The Outer Fringes

Some passages I read in Job 26 that stood out – I recalled reading them on my previous time through Job, and wanted to put some illustration around it. In the middle of Job’s anguish, he recognises something of God’s omnipotence – how we look at the tremendous power displayed in the natural world, all the natural forces that, thousands of years later we’re still at the mercy of.

He can look around and see powers that are orders of magnitude beyond our own – and then these wonderful lines – “these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

All the wonders we see are but the fringes of the whole of his works – and yet we do see more of him than Job did, because we have seen Jesus:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Hebrews 1:1-3

In Jesus we recognise God’s absolute majesty and power – and yet can draw near without fearing him, because on the cross we have been made clean, pure, fit to come before the throne of the Almighty.

The King Who Will Fight For You

Here’s an illustrated poem I put together during the summer last year. I’ve read lots of versions of the David and Goliath story written for children, and rarely seen much link made between David and Jesus as the king who fights on his people’s behalf. The Jesus Storybook Bible is good on this, but I wanted to try and do something with a bit more illustration.

Colossians – chapter 4

Colossians – chapter 3

Colossians – chapter 2

Chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, in little black and white illustrations.

I find that slowing myself down by putting pictures together really helps me take time to understand what the text is saying. It forces me to go line by line through the letter’s logic to follow the argument – so in verse 3 there’s a progression I might have missed if I’d read through it normally. Paul says his goal is that:

The church family are encouraged in heart and united in love. What for? So that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, which in turn allows them know the mystery of God which is revealed to us in Jesus.

So being united together in love as a church family, amongst other things, helps us to gain a fuller understanding of the mysteries of God in Jesus. You need love and unity to resist false teaching, to keep encouraging and teaching one another, and to see to it that the whole body grows stronger as we put roots down deeper into Christ.

I also find drawings help me to remember the passage better – that’s partly due to how my mind works, and some people don’t think in pictures in the same way, but I hope it’s helpful for some.

Chapters 3 and 4 to follow – they’re both a bit shorter, so hopefully won’t take toooo long, provided I can figure out what to draw!

Colossians – Chapter 1

I’m currently reading through Colossians along with some other books of the bible, and for my own sake I wanted to try and draw some little black and white illustrations as I go along. Here’s chapter 1 –

Less, and much more than ten

Today would have been ten years since Ali and I got married back in 2010. To mark it, I’ve written a poem looking back with gratitude over those years, and looking forward in hope.


2010, year one begins
with April wedding down at King’s,
volcanic ash and Byfords nights
where cake makes up for altered flights.
We share a home, she sleeps no more –
Too late she learns I sometimes snore.
Cambridge, Diss and long commutes
(two jobs to pay for Ali’s boots)
Many joys, and sometimes sorrows,
car breaks down, and Ali borrows 
my boxers in the South of France
(Good boy scout, I had clean spare pants)

Year two flows into three and four,
the marriage strengthens that much more.
She talks me into starting LEAD,
she’s rather wise so I concede.
See Brooklyn Bridge and Golden Gates,
dream dreams of life among the States;
start new business, leave a job, 
get made redundant, trust in God.
Try for a year, at last conceive,
a small girl bursts onto the scene.
One month to go, but will she wait?
4 pounds, but quick to put on weight!

Does Ali rest? Not sure she’s learned
to put her feet up when she’s earned
a break but hey! There’s Annabelle
to feed and work to do as well.
This crazy lady, see how she’s
mixed stubborn will with will to please
and will to win at every game,
in badminton she proved me lame,
at Mario Kart I came out top
(but let her win, or she won’t stop!)

She learns the names of all my kin,
we visit York, Southampton, Plym,
East Sheen and Ashford, Mutley Plain
and make the long drives home again.
And then a wriggling, giggling boy
arrives and Luke brings tears and joy
and wipes us out and makes us glad,
our headstrong girl and laughing lad.
And Ali makes a first rate mum;
is two enough? There’s more to come –
but keep exploring all the options,
wait three years, we’ll try adoption!

Somewhere in year seven or eight
we move beyond the Acle Straight,
and plant ourselves beside the sea
while Steve gets wed to Natalie.
And Ali gets the diary out
to stop the family missing out
on time together, family brunches,
barbecues and roasted lunches,
time for games! Stop work and drawing!
Stops us all from getting boring.

Ten would prove the hardest year,
the toughest hurdles yet to clear.
Began with joy and ends so changed
as cancer fell and rearranged
our lofty dreams and best laid plans 
as Ali, held in Jesus’ hands
went home to him who loves her best.
She’s safe in Paradise, the rest
of us are left to mourn her loss –
but cling to hope found at the cross.

My friend, you left a gospel wake
throughout your life, more give than take,
were flawed but Jesus’ grace shone through.
Dear friend and wife to me, and you
with tender heart and loving hand
have made of me a better man.

My friend, He says we’ll meet again,
all pain will be forgotten when
He calls us home, we see his face
rejoicing as we end the race,
or He returns with lightning, blast
of trumpets as this age is past,
the heavens and the earth made new,
the thorns replaced
the ache is through
and all the seeds that fell with tears
in Him, with glory, reappear.
The flowers bloom,
the sleepers wake
the bridegroom cuts the wedding cake.
There’s better yet,
and more to come. 

