpful. A wedding is not just a gathering of “people like us” but is a full spectrum of the diversity of Christ’s body, united by Him.

Should I have been there?

Well, again, I don’t think there are hard and fast rules. Christianity is not about creating rules, but our heart response to The Groom (Jesus) as His bride (The Church). These were great friends from my past. But perhaps if I can’t honestly say I’ll support the couple that are getting married, it’s one reason I might consider to not attend, if I’ve a list of 12 weddings in a year!

So could the best Christian thing, be not attending a wedding of a friend?

I would suggest the answer could well be “Yes”! So that it means more for you when you do attend them, so that current church communities thrive without people always being away, and so that it means more to the couple who are having people who honestly support them.

In the big picture of our relationship with Jesus, how important is this discussion? Relatively unimportant! But I hope it helps us think again – it’s often the “good” that crowds out the “best” and hinders our Christian walk.

Making Sense of God: an invitation to the sceptical traveller

There are a few Travel Golden Rules which go unchallenged and are seemingly accepted by all and none, when travelling.

  1. Travel is a great educator that shows you how little you know and how small you are in the universe
  2. Travel helps restore your faith in humanity (soo much good out there)
  3. Travel helps you see that all ways of life can be acceptable – we are all on the same path as humans – we just need to find who we are

And underpinning all of these:

No-one must presume to have exclusivity on how to live a life of satisfaction

Because (correlated to the above 3 points):

  1. We are small and know so little: so stop arrogantly assuming that your way is better than others, or that you know enough to tell others how to live
  2. & 3. There is good in every religion, belief and way of life – humans are in general good at heart, so don’t claim that your way of living is the only way. Just get on, be free, be true to yourself, and don’t harm others.

Tim Keller (A New York Times Bestselling author), writes engagingly to persuade us that although some elements of the above are true, that the general ethos of these statements, are far from enough, to help us make the most of our travels (although he writes in a more general context than travel).

(For those who have heard of or read Keller before: “Making Sense of God” is like the prequel to his bestseller, “The Reason for God”. Not many people these days in the west are motivated to read of the evidence for God – we don’t want there to be a god, and see that god is a dying breed, given whats going on in the west, the advance of education, and the creating of happiness elsewhere in life in far more fun places than religious rituals. So Keller wrote the prequel to try and persuade us that God is something we might like to explore more about and to see that it will be of great benefit to us to do so.)

You can hear Keller summarise his book himself in his talk to Google here.

Keller starts off by making two points (chapters one and two):

  • Religion is not going away. Although it is perceived to be a quickly disappearing thing in the west, that due to birth rates across the world and conversion rates, belief in God is forecast to keep growing bit by bit. So if we want to live in peace in a pluralistic society, we better pay attention, nevermind if we want to explore what satisfies.
  • There is no contrast between a secularism based on evidence and religions on faith. All worldviews rest on evidence and all need faith to accept some of the implications. Not much can be proved by repeatable, testable experiments in life. Even agnosticism (which sometimes tries to claim is a lack of belief, rather than a worldview), still has tenets on which it rests, which it accepts often by faith. You won’t find many people who doubt their doubts, but many who blindly accept a position of doubt.

Given that we can talk about evidence, and religion is not going away, Keller suggests we might like to explore it some more through the following lenses:

3. A Meaning that Suffering Can’t take away from you.
There’s nothing worse than religious people suggesting that you can’t have meaning unless you have god. It’s nonsense. But could religious meaning be more hopeful and real than other meaning? Keller argues that finding meaning in God, transcends events in life like suffering which rob us of many things we turn to for meaning. For those of us who are independent travellers who don’t have suffering in our lives, we might think this irrelevant – we have our meaning quite happily thanks! But suffering will strike us all without exception in life soon enough, if we choose to love or let anyone be close to us.

4. A Satisfaction that is not based on circumstances.
The richer we get as a society, and the more free we are to have sex, enjoy ourselves and do what we want the….happier we are? Statistics would seem to suggest otherwise. Even when we have it all, we seem to feel like there’s something illusive still to come. Keller looks at 2 categories of response: those who keep hunting after satisfaction, and those who resign themselves to seeing it not being possible. And in both of these, he tries to make the case that we cannot find satisfaction while we try and root it in the subjective self.

5. Why can’t I be free to live as I see fit, as long as I don’t harm anyone?
To Keller, unconstrained freedom is impossible, if we are ever going to have love. Love is the most liberating freedom loss ever, according to him. And so it is impossible to have satisfaction with no negative limits. As soon as we love anyone, they demand our time, attention, passions. And so it is with God – when we fall in love with Him, it will be a constraint, but one that flows from the heart of someone who made us and was willing to die for us, so that we could be free.

