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

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

Unbound Cork (instore, and also soon online )

All good local bookshops

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Why can’t we be friends? Thoughts on travel and gender.

I walked into the hostel on yet another trip away from home.  This one was for choice, to see some friends who’d flown over from England.  But it was still a 6 hour round trip in the car for me, and so I’d decided to treat myself on my final day off of the year, and stay over in a hostel in the mountains and go running in the morning.

I walked in tired from the drive and sat down in the hostel foyer, where many others were lounging around, to watch something online on my laptop, and have a can of Beamish.  Half an hour later, and the chat was interesting enough around me that I joined in.

Soon I found myself chatting to a likeminded runner – an Aussie lass who’d come to the Wicklows to run and to hike with friends.  On hearing my intention to run in the morning before I set off for work, she said she’d join me, if we went early enough for her to join her friends hiking afterwards.  And so looking sceptically at my unopened second can of Beamish at my feet, she agreed a 6am start time with me.

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Glendalough from the hills (photo mine)

But it wasn’t me holding the morning up, and by ten past six, I not only was up, stretched and ready, but also had been the breakfast for hundreds of midges, that swarm the lakes of Glendalough at many times of year.  Soon, she joined me, and we set off, ready for 20km in the hills.

I love running.  Partly the freedom of being able to mentally escape.  Partly the endorphins making the rest of the day a happier one.  And partly the joy of the scenery around me and the fun of not having a care in the world.

And even better when you’ve someone to share that with.  We set off, happily chatting about everything and anything in life, from our stories, through to running chat and local tips.  There’s something about running side by side that always makes me open up to whoever I’m running with and be vulnerable with them.  And sure enough, throughout this chat, she shared of how she’d split up from her boyfriend a few months ago and how she was there to get away from life and see what’s next.  She was asking advice, I was sharing of my experiences in life, and we were both asking questions and sharing our life longings.  Would I like to come to her part of the country and run in the mountains near her?

Conversation never gets too deep before my answers generally intrigue people.  And so it was here.  She said she’d never met someone who was so free in life, and wanted to develop themselves and push their limits, but yet someone who kept on chatting about Jesus.

“Do you mind me asking?  You seem so liberal in many ways, and such fun.  But you keep mentioning this Jesus person as if you know him.  Which is different from all those religious people I’ve met before.  So do you still hold to all his conservative values?”

And with my answer barely off the tip of my tongue, she nodded, smiled at me, and then declared she was going to head back to the hostel and let me run on alone.  I wondered whether I could have answered any differently and kept a running buddy.  It amused me that the liberals of this world aren’t very liberal at all when they hear someone takes seriously a worldview that can’t imagine adhering to.

But the question was twofold.  Was it really me saying I wasn’t prepared to have sex that signalled the early end of our brief getting to know each other?  And regardless, should I even have put my tired self in the place of chatting away to a girl at 11pm at night, in a hostel space where both of us were anonymous?  And then to go running with her at 6am in the morning alone in the mountains?  Was I, despite my professed conservative ethics, secretly being motivated by a desire for her?

Such questions are not abstract theoretical ones, but ones that shape our every day lives in many circumstances.  Should we have lunch alone with that colleague?  Should we meet to study the Bible with people of the opposite gender?  Should we have close friends of the opposite gender, even when we’re married?  The list could go on.

It’s one that a lot of ink has been spilt on and causes inevitable stereotyping of the “other” side.  On one hand, a great desire for holiness, and an awareness that we live in a victim culture – what happens if that women had claimed I had done something to her up the mountains?  What if I’d been tired enough to forget the consequences and to have gotten off with her?  On the other hand, a wonderful modelling of the fact that we as renewed-hearted-believers, can have deep friendships with those of the opposite gender to us, that shape us, help us, and point us onwards to Jesus, without the least hint of a sexual nature.

And it’s not just theoretical.  One deacon at a church locally recently ran off with a woman alone, and threw the towel in with his faith.  Another church won’t employ single female workers incase their male workers “stumble”.