The story’s only just begun.

Grace, and P.A.C.E.

‘Regular’ parenting was one of the most challenging things I have ever tried to do. Single parenting is even more so – and I say that as someone who feels extremely well supported by my family, church family and friends – many single parents have much less to go on, and I have huge respect for the responsibility and trials of raising children without a partner. It’s often thankless – at least in the moment. It exposes the worst in you, it’s exhausting, infuriating, you don’t have someone to tag in for you, or to ask ‘was that ok?’ when you’ve muddled your way through any given parenting conundrum.

Many sweet and wonderful moments, and many gruelling ones. I have wonderful children, but they are children, and children aren’t easy. I have a genuine, abiding hope and joy in Jesus that lifts my eyes and gives me strength in many moments, and yet there’s plenty of moments of infuriation – some suppressed and some not – plenty of clenched teeth and tongues bit. Plenty of time bringing discipline, and plenty of apologies to them for where I’ve gotten it wrong myself. Lots of laughter, and plenty of moments with my head in my hands for one reason or another. Love these kids. They are sweet, hilarious, wonderful people. They bring me joy, and they wring me out.

So I’m working this out day by day and I wanted to share a couple of books that I have found most helpful in my ongoing attempt to be a faithful father to these two.

The first is the bible, which I’ve talked about in plenty of other posts. It tells you about God, how to know him, how to be saved, where to find satisfaction and peace and comfort and fullness of life and joy even and especially in the middle of suffering. Read it, believe in Jesus, he will change your life.

The second is Paul David Tripp’s book, Parenting. It’s about parenting in light of the bible, so if my first recommendation didn’t make sense to you, maybe pick it up anyway and see how much sense the bible makes when applied to raising children. The core that runs through every chapter is the grace of God.

In other words, that we need God’s help, strength, wisdom, kindness, and all that he readily gives when we ask him – to help us to love and raise our children well and show them what he is like. It’s also clear on the truth that I can’t make my children ‘good’ by any system or strategy – I need to show them that we all need to be transformed by the gospel, forgiven, to have our hearts made clean and changed by the savious. It means explaining that to them over and over and over again, demonstrating it through forgiveness, and asking for their forgiveness too when I sin against them. The book has lots of practical examples and I would recommend it.

The third is a book we picked up while going through adoption training (Ali was diagnosed just after, so we never actually adopted.) It’s called Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Traumatised Children.

It’s a very tough read in some ways because it’s written primarily to those caring for deeply wounded children – but there is a principle of parenting outlined in it that I believe would benefit any parent to understand. They talk about a way of relating to children in your care that they call ‘the Attitude’ – and which is also known as ‘P.A.C.E’ – which stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy. Loosely, it looks like this:

Playfulness – having fun with your children. Some children don’t know how to have fun. More adults have no clue. Learning to be in the moment with them and just enjoy playing together – and so often horrendous tantrums can be defused by changing tack and making things fun. My son won’t eat his food – so now it’s a plate of very important tiny municipal buildings that I really don’t want him to knock down and chew up. Tedious standoffs over tidying up become a race to see who can clean up the quickest. Doesn’t always work. At the same time – I often forget to try, or simply really don’t want to – but I don’t want to be a dad who’s forgotten how to have fun.

Acceptance – these kids will wring you dry. You still choose to love them without condition. You tell them about it all the time, and by your continuing decision to restore relationship and give your affection, you show them that it is true. You can show unconditional love for them without approving of everything they do.

Curiosity – find out about their world. My kids are only 4 and 6 and I already get plenty of ‘I’m not telling you’ when I ask them about their day at school, but make it clear that you are interested in them. Sometimes, because I can naturally be pretty selfish, it helps me to be reminded to be curious about them. And if they don’t open up until 7.30pm when you’re desparate for a rest, sometimes you just make the most of the opportunity to talk.

Empathy – trying to understand how they feel, and expressing that understanding in a caring way. I know you think I’m mean for rushing you to get ready for school this morning. I think you might be a bit worried about the new club you’re joining. I love how excited you are about your friends coming over! I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. It isn’t fair or normal, and I love you. Sometimes their behaviour is so explosive or frustrating, and I need reminding that these are very young people finding their way in an often confusing, frightening and unfair world, and empathy gives me compassion for them.

I want God to help me to practice these things more consistently, and in each there is such a big echo of the father heart of God towards us. So: grace, and P.A.C.E. God, help us to parent in a way that echoes the love of the greatest father of all, may they learn from us and see in us that the gospel is true, and in all our weakness may our children yet see through us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The True Vine

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in  me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:1-5

I can remember speaking from this passage when we first started to get involved in our church here in Great Yarmouth. I talked at one point about pruning – how, to all outward appearance it looks only damaging. The rose bush is trimmed back until there’s nothing beautiful left. I made the point that there are times when God’s pruning feels as though he is cutting us clear through to the bone.

