The Man on the Donkey – Matthew 21.1-11 (06/04/18)
#4: So the One who made you and owns you summons you. Hmmm… an audience with the King of kings. Who me? Yes, my friend, you. Can I really “stand in His holy presence, in the holy place?” Can even I “ascend the hill of the Lord?” to receive His blessing? Well, you will need clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24.4). Soap won’t really do the job. It may clean your hands to a certain extent, but it can’t clean your heart. And that’s not really what the writer means by ‘clean hands’. He means only someone who is utterly honest, and truthful, no lies, deceit or falsehood. He means someone who outwardly is totally obedient to God, totally good, Godly and holy. He means someone who inwardly is righteous, pure and full of integrity, who loves God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and their neighbour as much as they love themselves. Ooops, that’s me out.
Friends, it’s not just me out! It’s all of us out! None of us can enter into His presence as we are. There is none righteous, not one. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us have gone astray like lost sheep. And if you disagree with that definition, you’re kidding yourself. You may well have tried and done your best. Good for you. But at the end of the day, you’ve failed, and you know it. Disagree? Well, that means you’re calling God a liar. I wouldn’t go there if I were you (Romans 3.23; 1 John 1.8, 10). Help! What do we do then?
Let’s get back to the Man on the donkey, where we started this series. He enters Jerusalem specifically and consciously to die. He predicted it, spoke with Moses and Elijah about it on Mount Hermon, and spoke with His closest followers about it on more than one occasion. But that sounds a bit like a suicide mission, doesn’t it? Well, maybe. But why? Now we get to the point. Somebody had to pay the price for your failures and mine. God could not be clearer when He said that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9.22). He wanted to redeem us, to buy us back to our Maker and true Owner. So now the Creator, Owner and only genuine King is to become the Saviour, so that you and I may ascend the hill of the Lord, enter the Royal Courtroom of Heaven and ultimately have that audience.
You see, God is holy, and as such cannot and will not tolerate sin in His presence. Zero tolerance, make no mistake about it. No ifs, no buts, no acceptable excuses. God is also just, and justice by its very nature demands punishment for wrongdoing. Folks, this is not rocket science! That’s what the theologians have tried to turn it into. Like those mumbling priests behind the Temple walls. But God is also love. And so He punishes His own pure and sinless Son instead of us. Diagnosis – sin. Prognosis – death. Treatment – pure blood. (Romans 3.23; 6.23; 5.10).
Next week, a story to illustrate, for those who like them. Join me then!
God bless you – and your bar of soap
The Man on the Donkey – Matthew 21.1-11 (30/03/18)
#3: So now we are turning our attention from Jesus the Man on the donkey to Jesus the King of Glory. What can we learn from the very Psalm those priests were reciting that day, Psalm 24?
First of all, the whole world belongs to Him (vs 1-2). He literally owns it all, everything and everyone past, present and future belong to Him, regardless of colour, culture, creed or class. In my country every coin or bank note has the Queen’s head on it. Yes, they look different, their value is different, their condition is different, but they all have that stamp of ownership on them and it used to be a crime against the crown to deface it. The amount of money the note or coin represents belongs to the person, but the coin or the note belong to the royal mint. Every human being likewise bears the image of God (Genesis 1.27). That means He can walk anywhere at any time and say, “He’s mine. She’s mine. They’re mine. That’s mine.” Everything and everyone has the inscription, “Made by God.” Similarly on good gold and silver articles there is a hallmark indicating where it was made, its value etc. Jesus, the King of Glory, can go wherever He pleases on this earth because He made it and owns it!
That means He is also the King of it all. He has the right and the authority to rule over all He has made and owns. He is not just King of the Jews, or of the “daughter of Zion” (Zechariah 9.9), but the King of all creation, the whole earth and universe, including heaven. Wow! He is the Creator, Owner and King of it all! So can I, can you, get an audience with the King? As King of heaven, King of creation, King of kings, King of the ages and King of Glory, everyone owes Him allegiance, whether they like it or not. I don’t like climbing stairs or walking up hills, but that doesn’t change the Law of gravity! He can summon, invite or call anyone He likes into His presence. In fact, not only can He, but He actually wants to. But there is a problem. Who in fact can enter the Royal Court? Who can have an audience with the King? Who can go and pay Him their respects? “Who may stand in His holy presence, in the holy place? Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?”
We shall see next week if you join me.
God bless you – on your ascent
The Man on the Donkey – Matthew 21.1-11 (23/03/18)
#2: Well, behind those solemn stone walls of Jerusalem’s great Temple, inside of which the Man on the donkey was soon to dismount and cause complete havoc and mayhem, you would think those erudite priests would be piously burning incense and making sacrifices. But actually at that very moment in time they were also praising God in their own way. Because it was the first day of the week they were in fact reciting Psalm 24. And when they reached verse 10, they asked the same question as those outside – “Who is this King of glory?” And the Psalm went on to answer the question: “The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.” So in the streets and in the Temple the question being asked that day was, “Who is this?” Many answers, and they were all correct to some extent. But no-one really understood…except the Man on the donkey, Jesus, the prophet from Galilee. I suspect most of you reading this knew most of that already, so it has been just a refresher course. Now let’s go in deeper.
The clue lies in Luke 9.30-31: “And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Aha…now it all begins to fall into place – Jesus’ ‘triumphal’ entry into Jerusalem as the Man on the donkey prefigured His ‘triumphal’ entry into heaven as the King of Glory. He was deliberately fulfilling Psalm 24, confirmed by both Moses and Elijah. So now let’s move on from the Man on the donkey to the King of Glory. We’ll start to focus on Him next week if you care to join me. Please do – I am enjoying this!
God bless you – on the street or in the Temple
The Man on the Donkey – Matthew 21.1-11 (16/03/18)
#1: It will soon be what the church calendar calls Palm Sunday – the Sunday before Good Friday and Easter Day. As a young boy I used to get more excited about getting a palm cross at church that day than anything else about the Service! I still have one – somewhere. But what’s it all about? It commemorates Jesus’ final entry into Jerusalem. Let’s unpack this over the next few weeks as the story takes us way beyond one day.
Imagine the clamour of the crowds, the noise, the cheering, the shouting. People were climbing trees and cutting off the leaves and branches – they would be arrested in my country today if they did that! They were taking their outer clothes off and throwing them on the ground. The whole city of Jerusalem was stirred – well, almost the whole city. The question was buzzing – “Who is this Man on the donkey?”
Well, there were several answers. The prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth in the north, in Galilee. They knew the name, the background and the ministry. Others recognised Him as the Son of David, in effect saying He was the long-awaited Messiah (Matthew 21.9). Many sensed He was a heavenly being of some sort – “Hosanna in the highest,” they cried, meaning “Help has come from heaven.” He was surely a healing, saving, helper from heaven, a Godly man because He had come “in the name of the LORD.” They were all correct, but a little confused. The Man Himself, however, was saying quite deliberately, “I am your King,” because He knew His Scriptures and had chosen to enter Jerusalem in this way on this occasion, to fulfil the prophecy of Zechariah 9.9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
But there was another scenario going on in Jerusalem simultaneously. Not everyone was out on the streets. Behind the solemn stone walls of the great Temple there was another group of people – the priests. Now what were they up to?
Well, join me next week and you’ll find out. Might even surprise you! I’m just kicking off with this series – hang in here with me, because we will go way beyond Palm Sunday, for sure.
God bless you – and your palm cross
The Anointing Oil – Exodus 30.22-25, 30
#4: We are back to full measure for the fourth of our four “finest of spices” in the wonderful, fragrant, anointing oil of the Holy Spirt on the priest of God – that’s any true believer in Jesus Christ. Not just Pentecostals, or charismatics, or ‘powerful’ ministries, or trained people, but any believer in Jesus Christ who takes literally and seriously the Master’s words, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” (Luke 4.11) It is cassia.
But first, I said we are to measure ourselves by the perfect stone. I understand that a diamond grader will go to work each day and before he grades any stone for its quality as a diamond he will take his eye glass and examine at length his most perfect diamond. Then with that foremost in his mind’s eye, he will grade the first stone in comparison. Then the second. Then the third. But he will not look at the fourth – he will re-examine the perfect stone again. Then he will continue. Otherwise he will begin to grade the stones by each other and not by the perfect stone. Do you get my point? We measure ourselves by other ministries and not by the Master and His word. The apostle Paul says such people are fools! (2 Corinthians 10.12)
Now for the final precious ingredient – cassia. You know what? It was used as a laxative. It was taken for inner cleansing. Oh how we love to hide our sin, excuse it, tolerate it, justify it, defend it, compare it with others’. No my friend, sin is sin. One rotten egg spoils the whole omelette. If you miss the cliff edge by a margin you are no better off than someone who misses it by a mile. The great King David refused to acknowledge his sin of adultery, murder and more. And despite all his prayers and fasting, he was lost – he had lost his way, lost fellowship with God, lost his peace of mind, lost the respect of his people, resulting in a baby dying and civil war in his land. Folks, sin is against God, and King David, the prodigal son or anyone of us needs the cleansing cassia of the precious blood of Jesus and the sweet anointing oil of the Holy Spirit to be cleared and cleaned and cleansed (1 John 1.7; Psalm 51.4; 24.3-4). If you have a thorn or a splinter in your finger it will trouble you until it is removed.
So you want to be an anointed priest of God? No problem, He is searching the world for such – the labourers are few, He says. But it is on His terms and no-one else’s. It is His oil and no-one else’s. And only He will take the glory, no-one else should. You must die to self, be bold, be compassionate and be clean – that’s what the anointing oil will do. Forget the numbers in your church, forget the churches in your network, forget the books you have written or want to write, forget the TV stations, forget the trendy hairstyles and cool modern appearance, forget the numbers you have led to the Lord, forget your church title – all you need is the anointing oil.
God bless you – with your eyeglass
The Anointing Oil – Exodus 30.22-25, 30
#3: So, you still smelling sweet?! I hope so. This third fine spice in the anointing oil is somewhat in contrast to the first two. Calamus, or fragrant cane. What does it represent? What do we need mixed in to balance the myrrh and cinnamon, the death to self, and the boldness, strength and courage. These can seem somewhat alpha-male – got to be ruthless, got to be tough, got to be macho, positive, proactive, out there, doing it and persevering despite all odds. This is why the calamus is included in the divine recipe. It represents compassion. It acts as a soothing agent.
In India we eat curry obviously for every meal, including breakfast. My hosts are always very concerned that the spices won’t be too hot for this white Westerner! But whether it’s me or them we all finish the meal with a large dollop of buffalo yoghourt and rice. It is to soothe the stomach after the hot spices. In our zeal for the Lord and His Kingdom we can try to omit the calamus from the oil, but God won’t. Jesus looked on the leper with compassion. He looked on the crowd with compassion. The ‘good’ Samaritan felt compassion for the man in trouble by the roadside and promptly sought to assist him regardless of his race, culture and creed (Luke 10.33). “A gentle answer turns away wrath…” (Proverbs 15.1). When I was a child if I fell into a bed of stinging nettles, my Mum would immediately get a bottle of pink lotion called calamine lotion – maybe it’s still around today – and dab it on my arms or legs and its effect was to soothe my skin from the burning stings.
So essential as an ingredient in the anointing oil is this calamus that the apostle Paul even tells us to put it on (Colossians 3.12). Though not specifically mentioned as such it undergirds the entire range of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23). General Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, said, “How can you convince a man of the love of God when his feet are perishing with cold?” It was the lack of this “finest of spices” in the Scribes and the Pharisees that so grieved Jesus to the extent that He told them to go away and learn its meaning because they didn’t know what it meant! (Matthew 9.13; 12.7). Consideration of the ‘poor’ or helpless brings with it the blessing of God (Psalm 41.1).
The anointed man of God, as my friend from Nigeria was requesting to know, will have this sweet fragrance about him. Too often today we see those regarded as greatly anointed treating their followers and supporters as slaves, demanding their allegiance, obedience and of course their money. Let’s be wise and discerning – measuring ourselves by the perfect stone. I will explain that one next week. Join me then if you can.
God bless you – and your body lotion
The Anointing Oil – Exodus 30.22-25, 30
#2: Seen a flood of new adverts on eBay for second-hand Mercedes-Benz for sale?! I doubt it! The risk of having this anointing oil with myrrh is the losing of security. By the way, I should say that the effect of the oil is a life-time’s process – it will still be working even in your old age! I am discovering even now areas in which I had put my trust and in which I had found security, but never fully realised. Also you will encounter resistance. Be careful whom you share your dreams with – just remember Joseph’s brothers, Jacob’s uncle Laban, Moses’ Pharaoh, and the ten spies, all hand-picked as the bravest and best from each tribe. A.B. Simpson wrote, “Power is developed by resistance. The cannon carries twice as far because the exploding power has to find its way through resistance. In the powerhouse, electricity is produced by the magnetic resistance of the revolving armature. Even so we shall find some day that Satan has been one of God’s agencies of blessing.” Remember he was writing in the late 19th early 20th century.
Friend, the initiation into the journey with Jesus is through baptism in water. The apostle Paul makes it very clear that that is a burial experience – “buried with Christ in baptism” (Romans 6.4). We all surely know that one is not buried unless one has died. But then there is the rising to and walking in newness of life element. The vine has to be pruned in order to bear more fruit. The good is the enemy of the best. (John 15.1-2). To be all that God intended and destined you to be as His anointed priest you must die … daily (1 Corinthians 15.31; Galatians 2.20). No escaping divine truth – there is myrrh in the oil!
“Finest of spices” number two – in half the measure. Cinnamon. Most of us are well aware of the taste and smell of this spice, especially around Christmas time. But Biblically it represents courage, boldness and strength. It is made from roots. A root system can be amazingly extensive beneath the ground. I have a piece of natural woodland in south east England and there the thorny brambles thrive. Try to pull them up and you will probably pull a muscle in your back! Each bramble or briar that you see above ground is connected into its invisible life source below the surface thus making it so strong and resistant. “The righteous are as bold as a lion,” writes the wise Solomon (Proverbs 28.1). It was the boldness of the first followers of Jesus that marked them out and gave them their original identity. We like to use terms like ‘audacious’ and ‘fearless’ today … hmmm, I wonder to be honest. (Acts 4.31, 33; 14.3). A man was on an aeroplane and a lady stood beside him. “Excuse me,” she said, “Is that seat saved?” “No,” he replied, “but I am.” She got saved! Bold lion. Daniel assures us that those who know their God will do bold exploits (Daniel 11.32) and the young Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego proved him right (Daniel 3.17-18). As with the myrrh, there will always be risk involved – you will encounter misunderstanding, misrepresentation, lack of support, rejection, prejudice, mockery, and on I could go. Come on, lion! Stop licking your wounds and concerning yourself with what people think of you – what does God think of you?
A final illustration. In 1995 we applied for permission to hold an evangelistic crusade in an entirely Muslim town in Uganda. There was just one small church on the far outskirts. There was one follower of Jesus amongst the town council. Permission was refused. But this young man remained bold and courageous, saying they should not prevent us until they had heard us. He had the cinnamon. He prevailed. Permission was given, preparations were made, intercession began, the public platform was erected in the town centre. The first day came, and I remember clearly the leader of the town council, in full Muslim dress, greeting me on that platform with the words, “Peter, you are welcome here if you speak good words to us.” I assured him I would. Five days later, after numerous demonic deliverances, and prostitutes turning to Christ and physical healings and many, many other signs and wonders, he stood on that platform again as the sun set on the Saturday evening and the town danced and sang, and said, “Peter, you are welcome here any time.” And he has remained true to his word – I have never been refused permission since to go there and preach and teach. His successor is now a follower of Jesus, and today there are numerous churches right in the centre of town! One young councillor with cinnamon on him!
Next week, ‘finest of spices’ number three.
The Anointing Oil – Exodus 30.22-25, 30 (16/02/18)
#1: A former Voice member now back in Nigeria messaged me the other day, “Please Sir, what is the difference between a man of God and an anointed man of God?” There is so much confusion these days between an impressive public ministry and being an anointed servant of God. In Bible times they anointed people for one of three reasons – kingship, priesthood and death. True followers of Jesus Christ are all priests, regardless of the teachings of many even major denominations (1 Peter 2.9). To be genuine and effective as a priest you need the anointing of the Holy Spirit of God, so often likened in the Bible to oil. Remember the five wise and five foolish maidens? (Matthew 25.2) The wise had filled their lamps with oil, the foolish had not. They only got heat and light if they had oil.
There were four necessary ingredients in the make-up of the anointing oil (Exodus 30.22-25, 30). It contained “the finest of spices”. So what were these four? And what do they tell us about the real anointing of God still today? Snappy suit? Loud voice? Big bank balance? TV station? Hahaha – praise God, No, No, No and No!
Number one – in a large measure…myrrh. Myrrh is commonly understood to represent change and death. The mysterious travellers from the East presented the infant Jesus with myrrh. It was used to anoint dead bodies. My friend and fellow follower of the Christ, the ‘anointed’ One, before the new can live the old must die (John 12.24). Joseph’s pride had to be put to death. Moses’ anger had to be dealt with. Joshua’s dependence upon Moses had a limited life-time. Elisha’s means of livelihood had to be slaughtered and incinerated. Before the new can live, the old must die. Joseph – from favoured young dreamer to second in command of a nation, via the pit and prison. Moses – from prince to humblest man on the face of the earth, via forty years in the desert wilderness. Elisha – from farmer to doubly anointed prophet, via the breaking of the plough and slaughtering of the oxen.
We must take seriously the Master’s words – “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24). Folks, discipleship is costly. I wonder how many of today’s much-admired and hailed as ‘anointed’ servants of Jesus would walk off with a sad face if Jesus appeared to them and said, “Sell your fleet of cars and your jet plane, and come and follow Me.” Who chooses to be like Mother Teresa? Not that many. A person taking up their cross did not expect to return that day. Listen, the first ingredient is myrrh – the death of self, personal ambition, glory, success through visible achievement, praise and admiration of people. I was in a numerically large church building not too long ago, and there were two large leather seats in the centre front. No-one, but no-one was permitted to sit in those seats except the founder/leader of that group and his wife. Only he or his guest speaker could go onto the platform via the steps at the front. Hmmm… some myrrh needed here methinks! If you think you’re not anointed because you’re not a ‘big name’, I wouldn’t be too worried about it! Myrrh smells sweet but it tastes bitter.
More about myrrh next week if you join me. And then the second “finest of spices”.
God bless you – as you climb up the steps at the side
The Way Out of Prison – Acts 12 (09/02/18)
#2: He’s a murderer, a people-pleaser, an imprisoner (John 8.44; 10.10; Hebrews 12.1). He has workers both human and demonic. Jesus warned those who would listen to Him, then and now (John 15.18-21; Mark 4.17). The apostle Paul explains it so clearly when he writes that society is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2.1-3). Trespasses are wrongs against other people; sins are wrongs against God. The prison is called “Unbelief” (2 Corinthians 4.4) and its inmates have already had their trial and been condemned (John 3.18; 36). Its inmates are helpless, bound and restricted, guarded by demons and humans who control their characters, circumstances and mind-sets. That can be mental, emotional, physical, social, moral, psychological – fears, phobias, lusts, addictions, obsessions, greed, hatred, jealousy, revenge, unforgiveness, anger, bitterness, pride, debt, poverty, relationships at work or at home, in the family.
So what is the way out? Firstly those who name the name of Christ must realise the need to pray. The most contested Christian activity is prayer, even before preaching the gospel, because “the gospel without intercession is like a bomb without a detonator” (Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke). Why? Because it is the first stage of the way out. Why are prayer meetings generally so poorly attended? So boring? So repetitious? Why are they not regular and steadfast, exhilarating, fervent? Why often only called at times of crisis or special need? Once God sees His people coming together to pray He moves and responds. And it can well be via an angel, as in our topic passage Acts 12 – though we tend not to recognise one when we see one. And He will rescue people from the prison ‘Unbelief’ and the slavery of the devil (Acts 12.11). There will be some kind of illumination or realisation of the presence of God, a stirring, an arousing, an instructing, a directing, a supernatural doing of what cannot be done naturally. Once you sense this, you must respond, obey, follow instructions, do what God doesn’t, and press on afterwards and use your common sense. And remember, once you’re out, tell those who have been praying for you!
Not the kind of message you will hear preached today, well certainly not where I am. But it still needs preaching. So if you can, take this, develop it, make it your own, practise it, preach it “in season and out of season” – only Jesus can set anyone free (Galatians 5.1; 2 Timothy 4.2; Acts 4.12). Don’t expect to be popular. Don’t expect to be liked. Don’t even expect to be paid. If you have read this far, I suspect you have a job for God on your hands.
God bless you – as you move on
The Way Out of Prison – Acts 12
#1: It may seem strange that I should write about this for a readership whom I suspect know nothing of imprisonment for following Jesus. Or do they? I have been housebound now for nearly six months. I would never have called it prison – I have food and drink if I want, warmth, comfort and much more. However, I have lost good health, energy, strength, meeting and talking with people, doing what I want or feel like, seeing who I want, when I want, going where I want, eating and drinking what I want. I have indeed lost my ‘freedom’ which I realise I have enjoyed all my life. Before if I didn’t like something I simply changed it. Now I am not free to do that. Prison is about losing one’s freedom.
I know I am not alone. You may well not be ‘in prison’ the same way as I am, but there are so many ways we can lose our freedom – through relationships, addictions, alcohol, work, gambling, pornography, achievement, fears of rejection, failure, bullying, verbal or physical violence, racism – on and on the list goes. And believe me the coolest most seemingly ‘together’ people can still be ‘in prison’. You don’t know the journey your colleague is on. You have no idea of where they came from or how they got to be sitting next to you in the lecture theatre or office or workplace. Only what they may have mentioned, and that surely will have been just a snowflake or two on the tip of the iceberg. If you are a committed follower of Jesus the jailer is after you if he hasn’t already imprisoned you.
The devil himself – not the jovial character we see portrayed in supermarkets around October in the Western world. Very far from it. Not the fun-loving guy with a wicked grin who just wants you to have a good time. He is always seeking to lay hands on anyone he can, young or old, of whatever culture or creed, nationality or generation – baby-boomer or millennial, he’s after you. And once he has you, you’re ‘in prison’, and there he will torture and torment you and if possible drain your very life from you. Why the obsession with fitness, health, work, sport, image, social media? Why the dependence on anti-depressants? Why the anxieties, bad dreams, sleepless nights, arguments, broken marriages, divorces, single-parent families and fatherless children? Why a choked up National Health Service in my country, the UK? Why the haemorrhaging of nurses? Why the stress? Why the gangs and knife crime? Why the homelessness and drug abuse? Why the alcoholism? Why the terrorism? Why the corruption? Why the warring factions? Why the mass migrations? Prison. And his main target is not the general public, as they are already in his prison, but the followers of Jesus, and especially their leaders. He knows full well the truth of what Jesus said in the words, “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” (Matthew 26.31).
So what is the way out? See you next week if you join me.
God bless you -with or without chains
New Things – Luke 1.26-56 (25/01/18)
#4: So, things were definitely changing for Mary in her ‘new year’. How fascinating it is to observe, generally with hindsight, how many things are linked and interconnected in some way. She had a relative, probably a cousin, maybe an aunt, who was older than her and lived quite a way away, so she had little to do with her except perhaps on special occasions. She didn’t really know her, and furthermore she couldn’t have children and one didn’t really talk about such things in those days, certainly not with an older person. So this Elizabeth, as she was known, was somewhat of a distant relative in more ways than one. But Mary, for no apparent reason other than an angel told her (pretty good reason), felt compelled to go and see her. Maybe she just needed a break from the pressures of a critical and unforgiving local community and an irate fiancé. But the moment they met something extraordinary happened. Not only had Elizabeth in her barrenness conceived, and was already six months into her pregnancy, but the as yet unborn baby in her womb reacted strongly the moment Mary greeted her.
And so the two formed a strong bond, both realising that the hand of God was at work in their lives and their relationship. So this distant relative, who was hitherto just a barren cousin, aunt or maybe even merely a family friend, became a close confidante and soul-mate. Rather than the hassle of doubt and suspicion, rejection and unbelief at her story, Mary found an older, wiser person who empathised with her without judging her. She was to her a breath of fresh air and just whom she needed at that time. A new baby, a new nature, and new ‘song’, and now a new relationship, with a future destiny attached. For as it transpired the two children born to them grew up to be Jesus known as the Christ and John known as the Baptist. What an outstanding and remarkable ‘coincidence’.
I wonder who is waiting for you somewhere, not even knowing till you arrive the significance of your visit. This was not the first time God acted in this way. Ruth was just a foreigner and a widow to Naomi, but she ended up ‘clinging’ to her and becoming the great-grandmother of Israel’s finest king other than the Master Himself.
I would like to believe that God wants to impregnate you with one or more of these ‘new things’ this ‘new year’. Remember if He does nothing will happen until you, like Mary, agree with His plan. Not sure? Don’t know? Fair enough – watch, wait, ask and listen, for what will be birthed will not be something humanly possible. It is the Lord.
God bless you – and happy New Year!
New Things – Luke 1.26-56
#3: God will let you know in advance of the ‘new things’ he has planned for you (Isaiah 42.9). Why? So you can prepare. Mary had nine months to prepare. Let’s move on. God put a ‘new song’ on her lips (Luke 1.46-55). Well, before any one picks me up and points out that it says, “Mary said …” not ”Mary sung…” you know what I mean! Also I am well aware that much of her ‘song’ was drawn from the Scriptures. So having dealt with those picky little points, let’s get to the real point!
Mary had a new reason to praise God and a new means of praising him. She had a new purpose for living, a new hope, a new future, a new meaning to life and a new joy. And that came bursting forth seemingly spontaneously from her lips – whether with or without a tune! God does that, and He may well do that for you too. King David, the great song-writer, tells us God put the new song in his mouth. For him it was a spontaneous outburst of praise and thanksgiving after a long period of patient waiting whilst in an oppressive, unstable and unpleasant set of circumstances throughout which he cried out to God. Then God moved, stabilised him, and out came the new song.
Write your own ‘song’ my friend – don’t be afraid to revamp Scripture – there’s no copyright on the word of God! And if your pastor or praise and worship leader doesn’t think much of it, so what? – “Many will see and fear And will trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40.1-3). In my church I have heard many home-grown ‘Magnificats’ and even written some myself. None of them have reached the ‘big’ churches or are being sung at just about every festival and conference one goes to. But someone will have “heard and trusted the LORD” for sure. If you want a guideline read Psalm 96.1-6, or Psalm 149.1-4. Even the living creatures and the twenty four elders are at it in heaven (Revelation 5.9; 14.3). So my friend, why not you, eh?
Then finally for this little series Mary entered into a new relationship. But more of that next week or this will be too long and you may not reach the end!
God bless you – minstrel
New Things – Luke 1.26-56 (11/01/18)
#2: Baby’s need names – a name gives a baby an identity. The last two letters of ‘name’ are ME! Your name is on your birth certificate, your passport, your ID card, in your school or college register, and so on. Into Mary’s life came a ‘new name’. In Biblical times a name very often denoted the nature of the person also, though not always, and also normally had a meaning. Jesus renamed various people to denote a change of character that would come about in the person’s life. The angel we read was very specific – “and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High;” “the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1.31-32, 35) She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1.21). “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matthew 1.23; Isaiah 7.14).
Jacob in the Old Testament had his name changed to Israel. He had a pretty dodgy past to say the least, but he wrestled with God and received a name and nature change. My friend, despite your possibly bad, or disappointing past God may well this ‘new year’ change your name and your nature. We have a lady in our church who quite recently met Jesus despite being born and raised in a different faith culture, and she deliberately changed her name. And her situation has significantly changed for the better. Be careful what name you give to yourself, to your children or indeed anyone else as a ‘nick-name’ – you may just be cursing and confusing them without even realising it. God can change a heart and human nature (Ezekiel 11.19) – from stone to flesh, from the ‘trait you hate’ to the ‘trait you rate’. Be prepared for a new ‘name’ entering into your life – yours or your ‘baby’s’. It will change you.
There are two more ‘new things’ that came into Mary’s life at that time – and may well come in to yours at some time during this ‘new year’. See you next week hopefully.
God bless you – in your researching of the meaning of names
New Things – Luke 1.26-56 (04/01/18)
#1: For British residents and Saturday night TV viewers I feel a bit like Craig Revell-Horwood, one of the judges on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ – bit picky on technique but a good guy really! No doubt you too have been bombarded by ‘promises’ and ‘prophecies’ about all the wonderful things God is going to do for you in 2018. What puzzles me is that there are about as many cries of ‘Don’t take the disappointments and hurts and pains etc of 2017 with you into 2018’. So what went wrong with all the wonderful things God supposedly promised you for 2017 this time last year?! People kindly and enthusiastically wished me a Happy New Year and assured me that 2017 was going to be one of the very best ever years of my life and in fact it turned out to be one of the very worst and unhappiest years of my life! Cynic or realist? You decide! Also as God doesn’t dwell in time I don’t think He’s as ecstatic about midnight on 31st December (which in turn depends on what part of the world you’re living in and what calendar you use!) as many of us are. I am not sure the angels are blowing their trumpets more enthusiastically than at any other ‘time’ or dancing around with heavenly party poppers. So, a ‘4’ from me for all of that!
However, there is one person for whom, whenever in human time it was, the days after the birth of her Son did bring four ‘new things’ (Luke 1.26-56; Revelation 21.5; Isaiah 43.19). Her name was Mary we are told, and it may well be that you will experience one or more of these yourself at some time during this ‘New Year’. Take as a ‘promise’ or ‘prophecy’ or however you like, but don’t stone me if none of it comes to pass in the next twelve months.
Mary the mother of Jesus, later to be known as the Christ or Messiah, had a new baby. My next door neighbour gave birth two days ago on 1st January. For her, and for Mary, the new baby means new purpose, new perspective and new responsibility in life. Things will never be the same – they cannot be. No longer could Mary put herself first, or even her husband, dare I say it, as the child was totally dependent upon her so He must take first place in her attention. But with God’s abnormal, unusual, extraordinary and supernatural baby would also come for her doubt, disbelief, criticism, misunderstanding, difficulties, hardship, and challenges – “and a sword will pierce even your own soul” (Luke 2.35), – as well as thrills, joy, pleasure and rewards.
I wonder what your 2018 ‘baby’ will be. Maybe a literal child – one of my sons and daughters-in-law have their first baby due in early May. Maybe a new job, or ministry, or relationship, or home, or project or initiative or business venture … who knows but God alone? But believe me, it will be life-changing and life-long. Are you properly prepared? Have you, like Mary when she was first informed, said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1.38 NLT)
What else was ‘new’ for her, and quite possibly ‘new’ for you this year? See you next week, God willing.
God bless you – as you look for baby clothes
The Will of God – Matthew 6.10 (09/11/17)
#5: So to round off. We are taught to pray daily that God’s will be done. So it is pretty important that we know what it is we should be praying for. Quite simply, that people are given to Jesus and that He keeps them and raises them up ‘on the last day (John 6.39). In other words that people hear the gospel, receive it, believe it and keep following Jesus – or salvation and discipleship. So my friends, keep praying for any and every gospel outreach event or project or initiative you hear about. Get involved in sound Biblical teaching and training programmes. Invest your time in prayer and your finance if possible. You will most definitely be in line with the will of God.
Then to continue living yourself in the will of God that you rest in and rely on the on-going work of the Holy Spirit in your life making you more and more like Jesus. That’s a life-time’s work so don’t panic or force it. I was told yesterday by doctors that I probably do not have very much longer to live, but I am still trusting God to purify and ‘sanctify’ me, to make me a vessel fit for the Master’s use. Be different, be like Jesus. And enjoy life, pray regularly in your own way, be grateful and do what is right in God’s eyes (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18; 1 Peter 2.15; cf Romans 2.24).
So what if we do the will of God? Well, you enter into and experience a personal family relationship with Jesus (Matthew 12.50). You become a personal family member of His. Added to that you get to know whether what you hear is from God or not. There is so much preaching and teaching available and easily accessible today, most of it pretty attractive and much of it entertaining – but is it what God is saying? If you are doing and praying the will of God you will know (John 7.17). Jesus warned that there would be many false Christs and false prophets (Matthew 7.17; 24.24). And you know that God hears you. Often I have come across people who say, “I don’t think God hears my prayers.” Well, are you praying and living the will of God? (John 9.31; 1 John 5.14)
Finally, you will live for ever (1 John 2.17). Well that’s pretty good incentive eh? Go for it, my friend.
So forget the numerous books and magazine articles, blogs, podcasts and sermons you have read and heard about pleasing God and how to do His will, unless they are encouraging you along the lines that He Himself has said. When my children were younger, to please me all they needed to do was what I asked of them. It is the same with our Father in heaven.
God bless you – brother, sister
The Will of God – Matthew 6.10 (02/11/17)
#4: Well, I know what I wrote last week and this does not contradict it. But something else that is the will of God is that we pray all the time. (1 Thessalonians 5.17) You see, when we box up prayer into times, and places, and ways and styles it becomes sterile and frankly can get pretty boring. Same people pray the same things in the same way in the same voice. What God wills is that we pray “without ceasing”. I used to call it ‘arrow’ prayers – in other words you are thinking, meditating, musing on something in your car, on your bicycle, walking home from work, at night, doing the housework, whatever, wherever, keep talking to God about whatever it may be. You don’t even have to open your mouth – Hannah didn’t. Just pray all the time. People make lists and say “I’ll mention that/him/her/them at the next prayer meeting.” OK, but why not mention it now? You may not make it to the next prayer meeting! Or you probably will have forgotten who or what it was you were going to pray for.
And this is another – be grateful! God loves to be thanked. (1 Thessalonians 5.18) It is not an earthly, carnal, sinful thing to enjoy being thanked, you know. We get it from our divine nature also. When one receives a ‘Thank You’ card, letter, or gift it is so nice. How do you think God feels then? ‘Oh no, not another one!’ Of course not! Every morning I begin the day with thanking God for the night of rest and safety, warmth and comfort. For powers of mind and body new once more. For a new day, with new mercies. And throughout the day you can say, ‘Thank you Lord’, when you find a parking space, or whatever it may be that you know God has helped you through.
This one is a bit tougher – do what is right! It ‘silences the ignorance of foolish men,’ says the apostle Peter (1 Peter 2.15). The apostle Paul has strong words to say about the bad behaviour of believers (Romans 2.24). Just don’t rise to the bait and join the argument, step away from the awkward situation – you will know, the Holy Spirit will give you that inner check. “Erm… I’m not comfortable with this.” Remember, He lives in you so He’s wherever you are. Politicians in my country have a habit of saying, “It is the right thing to do,” and very often it is utterly contrary to what God has said the right thing to do is. So don’t take on their mantra – listen to the inner voice. Others say, ‘Well, it’s only natural, isn’t it?’ Or ‘I’m only human.’ Yes, it may very well be natural, and you certainly are human, but that does not excuse ungodly conduct. I guess the Bible word for this is self-discipline, which comes from the same root as disciple and discipleship.
Next week … what if we do the will of God?
God bless you – and thank you for reading this fa
The Will of God – Matthew 6.10 (26/10/17)
#3: So what’s the next ‘churchy’ word which virtually no-one outside, and generally inside, the church understands or even cares about, that is the will of God? Unction? No. Grace? No. Anointing? No. Aha … propitiation? No! It’s sanctification. What on earth is that? Sure – good question, especially if you want to know what the will of God is. It simply means being different in a certain kind of way, being like Jesus. Living amongst the crowd but separate from the crowd, being in the world but not of the world. (1 Thessalonians 4.3) And it is God who does that work in you. Sadly as in the days when the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians so many who name the name of Christ are busy trying to better themselves and make themselves more holy, and Godly and supposedly Christ-like, without realising they have fallen back into self-purification. Now I am not saying we should not endeavour to live godly in Christ Jesus, but hey, friends, please stop judging yourself and others and putting burdens on your own and their backs which neither you nor they can bear. How long to pray for each day…Whether to wear make-up or not, and if so, how much?…Whether to tithe or fast or watch TV or what what what what. God will do His work in your precious life in His way and in His time by His Holy Spirit, not yours. So relax, and just co-operate with him. How can I say such things? Because He has bought you, and owns you and He’s not going to say, OK now then, get like Me, now…! Remember always, He is the potter and you are the clay. We are all works in progress.
What else is the will of God? Well, this is a good one – enjoy life! (1 Thessalonians 5.16) Have fun! How many times have I been with other Christians laughing, joking having fun, and then someone puts a dampner on the proceedings and says, ‘Ahem, shouldn’t we be praying?’ and a kind of reluctant holy hush descends and the ‘praying’ face comes on and the ‘holy’ voices pipe up. Oh dear. My Bible thankfully says, “In the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy.” You know what? Sometimes I think the Holy Spirit says, ‘Oh that’s pity, I was rather enjoying that. Now I have to listen to the moans and groans and demands for this, that and the other.’
Well, that’s it for the moment. A couple of other things that are the will of God. But let’s first be checking ourselves out and working on these, eh?
God bless you – hahaha
The Will of God – Matthew 6.10 (19/10/17)
#2: So, if the will of God is to be understood and our wills linked in harmony with His so we flow together as one with Him, what are we told it definitely is? First up …
That the Father in heaven gives people to Jesus and that He keeps them and loses none of them, and that they are subsequently raised up ‘on the last day’ (John 6.39). No messing about there, eh? So you want to know how to pray the will of God? Simply pray that people are given to Jesus, kept by Jesus and raised up by Jesus ‘on the last day’. Put it another way, pray for the gospel to be preached, and where you can, you preach or support those who do, and pray and get involved in whatever way you can in discipling them, or teaching them (Mark 16.15-16; Matthew 28.19-20). It is NOT His will that any ‘perish’ and it IS his will that people believe in Jesus and so receive eternal life and are raised up ‘on the last day’ (Matthew 18.14; John 6.40).
Where I live in south east England local Christians are gathering together and hiring the county football stadium which seats 11,400 and have invited probably the country’s most effective evangelist. Each is being encouraged to pray for at least five people who as yet have not heard about heaven, being ‘raised up on the last day’ etc. or if they have are still wondering whether to believe it or not, and then to invite at least one of them along one Saturday afternoon next June. It amazes me that there are actually those church-goers that question whether this is the will of God? Erm – read what Jesus said! It’s a no-brainer! How can I say that? Because it is the will of God! How do I know? Because He said so, and also it is impossible for Him to lie (Hebrews 6.18). www.justonepriestfield.com
So, for those of you who like the posh terms, the will of God is evangelism, salvation, and discipleship. I don’t really like using them now as they have acquired all sorts of negative connotations. But they simply refer to what Jesus told us to do, to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation…” – that’s evangelism (Mark 16.15). And the apostle Paul after Him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved…” and “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” – that’s salvation (Acts 16.31; Romans 10.13). And back to the Master, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” – that’s discipleship (Matthew 28.19)
Next week, another posh term which most people don’t really understand … see you then. In the meantime start running with God and praying for someone who doesn’t believe in Him. You will enjoy it, believe me, it is exhilarating!
God bless you – in His will
The Will of God – Matthew 6.10 (12/10/17)
#1: It always struck me that those whom Jesus first called to follow Him asked Him to teach them how to pray. I would have thought that as Jews they would probably have known, but then maybe that was just the job of the rabbis. Or maybe what they saw and heard Jesus doing when He prayed was something entirely different. Anyway, when they asked Him, as part of His very brief reply came the words to pray, “Thy/Your will be done…” So what is the will of God? Followers of Jesus today are equally encouraged to understand what it is, otherwise they are ‘fools’ (Ephesians 5.17). And they are to do it “from the heart” (Ephesians 6.6) as their service of Christ.