6. The Problem of the Self
Finding our identity in outer relationships was how it used to be done – who we are married to, what our family name is, what god we worshipped, what tribe we are from. But that limited who you could be, it dwarfed us under poor societal expectation, and led to harmful situations. But finding our identity within ourself hasn’t been easier either. What about a warrior of past centuries who had two desires deep within him – aggression to fight and thirst for blood, and a same-sex-attraction. He would reject the latter (or be scorned) and adopt the former as his identity – he was a warrior! But the 21st century man would do the opposite. Why? He would admit he needed therapy for such violent desires, but would fully embrace the “real him” sexually, because society told him that was acceptable. So really, his decision of the “real” him, was just back to coming from whatever society thought. What if we could be free-d from defining ourselves by any of these?

7. An Identity that doesn’t crush you or exclude others
As an alternative to looking to society to define us, or inwards to figure out which of our feelings should define us, Keller suggests we will find freedom looking upwards, in our identity being something outside of ourselves, but which isn’t performance related (the way our identity in society was/is). If we do badly or don’t live up to expectations, we still manage to keep this upwards identity. Here Christianity is very different to every other “performance based” religion, which demands that one does well in order to gain status, confidence or eternal life. When travelling, the two things people push back on, when I describe an identity outside of myself, is that (1) it means I don’t value anything in myself anymore and (2) it means I create a “them” vs “us” (Christians vs non-Christians) attitude which is bad for society. Keller shows that if Christians have done this, they have misunderstood the Christian message, which holds together self-denial and self-realisation, at the cross, and unites us all together in a shared humanity.

8. A hope that can face anything
Suicide rates across many western societies are rising. The optimism of where society is going is being perceived by many to be unfounded in reality. In this chapter, the author sets forward a case that a personal, concrete and unimaginably wonderful hope, is exactly what is needed. Arguing from intuition, but also from the lack of practical response from any other worldview, Keller sets forward perhaps the least convincing chapter, but perhaps the most heart-warming to those who want to dream of what is to come. Read after chapter twelve, this chapter comes alive.

9. The Problem of Morals
From the least convincing chapter, to perhaps the most logically convincing chapter of the book. How do we get our morals? Keller lays out all the ways that modern western philosophers (and humans!) claim to be able to act morally, and of course agrees that they do! But his main question, is whether there is any way of establishing that we “ought” to act morally. (Atheistic) Evolutionary views, alongside social constructionist views struggle to give us this moral ought. And intuitionism (Dworkin et al.) admit similar short-comings. What I loved about this chapter is that Keller is once again at his best, quoting atheists and top [atheist/agnostic] philosophers who come to these conclusions, rather than standing over things and declaring them himself.

10. A justice that does not create new oppressors
“The goods [of churches] may outnumber the abuses, even by far, but wrongdoings lodge more deeply in the memory and consciousness. In the end it would be better to look for other grounds on which to explore the relationship between religious faith and justice”. And so this chapter mainly focusses on how one can have “human rights” without oppressing those who disagree about the standard. Ultimately, Keller points to the fact that the Biblical metanarrative continually exalts the underdog, and has at its heart, a Saviour to follow, who comes to die for the people. His followers are called to be transformed into His image, not dying to re-create a Christian culture, but to love all people, even their enemies. Such radical transformation, if it works, would give a basis for justice, that does not oppress.

Finally, in the last two chapters Keller concludes with some evidence for all the above being found in a belief in God, and where we can turn to examine that. He finishes with a powerful story of a Japanese internment camp, and a secular humanist, who believed in the good of all humanity, and the lack of evidence for God, and how the material his chapters (long before they were written), led him to belief in our need of God.

You can hear Keller summarise his book himself in his talk to Google here.

For any thinking traveller, I would urge you to give this a read, with the caveat that Keller writes for New York professionals, and whilst it isn’t littered with complicated language (in fact, Keller simplifies and summarises many ideas very helpfully!), it will still reference all the top thinkers and their ideas, and deal with them, in a way which may seem daunting to those who haven’t been familiar with other ways of thinking.

The joy of travel is that it will inevitably cast questions into your mind and life, and this is a book which will help process those.

**My thanks to the blog “doesgodmakesense.com”, for the image which I have used for the header on this post. Their graphics simply borrowing from Keller’s original.

4 Irish provinces, 4 peaks, 24 hours!

Potentially the clearest view we got all day from any mountain!