I didn’t know then what the next couple of years would bring, but I stand by what I said. However painful the cut, he only ever prunes for our good, and that we might be more fruitful. And I want to live a life that is fruitful – that I can look back on with satisfaction at the end of my days, for the glory of God, for my own sake and the sake of those who have run with me.

And I stand by everything this passage tells me about Jesus. Branches can have nothing of life without constant connection to their root. The vine is everything – it draws up the minerals, the water they need to live and put forth fruit. No living branch spends even a moment apart from the life-giving root.

Remain in him. Draw near to Jesus, believe in him, be baptised and ask him to enter into your life by the Holy Spirit. Read his word, dwell regularly on how he has given his life to rescue you from judgement, rejoice that he has set his heart on you and determined to give you eternal life and fullness of joy in the presence of God and all the angels. Read, pray, trust, worship, allow him to show you the greater reality of the kingdom he is bringing in and the wonder of life everlasting. Stay connected to him always.

If you want to know peace in uncertain times, remain in Jesus. If you want to stop worrying about your children or your job or anything else, remain in Jesus. He can answer your fears and replace them with peace supernaturally, so that instead of worrying you can go ahead and get on with what he’s asked you to do.

If you want to know comfort in affliction, remain in Jesus. He can sympathise with all your joys and tears, and he is so tender in your grief. His promises give light that will one day make the tunnel look less than momentary. Rather than crushing you, in his hands your experience of affliction can one day allow you to be a comfort to others under crushing weight.

If you want to know freedom from sin and addiction, remain in Jesus. He has paid the awful price to set you free. Draw near and remind yourself of the horror of sin – what it should have cost you, and what it instead cost your saviour. Remain in him, and remember how he has determined not to crush you but to save you, that you would be clean and set apart for his service – that the same power that raised him from the dead is active and at work to cut out the tumours of sin in your life if you are willing to go under his knife. Remain in him and you will find assurance that he can be trusted with your life, even if the cuts go deeper than you thought you could bear.

Don’t settle for a fruitless existence – join yourself to the true vine, and remain in him until he so transforms you that you marvel to think how little you once settled for – and how much God has given us in the precious gift of his son. Remain in him – the gardener’s shears are sharp, but he loves his vine and every single branch that draws its life from him. You might fear pain, loss and hardship, but take heart – if you remain in Jesus, you never need to fear Him.

The Way, the Truth and the Life

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him”

John 14:1-7

I remember going to a beach with my parents when I was small. There was what felt to me like a long track from the car park, and on the way back my parents went ahead, allowing me to walk back up on my own. I thought it was straightforward, but perhaps it was farther than I remembered, and I made it part way up before fear set in that I might be lost. It was one of those moments of panic – perhaps not rational, but very real to me. Not sure of the right way, not sure what to do.

A stranger heading down to the beach saw my distress, spoke with me, and led me back up to the car park and to my parents, and there was such relief and gratitude in me for the kindness they showed.

I love this passage, because it recalls that same worry. Jesus is going away – his followers won’t see him for a while. Don’t worry though, you know the way to where I’m going – and Thomas blurts out the words on all of their minds – “but we don’t know the way!” Jesus has so often shown their ideas to be misguided that you can understand the panic. If he’s not there to set us right we’ll get lost – and what then?

And Jesus’ answer is so perfect: it’s okay Thomas. All you need to know is me.

I don’t know what it will be like to die. I don’t know what that feels like – how your soul disconnects from your body, what we might see or hear. If it were left to me I would be in the same panic I felt on that path from the beach. But Jesus’ promise is to be the one who leads you throughout your life – and that when that moment comes, you need not fear your own sense of direction. He will be the first to greet you, before the first hint of fear that you’ve lost your bearings. He will take you by the hand and lead you into glory. He will be with you, and you need not be afraid.

I write this with tears in my eyes as I think of Ali – deep sorrow at her death, but far more that, utter and overwhelming gratitude that Jesus our saviour was with her throughout. As we spoke of the cancer and what might happen he was preparing our hearts for unthinkable possibilities. As her thinking grew muddled in her last hours he was with her bringing reassurance and peace. The lion by her bedside with tears for our grief and his muzzle resting against her. As her body gave up, in that very instant he was gently leading her into paradise – no fear that she might miss her step. “I will come and take you to be with me – that you also may be where I am.”

She’s with him. There is no better place. I can’t follow yet – but he’ll come for down the years when he’s good and ready, and there’s no fear in that road for me. As a child he sent a stranger to help me find my way. It’s no stranger who will guide me into the next life, but my friend, my brother, and my lord.

The world says you have options, you choose for yourself and it all works out in the end. Jesus says there is only one way. One true version of events, one path to eternal life. Does it surprise you that this would be the case? Or is that not the way with everything else? There’s one real, actual version of history. There’s one true answer to all the questions of science, even if we don’t know them all yet. Of course there can only be one true God, one way to make peace with him, one way to please him, one true religion and one single path to Heaven – and it all goes through Jesus.

Read John’s gospel. Go and visit your local church – if you’re not sure which to try, get in touch with me on the contact page and I’ll happily see if I can find one in your area. But above all look for Jesus. You don’t need to be lost any more. He is waiting for you.