And that’s where two books I’ve recently read have been very helpful in helping me see that everything doesn’t have to be seen through Freud’s lenses of sexual desires and in fact, the church can be a place that walks free of constantly having to make boundaries and live in bubbles from each other.

Aimee Byrd’s book: Why can’t we be friends?

Joshua Jones’ book: Forbidden Friendships

Aimee Byrd

Aimee makes a persuasive case, for why we ought to be seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ as exactly that – brothers and sisters.  She digs deep into into how the answer to abuse scandals and #metoo culture of this day in age, is not separation, but wise engagement in meaningful and deep friendships.  She looks into scriptural examples, church history and much more, to find many including Jesus, who’d fall short of the modern evangelical boundaries set, where one can’t spend time with someone of the opposite sex.  She profoundly reflects on the depth of brother-sister bonds, and wonders where we’ll go in a same-sex attracted world….do we have to abandon all meaningful friendships regardless of gender, for fear of people misconstruing our friendship even between friends of the same gender?

 

Aimee’s writing is not for someone who wants a light read, but those who pick it up will plumb depths on the topic that I wish books like Vaughan Robert’s “True Friendship” could have at least skimmed.  She also perhaps doesn’t sit with the sceptic enough to convince those on the opposite extreme – as she will have found out in very public online critiques that have gone on.  But ultimately, I thought I was picking up something I wasn’t going to be challenged by, and instead I found myself stirred to appreciate new ways of looking at friendship, humbled by parts that made me weep in repentance for how I’ve acted towards women at times, and inspired to see far more depth to Biblical community that I’ve ever known before.  Forget reading another book on the sexual revolution, same-sex attraction, or similar topics: start here!

Aimee Byrd2But for those who might want an easier read that shows more awareness of sceptical thinking on this topic, you might be better heading over and picking up Josh’s book first.  He writes clearly, simply, engagingly and along the same lines.

More than that, I’ve seen him in action, and his life models a world that takes holiness seriously, while still discipling people of both genders in ways in a depth and maturity of faith and expression that isn’t often seen.

In a world obsessed by porn, which lets that shape hearts more than God’s word on the topic, it is not surprising that we’ve generated the culture of misunderstanding we have on this one.  But as Josh says, the answer isn’t in running to the opposite extreme, but by enjoying the good gift God has given us: friendship.

And where it has been lived out well, it’s ridiculously freeing.  No more wondering about the intentions of others.  No more having to constantly withdraw.  No more surface level Sunday post-church conversations.  Real community.

Running 92km for…

…joy!

This Saturday I’m off with a friend to run 92km on the Waterford Greenway (there and back).  The original plan was to run an ultramarathon in the English Peak District with another friend, but as he pulled out with a couple of months to go, I thought it made far more sense to go local.  Added to the fact it’s a flatter route that won’t need so much planning, and will draw a few friends to support, it seems like a fun way to do it!

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Just a few miles across the road from the Greenway, the other day

Doing 92km has the advantage for me of being a slow plod (9km/hr being the rough plan).  It’s been one of the beautiful things the training has taught me.  For once I’ve been able to leave my watch and running Apps behind, and have just been able to enjoy running and the scenery around me, for its own sake, rather than always pushing for new PBs or times.  It also means it’s easier on the body, not to mention the trails being better for the joints too, rather than the tarmac roads of many marathon runs.

I would happily just do it for the fun of doing it, but as everyone seemed to think it was a worthy feat, I thought I’d also raise some money for charity while I do it.  You can read my story of why I’m raising for Diabetes Ireland and Christian Unions Ireland by clicking here (for DI) or here (for CUI).

A final question I’ve been asked by some who’ve seen me posting about this: how do I stop it becoming all about me when I’m fundraising and constantly mentioning the feats I hope to achieve?

There’s something self-depreciating about the Irish mentality that we always struggle to mention ourselves in any context of achievement.  Perhaps that also is true for many Christians too, as we want our mantra to be “Soli Deo Gloria” (to God’s Glory alone) rather than receiving any honour ourselves.  Often we beat ourselves up about things, or try and put on a false humility (which is as bad as pride) saying “oh I’m not really any good at all” after we’ve achieved something special.