As a young boy I used to bait my mother. Very naughty, I know, but I could wind her up. I didn’t delight in doing it – I just did it! And she would call me a “very wilful child”! Sure – I had, and still have, a will of my own, as we all do. I just wasn’t exercising it well at that young age. What God asks of us is that we get our wills in line with His, and move together as one. Consequently is it essential that we know what His will is.
Think of it this way – I am sure we have all at some time been in a three-legged race, where the left leg of one person is tied to the right leg of the other person. Now, once the couple get going they can go very fast, but once one pulls harder or faster or in a different direction to the other, they get nowhere, and generally fall down! Jesus Himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that He wanted to surrender to His Father’s will, even though He had just requested that it be different (Luke 22.42). It was His very sustenance (John 4.34). It was His raison d’être here on earth (Hebrews 10.7, 9.) David the Psalmist wrote that he delighted to do God’s will (Psalm 80.8). Doing it is a pre-requisite for entry into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 7.21; 21.28-31).
So, what is God’s will? See you next week…!
God bless you – in the three-legged race
Climbing down the ladder (28/07/17)
#1: The kingdom of God is an upside down kingdom! Its principles and core values are the exact opposite to natural human thinking. That’s why Jesus said a person had to be born into it not of the flesh but of the Spirit (John 3.1-6). If you want to be rich, give. If you want to be first, be last. If you want to lead, serve. If you want to live, die. And so it goes on, and one cannot even see, let alone enter that kingdom in one’s own strength. It is a humble request to the King Himself, an act of humility and surrender that allows a person in. Look how the apostle Paul lives out this ‘climbing down the ladder’, as I call it.
He was a fiery persecutor of followers of Jesus Christ. Full of pride and religious knowledge as a Jew, with authority from the officials to go and seek out Christians and literally drag them to prison and generally death. All, so he thought, to please God. But then one day, on a mission to do just that, he met miraculously with the Lord Jesus Christ, saw a flash of light which blinded him, and knocked him down, and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9.4) From that moment on he became a follower of Jesus Christ. Let’s follow his journey briefly –
In AD 49 writing to believers in Galatia he refers to himself as “Paul, an apostle” (Galatians 1.1). Eight years later, in AD 57 when writing to the believers in Corinth he refers to himself as “the least of the apostles” – down a rung. (1 Corinthians 15.57) The journey continues, and in AD 64, another seven years on, he calls himself “the least of the saints”, not even using the term ‘apostle’ any longer – down several rungs. (Ephesians 3.8). And then two years later, in AD 66 to his young disciple Timothy he refers to himself as “the foremost of sinners” (1 Timothy1.15) What has happened? Has he, over the years, just lost his self-esteem? Not at all! Far from it! He has grasped, as John, the cousin of Jesus, known as the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, had, that to be a true follower of Jesus Christ, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3.30) Well, that’s a lesson some of today’s Christian leaders still need to learn! They love their titles and their cars and their crowds and their bank balances. “Not so with you,” warns the Master Himself – “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” (Luke 22.26)
As much as we love and covet the praise of men, and want to climb to the top of the ladder, it will count for nothing before God. He told us what He required of us long ago through the prophet Micah, when He said, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6.8)
God bless you – as you decrease
The Call of God – Isaiah 6.8; Acts 9.15 (21/09/17)
#3: God is constantly calling. That’s why it is easy to write about the call of God! As I have already said, it is a three-fold call. God calls every single human being to believe in Him. Now don’t start being picky about different cultures and creeds and all that – God is way above that and way above our limited understanding. He desires that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2.4). So I think He probably knows better than you or I how He goes about that! Secondly, He calls us into fellowship with Himself and with others who answer the first part of His call. So far so good. Now here comes the third part of the three-fold call of God.
With the call of God comes a call to service. We are called and commissioned. “Follow Me…” means “Come after Me, come with Me, go where I go, do what I do, we’re in this together.” Friends, this is not heavy theological stuff that only the intellectually well-gifted can cope with. That would exclude those of us less intellectually gifted. It is pretty jolly straightforward, to be honest! Look how it all starts, with ordinary, normal, typical, working guys – Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, and the would-be hopefuls (Matthew 4.18-22; 8.22; 9.9; John 1.43). We are “chosen instruments” of God (Acts 9.15). He is going to make something of us – “…and I will make you …”
Now it begins to get more serious and we part company with the doctrines of many, particularly of today’s age. With the call of God comes the commission to service. And with the commission to service come the cost and the conditions. Self-denial for a start (Matthew 16.24-27). Friend, it doesn’t really matter in God’s business what your precious opinion may be about this, that or the other, or how you feel about it, or what you want or don’t want. All that matters is what His opinion is, how He feels about it and what He wants. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5.10). Then there comes the daily taking up of the cross and the dying daily that Jesus and the apostle Paul refer to (Matthew 16.24; 1 Corinthians 15.31). Someone at the time when Jesus said those words who took up his cross did not expect to return that day with it. They went out to die. Are you living like that? Or planning your next holiday, business venture, house purchase, job move, qualification, promotion, or whatever. All fine to do, but remember, you may not make it back home tonight, so are you ready to go?
But on a happier note maybe, with the cost and conditions, the t’s & c’s, comes the eternal reward (Matthew 16.27). So my friend, it’s hand to the plough and no looking back. Less than this makes us unworthy (Luke 9.62). It’s time to “Go and …” (Luke 9.60)
So to summarise and conclude on the three-fold Call of God. We are called 1) to believe in Him, 2) if we do, then to fellowship with Him and others – i.e. enjoy His and their presence and company – and finally 3) to take up our commission, which carries a cost and conditions with it. Now you may understand a little better why many are called, but few are chosen (Matthew 22.14)! But listen, again to the apostle Paul as he mentors his young follower Timothy, don’t be ashamed, be prepared to suffer, especially in the area of saying ‘No’ to yourself and certain people and things in your life, rely on the power of God, it’s a holy calling, according to God’s own purpose and grace, not yours (2 Timothy 1.8-10). And the blood brother of Jesus himself adds that you are called, loved by God the Father, and kept safe for Jesus Christ (Jude 1.1).
God bless you – hello?
The Call of God – Isaiah 6.8 (14/09/17)
#2: I wrote recently, it may have been here, or elsewhere, I can’t remember, about those early school days when two team leaders call out the names one by one in turn of the people they want in their team. I always dreaded being the last one picked! I think everyone does. Well now, once you have answered the first part of the call of God and become a child of His, a believer in Him, you are picked to join a team! No hanging around, waiting sheepishly and nervously for some hero figure to look you in the eye and call your name. Straight away you are picked for Christ’s team, which is also God’s team (1 Corinthians 1.9; Romans 1.6). You’re in!
That’s comforting to know. And you know what, God’s around all the time, He leads the team, He joins in with everything, He trains with you, plays with you, eats with you, holidays with you, has fun and laughter, tears and sorrows with you, through the good times and the bad He’s part of it all because guess what, He leads the team! He’s the manager, coach and captain all in one! So He doesn’t give you some outrageous task and then say, “Right, off you go. I’ll see you in the Board Room in three days’ time!” Never! He says, “Right, let’s go. Now, how are we going to tackle this, eh?” The Bible word is ‘fellowship’. [To be honest I think the word’s got a bit cheesy these days – too often it’s got to mean have some tea and cakes and biscuits and chit chat about this and that which most of the time is actually gossip or pandering to people asking for sympathy to feed their self-pity and justify their silly or unrighteous behaviour, and sharing everyone’s ignorance around the room. No Bible in sight! The church at first gathered together to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, prayer and breaking bread together when they fellowshipped (Acts 2.42)]. Real fellowship with God is having Him as your mate, your fellow, your friend, your companion – that’s more like it!
But it does involve hanging out with others in the team, for sure. It’s a large enough group so you’ll definitely find some like-mindeds whom you gravitate towards and vice-versa. Loads of laughs, tons of fun, masses of support, common interests – that’s true fellowship with other believers (1 John 1.3). But there is one condition for this – walking in the light (1 John 1.5-7). If you start getting a bit dodgy and lurking around and dabbling in stuff you know very well is not team stuff you will certainly find the sparkle seems to go, and understandably your team mates will ask you if everything’s ok and if you try to hide it they’ll sense something’s up, but probably back off and leave you to your own devices.
So that’s the second part of the call of God. The call to fellowship with Him, with Jesus, and with the gang. And you know what, those guys will be your friends for life. I just met up recently with the gang I was with 40 years ago and it was as if we had been together all those years. We are all a little broader and more wrinkled, but it was as if we had never been apart. That’s fellowship!
God bless you – buddy
The Call of God – Matthew 4.19; Isaiah 6.8 (07/09/17)
#1: Is the call of God on your life? Yes, it is! How can I be so sure? Because the call of God is three-fold, and we all fall into one of the three categories.
First and foremost the Father in heaven is continually calling people of every race, colour, creed and condition to believe in Him. In Biblical words it is to the lost, the sinner, the Jews and people of every other race. I cite those as they are specified (Luke 19.5-10; 1 Corinthians 1.22-24; etc). How does He call them? Through the proclamation of the gospel – unfashionable in Western circles, even amongst Christians, and I know as I am mobilising the church of every shape, size and description throughout the whole county of Kent in south east England to join together for a great gospel crusade where the truth about Jesus Christ will be proclaimed loudly and clearly in our local football stadium, seating capacity of 11,400, and everyone is being asked to bring ‘just one’ who has not yet heard. People cannot believe unless they hear, and they cannot hear unless there is a preacher. (Romans 10.14) I have cancer. Now, there is also a very effective treatment for my particular kind of cancer. I would not thank the oncologist who never told me about it, would I? Or who did not earnestly encourage me to accept the treatment? I would not thank him/her if they simply sat back and said, “Well, it’s up to him to find out.” Society has spiritual cancer and God calls us to take the treatment.
What are this category called to? The eternal glory of Christ, to begin with (2 Thessalonians 2.14; 1 Peter 1.5). That’s a pretty good start! Everyone who knows anything at all about Jesus Christ knows that He was a lovely man whom everyone apart from jealous religious bigots adored. He was quite the most popular person in His time, and the first call of God is to spend for ever with this wonderful Man – gentle and humble in heart (Matthew 11.29). Sounds good to me!
Added to that, this Jesus says you are forgiven of all your wrong doing (please don’t kid yourself you’ve never done anything wrong!) by believing in Him – you are put into a right relationship with God (the Bible calls it ‘justified’ – it’s “just [as] if I’d” never sinned) (Romans 8.30). That spiritual cancer is dealt with.
Then you get “an inherited blessing” or “a promised eternal inheritance” (1 Peter 3.9; Hebrews 9.15). I don’t have much money, never been a rich man in one sense, but I do own my house which when my and my wife’s time come to pass on to the next life, our three sons will inherit. That’s nice for them, eh?! Well, there’s a far better inheritance waiting for a believer in heaven who answers this first call of God.
And that constant struggle to improve yourself gets lifted from your shoulders, and it is all done for you. The Bible calls it ‘sanctification’ – you just naturally start to become more like Jesus! Loads of believers think that’s their job, to keep putting themselves right, and everyone else for that matter! Waste of time – God does it for you (1 Corinthians 1.2; 6.11). What’s more, this Jesus says, “Hands off!” to anyone who tries to spoil you, because He’s bought you and so owns you (1 Corinthians 6.20; 7.23; 1 Peter 1.18-19). As I said, I own my house and so I make sure that no-one spoils it when they come near or inside. I am fortunate enough to own my own motor car and I treat it well, look after it and protect it because it is mine. I wanted it, I bought it and so I look after it. That’s what happens when you belong to Jesus – you are His and He will look after and protect you.
None of this can or will be taken back. This call of God is irrevocable – He will not call it back (Romans 11.29). Some think they’ve not been good enough for Him. No, they probably haven’t. But He’s not letting go of what is His, that’s for sure. And finally this part of God’s call brings us out of darkness into light (1 Peter 2.9-10). Sometimes suddenly, sometime slowly you begin to see things you could never see before and it starts to make sense. But more of that next week if you join me, as we explore the second part of the three-fold call of God. I expect most of you reading this know all this already. Great! We thank God. Now go and pass it on to someone who doesn’t.
God bless you – called of God
What God does in the dark (03/08/17)
#2: Dark times can easily be attributed to devilish attacks. Quite possibly, but not necessarily. It was sometime between the hours of 3.00am and 6.00am that Jesus appeared walking on the water to reveal Himself to His panic-stricken, fearful and exhausted followers. They did not recognise Him at first and seriously mistook Him for a ghost. But He revealed Himself to them, challenged them not to be afraid, and all was well. The end result was that they worshipped Him and declared Him to be the Son of God. (Matthew 14.25-33) Sometimes it takes a storm at night to bring us to that point. I am not convinced that shouting at the devil to get lost is in fact what God’s real intention for us is in such times. It may be – taking authority, binding and loosing and so on. Resisting him certainly is (James 4.7). But maybe, just maybe, God is wanting you to walk on the water, or to recognise your lack of faith, or just simply worship Him and confess Him to be the Son of God.
Jesus rose from the dead in the darkness. He ascended to heaven in the daytime. He had His reasons, which we may or may not understand. It makes no difference to Him, for the Psalmist writes, “…the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139.12) God says there are treasures in darkness and hidden wealth in secret places (Isaiah 45.3). You need night vision! Light arises in the darkness for the upright (Psalm 112.4). Believe me, in some of your darkest moments God gives you some of your greatest insights. There are things He can only teach you in the dark. Like the old films, faith is developed in the dark.
So cheer up! I am writing from a very dark place personally right now so I know what I am writing about. I know morning is coming, and with it the promised joy. I know Jesus is with me and not just waiting for me when finally the dawn breaks. Though I long for sleep, healing and freedom from pain, I am wearing my infra-red spectacles! So if you’re in a dark place right now, or know someone who is, be encouraged.
God bless you – in the dark
[I am taking a break for the rest of August – catch you in September if you’re still around]
What God does in the dark (27/07/17)
#1: I know of no-one who does not have some days, and/or nights, that are ‘darker’ than others. They can be brief, they can linger over many days, nights, weeks and months, and sadly for some, even years. Most of us are familiar with the expression “the dark night of the soul”, the title given to a poem written by a Spanish Carmelite mystic priest in the 16th century. And although one would like to think that those who are in Christ would be exempt from such dark times, they are not. Jesus Himself spoke of “the power of darkness” when He agonised in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22.53). The apostle Paul writes about “struggling against the world forces of this darkness…” (Ephesians 6.12). Job, despite living an exemplary life, lost all he had, and said, ““He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass, And He has put darkness on my paths.” (Job 19.8). Folks, these things are for real. So where is God in the darkness? Has He abandoned us? Allow me to try to encourage those of us who may be ourselves passing through a dark place, or know someone else who is.
Aaron’s rod can be seen as an example of God at work in the darkness (Numbers 17.8). To summarise, the dark place causes buds to grow, blossoms to appear and fruit to form. The dark place determines and develops God’s chosen person. Believe me, the night that you think may never end, will end, and whilst you are enduring it remember God is causing you to bud, blossom and bear fruit which will be revealed and recognised when eventually the day comes.
The night indicates that the day is coming. And with the day comes light and joy. God speaks light into darkness and says, “It is good.” (Genesis 1.5) Note the order – There was evening and morning, one day – not there was morning and evening. Evening and night come before morning and day (Genesis 1.8, 13). David as Psalmist wrote that weeping may last for the night, but…joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30.5). Hang in there my friend – God is at work and the morning will come and you will see what He has done.
God spares, protects, saves and delivers at night. The angel of death swept through Egypt by night, but God’s people were spared that horrendous agony. (Exodus 12.23) Make sure you are protected by the blood of Christ. The wind blew throughout one night, and turned the Red Sea into dry land (Exodus 14.21-22). The way out to freedom opens up in the darkness.
And God proves He is almighty and no other god is above Him, as the mighty statue of Dagon came tumbling down one night, behind closed doors, and was decapitated and dismembered the following night (1 Samuel 5.3-4). Almighty God cuts every other god down to size at night.
Friends, none of us enjoy those dark times. But they come, and for a reason, which we may or may not understand. But know this, that God has neither forgotten, nor abandoned you – He is always up to something, and all His ways are true and just (Daniel 4.37). Try reading it this way – ‘Nothing’ is impossible with God (Luke 1.37).
God bless you – good night
Fresh Oil – Psalm 92.10 (20/07/17)
#7: I promised I would start with an illustration from The Titanic, the ship not the film (see #3). Sorry, the elevator went up…or down! Here it is now – the luxury liner the Titanic sank because the contractors settled for cheap rivets and suffered from poor planning. Rivets are like the glue that holds the steel plates together. Facing a shortage of quality bolts, the builders used substandard ones that popped their heads upon impact with the iceberg. How sturdy are the bolts of your belief? Reinforce them with daily Bible reading and regular worship. Courage is fear that has said its prayers.
Finally I return to that magnifying glass that can concentrate the light to the point of making fire. Spiritual freshness is all about focus. Focus on Christ’s work, not your conduct. Focus on Christ’s promises, not your feelings. And now, focus on Christ’s love, not your circumstances. All of us face difficulties in life – they go with the territory! Our faith does not protect us from illness, loneliness, bereavement, unemployment, broken relationships, disappointments, etc. (Romans 8.38-39). I once read somewhere, “For every look within, take ten looks at Him.” I like that! Spiritual health, strength, stability and freshness depends on thinking much on Christ. Jesus talks about rivers of living water flowing from our innermost being if we believe on Him (John 7.38). The result is the fresh oil that you long for, crave and need. Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you. (James 4.8)
So take heart my friend. You want fresh oil? That’s how. I will close with the words of Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest: “A river is victoriously persistent, it overcomes all barriers. For a while it goes steadily on its course, then it comes to an obstacle and it is baulked, but it soon makes a pathway round the obstacle … The river of the Spirit of God overcomes all obstacles. Never get your eyes on the obstacle or on the difficulty. The obstacle is a matter of indifference to the river which will flow steadily through you if you remember to keep right at the Source. Never allow anything to come between yourself and Jesus Christ, no emotion, or experience, nothing must keep you from the one great Sovereign Source.”
God bless you – refreshed
Fresh Oil – Psalm 92.10 (13/07/17)
#6: Me, Myself and I – the alternative trinity, alive and well in the church which purports to be following the One who said, “If any one follows Me, let him/her deny him/herself, take up their cross daily and follow Me.” The reason you’re in need of fresh oil is because you’ve been using the wrong one. If you want to wash your hair use shampoo, if you want to condition your hair, use hair conditioner. If you want to shave, use shaving soap. It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?! Adorn yourself with yourself, and you will dry up. Focus on Christ’s work, not your conduct. And next focus on Christ’s promises, not your feelings.
I was once given a yo-yo for Christmas. I loved it so much. Up and down, in and out it went. But then I grew a little older. And so I loved the elevator in the department store (in those days we didn’t have shopping malls). But a lift as we called them was so exciting. I would go up, and then down and up again, until my Mum put an end to my fun. But you know what? Many followers of Jesus live just like that – up and down, down and up – yo-yo’s and elevators. Like submarines that surface on a Sunday and then submerge Monday to Saturday with their problems and worries and cares of the world. Hey, folks, feelings change! They are designed to, in order to express our joy, or grief, or sorrow or happiness or sadness. We’re made that way! But ….
Christ’s promises do not change. He said, “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28.20) Fact, not feeling. “Whoever comes to Me I will certainly not cast out/reject.” (John 6.37). Fact, not feeling. Max Lucado wrote, “There is not a hint of one person who was afraid to draw near to Him (Jesus). There were those who mocked Him. There were those who were envious of Him. There were those who misunderstood Him. There were those who revered Him. But there was not one person who considered Him too holy, too divine, too celestial to touch. There was not one person who was reluctant to approach Him for fear of being rejected.” (Max Lucado, God Came Near). Focus on facts, not feelings. Yes, our relationship with Jesus involves and affects our feelings and emotions, but don’t depend on them for security. Spiritual highs come and go, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever (Hebrews 13.8). Heaven and earth will pass away, however hard our leaders try to save the earth from global warming and nuclear war. But Jesus’ words will last for ever. If you don’t believe me now, you will one day. Charles Spurgeon said, “I looked at Christ and the dove of peace flew into my heart. I looked at the dove, and it flew away.”
God bless you – in the shopping mall
Fresh Oil – Psalm 92.10 (23/06/17)
#5: Sore? Don’t worry, it will heal! Better to be sore than stale, eh? Spiritual staleness stems from spending too much time with Christ out of focus. That is caused by too much focus on self – actions, feelings, circumstances, thoughts, opinions, reactions, achievements, instead of on Christ, His work, His promises, His love. I’m sure you’ve heard it preached, more than once, that Peter was fine walking on the water whilst he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus. Some people are fortunate enough to wear varifocal lens spectacles – that means that the lens alters the focus depending upon whether you are looking close up or far away. Look through the wrong part of the lens and it becomes blurred. As a child I used to love to take a magnifying glass and to focus the sun’s rays so sharply that I could light a fire. Every camera has a focus in order to get the subject sharply and clearly defined, as does every projector. Spiritual truth in all those simple things around us – so keep focused, on …
Christ’s work, not your conduct. Our relationship with Jesus does not depend on what we do for Him, but on what He has done for us. That is what separates Jesus from all other so-called religious teachers. Their doctrine always focuses on a person’s efforts to please and appease a probably angry god or gods. My friend, you will never be able to save yourself – so just give up the struggle! You’re wasting your time and energy, and probably money. Focus on what Jesus has done for you (Galatians 2,16, 20-21; 4.31; 5.1; Titus 3.5). Don’t focus on how well you’re doing in church attendance, service, ministry, prayer, Bible Study – sure, they are necessary and important to keep fresh oil flowing, but who creates and sends the oil? Not you – Jesus. You need inspiration, not perspiration, and you find that inspiration when you focus on Jesus and not yourself. Jesus makes a very telling comment when He says that a lady’s sins were forgiven not because she loved Him much, but because she had shown Him much love – “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love.” (Luke 7.47 NLT). In other words, she did not acquire or secure her forgiveness by her expression of love, but rather she was expressing her love out of gratitude for the forgiveness she had already received. Big difference. “We love, because He first loved us,” wrote the disciple whom Jesus loved, so he should know! (1 John 4.19). Every time you take some bread and drink some wine to remember Him, keep reminding yourself of what he has done for you, out of His love for you, even as a sinner (Romans 5.10).
A mum once found her little boy standing with his feet buried in the ground. “What on earth are you doing?” she asked. “Mummy,” he replied, “I want to grow up so I have planted myself.” Friend, you cannot hasten your own spiritual growth – leave it to God. Another little boy excitedly said to his Grandfather, “Grandad, see that cross on the wall over there?” “Yes, son.” “Grandad, stare at it for two minutes, and then close your eyes.” The old man stared at the cross radiant in the bright sunshine for the full two minutes. “Now, Granddad,” said the little lad. “Shut your eyes. What do you see?” “Well, son, I can see that cross.” You want fresh oil? Stare at the cross, my friend.
God bless you – in the sunshine
Fresh Oil – Psalm 92.10 (15/06/17)
#4: Now here comes a tougher one! In comparison reading your Bible is easy. Applying it, maybe not so. But here’s the challenge, if you really want to regain that first love, to love Jesus ‘much’. But remember, oil soothes, and so will this ‘fresh oil’ if you apply it. Here we go then – deep breath … Be ruthless with sin. And I mean your sin. Never mind his, hers or theirs. There may be something much worse in your eye (Matthew 7.3-5). Unconfessed sin is like sharp rocks just beneath the water you are sailing through, and if you scrape it you will start to sink. It’s like the tiny splinter that irritates and causes the soreness. And until dealt with, you will just be going through the motions of loving Jesus. Remember King David? God’s hand was heavy upon him when he kept silent about his sin. How do I know? He said so! (Psalm 32.3) But he went on to say that when he had acknowledged his sin to God, God forgave the guilt of his sin (v5). His first love was restored.
Please note – our sin does not change God’s love for us. He loves us regardless. The sun shines and the rain falls on the unrighteous as well as the righteous, said Jesus, who created and controls both sun and rain, so He should know! (Matthew 5.45) But it does change our experience of His love for us. Repeated, unacknowledged and unconfessed sin causes us to be spiritually stale. It acts as a filter, a barrier, a separation between us and God. It is like a cloud in front of the sun in a cold climate. Like a fuse in an electrical connection – the purer the metal the lower the resistance and the greater the flow of power.
Ask yourself – where or what is your Achilles heel? Your particular weakness…and we all have at least one. Be honest. Where do you know you are vulnerable? Identify – and avoid. Take measures to prevent yourself falling – people, places, who and what causes you to stumble. You really don’t need him/her/them/it in your life. Here’s a good test – if you were the devil, when and where would you tempt yourself and attack yourself? You know, he knows, and God knows. So why invite him to have a go?! Where are you weakest? For church leaders it’s generally one or more of the three G’s – gold, glory or girls. Alcoholics Anonymous use the slogan H.A.L.T. representing Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. I promise you, if you are any of these you are seriously vulnerable and in the tempter’s sights. But you, not God, Mummy, Daddy, pastor, spouse, doctor, pharmacist, counsellor, best friend etc – no, you yourself need to deal with it. Take responsibility – get a grip. Avoid certain people, and places which evoke destructive thought patterns, conversations about certain people and topics. What are you looking at? The Psalmist wrote, “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.” (Psalm 101.3) Good advice, my friend. Eve looked at the fruit and thought about it – fatal. Like it or not, this ‘fresh oil’ brings soothing and calm, so apply it. Admit, acknowledge, call upon God, ask for mercy, help, forgiveness, repentance, deliverance. He’s ready and waiting for your call. Think this is too tough? Read Revelation 2.1-7 and Romans 6.13-19.
More fresh oil next week …
God bless you – as you remove that splinter
Fresh Oil – Psalm 92.10 (08/06/17)
#3: Obesity is a serious problem in my country, especially amongst the less well off. Processed food, fast food, sedentary life-style, lack of exercise, all contribute to diabetes, heart attacks and premature deaths. I have been in other parts of the world where it is believed that the fatter you are the more blessed you are. Not so where I live. And so there are a plethora of diets, and exercise regimes, and gyms springing up all over the place. Hmmm… bit of a con I sometimes think. Eat and drink all things in moderation and you’ll be fine on the whole. But that does require attention and balance and careful thought. The same is true with your spiritual intake. Get it out of balance and you get fat and bigoted on doctrine, or you get skinny and thin and dry up. More fresh oil needed! So, as well as getting back into reading your Bible (see last week), you need to ….
Pray first. “Open my eyes that I may behold the wonderful things from Your law,” wrote the psalmist (Psalm119.18). “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it,” promises God (Psalm 81.10). It is so easy! Oh dear, week after week I see people struggle forward for prayer for this problem and that difficulty and victory over something else, and I wonder to myself when they last opened their eyes and mouths!
Keep a varied diet. Don’t get stuck in a rut – a groove very soon becomes a grave. Take notes to help your concentration. Jot down bullet points, Scripture references, points that struck or challenged you, illustrations, examples, quotations, stories. Learn a verse a week – write it on a piece of paper and stick it on your fridge or your mirror (I know you will go there first thing each morning!). Use a commentary, change versions of the Bible (and believe me, you won’t drop dead if you depart from the Authorised King James Version!) – you might actually begin to understand a bit better some of what is written. A plan I have often used is to divide the whole Bible into six or seven sections, using the Index and page numbers, and read from a different section each day – it breaks it up, different literary styles, different writers, different emphases.
And apply it! Work on the relationship between what you read and how you live. Jesus told the story as He ended His great sermon on the mountain side, about two people who built houses, but on different ground, one on rock and the other on sand. The ensuing storm determined the welfare of both buildings (Matthew 7.24-27). Do what He says, is the simple moral of the story. To regain your first love for Jesus you need more than just a feeling in the heart, you need a doing of the will, an act of obedience. I have neighbours who must qualify for the ‘Loudest and Most Anti-social Neighbours’ award – each day! Grrr…. But Jesus told me to be patient and kind, to bear all things and endure all things and so on (1 Corinthians 13.4-8a). No debate! Fresh oil! The Bible tells us how to live the way that pleases Jesus, and if we love Him we’ll do what He says. If we ignore it, our love will grow cold. It the same with friends when you are no longer together – Skype, message, WhatsApp, call, Facebook, email, text, whatever and you’ll stay warm and close. Ignore and your friendship will grow cold and maybe even die. First love?
Next week I’ll start with an illustration from The Titanic, the ship not the film! See you then ….
God bless you – as you choose your menu
Fresh Oil – Psalm 92.10 (01/06/17)
#2: It is said that Smith Wigglesworth, the plumber from Bradford, was never more than fifteen minutes from his Bible. Now there’s the start for fresh oil. Jesus said, “My sheep know My voice; I know them and they follow Me.” (John 20.27) Jesus calls people to Himself, and then speaks to them through His Word and His Spirit. We even start our new life in Christ through “the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1.23) It was Peter who wrote that, and he should have known, having spent more time with Jesus on a one-to-one basis than anyone else, even John, the disciple whom He loved. Then there was James, the earthly brother of Jesus, who wrote, “of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth;” (James 1.18) I remember when I first came into that living, personal relationship with Jesus that I just could not put my Bible down. I was out on an island in the South Pacific, and I had a copy of the Living Bible, and I just read it and read it – underlined, coloured, shaded, memorised it. Remember those days? The Bible suddenly became real and alive – it spoke, and it spoke to me! Part of the Holy Spirit’s work is to remind us of what Jesus taught, so we need to know what He taught! (John 14.26; 16.13-15) Peter again says we need to long for the pure milk of the word, so that we may grow up (1 Peter 2.2-3). The writer of the letter known as Hebrews in the Bible refers to it as alive, active, and sharper than a two-edged sword which pierces between soul and spirit as between bone and marrow, judging our thoughts and the intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4.12). It is not a dry, dead, lifeless history book, theological work or rule book of do’s and don’t’s. I am currently giving a teaching series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit to a church on Saturday mornings. They come at 8.15am for breakfast and at 9.00am they are sat eagerly listening, eyes fixed, devoted to the teaching. Now these are not new, young believers in Jesus Christ – these are, many of them, well-seasoned saints, the pastor is there, the elders are there – they are receiving fresh oil.
Need fresh oil? Read your Bible, get to a Bible study somewhere, where you get taught not tickled, in a class, in a group, on your own – but feed on the Word of God and you will hear His voice speaking to you. Long for it, crave it, earnestly desire and seek it – and that first love will start to rise to the surface once more.
God bless you – on Saturday morning
Fresh Oil – Psalm 92.10 (25/05/17)
#1: In my country it is now spring time. The leaves on the trees are green, in their various shades, the grass needs cutting, sometimes twice a week. I have lived and travelled abroad enough to know that this is not the case in many parts of the world. But here we are blessed with the freshness of the dew in the morning and the sweet fragrance of the spring flowers. Our walk with the Lord can lose its freshness. Church life can become pretty dull and routine, even if it is lively. Many churches I visit are lively but not living – same pattern, week in week out, same faces, week in, week out – business as usual is the order the day. And should anyone dare to raise the issue with the leadership, very often at best they receive a polite nod, at worst they are told they are rebellious, and the show goes on. I often challenge leaders at Pastors’ Conferences, saying, “If the Holy Spirit left your church today, how much of the programme would continue?” And the answer is, in all honesty, probably most of it. We can get professional when doing church. We can get in a rut when walking with the Lord, and if you are not careful soon a groove becomes a grave. Fresh oil!
The secret lies in keeping one’s first love. Remember Simon the Pharisee? He was the lucky one who persuaded Jesus to come and eat at his house. Probably everyone’s dream at the time. All the top rabbis no doubt were invited, and many were there – at his place. He was feeling rather chuffed with this coup. It was all going so well, food, drink, laughter, conversation, fun, great party Simon! But … suddenly a woman, uninvited, a ‘sinner’, probably a prostitute, pushes her way past the door keepers. Simon is embarrassed, furious even, ashamed, disgraced – the evening was ruined by this unexpected, uninvited after-dinner cabaret act. Now, the fascinating thing is that Jesus picks that gate-crashing woman, rather than the host, the self-righteous religious Pharisee, as His role model for His followers that evening. He commends her for her ‘lavish love’, and questions the host about his cold formality, and his failure to even give a decent welcome. My question to us all, is “How much do you love Jesus?” This woman is recorded for eternity as loving Him ‘much’ (Luke 7.36-50).
Do you need fresh oil? We’ll look over the next few sessions at how to regain and maintain our first love for Jesus, and how to receive fresh oil.
God bless you – and mind the bouncers
What To Do When Afraid – 2 Kings 13.14-19 (18/05/17)
#6: Ok…he’s at the wide open window, with bow and arrow in his firm grip. The word “Shoot” is ringing in his ear. But why did the old man not tell him to aim first? Because it is the Lord’s arrow (Vs 17). That means the Lord will direct it. He will guide it, He will direct it and it won’t swerve to the left or to the right, it won’t fall short or sail over the target. It will hit its mark – bullseye! Friend, just shoot and let God do with your words and your deeds what He has purposed and planned to do with them. But first you have to do it, or say it. I’m a preacher so I get to deliver so many sermons or messages, call them what you like. I write these short posts each week, and also for another FB page (Friends of Inn), and you know what? I scarcely know even if any one reads them! I don’t know most of the time what effect any message I preach on a Sunday has had or will have. I’m not a great one for appeals and getting people to come out to the front for prayer. They can be manipulative and self-promoting. I know pastors who judge a message solely by the numbers of people who apparently respond to the appeal. But hey, God doesn’t work that way. He’s not a number-counter! The seed just has to be sown and some of it will find good soil, true and noble hearts (Luke 8.15) and will produce the fruit it was intended to produce. So go on, sow your seed, shoot your arrows, and leave the rest to God.
Remember, it is the Lord’s arrow, not yours. And it’s an arrow of victory! So when victory comes, always remember it is the Lord’s. He always leads us in Christ’s triumph, never our own (2 Corinthians 2.14). I will end this little series with a story I love to tell – in fact I’ve probably told it here before, but it is worth repeating. There was a forest fire – fire to the west, fire to the east, fire to the south and a lake to the north. And the fire was creeping closer and closer as the wind was coming from the south. A little frog was stranded. How could he escape the fire? Simple – just swim across the lake to safety. But not possible, because the lake was infested with crocodiles…and crocodiles love eating little frogs. “Hmmm…what can I do?” pondered the little frog. Just then two ducks landed, about to fly away over the lake. The frog had a brainwave. “Ducks,” he said in his sweetest voice, “erm…could you help me get across this lake?” “How can we help?” replied the bemused ducks. “Well,” said the frog, “if you go and find a long stick, and then you each bite on one end with your beaks, and I bite tightly on the middle, then you start to fly and I hang on then we can fly over the lake and you can land and I’ll let go of the stick and we’ll all be safe. How about it? Per…lease?” The ducks conferred with each other and then decided to give it a go. After all, they were going to be alright anyway. So they found a long firm stick. One duck grabbed one end in his beak, and the other duck grabbed the other end. The little frog jumped to the middle, opened his mouth wide and then firmly bit down on the stick. And off they flew, up and away over the lake. The brilliant plan was working. Down below the crocodiles were snapping away at the other poor frogs, and gobbling them up. But one frog, who had managed to escape and was swimming for his life looked up and saw the ducks and the frog biting hard on the stick. “My, my, my!” he shouted. “What a fantastic idea. Who ever thought of that?” “I did!” shouted the frog… and down he dropped into the mouth of a crocodile.
Give God the glory, my friend. And before I go, the last piece of advice the old prophet gave was to strike the ground with the remaining arrows. The young king struck the ground, but only three times. That was not enough for the man of God, as future victory was also dependent upon the young king’s persistent striking. Read the story yourself. And then the dear old prophet of God passed into Glory – I think he may have been a little disappointed. Shoot your arrow, strike the ground, my friend, and keep on striking. Persist, don’t give up, victory after victory is in your hand.
God bless you – as you keep a firm grip on your stick, and your arrows
[Oh…and Happy Birthday to The VOICE – 12 on Sunday! #wellwateredplace]
What To Do When Afraid – 2 Kings 13.14-19 (11/05/17)
#5: With a new found confidence our young king steps over to the window. Why? To open it. The window was closed. Oh dear, he could not even see where the enemy was, or where to shoot his arrow, or even what the weather was like! My friend, open your window. You must remove all those inhibitions, everything that closes you in, and blocks your view and your vision. What’s in your way? Let me mention a few ‘windows’ and I’m sure you will be able to identify at least one in your life that needs opening…
Fear, I have already mentioned. Shyness, unbelief, doubt, discouragement, hard-heartedness, half-heartedness, cares of the world, pressures of life, possessions, qualifications, un-forgiveness, bitterness, envy, jealousy, pride, competitiveness, greed, ambition, anger, revenge, hatred, tradition, culture, reputation, self-consciousness, self-condemnation. And there are many more windows in our little house! How could I write that so quickly? Ha, I’ve had to open them all myself! What is your window? What prevents you from seeing clearly? There is a ‘god of this world’ who loves to blind people (2 Corinthians 4.4).
Now when you use God’s weapons under God’s anointing you get God’s results. So don’t delay any longer – take up your weapons, receive the touch of God, remove the inhibitions, and ….shoot! (vs 17). Friend, please exercise your ministry, whatever it is … God will have given you one. There should be no passengers on God’s lifeboat. And remember, it is a lifeboat not a holiday cruise liner! You were not rescued from the waters and waves of the drowning seas to go sunbathing on the deck! And moaning about the service and the staff, I might add! Exercise your ministry, whatever it is. Release your gifting, whatever it is. Nike did not coin the phrase ‘Just do it’ – Mary the mother of Jesus did! (John 2.5). Stop reading, talking, discussing, thinking, considering, debating, dreaming, procrastinating and sometimes even praying…! God told Moses to stop praying and to get the army on the march! “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Quit praying and get the people moving! Forward, march!” (Exodus 14.15 Living Bible) You can go to as many conferences and read as many books as you like about whatever ministry it may be, but an evangelist is someone who evangelises, an intercessor is someone who intercedes, a pastor is someone who pastors, a leader is someone who has people following them, not people who have a file full of notes and a shelf full of books but nothing to show for them.
Now, why did the old prophet not say, “Aim,” before “Shoot”? Good question, eh? You’ll find out next week…
God bless you – as you look out of the window
What To Do When Afraid – 2 Kings 13.14-19 (27/04/17)
#3: Right then…found those weapons? Polished them up? If not, why not? Busy celebrating Easter maybe. Well, the party’s over and it’s time to get back to the battlefield. You’ve got the name of Jesus, the word of God, and the blood of Christ so far … wow, that’s scary enough if you’re a God-hater! Now brush up the gifts of the Spirit – speaking the word of wisdom (the will, purpose, plan, counsel) of God into your friend, neighbour or relative’s life. Praising God in a language you have never learned. Knowing the difference between a human spirit, a demonic spirit and the Spirit of God. And so they go on (1 Corinthians 12.1-11). And then what about singing praises and worshipping God? Once upon a time another scared king sent the choir ahead of his soldiers into battle. All the enemy heard instead of cries and curses was, “Give thanks to the Lord, for His loving-kindness is everlasting.” Total chaos and confusion, and more than one enemy completely defeated (2 Chronicles 20.21-22).