The Irish 4 Peak Challenge (but in 24 hours)

4 mountains (3634m – over 40% the height of Everest)
4 provinces
24 hours (12 hours running): 18-May 00:00  –  19-May 00:00

Saturday

+ Carrauntoohil, Kerry (1038m/3406ft) 00:00

+ Finish 04:00

+ Mweelrea, Mayo ( 814m/2671ft) 08.30

+ Finish 10.30

+ Slieve Donard, Down (850m/2789ft) 16.00

+ Finish 19:00

+ Lugnaquilla, Wicklow (925m/3305ft) 22.00

+ Celebrate! 00:00

I’m not sure we quite realised what we were in for, when Dan Ross (The Rebel Cyclist, famous for his year-long adventure cycling home to West Cork from New Zealand) suggested to John Daunt and myself that we do the Irish 4 Peak Challenge. 4 peaks seemed very reasonable. Most Irish mountains are fairly easily done, and we’d done a (small) bit of trail running in the past before.

Should I have thought at all beforehand (what’s the fun in doing that?!), I might have realised that there’s a reason that when one Googles “Irish 4 peak challenge” that all the results seem to describe people doing it over the course of a weekend, rather than 24 hours. Apart from the obvious reason for such (running 4 mountains is a tad difficult), we have since come up with a few more:

  1. There is 12 hours driving between the four peaks, not to mention the few hours to the first one, and the few hours home again! This, in all honesty, is probably as hard as climbing them! We decided on a dedicated driver (there is NO way it would have been safe for us to drive too), who thankfully had expertise in sleeping in cars (don’t ask!) and driving long distances. Despite including him in all the planning chat, it seemed he didn’t quite realise the hire car needed to cross the border, that meals didn’t grow on trees near the mountain car parks, and that we couldn’t stop at a leisurely pace. Perhaps we ought to have chatted beforehand more! Despite this, he was incredible and the challenge would have been impossible without him.
  2. Working all day Friday is not the ideal preparation for 24 hours of sleepless running/driving. Unless you’re incredible at sleeping in moving cars, in confined spaces, while loading food in and changing clothes, I suggest that sleep may be better had before you leave. But that means taking a day off work, and adjusting your sleep rhythms. Sadly, I didn’t, and so this was an awful lot harder! We could have done it on Sunday, but then you’d face the same problem at the other end – work on a Monday morning, 4 hours after returning home!
  3. The overall height ascended and difficulty of the ascent, while not to be sniffed at, is still not much compared to other records set during the same time we were up, but it’s the stop-start nature of the Irish 4 Peaks which adds to the difficulty. Despite hiring a big estate car, 3 people, their stuff and a driver take up most of that space. And so you sit fairly cramped for long periods after every intense mountain experience. It’s not a great way to treat your body!
  4. The chance of being held up by weather is hard to predict. Unlike doing an event or challenge in one geographical area, summiting peaks in 4 different mountain areas on an island, is always going to provide challenges! Whilst not getting amazing weather, we were still fortunate enough.
  5. The chance of not finishing due to traffic jams is an unfortunate risk to take. Imagine summiting all 4 mountains in record time, but then not completing the challenge? With 12 hours driving involved, this is what you might risk, which quite frankly, is why many probably don’t bother.

But despite these challenges, we loved every second of it! Here’s how it panned out over the 24 hours:

8pm Pick up the hire-car
9pm Pick up passengers and pack the car – remember to leave the key things behind, like maps. Wake up our driver.

Just a few of the things packed for me!

10pm Set off on the road. It starts to dawn on our driver where we are about to go…
11.42pm We get bored waiting in the car park, have our friends with us to run the first one, and decide to leave early (don’t tell anyone!)
11.56pm The novelty of running in the dark with headlights wears off. Well, at least it entertained us for a few minutes.

01:15 at the summit of Carrauntoohil, in the dark – yeah John was there – promise!

02:30ish Arrive back down at Lisleibane car park to wake our driver for the second time that day. Head off for Mayo!
02.55 Get dry enough that we could start putting on clothes again! We’d never thought that we’d still be dripping enough, that we couldn’t put fresh clothes on until 30mins after completing each mountain. Thankfully no on-lookers were harmed in the making of this 4 peak challenge:

05:45 Hunt for somewhere in Claregalway that will be open to feed coffee to our driver.
05:49 Realise we’re in Claregalway. Not a chance.
06:14 Stop at a petrol station to ask for jacks. Get told there are none, but there’s a spot on the back wall of the building not covered by CCTV.
06:16 Thank the helpful man on the till

08:00 Head off to start Mweelrea

08:15 Get distracted by general banter, forgetting directions, and the whole hour we had already saved on Carrauntoohil.
08:16 Start doing laps of the circumference of Mweelrea.
08:50 Realise that doing laps of the circumference of Mweelrea is not what we’re meant to be doing. Start deciding between options: head straight up the slope beside us, or go back and take the path up.
09:00 Stand depressed at the choice.
09:02 Decide to go straight up the mountain:

The terrain, by all means, was reasonable. The degree slope, not so much.
The pleasant views made the climb eminently doable, of course.
We made it! Albeit tired, depressed at losing an hour of time, and angry at myself for such a rookie error.

