Steam Highwayman coming soon!

It’s been a busy summer!  Somehow, between all the weddings, trips, church events and socialising, I’ve ploughed on.  Steam Highwayman will be launched on Kickstarter on the 5th September and for a long a nervous month I’ll be watching and praying, while the book is available for backing from all over the world.  I’ve already been publicising the project on social media, introducing the gamebook to fans of steampunk and fans of gamebooks alike.  If I appear on your social feed, you might start to get sick of seeing me!

I’ve had to develop all sorts of new skills to get this far: graphic design and video-making, advertising and marketing and overcoming my naturally polite, patient tendencies!  I really can’t wait to be back in the writing zone again, when I can concentrate on producing the next volume.

Still, I’ve enjoyed all this work massively, and I hope it’ll bear fruit soon.  It’s amazing to imagine that in a matter of months I may well be holding a copy of my own work, talking to readers world-wide and with the success behind me.

Holy Spirit, You are Welcome Here

Worshipping God with this song is a life-changer: it’s a challenging song, that must be sung whole-heatedly or not at all.  Here’s Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes leading in 2015, as part of Graham Kendrick’s suggested Pentecost Worship Playlist.

Addressing the Spirit of Jesus by name is a bold move and it should challenge us. How do we acknowledge the Holy Spirit as personal God? Scripture teaches us that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ own spirit as well as the Spirit of the Father, yet we believe He is a distinct person of the Godhead. Is your theology of the Trinity strong enough that you have the confidence to address the Spirit of God in person?

Now this is the crux of the song: all believers acknowledge the power of God’s Spirit in their lives and in the world. But how many of us welcome him? Or in how much of our lives do we welcome the Holy Spirit to work? Let’s be honest – the Holy Spirit can be terrifying. What if we invited him to change our lives and he brought about a time of being without work? Or what if we follow him in speaking to friends boldly about their need for Jesus and we are made to feel uncomfortable, unhappy or angry? Miracles would be welcome in our lives if they were predictable and would be guaranteed not to arouse the attention of cynics and people wanting to make their own fame from them. Healing would be welcome if it were on our own terms, according to our own understanding.

But the song has a completely different take on the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life: it is an open-ended and unlimited invitation for God in person to invade our lives.

Have you ever visited a place where you know you weren’t welcome? Where your hosts are waiting for you to leave, because they don’t feel they can get on with their real life with you in their front room? They don’t feel safe enough with you to relax themselves?

And have you ever visited a friend who just doesn’t want you to leave? You can eat all their biscuits, drink all their tea, empty their fridge, stay the night, follow them to pick up their kids, and they still don’t want you to go? I have one or two precious friends who treat me like that. Now that is welcome – not just a cold acknowledgement of relationship, but a selfless love that melts the boundaries of who owns what and who should do what.

What do we say to Jesus – to Father God – to the wonderful, life-giving spirit when we address him? Do we give him a limited welcome? Or are we prepared to welcome him without any limits.

I love singing the bridge of this song: we ask, together, to become more aware of God’s presence. We need to notice Him more frequently and have a better understanding of what it means that he dwells in us and in the church. And we ask to experience the glory of God’s goodness: because experiencing is the key to learning and changing. It’s not enough for us to hear about God’s power or God’s presence: we need to experience it in our emotions and our physical experience and in our imagination. And then, instead of fearing what he might do, we know that his power is always good and his will is for us and for all of the lost. And then we need to sing the chorus again to reinforce our welcome – to mean it more and to sing it over the parts of our lives that we are finding really tough to surrender.

Holy Spirit of the living God, you are welcome to ruin my life as I think of it: to derail my plans if you need to, to make me uncomfortable, to change my morality system, to change my habits, my words, my intentions, my hopes, my preferences and my desires. Make me like my Jesus by being in my life, Holy Spirit. Help me to see and believe in the presence of my Father God wherever I am and in every moment of the day. I allow you and welcome you to cause me to experience new things so that I follow my Jesus more closely and have more compassionate heart for those whom you love. Make me Holy as you are Holy.