Oh…and most obvious of all, prayer. Simple – ask according to God’s will and you know He hears and so you know you will receive your requests (1 John 5.14-15). Keep firing those arrows, friends … keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking (Matthew 7.8; Luke 11.10). You can’t lose!
So what did our fearful young king do in response to the old prophet’s advice? “So he took…” (vs 15). Obedience, dear friend, is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15.22). ‘Just do it’ was coined not by Nike but by Mary the mother of Jesus (John 2.5). Jesus said that if a person loved Him s/he would obey His commands (John 14.15,21). Which son pleased his father? The one who did what was asked of him (Matthew 21.28ff). Whom did Jesus say were His mother, brothers and sisters? The one who did the will of His Father in heaven (Matthew 12.48-50). I once had a beautiful dog, she was so gentle and sweet and affectionate. I don’t deny that I loved her dearly. But she died prematurely of bowel cancer. I was devastated and felt I could never have another pet like her. But after a while, I missed her so much, I decided to rehome a dog that had been discarded. I went to the centre, where there were so many dogs all in cages wanting a home and some love. I saw one. I liked him. The notice on his cage said his name was Ben. I decided to give him a test. “Ben!” I called. His tail wagged frantically and he ran to the front of the cage, tail still wagging. “Ben…sit.” He sat. I took him. One act of obedience changed his entire life for good and for better. So will it change yours if you obey God.
But what did the old prophet do next? You will see next week if you join me…
God bless you – as you sit
The Rainbow, written by Peter G. W. Marchand (20/04/17)
Learn from the rainbow in the sky
For it’s more than simply colours in your eye
And if you try
Then you’ll know why
God put it there for you.
Red, orange, yellow, green and blue –
They may not say very much to you
But love and joy and peace, they do
So follow my story through.
It appears when the sun shines through the rain
It has no beginning and no end
And it’s beautiful to see
But impossible to feel
Transparent, yet real
And very clear to me.
So let the sun shine through the rain in you
Like the colours of the rainbow blend
The fruit of the Spirit in your life
Patience, kindness, black and white.
Red, orange, yellow, green and blue
Say be faithful, good and gentle in all you do
With love, joy, peace and self-control
Violet and indigo.
And who let the sunshine through the rain?
And who has no beginning and no end?
Who is beautiful to see
But impossible to feel,
Transparent, yet real…?
It’s very clear to me.
The Most Important Day (13/04/17)
We always think of
What about Judgement Day? A day of celebration or condemnation for you?
Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved – on that day. (Acts 16.31)
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15.3-4)
Happy Resurrection Sunday!
What To Do When Afraid – 2 Kings 13.14-19 (06/04/17)
#2: What are your God-given weapons then? Well, if you never knew let’s have a look and see. And if you have known for a long time, let’s have a refresher course. And in the meantime, check out where they are. In your hand, or lying around somewhere? Remember, these are mighty, powerful and dangerous. If you were suddenly confronted by someone with a loaded gun in their hand you would be pretty scared eh? For bow and arrows, read modern day weapons. First up…
The name of Jesus. I have encountered so many people who think that praying in the name of Jesus means you start or end your prayer off sweetly with the words, “In Jesus name. Amen.” As if the words were some kind of magical formula. Sorry, my friend, if you’re one, they’re not. Let me explain. If I ask someone to go somewhere to collect something for me, they will go and say, ‘Pastor Peter has asked me to collect ….” In other words they have gone in my name, with my authority, as my ambassador, representing my requests and interests, as if it were me in person. That is what Jesus means when He uses the expression ‘in My name’. Consequently you need to make sure He really has asked for whatever it is you are praying for. You are in effect going into the presence of almighty God and saying, “Father, Jesus says….” And if what you are requesting is in line with the known will of Jesus, you’re onto a winner, for sure. Maybe it’s time for you to visit http://www.biblegateway.com and type in ‘in my name’ and remind yourself of what Jesus says is yours ‘in His name’. It would take me too long to do it for you here. You can start at Mark 16.15-18 if you want a nudge!
Then you have the word of God. Note, it’s not the word of your experience, or the word of a Christian writer, or the word of your feelings, or opinion. It is not the word of your friend (who of course agrees with you!), or of what loads of people are all talking about and getting into, or of what is currently trending. It is the Bible, the Scriptures – that is the word of God. That is the powerful, dynamic weapon you need on your lips. It lives, it functions, it works, it’s sharp (Hebrews 4.12). You can use it when you pray, when you resist the devil, and his demons, principalities and powers, when you counsel and advise others, when you preach or teach. Remember in passing, the pulpit is for education not for entertainment – just saying! I have endured too much waffle from the front – amusing, maybe, entertaining, perhaps, but not edifying, and certainly not powerful (“halleluiah…amen…amen? …halleluiah…turn to your neighbour and say….” etc.) Jesus shows us how to use this weapon when He spent forty days under the compunction of the Holy Spirit in the wilderness resisting the desire to eat or drink, and that ancient serpent came and tempted Him because He was physically weakened. Each time He resisted with the words, ‘It is written…’ and then quoted ScriptureIf those alone were not enough, God, the great warrior (Exodus 15.3) arms you with the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Seldom preached about these days…well, not in my experience. It reconciles us to God, it redeems us, it sanctifies us, it justifies us, it saves us, heals us, protects us, cleanses us, forgives us and makes us victorious over the one who accuses us. And that list is not exhaustive! How many more bullets do you need? Use the blood of Jesus when you’re preaching – tell people about Christ crucified, and why (1 Corinthians 2.2; 15.3). Tell people they are spared the wrath of God because of that blood. Tell them that they can have peace with God because of the blood of Jesus (Colossians 1.20). I tell you, when you preach the blood of Jesus you will get results. Why? Because it is a God-given weapon!
More when we meet in the armoury in three weeks time! In the meantime, polish those up. For the next two weeks a little change of style.
God bless you – and your cleaning cloth
What To Do When Afraid – 2 Kings 13.14-19 (30/03/17)
#1: I would love to say that I’ve never been afraid. But I would be lying. There have been many times in my life when I had really wanted not to be somewhere, or in some situation. Most recent was having waited five and a half hours in a cubicle in hospital for an operation and they finally came for me…it was freezing cold, I thought I had been overlooked and forgotten, no food or drink for over 24 hours, and then the trolley, the anaesthetist, the surgeons dressed in gowns and hats and masks ready to go, and as I lay there in the anaesthetic room I asked when the anaesthetic would take effect…zzzzz… gone! Or being led by the verger in black to the foot of the pulpit in Rochester Cathedral to preach the sermon at the Service for the Dedication of the Mayor of Medway (the city where I live) together with the County’s official Celebration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th Birthday, with the Lord Lieutenant of Kent and the High Sheriff of Kent, the Mayor and Mayoress of Medway, and the Church of England Bishop of Rochester – every dignitary imaginable apart from Her Majesty herself present and staring up at me. Friends, I am not boasting or bragging, I was terrified! Hey, I’m an independent Pentecostal, not a die-hard clergyman!
What can we learn from a young guy about how to handle fear? Joash was young and inexperienced king, just 25 years old. To rule over a nation, especially when it is God’s people, is no small task. And when one is at war as well, and outnumbered, with insufficient weapons, well not surprisingly he didn’t know what to do. Then he had brilliant idea, no doubt God-sent. He went to the man of God. This old prophet was on the point of returning to his maker, but that did not deter the young king. On arrival, he simply wept because situation was hopeless. How about you? Feel too young, inexperienced, overwhelmed by the situation? The job seems a bit above your level, the other candidates all look pretty daunting? The course is tougher than you thought, and everyone else seems to be doing fine? The kids and the job are just too much for you? Are you lacking confidence? Listen, whether you are young or old, tired, exhausted, disappointed, or whatever, God says …
Take a bow and arrows (v15). Oo…I bet that surprised him! And I guess it will surprise you too. The old prophet, speaking the eternal word of God, did not say, ‘Take advice from an expert.’ He did not say, ‘Take another job.’ Or wife, or course, or anti-depressant tablet, or drink, or even a handkerchief or tissue to wipe away his tears. The remedy in such a situation is not tears, medicine, alcohol, drugs, sympathy, pity or comfort. It is weapons! And why take? Because his weapons were not in his hand. Why not? Because he had either put them down, or never taken them up in the first place. Have you dropped your weapons because someone hurt you, upset you, wounded your precious pride? Or maybe you just said, ‘I’m fed up with all this – I’m too tired to carry on. I’m exhausted. Done my best, not appreciated….so too bad, I’m quitting.’ Clank on the ground went your weapons. ‘Pastor, you don’t understand…you see, I’m disappointed, God didn’t do what I wanted and expected, and my faith level was so high, but He just let me down, and I was so disappointed and discouraged…’ Clank on the ground went your weapons in a pool of self-pity. Once you prayed for the sick, and now you’re sick. Once you cast out demons, and now demons are casting you down. Once you were fervent in prayer for others, and now you’re always asking for prayer yourself. Once you read and spoke Scripture, and now you seldom even open your Bible. My friend, if that’s you, go back and pick up your weapons! What you don’t use, you lose.
Others of you need to take up your weapons because they have never been in your hands in the first place. Well, you need to learn what your weapons are, and then take them up and use them. God gives us weapons with which to fight our enemy, both in attack and defence. They are not pretty ornaments to take out and dust off from time to time, or leave to rust in some dirty old corner of a shed. So, what are they? You’ll find out next week if you join me!
God bless you – tissue box and all
Life’s Highest Qualification – Moses (23/03/17)
#8: And so to the summary of this series on Life’s Highest Qualification, with Moses as our case study. God has a job for you, which is only for you. Don’t try to do it your way. Tempting, yes. Well meaning, quite likely. Don’t try to do it in your time – you will be out of sync with God. Don’t look this way and that, here, there and everywhere – look up. Are you enrolled on the course for Life’s Highest Qualification at the University of Life? Be pleased. Be honoured. God does not enrol anyone and everyone. He gives places to those for whom He has a special work. And He personally oversees and tutors you. He is the Professor, the Director of Studies, the Supervisor, the personal Tutor, Mentor and … Friend. He oversees every step and stage. Accept and embrace, as and when it comes, no work, unsuitable work, no recognition, no apparent end in sight, and no familiar company – they are all part of the course.
When you graduate there will be no great ceremony in a Cathedral or Great Hall, no special cap or gown or hood to wear, no special tickets for close family and friends, no scroll, no certificate to frame, no photos, no class reunion. Just the words, “Congratulations! You have been awarded Life’s Highest Qualification. Now, go and do what I want you to do for the remainder of your days.” And that will lead you on to the last and final stage, Stage Three of Moses’ life, the final forty years, Used by God (see #1). Friend, it won’t be easy, but you’re equipped and qualified, so please, no excuses, just go and do it. And when all that is over, as with Moses when he climbed for the last time to the top of that mountain on the edge of the land promised to God’s people, you too will hear that same voice again, but this time saying, “Well done, you good and faithful servant. You’ve fought the fight, you’ve finished the course, and you’ve kept the faith. Come and inherit the joy set before you. Receive the crown of righteousness.” (2 Timothy 4.8)
God bless you – classmate and colleague
Life’s Highest Qualification – Moses (16/03/17)
#7: OK you’re nearly there! Just one more Module. And this is really tough too. Module Number Four: No Company, No Family. Moses’ natural family were around him in Egypt, but not in Midian. This brings with it a sense of loneliness and disconnection. Leaders, movers and shakers, achievers like to be with people. They enjoy company, like-minded friends with similar interests and experiences and motivation. They like having followers. But leaders are not leaders until they have learned to be followers, first and foremost of God. It takes a very long time before one can say, as did the apostle Paul, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11.1) Hence the desert, no distractions, no rivals, no others gods. This module teaches submission to God and His ways and His timetable. Moses had no communication, we assume, with his family and friends and acquaintances. Yes, he had a wife, and two sons, and in-laws and other shepherds, but they were not the relationships he had grown up with and known for the first forty years of his life. This was now unfamiliar territory, and out of his comfort zone. Isolation and loneliness are part of the ‘No Company, No Family’ module and are part of Life’s Highest Qualification. Many of you once members of The Voice had to take this module – dropping out of the skies for the first time in an alien environment, and wondering, “What on earth am I doing here?” and phoning home as often as possible. It’s the course! But not just the Masters or PhD.
Moses must have felt a failure. And you may well have felt or feel a failure too. I have done. I surrendered my career, status, reputation, family, friends and future. Failure happens too – it is inevitable. Relationally, professionally, spiritually, emotionally, and you end up in the desert. But it’s where you are meant to be, because there you can be taught what really counts and will matter when you finally graduate. Your divine Director of Studies, the perfect Professor is “conforming you to the image of His Son – who Himself learned obedience through the things He suffered.” (Hebrews 5.8) Can you believe that Jesus Christ Himself, the incarnate Son of God, actually had to learn obedience? Amazing thought. And the way He had to learn it was through suffering. Oh my, oh my, oh my! That really should put us all back in our places, eh? So don’t be afraid of defeat, don’t be afraid of failure, learn from set-backs, stay teachable, learn humility – “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12.3). God uses failure to equip us for success – His way, on His terms, and for His glory.
God bless you – student
Life’s Highest Qualification – Moses (09/03/17)
#6: Well, how’s anonymity? My brother-in-law was a highly qualified lecturer at a Russell Group university (top seventeen British Universities). When he retired he moved to a village not far from the city where he had taught. He went into a local shop and two teenage girls were hanging around inside. One said to the other, “Who’s he?” “Oh some old buffer who’s just moved to the village,” came the disparaging reply. He seriously struggled with now becoming anonymous. But it’s a compulsory module if you are after Life’s Highest Qualification of all – and you never know when exactly you may have to take it. But your Director of Studies does. Is that it then? Done and dusted? No! There’s more to come. Module Number Three …
No End in Sight. My friend, God is not in a hurry. He has His own timetable, and He won’t be rushed by you, or anyone. And He will teach you not to be also. This is especially true and difficult in our world today when we have come to expect just about anything instantaneously. And that is not limited just to my country. I remember being in India ministering one time and the single level crossing bar was down because a train was coming. One by one pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists made their way to the front of the line of waiting vehicles and clambered under the bar, or simply dismounted, leaned their cycles and motorcycles over on their side and pulled them under the bar, and crossed the railway lines despite the sound of a train getting louder and louder! Wouldn’t wait for one minute! Prepared to risk lives! Character building takes time – in Moses’ case it took forty years. In yours it may be less, it may be more. But God will build your character to be what He wants it to be if you’re on this course. And character building comes before ministry. Why? Because character can ruin calling. Note Samson and Saul as prime examples whose characters spoiled their calling – and I’m sure it will not take you long to think of a modern day example, sadly. Many are called, but few are chosen. Answer the question Why? yourself.
Friend, this module is about waiting. Ugh! Worst room there is, the Waiting Room! But in you go, and there you stay, for you never know how long. It may be for a result, an answer, a breakthrough. It could be for a child, a job, a life-long partner, promotion or pay rise. An illness or depression to lift, or medical treatment to take effect. God knows. I’m having to refresh and retake this module right now. I am receiving medical treatment and I just have to wait month after month until the results of the next tests come through as the professionals experiment with different methods. How can you succeed in this ‘No End in Sight’ module? Rest in the Lord. Trust Him for His timing. He knows, better than you! You have heard a parent saying to a nervous child, “Just trust me. It will be alright.” Well, this time you may be the nervous child and your heavenly Father is saying to you, “Just trust me.” Nestle, don’t wrestle. A bird trapped inside a room panics and wildly flies at the window pane, frantically flapping its wings and bashing its beak against the glass. It won’t get out, until someone simply goes over, reaches up and opens the window. Don’t be like the panicking bird – wait for the window to be opened. It will.
God bless you – on the windowsill
Life’s Highest Qualification – Moses (02/03/17)
#5: Remember that Open Day when your (embarrassing) Dad and/or Mum took you to check out the University and especially the Department and to hear all about your preferred course option? Or that glittering prospectus that promised all sorts of success and prosperity and employment assurance if you took this course and graduated successfully? Oh my! This is it…get a loan, I really want to do this. Hahaha! They never told you that day about Module Number Two (or Module Number One, for that matter). This is the University of Life, and the Highest Qualification of all. If you had known, you would never have applied. Module Number One: No Work, or Unsuitable Work. Remember that one? Moses never forgot it. Module Number Two ….
No Recognition. Compare the Midian desert with the Egyptian capital. Obscurity for Moses. Once a prince, now a nobody. No servants. No slaves. No family. No friends. No status. No recognition. Can it possibly get worse? Bad enough when you have never had any of those, but appalling when you have had the best of them. Tough module, guys and gals. Exodus 2.16-22 covers forty years of Moses’ life. Just six verses, and five verses deals with just one day! One says he got married and had a son. Well, that’s pretty important, I would say. What about the remaining forty years? A third of his whole life? Why nothing written about that? Because nothing significant, apparently, was happening. Had God forgotten Moses? I expect he thought so. Has he forgotten you? Maybe you think so.
No. He was reshaping and remoulding, rebuilding, restructuring and remaking His “earthen vessel”. In those times of obscurity, solitude and quietness, God is still at work. Aaron’s rod budded in the darkness of the night. Dagon fell down in the darkness of the night. Jesus preached in hell in the darkness of the night. It’s such a tough module because it requires humility, and patience, and faith. What, all three? Yep! Hey, this is the toughest Degree of all, remember! John Luther said, “Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent…We have to build it piece by piece – by thought, courage, choice and determination.”
You? Someone you know? Loved one? Family member? Close friend or colleague? Job going nowhere? Illness, crisis, calamity, redundancy suddenly struck? Knocked out of normal routine into obscurity? Join Moses in the classroom! Just wait, my friend – it’s par for this course. Will it get better? See you next week if you want to know…
God bless you – erm, you are …?
Life’s Highest Qualification – Moses (23/02/17)
#4: Some more modules! “Oh great,” I hear you say, “can’t wait!” First up, the No Work or Unsuitable Work Module. Moses was a scholar, soldier and statesman. He held an impressive CV or Résumé. He was highly employable, eligible to be head-hunted and definitely bound for a six-figure salary. But … he was now where there was no appropriate work to suit his giftings, qualifications and experience. Sound familiar? Ring a few bells maybe?
Well it did for me. I found myself with a Masters Degree in Theology from Cambridge University pastoring a church of a handful of largely unskilled and unqualified folk, many facing considerable social challenges. Hmmm…why all that Greek? And philosophy? And 19th century religious life and thought? Bit of a puzzle, it all seems a bit of a waste of time. Have I missed something somewhere? No, you’re taking the No Work or Unsuitable Work Module. It happened for my three sons, all with good Honours Degrees from top English Universities, and having graduated one worked in the Union shop, the second was a furniture removal man and the third could not find specialist work in his field. This is the Virtual Voice page and many of you found yourselves with good Masters Degrees, but stacking shelves by night at Asda, waitressing, cleaning, delivery van driving, security guarding, and so on. Nothing wrong with any of those jobs, but is this what all those lectures and assignments were for? “Surely none of this is in sync with my background, qualifications and giftings?” you understandably ask yourself. Well, yes and no!
You see, my friends, this is the toughest degree of all, and now your self-esteem, self-confidence and self-motivation must be challenged. One feels a failure – I did too. In fact, so much so that when my former Director of Studies from Cambridge invited me to visit him and discuss what I was doing, I was too ashamed and embarrassed to go. I hadn’t written a novel, or got an amazing high-powered job in the City of London, nor was I lecturing in some prestigious university. I was just caring for a handful of good folk and helping them get through life on a daily basis. Not very impressive. One’s pride is hurt, and doubt and discouragement and depression and even despair can creep in.
But the hardest of all is that you just don’t know how long it will last. You are used to knowing when exams are to be sat, when assignments are due, when courses finish, and you keep going. But with this module on this course, there is no end date. You are confused. How long? Shall I stay? Shall I pack it in? But remember, the Director of Studies knows – trust Him! The No Work or No Suitable Work Module. Tough one eh?! Moses knew about that.
Next week – Module Number Two … you up for it? If so, see you in the lecture theatre!
God bless you – as you scrutinise your CV, again
Life’s Highest Qualification – Moses (16/02/17)
#3: And so we move to Stage 2 of Moses’ life. Stage One: Huge Success. Stage Two … begins with a change of location. He is moved from palace to pasture, from Egyptian court to Midian desert. Not only does he experience a change of location, but also a change of vocation. From leading men to leading sheep. He has run away for fear of his life, and now finds himself disoriented physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and mentally. You know what? God did that to me too, which is why I can write this. You see, I have been on the Highest Qualification Course in the University of Life. It’s the toughest degree of all, believe me. From cocky and confident, successful and popular school master I found myself wandering around the slums of Cairo building mosquito screens and singing songs in Arabic to kids in a nursery school, and having stammering conversations in Arabic, and being laughed at because when I was trying to talk about the condition of the heart people just sniggered because my accent made it sound like I was talking about the condition of the dog – the words for ‘heart’ القلب and ‘dog’ الكلب in Arabic are virtually identical in sound, and this foreigner’s tongue and throat just couldn’t handle it! And after three years of that humiliation I returned to the UK and began to pastor a small Pentecostal church which instead of growing, shrank in number! I had to take those modules, like it or not – and I didn’t like it! And you may have to take them too.
But listen, He’s the God of Three Days – on Friday He hung and died and to His followers it was another Day of Ichabod – the glory of the Lord had departed (1 Samuel 4.21). On Saturday nothing happened, ostensibly – a huge stone with the seal of the ruling world power on it and a couple of guards confirmed this Man was definitely dead. But on Sunday, bang! Stone rolled away, guards replaced by angels, tomb empty and that soft, serene voice saying, “Mary!” All the while when it seems it’s all gone wrong and God’s not doing anything, a) it hasn’t all gone wrong, and b) He is doing something. On Friday He was paying the ultimate price for your sin and mine. On Saturday He was preaching to departed souls and releasing them. On Sunday … well, I’m sure you know the story! There are Fridays and Saturdays on this degree course – but don’t quit, because He’s the God of Three Days and Sunday is surely coming, just as the morning brings joy after the night of sorrow (Psalm 30.5). Ask yourself, as that ancient worship leader did, “Why are you cast down? Hope in God.” (Psalms 42-43)
Friend, you’re after the Highest Qualification in the University of Life? Always remember, God Himself is the Professor and Director of Studies, and He is your personal supervisor. Remain teachable, stick the course, don’t quit.
God bless you – as you await the next results
Life’s Highest Qualification – Moses (09/02/17)
#2: True, Moses had a call, and Moses had confidence. But Moses had a collapse too. One fatal flaw. We read that when he saw one of his fellow Hebrew countrymen being beaten up by an Egyptian, he “looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no-one around…” he hit and killed him (Exodus 2.11-15). He looked ‘this way and that’, right and left, all around …but not UP!
When we are gifted and talented by the grace of God, and saved and called to serve Him, that is precisely when the temptation comes to do it in our own strength and with our own resources. A potentially fatal flaw! How often I have seen over the years young men and women with great giftings, but also with great pride because of those giftings – the character belies the gifting, and the ministry is stillborn. It leads to over-self-confidence, busy-ness, prayerlessness and a lack of dependence upon God. Samson was a typical case in point. When you start out in a new venture for God, imagine you have your right hand held high in the air, and your left hand held down low by your side. You are reaching out to God, depending upon him, not yourself. But as the ministry or project or business or whatever it may be develops the left hand begins to rise up and the right hand begins to lower. Then you reach a point of 50:50 – 50% depending upon God and 50% depending upon the structure and networks you have put in place to make it happen. Then as it continues to prosper and grow, sadly the left hand keeps rising and the right hand inevitably keeps lowering, until you find you are doing the whole thing in your own strength and resources, scarcely even giving God a look in or a mention for the credit. I have seen church after church suffer in this way with ‘successful’ leaders, and before too long down they come – it’s generally ‘gold, glory or girls’ that trips them up. Very sad indeed. A survey was done across the denominational spectrum in the UK of church leaders. The answers to one particular question revealed that the average amount of time a church leader spent alone with God each day was between four and seven minutes! Oh my goodness …. !
“Apart from Me you can do nothing,” said Jesus (John 15.5). In Moses’ case it was tragic, because he was the only one who could deliver Israel. He had the experience, the upbringing, the education, the training and the influence. Maybe you too, or someone you know, are in a similar position. I don’t mean in terms of delivering God’s people Israel, as in Moses’ case, but in executing a divine call of God. You are His person, He has raised you in exactly the way He wanted, educated, trained and nurtured you, specifically and precisely, nothing by chance or accident. You have that special job that only you can do. Watch out, my friend! Be very, very careful especially when successful. Learn from Moses – his collapse happened suddenly, not gradually, in the space of twenty four hours. And the same could happen to you.
So what happened? We shall see next week if you join me.
God bless you – when you see things happening that you don’t like
Life’s Highest Qualification – Moses (02/02/17)
#1: All over the world right now students are commencing a new semester, or new term, or new course of studies. You may be one of them! They will all be thinking their particular course is the toughest of all! But I don’t think so. The University of Life offers the hardest degree there is. Not many enrol, because it is so tough. Normally only God Himself invites, prompts or even calls and possibly commands a candidate to apply – the… reason being He has a specific job for you at the end once you qualify. Moses was one of those students. Let’s take a few weeks to examine this course and draw out some principles. (I am indebted to Steve Farrar for prompting these thoughts and ideas in his book, Finishing Strong.)
Moses’ life span was 120 years. That can be neatly divided into three stages of 40 years each. Stage One: Huge Success. Stage Two: Dismal Failure. Stage Three: Used by God. We hear much taught and preached about Stage Three – the burning bush, the plagues, the Red Sea, the wilderness wanderings and the Sinai scenario. But hey, there were 80 years before all that! Moses was privileged and knew it. He was lifted from slave society to royal court company – you can read the story if you are not familiar with it in the book of Exodus in the Bible. He knew why God had honoured him. One day he saw a fellow Hebrew being treated badly by some Egyptians, and so in he stepped, supposing that “his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him…” (Acts 7.24-25). The problem was that they did not understand that! But nevertheless he took it upon himself to devise his own plan and means of delivering his fellow countrymen, and that was by force, and in the process he killed one of the Egyptians who had been harassing his fellow Hebrew.
Moses surely had a call. The deliverance of God’s people Israel was in reality a mammoth task. It entailed taking two million slaves, the backbone and workforce of the Egyptian nation, out of the country and returning them to their homeland under his leadership! He oozed self-confidence and courage. And Moses surely had confidence. He utterly believed in himself. I know the feeling! As a 33 year old secondary level school teacher, I resigned my post, gave up my career and disappeared off to Egypt as a missionary. Hey, I was God’s mighty man to lead the Arab world to Christ! Hahaha! How about you? Full of ambition, and vision, and self-confidence and self-conviction like I was? And Moses was? Gifted, well-connected, well-resourced, successful to date? Why not, eh? You’re God’s man/woman for the moment, God’s mover and shaker.
So thought Moses, so thought I, so may you think too, or someone you know. But let’s see what happened … next week!
God bless you – in your privileged place
Life’s Highest Qualification – Moses (02/02/17)
#1: All over the world right now students are commencing a new semester, or new term, or new course of studies. You may be one of them! They will all be thinking their particular course is the toughest of all! But I don’t think so. The University of Life offers the hardest degree there is. Not many enrol, because it is so tough. Normally only God Himself invites, prompts or even calls and possibly commands a candidate to apply – the reason being He has a specific job for you at the end once you qualify. Moses was one of those students. Let’s take a few weeks to examine this course and draw out some principles. (I am indebted to Steve Farrar for prompting these thoughts and ideas in his book, Finishing Strong.)
Moses’ life span was 120 years. That can be neatly divided into three stages of 40 years each. Stage One: Huge Success. Stage Two: Dismal Failure. Stage Three: Used by God. We hear much taught and preached about Stage Three – the burning bush, the plagues, the Red Sea, the wilderness wanderings and the Sinai scenario. But hey, there were 80 years before all that! Moses was privileged and knew it. He was lifted from slave society to royal court company – you can read the story if you are not familiar with it in the book of Exodus in the Bible. He knew why God had honoured him. One day he saw a fellow Hebrew being treated badly by some Egyptians, and so in he stepped, supposing that “his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him…” (Acts 7.24-25). The problem was that they did not understand that! But nevertheless he took it upon himself to devise his own plan and means of delivering his fellow countrymen, and that was by force, and in the process he killed one of the Egyptians who had been harassing his fellow Hebrew.
Moses surely had a call. The deliverance of God’s people Israel was in reality a mammoth task. It entailed taking two million slaves, the backbone and workforce of the Egyptian nation, out of the country and returning them to their homeland under his leadership! He oozed self-confidence and courage. And Moses surely had confidence. He utterly believed in himself. I know the feeling! As a 33 year old secondary level school teacher, I resigned my post, gave up my career and disappeared off to Egypt as a missionary. Hey, I was God’s mighty man to lead the Arab world to Christ! Hahaha! How about you? Full of ambition, and vision, and self-confidence and self-conviction like I was? And Moses was? Gifted, well-connected, well-resourced, successful to date? Why not, eh? You’re God’s man for the moment, God’s mover and shaker.
So thought Moses, so thought I, so may you think too, or someone you know. But let’s see what happened … next week!
God bless you – in your privileged place
To those who are far off – Acts 2.39 (26/01/17)
#4: So to sum up and conclude this short series. Peter, in explaining to astonished and bewildered Jewish on-lookers who had gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the giving of the Law (which incidentally had resulted in 3000 dying – Exodus 32.28) announces that the Holy Spirit was now to be available to “you, your children, and all who are far off” (and 3000 found life!). A three-fold working. I believe the Holy Spirit in recent generations has been working in the same way. In 1906 what has been termed the Pentecostal Movement was born – “to you” = Christians. It impacted the world. In the 1960s and 1970s what has been called the Charismatic Movement swept across the traditional main-stream denominations world-wide – “to your children.” So far it is the Christian church that has been powerfully affected. But equally the term ‘post-Christian’ has arisen, together with the loss of primacy of the Christian world-view, and we have experienced, especially in the so-called Western world, the rapid rise of secularism, nationalism, multi-culturalism and alternative religions and world-views. But the shift has taken place, and it is now the season of the Holy Spirit coming “to those who are far off”, the Corneliuses of today, the non-churched.
Peter had to be radically changed by God to even consider frequenting the company of a non-Jew, let alone going into his house. But he was, and he did, and the gospel then came to non-Jews for the first time. It is my belief that the church today, especially the evangelical and charismatic/Pentecostal church world-wide needs to have a similarly radical change of mind-set by God Himself. In our hearts we consider anyone not of us to be unclean, unholy and therefore beyond God’s realms of movement or even interest. Big shock coming, folks! The Holy Spirit is cleansing and preparing those you would least expect (and who, for many of us, even desire) and He wants you to introduce them to the One they have been praying to and giving alms to without realising or understanding who He is. I could name such people groups, some in their multitudes around the world, in religious circles, economic circles, social circles, and more, but I must restrain myself and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you personally about who in your life is still “far off” but being cleansed and seeking God.
May you and they have angelic visitations and trance-like experiences as Peter and Cornelius and John, about whom I wrote last week. May extra-ordinary connections begin to occur in our lives, and may the gift of the Holy Spirit be released in ever-increasing measure not just to “you and your children” (i.e. the church, Christians), but to the least likely that you and I would expect. Cyrus told the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and re-build the Temple. Jesus told His people to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples of all people groups. No longer consider unclean what God has cleansed. Oh and by the way, John was in church again on Sunday – this time with his mother!
God bless you – and your Cornelius
To those who are far off – Acts 2.39 (19/01/17)
#3: I promised you a personal story! Two weeks ago I preached this message for the first time at my home church, though in greater depth than is appropriate here. At the beginning of the Service that morning a man in his early twenties appeared. The pastor appeared to a) recognise him, and b) be somewhat surprised, yet pleased, to see him. What’s the story then?
John (not his real name) had been a school friend and neighbour of the pastor’s son. The two boys had gone through school together, and spent many years in each other’s company and homes. But when the pastor’s son gave his life to Christ, an inevitable distance began to come between them as John was not interested in Jesus Christ. He was not antagonistic, but his outstanding intellect blocked his accepting the simplicity of the gospel. Instead he turned to drink and drugs and girls, as many at that stage of life in my country, the UK, do. He also excelled at sport, and was close to being selected to play hockey for England Under 21s. But again, his life style spoiled that opportunity too. John ceased to be a regular visitor to the home and the lads both went their separate ways.
The evening before the Sunday Service at which I preached about how the focal point of the Holy Spirit’s activity today is amongst “those who are far off” John, out of the blue, called the pastor. They had not had any communication for several years at this point. “Hey, John, good to hear you,” answered the pastor, “How you doing? Long time no see!” Upon which a shaky voice began to unburden his bewildered soul. Four weeks ago he had had a very vivid dream, for no apparent reason – he had not been drinking and was not drugged up that night. “Four men in bright white clothes appeared to me,” he recounted, “and said various things to me and then gave me something that I was to say involving the number five. When the moment came for me to speak, I said what I could remember. Was that right, I asked? Yes, was the reply, and at that very moment I felt my whole body being completely cleansed of my entire past, all my faults and failings, wrong decisions and choices, relationships, habits, practices, attitudes. And then I woke up, feeling a completely new person. I know it is to do with Jesus and you are the only Christian I know. Can you explain to me what is going on in my life?” He had googled the pastor’s name and located the church, scoured the internet, listened to every message from our church since that moment, and before, and so on, such was his hunger to learn more about Jesus. The pastor told him to come to see him the next day and he would talk with him after the Service. He came, driving thirty miles to an unfamiliar town to find him. As I preached I could see he was transfixed, but I had no idea as to who he was or why he was there. As soon as the Service was over, the pastor took him aside and explained the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ and there and then without any hesitation at all he surrendered his life to Christ.
There’s no exaggeration or “preacher’s licence” in that story, friends. The promise is to you and your children – the church – and to “those who are far off”. It is their day now – fellow followers of Jesus, we have been anointed, blessed, fed and favoured for a long time, but we have largely kept those privileges to ourselves and our future generations. The word of the Lord today is this – “Who is your Cornelius? Get ready to be surprised because I am cleansing those whom you have considered unclean and unholy, and I’ll be sending them to you to tell them about Me. Get ready and pray for your Cornelius.”
God bless you – as you pray and prepare
To those who are far off – Acts 2.39 (12/01/17)
#2: I am convinced that the centre of the Holy Spirit’s activity has now shifted. That is not to say that He is not fully active in and amongst all things “Christian”. He has not left the church as orphans! Of course not! And He never will. We have had over a hundred years of God pouring out His Spirit on “you and your children” (Acts 2.39) – i.e. His church, bringing salvation, personal blessing, healing, deliverance, empowering, raising and releasing of ministries, and so I could go on. But sadly with it has come competition, divisiveness, criticism, personal empire building, a hierarchical spirit, greed, moral failure, a dearth of sound Biblical teaching, erroneous doctrines, a neglect of the poor and pressing social issues, introspection and a ‘bless me and mine’ mentality. The world outside has looked on, and largely voted with its feet to stay out. But Peter’s prophecy has a third part to it – “for you and your children, and …
… to those who are far off.” God is light and light is always on the move, and if we don’t move with the light we end up in darkness. To move on from where we are will unlock a new blessing which will affect people beyond ‘you and your children’. We are seeing a new spirituality emerging – not in the sense of the worship of other gods, though there is much inclination towards that – but in the sense of God moving where we don’t expect Him to move, amongst “those who are far off”. That is an expression used Biblically for the Gentiles, non-Jews (Ephesians 2.13). Read it for us today as the non-churched. In my country, the UK, that is round 92% of the population. Sometime after he made that amazing apostolic prophetic declaration, Peter was to experience a major world-view challenge and change. He was challenged to face up to the fact that he believed anyone not like him was actually “unclean and unholy”. God thought differently. Peter had to go through a re-conversion experience – he had to realise that God had “cleansed” what he and his religious tradition considered “unclean”. In other words, God was moving in places and amongst people that he never even considered He would or could.
Folks, Christian church-going faithfuls, let me challenge you now. Whom in your heart of hearts do you consider God would never work amongst? Your workmate/s? Your family member/s? You can continue the list yourself. Well, get ready for a surprise – He’s cleansing those that are far off, and giving them extraordinary supernatural experiences, sometimes of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, sometimes of angelic visitors coming with precise instructions and directions, as in Cornelius’ case. The Holy Spirit today is moving outside of “you and your children” – church as we know it. God’s heart is not to cleanse and purify you just a little bit more than last Sunday – it is for you to be ready to explain to “those far off”, to whom He has revealed Himself, just who He is and what they need to do. You up for that?
Next week, a personal story…
God bless you – on your roof top
To those who are far off – Acts 2.39 (05/01/17)
#1: I have quoted many times the great 18th century revivalist Jonathan Edwards, who said, “The task of every generation is to discover in which direction the Sovereign Redeemer is moving, then to move in that direction.” ‘But how do I discover it?’ you may ask. Well, ”the Sovereign Lord never does anything until He reveals his plans to his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3.7) So what is He revealing to the prophets today? I want to share what I am hearing from the prophets.
Last century there was a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Azusa Street, Los Angeles, California, USA, in 1906, which lasted for around ten years. This was the origin of what became known as the Pentecostal Movement. It impacted virtually the entire world. Then in the 1960s and 1970s came what has been termed subsequently as the Charismatic Movement which affected the historically mainstream congregations who began to adopt beliefs and practices similar to the Pentecostals. This resulted in vast numbers of new and ‘independent’ churches being established.
When the Holy Spirit comes in such a way there is something deeply personal about it. It impacts you, as a believer, as a follower of Jesus. Your life is never quite the same again. Your relationship with your heavenly Father and Jesus His Son is enhanced, enriched, deepened. The apostle Peter prophesied it when he first preached in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, explaining to the bewildered by-standers the extraordinary events that were happening – “… the promise (of the Holy Spirit) is for you…” (Acts 2.39). This is what countless numbers of followers of Jesus throughout the world began to experience in a whole new way through those two ‘movements’ or outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the 20th century.
They could not keep the experience to themselves, as something entirely personal, and the result was the birthing of numerous new streams and denominations and independent churches across the continents. And so Peter’s prophecy continued to be outworked in recent generations – “…and to your children…” The Holy Spirit was being outpoured and passed on to the next generations – “your children”. But the activity has been largely contained within church circles. It has not significantly affected society and neighbourhoods and governments and nations. Yes, church life has become more vibrant, congregations who have welcomed and embraced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit have increased vastly in number all over the world, and there has been an explosion of Christian literature, and a new dynamism in Christian worship. Yet at the same time the term Post-Christianity has emerged, signifying “the loss of the primacy of the Christian worldview in political affairs, especially in the Global North where Christianity had previously flourished, in favor of alternative worldviews such as secularism or nationalism.” (Wikipedia) The outpouring of the Holy Spirit has been largely to “you and your children” – namely Christians, not society at large.
But there is a third part to the prophecy of Peter! This is where I begin to get more excited … see you next week!