09:40 Summit of Mweelrea.
10:30 Bottom of Mweelrea…yes, you’re right – 40mins later. It really wasn’t far, albeit it was all over bog.

Far more tired than I ought to have been at that stage, and mentally facing the fact that if we fail the challenge by an hour, I should take responsibility for my poor navigation skills!

11.30 Stop in Westport, because we feel bad for our driver who hasn’t had any breakfast. Debate the likelihood of the Car Park attendee getting enough money from people not paying car parking charges, to pay him. Decide that a local man would never fine his fellow citizens. Leave.
12:00 Attempt to sleep in car. Fail. (x10)
16:06 Arrive at Donard Car Park, after only one lap of Newcastle’s one way system. Minor achievement.
16:08 Get honked-at by a load of teens in a souped up, tinted windowed car, doing noisy laps of the car park. Also bump into Share Uganda founder and trustee (Chris) who says he will join us up Donard. Perhaps it was actually him the teens were beeping at. Unlikely but…
16:10 Start Donard.

For a brief second, John caught sight of clear skies (unknown time).

17:00 Stop to moan to Chris
17:01
Restart
17:05 Stop to moan to Chris again
17:06 Restart
etc etc…
17:50 After a lot of walking and no running whatsoever, we all summit Donard.

Yes, it is that steep John!

19:00 We’re back – after an hour or so of sprinting down the mountain, we’re back waking up our driver again.
19:30 Sleep time! I finally was soo tired, I nodded off in the car on the Emoticon pillows (don’t ask – they were taken at the last minute…instead of the maps?! Great choice there Peter, great choice.)

22:00 Arrive at Lugnaquilla (Wicklow) exhausted but knowing we only have to summit this one to complete the challenge. 1 hour 42mins would do it. Dan had previously run it (fresh) in 55mins – surely we couldn’t miss it?
22:20 2 miles in, I give up running (for life? Perhaps. Or so it felt at this stage)
22:40 We have fog so solid around us, that all we can see are the “Beware of the military firing range” signs that illumine on either side of us. We have half the ascent (height-wise) still to do.
23:05 The pace slows.
23:33 We have 500m of climb to go, but we can’t see the summit due to fog – it could be anywhere!
23:41 We stumble across the cairn and stop our watches. FINISHED! With 1 minute to spare.
01:41 We then spend 2 hours attempting to find our way back again (no-one mentioned this part to us!), and getting lost in the fog and wind several times.
01:42 Take a mandatory finishing photo in the dark

3 final thoughts:

  1. Humans are resilient creatures! I can’t believe how our bodies just kept going, despite circumstance, and despite us not being regular hill runners. If we needed to have gone faster on the last one, could we? Perhaps so, though it didn’t feel like it, and my (Type 1) diabetes does rather limit things on top of normal limitations – I’m still trying to work out how exactly.
  2. Good character is a joy to see. I hang out with many adventurous people, but few of them also have a gentle, patient and encouraging character. I’m thankful to Dan, John, Chris, Hollie, Nic and Tasso for all being folk who never are so competitive that they trample on weaker people (often me!), but seek to encourage and help, even when the whole goal is at stake – what a joy!
  3. Share Uganda is a worthy cause. I wasn’t originally thinking of doing it to raise money, but many people said it was a worthy thing that they’d give towards. So here’s a link. Share Uganda is a fantastic sustainable project in healthcare and education, empowering local people to make a difference. None of the money goes on western salaries or otherwise. Please donate generously!

Peter normally writes on this blog about travel, faith and how to make the most of travel. You can read some other Irish mountain related posts here.

Travelling for a Beach Mission Team

Approach someone to talk with them about Jesus, on the street in the city that I live in, and you’ll get rejection after rejection. Everyone has places to be, things to do, and people to meet. But approach them when they’re chilled out and sitting about on holiday, and most people are up for chatting! Or so the founders of one organisation saw.

And so every year I travel to do United Beach Missions, to reach out to people who are on their holidays. Here’s one sample of them in action:

“Beach Team” (as often affectionately called by the locals), has done 3 things in my experience:

  1. Beach Team trains.
    UBM has trained me in personal evangelism better than any organisation, church or experience. From the age of 15 on Beach Team, I was encouraged to have God’s heart for lost people. Whether through building up friendships with 5 year old children and their parents on the beaches, giving short evangelistic talks at events, helping run literature tables, speaking, singing and interacting on the street or on the beaches, or facilitating others to have these opportunities – Beach Team has given me training, let me have opportunity after opportunity to make mistakes and improve, and given me feedback to help me in that.