But the Christian good news isn’t devoid of human means.  It’s not a dualistic message that declares our physical bodies and achievements to be nothing on this earth, and our spiritual immaterial state to be everything.  We are embodied people.  And the gospel comes embodied to us in the person of Christ, with a very real message of renewal and transformation, using weak, earthy means.

And so I’m freed to celebrate human achievement in this world, and to strive to try things to enjoy this world around us.  Not as my primary aim in life, but as a reflection of God’s goodness towards us, that he allows humans to cultivate and bless this world by developing it and seeking to look after it.  And so along with GK Chesterton, I don’t just say grace (thanks) when I eat my food, but when I watch a film at the cinema, when I see something of beauty in this world, or when I get to have the thrill of endorphins rushing through my body after a long run.

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I was reminded of this yesterday as I went for my final longer run in the Wicklow mountains before the big race.  Approaching the top of Powerscourt Waterfall, I was joined by these two creatures for a brief distance.  Though I’m not sure we were well matched for pace.

It reminded me of how the old prophet Habakkuk finishes his book (chapter 3):

I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig-tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the sheepfold
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

 

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Glimpses of local life, from holiday

*All names and places have been changed in this article so as not to incriminate anyone, and stories may be mixed together for security and have happened over many years.  For real accounts, please speak to me in person.

It was 45 degrees Celsius and we were escaping the city for an location unknown to me.  You don’t choose such places for pleasure.  We were wearing trousers so as not to culturally offend, but as the temperatures only got down to 28 degrees at night-time and there was no air conditioning, we remained bathing in our own sweat for most of the trip.  The warm trickle from the shower gave temporary relief each morning, but we were soon back roasting again, a few seconds after stepping out of the shower.

“I want to see churches multiplying across the land”

But it was all worth it to hear words like the above.  These were the bold words of one person, as we sat in an underground gathering of young believers in a secure location as the call to prayer rang out from the minarets across the land, reverberating on every street corner, in a country known to persecute people who were wanting to see growth of the Church.  We’d turned our phones off so we couldn’t be tracked but even that would raise suspicions if someone was keeping an eye on our phone activity.  Sitting in a training session with them all, and hearing them sing in their native tongue, native songs, was a powerful experience, as they shared their heart for their lives, their country and the nations.  The feeling in the room was one of weakness and fragility, but the prayers were bold ones.

In many trips to very different cultures, this was my first experience like this on holiday, and I hadn’t even planned it.  Nor would I know who to contact or where to go should I want it.  It just can’t be arranged.

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A wall magnetic board in a friend’s house.

And that was generally what I thought about authentic experiences in general whilst on holiday.  Meeting local people is one thing, but it is a rarity to be invited into anything meaningful in their lives, even if you’re around for a while.

But this once, it was different.  I went on a one week holiday with a company who arranged a cultural and linguistic package for us, so that we could spend hours a day with local people who loved to share life with us and speak English (and teach us our first baby steps in their language too).  Ranging from a top university professor telling us about the local history, sociology and anthropology, through to a simple teenager who wanted to further his career chances by picking up English, and several local business owners who shared about how they went about their businesses – over half the week was spent with around 40 local people, partaking of all sorts of fun activities.

It’s the type of thing you can’t find in many places for a holiday.  And for many people, it wouldn’t be a holiday they’d want to go on at all.  But as soon as its a regular package offered by a company, the experiences doubtless get less genuine, and the locals grow weary of endless streams of people who aren’t there to invest in the area longterm.  So it felt like a privilege to be there on a taster package and it left me with many more questions that I had before I went, while still teaching me vast amounts, despite having been in the region before, and having read about it.  It was one of the richest experiences I’ve had on holiday.

Just a few of the questions I continued to mull over after these trips:

  • how is business run differently in our culture to another culture?
  • how do you start a business in another culture?
  • what type of business should an immigrant (us) start that would empower locals?
  • should westerners accept random invitations from locals to Christian underground events without endangering them?
  • how can we be sustainable in our tourism?
  • how can English be used as a medium for trips, without colonialism becoming an issue?
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The Tea Garden, Dublin.  One of my favourite spots to get to meet others from various cultures, and to enjoy tea from their culture too!