God bless you – and your children
Room for Jesus? – Luke 2.7 (22/12/16)
#3: So what’s so merry about Christmas, eh? Pretty miserable story when you look at it more closely (see previous posts). Simple, my friend – though there was no room for Jesus in people’s hearts, there is still room for you in His heart. The life and death of this outsider, this despised and rejected man, this ‘man of sorrows’ who was ‘acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53.3) provides a room for you in heaven – and He is preparing it for you right now. There is room for you in heaven, for ever. There is room for you in God’s heart, for ever. Jesus said, “The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6.37) Jesus never came to this world to condemn it but to rescue all who wanted to be rescued. He came to save it, and that includes you. But as with any person in serious danger, unless they allow the rescuer to do what they have come for, they will not be rescued. God threw us all a lifeline when He threw Jesus into this world that largely hated Him. But it’s still there, if only you will grab it – He will do the rest.
A wealthy man, with one son, had a passion for art, and he collected priceless works of art in his stately home. The son was called up to fight in the Second World War. Not long after, his father received a telegram that his son had been killed in battle. Christmas came, and he was distraught and lonely, being also a widower. He derived no pleasure any longer from his precious pictures. But on Christmas Day there was a knock on the door. A soldier stood there. “I was a friend of your son, in fact I am the one he was rescuing when he was shot. May I come in?” He was carrying a large package. It was a portrait of the man’s son, which he had painted – no masterpiece, no great work of art, but it featured his son in striking resemblance and detail. The old man was overjoyed, and brushed aside all the other great works of art and placed his son’s portrait above the mantelpiece over the fire and spent Christmas sat in his chair gazing at the portrait of his son. It became his most prized possession.
The following spring, the old man died. An auction was to be held the following Christmas Day to sell off all his precious paintings, a year after he received the portrait of his precious son. The art world waited with eager anticipation. Christmas Day came. Art collectors from all over the world gathered to bid for some of the world’s finest paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled that day. The auction began with lot number one, the portrait of the man’s son. It wasn’t on anyone’s museum list. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid. Everyone was silent, restless to get on to the treasures. “Move on,” came a cry. “No, I have to sell this one first,” said the auctioneer. “Who will take the son?” Finally a neighbour of the old man offered £5 – he had known the lad. “I’ll take it,” he said. “Going once … going twice … gone!” Everyone cheered, looking forward to getting on with the real art pieces. The auctioneer looked around the room, filled with people, and announced the auction was now over. There was a stunned silence, and then an outcry. “What do you mean? We didn’t come here for a portrait of the man’s son.” The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son, takes it all.”
That’s the Christmas message. The Father in heaven says, “Whoever takes the Son, takes it all.” Take Jesus and you receive forgiveness, peace of heart and mind, hope, joy, a future, and on and on it goes. Your greatest Christmas gift awaits you – God’s own Son and all He did for you. Want a room in heaven? Going to receive Him and unwrap your present? Over to you …
God bless you – at the auction. Merry Christmas!
Room for Jesus? – Luke 2.7 (15/12/16)
#2: Many were drawn to our Outsider. But certainly not all. Those who were found hope and comfort in His strange and unusual teaching about a new Kingdom, an alternative way of living and believing. Others though hated Him and rejected Him because He opposed the system and the status quo. They hated Him because of His popularity with the people, the masses, and the common crowds. They regarded Him as a threat to their vested interests, starting with the puppet king. Even in His own home town they tried to kill Him – they couldn’t handle the fact that one of their own local carpenter lads had developed religious ideas above His station. There was no room for Jesus in His home town.
His own family, His mother and half-brothers and half-sisters thought He had gone mad, and said He was “beside Himself”, out of His mind. To the extent that He famously said, referring to Himself, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8.20; Luke 9.28) There was no room anywhere for Jesus – not in an inn to be born, and not in His home town to preach thirty years on. And it wasn’t only His home town’s people that rejected him – His whole race and nation, the Jews, refused to receive Him. One who knew Him as He grew up and who subsequently He called to follow Him, wrote later, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” (John 1.10-11).
Well, the opposition to the outsider itinerant preacher Jesus hardened as time went on, and the exclusion of Him increased, yet He lived a life of personal goodness, love, truth, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and acceptance. But people could not bear it – another who undoubtedly grew up with Him and whom also He called to follow him, once cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinner.” (Luke 5.8) And John again sums it up brilliantly when he wrote, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3.19-20) Like insects under a stone when you turn it over, or like cockroaches when you switch the light on, they run away. Fact of life, my friends – people like and choose to do wrong things and to live in the darkness, rather than accept the truth and light this Jesus brings. True then, still true today.
Result? Well, the very people He came to love and serve and seek and save and help and heal had Him executed on a cruel cross of wood. The hands that had blessed babies, healed the blind, rescued a sinking friend, washed feet and broken the Passover bread were finally pierced by nailed and pinned to a cross. This homeless man was even buried in a borrowed tomb – He began life in a borrowed stable wrapped in cloths, and He ended life in a borrowed grave wrapped in cloths. No room for Jesus in the inn, in His home town, amongst His own people.
How is this “good news of great joy,” as the angel announced at His birth? (Luke 2.10) Well, we shall see next week, by God’s grace …
God bless you – when you return home for Christmas
Room for Jesus? – Luke 2.7 (08/12/16)
#1: It’s strange, isn’t it, that this Christmas season, so full of expectation, happiness, gifts, food, parties, family get together’s, special programmes in schools and churches and on TV, special songs etc, originates in such a sad and tragic story. A young couple, in a very strained relationship, living in a land occupied by brutal foreign forces, are required to travel to register in a census around 95 miles or so (150 kilometres) away, most likely on foot along hard dusty stony roads. It probably took them at least four days. And the girl was heavily pregnant, she had gone full term and she had reached her due date. When they finally, exhaustedly arrive at their destination, no-one will take them in. So she gives birth in a cowshed, in squalor, and obscurity, with the animal’s feeding trough as a make-shift crib. That’s how Jesus Christ arrived from heaven to earth. If you think it was a rough ride for Major Tim Peake, spare a thought for the Lord Jesus Christ. From the very beginning, Jesus was an outsider – there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2.7).
Sadly the story doesn’t improve. The sense of being an outsider, of exclusion, followed Him throughout His life. He spent His formative early years as a refugee, out of His earthly parents’ culture and climate and comfort zone. When at last they were able to return to their home town, He followed His earthly father’s profession as a carpenter. There was no room for the Son of God in the business world, or the religious world. No place at Rabbinical School or opportunity for higher professional training. Just making chairs, stools, beds and agricultural implements. But at the age of 30 He became an itinerant preacher, and unlike all the others before Him He welcomed outsiders and outcasts, because He knew what it meant to be one of them. He received the friendless, the helpless, the poor, the lonely, the sick, deaf, blind, dumb, the paralysed, the mad – all people excluded by everyone else, people for whom there was no room in the inn, in their lives and homes and love and laughter. Traitors, prostitutes, cheats, the corrupt, extortionists – the unwanted in life, notorious, the great unwashed and unclean. But His heart and His hands reached out to, received and touched them. You know what? There was room in His heart and in His life for them.
Not surprisingly He divided opinion wherever He went. He challenged religious pretence and pious hypocrisy, the abuse and misappropriation of the Scriptures (which in fact He had written, but then had to learn), the greed, the self-aggrandisement and self-assertion especially amongst the religious elite. They essentially fell into two camps. We shall see next week…
God bless you – as you find your pen to complete the next census form
“If only …” – Numbers 11. 4-15 (24/11/16)
#5: Until we have learned and practise how to gather, collect and receive today, we will never be able to receive tomorrow. Until we have learned to take in the DAILY manna of what God is providing in and through what Jesus Christ is saying and doing today, we have no business thinking or worrying about what He may or may not do tomorrow. He said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own…” (Matthew 6.34). Therefore to cope with it we need our daily bread, our daily food from heaven. We need to see what Jesus is doing and to hear what He is saying, to discern and discover what is His will today, each day, every day.
Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke said, “The only way to live tomorrow is to live in faith and activity for Jesus today.” (Mark My Word). I read a simple but pertinent post recently on Facebook – it said, “Don’t wait for things to get easier, simpler, better. Life will always be complicated. Learn to be happy right now. Otherwise you’ll run out of time.” Good one! A.B. Simpson, the 19th – early 20th century Canadian theologian, preacher, author and founder of “The Christian and Missionary Alliance” wrote: “There is no place or time where Jesus is not able and willing to walk by our side, to work through our hand and minds, and to unite Himself in loving and caring partnership with all our needs and tasks and trials. In this way He proves Himself our all-sufficiency for all things. I am with you always – Matthew 28.20.”
At risk of appearing a little soppy or sentimental, let me close this series with the lyrics of the chorus of the song “One Day At A Time” by Cristy Lane –
“One day at a time sweet Jesus
That’s all that I’m asking from You.
Lord give me the strength to do every day what I have to do.
Yesterday’s gone sweet Jesus and tomorrow may never be mine.
Lord help me today show me the way one day at a time.”
God bless you – as you go and gather this morning
“If only …” – Numbers 11. 4-15 (17/11/16)
#4: The problem with “If only …” is that you might actually get what you’re craving for. But then you are still dissatisfied! The Israelites got the meat they moaned for, until they were sick of that too! (Numbers 11.31-34). God actually honoured their craving. They got their king later on, and many kings subsequently, but not many of them did them much good. David got his “If only …” – Bathsheba. Ahab got his “If only …” – a vineyard. Samson got his “If only …” – Delilah. Scary, eh? You and I may also get our “If only ..”, but it will only lead to further disappointment, dissatisfaction and more craving, because contentment, fulfilment and purpose are never found in the future tense. “If only I could move house.” You do…and then find you’ve got unfriendly neighbours, or can’t park. “If only I had more money.” You get it, and more people are asking you to help them out. “If only the church had a pastor.” You get one, and then some people don’t like him/her and you have divisions and factions. “If only we had a church building.” You get one, and then find out how much it costs to maintain. “If only the church would grow numerically.” It does – more people means more problems! “If only I could leave home and get a place of my own …” becomes “Can I come home for the weekend?” “If only the children would grow up and leave home …” becomes “If only the children would come and see us sometime.” “If only I could retire and have more time to do what I want …” becomes “If only I had more to do now I’m retired!” And so it goes on…and on …and on. As I mentioned before, drink salty water and you will always be thirsty.
Whenever we think or even pray “If only …” we are either living in the past or the future. The main point of this series is that the daily manna God provides is a daily matter. Live for today, live in the present. The only place you will find fresh daily bread, fresh Jesus the bread of life, is in the present. Remember what they said? “We remember the fish which we USED to eat …” (Vs 5). How many churches are plagued with the old brigade who are still living in the past? “Back in the good old days we used to …” “When Pastor So-and-so was here he used to …” The first church I pastored still had the couple in it who pioneered and planted it. To be honest, I got fed up with them saying, “In them days we used to …” “So what?” I would politely and silently think to myself! The past is a place for reference, not for residence.
The only question to sustain, satisfy and keep you alive on your journey through life is, “What is Jesus Christ wanting to do in and through my life TODAY? What is the present tense work of Jesus for me today, now?” Jesus only did what He saw His Father doing, and only spoke what His Father told Him to speak. How did He know? He met with Him daily. And you must too.
God bless you – today
“If only …” – Numbers 11. 4-15 (10/11/16)
#3: The answer to the age old question, “What is it?” is … Jesus (John 6.28-35). He says that He is the bread of life, the bread from heaven given by the Father. He says, “I am the answer to your craving. I am your provision and can meet all your needs. I am your satisfaction, each day, every day.” You see, it is not the church structure, or programme or pastor or minister or leadership team. It is not your ministry, or your job, or your family, or your quiet neighbours or the fine weather, or whatever that will answer your “If only…” craving and your “What is it?” questioning. Only Jesus, the true bread of life, the real manna, can and will satisfy. The real question is not, “What must we, or the church, or the leaders or minister or pastor do to satisfy people, or me, or us, or our hunger, needs, desires and cravings?” Whatever they do or provide will only lead to further dissatisfaction and more “If only…” thoughts, words and prayers. The real question is, “What is Jesus Christ doing, providing in my life today?” Each day, every day, the daily gathering, like the manna in the wilderness to sustain them through their journey. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread…” He meant more than just baked flour! It is not to be gathered once a week on a Sunday. It is not to be provided by someone else, like the pastor or minister or visiting preacher. All that will go mouldy, it will not satisfy or fulfil because it can’t and won’t, and never can or will.
The prophet Isaiah understood the meaning of this. “The Lord God …. awakens me morning by morning, He awakens my ear to listen as a disciple. The Lord God has opened My ear;” (Isaiah 50.4b-5). King David, the psalmist, knew what it meant – “In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” And elsewhere he writes, “O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water.” (Psalm 5.3; 63.1).
It is a tragic reflection of the modern day church that they resort to ‘How to…’ books, sermons, Conferences, Courses etc. It shows that people are not going and gathering their daily portion of Jesus, the bread of life, and consequently are dissatisfied and searching for answers in various programmes. The essential question to ask every day is, “What are You, Lord Jesus Christ, wanting to do in and through my life today?” Jesus Himself only did what He saw His Father doing and only spoke what His Father told Him to speak. How did He know? He gathered His daily food from heaven. If your question is, “What will the church do for me today?” Or “What will the pastor/minister do for me today?” Or “How will my needs, cravings and ‘If only’s’ be met today?” you will remain asking the same old questions and living with the same old disappointments. Drink salty water, and you will always be thirsty. Drink the fresh, clean, living water, Jesus Christ, and you’ll never thirst again. Pretty simply really!
God bless you – as the alarm bell rings tomorrow morning!
“If only …” – Numbers 11. 4-15 (03/11/16)
#2: What’s your “If only…” craving? My complaint had been about noisy neighbours, the weather, and removal vehicles and personnel and road resurfacing! The Israelites complaint had been about their food. This “manna” which they were moaning about was a strange edible substance that appeared miraculously every morning. Now they had strict instructions as to how to gather it. Each one had to go each day, except one day of the week, the rest day, and collect just enough for the day. They were not to store it, and they could not ask someone else to go and get it for them. It was not Moses their leader’s job to provide it for them. Each one had his or her own responsibility. It was God’s daily provision for each individual on the journey.
“Manna” means “What is it?” So each day, out they went and collected their bowl of “What is it?” and presented it to the one who was cooking, who most likely asked, “How would you like it today? Baked? Steamed? Fried? Boiled? Roasted?” and did their utmost best to produce a meal. Only for the family to look at the plate and say, again, “What is it?”! Friends, this is true of so many followers of Jesus Christ. “What is it?” they cry. “What’s going on? Why is this happening to me? If only this was/was not happening!” It is true of church members too. They go to the pastor or minister or leadership and say, “What’s going on in this church? What’s happening? What is it?” And just like Moses, the church leader goes to God and says, “What is it? What’s up? What’s going on? We thought You would do this or that, or stop this or that happening. Can You? Will You? Why won’t You? We thought You would …” You see, we are not satisfied, we are craving something else. We just don’t like this “What is it?” uncertainty.
The question, “What is it? Is asked throughout the Old Testament and through to the New Testament. So what is the answer to the question, “What is it?” Find out next week!
God bless you – at meal time
“If only …” – Numbers 11. 4-15 (27/10/16)
#1: A few weeks ago I was in need of a break and a rest. It had been a particularly busy season, with lots going on and lots more still needing to be done. I also have particularly noisy neighbours! So I took a break to a secluded place near a piece of woodland I own in an area of designated outstanding natural beauty. It was so quiet, and peaceful and pretty. All I could hear was the bleating of the sheep in the meadows around, the cornfields were golden, ripe for harvest – a truly wonderful sight in south east England where I live. The garden was full of flowers in their summer bloom. “How fantastic,” I thought, “If only I could live here.” But the next day it was windy, and then it rained, so I couldn’t sit out and enjoy the garden. And I thought, “If only the weather was better.” Then for the next four days removal men came to the nearby property down the small lane as one family moved out and another moved in. The peace and tranquillity were gone! And I thought, “If only they could have moved during any other week of any other year!” With that finally sorted out, a sign went up at the end of the lane saying that the road would be closed for four days for resurfacing. And I thought, “If only they could have resurfaced this road during any other week of any other year!”
I wonder, have you ever thought, or even prayed, “If only …”? Because if you have, it can be a very dangerous thing to do! Why? Because you might actually receive what you are craving for, and then how will you explain your disappointment, dissatisfaction and unhappiness? How will you pray then?
There was an occasion when the people of God had finally escaped from over 400 years of cruel slavery in Egypt. They were travelling on foot east through the wilderness area known today as the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. But they began complaining to their leader, by the name of Moses, about the lack of food. “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11.4-6)
I think there is something of the “If only…” in all of us. When something goes wrong, or doesn’t go the way we hoped or expected or wanted, we start saying, “Where’s God now? Is God really in this? If only …” Our toleration of discomfort and disappointment can be very low, whilst our capacity for complaint can be very high. Ask any pastor!
So what happened…? Find out next week!
God bless you – in your ‘quiet’ place
The Fall of Man and Original Sin – some mistaken teachings (20/10/16)
#5: Finally…! And it really is the last one in this series. Mistaken Teaching Number Five: “All die because of Adam, but all will be saved because of Christ.” Makes it easy, eh? But not so. Look more closely. The verse of Scripture used for this, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15.22) refers to bodies, not to souls or spirits. Adam died physically. Christ rose physically. So if you paraphrase it, it reads, “Everybody dies physically, just as Adam did; likewise, everybody will rise physically, just as Christ did.” That does not indicate that all will rise to a “resurrection of life” – there will be those who will rise to a “resurrection of judgement”, according to Jesus (John 5.29). Scripture makes it very clear that there will be a reckoning of all the dead, and a standing before the throne of God, and books will be opened, and people will be judged according to their deeds (Revelation 20.12-13). The only hope will be for those whose name are written in probably the most significant book ever to be written – the Book of Life. If one’s name is in that book, all well and good. If not, then all not well and good – far from it.
How do I get my name written in that book then? Best question you can ever ask in life. Simple – acknowledge and admit that you have thought, said and done things that not only fell short of your own standards, but definitely short of God’s perfect standards. Apologise to God, thank Him that He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world, not to condemn it, including you and I, but to save us from the consequences of our names not being found in that book. You see, Jesus went through thirty plus years of human life, facing the same temptations and frustrations and problems and difficulties that anyone and everyone faces, but unlike everyone else who ever has or ever will walk this earth He never once gave in to them. He lived the perfect life. And as such He therefore could take the just punishment for everyone else’s wrong doing. God is just, and justice by its very nature demands punishment for wrongdoing. God’s terms are – only death can cancel out sin and bring forgiveness (Hebrews 9.22). That is how seriously God takes sin. Like it or not, that’s God’s law, and it won’t change. Just like gravity – you may not like falling down or climbing stairs, but that’s the law of gravity and you can’t change it! There are the laws of sin and death, but there is also the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.2). To get your name written in that book, submit to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. “How?” you quite rightly ask…
Pray with me: “Dear Lord Jesus Christ, I’m not a religious person, haven’t been to church much, don’t really know hardly anything about you. I’ve never even read the Bible. But I want my name in that Book of Life. I’m sorry for falling so far short of Your standards and mark for me. I realise that I deserve punishment for all of that. I had choices, and I chose wrong too often. But though I don’t understand it all I understand enough to know that You were punished for me when You were crucified on the cross of Calvary. Thank You, thank You, thank You! Please take over my life from now on – I am yours, I give You my heart. Amen.” Now relax – your name’s just been added!
God bless you – happy reading!
The Fall of Man and Original Sin – some mistaken teachings (13/10/16)
#4: Mistakes are easily made, and very often they are made through ignorance. One simply does not know that what one is doing, thinking or saying is actually a mistake because you’ve never been told. Hence this brief series on some common Mistaken Teachings amongst Christians. These are not light matters, and need to be understood. Countless generations of well-meaning believers have been mis-taught and consequently lived missing out on the liberating truths of the Bible. Now for Mistaken Teaching Number 4: “God is angry with us because of our fallen nature, and would be justified in condemning us to hell for it.” Wait a minute! This is a slander upon the justice of God, and has led to the mistaken practice of infant baptism. Oooh…now I’m treading on some sensitive toes, eh?! Follow me through …
If we were born to sin inevitably we would have a perfect excuse for sinning. No problem! Can’t help it! Not my fault. We would never feel guilty. Yet we do. We would therefore never regret our wrong-doing, and repent, or apologise to God and change our ways. Yet billions down through the ages have, and still do today. Right now as you read this there are men and women, boys and girls of every colour, culture and creed being convicted of the sin of not believing in Jesus (that’s what the Holy Spirit does in a person’s life, so keep praying for that individual, family, people group, street, town, city, nation – John 16.8), feeling sad and sorry for their faults and failings and asking God to forgive and receive them into His Kingdom. Why? If they can’t help it? They wouldn’t even feel bad about it. Sin would simply be a regrettable necessity. “Why, it’s only human to sin.” God would never condemn us for what we could not avoid.
Having said that, make no mistake about it – everybody does sin. But that is not because of some flaw in the souls, or original sin in the nature which makes it inevitable, but quite simply because we choose to (Isaiah 53.6). Perfection of creation is no safeguard – both Adam and Eve sinned, so did Lucifer (Ezekiel 28.12-15). Perfection of environment is no safeguard – the first sins committed both in heaven and on earth were committed in perfect surroundings. So no one can blame either nature or nurture. The choice is the individual’s as to how he/she reacts and responds to the many and constant temptations to sin that come their way – the apostle Paul urges his readers then and now not to let sin reign in their mortal bodies; we can present the members of our body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, or we can present our members as instruments of righteousness to God. Our call, my friends. (Romans 6.12-13)
So I hope you managed to follow me through, because this is serious stuff. One final Mistaken Teaching next week. Will you be there?
God bless you – in your next presentation!
The Fall of Man and Original Sin – some mistaken teachings (06/10/16)
#3: Well, I appreciate this series is a bit heavier than most Christians today like! No apologies for that though! Everybody needs protein at some stage, and often it must be chewed before it can be digested. So here is some more meat for the mature. Mistaken Teaching Number 3a: “God imputes (attributes, ascribes) the sin of Adam to his future generations.” Listen, a person dies because his/her own sin, not because of someone else’s, such as parent’s or whoever. “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die,” says God through the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 18.4). And as if to press the point home he goes on to say, “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.” (Ezekiel 18.20) Earlier the young King Amaziah, who “did right in the sight of the Lord”, albeit not whole-heartedly, “… did not put their children to death, but did as it is written in the law in the book of Moses, which the Lord commanded, saying, “Fathers shall not be put to death for sons, nor sons be put to death for fathers, but each shall be put to death for his own sin.” (2 Chronicles 25.4) It is unrighteous to blame one person for the sin of another. Certainly a person’s environment and upbringing will be profoundly affected by the actions of their parents, but their sins remain their own responsibility.
Moving on from there, Mistaken Teaching Number 3b says that “God imputes (attributes, ascribes) the righteousness of Christ to a Christian.” Careful! Only Christ’s DEATH is imputed to a Christian, not His righteousness, or moral perfection. Christ’s righteousness is IMPARTED to a Christian as he/she obeys. The apostle Paul makes it clear when he wrote to the believers in Corinth that there is a process or progression of transformation into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3.18). And later in the letter he points out that we will be rewarded according to the deeds we have done, both good and bad being taken into consideration (2 Corinthians 5.10).
I appreciate this is not ear-tickling easy reading. But broadly speaking there is a dearth of sound Biblical teaching in the church in more than one continent today. People would rather hear how to get a better business or body, but the truth is that if you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (why seek it if you already have it?!), all these will be added to you (Matthew 6.33).
God bless you – as you bird watch and pick wild flowers!
The Fall of Man and Original Sin – some mistaken teachings (29/09/16)
#2: Erroneous doctrines, or mistaken teachings bind us and box us up and blind us to the very heart and nature of our wonderful loving Creator Father God. Mistaken teaching Number Two: “A child is born dead in sin, alienated from God and without knowledge of Him.” Well, as I wrote last week, whose condition is being referred to in Psalm 51.5? Answer: the mother’s, not the baby’s. Now read closely what the apostle Paul is saying to the believers in Rome, and the Holy Spirit is saying to believers all over the world down through all the ages, and you will see that it is the SIN that is dead, the child is alive! “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law SIN IS DEAD. I WAS ONCE ALIVE apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died;” (Romans 7.8-9). It is when consciousness of God’s law comes to a child, and he/she chooses to disobey it, that spiritual death comes.
When, yet again, the persistent wrangling amongst the first disciples about greatness in the kingdom of heaven rears its head, on one occasion Jesus uses a child as a visual aid, and says, “…unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18.3) Well, most of you reading this will be well familiar with the word “converted”! Change of direction, change of mind, turning around, etc. So how come Jesus tells us to “be converted” and “become like a child” if that child, or any child for that matter as He says like “a child”, is as hopelessly dead in sin as you or I are? Bit pointless really! How can you turn around from sin to become like another sinner?!
And to press my point one stage further, if the as yet unborn baby who was to become known as John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb when Mary arrived, and Elizabeth his mother herself attributes that movement not just to the baby kicking but to his joy at the presence of Mary who was carrying Jesus, if that child was already dead in sin there would be no connection with the Spirit of God! So did Elizabeth get it wrong then? (Luke 1.42, 44)
I’m not finished yet! Hear me out!
God bless you – and the next little child you see!
The Fall of Man and Original Sin – some mistaken teachings (22/09/16)
#1: From time to time I like to ruffle a few feathers. I don’t do it deliberately to be controversial or to provoke debate and argument. Far from it. The apostle Paul strongly cautions his disciple Timothy to avoid “the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge” (1 Timothy 6.20) and to the believers in Rome he wrote that they should keep their eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to what they have learned, and to avoid them (Romans 16.17). But I think probably what incenses me more than most other things is that well-meaning, sincere, devout followers of Jesus have been ensnared and trapped and bound up with teachings that may have been around for centuries, and widely taught and held, but which are contrary to the teaching of the Word of God.
In his book, “The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass (aged 37½)” the author writes about his somewhat cynical son Gerald who asks why there was no church one Sunday. They met at the local school. “Oh,” he said, “double booking – the caged bird society have it that day.” “Business as usual then!” replies Gerald. Now that’s my paraphrase, but it’s close! I encounter too many “caged birds” in the Kingdom of God. So from time to time I like to come and unlock the door and let those that want to, fly out to freedom where they are destined and intended to be. Now is one of those times!
Various mistaken teachings crept in at an early stage in the life of the Christian Church. These inevitably in turn led to wrong practices, confused thinking and worst of all the misrepresentation of God’s character. Mistaken teaching (erroneous doctrine) Number One: “A baby’s soul is hopelessly corrupt because of Adam’s sin.” Well, firstly, only a baby’s FLESH is tainted. It is clear that it is only “sin in the flesh” that God condemns (Romans 8.3). The baby’s spirit and soul are initially pure, being made by God. “God made men upright,” declares the wise writer of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 7.29). And further on he writes that “then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” (Ecclesiastes 12.7) Jesus Himself becomes indignant at His disciples endeavours to keep children away from Him, saying, ““Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10.14). How can ‘sinful’ children belong to the kingdom of God?
“Ah yes,” I hear you cry, as I once cried, “But surely it says in Psalm 51.5 that we are born in iniquity and in sin our mothers conceived us?” Yes, it does. But who’s condition is it referring to? The baby’s, or the mother’s? Substitute sin with the word ‘sorrow’, or ‘joy’ if you prefer. In sorrow did my mother conceive me. In joy did my mother conceive me. Who’s condition is it talking about? The mother’s, not the baby’s!
Well, that liberates a lot of folk who know jolly well that their little bundle of joy is not hopelessly corrupt at all through Adam’s fault, but have been caught and put in the bird cage!
God bless you – as you flutter to the door!
When It’s Time to Move On – Joshua 1.1-9 (15/09/16)
#8: Be courageous, please! We all face trials and difficulties – what counts is how we react and respond to them. If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, then follow Him! How did He react and respond to criticism, work overload, constant pressures and demands of others, tiredness, sickness and crises in people’s lives, including death of a close friend, and more? As the old hymn goes, “Take it to the Lord in prayer”. That’s what Jesus did, and you can too. But there’s more required of you as you move on …
Be careful (Vs 7). What does that mean? Well, read it! “Be careful to do according to all the law…” For Joshua, that was all the law that Moses had given. For you, my friend, it is much simpler, believe it or not. You don’t have all those Do’s and Don’t’s to rigidly stick to…and fail at! It is ‘all the law’ … that Jesus has given. Oh, what’s that then? “and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12.30-31). Too many of God’s people today have lost the plot, been led astray for whatever reason and indulge themselves in all sorts of practices which neither please God nor satisfy themselves. Type “Amen” if you want a new house, new job, new wife, new business, new…bigger…better…more prosperous lifestyle. Oh dear! Very sad really. Strange practices in the name of faith or relevance to the modern age. Type “Amen” as much as you like to the bold and often outrageous prophecies and declarations that so-called prophets and self-styled apostles make regularly, especially on social media – but… be CAREFUL first to obey what Jesus has commanded, and then the rest will all fall into place, believe me. Don’t be careless, casual and a foolish gimmick-follower.
And finally, be cautious. Hey, I’m a preacher – making it easy to remember eh?! Be COURAGEOUS, be CAREFUL, and be CAUTIOUS. How should I be cautious? Well, don’t turn to the right or to the left of those two simple commands! (Vs 7) Not rocket science, friends! Don’t need to pay to go to a three day Conference to learn that! Don’t need a course book and manual! Don’t need to fast for ages and pray for hours! Just obey God – simple! ‘Keep focused’ is what it means – in any ball game, if you take your eye off the ball you’ll be in trouble. Old Solomon sums it up well – “Let your eyes look directly ahead, and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4.26-27).
So there we are. As and when it’s time for you to move on, here are some ground rules for success and prosperity (Vs 8). Oh, and remember to speak the word, meditate on it day and night, and don’t tremble or be dismayed (Vs 8). Jesus’ most frequent piece of advice was, “Do not be afraid.” Says it all really!
God bless you – as you enter deeper into your ‘promised land’.
When It’s Time to Move On – Joshua 1.1-9 (08/09/16)
#7: Well, God’s put His cards on the table. He’s promising you His power, His presence and His provision. What more can you possibly want?! But in fairness He deserves a response from you, surely?! Well I’m telling you, He does! OK then, what?
Be strong and courageous (Vs 6). Too many wimps in God’s army in my opinion. Poor me! Pray for me! Me and my problems! The alternative trinity – Me, Myself and I! Oh come on! Grow up! The Scriptures are constantly urging us to be mature in our walk with God. Being strong and courageous does not mean being spiritually macho! There are some who are frankly embarrassing in their super-spiritual he-man/woman approach. Best turn-off ever to a non-believer! “What spirit are they on? Not the Holy Spirit, that’s for sure! Oh please God, I really don’t want to be like him/her.” No, you don’t have to be like that, thankfully.
It means being tough, resilient, enduring the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as William Shakespeare put it (Hamlet). Jesus just called it tribulation! And then calmly says, “But don’t worry about it, I’ve overcome it!” (John 16.33). Elsewhere He calls it “stumbling blocks” (Matthew 18.7) Listen my friend – when you signed up as a soldier in the mighty army of the Lord you didn’t sign up for unlimited visits to the local church Accident and Emergency Department! Tissue boxes are in small supply in the real church. You will get bashed and buffeted, disappointed, disillusioned, let down, insulted, misunderstood, hurt…and I could go on. It’s par for the course, my friend. If you signed up to follow Jesus for a comfortable, carefree, cushy, cosy life, then whoever signed you up tricked you! Throughout both Old and New Testaments in the Bible we find the words, “Take courage!” “If God is for us, who can be against us? “ (Romans 8.31) I know…the devil! Sure, but “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4). Choice is yours – whom do you want to win? So toughen up. Wear the armour God has given you (Ephesians 6.10-18) and you’ll be fine.
There’s more required in your response…. See you next week. Sorry this is a) a day late, and b) a little shorter than usual. But I just heard the cancer in my body is resisting the treatment and I’ve been a bit pre-occupied. Tears and handkerchiefs? No thanks. Prayers, yes please! So I can be strong and courageous.
God bless you – as you examine the cards in your hand
When It’s Time to Move On – Joshua 1.1-9 (31/08/16)
#6: My wayfaring friend, God also promises His PROVISION on your journey. His POWER is yours, His PRESENCE is with you, and so is His PROVISION. “I will not fail you.” (Joshua 1.5) I wrote a song not long ago, and it is the title track on my most recent album. It is called “I’ll Never Let You Down”. If I can manage the technology I will try and include it with this post. Here are the lyrics –
I’LL NEVER LET YOU DOWN
You’re my glory and the lifter of my head
You’re my comforter and my living bread
You restore my soul and make me whole
Show me the way that I should go
And you’ll never let me down
You’ll never let me down
You’re my song in the night and my joy when morning comes
You’re my radiant light, so bright in the darkest times
You’re the star that guides, all I need you provide
You give hope every day and a joy deep inside
And you’ll never let me down
You’ll never let me down
You’re the lily of the valley, rose of Sharon, balm of Gilead
And your banner over me, well…you’ve always had
And it says “You are mine, and I am yours
I called you out from behind closed doors
And I’ll never let you down
I’ll never let you down.”
You’re the apple of my eye and my desire from before all time
I longed for you with all my heart and I set you free to be a part with me
I gave you all I had to give, My precious Son so you could live with me
And I’ll never let you down
I’ll never let you down
2013 Words and music by Peter Marchand
God promises that He will not fail you, He will never let you down. Many of you know what it means when the rains fail. Or the power fails. We recently held a major open-air event, and just as the most senior dignitary arrived, the music director hurried up to me and mouthed “We’ve no power – it’s gone.” I just mouthed back, through a gritted teeth grin, “Just fix it!” What had happened is someone had decided to remove one of the main connectors from a power socket in order to charge her phone! It got spotted and fixed quick enough – just! But for 15 minutes the power failed. God will not fail you even for one second, let alone fifteen minutes. So when you are growing weary, and thinking you just can’t go on, He will resource you again. Oh I could tell you so many stories of times when I have been tempted to think, “That’s it, I can’t go one.” And God just steps in and says, “I will never fail you.” Remember the heavenly deposit account, don’t rely on the earthly current account.
God bless you – as you make another withdrawal!
When It’s Time to Move On – Joshua 1.1-9 (24/08/16)
#5: “Hey! Hey! We’re moving on!” Anyone remember that? We used to sing it at The VOICE. Much of this message, like that song, was birthed in those great pioneering days, so this is genuine first-hand stuff. It is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6.18) so when He makes a promise, He can’t break it. He promises His POWER when we up and move on. But that’s not all He promises…
He promises His PRESENCE. “I will be with you.” (Joshua 1.5). My journeying friend, you’re not alone. Recently I was in a very new and strange environment. I did not know anyone, and the only people who knew me were otherwise occupied. I hovered around the place where I knew I was to sit. I was not dressed as I normally am, as it was a highly prestigious occasion, a Court which has met every year since 1486 – yes, 1486! So there I stood, with gown and hood resplendent, pretending to be cool and confident, half smiling at nobody as everyone was talking to somebody else. I couldn’t even pretend to be messaging someone as that would have been very frowned on! And all of a sudden I felt a strange comforting warmth, as if an arm was being put around my shoulder, and a voice whispering, “Don’t worry, I am with you!” I knew Who it was. About a minute later, the most senior member of that Court left the people he was talking to, walked over to me and greeted me and started chatting. “Hello Peter, how are you?” he kindly enquired. “Er…a bit nervous actually,” I squeaked in reply. “What?!” he exclaimed, “after the way you preached in the Cathedral the other week?!” I was comforted, to say the least.
When we break new ground it is always challenging. But listen, you and I are not alone in being the recipients of the promise of God’s PRESENCE. God said the same to Abram, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, the Israelites, Solomon, Jeremiah, the first followers of Jesus, the apostle Paul and to every follower of His ever since. Good company, eh? So when you’re feeling a bit lost and lonely, and you are tempted to think, “Oh help, have I made the right decision? Should I really have set out along this path, I was more comfortable and content where I was, just remember, Don’t look back, don’t turn back, press on, and God is with you.
God bless you – as you hover!
When It’s Time to Move On – Joshua 1.1-9 (17/08/16)
#4: So if you’ve picked yourself up, and you’ve stepped into the river, and remarkably you’ve crossed and entered into a whole new realm – house, job, career, relationship, whatever – and with your eyes refocused on your eternal destiny, what can you expect? Well, you can expect the promises of God to be fulfilled. When someone questions you with “What has God said to you?” don’t wobble with uncertainty, but affirm what He has said! I’ve spoken with so many who, when I ask that same question, their eyes go up to the ceiling or down to the floor (I call that the “ceiling and carpet look”!), their face begins to colour up, and their mouth begins to murmur and mumble like a mouse not “making mighty music in the moonlight”! It is said that God is omnipotent – i.e. He can do everything, He is all powerful. Hmmm…actually that’s not entirely true. “Shriek! Blasphemer! Not reading any more of this – he’s lost it now, this guy, gone too far. Heretic! Where’s the nearest stone I can throw?” Hey, wait a minute – wise up! God says of Himself that it is IMPOSSIBLE for Him to lie (Hebrews 6.18). So there’s one thing He says He CAN’T do! “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23.19). So with that now clear, this is what God says to you now – these are His infallible promises:
First up – No-one will be able to stand before you all the days of your life (Joshua 1.5). Oh my, that changes everything if you really believe it. Jesus said, “Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4.4) So God promises you His POWER as you move on and press through. This doesn’t mean you can brag and swagger about telling your boss he or she can’t tell you what or what not to do! I once was a Secondary School teacher. One particularly awkward student gave his life to Christ one weekend. I thanked God for that! The following week he submitted a piece of work which at best, and in one of my most generous and gracious of moods, I marked 13/20. When he received it back, he looked at the mark, and then at me, and simply said, “That’s wrong. You can’t give me that mark.” “I beg your pardon,” I replied, somewhat taken aback. He repeated, “That’s wrong. You can’t give me that mark.” “Why not?” I replied. “Because Jesus now lives in me and so He wrote that essay and He is perfect, so therefore you should have given me 20/20.” I didn’t thank God for that! I could have punched the lad’s nose in! (But I didn’t!) When God promises His power and says no-one can stand before you, He is not telling you to be foolish and irresponsible. I heard of another who went into an estate agent and made an offer on a very expensive house. Once his bank details and ability to repay the mortgage was investigated and found to be completely out of his range, he simply said, “Oh, I have a rich Father – He’ll pay!” The estate agent was not impressed – and the man did not get the house! What God means is, “Trust me, and I will lead you all the way, in my time, and in my way, and no-one can prevent that.” Be courteous, gracious and respectful at all times, but don’t let others who cannot see what you can, or believe what you do, deter you.
More infallible, unchanging and unchangeable promises next time, God willing – see you then hopefully.
God bless you – in your assignment writing and house hunting!
When It’s Time to Move On – Joshua 1.1-9 (20/07/16)
#2: So the past is dead and gone. It shaped where you are. What now? Simples! Get up and go! “Arise!” says God to Joshua (Vs 2). In modern parlance that’s “Get off your backside! Get up!” If you prefer it more posh and ‘spiritual’, “Why don’t you rise up unto your feet?” My friend, a change of position must occur if you’re going to move on. I know of no-one who advances sitting down in their chair. That change may be physical, it may be mental, emotional, social – but things must change. And at whatever level it is, you are going to have to shift position if you’re going to move on. Movement must take place. Action is required – a change of stance, of perspective, of viewpoint. And once you’re standing you can’t stay still. You can sit as long as you like, but you can’t stand as long as you like! You’ve got to move.