    Beach Team has given me great experience of Biblical evangelism, which is word-centred, relational and focused on proclaiming the person of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection and second coming. It is partly Beach Team that got me first thinking about Unreached People Groups and coming to live in Ireland and be part of the small evangelical church scene here.
  2. Beach Team shapes unreached countries/areas
    UBM has reached places in Ireland where there was no evangelical church, and in some cases, has helped partner to establish churches there. Whether that be the decades that UBM were in Ballybunion before Listowel Christian Fellowship started, or the decades of outreach in Tramore before Tramore Bible Church came into existence. Or simply playing a significant role in strengthening churches like Youghal Methodist that were in a very different place to where they are now. The impact of decades of prayer and witness to the same people, in similar places, should never be taken away, and has left a visible impact. One church planter in north Dublin said this to me, after I told him of the disproportionate numbers of people who’d I’d found in Cork who’d come to faith from the tiny village of Ardmore. “I’d be surprised if there wasn’t correlation between the decades with thousands of people praying, and the people who come to faith in the same places. Prayer works, and we so rarely persist in it. There seems to be correlation with Ballybunion anyway.” (paraphrased from memory)
  3. Beach Team reaches thousands with the gospel year on year Through proclamation, evangelistic literature, friendships developed over years with holiday-makers, and one-off encounters, Beach Team has seen fruit each year of people coming to faith and joining churches back home where they are from. Although its focus is one faithful seed-sowing to thousands, there always has been an eager question from leaders and team members of how best we can follow this up relationally. One Ardmore mother told me that she’d been up to the Shankill Road in Belfast for 3 weeks of her summer after she professed faith! Another who remained part of her local Catholic Church in east Cork said that a team member wrote to her and sent her Biblical booklets for twenty years after she came to faith.

United Beach Missions does have its weaknesses and flaws, just as I do, as a leader of UBM, but ultimately it is one of the best ways to spend a week of your summer, regardless of your age (from 15 – 95!).

  • it takes all sorts of personalities and gifts to help run a team – you don’t need to be the world’s best evangelist! There are behind-the-scene roles too. Cooks, musicians, kids workers, grannies to chat to grannies etc.
  • The accommodation has got better and better (for insurance reasons) and now most centres have normal beds, showers and great facilities. So if you’re older, or even have a family of your own, why not still come?
  • This year, it is half price to join a team! 30 euros will pay your team fee for your first team, and 25 euros for the team after that – BARGAIN! (There is a minimal annual registration fee on top of that)

Join me: Ballybunion 27th July – 3rd August

Do go onto their YouTube channel for more testimonies from the likes of UCCF Director Richard Cunningham, who give similar stories of how it shaped their early evangelistic experience.

Missionaries are just adventurers?

“I’m not going to the Missions Conference” said my friend in church. Having just given everything to help organise the conference that hundreds of people came to every year, I was deflated to hear these words from a core member of the Christian community. Why?

“Missionaries at conferences are just a bunch of extroverted adventurers who tell cool stories about their adventures following God elsewhere in the world. I’m not supporting their adventures under the name of Jesus.”

And to some extent, I could see where they were coming from. So many missionaries to gain support, tell story after story of impressive things, in scary situations, or radical moves of God. The story often revolves round them, their work, or their experience, and that’s somewhat natural.

And so many mission teams and people, end up doing things abroad that they would never dream of doing at home, or never think was wise or sustainable to do. Spending your time painting orphanages may seem wonderful, until you rob the local painter of a job. Blitzing the city of [insert name] that is predominantly [insert other religion] with gospel literature before leaving may seem brave and fearless, until you realise the negative impact it has on sustainable work of local Christians.

If those were the missionaries we were having on stage, I might go to be entertained, but equally I might decide to stay at home.

Thankfully, they’re not. For at least three reasons:

  1. Every Christian is a missionary

God is on mission – the Mission Dei. And He calls us along to partake in His vision, which we glimpse as we see His heart in the scriptures, and see His hand at work across the nations. It’s not an optional calling. It’s not a thing for adventurers or extroverts. It’s for everyone, both at home and abroad. And I hope our conferences reflect that – this year, we’d a diverse range of people speaking, from a teacher, to a student, to a golf green-keeper, a church worker, a stay-at-home parent and many more. Forget the scary terminology, or questioning whether missionaries are good for the world. They are. Because we’re all on mission. And His mission is His church, which is the best thing to happen to the world.