Pre-order “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” today

 

 

 

 

The final manuscript has been sent off to the publisher, the printing will start soon, and come October, they’ll be making their way to a bookshop (or online retailer near you!).

For the cheapest price so far, you can pre-order it here (with free postage to the UK)

If you’re an Amazon junkie, it’s available through their normal pre-order system.

Or if you want it on the Publisher’s (IVP) website (free delivery if you buy a couple more to give to your avid travelling friends and family): click here

Finally, I’ll be touring Ireland (with a few UK stops too) with a “Travel Experience” event this academic year, so you can buy reduced price copies at all of these events.  Details tbc.

Here’s what others have been saying about it:

I have been travelling internationally for 45 years. I wish I’d been able to read this book years ago – it would certainly have made me travel more thoughtfully: it’s a travelogue; it’s theology; it’s cultural education; it’s mission challenge all rolled into one. A fascinating read.

– Peter Maiden, International Director Emeritus of Operation Mobilization and former Chairman of Keswick Ministries

Loved it! What a marvelous journey through the stories of Scripture (and the author’s life) that will challenge, encourage and widen your perspective, not only on travel, but also on the amazing One who created it all. In a world where it is easier than ever to work or study abroad, this book deserves to be widely read.

– Sinead Norman, International Student Ministry Administrator at International Fellowship of Evangelical Students

Peter Grier gives us excellent, fresh ideas for honouring God with our travels, and helps shape perspective on mission, tourism and the meaningful welcoming of international students.

– Alan Tower, National Director of Friends International
If you’d like to help me spread word about the book, host a “travel experience” evening to get people thinking about the topic, or have me to speak, I’d be delighted to consider any invitations.
Thanks in advance!  Happy reading!

Travelling “In Search of Ancient Roots” (Book Review, Stewart, Apollos Press)

On my annual leave this year I travelled to some of the ancient Christian sites of the Bible (in Athens) and of the early church (in Egypt and North Africa).  Experiencing such reminders of history, of the global Church and of ancient roots, was a powerful thing that got me thinking.  Is what I believe now, what they believed then?

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Reading this on Areopagus Hill, looking up at the Greek Acropolis.

Living in a fast changing, post-(Roman)-Catholic Ireland has its challenges.  I could imagine that when any culture comes out of a period living under a particular way of life, that it takes a while for people to stand on their own two feet and consider where they are going next.  All the energy was poured into divesting ourselves of the old way, without much thought to where we’ll go now.  And much as we like to think we’re rational creatures, always logically assessing what to believe and how to act, I think we’d be hard-pressed to paint that picture.

Some are very perceptive in that way.  One student who met me last year said

“I’m on my way to becoming an atheist.  That’s where I want to be, because of what I’ve experienced of the [Catholic] church, but I haven’t honestly done enough thinking to defend my position.”

And equally that’s what we find when we come to churches as well.  Thousands have decided that Catholicism is not for them but that they still find Jesus attractive and true, and want to worship Him.  And so how do they do that?  Well they start their own church.  And start it with everything that Catholicism was perceived not to be.

Was it perceived that Catholicism had too much structure?  Start a church that claims to have no structure and is just led by the Spirit!

Was it perceived that Catholicism didn’t allow room for questioning?  Start something where you can question everything.

Was it perceived that Catholicism had such a majestic view of God that you could never know Him?  Start something where Jesus is very personal and the intimacy of the Holy Spirit is emphasized in all the services.

Was it perceived that Catholic doctrines of infant baptism, the Mass and liturgy were too much like institutionalised religion?  Get back to the “early church” and have baptism upon belief, breaking of bread round meals and informal worship in houses.

And so that’s what we’ve had.  Tens of new churches popping up in this city, all who look to correct the ways of old.  Perhaps before moving on to say how this book is very helpful at speaking into that situation, we’d do well to note one final cultural thing that plays a great weight in this setting.