“Cross this Jordan,” he says (Vs 2). There’s a barrier in the way, like a big swollen, flooding river. There’s a dividing line between where you’ve been, where you are and where you could be. “This Jordan” says it’s there, right in front of you, under your nose. He doesn’t say, “That Jordan,” over there in the distance somewhere. No! You can see it, right in front of you, within in your reach, at hand. Friend, there’s a dividing line between where you’ve been and where you going. You’re on the verge, the demarcation line. Behind you lies the wilderness. Sure, God has been with you there, miraculously, marvellously, wonderfully – leading you, guiding you, protecting you, providing for you, speaking to you, training you, teaching you to hear His voice, to fight victoriously, and so on. But…
… not as fully and fruitfully as He plans for you. Ahead of you lies the “promised land, flowing with milk and honey”. Hmmm…lots of cattle and sheep and goats for the milk, and lots of flowers and bees for the honey. The future is lush. Cities and farms and vineyards already there for the taking – you won’t have to dig the land and plant the vines and make the bricks and build the walls and houses. It’s already been done, God has gone before you and prepared the place for you. Sure, you will have to fight to possess it, but it’s there, waiting for you. Yes, there are giants – but what’s a giant in comparison with Jehovah?
Recently I crossed another Jordan. I found myself in places I had feared and dreaded for decades. But all I had to do was to step boldly in – to pulpits, and courts, and Council Chambers and all sorts already prepared for me! Already prepared – there for the possessing! So get up, my friend, and cross that barrier – soon hundreds of athletes in the Olympic Games will be breaking their barriers, setting records and achieving their personal bests. Come on, go for it!
God bless you – as you kick the chair!
When It’s Time to Move On – Joshua 1.1-9 (13/07/16)
#1: Life is a journey. There are times of pioneering and breaking new ground, and times of digging in and settling, times of starting and times of stopping and watching and waiting. Seasons are built into God’s creation – the dry season needs the wet season, spring needs summer and winter. (Genesis 1.14; 9.22; Ecclesiastes 3.1-8). We human beings are pilgrims, sojourners, travellers. Personally I am a pioneer – I get bored after a while. To me a groove can become a grave – life going round and round in the same old way is deadly to me! I tend to live at least six months ahead of where I actually am – I live something long before I experience it. Already only today I was dreaming with a fellow church leader of what we might do together in 2018! I’m excited already! But not everyone is like that. Many prefer the comfort of familiarity, the tried and tested and accepted, accustomed pattern, the norm. Neither one is right and the other wrong. We are made differently in terms of personality. But … with God there will always be occasions “when it’s time to move on” – hence my title. Let’s learn from God as He addresses and advises someone whose time it was to move on.
Joshua is about to embark on a new journey. You may be about to set off into new territory – a new job, a new home, a new career, a new course of study, a new relationship, a new baby, a new opportunity has presented itself to you. What is God saying?
Firstly, “Moses my servant is dead.” (Vs 2) Well, that’s a bit of a harsh start, eh?! His hero, his mentor, his father figure, the one he followed and most likely modelled himself on has gone the way of all flesh. And God just rubs it in. You’re on your own now, mate! Exactly! As you embark on a new journey, you have to accept that the journey so far is over, behind you, history, gone. A phase in your life, a stage, a season, a relationship, a ministry, a home, a family member is over, finished. I remember well how I stood in my third and final son’s bedroom the first night he had left home to go to university and realised that’s it, the fun, the laughter, the jokes, holidays, exams, meal times, Christmas, birthdays were over – never the same. It hurts. I remember too when the telephone rang two weeks after we had buried my father, and the voice said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you, but your mother died in the night.” What?! All of a sudden no more living parents – both gone, within two weeks of each other. Life will never be the same again. No, it certainly won’t. Grieve, Yes. Cleave, No.
Listen. There are people and places that are essential in their day, but their time comes to an end. They have been good, valuable, vital, fun, enjoyable, necessary – but it’s over now. Look at those incredible booster rockets that the space programmes use – vast, huge, enormously expensive and powerful rockets that blast the module off the earth’s surface, or away from the space station, or whatever, and then are jettisoned. They’ve played their part. Moses had played his part – he was dead. Jesus said, “First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain within the ear.” First…then … then… (Mark 4.28) Things in our lives become chaff and need to be blown away. Hannah took a new robe for her young son Samuel each year when she went to visit him. But she never made it the same size, because he was changing, and growing. You are changing and growing, and what you wear, what you surround yourself with must change and grow with you. (1 Samuel 1.18) If you put a small fish in a small pond it will stay small. If you put a small fish in a big pond it will grow. “TODAY if you will hear His voice…” (Hebrews 3.15; 4.7). “Give us THIS day our DAILY bread…” (Matthew 6.11). Yesterday’s bread is already stale and probably going mouldy. The apostle Paul forgot what lay behind and pressed on (Philippians 3.13). Discern the day you are living in.
So thank God for everyone and everything that has brought you to this point, but recognise that when it’s time to move on, you must also leave behind. Having said that, though, some will go with you – so be careful whom you jettison.
God bless you – as you grieve and leave!
Lessons from Manasseh – 2 Kings 21 (06/07/16)
#5: True genuine repentance releases God’s mercy and forgiveness. But there’s more we can learn from this once grotesque life of King Manasseh. And the first is this – your past life does not exclude you from a present or future relationship with God. The apostle Paul, author of a large part of the Bible’s “New Testament”, having listed a number of unrighteous acts, writes, “Such WERE some of you… BUT…” (1 Corinthians 6.9-11, bolding mine). Massive, significant transformation can take place in a person’s life if they want it. He talks about being washed – great picture. I have two little dogs – they are terriers by breed. And terriers have an irrepressible love of other animals’ poo (excuse the colloquialism!) – fox, cat, rabbit, tortoise even, whatever – delicious to a terrier! Well, you can imagine the aroma when we’ve finished our daily walk…so, under the hose pipe they go and they are WASHED. Then they are welcome back in the house and our company. Friend, there’s a divine hose pipe ready and waiting if you feel you need a wash, or you find people are not too keen on your company and your aroma. Manasseh went under it in his dungeon and he came out washed, and was restored.
“Yeah, but your dogs just go back for more the next day, don’t they?” I hear you say. Yes, they do. But you needn’t, nor need your friend or relative, or neighbour. My dogs are just that, they are dogs, you are a human being, totally different, you’re the highest of God’s creation. He saw that “it was good” when He created animals etc, but He said, “It is VERY good,” when He created human beings, because unlike all other creatures they are able to communicate with Him and have a free will. (Genesis 1.25, 31). They are different because they are made “in His image” or “to be like Him” and He has set eternity in their hearts (Genesis 1.26; Ecclesiastes 3.11). Human beings have a conscience, no other creature does. You see, God can and will set anyone free from habits and attitudes they don’t desire, if they so desire. No doubt Manasseh recalled moments of sin and wickedness, and experienced great and grievous guilt, but God’s forgiveness set him free from that. And it sets anyone free – deliverance accompanies forgiveness. So no need for the hose pipe day after day!
A circus elephant is chained when it is young so that it can’t wander. The same small chain keeps it when it is adult because it thinks it can’t escape. Likewise you can be chained to a memory, or a habit or an attitude or a relationship which you regret and loathe. No need. Jesus’ last words before He died were, “It is finished.” He did not say, “I am finished,” because He knew He would rise again, and He did. What He was in effect saying was, “I have ended the power and control over you that you want to be free from. He came to “destroy the works of the evil one,” according to His best earthly friend, a fisherman by the name of John who spent three years in close company with Him, so he should know – He watched Him do it, again and again! (1 John 3.7).
The name Manasseh literally means “Forgotten.” God literally forgets your repented sins (Psalm 103.11-12; Hebrews 10.17) and gives you a whole new start. How do I know? Because He did it for me.
Thanks for following me through on this one. Please feel free to take any of these simple teachings and pass them on, preach them, teach them, share them however you can. There’s no copyright on the Word of God. But please don’t make money from them. [PS if you do not have a Bible and want to check out the references I use, google on Biblegateway and the rest is easy].
God bless you – free from the hose pipe and chain!
Lessons from Manasseh – 2 Kings 21 (29/06/16)
#4: After all those years of atrocities – murdering prophets, sacrificing babies in fire, practising witchcraft and satanism, erecting foul idols everywhere, including the holy city of Jerusalem, practising immorality in his own life and leading his nation to do the same – was Manasseh forgiven by just saying, “Sorry”?
No! He was forgiven because he repented. True repentance releases God’s mercy and forgiveness. Thomas Watson said, “Repentance is the vomiting of the soul.” In other words, from deep down inside you loathe what you did, and given the opportunity to do it again, you wouldn’t. Your sin repulses you, you are sick of it. You really want to change, and to demonstrate your change of heart you want to change your behaviour.
There are four ingredients in true repentance. Firstly, pangs of conscience – you know and feel that you’re wronging God. You have a sense of sorrow, sadness or remorse over the wrong/s you have committed. The apostle Paul referred to it as Godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7.8-11). King David experienced it (Psalm 51.1-4). Note, he confessed to God, not to a person. The wayward son of Luke 15.21 realised he had sinned against heaven, as well as against a person/people.
Then there’s the need to mentally reassess – to rethink your life style and behaviour. It is literally to think again, to rethink, to begin to see things from God’s perspective (Ephesians 5.10, 17). It involves an emotional reaction too – it’s not just a mental exercise. You really do care about what you’ve done. And finally it requires an act of the will – one must do something about it. John the Baptist challenged his hearers to “bear fruit that befits repentance” (Luke 3.8) – i.e. your behaviour will change.
Manasseh demonstrated all these, and so he was forgiven by the grace of God (2 Chronicles 33.12-16). In my country today the emphasis is on ‘profusely apologising’, and an empty statement is made publicly. That will not incur God’s forgiveness! We had a young boy as a neighbour some years ago. He loved to kick a football around in the street outside, infuriating the neighbours whose cars were used as goal posts or touch lines. One day his friend’s ball landed outside our basement door. I would not give it back at first. Then our neighbour‘s little lad said, “Just say Sorry and he’ll give it back.” He said Sorry, and I did give it back. I don’t think he was repentant, but at least he had begun the process! Manasseh completed the process, and so can you, and so can I, and so can anyone.
God bless you – and your neighbour!
Lessons from Manasseh – 2 Kings 21 (22/06/16)
#3: History testifies to there having been some appallingly wicked people in authority down through the ages. One of them was certainly Manasseh. He did evil (2 Kings 21.2), he rebuilt pagan shrines which his father had destroyed (vs3), he erected altars for the worship of Baal, most likely the devil himself (vs 3), he championed religious diversity but forbade the worship of Jehovah (vs 4-5), sacrificed his son in fire (vs 6), practised witchcraft and divination and dealt with mediums and spiritists (vs 6), and built a massive phallic symbol kind of idol and placed it right in the Temple, which was built as the dwelling place of God. Wow! Can it get much worse than that?
Well, God is slow to anger and swift to bless. But please note, dear reader, God does get angry. I like to think that there is an invisible line drawn and once we cross over that, we begin to incur the wrath of God. Never put God to the test. Manasseh did. And God responded by sending a more powerful army, which overwhelmed the city, put a hook in his nose – not for trendy fashion purposes, I hasten to add – and imprisoned him in a foreign land (2 Chronicles 33.10-11). God is bigger and more powerful than any man, and will prove Himself to be when necessary.
But when he was in distress, literally when he was “hemmed in, in the dungeon”, this wicked man begged and entreated God, humbled himself and prayed – sincerely and genuinely (2 Chronicles 33.12). And God heard and was moved, and Manasseh is released and restored, and returned as king of Judah, and dies peacefully. In other words, God forgave him. If you read the passage, note the progression “Therefore … when … when … then …”
“But that’s not fair,” I hear you cry! Many people really do not like God’s forgiveness of evil but repentant people. The prophet Jonah didn’t. But hey, too bad! That is God, like it or not. He IS love (1 John 4.8). We are not just told that God loves, but that He IS love – in other words, He cannot help but love. Be careful! Our hearts are all made of the same material as Manasseh’s – just as corrupt, wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17.9). Every one of us has the potential to do evil and sin. Except for the grace of God, who knows what we might do under the same circumstances? A king aged twelve, a Godly father no longer alive, and surrounded and influenced by wicked people.
Enough for now…but I’ve not finished with this one yet!
God bless you – loved one!
Lessons from Manasseh – 2 Kings 21 (15/06/16)
#2: Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem so Jehovah could have a place where His name and His presence dwelt, and where His people could come and worship Him. Manasseh erected in that very place altars for the worship of repulsive, imported, foreign, pagan gods. He made his own son pass through the fire. In the valley of Hinnom there was a huge hollow iron idol, with arms outstretched and fire raging inside until it was white hot. At which point people in frenzied dance would come and toss their first-born sons. He practised witchcraft, used divination, dealt with spiritists and mediums. Yet he had a Godly father (Hezekiah), he knew there was only one God, he knew the first commandment, he knew stories of God’s greatness, glory, might, majesty, power, and holiness. Yet he deliberately, consciously chose to turn his back on it all. Not only did he adopt and equal the hideous practises of the inhabitants of the land, he exceeded them. And he made the people he ruled participate – and in the holy city of Jerusalem, God’s special place, in particular.
We make choices…and God responds. Numbers 32.23 says, “…behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out.” In Manasseh’s case, first God says He will bring such calamity on Jerusalem and Judah that “whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle.” (2 Kings 21.12). He says He will flatten Jerusalem and wipe it clean, turning it upside down like a plate. Did that check Manasseh? No! Tradition holds that he put Isaiah the prophet in a hollow log and had him sawn in half because he (Manasseh) did not want to hear the voice of God cautioning and warning him (Hebrews 11.37).
Many of us know friends, relatives, loved ones who may not be as wicked as Manasseh, but who have been taught and raised in the knowledge and fear of God, yet seem in adulthood to simply reject their upbringing and almost defiantly adopt habits, attitudes and lifestyles which they know full well are contrary to God’s ways. Many of us live in countries where to terminate an unwanted child before birth is frankly commonplace and widely accepted.
What was Manasseh’s obituary? Is this the end of the story? Did he get away with it and die peacefully? Hmmm…. See you next week, I hope!
God bless you – as you hear the word of the Lord
Lessons from Manasseh – 2 Kings 21 (08/06/16)
#1: I had a great neighbour for many years, the sort of guy you really hope will be in heaven when the time comes because he was/is such a good bloke, but he simply wouldn’t receive salvation because he often said, “Pete, I’m not good enough.” True, he wasn’t! But who is?
Two men were trapped on a cliff edge. A fire was raging to the left, to the right, and behind them. There was no way of escape, except to jump. But in front was a horrendous drop to a certain death. The only possible hope was to run and jump and perhaps reach the cliff opposite. They discussed who would jump first. Finally, as the fire crackled all around them, the first stepped back, drew a deep breath and sprinted to the edge of the cliff. Up he went and was doing well. But sadly, having got about half way across, down he went. The end. The second guy watched with horror. So he took a longer run, and printed faster and jumped much harder, and wow, he was soaring. It looked like he was going to make it. But just two metres from the cliff opposite he began to go down. He never made it. Question: was he better off in the end than the first man? Answer: no. They both ended the same way. One only reached half way, the other almost got there – but in the end, neither did. However righteous or unrighteous my friend or anyone else may be, we’ll never make it in our own strength.
Look at Manasseh. I mean, just how bad can someone be? He was the king, ruling God’s people from an early age, for 55 years, thus influencing a nation for over half a century. Imagine a corrupt, ruthless, immoral, God-hating, Christian-despising President or Prime Minister of your country…from now until 2071! That’s probably the rest of your life! This man did serious evil. He was sexually perverted and sacrificed innocent, helpless children (the abominations of the Canaanites – Vs 2). He rebuilt places for the worship of false gods on the tops of high hills and mountains, which his father had destroyed. He erected altars for the wicked god Baal, often regarded as the devil himself, made wooden symbols of a female goddess believed to be huge phallic symbols (Asherah), served the host of heaven and worshipped and generally encouraged and accommodated the worship of any number of pagan gods, generally with explicit sexual activities. But…he did NOT allow the worship of the LORD Jehovah.
It gets worse, folks. If you can stomach it, look in next week … because there is a massive lesson to learn, well, loads of lessons to learn actually …
God bless you – on your cliff edge!
What is the Church? – Matthew 16.18 (01/06/16)
#5: Well, I was doing well now in this Christian Tradition. The trouble was, no-one else was doing as well as I was! They didn’t do this, and didn’t really believe that, they didn’t know the other, and I walked out of meetings led by women, and left an international church because St Veronica was mentioned! Then one day someone said to me, “Peter, if you carry on like this you’re going to be very lonely!” And that struck home. I had become a Pharisee, or was I a Sadduccee? Maybe a zealot? No… a bigot! Hmmm… where do I turn to now?
The third strand of the Church is what is sometimes referred to as the Pentecostal or Charismatic Tradition. Oh no! The happy clappies! The tongues jabberers! The ecstatic utterers! The healing brigade! The shouting devil-troublers and demon-bashers! No self-control, no decency and order, dodgy theology, if any theology at all other than Jesus Saviour, Healer, Baptiser and Coming King! Well, actually that’s a pretty good start! Well, be careful… This tradition is not based around an institution with the sacraments central (Catholic). Nor is it based around pure doctrine with personal commitment of faith in Christ (Protestant). So what then is the Pentecostal/Charismatic strand of the three-fold cord which cannot easily be broken? (Ecclesiastes 4.12)
It consists of disciples of Jesus Christ who have committed themselves to believe in Him and also to follow Him, and who are working that out within the context of community/church. A priesthood of all believers, men and women, young and old. Salvation is personal but worked out communally. Leadership is not merely those who are ordained (priest) or theologically trained (minister) or exclusively male, but those who say, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11.1) Women can lead because women did and do follow Christ. At the centre of the building, if there is one, is not an altar, nor a pulpit…it may be anything depending upon what the Holy Spirit is saying and doing – possibly the instruments of worship, possibly a lectern, possibly a table for Communion, probably space for prayer, or for dancing or for a portable baptistery. It will vary depending upon the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The only relevant factor at a Service/Meeting is “What is God doing? What is God saying?” and then doing it and saying it. In other words, the Holy Spirit is the determining factor, the defining element, and not the institution, the liturgy, the doctrine etc. Therefore, what happens one time will not necessarily happen another time, but something else will.
In my experience it is hard to find such places. Personally I have encountered them in parts of the world where congregations are new, and young in faith, where there is not much money or material resources, no availability for training, and people just look to God and depend on His Holy Spirit because there isn’t much else to rely on. Also in my experience, those who are apparently of one tradition are most likely to be of another in reality – i.e Protestants operate as Liturgicals and Pentecostals as Evangelicals. It is not important … what is important is this –
In the weaving together of all three strands we have a picture of the three-fold working of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They respect, honour, love and serve one another and together are God. In the same way so should all who claim the name of Christ and are called by His name respect, honour, love and serve one another, rather than despise, suspect or even deny one another. It is a three-fold cord …
God bless you – in your strand!
What is the Church? – Matthew 16.18 (18/05/16)
#3: My mother came from the Christian Tradition I wrote about last week. My sister belongs to that Tradition. But that is only one strand of the three-fold cord. As time went by what is often referred to as the Protestant or Reformed, or Evangelical Tradition emerged for a number of reasons which are beyond the scope of this post. In this, salvation, or being saved from the power and consequences of sin, comes from being justified (being in a right relationship with God) by faith, and not by belonging to the right institution. In other words, it is a matter of personal commitment of faith in Christ. “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” “By grace you have been save by faith.” And there are many more! (Ephesians 2.8-9; Romans 10. 8-9, 13).
I moved into this strand in my early twenties. I had been a faithful church-goer, I believed the words of the Nicene Creed which we recited each Sunday. But it wasn’t really helping! And the harder I tried to get things right, the more I messed things up! Until I realised I was never going to get things right. I wrote a “Rock Mass” and performed it, and the words of one of the songs went like this:
“Every morning and every night
I come to you, Lord, ‘cause things just ain’t right,
This is the way I was taught at my school
But right now, Lord, I feel…just a fool.
I think over my times and all my mistakes
Things I’ve let go, the way I’ve wasted all my breaks;
I offer you my troubles, Lord, each morning and each night,
And I tell you once again, Lord, things just ain’t right.
I was brought up to believe in the power of prayer,
When everything failed, you still did care,
But all of the time, Lord, when I lay my sins bare
It seems to me, Lord, you just ain’t there.
I’ll try once again, Lord, I’ll put it to you now,
All that I’m asking is that you’ll just show us how.
Please make it more easy, I give up on my own,
Come now and tell me, I’ve had enough all alone.”
Well, He did! Let you know next week if you’re around …
God bless you – and your Rock Mass!
What is the Church? – Matthew 16.18 (11/05/16)
#2: Some years ago I was a missionary in Cairo, Egypt. It was a tough and lonely time spiritually. At one point I quietly said to the Lord, “I would love some fellowship.” Within a few days I found myself in the slums of Cairo alongside an American monk. We naturally got on well, sharing the same pressures, interests, sense of humour, care for the poor, and so on. After a few days he said, “Peter, can we pray together sometime?” Shriek! I was a die-hard Pentecostal and he was a Roman Catholic monk! I thought, “I don’t know how to pray with a monk. Do I cross myself, genuflect, say Hail Mary? Help! What do I do?” But as I pondered on this predicament, I was reminded of my recent prayer for fellowship. Hmmm…I wasn’t expecting this! Well, we met, and we prayed, and we just spoke to God together and God quietly began to reveal to me He loved this monk as much as He loved this missionary! We continued to pray together for the next three years. We are still in touch with each other 32 years later! (I might add that he was probably the gentlest, humblest and meekest person I have ever known. He once said, “Peter, can you pray for my anger problem?” I thought, “If you’ve got an anger problem, then what have I got?!!!)
The point of my story is this: we can easily slip into the thinking that only our tradition is Christian, and all others are not really. But when you are living in a Muslim country and culture your perspective changes, and so does your understanding of who really constitutes the church in Jesus’ mind. So where was my friend coming from? The Catholic, or Sacramental or Liturgical Tradition is based on the belief that it was instituted by Christ through Peter (Matthew 16.18). That continues via apostolic succession through the laying on of hands, or ordination. Now, because it was instituted by Christ, one must do what He did, and it cannot be changed. For example, Holy Communion can only be administered by someone properly “ordained” – i.e. linked up to the original source through the laying on of hands. Salvation, in this tradition, is only possible through that institution or church. The priest, or ordained man represents Christ to the people and can therefore administer the bread and the wine. The Service always leads up to the focal point, Mass, or Communion. The centre of the building is the altar, where the Communion is celebrated. A woman cannot be a priest because the priest represents Christ and Christ was a man.
Now this may sound strange and alien to you. But does it to Jesus? There were converts from Judaism and converts from the Gentile, non-Jewish world in the early church. They both carried their understanding with them into the expression of their new found relationship with Jesus Christ. At first the Jewish Christians, as they are referred to, continued to meet in the Temple – very Jewish! But they were believers in Jesus now. By the time the apostle Paul is writing, all sorts of Gentile practices were being carried into the new-found faith. But they were still followers of Jesus Christ, and therefore part of His church. They disagreed and argued then as so often they do today. But they were still part of the church.
No wonder Jesus’ longest recorded prayer shortly before He paid the ultimate price for us repeats the cry “that they may be one” (John 17. 13, 21, 22). Don’t write me off, and don’t write others off simply because you come from a different background – that does not necessarily make you right and everybody else wrong! It’s a three-fold cord, my friend. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (John 1.12)
God bless you – in your ‘Cairo slum ’!
What is the Church? – Matthew 16.18 (04/05/16)
#1: Jesus only used the word ‘church’ three times, and two were in the same sentence! (Matthew 16.18; 18.17) So what did He mean? More than two thousand years later His followers have essentially fallen into three groups world-wide. Despite His only additional commandment to the two foremost commandments, namely to love one another as well as to love God wholeheartedly and one’s neighbour as oneself, and despite His final pleas to His heavenly Father that we would be one (John 17) the majority still regard their tradition as the correct one and others wrong, even – and I have heard it said even in my own family – as followers of “the other God”! So let me challenge a few mind-sets and ruffle a few feathers now! I might add that my father was a practising member of the Anglican Church, my mother was a practising Roman Catholic, my sister is a practising Roman Catholic, my brother is an ordained Anglican priest, my wife was raised a Methodist and I am an ordained Pentecostal minister! So I have a bit more experience than most of “the church”! This is the Virtual VOICE page so I am well aware that those of you who may read it are from what was The VOICE, and therefore, like me, are fundamentally Pentecostals. But we all need to hear this which is why I am submitting it.
Ecclesiastes 4.12 says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” Amongst other things, this refers to the church of Jesus Christ. There are three historic traditions of the church – the Catholic, or Sacramental tradition, often termed “Liturgical”. The Protestant, or Reformed tradition – “Evangelical”. And the Pentecostal, or Charismatic tradition – “Charismatic”.
Let’s unravel them over the next three weeks. See you next week, unless, of course, you are right and all the others are wrong and worshipping the other God!
God bless you – whichever strand you’re in.
The Pre-incarnate Son of God – Micah 5.2 (04/05/16) DISCONTINUED
The Pre-incarnate Son of God – Micah 5.2 (27/04/16)
#1: Have you ever wondered what went on in heaven between the forming of the earth and sky and all that followed (Genesis 1), and that momentous occasion when the Son of God fell asleep in the arms of His heavenly Father and woke in the arms of His earthly mother (Matthew 1; Luke 2)? What did the second person of the almighty three-in-one person God named Jehovah do? There’s a tiny tale-telling verse which I had missed for years. We read, especially around Christmas time, about One who would “go forth for God to be ruler in Israel.” (Micah 5.2). And once again we nod our heads as we hear it read and say to ourselves, “Ah yes, this speaks about Jesus who subsequently came to earth, and the rest is history.”
But wait a minute… did you notice that the same passage says, “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity”? Literally it says “His appearances are from long ago, from days of old.” Now there’s a thought! So, the eternal Son of God was not just sitting around in heaven on His throne being worshipped by the cherubim and seraphim then? Certainly not! He was “going forth” and “appearing”. “Where,” I wonder, “did He go forth and appear?” Some other galaxy in the universe maybe? Well, that I don’t know, but this I do – He appeared on earth, at least four times.
So what can we learn from this pre-incarnate Son of God? Because He is the same today as He was when He walked the earth as the incarnate Son of God, and when He appeared even before that time. Fascinating, eh?
See you next week if you want to know!
God bless you – as you wonder!
Easter Misconceptions – 1 Corinthians 15.5-8 (20/04/16)
#4: Is your risen Jesus Gardener, Ghost or… God? Finally, one dear follower of Jesus gets it! He has been sadly nicknamed “the doubter”, a title that, to be honest, in my experience every follower of Jesus I have known deserves! But having demanded proof of Jesus’ reappearance to life after witnessing His cruel and complete death, he gets what he asks for – irrefutable evidence, and then declares, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20.28). And he says, “MY Lord and MY God!” Jesus may be your parents’ God, He may be your friend’s God, but is He your God? Can you say, “MY Lord and MY God.”? As the evangelist Billy Graham used to said, “God has no grandchildren!” You can never be a second generation follower of Jesus. The Jacob of the Old Testament moved, through a somewhat tortuous process, from saying, “The God of my father…” to saying “The Lord, my God.” Real recognition has happened, and real relationship begins.
“Lord” means master, owner, the one I have chosen to live and work for as a bond-servant and friend. I am bound, committed, devoted, and dedicated because of a relationship of love, not of duty or fear. “If we live or die,” wrote the apostle Paul, “we live or die FOR THE LORD.” (Romans 14.8) If He is Lord at all He is Lord of all – your time, your talent, your tongue, your pocket and your purse. As the song says, “I have decided to follow Jesus – no looking back.” When you make Jesus your God, He calls for your love, obedience, allegiance, total surrender, and He gets jealous when anyone or anything else gets what is now rightly His. Why does He get jealous? Because He owns you and He loves you. The most important commandment of all is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12.28-30) That makes it pretty clear, eh? What’s to not understand about that?!
Easter misconceptions! Who is your Easter Jesus, your risen Jesus? Whom do YOU say that He is? Your Gardener, who will sort out your mess, whom you may or may not pay as and when you can, who will keep your life tidy and give you a beautiful garden to enjoy, with plenty of produce? Well, in fairness, He did call the lady by her first name, and He did reveal Himself because she was there, she was desperate, she was seeking Him, missing Him, needing Him and wanting Him. That may be you too. Make Him your God. Or maybe He’s Jesus the Ghost. You can’t tie Him down, He’s not there when you want Him, He shows up when you wish He hadn’t, He’s a bit mysterious, spooky and scary, not really part of 21st century life and the real world. It’s ok, He invites you to eat and chat with Him. Stop your doubting and believe Him and make Him your God. “I am He who lives; I was dead but now I am alive for evermore.” (Revelation 1.18) Or is He your God, your Lord and Master, whom you love, follow, serve and depend upon? Recognise Him and enter into relationship with Him. That’s why He came – not to condemn, not to start another religion, not to make bad people good but to make dead people live, as He does. (John 20.31)
God bless you – believer!
Easter Misconceptions – 1 Corinthians 15.5-8 (13/04/16)
#3: Well, someone thought the risen Jesus was the gardener. But she wasn’t the only one to get it wrong. A group of them were huddled together late that evening sharing their experiences of apparent sightings of Jesus, when all of a sudden Jesus Himself appeared in that very room! “Shriek! It’s a ghost!” they cried. (Luke 24.37) Wrong again! Now it is true that God is Spirit, but He is also Father and Son, and on this occasion He was the Son. Another simple mistake so many of His so-called followers today make. Jesus the Ghost!
For them, He is not really real, a bit spooky, not quite of this world, unnatural, incomprehensible. He can’t be grasped, or tied down, or contacted or controlled except perhaps by certain rituals and slightly strange practices which a few specially trained people can perform. This Jesus is a bit strange, a bit scary. He comes and goes and you never quite know when, where or why. He appears unexpectedly, walks through walls and closed doors, and then disappears. Oh… and He doesn’t appear when you want Him to, or expect Him to, especially when you’re desperate. And then He does appear when you don’t want Him to because you’re having a row with your spouse, or children, or are in some other uncompromising situation, and you’re in the wrong bed, or bar, or state of mind. “Grrr…why do You have to show up now, Lord, when I needed you the other day? If you’d turned up then, I wouldn’t be like this now.” For so many, it’s all Jesus’ fault! This Ghost Jesus is unconnected with your real world and the nitty-gritty of your life’s needs and wants, and desires and problems, your finances and feelings and family and marriage. He’s not on Facebook or Twitter and you can’t message or WhatsApp Him as and when you feel like it. He’s just other-worldly, aloof, aloft and distant.
When Jesus the Ghost does appear you’re startled, frightened, fearful, surprised, troubled and terrified. But listen, at just such times He says, “Hey, what’s the problem? Why are you alarmed? Why are you doubting?” And He asks you more questions to invite you into recognising who He really is, and draw you into relationship with Him, close, personal, intimate. “Come on, let’s eat, and I’ll tell you a bit more about Myself, and what I said, and what I meant, and why I really came to earth and went through what I did, for better, for worse, the good, the bad and the ugly. And we can talk about who I want you to be and what I want you to do and how you’ll be able to do it.”
Is your risen Jesus just a Ghost?
God bless you – in your upper room.
Easter Misconceptions – 1 Corinthians 15.5-8 (07/04/16)
#2: One of the very closest of Jesus’ first followers completely failed to recognise Him after He reappeared from the dead! One would have expected that she of all people would have recognised Him! She had been particularly close to Him and was the first person to go to His tomb. Possibly it was still dark – maybe that was the reason. Possibly she simply had not understood what He had said about rising after three days. But she thought He was the gardener! (John 20.15)
A simple mistake many of His so-called followers today make. The garden of your life has lacked your proper attention. You simply have not spent the necessary time that you should have done. It lacks your care, consideration and control. Weeds choke the growth of anything worthwhile. The fruit of your life is feeble – you have not dug, pruned, fertilized and tended as you ought. You have neglected the essentials. It is chaotic, untidy, and shambolic. You take one look at yourself and think, “Hmmm…it requires too much attention to sort myself out; I just don’t have the time or energy. The garden of my life has become overgrown and is beyond my control. It’s all too laborious for me to sort out now.” So you call Jesus the Gardener in!
Friends, I’ve seen it far too often in Christian circles, sadly. I’ll call Jesus in when I want Him and when I need Him. And I’ll give Him instructions as to how to sort it all out the way I want it. You expect Him to do the dirty work, the difficult stuff, the heavy lifting. “Dear Lord,” you pray, “please just sort this mess of my life out for me…you know, all my bad habits and attitudes, and wrong relationships and money problems, and…well, everything really, Lord…please? Oh… and if you do, of course I’ll pay you – in fact I’ll give you a special Thanksgiving Offering, and I’ll Gift Aid it too so it will be worth a bit more as well. Now that’s good stewardship, isn’t it, Lord? Or if you prefer I could give something to a charity…though I don’t really know which one. How about the next disaster appeal?”
Or maybe you have not let the garden of your life get that bad. But you employ Jesus the Gardener to do your routine, regular daily and weekly tasks – weeding, sowing, cutting, pruning, trimming, raking, fertilising, and give Him your ‘offering’ on Sunday, or tip Him when you next go to church, if you have any money left over that is, after you have indulged yourself in all your wants and greeds for the week or month. But of course it is you who will eat the produce, pick the flowers and enjoy the harvest and have a BBQ when it’s a fine day – and probably take the credit for employing a good, cheap Gardener. And even be gracious enough to recommend Him to someone else, if they ask.
Is Jesus just your Gardener?
God bless you – as you open up the garden shed once again.
Easter Misconceptions – 1 Corinthians 15.5-8 (30/03/16)
#1: Many preachers would have brought messages during this past week about the words Jesus spoke from the cross. Not so many speak after Easter about the words Jesus spoke from the empty tomb! What is striking and significant is that much of what Jesus says having been crucified, died, gone to hell and preached the gospel and released captives (1 Peter 3.19; Matthew 26.52-53) and risen again to life, was in questions? “Why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” He asks Mary. “What are you discussing? …What things?” He asks the despondent two on the road to Emmaus. “Why are you alarmed? … Have you anything to eat?” to the bemused disciples. If anyone knew the answers to those questions, I’m sure Jesus did! So why did He ask so many questions?
Well, one reason is because Jesus calls for response and relationship, not indifference. Eighteen months earlier He had asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” Notice the progression – question, response, recognition, relationship. That’s the way He works. He does not work by blind obedience to religious ritual, rule and regulation. Rather, He says, “Come to Me, trust Me, believe in Me, follow Me, so that I can make you who and what you are destined to be.” He does not say, “Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that, wear this, don’t wear that…on Sunday…with your money… or whatever. And if your pastor or minister speaks like that, it is not the voice of Jesus, however many titles he may have before his name or letters after it! “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” wrote the apostle Paul (Philippians 2.12).
Now let me ask you some questions. Who is your risen Jesus? Whom do you say that He is? Whom do you recognise Him to be? What is your relationship wth Him? There are three reactions and responses to those questions from the five hundred and more people He appeared to over a period of fifty days, that is nearly two months, after He rose from the dead. That is the period we are in now, if we celebrated the Easter season. I wonder if you will be able to spot yourself as we observe them. Let’s have a look next week …!
God bless you – in your garden or on your road.
Characters at the Cross – Luke 23.33-47 (23/03/16)
#4: Well it’s nearly Good Friday. What a mixed multitude there was at the cross which that day commemorates. And they are still around today. Rebels, gamblers, pious religious leaders, reluctant and fearful followers. You one of those? I hope not! There is really only one kind of character at the cross you need to be. He hung alongside the Saviour, knowing that he deserved what he was getting, just punishment for a life lived badly. But he also knew that beside him hung another who did not deserve what He was getting. That was this strange character Jesus the Nazarene. He hung serenely somehow, and this man knew exactly, or almost exactly, what he was going through. He didn’t know Him well, he hadn’t been amongst His followers, but he knew enough about him to understand that He ruled another Kingdom from that of this earthly life. He certainly didn’t understand it, but he definitely did know it. And as his compatriot, hanging the far side of this Jesus, swore and cursed and demanded Jesus did something to get him out of this fatal desperate plight, he quietly asked to be remembered by Jesus when He returned in His Kingdom. And to his utter astonishment he heard the most precious words of his entire rotten life – “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23.42-43)
And there was one more before we finish. He had master-minded the whole process – it was his job. Yet another crucifixion…more blood, more nails, more screaming, more mess. Just another day’s wretched work. But this time it was different. This time was like no other. This man was not normal, almost not human, yet He was human because He bled like all the others. But there was something which he couldn’t define. Not like the pagan gods he had grown up to worship, yet somehow a god. And clearly not guilty of this horrific torturous death. And all he could say as he witnessed the dying breath of this Jesus of Nazareth was, “Truly this man was innocent. Truly this man is the son of God.” And with that realisation and confession, he too secured his place in paradise. (Matthew 27.54; Luke 23.47)
Who are you at the cross? My prayer is that you too have realised and confessed that you are guilty of much wrong-doing, wrong-thinking and wrong-saying in your life, and have asked Jesus to remember you in heaven. If so, you too will join that multitude when the time comes. Or that you have realised that this Jesus is like no other man and no other god, but truly is the Son of God and innocent in terms of personal guilt, but was hanging there in your place, paying the price for your wrong-doing, wrong-thinking and wrong-saying. “Why?” you may ask. Because God has determined that the only price for forgiveness of sin is death – without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9.22). And He loves you. He won’t change that, regardless of current theories, or even ancient ones. Over to you…
God bless you – and Happy Resurrection Sunday!
Characters at the Cross – Luke 23.33-47 (16/03/16)
#3: Oh there were so many different types at the foot of the cross of Calvary on that day. And they are still around today. Who are you at the cross? We’ve looked at Tommy Opposite going in the other direction, and those gamblers who decided to take their chances and hope to win. Then there were the religious leaders, full of their doubts. “IF you are the Christ…IF you are the King…IF you are the Saviour…” If, if, if…”! I wonder who was really speaking – had it not been said three years earlier, “IF you are the Son of God tell this stone to become bread…IF you are the Son of God throw yourself down from here…”? (Luke 4.3, 9). Sign-based faith – prove it! Theology-based faith – understand it! That’s not faith, ordained religious leader or not! Jesus didn’t fit their expectations – He mixed with the wrong company, wasn’t spiritual or holy enough by their standards, spoke with prostitutes and even had a former one in His close company, had the reputation of being a bit too keen on food and drink, even launched His campaign at a Wedding Party!
Do you think you know better than Jesus how to be Jesus? Many do, even today. Loving their robes, and long impressive prayers and being called pastor, vicar, father or whatever – but doubting really most of what Jesus actually said about Himself and His Kingdom, and who could enter it, and how, because they hadn’t actually been taught that at Theological or Training College. The If-men! And women! You one? Waiting for Jesus to prove Himself to you? “No…not me!” I hear you cry.