2. Every personality type is used in the body

There was a generation who delighted in Myers Briggs personality tests. “I’m in introvert” and “I’m INFP” were things you often heard. Those were very useful (and still are) but often were labels that people hid behind and used as excuses. “I can’t tell people about Jesus like that, because I’m not that kind of person.”

But while respecting the diversity of Christ’s creation, we can’t simply hide behind personality types as a reason why we’re not living and speaking for Jesus wherever we are. Yes, we must cherish the different parts of the body of Christ, value our unity in diversity, and not try and force everyone into the same mold, but we must also always push ourselves out of our comfort zones a little, so that we grow in areas we are not comfortable in. Perhaps that’s what might challenge even the current “Strengthfinder” generation, who like to build on people’s strengths primarily.

It’s why some of the people who’ve left Cork to go on mission to some of the more extreme places in the world, are actually introverts and humanly speaking far from being the stereotypical “adventurer”. And it’s beautiful when God does that – so changing people’s hearts and convictions as to who He is, that they can’t help but radically be re-orientated to His call. It’s who they were made to be, even if that doesn’t seem obvious to them years ago.

3. We must tell God’s story, rather than our own

This is something I struggle with. When does telling an incredible story about God working, actually point to me? Does every story I tell, necessarily have to be about me failing or being weak, but God still using it? I look at some of this in chapter 2 of my book.

And what do we expect of our cross-cultural missionaries….do we ask them to be normal church leaders in a local context, plus have the ability to speak other languages, learn other cultures, thrive amongst other worldviews and perhaps have a normal job on the side too? It’s very hard to say the sentence “God primarily uses ordinary followers of Jesus” when you’ve just said the sentence before it. That doesn’t appear like a normal person to me. That appears like an extremely gifted person (humanly speaking) in certain things, which we could not expect everyone to be. There’s a joke in some circles that love to emphasize how God uses “ordinary” people, that it’s a bunch of extra-ordinary personalities trying to persuade us that we can all be ordinary.

Regardless, every time we organise a conference, we try and excite people, not primarily with big personalities or intrepid story-tellers, but with God’s Word, His work and His story.

The Christian hostel community that I stayed with in Scotland the other night.

Regardless, every time we organise a conference, we try and excite people, not primarily with big personalities or intrepid story-tellers, but with God’s Word, His work and His story.

But it brings me back to thinking….

Perhaps if God uses all personality types and gifts, we should play to the strengths of those who are adventurers at heart? Shouldn’t it be a natural recruiting pool for people who could go to the hardest-to-reach spots in the world where there are still Unengaged People Groups? Sure, we must be careful that this is not the prime reason we pick them – Godly character, a love for God, and for His Church should still ooze from them. But to not tap into the adventurous spirit of many – to overlook travel – is to overlook some of the people most humanly fitted to going.

What if, instead of ranting about travelling people being always on the road, we were to empower them to do what they do well, to the glory of God, and for His mission? What if the way they learnt to love the local church, was to see that their adventurous spirit can be a key part of local church community, without making them feel like they are tied to a chair and strait-jacketed by Christianity?

By loving them, in their diverse gifts and passions, we give them an example of loving people of radically different gifts and passions, and serving and honouring them. And we trust that they’d start to do the same – to value to 9-5 office worker and the stay at home parent. To show love to the disabled kid, or the person who would rather sit at home playing computer games. To intentionally demonstrate that God’s community includes all sorts.

It’s why I wasn’t surprised that out of all those I talked to at a recent Christian hostel, many (even new believers, who’d come to faith in another hostel, and were now plugged in to local church) were considering overseas mission in hard places where Jesus isn’t known.

Perhaps, we should stop looking down on travel as a subsidiary luxury of the western church?

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PS: A question for another day is what church looks like in those hard-to-reach warzones, nomadic tribes or other places, when a bunch of extroverted adventurers turn up together on the doorstep. What does diversity look like then? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments below).

Rest on the road

Our culture is taking part in what the famous Christian cultural commentator Os Guinness calls the “survival of the fastest”.

One click ordering; cutting sleeping hours; being on our phones sorting other things while we’re doing something else; fast-food and internet pornography to quicken supposed intimacy. Don’t get me wrong – there are many great things about living life at a fast pace!

But many are suffering from the inability to slow down and be present in one place at one time. And even more are struggling with the paralysis of having so many choices, as I noted in chapter two of my book where I quoted from another author. But considering the topic of rest while considering pleasure travel is an unusual one. Isn’t travel already so pleasurable and restful that we ought not worry about this topic?