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Exploring what the ancient pillars of the Church were, and how to stay in line with them.

As individuals decide to start new churches (many claiming Divine mandates), many of them will refuse to look outside themselves to do it.  Traditional denominations like Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian and others are perceived as foreign (and in some cases, are culturally foreign, given most of their leaders are trained abroad in a very different culture and some struggle to differentiate between culture and gospel).  And so much of the resources in the English speaking world, do come from British culture (and America).  But partly because these cultures are different, and partly because we, as Irish people, have our hearts set against learning from those who ruled over us (whether perceived Catholicism or British rule), we struggle to do anything but experiment with our churches.  We would rather do this, and see what works in Ireland (pragmatism) than learn from others.

Now there are some advantages of this.  But also, we’ve hit some pretty major problems.

In our experimenting with claiming its the Holy Spirit who leads us (outside of human means), we’ve let church leaders get away with poor leadership, abuse and have seen churches where the priest-like-figure has just become another personality or extremely gifted individual.  Church discipline is no-where to be seen.

In our reacting to a system that struggled to allow room for questions, we threw the door open to everything and start to question everything without limit.  You’ll find some leaders who don’t think God is sovereign over the future, some who expect Heaven to be realised now on earth, some who claim to be above Doctrinal statements, some who think they have found the keys to reforming the church that no others have found before and others who think they can emphasize that God speaks to them in so many ways outside of scripture, that scripture takes a back seat.  Heresy is rife, and largely under the radar of most of us, who all see the great heart of those making such statements.

In our wanting to escape a picture of God as a grey haired old man in the sky, who had little to do with everyday life, we’ve sought to make God entirely comprehensible and relevant, bringing him down to our own image, worshipping Him as if He was our best mate sitting beside us at the GAA and shunning anything that seemed too grand or majestic.  That was the old way of life.  We’ve got a new covenant personal Jesus now.  The creator-creature distinction in our theology, that emphasized how “other” God is, how mysterious some of His being still is to us, and how above our way of thinking His purposes are, is now lost.  Every service, we have lost a sense of His majesty and our finite nature.  We are on the same plane, in a way we never ought to be.

Finally, in our desire to run from institutionalised sacraments, we have bolted to the only other extreme we thought there was.  Instead of saying baptism has some influence on our salvation (as Catholicism does), we declare it to just be an outward symbol for one service where we invite all our non-Christian mates in to hear our story.  Instead of receiving grace (for salvation) through the Mass (as Catholicism teaches), we abandon any relevance of the Lord’s Supper, pretend they are only symbols and even mull over whether they need to be bread and wine at all (why not baked beans and banana, in a meal together at home?).

Given we’ve come to this “reactionary Christianity”, it’s no surprise to me that many who seemingly came to faith are falling away from it, and that so many who abandoned the Roman Catholic Church actually come back to seeing its extreme advantages compared to the experimental fellowships they’ve encountered since.

To those who’ve encountered any element of this shallow “evangelicalism” (which I would argue is no evangelicalism at all), I can recommend reading Kenneth Stewart’s book “In Search of Ancient Roots”.

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Kenneth starts out by outlining the perceived beauty of a system (like Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy) that purports to believe the same thing throughout all ages, across all nations.

His main points in the book to me, were that:

  • such systems aren’t really as united as they appear at all, across all parts
  • such systems aren’t really united across history in what they have believed
  • there is great historicity in evangelical doctrine all the way from the early church

Now given how complex a topic this is, I’ll not delve into how well I fell Stewart makes his case here.  You can grab a coffee with me for that.  But it’s well worth the read, particularly for those of us in our Irish setting.  It does however, come with the warning that it’s not for the faint hearted.  It’s a meaty book with many a juicy morsel that will kickstart an interest for you in reading church history, if you haven’t ever had one before!  But don’t be put off.  Why not let it challenge you, let it raise questions for you, and let it provoke you to worship a God who has always been faithful throughout history, even (and especially) through a messy Church.  Why not grab a friend and read it together?

Not all those who wander are lost?