OK then … what about those He had personally chosen, called and appointed? Is that you? “Yep, I’m born again, Spirit-filled, Bible-believing evangelical/Pentecostal/charismatic.” They had walked with Him for three unforgettable years. They had talked with Him, eaten with Him, been through storms with Him, seen Him do extraordinary, remarkable, unusual and abnormal things, and even done some themselves. They had listened to Him teaching and preaching in public, and had experienced personal intimate explanations, given just to them, kept from the general public. Surely they were at the forefront, yelling out for Him and screaming about the horrendous injustice of what was happening? No, they were not. Far from it. Thy stood helplessly at a distance for fear of their lives, having just run away and even denied knowing Him in one case.
Before you brag or boast about your or your pastor’s or your church’s powerful expanding fast-growing ministry, let me ask you, “Are you watching at a safe distance?”
God bless you – at the cross.
Characters at the Cross – Luke 23.33-47 (09/03/16)
#2: The crowd moved on, with Tommy Opposite now going with them. They were all under the control of ruthless Roman soldiers. They hated them because they were the occupying army. But wait a minute – they were only doing their natural, normal job. Most of them didn’t like what they did anyway, they would rather be back in their own country with wives and families. And certainly there was something not quite right about today’s events. And they knew it. But once the horrible deed had been done, and Jesus hung bleeding slowly to death and gasping for air, to pass the time they gambled for His clothes.
Are you gambling at the cross? Millions today stake their eternal destiny on idols, holy relics, recited prayers, or religious rules, regulations and rituals, pilgrimages and pious practices, superstition and good works. It is dangerous, very dangerous, to gamble with eternal life. The dying Saviour on the cross was there so that it could later be written, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord (Jesus) shall be saved.” (Romans 10.13) No amount of religious righteous rites can save you from a miserable eternity separated from the love, joy, peace and happiness of heaven. Jesus referred to it as an eternal experience of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” – an expression describing utter frustration and hopeless despair – with no end to it.
In hell the great doors were flung open once again as another person was thrown in. Everyone rushed over. “Tell us,” they cried, “What is the name by which we may be saved? How can we get out of this terrible place?” “Erm,” pondered the newcomer, “oh, now what was it? Ah…oh…no…I can’t remember.” A few minutes later another was hurled into that hell hole. Again, “Tell us, friend, what is the name by which we may be saved? How can we get out of here? What’s the password?” “Hmm…” thought the next one in, “now then, my parents prayed in that name. Oh my goodness, what was it? I just can’t remember. Oh dear, and they used it every time we ate a meal. Nope, sorry, it’s gone.” Again the great doors opened their jaws and in fell yet another poor wretch. “Tell us, mate…what is the name by which we may be saved? This place is unbearable and we MUST get out, but none of us can remember the password name now.” “Yeah…that’s right, I had a friend who often spoke that name and told me many times. Now then, what the hell was it?” Long pause. “Sorry, guys…forgotten. Now where’s the party and girls and fun happening? Oh…I see…”
Dear reader, Jesus is not a name remembered in hell except by the devil and his demons until they meet their eternal destiny – and they won’t tell. Call upon the only name by which you can be saved, from hell, while you can be saved. And if you already have, then tell my story to someone else, as often as you possibly can. Don’t gamble like those soldiers with what belongs to Jesus – you.
God bless you – as you throw away the dice.
Characters at the Cross – Luke 23.33-47 (02/03/16)
#1: Large parts of the Christian world are currently in what they call the season of Lent – remembering the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by, and resisting, the devil, in preparation for His ministry as the Messiah of God, Saviour of the world. The season climaxes on Good Friday, the day they commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus, and is followed by Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday as many today prefer to call it. I want us to focus for the next four weeks on that eventful day at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, or Calvary. There they crucified Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God. It was not an accident. He was not crucified because He had offended the authorities, religious or political, of the day. No! It was all according to God’s predetermined plan (Acts 2.23). Who witnessed this horrific scene? Who was there at the cross that day? I ask the question because you may be in that crowd today. And I wonder…who are you at the cross?
Well, let’s look firstly at a man by the name of Simon of Cyrene. He was a Jew, from North Africa, who was coming to Jerusalem presumably to celebrate the Passover that year. To his surprise the rest of the city of Jerusalem were all going OUT of the city to witness the crucifixion of Jesus, together with two criminals. But no, Simon was making his way INTO the city, regardless of the rest. Here we have Mr Tommy Opposite! Typically different from everyone else, going in the opposite direction. He was also a foreigner, an outsider, so may well have not wanted to identify with everyone else. He was an African, albeit a Jew, but not a Palestinian or Israelite.
Are you a Tommy Opposite? Do you know one? A Simon of Cyrene? Feel different from the rest? Going in the opposite direction to everyone else? Don’t feel part of them, or one of them? Nobody knows you, or seems to want to know you. I don’t know where your Cyrene is, but you don’t come from where everyone else is coming from. Stubborn, rebellious, determined, and self-willed – you say, “I’ll be me, I’ll do my own thing.” Fair enough! But what happened to him?
They laid hold of him, turned him around, and pressed him into service – by carrying the cross of the now exhausted Jesus. Be encouraged! If you are, or you know, a modern Simon of Cyrene, remember Jesus Christ can lay hold of you, or your friend, relative, neighbour, colleague or class mate, and press you or him or her into serving Him. A man named Saul from the city of Tarsus, the ‘Jihadi John’ of his time, was suddenly laid hold of by Jesus Christ (Philippians 3.12) whilst on his way to torture trap and torture followers of Jesus. He too was turned around, and became the apostle Paul, champion of the Christian faith and writer of a large part of the New Testament Bible.
Be encouraged, my friend! Don’t give up on yourself because you just don’t seem to fit in. Don’t give up on someone you know because they are going in the opposite direction. There’s a divine hand up in heaven which can at any moment lay hold of anyone it wants and turn them around and press them into service!
God bless you – in the crowd.
Press on – Philippians 3.7-16 (24/02/16)
#8: I read this somewhere but I can’t remember where. Let me finish this series with sharing it –
“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will, When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill, When the funds are low and debts are high, And you want to smile but have to sigh, When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit. Life is queer with its twists and turns, As everyone of us sometimes learns, And many a failure turns about, When he might have won if he’d stuck it out, Don’t give up though the pace seems slow, You might succeed with another blow. Often the struggler has given up, When he might have captured the victor’s cup. And he learned too late, when the night slipped down, How close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out, The silver tint of clouds of doubt, And you never can tell how close you are, It may be near when it seems afar, So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit, It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit.”
God bless you – as you press on!
Press on – Philippians 3.7-16 (17/02/16)
#7: Well, why should I press on? I’m fed up, disappointed, exhausted, sleep-deprived, frustrated… Answer: because of the call. There’s a call, and you’ve heard it. Someone has called you – and it’s not your mum or dad or best friend or pastor or spouse or boss or neighbour or child ….it’s God, your Father in heaven. That’s why it’s an upward call. You’ve been called to the heavenly home to spend eternity there, for ever. A young teenager asked me yesterday, “What will it be like in heaven?” I said that we are not told that much in the Bible about the details, but we are told that there will be no more sorrow, or sadness, or pain, or tears, or sickness, etc. She was happy with that! And only a proud fool would not be happy with that! Press on because of the call, my dear friend, however you feel right now.
It’s all according to God’s plan and purpose for your life (Romans 8.28). That’s why in the end everything turns out right. It may take time, and we may have to learn some key lessons along the way, some of which we may not like too much…but the call is according to God’s purpose. He’s the potter, my friend, and you are the clay. (Jeremiah 18.6; Romans 9.21) And He will never change His mind on it. The call is irrevocable. God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never cancelled, never rescinded (Romans 11.29). So you’ll never escape the echo in your inner ear – it’s the call. I love to tell the story of the chicken farmer who longed to raise an eagle. So one day he climbed high up a mountain whilst the mother eagle was away, and stole an egg. He returned and placed it gently alongside some hen’s eggs. The chicken naturally brooded over the eggs until one day the tiny eaglet appeared. Straight away he was different. For a start he couldn’t see, and very soon he began to grow much larger than the chicks. He was very self-conscious and felt he was ugly and not like the others. But he did what they did, he scratched around in the ground for scraps to eat, never looking up. He didn’t know any better. But then one day he heard a sound which reached his heart. It was a sound none of the other chicks recognised. It was his mother, circling high over the farm, looking down and calling, “My child, my child, you don’t belong down there. Come up here, come up higher.” And with that sound ringing in his ears the little eaglet beat his tiny wings, spread them out and took to the air to join his mother high in the sky where he belonged. “Friend, come higher,” is the upward call of God. You belong in heaven – it’s your real home. It’s a holy, heavenly call (2 Timothy 1.9; Hebrews 3.1).
And you must press on to be complete (Hebrews 6.1). Imagine making a jig-saw and stopping half way through. It needs to be completed – with every piece in its proper place. Then you can see the completed, full, perfect picture. Your life is like that – complete the picture, put every piece in its proper place. Sometimes we try to force a piece into the wrong place. Don’t! If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it – it belongs in another place. Wait, watch, and you’ll see as other pieces fall into place. Press on, don’t give up, complete your jig-saw puzzle, with God’s help! As the apostle Paul wrote to his readers then, so the Spirit of God says to you today as you read this – “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1.6). Press on, my friend!
God bless you – as you take to the air!
Press on – Philippians 3.7-16 (10/02/16)
#6: Now that you’re back in the race, scoring goals again, what else is worth pressing on for? Aha…the prize! (Vs 14) I remember when I was still quite young, at the boarding school to which my parents sent me, we had to do boxing. It took place in the gym, which was in fact just an old post-war nissan hut, made of asbestos! But we didn’t know any better, and we didn’t care anyway. It was Friday evening, and woohoo … BOXING! Well, inevitably there was a competition at the end of term. I got through to the final, and gave it my all. The other guy got a bleeding nose, but…he won on points! I was heart-broken. After all that, nothing, no prize. Until the prize-giving ceremony. In front of all the parents, at the end of term, “The Junior Boxing Trophy this year goes to ……” Cheers and claps all round, except from me. And up stepped my conqueror to receive the cup. But then…“And now … the trophy for the “Best Performance in the Boxing Competition” this year goes to … Peter Marchand.” Oh what delight – and up I stepped, so proud! Why? Because in front of my parents I had been awarded a PRIZE! I still have that trophy on a shelf in my main living room.
Press on, my friend. There’s a prize for you – and it will be presented in front of your Heavenly Father. There’s a reward for you at the end. You’re not running, or boxing, in vain. Run to win a prize! Play to win a prize! Live the Christian life to win a prize! Hear the word of the Lord, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” “Well done, good servant, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.” (Matthew 25.21, 23; Luke 19.17). Give someone some food, or a drink. Visit someone who is sick or in prison. Give someone some clothes. There’s a prize waiting for you. Be faithful in the little things.
“Yeah, but what’s the prize?” you may well ask. Good question! Well, you could be in charge of many things. It could be authority over ten cities. It could be a crown of righteousness, if you are loving His appearance. It could be a crown of life, if you are loving Jesus. It will be a crown of glory, if you are a good and faithful pastor or elder (2 Timothy 4.8; James 1.12; 1 Peter 5.4). Now I don’t know, but I suspect there are a whole load more prizes ready and waiting up there in heaven!
Up there? Yes, up there! It’s an upward call! (Vs14). But more of that next week!
God bless you – in the ring!
Press on – Philippians 3.7-16 (03/02/16)
#5: Having relegated to the bottom of the ocean memories of all the abuse he had suffered, the apostle Paul continued to press on by reaching forward to the future (vs 13). That reaching forward entails more than just sticking your arms out! It means leaning forward till your whole body or being is committed. When I was young there was an open air swimming pool near where we lived. I absolutely loved going there on a warm summer’s day. It had an incredibly high diving board. I would climb right to the top and stand on the end of the diving board, petrified, with my head down and my arms out … hoping that some pretty girl might look up and see this cool guy about to dive! But standing there with my arms out didn’t impress any pretty girl, sadly. Only when I leant forward and committed my whole body to the dive did an eye turn! My tortoise cannot move forward without sticking his head and neck out from under his shell – then he’s vulnerable…but only then can he move forward. Getting the point?
What do you need to stick your head out to do in order to lay hold of more of Jesus? Simple – to look to Jesus! (Hebrews 12.2) You can’t see Him with your head tucked inside your shell! Stick your neck out, open your eyes and look to Jesus! You’ll see Him, for sure. My friend, press on to know the Lord. Press on to lay hold of eternal life.
And press on toward the goal (vs14). Hey, no football team is going to win any game, let alone silverware, if they don’t score goals. It doesn’t matter how pretty your footwork is or how pin-pointedly accurate your passing is, if you never create, cause or score goals. A draw is no good for a winner! Aim to score! Have a target! If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time! The apostle Paul referred to beating the air aimlessly – “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;” (1 Corinthians 9.26). That’s why he disciplined his body, so that he wouldn’t be disqualified having preached to others (1 Corinthians 9.27). Ever thought of being disqualified in the Christian life? Red-carded? Sin-binned? The apostle Paul certainly had – and we would do well to. How many preachers harangue their gullible congregations burdening them with more giving, more prayer, more sacrifice …with their big bellies hanging out?! My word to them is found in Philippians 3.19: “…whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” Bible, my friend…not me! Discipline your body so you don’t get disqualified.
But there’s more to press on for …. See you next week, God willing!
God bless you – on the 5:2 diet!
Press on – Philippians 3.7-16 (27/01/16)
#4: How do I press on and lay hold of Christ Jesus? Should I go to Bible College? A bigger church? Fast more? Pray longer? No! By all means do those things if that’s what God asks you to do. But they are not necessary for pressing on to lay hold of eternal life. What is, then? What must I do?
Forget the past (vs 13). And that is the good past as well as the bad past. Today is the day and now is the time. Some people live in the past days. When I first began pastoring there was an old lady who had been instrumental in starting the church, and she was for ever saying, “In them days we …” till I got fed up with “them days”! Maybe God did do that then, but then is not now! Forget the past, albeit good, or happy, or prosperous or successful. Fine, thank God for that, but forget it and press on! Those days are gone, over, finished and no longer relevant. Press on!
And forget the bad days too! The failure, mistakes, wrong decisions, hurts, disappointments. We all make them and experience them. There is a place where the local people test the strength of horses, to show the quality and prowess of stock, and of trainer. They harness the horse to a cart, and load the cart with rocks and heavy articles. They clamp the wheels and whip the horse, and the horse that pulls the furthest is the winner. Some even die of heart attack. It’s brutal, and vicious, and all for man’s pride. But there are Christians who do that to themselves and each other. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their conversation. They are harnessed to the past – they constantly refer to a difficult or deprived upbringing, or a bad church experience and how hurt they are, and misunderstood and unappreciated. They carry hurt and shame and anger, regret, bitterness, sadness, sorrow, pain. Hey! Listen up, miserable ones…
The apostle Paul had many who hated him, made trouble for him, betrayed him, disappointed him, failed him, let him down, and deserted him. He was left for dead, flogged, ridiculed and imprisoned. He wrestled and laboured to plant churches which subsequently rejected him in favour of false prophets, teachers and apostles. Did he call for the tissue box? No! “I press on,” he writes, forgetting what lies behind…” (vs 13).
But that’s not all he did to lay hold of more of Jesus? Want to know more? See you next week.
God bless you – as you ditch your cart!
Press on – Philippians 3.7-16 (20/01/16)
#3: Pressing on will always reveal whole new realms of discovery. The great English poet William Blake wrote, “Expect poison from the standing water.” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell) God is light, and light is always on the move. If you don’t move with it, you end up in darkness. Press on, my friend! (1 John 1.5). “Yes, but in what direction should I exert my energy?” you may rightly ask. Well, if you follow a fine forerunner, the apostle Paul, you will press on to lay hold of eternal life (vs12).
To lay hold of something means you take it in your hand in order to make it your own. He writes that Christ Jesus laid hold of him, and thus made him His own possession. And he wants to do the same with Jesus Christ. He realises he has not got it all yet, there is more to get, more of Christ Jesus to gain, to get hold of, more of His will, more of His way, more of His word. A 15 year old Indian cricketer has just broken the record for the number of runs ever scored in a single innings – well over a thousand. The English all-rounder Ben Stokes recently hit the quickest Test double century in English Test history against South Africa. Both just pressed on for more runs! Strikers press on to score more goals. Managers press on to win more silverware for the club. The apostle Paul pressed on for more of Jesus. Are you pressing on in that direction?
The problem for many is that to press on to lay hold of Jesus and the abundant, eternal life that He gives requires the hallmark of the true a follower of His – humility. It implies a recognition that there is more, that you haven’t got there yet, that you are not perfect (literally complete). It requires a hunger. Too many today are bragging and boasting about their anointing and gifting and not realising that they are in fact broadcasting their spiritual barrenness and emptiness. They may have impressive looking ministries – an air balloon is impressive to look at, but it is only a lot of hot air! Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness…” (Matthew 5.3,6)
“How can I lay hold of this?” you wonder. See you next week…and I’ll let you know!
God bless you – as you reach out!
Press on – Philippians 3.7-16 (13/01/16)
#2: In what direction are you exerting your energy? Probably to achieve something that may even last a lifetime, but most likely not for ever. The apostle Paul pressed on firstly to know the Lord (vs 10). He was not the first Biblical character to mention this. The prophet Hosea hundreds of years earlier had said, “Let us press on to know the Lord.” (Hosea 6.3) Likewise the prophet Jeremiah warned people then and now not to boast about their wealth or their wisdom or even their strength, but “let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9.23-24)
Do you know the Lord? Not, Do you know about the Lord. My wife, when we were just work colleagues, was asked by the doorkeeper at a small Pentecostal church after the Sunday evening Service, “Do you know the Lord?” I had preached a great gospel message (!), many responded, but she sat motionless, like a stone. “Hmmm…” I thought, “stubborn one!” But the arrow of the Lord’s conviction pierced her to the core when that dear old man in his simple quiet unassuming way, as we left the building, asked the most important question anyone will ever ask or be asked, “Do you know the Lord?” She returned to her flat, and in the silence of the late evening she came to know Him. You too – if you’re not sure, then you don’t know Him. If somebody asks me, “Peter, are you married?” I don’t hesitate and dither and say, “Well, I think so, …er…maybe…perhaps not quite the way you are…” etc. I reply in the affirmative, with confidence, “Yes, I am. And I know the time, the day, the place and the person I married!” And I know the time, the date, and the place where I came to know the Lord. Now can be your time, and where you are can be your place. Happily you don’t have to wait for a special day of the year, or go to an illustrious building where some important looking religious leader says or does something to you! No, here and now, as you are, where you are … “Lord Jesus, please, I want to know you.” Try it and see what happens!
For someone reading this, you need to add the word “again” because you’ve forgotten Him. Come on, start the year in the best possible way, and let heaven have another party!
For another reading this – you need to say, “Lord Jesus, please, I want to know you better.” And He’ll answer that with a “Fine by Me,” too! Jesus Himself prayed that to know God the Father and Jesus Christ Whom He had sent was “eternal life”. Now that’s worth pressing on for!
God bless you – in your new found knowledge!
Press on – Philippians 3.7-16 (06/01/16)
#1: “An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning will not be blessed in the end.” So speaks the old and wise Solomon in the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 20.21). Today we want it NOW…not even tomorrow. Amazon Prime was guaranteeing delivery before midnight of items purchased online by 9.45 pm on Christmas Eve! Well, in the UK that is! Not so in the affairs of the Kingdom of God and in His economy. It will not be long before your New Year’s hopes and dreams and aspirations and the so-called ‘prophecies’ of wealth, health, success in business and bed will have faded, and you find yourself back in the real world of the “daily task and the common round”. Back on the great Potter’s wheel, going round and round…again – day after day, same old faces, same old people, same old job, same old problems, same old pressures, same old you! Now here’s my common sense, truly Bible-based word for you … Press on! (Philippians 3.12, 14)
To press means to push steadily, to be urgent. It implies opposition. There’s something in the way of your progress; you can only advance with difficulty. Tyre pressure, blood pressure, atmospheric pressure – all speak of elements being forcibly contained. When you make an impression in or on anything you are exerting a force upon it, be it with your foot in the ground in the sand or snow, or your hand as you mould the dough for baking. A fruit press literally forces the juice out of the fruit. Jesus said in the world you would be pressed…by tribulation, difficulties, things going against you or getting in your way (John 16.33).
We all have to give up or press on, like it or not. But if you press on, in what direction are you pressing? Where are you applying pressure? To pass your exams? To get qualified? To succeed? To get rich? To expand your business? All most likely legitimate. But let me suggest some eternal pressure points … see you next week!
God bless you – in the pressure cooker of life!
The Cost of Christmas (30/12/15)
#5: And lastly those religious leaders. They knew where the Scriptures said He would be born because they told the visitors from the east. They should have known the time was right. There was what theologians call “a Messianic ferment” at the time, significant people were waiting for the consolation of Israel and looking for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2.25, 38). In other words, the long-awaited coming of the Messiah was regarded as being highly imminent. Simeon had been told he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. These leaders, supposedly spiritually aware and alert, were gathering in the Temple in Jerusalem. But they chose to ignore the Scriptures and the signs of the times. “Will you pay the price for Christmas?” “No, we will not,” they firmly replied. They, like Herod the king, rejected the Christ.
The incredible cost of Christmas! My friend, in this short series I have not been challenging you to examine yourself – I have been directing your attention to others. The price some paid for that very first Christmas – heavenly home, family, fiancé, friends, comfort, culture, country, means of livelihood, following dreams and stars and the voice of an angel, reputation, and so much, much more. But now it is time for you to ask yourself the question, “Am I prepared to pay the price for Christmas?” I am not meaning the shopping bill at Aldi or wherever, I am not talking about what you’ve spent since Black Friday on the internet or in the stores – I am talking about the decision regarding your heart, not your material wealth. The cost of Christmas? What is it? “My son, my daughter, give Me your heart,” says the Lord. (Proverbs 23.26) The gift that child, the Son of God really wants is your heart. You don’t have to wait for a certain day in the year. You don’t have to travel any distance to a special place. You need no box or wrapping paper other than honesty and humility. Have you paid the price of Christmas? Will you pay the price of Christmas? Only you can answer that question. As the well-known carol goes, “What can I give Him? Give my heart.”
As this year draws to a close, and another prepares to begin, why not pray this prayer again, or perhaps for the first time …
“Dear Lord Jesus, I’m not a wise man or an astrologer or a shepherd – I am simply me. I am who I am because that’s the way You made me. But somewhere along the way I’ve lost touch with You. Right now I want to give You my heart. Dear Lord Jesus, here I am – I am Yours. Thank You that You welcome me just as I am. Come into my life. I love You. Amen.”
God bless you – Happy New Year!
The Cost of Christmas (23/12/15)
#4: I hope you’re not going to be amongst the 14% of people living in Britain who will start the New Year in debt because of Christmas. It is very costly! Always has been – for God the Father, for God the Son, for Mary the mother of Jesus and her fiancé Joseph, for the highest of all heaven and the lowest of all earth, shepherds…and for some fairly wealthy ones as well from a long way away, that first Christmas was extremely costly.
Others paid a price too –
Herod, the king at the time, a disturbed and troubled man, with ten wives, fourteen children, surrounded by endless plots and counter-plots regarding his succession, who had murdered one wife and a mother-in-law, and suffered from arteriosclerosis and deep depression, paid a different kind of price. He knew Jesus was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, because he asked spiritual leaders where the Christ was to be born. Yet knowing that he tried to kill Him, together with every boy under the age of two in the region, thus incurring the infamous title “the butcher of Bethlehem.” The cost for him? His life. Shortly after he ordered the destruction of all the baby boys in the region, he died. The cost of Christmas! Was Herod prepared to pay the price and acknowledge the true King? “No, I’ll not pay the price of Christmas,” was his fatal decision. How that affects his eternal state for having rejected the Christ is left for the Christ Himself to decide.
There’s just one more group to learn from, hopefully. See you next week …
God bless you – and Merry Christmas!
The Cost of Christmas (16/12/15)
#3: The discounters “won Christmas” last year with Aldi boosting sales by more than a third in the three months to 5 January. “People are shopping with us because we save them money every week and because they like the quality of what Aldi offers,” Aldi said. Maybe! But wherever you shop, if you’re in the UK Christmas is costly! It always was – since that very first day. It cost God His Son, it cost His Son that heavenly home, it cost His mother her reputation, comfort and security, and it cost her husband his dependence upon living uprightly. But there were others too to whom the question was asked, “Will you pay the price of Christmas?”
Whom do you consider to be the poorest of poor? Who is despised, looked down upon, distrusted where you live? Drug addicts? Homeless? Migrants? Well, on that first Christmas Day it was shepherds. They were not even allowed to give testimony in a court of law! Their lives were pitiful, and poorly paid, scarcely even enough to pay the taxes. But at least it was something, and they did have jobs – they weren’t beggars. During the night the sky lit up, and an angel announced that a Saviour had been born in the nearby town, and was lying in a cowshed. And as if that weren’t enough to cope with, vast numbers of angels appeared also speaking of peace and goodwill to all men. “Are we hallucinating? What was in that brew we just drank? Where did you pick those mushrooms for the stew?” Then the challenge dawned on them “You will find the babe ….” – to leave their most precious possessions, their most treasured charges, their sheep and lambs, and go to the town and see this remarkable child. Should a predator come in their absence and steal a sheep or lamb, should one wander and come to harm, instant dismissal, and abject poverty. The cost of Christmas! Those shepherds, without any apparent wavering or doubt, despite the risks involved, said, “We’ll pay the price of Christmas.”
And there were others to! Strange, mysterious characters from the East. Kings? Philosophers? Magicians? Astrologers? Who knows? But they came, carrying extremely expensive gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. But who gives precious perfumes and ointments and hard currency to strangers and babies? They did! They took their time to travel from possibly Arabia, Persia (Iran), India or even Japan. No BA or Emirates or EasyJet in those days. No Hilton, Marriott, Sheraton hotels or even Premier Inn and Travelodge. They left the comfort of their countries and culture for the discomforts and dangers of travel – bandits, thieves, sickness and disease and upon arrival an irate foreign tyrant king. What led them? No angel appeared to them, no lighting up of the sky, no dreams – just a very bright star! The cost of Christmas! Were these mysterious magi willing to pay the price? “Yes,” they agreed, “we’ll pay the price of Christmas.”
God bless you – as you too count the cost!
The Cost of Christmas (09/12/15)
#2: Heaven was the emptier that first Christmas Day. God had lost His Son, the cherubim and seraphim could no longer gaze upon the One they bowed down to, worshipped and adored. Instead He was lying in a cow’s eating trough surrounded by animal excrement, oblivious at this stage of the tests, trials, temptations and torture that would be coming His way as the years passed by. Christmas is a costly time.
Mary, His mother paid a high price too. Due to the supernatural nature of her conception, her pure reputation was tarnished – she was now branded as a tender teenager who was loose and immoral, an unmarried mother. Moral standards in those days and in that place were of a far higher standard than they are today, and the critics’ knives were sharp, and drawn. Her word was in doubt, and she lost the respect of her family, friends, relatives and husband-to-be. She was young, sensitive, and impressionable. Will he leave me? If so, will there ever be another? Am I to remain single with a tainted reputation throughout my life? Or will they follow the Law and stone me to death before even the child is born (Deuteronomy 22.23-24)? “I’ll pay the price of Christmas,” she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word.” (Luke 1.38)
Then there was the bemused fiancé, Joseph, known for his spirituality, sense of justice and uprightness. How could the dream of his life have turned to a nightmare? “What have I done to deserve this?” he must have thought. Now he was a laughing stock amongst his friends, a cuckold, and no doubt those who secretly admired him but were nevertheless somewhat challenged by his piety, made their wise cracks behind his back, or even in front of his face. What should he do? What were his options? At best, break off the engagement. At worst, stone her. The conflict would have raged in his mind, faith versus reason. Believe a dream, or believe a fact? All he had to base his decision on was the word of his fiancée and a dream he had (Matthew 1.20-23). The cost of Christmas! Joseph too made his decision – “I’ll pay the price of Christmas.”
God bless you – with your dreams! And your decisions!
The Cost of Christmas (30/11/15)
#1: Love it or loathe it, in Britain we have absorbed yet another American tradition – Black Friday. Amazon says Black Friday 2015 was its biggest sales day ever in the UK with more than six million items ordered. 5.5 million items were sold at a rate of about 64 per second. Currys PC World also reported eight sales PER SECOND and 100 large screen TVs selling PER MINUTE online. Major well-known stores’ websites crashed with the on-line demand. Not all of these purchases were for Christmas, but the vast majority would have been. Nearly a third, 30%, of British people say that Christmas is the one time of the year when they don’t worry about their expenditure, regardless of their financial situation. Christmas is incredibly costly! But it always has been …. For the next few weeks let’s look at the very first Christmas, or the day that Christmas is celebrating, and what it cost … and who was and who was not prepared to pay the price.
Firstly it cost God His Son. Note, it was His only Son, not one of several sons, or children. Heaven was emptier that day. There was a town in South Carolina, USA, whose young men all signed up to fight in the Second World War. As news came back of the death of a young soldier from the town, the family would put a star in the front window. By-passers could see, and comfort, commiserate and console. One evening as it was growing dark, a father was walking his young son home. The first star appeared in the darkening sky. The little lad looked up at it, and then said, “Daddy, did God lose a son too?” Yes, God did lose a Son, and He knew that His Son had left home to die. God said, “I’ll pay the price of Christmas.”
It cost the Son too. The glory, splendour, beauty, joy and happiness of Home was now history. Instead, a foul insanitary birth, childhood as a foreigner and fugitive, anxious parents, the stigma of illegitimacy, and a life and work full of problems amongst sick and deranged people, frenzied crowds, critics plotting to kill, disloyal friends and faithless followers, hunger, thirst, tiredness and exhaustion. The cost of Christmas! Jesus said, “I’ll pay the price of Christmas.”
God bless you – as you wrap up your presents!
I can do all things … – Philippians 4.13 (25/11/15)
#4: Well, it seems my application to become the new Head Coach of England Rugby was unsuccessful – they’ve appointed someone else! But why? God said, and it’s in the Bible, that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” So why didn’t the selection panel realise that? Must be atheists! Hey man, wise up! What is the Holy Spirit really saying here about what we can do through Him who strengthens us? I have suggested we can love across our differences, we can live through our anxieties, and we can be joyful in all circumstances. But that’s not all …
You can guard your thinking (vs 8-9). What do you think about? What fills your mind? It’s important to make sure that you dwell on the right things. The Psalmist wrote, “I will meditate on Your precepts.” (Psalm 119.15) Some people think meditation is just for those following Eastern religions, and it involves sitting cross-legged on the floor with you thumbs touching your middle fingers and mumbling “Ommmm!” Not so! The word has the connotation of chewing the cud, like a cow – chewing and chewing and chewing slowly the same piece of grass. Cow’s not in a hurry to go anywhere – just wants to enjoy the chew, nice juicy grass! Do you chew over the word of God? You can do, and your thinking will be guarded. The head affects the heart and the heart affects the hands. Conscience controls character and character controls conduct. “Your word have I hidden in my heart so that I may not sin against You,” he has just written (Psalm 119.11). So if your thoughts are all over the place and you know that often that’s not the place they should be, then God can strengthen you and you can guard your thinking.
And you can learn contentment (vs 11). Yes, it has to be learned! May take a long time, my friend, so don’t be impatient! The best things mature over a long period of time. Contentment brings a sense of well-being, wherever and in whatever circumstances you are called to live. It does not depend on the socio-economic context, material prosperity or favourable circumstances. We are called to live by faith, not by sight, and to look at things which are eternal, not temporal (2 Corinthians 4.16-18). It’s a valuable lesson that can only be learned in life’s classroom. It may be a lengthy, hard and difficult process. Life’s fortunes vary, but God will continue to teach that lesson until we’ve learned it.
So, say to yourself slowly, “I can love across my differences, I can live through my anxieties, I can rejoice always, I can guard my thinking, and I can be content … through Him who strengthens me.” No need to go for that counselling session now … and the gym and the jog’s not really necessary to make you strong!
God bless you – as you chew!
I can do all things … – Philippians 4.13 (18/11/15)
#3: You can love across your differences through Him who strengthens you. But that is not all you can do. You can live through your anxieties. Verse 6 of this chapter says, “Be anxious for nothing.” There are a thousand and one things that can cause us anxiety and make our blood pressure rise! Families, homes, society, life in general, pressures, tensions, disappointments, a new school, a new course, leaving home, bills to pay. I remember a dear friend and brother in a former church who despite no end of challenges with his wife and children’s health, employment or lack of it, could never cope when it drew near to have his car go through the annual Ministry of Transport test for roadworthiness! ANXIETY was an understatement!
My worried and worrying friend, Jesus calls you to cast your cares on Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5.7). Some translations say, “cast all your anxiety on Him…” I like the one I used first because the same word used in English has two different meanings – ‘cares’. Think of it like a hand…your ‘cares’ weigh you down, your hand is full and heavy, being pressed down. But Jesus ‘cares’ for you…His hand is taking them from you and lifting you up. You can love across your differences and you can live through your anxieties through Him who strengthens you. And you can …
Rejoice in the Lord always (verse 4). Notice “in the Lord”, not “in your circumstances”. Your circumstances will keep changing, sometimes for good, other times for bad. Life will always present you with challenges, some are pleasant, others are not. But He who strengthens you and makes it possible for you to do all things through Him does not change (Malachi 3.6) and is with you always, i.e. at all times and in all circumstances, and His joy is your strength (Nehemiah 8.10). His name is Emmanuel which means God with us, so His joy can always strengthen you. In the presence of the Lord there is fullness of joy (Isaiah 43.2; Psalm 16.11).
So, you may well not be able to run the London marathon in record breaking time through Him who strengthens you, or have a call up from the Chelsea Manager (whoever that is when you read this!) or Louis van Gaal, and I may well not be selected to play for the All Blacks! But both us can love across our differences, live across our anxieties and be joyful in all circumstances. How? Through Him who strengthens us.
God bless you – and your finger nails!
I can do all things … – Philippians 4.13 (11/11/15)
#2: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Does this Scripture text mean I can lead thousands to Christ like Billy Graham did? I remember attending an evangelistic gathering some years ago and the preacher stood up and started, “Well, I’m not Billy Graham, but that doesn’t matter because I have the same Holy Spirit working in me as he does.” But nobody came forward for salvation when he had finished preaching! Why not? Well, plenty of reasons, but one was that the Holy Spirit was the same but the gifting and calling and anointing were not. I’m all for faith…when it is God-given and not man-made! So what does it mean?
Firstly, verse 2 of the chapter reveals that there were two particular women in the church who clearly had differences of opinion! Ever found that in church?! And not just amongst women either – men and men, family and family, old and young, jumpers and shouters and sitters and ponderers, and hand clappers and dancers and meditators and listeners! We have differences – large and small, major and massive and trivial and petty, differences in tastes, life-styles, habits, likes and dislikes, interests, backgrounds, political persuasions, sports teams and on and on it goes. Why? Guess what…God made us different! But He calls us to live in harmony not discord, and to love across our differences.
A man’s unmarried teenage daughter fell pregnant. He went to the pastor to complain that an elder in the church had cut him dead in the car park. “Surely not,” came the reply from the surprised pastor. “Are you sure? I don’t think so.” “Yes. Definitely he cut me dead,” came the confident assertion from the man. Two weeks later the same man went to the pastor to apologise. The elder had been to see him, saying, “I’ve just heard about your daughter. A similar thing happened in our family. If there’s anything I can do to help in any way, please let me know.” You see, misunderstandings, lack of openness and honesty, poor communication, and failure to forgive can all lead to the bearing of grudges, which can in turn become roots of bitterness which bring weakness to the church and shame to the gospel (Hebrews 12.14-15).
These two poor ladies have their names recorded for all eternity as living in discord. Interestingly, the name Syntyche means “to meet with, to come together”, and Euodia means “fragrance, sweet smelling”. When people choose to “meet and come together” across their differences it releases a “sweet smelling fragrance”! C. S. Lewis, in his essay “The Weight of Glory” wrote, “Next to the blessed sacrament itself, nothing is holier than your neighbour.” Maybe you need to see someone, or make a phone call or send a message?
Say it to yourself again – “I … I can … I can do … I can do all things … I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. I can love across my differences through Him who strengthens me.”
God bless you, as you revisit your Contacts list!
I Can Do All Things … – Philippians 4.13 (04/11/15)
#1: Say it to yourself like this – “I … I can … I can do … I can do all things…” This text is quoted, especially in Christian circles, often more optimistically than realistically or contextually. I would love it to mean that I can get a place in the brilliant All Blacks rugby team! But I can’t (… I’m English!). Nor does it mean that Chelsea or Man U will sign you up! Sorry chaps…it doesn’t mean that kind of outrageously silly wishful thinking! As ever, we need to look at the context in which it was written. We can so easily misunderstand and misinterpret Scripture. An example ….
I write you a letter (old school, pen and paper job!) saying I’ll meet you at London Victoria Station outside Smiths and we’ll go to McDonalds. 2000 years later the letter is found and analysed. “Aha…the station is named after Victoria who was a Queen of England. Therefore it must date from mid-19th to early 20th century. It is a station therefore it must have been written in the age of railways which were declining during the latter part of the 20th century. So it must have been written in the 20th century. Smiths were metal workers, so it would have been near a metal foundry or workshop, probably copper, silver or tin. That industry had declined by the middle of the 20th century, therefore it must have been early 20th century. McDonald is a Scottish name so the author must have been Scottish or had close Scottish relatives or connections. Conclusion: the letter most probably dates from the early 1920s and was penned by a Scottish blacksmith or possibly silversmith who was working in London.” Hahaha! The conclusion is a) wrong! and b) doesn’t say why the letter was written. Too much Biblical interpretation is like that, amongst highly academic theologians as well as newly believing Christians.
So why is the apostle Paul writing, “I can do all things…”? I would like to make four suggestions regarding what the Holy Spirit is saying through the apostle Paul that believers in Christ can do through Him who strengthens them. See you next week ….
God bless you, as you train … Sherlock!
Love and Trust – Jesus and John (28/10/15)
#4: Ah, the one who felt the warmth of Jesus’ body, and heard the beat of His heart and the whisper from His lips. So intimate were Jesus and John. Both forsook worldly success and prosperity for each other, gave up their lives for each other, and made no attempt to promote their own names. How’s your relationship with Jesus? Are you telling His story in your own words and way?
But there’s something else I see in this love and trust relationship between them. Jesus trusted John with His love. “The disciple whom Jesus loved,” is the way John records it, and that was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3.16). “But surely,” you say, “Jesus loves everybody!” Yes, He does. But He clearly had a best friend. In His humanity Jesus had as much need for a best friend as anyone. David had Hushai, Solomon had Zabud (1 Chronicles 27.33; I Kings 4.5). A best friend is someone to whom you tell things that you don’t tell to others. Why? Because you can trust that person. A best friend is someone with whom you can share your deepest secrets, the cares of your soul, knowing that you will still be loved, accepted, valued and appreciated. Jesus knew John would not abuse that trust. Jesus knew that John could be called “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Do you have a best friend? Are you someone’s best friend? Do you have that kind of love and trust relationship? Yes, Jesus is your best friend. But who else is? And someone needs you as their best friend too.