Isaiah 32 14-20

The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city. deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks,

These words of Isaiah are concluding a section in which he promises, in God’s name, that things are going to change! He directly addresses complacency, warning that the very things we can delight in are the most liable to changing – but the rhythm of these chapters has a pattern of renewal, not destruction.  We all need renewal at stages in our life of faith, particularly when we have become too attached to the ‘pleasant fields and fruitful vines’ or have begun to trust in ‘citadel and watchtower’ instead of in the person of God.  Things can change in an instant!

till the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes like a fertile field and the fertile field seems like a forest.

Jesus’ ministry was the long pouring out of the Spirit of God.  Although he promised his disciples that the Helper would come ‘after’ him, he himself, ‘filled with God’s spirit’, had brought God near and their awakening faith – which is the gift only of God’s spirit – proved that they had begun to receive.  This also has the sense that times of renewal and over-turning will necessarily end in a pouring-out of God’s spirit upon us.

The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert, his righteousness live in the fertile field.

Reading this today I saw the person of the Lord’s justice, Jesus, heading out into the desert to dwell there before his ministry and I heard a voice like is written so many times in the Gospel saying, ‘As it is written…’  I’m sure that as he went, consciously choosing to and unconsciously fulfilling all the prophecies made about him, Jesus would have had these words of Isaiah in his head. The desert is easy to recognise – where is the fertile field?  Well, Jesus loved to talk in the metaphors of a farmer.  He called himself a sower in a field.  Was he choosing to align his behaviour with an ancient prophecy?  That seems like inspired marketing to me.

The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

Every cycle of disruption and calming does have permanent effects in our character, in the same way that every storm that bends the branches of a tree leaves that tree stronger in places, barer in others.  I’m increasingly aware of ‘renewal’ cycles, which I think happen constantly at different scales in our lives.  At this time of year I love to attend the Renewal conference in South London, where I personally challenge myself to accept disruption of my habits of sung worship – and danced worship – to receive a lasting confidence and quietness.  I can attribute significant changes in my character and my way of life to going to Renewal like this in the last few years and I can’t wait to be there on January 30th.

Renewal-london-2016-jpeg

My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.  Though hail flattens the forest and the city is levelled completely, how blessed will you be, sowing your seed by every stream and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

God does not want us to bind ourselves up in the ‘security’ of wealth, you see.  We are less able to sow, less able to care for our responsibilities – whether animals, the natural world, communities or individuals.  He will disrupt us.  We can accept that and grow to depend on him more or be left like those barren ruins.  I don’t think this a threat from the prophet – he is simply explaining a truth about the process of change.  His inspiration, his insight, as a gift from God, should prompt us to obedience and a keenness to live in reality, but with an insider’s knowledge of what is to come.  Roll on the new year!

Verses 113-120

I hate double-minded men,
But I love your law.

How can we have anything but the strongest antithetical reaction to men – and that part of all men – when they are changeable, deathly, deceitful, unintentional, when we profess to love a living word that is secure, alive, honest, purposeful and good?

You are my refuge and my shield;
I have put my hope in your word.

God is a cave – an overhanging tree – a windbreak – a stormwall – a dam, a cordon, a barrier.  My belief for the good in tomorrow resides entirely within his word, nestled inside it.  You have to unfold the flaps of God;s voice and there, beautifully hidden, you see your hope – your own belief.  Find it!

Away from me, you evildoers,
That I may keep the commands of God!

Harsh words – but the price is great.  You cannot save a drowning man unless you are secure in the boat.  Distance is important – it brings clarity and freedom of sight – and allows me to keep God’s commands – not simply begin them.

Sustain me according to your promise, and I shall live;
Do not let my hopes be dashed.

This strength to see things through to the end is to be found in God’s promise to us.  Life is when something is being continued, sustained, not otherwise.  Your hopes – all of them – are secure in that single word – undashable.

Uphold me, and I shall be delivered;
I shall always have regard for your decrees.

Keeping God’s law is prominent, upheld like an offering in the sight of the people – but for delivery – and this is eternal life – satisfaction in his word!

You reject all who stray from your decrees,
For their deceitfulness is in vain.

Shortcuts are a waste of time – self-defeating.  Attempts to trick God are folly.  Those who stray are choosing a path that will be harder and less profitable.

All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross;
Therefore I love your statutes,

Here, there is some fear – not to be discarded – but you can see the poet’s value on his relationship with God.  I do not want to be unnecessary to the purpose, for wickedness makes us unusable – cannot be forged into good tools.