[Guest Post: Alex is a small-town extrovert who loves to travel and meet people with the hope of building genuine relationships to the glory of God. He lives in Louisville, KY, USA with his wife, daughter, and son, where he drinks coffee, makes too many references to Middle Earth and Hyrule, and prays for a future ministry of equipping redeemed repenters for the ministry of the saints throughout the world. 

If you would like to Guest Post, I’d love to hear from you.  We take all sorts of angles on faith and travel, as long as they stay within the rough ethos of the blog (you don’t need to agree with me on everything!!)]


When I was attending university, I noticed a trend in social media and popular culture where people who loved to travel or experience the great outdoors were posting, tweeting, or even wearing the phrase, “Not all those who wander are lost.” At first I was excited, thinking that I had suddenly discovered a host of kindred spirits who shared my affinity for High Elf culture. I was disappointed to find, however, that most of them did not realize the egregious error they were making (to my eyes) in taking that passage woefully out of its original context in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The full excerpt is actually:


All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

The Lord of the Rings, p. 170 (emphasis mine)

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Photo (C) mine.  Carlingford Lough, February 2018

What popular culture was using to exalt an often self-seeking version of wanderlust was actually a poem about a man whose family and kingdom were stripped from him yet spent his days patrolling and “wandering” the land in order to protect people who didn’t even recognize their own fealty to him, all because this man believed in a prophetic poem, a poem that promised he would one day sit on the throne that was rightfully his and dispel the shadows that oppressed his domain. This excerpt is not an advertisement for hiking in your local park but is a phrase about trust and perseverance being rewarded with a rightful inheritance. In fact, it reminds me of another passage about a man and a promise:

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Hebrews 11:8-10 (CSB)

Abraham, too, was a man who wandered, “even though he did not know where he was going.” He did this because God told him to leave the land of his fathers for a land where he would become the father of “a great nation” and he would receive blessings from the Holy Creator God — in fact, “all the peoples on earth” were going to be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). He left the comforts and joys of his homeland because he faithfully believed in the goodness and mercy of God, not even dwelling within permanent buildings or walls because he was looking forward to the City that only God can design and build. His wandering was one of obedience and service because he not only followed God’s command to sojourn in a foreign land, but he also blessed people along the way by his sheer proximity. Sure, his travelling blessed people financially, but every time someone joined his household they were brought into the spiritual blessings of God (Genesis 17).

Like Abraham, we ought to travel while recognizing that we are only able to do so because we have been blessed financially and spiritually by God. Without the providence and provision of God Almighty we would not have the means to leave our front doors, let alone our countries. Every cent in our bank accounts is there purely by the grace of God. On top of that, He has blessed us spiritually so that now we are free from any self-seeking desires to “escape” the hum-drum rigor of daily life in pursuit of romanticized greener lands. We can enjoy our travels through the lens of Christ, knowing that all those who confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead are now foreigners in the world, citizens of a Kingdom still to come, and are being upheld by the promises of Jesus to be with us always, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). We can enjoy and appreciate the gifts of grace found in meeting new people, trying new foods, and the countless “sub-creations” (to borrow a term from Tolkien) of image-bearers of the Creator without becoming enslaved to those things. What’s more, we can share that same freeing message of the gospel with people in other countries.

I am not arguing that your salvation or sanctification and growth in godliness is directly proportional to the amount of travel miles you have stored on your credit card. While I do encourage others to travel and experience new cultures and countries, I recognize that it is simply not feasible for some to take time off from work or dip into their savings accounts to travel the world in pursuit of broader horizons. And I am not suggesting that we should “sanctify” our holidays abroad by making them into evangelistic events (Peter wrote a post addressing that kind of mindset here).

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Photo (C) mine.  Belfast Bible College, February 2018

I would like to suggest, however, that we broaden our definition of travelling: instead of relegating the word only to transatlantic trips or cross-continental excursions, we can view travel as any means of moving from one place to another. Since this world is not truly home for Christians, we are effectively spending our lives at a hostel called Earth, which means that we too are constantly travelling and living in temporary housing like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before us. We do not have to leave our towns in order to possess a theology of travel because those same truths are evident to us wherever we lay our heads. But once we do have a theology of travel, then every trip that we take to the store, every holiday we take to Spain, and every Saturday we spend at home with the family becomes a part of our mission to genuinely love and serve the people around us. When our love is sincere, then making disciples of all nations is not a spiritual checklist for clergymen but a natural, authentic, and long-term outpouring of our hearts, wherever we may find ourselves that day.