And lastly, just to prove my point, Jesus trusted John with His mother. He is dying of thirst, suffocation and loss of blood. The sun is scorching his red raw skin, insects are crawling over his wounds and His hands are pinned to the cross. His arms are going into paralysis, the pectoral muscles are seizing up, He can scarcely exhale (Journal of the American Medical Association). He didn’t say much because He couldn’t say much – crucified people seldom spoke. But Jesus did, just seven times, and one of the things He managed to say was to commit His mother into His beloved John’s care (John 19.25-27). The culture was for the eldest son to care of the widowed mother. But Jesus couldn’t do that as His brothers were not even there. But had they been, I still believe He would have entrusted her to His beloved John. Whom do you love and trust sufficiently to commit your loved ones to? Can anyone trust you sufficiently to commit their loved one to you?
In 155 AD, in a city called Smyrna, the especially vicious Roman proconsul persecuted followers of Jesus Christ, and in particular the Bishop called Polycarp. His followers hid him in a barn, but he was discovered. He was led into the arena in the centre of the city. Tens of thousands screamed for his cruel execution. But the proconsul sympathised with him because of his old age. “Curse the Christ, and live,” was his offer to the aged Polycarp. “Eighty and six years have I served my Master and King, and He has done me no wrong,” came the reply, “I dare not blaspheme Him now.” The proconsul brought down his arm and Polycarp became the first recorded martyr in post-New Testament church history, for refusing to renounce his faith. Where did he learn such faith? From his mentor…John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and trusted.
God bless you – in the arena.
Love and Trust – Jesus and John (21/10/15)
#3: John trusted Jesus enough to forsake success and prosperity, to risk his life and to remain anonymous. But it was a two-way relationship. How did Jesus trust John? And how does He trust you and me, if we are followers of His?
Jesus trusted John with the gospel. John Mark had written the earliest account, probably based on Peter’s memories and experiences. Then Matthew and Luke followed, repeating 95% of it, but adding their own touches, Matthew with the Jewish flavour, Luke with the angelic, the poor and female emphases. But Jesus wanted the rest of the story – such as the wedding at Cana, the whispering at the Passover, the Last Supper. And He wanted someone He could trust intimately, who would get it right, who knew Him differently. He wanted someone who could condense into 21 chapters what would fill the entire world if written (John 21.25). He wanted someone who could select material, which miracles to include, what teaching to exclude. Someone who could be trusted to write the essence of the message of the gospel, that God loved the world so much that He sent His only begotten Son, so that whoever believed in Him would not perish but live for ever (John 3.16).
Jesus trusts you and me with the gospel too. He never gave it to the angels to declare. He hasn’t written it in cloud formation across the sky, even though the heavens declare His glory (Psalm 97.6). It is in your heart and on your lips. You can tell it your own way, from your own personal experience, the way you see it. The gospel is not for cribbing and plagiarising from others. Jesus trusts His relationship with you enough to say, “Tell My story as you see it, My friend.” Cor…that gives me goose bumps!!! How are the hairs on the back of your head, eh?!
But there’s more to this love and trust relationship….See you next week!
God bless you, and your story!
Love and Trust – Jesus and John (14/10/15)
#2: “Yeah … I’m a genuine follower of Jesus,” you think. “I attend church regularly, am involved in church programmes and projects, financially support the church.” “Yes,” I say, “but do you love Jesus?” You feel a bit insulted … “I just told you, I attend church regularly ….” “Sure, and I just replied, “But do you love Jesus? Do you love Him enough to risk your life for Him?”” John, the son of Zebedee, did. What does it mean to love and trust Jesus and to be loved and trusted by Him? Come with me…the Midnight Moment has long since passed. The slumbers in the Olive Press are now history. But one of our sleepers, John, is standing on a hillside, gazing up into the glazed eyes of the One who said, a few hours before, “Watch with Me.” He couldn’t sleep now – too late.
Who else was there? Mary, the mother of the One hanging and dying in excruciating agony, His aunt, her sister, and two other ladies by the name of Mary, but only one of the original twelve men to whom He had once said, “Follow Me!” Why only one? I suspect because the remaining ten (one had already given up on life altogether) were thinking, “Hmmm… there might just be more crosses. It was easy when we were popular, and successful, and feeding 5000 people in an amazing way which we didn’t really understand, but hey it worked, when we put our lips to a cup and found it was full of exquisite wine in stead of refreshing water, and when with a shout we unwrapped a vertical corpse. Cor…heady days…and boy they were fun! But this is different …” But John turned up, because he trusted. “The rich and powerful in society have now turned very nasty, and my friend, my very best friend, is naked and in agony. But I’m here.” John trusted Jesus enough to turn up, and risk his life.
How about you? And me? It’s very easy to sing the songs on Sunday, to play the part, to nod at all the right points in the sermon and laugh at the preachers’ jokes because you want him or her to notice and like you. But that’s true in any social club, political, sporting, artistic, musical – we’re not talking about that. Do you love and trust Jesus enough to turn up when everyone else is against Him, and your life is in real danger? John did. Love and trust turn up.
And he also trusted Jesus enough to remain anonymous. His name only appears as a heading to the fourth account of the gospel in the Bible, thanks to various editors. You won’t find it anywhere in his own writing up of the gospel, because he never mentions it. I have conducted many Nigerian Naming Ceremonies and have spoken often about the significance of a name. It makes you who you are, it identifies you. Names mean a lot to us, and we are sensitive about our names. In my family we have an on-going joke about our name because people cannot get it right. It is Marchand – but again and again we receive things addressed to Marchland, Marchmant, Marchington. I go to the local pharmacy and he always calls out, “Mr Merchant!” But for John, the only name that mattered was Jesus. If his own name was not known, never remembered, completely forgotten he didn’t mind – that was up to Jesus. Yet remarkably parents have named their sons John after him for more than 2000 years. Interesting, eh?
Do you trust Jesus enough to forsake success and material prosperity? Enough to risk your life when everyone else is keeping their heads down? Enough to remain anonymous?
Next week, how did Jesus trust John?
God bless you – oh, and you are …?!
Love and Trust – Jesus and John (07/10/15)
#1: Anything of eternal value is birthed in relationship with God. Many good plans, projects and programmes are conceived and executed, often highly impressively and effectively. They emerge from all kinds of wombs! But in the end they fade, and prove to have had only temporal worth. But what is birthed out of genuine relationship with God is what will last. You only have to observe, not even study, the relationship between the three persons of the Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to see the ultimate and ideal pattern of relationship (John 14.26; 15.26). “Aha,” you say, “that’s out of our reach – we’re human, earthly, sin-sick.” Maybe…but come with me on a journey of Love and Trust where we see before our eyes what it means to be in true relationship with Jesus, and so produce fruit that remains and which is of eternal value.
I am with Jesus and John, the brother of James, and son of a man by the name of Zebedee. I want us to see three ways in which John trusted Jesus, and then three ways in which Jesus trusted John. And you will see that the same can be true for you in your relationship with Jesus. Firstly how did John trust Jesus?
John trusted Jesus enough to forsake material success and prosperity. John was the son of Zebedee who had servants (Mark 1.20). John almost certainly had a city residence in Jerusalem, the capital city, and to own two properties at the time was unusual as there was no middle class, most people were classed as poor. John was known personally to the High Priest, Caiaphas, and had access to his court. He was connected to the most important people in society (John18.15). Yet one day he heard the call of the itinerant preacher, saying “Follow Me!” and without delay he left his houses, business, servants, and wealth to follow Him. John trusted Jesus enough to forsake material success and prosperity. He is not alone. Down through the ages men and women have heard that same call and made that same decision. Many of their stories are well documented – far more are not, but one day they will be disclosed.
How about you? Are you willing to forsake material wealth, temporal prosperity and success to follow the itinerant preacher when He calls? Has He called you? Is He still calling you? “Erm…I’m not really sure,” you dither. Really? Listen, if He has called you, you know it. God is not a God of confusion who speaks with a muffled voice. But it could be that, like several when He walked the dusty roads of Galilee and elsewhere in the region, He has called you, and you have heard that call, but you have joined the “me first” group that never take up the call. Let me first bury my father… Let me first say goodbye to those at home (Luke 9.59-61). Legitimate comforts, legitimate courtesies, legitimate culture – but they subscribe you to the Would-be Disciples Club and the First Me Fellowship!
Not John – he trusted Jesus enough to leave it all behind, including his father, without hesitation (Matthew 4.22). Today the complete opposite is preached in the name of the itinerant preacher from Galilee. Follow me and I will make you rich…will prosper your business…build you houses…give you boats…and babes. Just type Amen and they’re all yours! Think again my friend – who’s voice are you hearing? What is it saying? How are you responding? I was a highly successful school teacher for several years. Then one day I heard a call from a preacher at a small insignificant international Bible School – “Who will join the mighty army of preachers of the gospel around the world?” My heart thumped, my palms sweated, my stomach knotted. I turned to my wife with eyebrows raised as I knew that if I said, “Yes! I will …” then she must come too. She nodded silently and together we left our seats and made our way to the front and signed up in the mighty army of preachers of the gospel around the world. That was in August 1981. I didn’t care if I was to be a Private foot soldier, a Sergeant, Captain, Major, Lieutenant, Brigadier or General! Couldn’t care less – I was in! And I’ve not been discharged yet!
Come on reader! Is He calling you? Do you love and trust Him as much as John the prosperous fisherman?
God bless you, on your Galilean shore!
The Midnight Moment – Luke 22.39-46 (30/09/15)
#3: Should someone honour their parents when those parents are no longer providing for them and meeting their needs and feeding their wants? In fact, when those parents become increasingly dependant and demanding on your time, energy, resources and attention? Should a pastor or minister keep investing in a rebellious or ungrateful church member? Should you remain loyal and faithful to a sibling or spouse who is not fulfilling your desires? Should you stay loyal and faithful to a friend, relative, church member, church, pastor who falls short of your self-made standards? Should Jesus have expelled Judas from His ‘family’, knowing that he was cheating, was a thief and would betray Him? Should you answer the call of Christ, or of anyone else, when it comes at Midnight and disturbs your well-deserved, much needed rest and comfortable sleep?
The answer to all of those questions is unequivocally a resounding “Yes!” “But why?” I hear you cry. Answer – because God, whose heart beats at the core of this universe and at the very bottom of every heart of every human being made to be like Him has practised and demonstrated this principle of commitment, dedication and devotion with us. Because He has promised to be above us, beneath us, beside and behind us, ahead and even inside us. He has promised He is with us in the storms, the water, and the fire (Isaiah 43.2). He has promised He will lift us up when we stumble, forgive us when we fail, will show us the way when we are lost, will be our light in the darkest of dark places, will be strong when we are weak. And He keeps His promises. And so should we. People say God is omnipotent, all powerful, can do absolutely anything. Easy to say and I’ve heard it preached so, so many times. The only thing is it’s not true! “Blasphemy,” you shout. Hang on my friend. God swears by Himself that there is one thing he CANNOT do – lie (Numbers 23.19; Hebrews 6.18). And He expects us to strive to be like Him (Matthew 5.48; Ephesians 5.1).
Commitment, dedication and devotion to God and your near-by ones, your family, and your friends is the most fundamental, foundational principle to live by as a follower of Jesus Christ. It gives security to people as they swim in the seas of their own insecurities. It gives hope to them in the pits of despair and despondency. It is the answer to their desperate cries in their Midnight Moment. And so Jesus, who when His ‘family’ at His Midnight Moment in His greatest hour of need just slept, nevertheless returned from the grave and said, “Come and have breakfast with Me on the beach in the morning, walk with Me through the day, and call me at night, because I will be there.” No wonder people follow Him. Do you?
God bless you – especially at Midnight.
The Midnight Moment – Luke 22.39-46 (23/09/15)
#2: We read and talk about “extreme sports” these days. People push themselves to the extremities of their physical, mental and emotional limits. Jesus reached His extremity, but not for fun, not as a sport – and not only physically, mentally and emotionally, but spiritually as well. He is in the garden called “Olive Press”, and His very life blood is being pressed out of Him, crushed in an unimaginable way. What did He do? He called those closest to Him, who had walked with Him, talked with Him, eaten and drunk with Him non-stop for the past three years, to “watch with Him.” (Matthew 26.38) How did they react? They slept.
How about you? Are you asleep? How many times has your answer honestly been, “Yes”? A family member, a spouse, partner, child, friend, relative, mother, father, neighbour cries out in their Midnight Moment. I remember an elderly widow who lives opposite me in the street feebly hanging onto the front door frame crying, “Help me! Help me! Somebody please help me!” Too often we don’t hear the cry. We may be well intentioned, and willing in spirit. We may be only a street away, or a room away, or a phone call, text, message or email away – but we are asleep, and deaf to the cries. Too often we are in a slumber of our own – our schedule, system, programme, issues, questions, immediate desires. We are preoccupied with our own dreams, visions and very often nightmares. We just don’t hear someone else’s Midnight Cry. Midnight Moments seldom, if ever, come without warning. Jesus told His closest followers numerous times that this would happen. Repeatedly He forewarned them. But they slept.
People today are good at muffling their sobs – they think it is weakness to admit they are struggling and need support. I have even been told, on more than one occasion, that there’s “nothing wrong, Pastor – It is well!” Erm…sorry, mate, it is NOT well! Ok if it is well, then you have my cancer, my friend, and you bear my pain, and then let’s see what you have to say! “How are you?” someone may ask, “Fine!” you reply. But only too often the F stands for Frightened, the I for Insecure, the N for Neurotic and the E for Exhausted! But there are warning signs if only you will look and listen. Too often they are met with a snore. I remember when our first child was about to be born, my wife woke me up in the middle of the night and said, “I think the baby’s coming.” I muttered, “Can’t you wait till the morning!” Terrible, to my shame. And we were living in a very alien culture in a foreign land. She was nervous, anxious, her first child – it was her Midnight Moment, and I, her nearest and dearest, was asleep.
In Japan a lady by the name of Satsuki Ohiwa formed a company for lonely people to ‘rent’ a family. Because so many older people were being neglected by their busy family members through this company one could hire a surrogate son or daughter, or grandchild, to come and just be with you for a day, take you out, listen to you – a professional hired service. The business took off because so many lonely and often desperate people were finding their real family or friends were sleeping in their Midnight Moment. She said, “What is common about our clients is that they are thirsty for love.”
Whom do you call at your Midnight Moment? Whose name is on your heart, mind or lips when temptation or torment comes in whatever form, and presses in hard on you? For whose love are you thirsty? And who is thirsty for your love? Who calls you when they reach their personal garden of the Olive Press? When they are being overwhelmed by temptation, or sin, when they’ve failed to resist and know and admit it, when they are crushed under despair, depression, despondency, doubt, debt, fear, work overload? Do they know they can call you and meet love? Or will they just hear a snore, or a mumbled, “Don’t worry – be strong…it is well.” Does your spouse, or friend know that if they are facing moral or financial collapse you would hear their cry, stand by and work it through with or for you? Would anyone come to you if they are in trouble with the law, addiction or whatever else? If not, why would they not come to you? Maybe they fear your snores, your indifference, your criticism and self-righteousness. I heard recently of a Christian man who was facing difficulties in his marriage. Someone else wanted to get in touch with him, not knowing that he was in this predicament. This other person had simply been aware that he may be struggling with something. He did not know the contact details so asked a mutual friend for them. When that friend got in touch with the guy in difficulties, saying that the other person wanted to contact him, the reply was, “If it’s another person telling me I’m wrong and what I ought to do, then I don’t want to hear it.” How sad that his nearest and dearest had taken the high moral ground and were deaf to his cries at his Midnight Moment. Whether he was right or wrong, God is the judge of that – only too often, as in this case, God’s people put themselves in His seat.
Is yours the number they would call? In how many contact lists is your number the ICE (In Case of Emergency)? Is yours the place they would come to stay, for food, for shelter, for money to see them through the crisis? Are you the one they know will dig them out of the hard place, or after the storm? Does your son or daughter, friend or father, know that their fears, failures, hurts, angers, cares, concerns, anxieties and pains matter to you? More than your plans or peace and programme? Do your family, friends and neighbours know and trust that they can call on you and find a love that won’t sleep, at least not for long, when their Midnight Moment comes?
More poignant and pertinent questions next week – if you’re not asleep!
God bless you – ICE!
The Midnight Moment – Luke 22.39-46 (16/09/15)
#1: Jesus made it very clear that He came to fulfil, or complete, the Jewish Law. All of that could be condensed simply into loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbour (near-by one) as much as you love yourself (Matthew 22.35-40). In other words, it’s all about love – relationship, dedication and commitment to other people. We’ve turned it into church attendance, numbers in the congregation, length of Sunday Services, amount of financial giving and all sorts of other secondary issues – sadly often at the expense of the first two great commandments. But dedication, devotion, commitment and love to and for God and other people was the fundamental, foundational principle by which Jesus lived His earthly life – and therefore it should be also for those who say they know and follow him.
Come with me to the night before He was to die. He is about to complete His earthly mission, to fulfil what His Father had sent Him to do. He was about to be betrayed by one of His closest followers for the past three years – one who had walked with Him, talked with Him, eaten with Him, slept beside Him, seen Him do and even done himself extraordinary miracles on His behalf, and more. Jesus knew that within hours He would be hideously maligned, misrepresented, horrendously abused and grotesquely put to death. This would be instigated by the highest of the religious officials, and completed by the barbarous occupying army of foreigners. Not a pleasant evening, in fact I would venture to suggest the worst conscious moment of His 30 something years. And He goes to His place of solace, a garden, to prepare Himself in prayer for the ordeal. The garden was called the garden of Gethsemane, which meant “Olive Press”. He was under crushing pressure, so intense that He sweated blood. Medical science tells us that under extreme emotional pressure it is possible for blood vessels beneath the surface of the skin to burst, and so the blood seeps through the pores of the skin. It happened to Jesus. His own description of the moment was that His “heart was ready to break with grief”, and that it was “the hour of the power of darkness” (Mark 14.34; Luke 22.53). It was to be so severe that He even asked His Father God to spare Him the ordeal He was about to face (verse 42). It was the pinnacle moment of anguish and prayer in His life.
Understandably He reaches out for strength and comfort – to the ‘family’ He had brought with Him to that place and that moment (Matthew 12.49). At this Midnight Moment He calls out to His closest to help, to steady Him in the darkness of the moment. “Watch with Me,” He pleaded (Matthew 26.38).
Have you ever had a Midnight Moment? Maybe not as bad as the one I have just described – but as terrible as it gets for you? I have. Even very recently I experienced pain of a degree I have never known before, hour after extended hour. Painkillers didn’t alleviate it. Prayer didn’t alleviate it. The heavens seemed closed, deaf and silent. It is at such times you cry out to those closest to you and say, “Watch with me.”
What was their response? We shall see next week!
God bless you – hopefully it is still evening!
Numbers, not Names – 1 Chronicles 12 (09/09/15)
#8: Above all else what characterises the genuine army of God today? Verse 38 of our passage summarises it – they were determined to make David king, and they were of one heart, united in the same purpose. Today’s great and mighty Resistance Army of God are united and of one heart and mind…to make Jesus King over their area. Sadly in too many places I have been, including where I live and work, they are not. They struggle and strive to do what is right in their own eyes, barely even acknowledging there are any others naming the name of Christ in the same conflict. Those who seem to be doing well brag, and those who are struggling have more or less given up. When God looks down on an area He wants to see His body connected, not a heap of body parts, dismembered through jealousy, rivalry and frankly arrogance and pride. It is not a secret that the strength of the church at its outset was that they were of one heart and mind (Acts 2.46; 4.32; Philippians 2.2). All over the world today, more than 2000 years later there are still so many living in Ziklag, trying to make or keep a name for themselves. But as I have endeavoured to draw out over the past few weeks, God wants us at Hebron, the place of league, and association. I was speaking at a Pastors Conference in India a while ago, and I challenged those leaders to pray as much for one ministry other than their own as much as they prayed for their own ministry. A couple of years later, again at a Pastors Conference in the same area, two men came to see me after one of the teaching seminars. Both were radiant. They said, “Peter, when you were here last time you challenged us to pray as much for another ministry as for our own. We agreed together then to pray for each other. Since then both our ministries have grown in ways we never imagined!” We thank God. If only His soldiers today, especially the Generals, would learn this. It is the day of Numbers, not Names – we should be living in Hebron, not Ziklag! United, of one heart and mind, determined to make Jesus King in our area. And there will indeed be joy in such a place (verse 40).
It was the custom of the townsfolk of a certain town in Canada to meet together on a Saturday and go out to the foothills of the great Rocky Mountains to spend the day relaxing, eating, chatting, children playing. One Saturday they were out. It had been a beautiful day. The sun was beginning to go down and the temperature was dropping as the shadows began to lengthen. They all gathered together to return to the town. But two parents were anxious – their son was missing. “Has any one seen John?” they asked. “We were playing with him up the river earlier on,” replied some children. “He was with us in the meadow a couple of hours ago,” ventured others. Panic began to set in as the evening drew in. Everyone rushed off in different directions, shouting “John! John! Where are you?” After some time it was nearly dark, and no sign of John. So the Mayor of the town called everyone back together and said this: “It is too late and too dark now. Let’s return to the town and at the very first light of day tomorrow, we will assemble in the town centre and come out again to search for him. They all agreed. John’s parents of course spent a sleepless night. But at day break the next morning the whole town had gathered, and out they went to the same place. But this time the Mayor said, “Now, I want everyone to hold hands with someone else, and we will stretch out as far as we can and move forward slowly searching every inch of the ground in front of us until we find him.” A line formed, nearly a mile long, and slowly they moved forward combing the ground. After a while the cry went up, “Here he is! Here he is! We’ve found him!” Everyone, especially the anxious parents rushed to the scene, and there was John – dead. He had died in the night from the cold of the mountain. At that point someone said, “If only we had held hands before.”
Friends, my cry to the church of Jesus Christ world-wide today is the same – “If only we had held hands before.” There are John’s all around us dying for lack of knowledge of the love of God, of His purpose and plan and destiny for their lives, because we are so busy rushing here and there in every direction trying to do it on our own, and in our own way (Deuteronomy 12.8; Judges 17.6; 21.25). But it is still not too late to join hands with others where you are in the search for the John’s. I preach this message everywhere I go – God willing some will listen and take action. I can’t travel at the moment, so reader, take it and preach it yourself. The whole world belongs to God. He gives humans authority to rule over it. We hand that authority over to the evil one by succumbing to his temptations, and the world ends up in the power of the evil one. God sent His son to destroy those works of the evil one. That same Son, Jesus Christ, says, “As the Father sent Me, so I send you…go therefore…!” (Psalm 24.1; Genesis 1.28; 1 John 5.19a; 3.8b; John 20.21; Matthew 28.19) Forget making a name for yourself, or putting your church ‘on the map’ – put Jesus’ name first and get Jesus’ name ‘on the map’. It’s the day of Numbers, not Names, we’re at Hebron, not Ziklag. Go … and destroy the works of the evil one.
God bless you, fellow soldier – as you live and share this message.
Numbers, not Names – 1 Chronicles 12 (02/09/15)
#7: Not only was that great and mighty army, which was determined to make David king in place of Saul, according to the word of the Lord, well-equipped, it was well-trained as well. So also with God’s great and mighty army today. It is no good having a weapon if you don’t know how to use it! What is the use of having a car if you cannot drive it? I remember one of my team members in Uganda had an old pick up truck parked outside his house. I asked him “What’s that for? You can’t even drive.” He replied, “It makes me look important!” Soldier, learn how to use your weapons. Get trained. If you think you can’t afford Bible School, then go to your church leader and say, “Please train me.” If they won’t, ask why, and be ready for a tough answer. Failing that, find one who will, or ask me and I’ll send you materials free of charge (no copyright on the Word of God).
And they were loyal, reliable. In times of great exhaustion and frustration in the past people would say to me, “Pastor, your problem is you need to delegate.” Hahaha! I did delegate, but only too often those who had willingly assumed responsibility were not reliable. When beginning a new church you cannot pick and choose from the cream – you have to work with the milk! Let your Yes be Yes, and your No be No. Don’t say you will do something and then fail to even try to do it – Jesus calls that evil (Matthew 5.37; James 5.12). Are you the one who is there when most needed? In the heat of the battle? At the toughest of times? I am currently fighting cancer, and it is clear who is with me in this midnight hour of need, and who is not. At Jesus’ midnight hour He specifically called His three closest to be with Him, to watch and pray with Him. They slept. Are you sleeping in someone’s midnight hour? Wake up! They need you. These warriors were ready to fight. No if’s and but’s and when’s and let me first’s. Be prepared at all times – you never know when the enemy will attack or from which direction.
This army can fight against the principalities and powers of darkness and wickedness. They can discern the spiritual forces involved and use the weapons of their warfare in vibrant, vital, valiant intercession – primarily the name of Jesus, the Word of God, and the blood of Christ (Ephesians 6.12; 2 Corinthians 10.4-5). These soldiers are ready to fight against ungodliness by righteous living. They are found challenging injustice, immorality, and unrighteousness wherever they encounter it, even in high places. They can use all kinds of weapons of warfare – prayer, proclamation and declaration of the truth and the Word of God, praise and worship (that confounds and confuses the enemy – he hates it!), social action, the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12.4-11), help, administration, liberal financial giving, and so it goes on (Romans 12.6-8). Every follower of Jesus has at least one or more of these weapons to use. What are yours? What has God given you? Are you equipped? Trained?
Well, I’m nearly finished with this one. Next week, I’ll round off with a story to illustrate. Till then …
God bless you – action stations!
Numbers, not Names – 1 Chronicles 12 (26/08/15)
#6: What does this mighty army of God look like? What are its characteristics? Well, it’s the same as the mighty army that gathered around David, determined to make him king. God’s mighty army of countless numbers today, determined to make Jesus King rather than to make a name for themselves (there are still a lot of those, sadly) are firstly well-equipped for war (1 Chronicles 12.24). They know they’re there to fight for Jesus, for His name, for His glory. Churches are packed out today with people wanting their ears tickled, hungering to hear how they can be more blessed, more successful in business, in finance, in relationships, in health. Not God’s army! God’s army consists of soldiers who are well equipped for war, not for personal welfare and prosperity. They’re in a battle against a real, hateful, vengeful enemy, who will give them not an easier time, but a harder, tougher time. But they are well equipped.
God has given to His army trainers to equip them. The Bible calls these people apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4.11-13). They are there to equip the saints, to build up the body for the work of service. Happily all of these ministries are evident and recognised again in this day of Hebron. In Ziklag, not so. The argument went that apostles and prophets were no longer for this day and age. The evangelist was largely unrecognised, and pastors and teachers were limited to the wealthy, educated elite. Resticted because of Saul/satan. But today they thrive and prosper and any child of God can be equipped by them in most countries due to the remarkable growth in electronic media and travel. They each have specific areas of equipping, and one needs to access all of these ministry gifts. But in this day of Numbers, not Names you can and should be equipped, soldier. Don’t go out to fight unarmed – you’ll get slaughtered. NB there are also plenty of false ones – Jesus said there would be, and the apostles Peter, Paul and John warn us, so be wise and use your discernment (Matthew 7.15; 24.11, 24; 2 Peter 2.1; 2 Corinthians 11.12-15; 1 John 4.1). Don’t be fooled by miracles! And such people will be found in the church (Matthew 7.23).
The full armour of God is available (Ephesians 6.10-17). It protects you in front, but not behind. It’s not for people in retreat mode. Soldiers at the time when that was written would wear the breastplate, belt and shoes all the time, even when sleeping. At the sound of the battle alarm, they would hastily grab the sword, shield and helmet and out they would go. Are you wearing the full armour? Are you ready to fight as soon as the cry comes? Get equipped, or you’ll be knocked out before the real thing has started. It was customary in those days to begin a battle by firing a mass of flaming arrows onto the enemy. The purpose was to eliminate as many as possible before hand to hand fighting began. That was the purpose of the shield, to extinguish the fiery darts. The devil will attack you in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning, and if you don’t have your armour on and by your side, he’ll knock you out before the day begins. Wise up!
And they fought side by side, together. They drew up in battle formation (verse 38). Oh dear, all over the world I find this unit and that unit, this regiment and that regiment, this church and that church, this denomination and that denomination. And far too often they are busy fighting each other rather than the enemy! They’re still at Ziklag, not Hebron. Earlier this year I was in one key town in Africa which is renowned for being the centre of witchcraft in the country, and a group of churches deliberately arranged an alternative crusade and conference at the same time as my team and I were there! Unbelievable!
It’s a fantastic, well-equipped army that can draw up in battle formation. Are you in it? Equipped? Who are you fighting alongside? Honour, value, support and appreciate them – don’t curse and criticise them. Are you are Ziklag, or Hebron? More characteristics next week, by God’s grace.
God bless you, whoever you are and whatever your name is!
Numbers, not Names – 1 Chronicles 12 (19/08/15)
#5: We need not be surprised at what is happening! Unprecedented church growth, unprecedented church unity. Numbers, not Names. Why not be surprised? Because verse 23 of our passage says that the ‘numbers’ went to David, determined to make him king in place of Saul, “according to the word of the Lord”. Friends, when God speaks it happens! You don’t need to get past the first page of the Bible to discover that truth! And in the same way God has declared that He will make Jesus King. “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.” (Psalm 2.8). If Jesus asks the Father for something the Father has promised, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that He will be given it!
People say God is omnipotent. Be careful, there is something, in fact, He cannot do – lie (Hebrews 6.18). “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23.19). The whole world will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2.14). The kingdoms of the world will become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever (Revelation11.15). That’s precisely why this gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come (Matthew 24.14). It is also precisely why kings should be wise and rulers of the earth be warned (Psalm 2.10). Read on to verse 12 if you dare. But as one song writer puts it, they’re “running helter skelter to destruction with their fingers in their ears (Don Francisco, Adam, where are you? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Llab0E7X-CI).
So, it’s going to happen, and it has already begun. Nothing can change that. The ‘time’ has changed – we’re at Hebron not Ziklag. You can read about different religions and ideologies, and research statistics and speculate on global recession and migration etc, but just as surely as God handed the kingdom over to David, God will hand the world over to His Son Jesus Christ, because that is “according to His plan”.
What are the characteristics of this “great army”? We’ll look at them next week, God willing.
By the way, are you in “the great and mighty army”? Enlist now, while you can! How? Simple – “I, …. present myself to enlist as a soldier in the army of the Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” Great – you’re in! Forget all the religious church membership rules and regulations – do it Jesus’ way. He just said, “Follow ME,” and they did!
God bless you – soldier.
Numbers, not Names – 1 Chronicles 12 (12/08/15)
#4: For centuries, and even still today in many places, God’s people have been at Ziklag. They have been restricted because of Saul/satan, the god or ruler of this world – “The whole world lies in the grip/power of the evil one…” (2 Corinthians 4,4; 1 John 5.19b). They have been living in the enemy’s city, according to the enemy’s principles. Greed, jealousy, ambition, pride, position, title, status, power, self-centredness, doctrines, dogmas, suspicion, fear, denominationalism, property, materialism, immorality, carnality… Someone once said, “God put the church in the world, but the devil has put the world in the church.” Very true. (I will add a link to a Godfrey Birtill song that says it all https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVjYXM0NhKs.)
But in this ‘time’ there have been many ‘names’. Many heroic figures – more recently Luther, Wesley, Whitfield, Booth, Carey, Muller…we all have our favourites – each century and each country has its own. They did bold exploits for Jesus, and under the anointing of and in the power of the Holy Spirit. But…
The ‘time’ has changed. God wants His people at Hebron, not Ziklag. It is the place of Numbers, not Names, of “tens of thousands”, not “ones”. The great turning point came at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then the world has experienced unprecedented numerical church growth. In 1900, Korea had no Protestant church. Today there are over 7000 churches in just the city of Seoul, South Korea. At the end of the 19th century the southern portion of Africa was only 3% Christian. Today, 63% of the population is Christian. Membership of churches in Africa is estimated to be increasing by 34,000 per DAY! More people in the Islamic world have come to Christ in the last 25 years than in the entire history of Christian missions. In Islamic Indonesia the percentage of Christians is now so high (around 15%) that the Muslim government will no longer print statistics. In China there are more self-avowed disciples of Jesus than members of the Communist Party. Across the planet followers of Jesus are increasing by more than 80,000 per day, despite ever increasing persecution and execution. Ironically, except for the Middle East, where Christianity was born, and Europe and America, to whose civilisation it gave birth, Christianity is expanding everywhere today. (Statistics from Witness Essentials, by Dan Meyer).
It is the ‘time’ of Hebron, of “association” and “league”. We are experiencing unprecedented church unity and mutual respect, recognition and co-operation. Streams are flowing into rivers, and rivers are flowing into seas. “Unity for territory” has been the prophetic cry for a long while now. The ‘times’ have changed – can you see it?
To be continued …
God bless you, as you make your way to, or swim in, the sea of Hebron!
Numbers, not Names – 1 Chronicles 12 (06/08/15)
#3: Jesus is staggered that the religious authorities of His day could not discern the time they were living in. They could forecast the weather, but did not recognise who He was! (Matthew 16.3; Luke 19.44). I wonder if He would speak to church leaders the same way today.
The second ‘time’ we read about in 1 Chronicles 12 begins at verse 23. It is a very different ‘time’ from the first one. Now it reads, “Now these are the numbers of the divisions equipped for war, who came to David at Hebron, to turn the kingdom of Saul to him, according to the word of the Lord.” Only two names mentioned now. Before it was “These are the ones/names…;” now it is, “These are the numbers…” You see, Numbers, not Names! A very significant change has taken place – it’s a different ‘time’ altogether. The times have changed. They are like an enormous army, the mighty army of God, a great army. They are well-equipped for war, with shields for defence and spears for attack. And they are well trained too. As before, they have come to David, he is centre stage still, the focal point, the key figure. They are there to help him, to make him king in place of Saul, all according to the word of the Lord (1 Samuel 15.22-23; 16.1,3,12-13). In other words, it is all part and parcel of God’s plan, He has promised it and so it is going to happen. When God speaks, it happens!
They are gathered now at a place called Hebron. This was a city of Judah, which belonged to God’s people. The name Hebron means “association” or “league”. Very different from Ziklag, an enemy city, with no meaning to its name whatsoever.
Application? Meaning? So what? Let me suggest that David represents Jesus. Not a great stretch of the imagination required here! The name David means “my beloved one”, the very words the Father in heaven used of Jesus His Son in the waters of baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration. Both were born in Jerusalem. And Jesus was frequently referred to or called the son of David. Saul represents the devil.
So what do we make of all this? How does it relate to our ‘time’? See you next week, God willing …
God bless you, as you try to fathom it out!
Numbers, not Names – 1 Chronicles 12 (29/07/15)
#2: In my country today, the UK, there is no prophetic voice. The church is largely silent, regarded as irrelevant and/or out of touch, mocked, criticised and taken to court if it opens its mouth in public. Should any political leader ask the question, “Is there a word from the Lord for this nation?” there would be a deafening silence, or a confused mumble of differing thoughts and ideas. No wonder we are alarmed! Where are the sons of Issachar? What “time” are we in? What should we do?
There are two “times” in David’s life spoken about in 1 Chronicles 12. The first occurs in a town called Ziklag. We read, “Now these are the ones who came to David at Ziklag,…” Other translations say, “These are the names …” And there follows a list of names, together with their illustrious heritage. They are famous, experienced, reliable and brave. They have “come to David”. They have joined him, and he is the key figure. They are there simply because of and for him. They rally round him, key into him and fight for him. “David, son of Jesse, we are yours…” (verse 18). David is centre stage – the focal point, the focus of attention.
Now Ziklag belonged to the enemy, the Philistines. It had been given to David when he had defected and was fleeing from King Saul. He had very unhappy memories of the place as another enemy, the Amelakites, had attacked and captured his wives and children (1 Samuel 30). The name has no specific meaning. And David is restricted there because of Saul – i.e. he can’t do what he wants or go where he wants, because he is escaping from Saul, and he couldn’t move freely. Yet these ‘mighty men’ helped him in war, in the power of the Holy Spirit (verse 18), and he received and welcomed them. All these points are essential for my interpretation of the significance of this for today’s ‘time’. Remember them.
But there is a second ‘time’ in this chapter. Let’s look at that next week …
God bless you, as you ponder on our ‘time’.
Numbers, not Names – 1 Chronicles 12 (22/07/15)
#1: Many Christians today are alarmed. What is going on? What is happening? We are no longer a Christian country, they lament, in the UK and the USA, and quite likely other ‘Christian’ countries. Employees are silenced in the work place and forbidden to speak about or stand by their Christian beliefs, preachers are remanded in custody for answering in public specific and direct questions about the Bible’s teaching on morality, bakers are taken to court for refusing to ice cakes with logos or statements in direct opposition to their principles and values, and are then accused of being intolerant! Only this week the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democratic Party in the UK, a committed born-again Christian, faced fierce and aggressive questioning from the media about his personal faith rather than his political views. What’s going on?
The great C18th revivalist Jonathan Edwards said, “The task of any generation is to discover in which direction the Sovereign Redeemer is moving, and then to move in that direction.” The sons of Issachar were able to discern, or understand, the times, and thus knew what God’s people should do (1 Chronicles 12.32). Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day for being good weather forecasters, but failing to “discern the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16.3). And He wept over Jerusalem because they did not recognise the time of their visitation (Luke 19.44). For centuries they had cried, “Oh that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64.1) and when the heavens were opened and He did come down, they opposed Him, criticised Him and plotted to kill Him. No wonder He called them blind guides!
It is essential that God’s people today discern and understand the times we are living in. In 1 Chronicles 12 there are two “times” mentioned. They are very different. For the next few weeks I am going to observe this passage and draw some parallels to help us understand the times we are living in, so that we may know what to do.
See you hopefully next week…
God bless you, as you dust off your spiritual spectacles!
When you fear what will become of you… (Habakkuk 3) (15/07/15)
#6: What else made our friend Habakkuk happy and bring him joy? What else followed the “Yet I will rejoice…”? Well, secondly the sovereign Lord was his strength. When you’re down, when a crisis or calamity has hit you, folk with the best will and intention in the world often say, “Be strong!” And actually that’s the last thing you feel you are or can be! “Sorry, mate, I’m down,” is all you really want to say. But then comes the “Ah, yes, but when you’re weak, then you’re strong” bit. Yep, I know that one too. But I’m down, for crying out loud!
Listen, fear comes when we are so weak and helpless, powerless over the enemies within and without. What chance do we have against the Babylonians bearing down upon us, or against disease, sickness, age or an unjust boss, spouse, oppressor of some kind? What power do we have over our own sinful nature, the toxic memories and regrettable habits and attitudes? And before you get self-righteous, even the apostle Paul said, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7.24). And his answer is the same as Habakkuk’s. Jesus Christ! We do not have to be strong, because the sovereign Lord is our strength.” (Habakkuk 3.19)
And He makes our feet like hinds’, or deers’ feet (vs 19). From trembling on his knees before the wrath of God our humble prophet now is strengthened by the same God to climb above the evil powers of this world and to take the mountain. Remember Caleb? When we wonder what will become of us, rely on the strength of God to climb high, where the air is thin, and the footing is treacherous, up to the high ground, and there, like Moses, you won’t see His face, but you will see His back, with the scars of the lashes indelibly there for eternity…because of you! And when you’ve spent time with Him there, you’ll come back down with His word for someone else.
Hey, your problem isn’t so bad when you get praying like Habakkuk – nor is mine!