Well, from talking to other travellers, I think it is still vital to mull over what rest could mean for us, even for those of us who feel so free that we lose track of the days! I remember coming home from holiday and suggesting to my housemates that I need a holiday to recover from my holiday!

Travelling people seem to still feel rushed for several reasons:

  1. Travel has admin. There is always more to book in advance. Weather changes. Hostels are full. You meet someone who tells you about a must-see attraction. You fall in love with a place and want to stay longer there. There are always things to change, and that’s hard, even when you enjoy tasks like admin. Even something like making Instagram pictures can start to weigh in on your mental energy not to mention editing vlogs or keeping in touch with people.
  2. Time is not infinite. Most of us only have a certain amount of time travelling. There are exceptions of those who’ll stomach being away from any friends and community for long enough that they can always be on the road, but even they after a few years often grow weary of constant transitions and lack of depth in relationships. And even for those who can afford years on the road, they only see a fraction of what the world has to offer. Their one Instagram account does not account for every place that millions of other users have been to or seen in a different light. There is often a lust for more that drives us onwards and equates resting with missing out.
  3. The bigger we are in our own worldview, the more we’ll need rest. The more we’re consumed by our own goals, our own problems and our own desires, the more we’ll find life exhausting. Partly because we’ll frustrate ourselves, and partly because all the circumstances around us will frustrate our goals and desires. This is fine if it just means we’ve to find perfect matches of people to travel with, and perhaps cut out the people in our lives who are toxic, so as to avoid stress. But when major illness, relationships going wrong, or difficulty occurs in life, it’s harder to control. This is not to say that the solution I suggest is belittling our own humanity, but finding some way to free ourselves from being consumed by ourself.

So what’s the solution?

In short, there aren’t any easy solutions. Life doesn’t come as easily solved problems, and your life is different to mine. But here’s a few pointers that I’ve been mulling over on all three – why not leave a comment with your thoughts or what you’ve found to work?

  1. Find your rhythms. Humans seem to be built for tradition and rhythm, over chaos. Whether that’s doing all your emails at one point in a day, or only letting internet messages/apps have your attention at certain points, or reading up on your travels weeks/months before you go – find a monthly, weekly and daily rhythm that suits you.
  2. Find something that motivates you, without consuming you. You’ll never sort the problem of being a finite being with finite time and energy. The world is some ways, is not your oyster. A small part of it may be. But nor do we want to just give up on desiring travel, just because we can’t have it all. Somehow we’ll need something in our worldview which will stop us hurting when we don’t see everything, and will so give us perspective, that we’ll not be consumed by our desires, yet will still take great interest in life and the world.
  3. Find something bigger in life. For a secular person, it might be daily reminding yourself of how small you are as a human in history and science, which will lower your expectations that the world should revolve round you and fulfil you in every way – why ought that be the case? For a spiritual person it might be meditating daily on something higher. Neither particularly explain why we feel so bitter and so robbed when major catastrophes strike our lives, but they at least put problems and desire in perspective a bit more.

And how does this look in practice for me?

  • Well, in worshipping an infinite God, I find something bigger to give me perspective. My problems are dwarfed by His big-ness and ability to solve them.
  • In having a personal God who comes close in the person of Jesus and the Spirit of Christ, I find one who honours my humanity, and crafts it uniquely and individually. His big-ness doesn’t lose my humanity.
  • In worshipping a creator God, who calls us to enjoy His creation, I’m given an appetite to roam and enjoy all things (in their place).
  • In living in a world described as broken, that ought to be better, I set my expectations accordingly, for suffering, for being broken, for not always being fulfilled.
  • In being made for an infinite New Heavens and New earth, I know that I don’t have to be consumed by my travels here in the old order.
  • And in being made in God’s likeness, we’ve been given rhythms to heed. Daylight to enjoy. Darkness to rest in. 6 days to work, 1 to rest in.

So today I stop, to meet with God’s people, to enjoy spending time meditating on His character and words, and to do things that I wouldn’t normally do on other days in the week. It’s a rhythm that worked for me in the middle of important exams, when I’ve been most under pressure at work, and even as I travel. It may be counter-intuitive, but it sure is effective, and I’m glad I didn’t need to invent it or keep it in balance myself.

So, how will you enjoy rest on your travels?

Travelling to be baptised

The two things that pub conversations usually bring up quite quickly with folk who are getting to know me and seeing where I stand on things as a Christian, are whether I know my religious festivals, saints, or other-things-very-religious-people-talk-about, and whether I am as old-fashioned, naive and conservative as they think religious people are.