My flesh trembles in fear of you;
I stand in awe of your laws.

For his word is like a furnace – burning, changing, melting – on a vast scale.  More terrifyingly hot that a furnace crucible – than all the molten metal in the world – the process is on such a scale and is so effective.  This is what the word of God does – refine!

So we might learn distaste for the company of evil, but God effects our separation.  This verse of the Psalm is a window into his process in our hearts, convincing us through shows of strength and mercy.  The mercy is in his sustenance – we can only keep his laws because he hears our prayers and does his will.

Verses 81-88

My soul faints with longing for your salvation,

But I have put my hope in your word.

That internal longing?  That yearning after fulfillment of God’s promises?  That’s the soul’s cry for a rescue that is of God.  While it remains I have a healthy appetite, but my hope runs deeper than emotion.  It is a fact – a completed act and vow that I can observe within myself.

My eyes fail, looking for your promise.

I say, “When will you comfort me?”

My body follows the pattern of my spirit and my mind, properly confessing that he will, that he has promised to save, but asking when.  We are allowed to ask “When?” – but asked to trust he will.

Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke

I do not forget your decrees.

Losing weight, tanned, dirty, smelly, stinging eyes – all this is secondary.  Though I am in pain and though my body tends cries for attention, I do not forget, for my knowledge of God’s laws is not simply the interest of my mind.  My spiritual memory is formed of my past actions, which prove that I have not forgotten God’s way, because even now I long for him.

How long must your servant wait?  

When will you punish my persecutors?

Asking these questions directly means that the only real answer comes with God’s action.

The arrogant dig pitfalls for me –

Contrary to your law.

Ridiculous, isn’t it Lord?  What do they imagine they will achieve?  Let me draw your attention to it, Father.  Here are traps – illegal traps!  For me!  When I am following your decrees the path is firm and dry – but traps are everywhere.

All your commands are trustworthy,

Help me, for men persecute me without cause.

My persecutors do not know, follow or understand your commands.  Help me by helping me to follow these trustworthy commands that will characterise my life so differently – by trusting, not imagining my own way, by doing, not worrying – and so within my own mind to remove those causeless, weak persecutors which I now know to be impermanent and senseless.  My own self-indulgent habits and ways of thought that have become traps for me as I walk your path – help me to disregard such unholiness.

They almost wiped me from the earth

But I have not forsaken your precepts.

Even King David risked being forgotten, it seems.  But what is more permanent than wealth and Kingdoms?  God’s law – and all those things that follow the pattern of God’s instruction share its security.

Preserve my life according to your love

and I will obey the statutes of your mouth.

These aren’t just any statutes!  God’s spoken care for us is as eternal as his ancient rules – but we have a new promise of these rules, no longer rules to us but a conversation.  And this is his preservation – to be with us and in us by his Word.

Next Up…

The ground shakes… A season begins… Not obviously, since autumn always slips out from beneath summer’s train. Seasons are never well defined.

But in the few months since I’ve last written on here, a lot has changed. And now I’m about to take a new journey.

My friends know a quick way to get me excited is to ask me about IF – interactive fiction – or CYOA – Choose Your Own Adventure – the genre defining series. And over the summer I got very excited and spent about 15 full writing days learning to use an IF software tool called Twine, writing a non – linear Steampunk time – sensitive role playing interactive novel, simply called Steam Highwayman.

I’ll write a lot more about it soon, but the key to my excitement with using Twine is that it provides me with a very natural writing environment, meaning that my productivity and fluency were as great during those 15 days as at any time in my life. And the finished result published in html format, meaning that it can be read easily in a Web browser.

I’ve learned a small amount of html and css from the work I had earlier this and at the end of last year editing a website for Mary’s and then building my own. But if I can up my game, the prospect of downloadable CYOA apps that combine my love of writing with modern technology awaits me.

I mean then to be spending time learning more CSS skills to create a good looking page, learning how to use android studio to create an app that will use one of my finished-ish IFs, and then  to release it here.

Will I succeed? God knows. How long will it take? I don’t mind. Because whether or not I’m posting a downloadable free IF within the year, entirely written and produced by me, I know I’m learning a lot. And that feels great.