Whether we leave our homes or stay where we are, we should remember that e are still sojourners in a foreign land, working and waiting for our King to return and fulfill his promise to take us to our true Home. If we hope and trust in the return of the Light to chase away the shadows in this world and in our souls, we too can wander and not be lost.

Resources for the traveller: help needed!

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Thankfully I was able to combine travel writing with a few strategic mission planning retreats with my work (IFES).  Here, we prayed for the world from near Nice, France

Please ‘scuse the short break from posting.  I’ve been off on my travels and travel writing and just wanted to be focussed on that for a while.

In addition to this great work that Stephen Liggins wrote, I’m writing an (hopefully) accessible theology of travel (called something far sexier) for IVP UK with lots of juicy stories and practical questions, applications and thoughts from many wiser than me.  I guess busses always come at the same time, eh?

Have any thoughts on faith and travel?  Do get in touch using the contact page or by commenting below.

But equally what I’d love your thoughts on, is a resource that myself and a few others from The River Communities are dreaming up for the seeking traveller (or any traveller for that matter).  Something that they can use on their travels to help them experience God and to break into their way of seeing the world.  Travellers are often seekers of something, and many of them are open to new thoughts and experiences.  Away from home, people will try anything once, if they meet a friendly face.

If you’re interested in this project, it’s in VERY early stages, and we’d love you to be involved or to chip in.  Again, please do drop me a line – I won’t bite!

And finally, if you’re not so sure about the whole book/resource thing, but want to keep online connections going, why not write a guest blog post for me or a series like Marie-Louise did?

Thanks to you all for reading!

Love and prayers,

PG

20180103_155129

Just one pub that I got to spend a few hours writing in, while I wandered the streets of London for a week over New Year.  I normally care little for my surroundings, but I’m trying to teach myself that God’s glory can be displayed in inner city things, as much as in the wilds of nature.  C’est vrai?

10 for travellers to read in 2018

I’m a big reader.  Partly because I do think readers are leaders.  You could spend worse time and money then learning from the best of thinkers and practitioners round the world.  And so here’s 10 (mostly recent publications) that I got for Christmas, that I think you might like!

Journey: an illustrated history of travel

book1

This coffee table book is a dream for the traveller!  Tracing the history of travel from several millennia ago, its pictures and bitesize format will lead to hours of fun facts and stories you may or may not know about travel.

For the more serious historian or reader, there’s enough to whet your appetite, and enough to send you off down a hundred other rabbit trails of things you want to investigate further.  At £25, it’s not cheap, but I intend it’ll get every pence of value sitting in my living room for others.

Is Shame Necessary? (Jennifer Jacquet)

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I’ve written before about how much of the world we see through our own cultural lenses.  Understanding shame/honour culture I think is key to understanding so much of history, world politics, religion and much more of personal interactions in our lives.  While those from such cultures will find this little book humorous and highly entertaining to see a westerner approach such a common sense topic (to you), it is however needed for us over here who have never thought the world could be seen that way!

The Strange Death of Europe (Douglas Murray)

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I was quite nervous of this treaty on immigration, identity and Islam, but it was recommended to me by those across a spectrum that I respected, and so I have started reading a book that appears to be a Conservative treatment on a topic I tend to take a more liberal stance on.  Whether Islam or secularism will dominate Europe in the decades to come will be a question that will not leave us for a while, and this, regardless of your opinion, is a well researched book.  Travelling Europe without thinking these questions could be blind travelling.  I can feel my pulse racing…