And once more this week it was true.  A German man was slightly shocked I didn’t know his country’s public holidays, which are largely religious festivals.  Similarly I still remember the shame of my primary five school teacher as she publicly derided me at the age of 8 for not being able to say the “Our Father” word for word accurately in the translation of the English Bible she had chosen.

In the land I live, much of the landscape is named and dominated by Saints of old.

Some day, for the sake of loving my friends who value some church’s carefully selected days and Saints, I may sit down and learn them but for now, I’ll happily praise God each day for those who’ve gone before me, both religious and not, who have made this world a better place.  (Thus this post was highly unusual and a delightfully “ecumenical matter, Father”)

Whether I am old-fashioned, naive and as conservative as you think religious people are, I’ll leave for you to find out in person.  But for now just one more comment that often gets thrown my way:

“Peter, wouldn’t you just love to go to Israel?”

To which, strangely for once, isn’t anything to do with them stereotyping Christians as a right-wing, Israel-supporting (DUP?) people, and more a genuine question that they think I’ll jump at.

“Oh Israel, the land where my God walked!  I’d love to go!”

^The line I’ve never said.  

And as many Christians run off left, right and centre to go there, why am I not so keen?

Well in all honesty from what I’ve heard from many others, it’s a bit of a tourist trap.  Lots of guesswork on where exact (fairly unimportant) things were, and for the things that are known, lots of tourist money to be had.  And for what reason?  To get a feel and experience of where Biblical characters lived and walked.  For me, I feel like I’ve had enough theological training and experiences in middle eastern like cultures, that I don’t think I’d come back with any paradigm shift in understanding or experience, but perhaps that’s just my arrogance or naivety.

Walking the gorges similar to Biblical landscape

But more what I was fascinated to know, was that several of my new believing friends were off there to get baptised.  To be baptised in the same waters/place that Christ was baptised (they think).  To which baffles me given:

  • they have largely been baptised already in a faithful Irish church
  • the people who are baptising them have no clue who they are, or whether their profession of faith is genuine or not
  • baptism is surely a sign of baptism into something…The Church, and so having it isolated from such a local expression of church (elders, deacons, those who will be “one-anothering” each other in future etc), seems bizarre to me
  • to do another baptism for the experience of it, makes a mockery of the real thing, which is sufficient and which is there as a lifetime reminder of God’s covenantal love to His (unfaithful) people.

Instead of chasing another spiritual experience like a second baptism, I hope we can:

  • enjoy committing to our own church, and letting them enjoy our unity in Christ, reflected in baptism, even when it seems less glamorous. Why not even try chatting with them on why you feel like being baptised again?
  • see how you can avail of the spiritual gift of baptism to us, by improving on your baptism! (Now there’s language I don’t often hear used about baptism!) As the authors of the above (linked) post remind us, baptism is not just a cannon that was fired once in life and then sits there rusting as a relic of the past.

So for now, apologies to those who still really want to go to Israel – let me not stop you in that! But when you’re there, please don’t be persuaded that you’ll be more spiritual if you practice certain things over there.

Drive. Pray. Love.

What do you do while you drive?

Sing loudly?
Get agitated by other drivers?
Listen to drivel (and useful things) on the radio or podcasts?

Pray?

Recently I’ve been encouraged to be part of a movement to memorise chunks of the Bible (more about this later). Someone suggested learning it as they drive. I struggle to do that well (and the Gards have interesting thoughts on verses on the dashboard too), but I do find the hours per week I do of driving, extremely useful time to pray.

Driving has the beauty of being phonefree (largely) apart from taking phonecalls through the speaker system, so there’s no messages to check and no scrolling newsfeeds.

So how can we use our travel time well as we commute or travel longer distances?

Well it’s one of my favourite undistracted times to pray. Get too many prayer updates into your inbox to read and pray through immediately? Well, I like to be honest with those I support, and yet still to pray. If they’re long I print them, but if not, I take five minutes to recap them before I start my journey and then have a few hours praying for them and whoever else is on my mind.

It’s surprising how unhurried the journey becomes, how hard it is to get annoyed with other drivers, and how refreshing car journeys can then be. Sometimes things I see out the window (junctions of a road that lead to churches, beauty and brokenness of the world, evocative things in my personal experience etc) stir a heart to pray for things. Not that it always works. Sometimes distractions and thought patterns still consume. Other times, I haven’t had time to read through updates again, and I’m just hoping I can remember what to pray for various folk.

So why not give it a go?

Do you make a regular journey by car, public transport or foot? Why not start each journey this week with 5 minutes of thankful prayer. Perhaps next week you can add things that are on your heart, and week the after some requests of those mission partners you prayerfully support across the world. And if you’re short of those, you’re welcome to drop me a line and I can suggest a few that will excite you with what God is doing in this world!