In Psalm 119 it says “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.” There’s nothing to blame in my desire to explore and create and I know that anything done for the glory of God can be an act of deep worship, so I’m looking forward to meeting Him and walking with Him along His road this season.

Verses 33-40

Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees;

then I will keep them to the end.

The Lord’s teaching is eternally effective because it changes our character, instead of simply describing the way things are to us.

Give me understanding and I will keep your law

and obey it with all my heart.

To try to keep God’s law without understanding what it is, or what it is for, or how it works, is not the point.  We are no longer slaves but sons and heirs and he wants us to join the family business and participate in his way with a whole-hearted response, just as he does.  Has it ever occurred to you that God is not above the law?  He keeps it pure and undefiled, in his son, in his spirit and in himself.

Direct me in the path of your commands

for there I find my delight.

My search for joy can finish in his command – in his Word – if I care to think about it in that light.  If we seek delight there, we will find it.

Turn my heart towards your statutes

and not towards selfish gain.

Yes, that all my ambitions might find a place in you, Lord.  We are very broken – we can’t turn our own hearts at all!  This is a real symptom of the disease of sin – a disobedient heart that longs for and lusts after unholy things – but this is a true proof of God’s grace: he will turn our heart for us.  And God’s laws run exactly opposite to selfishness: we need have no worry or guilt or self-criticism when our hearts are after the things he says.

Turn my eyes away from worthless things;

preserve my life according to your word.

To stay fixed on the valuable things is to remain alive!  Life is not worth living if all we can see are diseased things.  But the things we let into our spirit through our eyes will extend and preserve our life.

Fulfil your promise to your servant,

so that you may be feared.

Testimony is powerful, isn’t it?  It is awe-inspiring and intended to shock us with God’s gracefulness and faithfulness.  If God were to keep all his promises – just consider how many that is for a moment – wouldn’t that unutterably change our lives?  Now consider: God will keep all his promises!  His promises to Adam, to Eve, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to David, Solomon, to Hannah and to Simeon and Anna and Mary and Elizabeth and to Jonah and to Jeremiah and every secret promise he has made to every king, prophet, teacher, labourer, designer, musician, angel, messenger, translator, builder, farmer, meteorologist, child and grandparent.  Consider the scope of these promises!  All the promises he made to Jesus and to John!  If you have ever had the Spirit assure you of something, that too will be fulfilled – and if, like me, you are too forgetful of the promises God has made to you, testify to them, write them down, record them for your children, tell them abroad.  All the little ones – the ones we consider little – about the weather and the mood of someone we have to talk to and the ones about work and money.  All the great ones about our name in the book of life.  When we speak them with our mouth our brain records them in our experience and we build our faith.  We redesign our life.

Take away the disgrace I dread,

for your laws are good.

Fear is the enemy of satisfaction.  So we make a good swap with the Lord – our disgrace for his law!  Seek to please God, rather than any other authority, and fear no disgrace!  We cannot be disgraced before God – dis-graced!  Because Grace is not revoked.

How I long for your precepts!

Preserve my life in your righteousness.

With all this in mind, can’t we say we long to hear from God, through Scripture, through the still small voice, through a song or dance of worship, through the wind in the trees!  To understand his law and his way of living, his new covenant of grace, his sacrifice in our place, his healing power, his life where there was death!  These are the things that will bring us life as we understand them, experience them, make them primary in our lives.  His righteousness – his unique characteristic – is what we seek!  And we were promised that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be satisfied.

It was around this point that I had my own personal revelation.  I wrote, on the 12.1.14; In my teaching, in my writing, I want to please God.  There’s all this talk of pleasing Ofsted – none of pleasing our creator, who cares for us, who’s nearby.  That was when I decided to leave teaching and seek a new way.

Canning Town

How beautiful the river banks,

Each a slick and shining brown.

The tide now slackens out through town

Past railway sidings, standing tanks.

 

Here reeds are stained and standing thick,

The ducks and gulls squat on the mud

And later comes the brackish flood

But now the silt is dark and slick,

 

Here interrupted by a pile

Half-rotted, stained with grey and green,

There lies a tire, half-sunk, half-seen,

And so on down the winding mile.

 

All the way, from here to the sea,

The Thames retreats from its own bed,

Its mind is changed, intentions fled,

So changeful as the moon we flee.