The Qur’an (Nicolai Sinai, Edinburgh Uni. Press)book4

A tsunami is coming!  After several hundred years of rigorous historical criticism of the Bible, this work has drawn together where we are with historical criticism of the Qur’an (just starting).  It’s a brave work to some extents, given what happens to those who suggest the Qur’an might not be the revealed message of Allah, but on other levels it will only be the start of fierce, western dragging of the text through critique in the decades to come.  I’m not sure how much westerners doing this, or how much us pretending Islam is a text-based religion will take affect, the way Biblical criticism did, but it’s a key read if you’re interested in the same discussion as the book above, or are travelling any Islamic state.

book5Zero Waste Home (Bea Johnson, Penguin)

Given the environmental impact on the world that travelling often makes, I would hope that most of us who travel, would be conscious of this, and looking to cut down our negative impact on the world, and on future generations (should there be future generations).  Bea Johnson is one of the leading voices over the years on cutting out waste from our lives, while still living normal lives.  I could imagine travellers will relate to her life of simplicity and absence of “stuff”.  The consequences are large enough, if put into action, that I’d suggest reading this one with a friend (to chat it through) or taking it slowly.  (And yes, I’m aware it’s ironic I’m buying a book on reducing waste…but I do want others to borrow it from my library, and that’s easier than Kindle!)

book6Cork Folk Tales (Kate Corkery)

Because every country/region has a rich story to tell, and folk tales are often what grab the imagination and help us see the mundane with a splash of colour.

Determined to Believe? (Prof John Lennox)

I’m a big Lennox fan.  I helped to organise his tour of Ireland recently, have sold hundreds of his books over the years.  Having said that, this looks like a polemic against a straw man Calvinism, veering many miles away from where Lennox is best: science (and faith).  I read it reluctantly while praying and longing for the day that the protestant/evangelical church will see that reformed/arminian distinctions don’t need to bitterly divide us.

“[insert Calvinism or Arminianism] will be the death of the church in [insert country/place]”.  No, no it won’t.  And if you think it will, your God is quite small.

JI Packer wrote a marvelous uniting book, speaking into a Christian Union situation in the UK that was divided on the topic.  I hope I’ve not judged this book by its cover.  Why for travellers?  Free will, determinism, compatibilism (and other variants) shape every culture, country, and thing that we do.  To understand culture well, you’d be wise to look at such questions, philosophical as they may be.

The Silk Roads (Peter Frankopan)book8

It was a bestseller of last year in many charts and one that is key reading to those who had western-centred history lessons.  “The region of the Silk Roads is obscure to many in the English-speaking world. Yet the region linking East with West is where civilization itself began, where the world’s great religions were born and took root, where goods were exchanged, and where languages, ideas and disease spread.”  Fascinating!  Things that will shape your travels in many places.

The Westminster Assembly (Robert Letham)

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Perhaps the most abstract and oldest on the list, I’m reading this to get my head around why the Church wrote some confessions of faith, what context they wrote them into and whether they are relevant for today.  Not inspiring to you?  Well stop just for one second.  We all have s system of beliefs, much as we like to say “I just believe the Bible and follow Jesus”.  The question is whether your system of beliefs matches what the weight of scripture teaches, freeing you to live in the best way in life: Jesus’ way?  I’ve found these truths to be invigorating in general life but also life-giving as I travel the globe, but am still wrestling with whether my reading of them was what the original authors had in mind!  If you’re not reformed in theology, I might suggest that you read up on it anyway, so that when you critique it, you’re reacting to the best of it, and not the worst.  A good rule anything you critique in 2018, in fact.

Birdsbook10

Because Jesus has given me a love for all things, and my mother has given me a love for what she loves: birds.  And this book to identify ones will be fun when I’m walking the banks of the Lee in Cork, or travelling to far flung places with tropical birds.

But don’t be put off by long lists:

  1. Your passions will be different to mine – don’t feel constrained by what I like!
  2. One chapter a day will get you readings a huge number of books this year.  Build it into your routine, or grab others to discuss what you read.
  3. I’ve deliberately not mentioned all the regular books I read to warm my heart with the good news of Jesus.  I always try and prioritise Bible reading and these, over anything else I read.  Academic views will change, but the Word of God will never change.  However, these titles may help us better understand the Word of God.