God bless you, deer!
When you fear what will become of you… (Habakkuk 3) (08/07/15)
#5: The prophet Habakkuk knew how to pray when he feared what would become of him. What a prayer, eh? And finally…as Bible writers like to say! What did our friend Habakkuk rejoice over? What brought joy to his heart? What made him happy in his perilous and fearful circumstances? And what can make you and I happy in ours?
Firstly: the God of His salvation. God is not impartial, disconnected, distant or impassive about our faith in Him. He has and will continue unfailingly to rescue us from sin and death, and from the world, the flesh and the devil. He has saved us through Christ no matter what we may be going through now, and whatever is happening in the world around us. And He will save us to the uttermost when Jesus returns. So we can rejoice, be joyful, be happy regardless. We are saved now and for ever. That means we are safe from whatever comes our way to destroy us.
Two Canadian brothers finally tired of the rat-race and pollution of city life. They decided to quit and escape to the forests and fresh air. Having followed a river many miles up stream, the younger said to the older, “I’m stopping here. I’ll build my house from the trees around, live off the fish and any wild animals I can catch. How about you, bro?” “I’m going further upstream,” replied his brother. “Let’s meet again in a month’s time. I’ll come back down and see how it’s all going.” So they embraced and parted company. He finally found a resting place and started felling trees and building his log cabin. But every time he looked back down the river all he could see where he had left his brother was smoke. Day after day, nothing but smoke. So he built his cabin, and when the month was up he went back downstream. To his surprise, his younger brother had no log cabin, he had been living and sleeping under the stars and the trees. But he had cleared a huge clearing, and burnt the trees he felled. “Hey, man, why haven’t you built your house yet? All you’ve done is cut down trees and make a vast open space. You can’t live outdoors when the snow comes. I’ve already completed my cabin – nice and cosy.” “Brother,” came the reply, “What will you do when the forest fire comes? You haven’t made a clearing. The fire will destroy your house and you. As for me, I will be saved from the fire that is to come because I stand where the fire has already been.”
My friend, if you are in Christ, you are saved from the fire that is to come, because you stand where the fire has already been – it fell at Calvary. (John 3.36; Romans 1.18; Isaiah 53.4-6) So be happy! And I’m not done with this one yet …
God bless you – the smoky smell of the cross of Christ is on you!
When you fear what will become of you… (Habakkuk 3) (01/07/15)
#4: What’s that little give away word that teaches us so much? Yes, it’s “Yet…” (Habakkuk 3.16 NIV). “Yet I will wait patiently …” When you fear what will become of you, pray in a different way, and resolve to be patient. Sometimes prayer is just ducking down to wait patiently for the Lord. Hey, we’re here for the long haul. Today we don’t like that – we want everything…NOW! When we’re in trouble and crisis and fear, God welcomes our cries for help, health, resources, resolved conflicts, safety etc. But sometimes God doesn’t make our problems disappear instantly. Sometimes we must wait for the day … and eventually the day when Jesus returns, and “the kingdom of this world becomes the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11.15 ). We pray for God’s salvation and His promises, and we also pray for resolve to wait patiently for Him. Timing is crucial in the affairs of the Kingdom of God – don’t try to “jump the gun”, it won’t speed God up, believe me! Have you ever played a slow movement of a symphony at fast speed? Sounds awful, doesn’t it?! No, resolve to wait patiently for the Lord and move in His time, march at His pace, let your pulse be in tune with His pulse.
But there’s another little “yet” coming up! Verses 17-19 we see this wicked world, sure to face the wrath of God, His people facing times where everything is dead and there’s nothing left, life has been ransacked and looted, YET we can exult in the Lord and rejoice in the God of our salvation. So when you fear what will become of you, pray, resolve to be patient and rejoice in the Lord. But in such times we can’t just manufacture faith. We must summon it up from the depths of our souls, the storehouse. That’s what Habakkuk has been doing previously in his prayer. That’s why we need now to be reading Scripture, feeding ourselves on the bread of life. Like the wise ant, store up while it is summer, for winter will surely come (Proverbs 30.25). And now he rejoices over two unchanging assurances – see you next week!
God bless you, patient one!
When you fear what will become of you… (Habakkuk 3) (24/06/15)
#3: The prophet Habakkuk pondered in his prayers, whilst in a time of seeming distress and despair, the same stories as we read in Exodus. He pondered God’s great deeds and filled his heart and mind with what they told him about his great and mighty, awesome God. And we can do exactly the same. The Bible gives us fantastic pictures and poetry and we can fill our hearts and minds full of them in our times of fear.
The story of deliverance we can remember far exceeds the wonders of the Exodus. Pray deep into the triumph of Christ. Meditate on the wrath of God against the sin of the world, poured out on His only begotten Son who came to take it away so that we don’t have to face it ourselves (John 1.29; 3.16). Ponder on the astonishing power of God which parted the waters of the Red sea, but which pales into insignificance in comparison with the parting of the walls of death and opening of the gates of heaven that we may go safely in. Think about the “head of the house of evil” (vs 13), satan, the enemy of our souls, whom God will ultimately cast down, bind in chains and hurl headlong into hells’ fiery chamber for ever and ever. We, once the “oppressed in secret” (vs 14) have been lifted high by Christ our Saviour and are seated with Him in heavenly places, a royal priesthood, saints of the most High God!
Contemplating these things does not necessarily take our troubles away, or make our sufferings cease. But it does change the way we pray! Remembering reorients our prayers and fortifies our faith! It is commonly believed that Habakkuk’s fear was at the thought of the oncoming Babylonians, but maybe he was simply stunned by seeing so vividly the wrath of God. Daniel felt the same way when he saw the future. John likewise as God revealed to him the judgment coming on the world. The judgment coming on Judah and then Babylon was terrifying. But there is a little word coming up, which leads me to the next lesson we can learn from the prophet Habakkuk about what to do when we fear what will become of us …
See you next week!
God bless you, highly and heavenly seated one!
When you fear what will become of you… (Habakkuk 3) (17/06/15)
#2: And in Your anger, remember mercy! The wrath of God is another of the aspects of His nature that modern day preachers skirt around. But God’s anger over His people’s violence and injustice is why He is moved to raise up the Babylonians to overwhelm them. There are modern day parallels, I believe. The once Godly nations of Europe and north America, who have largely forfeited their Christian heritage for a secular humanistic attitude and lifestyle, would do well to be fearful of the emergence of vicious enemies elsewhere and in their midst. In my own country, the United Kingdom, a Member of Parliament recently boldly declared we are a Christian country, and the outcries from all around resounded in the media, as if we are proud to have turned our backs on the former favours and blessings of God that once made us a great nation. But note also, God’s anger over the arrogance of the Babylonians and their brutality will, in turn, bring about their downfall. Interpret that today as you will.
People like to think the wrath of God is a primitive concept, and enlightened as we are now, it is no longer relevant. Hmmm…best think again! God’s anger is the absolutely necessary expression of His righteousness, goodness and love. He is too good to allow the wicked to finally win, and as the sovereign God He is responsible to put an end to it. The sin of pride, and violent injustice infuriates Him – and it should infuriate us. Habakkuk knows God must demonstrate His wrath against His people and His people’s enemies, against Judah and against Babylon. Hence he prays for God to show His mercy.
Then he starts remembering God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt and the way in which He brought them triumphantly to the land He had promised them. He prays that story back to God. He prays about God’s glory, and His splendour, His terrible power unleashed against Egypt through the plagues – rivers turning to blood, frogs, gnats and flies everywhere, livestock dying, people pocked with boils, hail pounding their crops, locusts devouring what remained, and then deep darkness, night and day. And finally, when none of these brought the Pharaoh, king of Egypt to his knees, the angel of death passes over and takes every first-born son and animal in Egypt. Oh my goodness! Have we forgotten this God? Have we preferred to reinterpret Him to suit our understanding and desires?
But his prayer doesn’t stop there! Plagues, pestilences, the earth shaking, nations trembling, ancient mountains and hills crumbling and collapsing as He marches on! Rivers and seas and streams parting, torrents of rushing water, as God raged. Sun and moon stopping in their tracks as He threshed the nations like a harvester with a scythe. And God saved His people. And He has and will save you, and me! Now this is what I call awesome! Not a nice mood-swinging, dimly lit worship time of sugary songs giving you goose bumps! Nice maybe, but not God’s true awesomeness.
Dare to pray like that? Why not – Habbakkuk did, and God chose to record it for eternity in Scripture. So maybe He’s just prompting us to remember Him in His devastating power and sovereignty and calling us to cry out, “Do it again, Lord!”
God bless you – as you pray in your fear!
When you fear what will become of you… (Habakkuk 3) (10/06/15)
#1: Last week I was told cancer was reappearing in my body after seven years clear. It is hard to describe the rapid range of thoughts and feelings that flood you at such a time. For others it’s when you are suddenly sent for by the boss. Or you’re sat on your own as your partner has left and shut the door once and for all. Or you get the exam result or university or job application rejection that leaves you feeling you’ve failed. Life has it’s crisis moments, whether we like it or not. And at such times, as I did last week, you wonder and even fear what will become of you. Sure, your faith is strong, sure you know God’s in control, sure friends and relatives rise up and stand beside you, but you still wonder … and your prayers can seem a bit flimsy. Let me share what I am learning from the prophet Habbakkuk at such a time as this.
Habbakkuk lived in a terrifying time, 600 years before Christ. Babylon was ready to crush the Jews, and Habakkuk was with them. How did he pray? And what can we learn?
Firstly, when you fear what will become of you, pray! “How?” you may well ask. You don’t feel much like praying right now. You’re down, you’re low, you’re in a serious battle. He starts by remembering stories of how God delivered His people in the past. “I have heard the report about You…revive Your work…” (Habakkuk 3.2) Do it again, Lord, is what he is really praying. For me, God saw me faithfully through it all seven years ago. I claimed and clung on to the Scripture, “I will not die, but live to declare the works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118.17) You too – He’s done it before, just think back, and He can and will do it again. He’s brought you this far and He’s not going to ditch you now. Ask Him, and keep asking Him. Remind Him of what you’ve heard Him do in other people’s situations similar to yours. “Lord, I have heard the report…” The son of Korah, the Temple praise and worship leader now in exile, writing Psalms 42 and 43 does the same thing…he remembers the past (Psalm 42.6) and looks ahead to God restoring those glorious days (Psalm 43.3-4).
Listen my friend – it’s not all over! For you or for me! God can and will do it again – He is willing and able. Remind yourself …
Much more to come … see you next week!
God bless you, in your natural fear!
Ministers of Justice, or Just-us? Amos 5.21-24 (03/06/15)
#4: The ‘minor’ prophet Malachi says, “Don’t think God doesn’t care about, or see, or notice, or even judge your reaction to the injustices in your society. He does.” And He will come in judgement and grace, not to condemn and destroy us, but to refine, purify and cleanse us, to consume our imperfections and impurities (Malachi 3.5). Oh… that’s Old Testament stuff, you may like to say. Well, OK… if that’s your take on it. I would caution us all to heed the Lord’s words that follow – “For I, the LORD, do not change.” Hmmm… your call!
I like to call it divine chemotherapy or divine radiation treatment (and I know first hand what I’m writing about). When God visits in this way He is attacking the cancerous cells in our spirits, the deadly tumours of human sin and selfishness, the seeds the world, the flesh and the devil have subtly and silently sown without you realising. In the Afghanistan war the USA had a military campaign against the Taliban codenamed “Operation Infinite Justice”. The church’s military campaign should be codenamed “Operation Definite Justice”. It is the time, the prayer, the finance you give to the disadvantaged, and poor, the needy and helpless, the hopeless and the have-nots – reaching in to the river of human despair, rescuing people from drowning, and offering them relief. For some of us it may mean moving upstream to see who and what is throwing them in there in the first place; for others it is doing something about those who are drowning.
Let me finish this series with a story: a man was walking along the beach after a terrific storm during the night. There were fish lying all over the sandy shore desperately trying but unable to get back into the water. The young boy rushed ahead and started frantically throwing as many fish as he could back into the sea. The father cynically said, “Son, you’re wasting your time, there are too many. You can’t make a difference.” The boy stopped, looked his father in the eyes, and ran off and picked up another fish and threw it back into the sea. Then turning to his Dad he said, “Made a difference to that one!” Friends, man’s greed and inhumanity to man is and always has been too much for any one person, church, denomination, political group or party, or even nation or group of nations to handle. But one by one we can “make a difference to that one”.
You and your church? Minister/s of Justice, or Just-Us?
God bless you, as you throw fish back in the sea!
Ministers of Justice, or Just-us? Amos 5.21-24 (20/05/15)
#3: Oh… and YOU CAN challenge those who oppress the wage earner and the hired worker, and force them to live below the poverty line, or to survive on minimum wages. And YOU CAN challenge those who oppress the widow and orphan, the single parent family and the fatherless child, and the foreigner. And what’s more, YOU CAN challenge those who don’t fear God. Translate that into your own particular society, culture and language – it is pretty obvious what it’s saying! And by the way, it’s not me who’s saying it! It’s God, through a ‘minor’ prophet called Malachi (3.5).
Christian friends, we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the needy, of being Ministers of Just-Us. Our job, responsibility and call is to remember and champion the poor, the powerless, the little, the least, the last and the lost – the helpless, the hopeless, the bruised, the broken, the battered, the beaten, the have-nots. The temptation will always be to put self first – it’s the old Adamic nature. We will always naturally be led by our own wants, needs, greeds and desires. But the One we follow said this: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself…” (Matthew 16.24). Interestingly temptation always comes in the times of abundance and plenty. Hence Jesus said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…” (Matthew 19.23). And he prefaces it with emphasising that this is truth. Therefore the opposite is a lie. Work that out for yourself!
Most of you reading this will know that Sodom was renowned for its gross sexual immorality. But do you know that the guilt of Sodom was that the people were arrogant, had abundant food and careless ease, but did not help the poor and needy, and God regarded that as an abomination then? Has He changed? (Ezekiel 16.49-50; Malachi 3.6) Don’t misread, misunderstand or misquote me – God is all for, doesn’t mind and is not against prosperity, wealth and plenty…as long as it is shared! Money builds schools, churches and hospitals. It eradicates poverty and illiteracy. It finances research that cures life-threatening illnesses. Archeology reveals that in times when houses were built much the same size, the prophets were silent. But in periods when there were vast mansions and tiny hovels the prophets are the most out-spoken.
One major sports personality earned in one year of advertising a certain world-famous brand more than all the hired workers in all the Asian factories that made that brands’ shoes that year. The CEO of a well-known film company earns in excess of $97,000 USD/£62,000 GBP per hour (yes, hour!) whilst hired workers in other parts of the world nearby by earn US$0.28 USD/18p GBP. In many countries there is a huge range of bottled and canned drinks available in supermarkets and stores, whilst in another country 3 out of 5 children will not reach the age of six years old because the little water they get to drink is polluted with animal dung and teeming with bacteria. Do we care? Are we Ministers of Justice, or Just-Us?
Well, God cares if we care. I’ll show you what He thinks about it next week…
God bless you, and what you earn, and drink!
Minister of Justice, or Just-us? Amos 5.21-24 (13/05/15)
#2: So, you dared to read on…! Welcome! Well then, how do we respond and react to the immensity of injustice, greed and wickedness in the world? Either, paralysis – we bury our heads in the sand, say “It’s not my problem, I’ll look after No.1, me and mine.” That demotes you to the office of Minister of Just-Us. Or…
…you hear the word of the Lord through His prophets, which says, “I’m sick of your church services and prayer meetings and special praise and worship events and fancy flashy Conferences, and I won’t even look inside your Gift Aid offering envelopes …until I see justice and righteousness in full flow in your lives, and you start to speak up against exploiters of the vulnerable and the single parent family, and start to do something about it. There are three things I’m looking for in your life – that you are just, kind, and humble.” (Amos 5.21-24; Isaiah 1.10-17; Malachi 6.6-8). This promotes you to being a Minister of Justice.
Church leader, are you a Minister of Justice, or a Minister of Just-Us? What are you preaching and teaching the people God has entrusted to you? And how are you living it? Remember, they’ll catch what you’ve got. You can preach and teach measles, but if you’ve got chicken pox that’s what they’ll catch. Christian friend, wherever you are and whatever your church, who are you listening to and following? A Minister of Justice, or a Minister of Just-Us?
How do you feel when you are wronged, or treated unfairly? Your anger rises, your blood boils. “It’s not fair!” you cry, “I’m taking legal action!” Why do you not react in the same way when it is someone else who is wronged, or treated unfairly? True, you can’t solve or rectify the entire world’s problems, but YOU CAN notice, read, study, discover, learn and pay attention to what governments and powerful establishments and institutions are doing. YOU CAN stand up for people being treated unfairly in your small world, school, street, office, or home. YOU CAN give your surplus (that’s more than you need, not more than you want) to others with no home, no food, no clothes, no shelter, no education, no hope and no future. YOU CAN pray for any or all of them – and please, never say, “I’m too busy to pray.” You are not! If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. YOU CAN ask God to help you treat people justly and kindly. YOU CAN ask God to upgrade you to Minister of Justice.
Enough for now…but I’m not done yet!
God bless you, Minister of Just…?
Minister of Justice, or Just-us? Amos 5.21-24 (06/05/15)
#1: The prophets of the Bible, whether referred to as major or minor, were angry, shocking and often bizarre! Hosea married a prostitute declaring God’s people were unfaithful. Ezekiel ate food cooked on excrement proclaiming God’s people were defiled. Jeremiah dug up dirty underwear announcing God’s people were repellent. How would any of that that go down today in your church? One way to find out…! Yet a quarter of the Bible consists of prophetic books. Nearly 50% of the Old Testament is prophetic. They don’t beat about the bush, tickle people’s ears, or care about offending people – they tell it as it is, or as God says it is, and if you don’t like it, that’s your problem!
So what? Well, for most of us today things are generally ok. We accept there’s violence, corruption, immorality and exploitation in the world – hey, that’s life! But it doesn’t really affect me, and I’m certainly not guilty of any of that, you may think. Hang on a minute – over a thousand children are born with HIV every day in sub-Saharan Africa. All over the world children are born into desperate poverty and grow up with no access to education, medicine, housing etc, and yet in the UK, for example, we complain about our schools and education, our housing and child benefits, our National Health Service and how long we have to wait at Accident and Emergency department (when we have neither had an accident nor is our case an emergency – i.e. we shouldn’t even be there clogging up the system and holding up people with real accidents and emergencies!).
Yeah…but I have to think about MY children, and all those in sub-Saharan Africa aren’t MY problem. It’s the parents’ fault, the government’s fault, the children’s fault, the council’s fault, the police’s fault, and if it’s an earthquake, well, that’s God’s fault! Anyway, it’s not MY fault, and it’s not MY problem! It’s nothing to do with ME! Sorry, my friend, it is – according to the prophets! Which is why they get so angry. Jesus said that every time a hungry person is not fed, He’s the One who suffers. Every time a naked person is not clothed, He’s the One who suffers. Every time a sick or imprisoned person is not visited, He’s the One who suffers. So, Christian, it IS something to do with you! And there are other scenarios He mentions. (Matthew 25.31-46)
Prophets spend time with God, they have the burden of seeing the world as God sees it, knowing it as He knows it and feeling as He feels, and telling us (that’s why they are called prophets – they speak for God). Prophets notice what we have grown accustomed to and just accept as “life”. The 20th century student of the Biblical prophets, Abraham Heschel wrote, “Prophecy is the voice God has lent to the silent agony. God is raging in the prophet’s words.” Yet we omit them from our lives and we omit them from our reading of Scripture, and from our preaching in our churches.
So at the risk of losing a few readers, I’ll be a bit “prophetic” over the next few weeks.
God bless you – and see you next week…maybe?
The God of Three Days – 1 Samuel 4-6 (29/04/15)
#4: Day Three – The Day of God’s Glory. This is the day when God’s glory is revealed again. After days/seasons/periods of gloom, despair, darkness and hopelessness this day eventually comes. He has been at work all the time, but we haven’t seen it. Our story tells us that the city of Ashdod, where the Ark of the Covenant was held, and where the statue of the Philistine god Dagon had collapsed twice, was then afflicted with tumours on the people. So they, not surprisingly, attributed this to the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, and so sent it to another Philistine city, Gath (Goliath’s birthplace). They got tumours too! So they sent it on and the same thing happened till eventually they hooked it up to a couple of cows to wander off wherever. And guess where the cows went…straight back to Israel! And the glory of the Lord returned once again to the land!
There is a day, friends, when captivity is ended, when defeat is complete, when God comes home to his people. He’s the God of Three Days. On Day Three Jesus bursts forth from the grave, confronts Mary by name and she falls at His feet, “Rabboni!” On Day Three a stranger joins two broken, hopeless, helpless, dejected, disappointed travellers to a town called Emmaus, joins them for supper, and they suddenly realise who He is! Their return journey to Jerusalem took on a different nature! On Day Three people are crying, “He’s alive…He is risen…we have seen Him.” On Day Three He cooks and eats breakfast with them on a beach, and says, “I told you…” On Day Three He breaths His spirit on them, commissions them and says, “Go and preach…”
Day Three is the day of new hope, new joy, of victory and of God’s glory! Listen, you may be in Days One and Two, but always remember He’s the God of Three Days. “Weeping may tarry in the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30.5) What you are going through now, God is using, He’s still at work, and He’s on your case. Don’t doubt it. Wait for the God of Three Days, hope in the God of Three Days. And one day you will hear that unmistakable trumpet call, that resounding voice of the archangel and it will all be over…no more sickness, no more sorrow, no more suffering and sighing and sadness, weeping and crying, no more anxiety and stress. Satan bound and in the lake of fire, Dagon and many others with him, and Jehovah proves He is God Almighty and “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” He’s the the God of Three Days – 1 Samuel 4-6.
God bless you, as you wait in hope – He will come!
The God of Three Days – 1 Samuel 4-6 (22/04/15)
#3: Day Two – The Day of Hidden Battle, or The Day of Secret Combat. This is the day when God’s glory is still at work, but you can’t see it. Back in our story, the Ark of the Covenant, now in enemy hands, is placed in the temple of Dagon, their god, in the city of Ashdod. I can imagine the celebrations that evening as they sang and danced and chanted that great Dagon had defeated Jehovah! And they locked up and went home.
But when they opened up the temple doors the next morning, ‘great’ Dagon was flat on his face! “Hmmm…strange,” they thought, “the doors were surely locked?” More merry-making, dancing, drinking and delighting in their god’s victory. Celebrations over, doors double-locked this time, bed time. Next day, unlock doors and…oops, Dagon is down again, and this time his head and his arms have been cut off! My friends, nobody could see what God was doing, but He was still at work! You in Day Two? Can’t see much happening? Can’t see God doing anything? No, maybe you can’t, but He’s not asleep, I can assure you – and He’s on YOUR case too, cutting off a few arms and legs of your false gods.
Day Two for Jesus’ first followers – gloomy, dark, fearful, afraid, Jesus’ body in a tomb, with the seal of the most powerful empire in the world on it, and guards outside. Everything they were hoping for and the One they were hoping in, were gone. It’s all over. No, it’s not! Where is Jesus? Well, in fact on Day 1, the Day of Ichabod, He was putting us right with God, redeeming the world, paying the ultimate price for your sins and mine, and dying a death for us so that we may live a life. On Day Two, the Day of Hidden Battle, or Secret Combat, He was in hell preaching the gospel, setting captives free and declaring “I am the Alpha and the Omega – I was dead but now I am alive, and I have the keys of death and hell!”
Listen, Days One and Two are dark, yes, days of crisis and despair and seeming hopelessness. But you can’t tie Jesus down, you can’t put God in a box, or a tomb, death could not contain Him, or defeat Him. He’s still at work, doing what we can’t, despite our efforts and good deeds and feeble attempts at self-improvement, and fasting and praying! But we can’t see it! So we doubt it. Come on – however tough you think life is for you right now, Jesus is still interceding for you, He is still preparing a heavenly home for you, He is still sanctifying, and purifying and testing and training you so you can one day reign with Him. Put away your box of tissues and start thanking Him – dark days don’t mean God’s not at work, it’s just that you may not be able to see what He’s doing. Often He does more behind our backs than in front of our faces!
God bless you, as you look over your shoulder and get a nice surprise!
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The God of Three Days – 1 Samuel 4-6 (25/03/15)
#2: Hoping makes waiting possible. He’s the God of Three Days. Day One: The Day of Ichabod, the day when God’s glory seems to have departed. Let’s learn from the experiences of God’s people in a time before ours, and remember that He is the same today as then, for He never changes – “For I, the LORD, do not change;” (Malachi 3.6; Hebrews 13.8) They have been wandering for 40 years in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, the land God promised them. With them they have been carrying the Ark of the Covenant. They’re struggling because they have no king, and a very real enemy, the Philistines. They go into battle, and lose. “Where was God?” they cried. “Why didn’t He show up, and give us what we hoped for?” I.e. victory.
Ring bells? “Why didn’t I pass that exam?” “My driving test?” I prayed. “Why didn’t I get that job?” I prayed. “Why have I been made redundant?” I prayed. “Why is my business not succeeding?” I’m praying. “Why did that project flop?”
So they went into battle again. But this time they took the Ark of the Covenant with them. Inside were the manna and the Ten Commandments, representing the presence of God. “Surely we’ll win this time. We’ve got God with us … in a box. He will now surely give us what we are hoping for. Victory.” People today say, “I’ve got my mascot with me in the exam, I’ve got my cross around my neck, I’ve been fasting and praying, I have said my prayers…so surely I’ll succeed this time.” But they lost! And over 7000 more of them were killed in the battle, including the two sons of the priest, Eli. And…the Ark of the Covenant was captured. It can’t get much worse that that! The news caused Eli the priest to fall off his seat, breaking his neck in the process, and die. His daughter-in-law gives birth prematurely on hearing she has just become a widow with an orphan, suddenly with no husband, no brother-in-law or father-in-law to help and support her. So she calls the child Ichabod, which means “The glory of the Lord has departed.”
Listen…you can’t put God in a box. You can’t make God do what you want Him to do, when you want Him to do it. He just doesn’t work that way. Best hear and learn it now, before you get even more disappointed. You can put Him in a box of rituals and regulations and superstitions and whatever else, and things can get worse! Jesus once “tabernacled among us” (John 1.14), and still is with us today (Matthew 28.20), but you can’t tame Him, control Him, manipulate Him or instruct Him to do what you want. No politician, no priest, no person, president or prime minister could or can tame Him. Remember, after three years of amazing ministry, He was killed cruelly, His followers were crushed and confused, all they had hoped for and in was gone, it was a dark day, the glory of the Lord had departed – it was the Day of Ichabod.
You in a Day of Ichabod? Be patient – He’s the God of Three Days. See you next week…
God bless you, in your gloom.
The God of Three Days – 1 Samuel 4-6 (18/03/15)
#1: Hoping makes waiting possible! We can hope FOR something and we can hope IN someone. Either way, it enables us to wait. But everything, every circumstance, every situation we hope for will disappoint us and wear out once we’ve received it. I hope I will pass my exams…you do! But then there’s more exams! And they’re harder! I hope my business or church grows…but with it the problems and pressures grow! Even when we get what we so desperately want, it proves not to be what we expected, anticipated, dreamed of and hoped for, or give us the satisfaction we expected.
That’s all a bit depressing…I’m clicking on to another page, you say. Wait!!!! The important question is, “What can you hope for, and who can you hope in, that won’t disappoint, or fade, or fail?” Answer: Jesus. “I hope in You …You are my hope.” (Psalm 38.15; 62.5). Follow me through and you’ll find that hoping makes waiting possible. God is the God of Three Days.
Day One: The Day of Ichabod. What’s that?! It’s a day when the glory of God seems to have gone.
You in such a day? Hang on … I’ll explain next week.
God bless you – keep hoping!
Looking forward, what do you see? Jeremiah 29.1-14 (11/03/15)
#7: Do you know the story of Cinderella? Her mother passed away and her father remarried. But her step-mother and three step-sisters were jealous of her and hated her. They kept her more or less as a slave, doing all the menial tasks in the house and kitchen. The prince of the land decided to hold a grand ball, to which he invited all the eligible girls as he was looking for a bride. Cinderella’s step-mother refused to allow her to go. However, she managed to get there, dressed beautifully, and as she danced with the prince he fell in love with her. But she had to run away quickly to get back home before midnight. As she fled, she left one of her glass slippers on the steps of the palace. The prince found it and from then on searched the whole land to find the girl whose foot fitted the slipper perfectly.
Why tell this abbreviated version of the fairy tale? Well, before the ball, Cinderella was sad, dejected and unhappy. After the ball, she was singing, dancing and happy. Why? Her circumstances had not changed, she was still imprisoned in the house. But her attitude towards her circumstances had changed. Why? Because she remembered whom she had met at the ball – the prince! Meeting him did not change her situation, but it changed how she looked at her situation. Now she viewed her life with him in mind. Her work didn’t change, but her mind did. She had met him, he had a plan for her future and he would do whatever he could to find her so she could experience that plan. And he did search the land, and he did find Cinderella, married her and, yes, “They lived happily ever after!” Ask Cinderella if it was worth the wait? Her answer would be, “Oh yes, it was worth the wait!”
Have you met the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus? If not, your life is under the control of satan and his demons, as Cinderella’s was under the control of her wicked step-mother and step-sisters. But when you meet the Prince of princes your life is transformed. Once you have met Him, you may still be in a bad situation, as Cinderella was, in a hopeless chapter of your life. But keep Him in mind, He has a plan for you, He is searching for you, He is out there looking for you to give you a future and a hope, for your welfare and not your calamity.
And so we conclude…Is there any hope? Yes, there is. So reconsider your bad circumstances and situation. Be a blesser, be a giver and be a pray-er. The Prince is on His way! And if you have not yet met Him, just ask Him to come and find you – He will!
God bless you, as you do the housework!
Looking forward, what do you see? Jeremiah 29.1-14 (4/03/15)
#6: But how will I know what that plan for my welfare is? How do I discover it? How do I experience it? How do I understand it? If you read Jeremiah 29.12-14, what is repeated again and again? You will find “Me” five times in v12 and “I” six times in v14. And who is speaking? Who is “Me” and “I” referring to? Answer: God Himself.
My point: you may not know the plan, but when you know the Planner, you’ll discover the plan. What seems haphazard, chaotic, random and accidental begins to take shape and make sense. I love to do tapestry, which is weaving wool into a pattern on a piece of canvas to produce a picture. On the back of the canvas the wool is in chaos, loose bits here and there, tying up and criss-crossing across the underside. But on the front side there is a beautiful picture emerging. God is the great weaver – maybe you can only see the underside, but He sees the picture of your beautiful life. If I had money to invest, I would go to a financial advisor, because I do not understand financial investment, stock markets and the like. I would go to someone whose job is to keep up-to-date and abreast of the financial market and its current conditions, so that I could be advised. In the same way you must go to God, call upon Him, come to Him, pray to Him, seek and search for Him, and He will disclose to you what is His plan for you. It will not be without its problems, but they will be problems with a purpose, challenges with a purpose, trials with a purpose, difficulties…with a purpose. They are not disconnected, but connected, not discordant, but harmonious.
The people in the famous chapter of faith, Hebrews 11, include a prostitute (Rahab), a murderer (Moses), a womanizer (Samson), a gang-leader (Jepthah). They were all people with problems, who must have sent the message at some time, “Is there any hope?” All people with hang-ups, insecurities, issues in their lives. But they are found in that chapter of Scripture, written for all eternity, because they discovered God had a plan for their lives, and they yielded to it, rather than fight for their own cause. God took their BAD YESTERDAYS and turned them into BETTER TOMORROWS. It is not about how you start a race, but how you finish it.
In the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, there was a marathon runner from Tanzania called John Steven Aquari. In those days the African nations were just beginning to join in world tournaments. All eyes were on him. How would he cope up against the powerful Soviet Union athletes and strong Americans, Australians and Europeans who had dominated for so long. The starting pistol was fired and off they went. He held his own. Five miles, and he was up with the front runners. Ten miles and he was still going strong. Fifteen miles, all fine, until suddenly he stumbled and fell to the side. The field left him behind. Whether he tripped or was tripped, who knows? The medical team attended to him, but then, to everyone’s amazement he stood up, leg bandaged, and joined the race again. By now all the other runners were far out of sight. But John Steven Aquari continued the race, limping all the way. The race was finished, flags were raised, national anthems played, and the medals awarded. But no-one left the stadium…they were all waiting for the real hero of that 1968 Olympic marathon. Into the stadium he came, to the roar of applause from the crowds who had remained behind. Everyone rose to their feet. He completed the final lap, and collapsed to the ground. A reporter quickly came to him. “Tell me, we all want to know, why did you not quit when you stumbled and fell and were injured?” And this was his reply… “My country did not send me 7000 miles to start this race, they sent me to finish it!”
God has sent you here to finish the race. You may be limping, you may have stumbled, through your own fault or not, you may be bandaged up, but … get up, keep going and finish the race, even if you have to limp and are in pain…there is a vast crowd waiting for you!
God bless you, marathon runner!
Looking forward, what do you see? Jeremiah 29.1-14 (25/03/15)
#5: So, you may well ask, if this sense of hopelessness and helplessness is all part of God’s plan, to take me THROUGH in order to get me TO where He wants me to be, and where that is I’ll be better off, what do I do while I am waiting for that plan of His to unfold? And how do I discover, experience and understand what that plan is? Good questions! Let’s answer the first one today…
Don’t sit back grumbling, complaining and blaming God and others, including the devil. There was once a little demon sitting on the steps outside a church building. He was crying his eyes out. Someone walked by, saw him, stopped and asked, “What are you crying about, little demon?” “These Christians,” he wailed, pointing to the church behind him, “blame me for everything!” How easy it is to just say, “Why did God let this happen to me?” Or “The devil’s really getting at me.” As a pastor for 30 years I’ve heard that so many times. Moaning and groaning, grumbling and complaining, blaming everyone and everything except oneself. “I was born this way…it’s the government’s fault…I was bullied at school…” etc. Listen, the Jews in exile, whose story we are looking at, were there through their own fault! We can choose to sin or not to sin, but if we do choose to sin, then we cannot choose the consequences of that sin. The voice of the tempter never says what happens next! God has a reason and a purpose for what’s going on in your life. Remember, He said to them, “I have sent you into exile…” It was His plan, His idea (Jeremiah 29.4, 7, 11). But it was ultimately for their welfare or well-being.
My point: whilst waiting for the next, more pleasant stage, the welfare, the future and the hope, get on with your life. “Build houses, plant gardens, get married.” And be a blessing to others… pray for their welfare, be a part of the unfolding of His plan in their lives whilst you are waiting for yours. It is more blessed to give than to receive, and we all want to be blessed! (Acts 20.35). Don’t be a flea, living off someone else and irritating them!
A man was drowning in a fast flowing river. He couldn’t swim. He was throwing his arms about wildly, crying out for help. Another man was on the river bank. He shouted, “Give me your hand.” The drowning man ignored him. So he ran further down the river bank, faster than the water was flowing, and as the man in the water came past again, shouting “Help me! Help me!” he yelled, “Give me your hand.” The drowning man ignored him again. So he ran again to another point further down the river, and as the man in the water was swept along, he cried, “Take my hand.” Immediately the drowning man reached out his hand and grabbed the hand of the man on the river bank, and he was pulled out to safety. Why did he ignore his helper the first two times? Answer: he didn’t know the meaning of “Give”, he only knew the meaning of “Take”!
My friend, you may be sending out that message, as we started in this series, saying “Is there any hope?” Yes there is, God has a plan for you, to give you a future and a hope, but whilst waiting for that plan to unfold, get on with your life, think positively, be proactive and act generously. The measure you give is the measure you receive (Luke 6.38).
God bless you, as you reach out your hand on the river bank!
Looking forward, what do you see? Jeremiah 29.1-14 (18/02/15)
#4: The hopelessness and despair of yesterday or even today is included in God’s plan for you. Everything works together for good if you love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8.28).
Two young brothers were playing a little carelessly with a sharp knife. Accidentally one brother let the knife slip and cut off one of his brother’s fingers. “Don’t worry,” he called, “All things work together for good!” That did not impress the agonised, traumatised boy, and from that moment on he bore a deep grudge against his brother. Many years later they were walking together in the forest. As they passed a deep pit dug to catch lions, the brother without the finger suddenly pushed the other into the pit. “Why did you do that?” he cried, “Now a lion will also fall in and I’ll be dead.” “Oh don’t worry,” came the reply, “All things work together for good!” And off he strolled, leaving his brother helpless at the bottom of the pit.
However, as he made his way to the edge of the forest, he was suddenly seized by some indigenous cannibals, and bound tightly in ropes. They were about to celebrate an important festival and required a human sacrifice. As he was taken to the altar, with the fire already laid, and the sacrificial priest about to perform the final act, someone cried, “Stop! He is missing one finger.” At once the sacrifice was halted, and the lad was untied and released. “Why did you set me free?” he asked, bewildered. “This sacrifice requires a perfect human being,” came the reply, “and we notice you are missing one finger.” Immediately he ran back to the pit where he had left his brother. On getting there, he made some ropes out of tree creepers, and pulled his brother to safety. “Tell me, brother, why did you come back and get me out?” He told the story of what had happened, and concluded, “If I had all my fingers they would have sacrificed and eaten me. If you had been free, they would have sacrificed and eaten you. So now I know that all things work together for good!”
It’s just an imaginary story, but even the worst moments of our lives have a part to play in God’s ultimate plan for us. Sometimes God has to take us THROUGH some things in order to get us TO other things. The Israelites had to spend 40 years in the wilderness before they would be equipped and able to enter and conquer the land promised them. When they left Egypt they were a large bunch of disorganised slaves; they lacked any cohesive social structure, effective leadership, and military skills. They needed to learn how to trust God for their food and drink and clothing, how to hear His voice and obey his commands, how to fight, and so on. Their experiences in the wilderness did not thrill them and they spent much time complaining. But they needed to go through those things in order to get to the next things.
Whatever you are going through or have been through, remember it is to get you to where He is taking you. He’s the coach! A motor vehicle has two essential pieces of glass – the rear view mirror and the windscreen. One is small and shows you what is behind you. The other is large and shows you what lies ahead. Likewise in life, it is important to look back and learn from mistakes and wrong decisions, but far more importantly look ahead, through the wider screen, see the bigger picture and the blessings that God has in store for you in the future, and the obstacles to avoid. Don’t live your life looking in the rear view mirror or you will miss what lies ahead. God says to you today, “Where I’m taking you, you’re better off.”
God bless you, in your pit or your motor car!
Looking forward, what do you see? Jeremiah 29.1-14 (11/02/15)
#3: Having a bad day in a bad week? Had a bad month in a bad year so far? Is there any hope? Here’s the good news! At last, in this long and sad book, we come across a good verse … “I have plans for you,” says God to His people. And He says the same to you today! “Maybe You do,” you reply, “but what sort of plans?” Answer: plans for your welfare and well-being, not for calamity and disaster…to give you a future, and a hope. Is there any hope? Yes, there is hope! And it’s about your future, not your past; it’s about your tomorrow, not your yesterday. Despite the hopelessness and despair of yesterday or even today, there is hope for tomorrow.
My point: your past or your present does not determine your future – God does! Align yourself with His will, and see things as He sees them, and there is hope. Many of you reading this support a team of some sort, and most likely your country when it comes to the international platform. Who is the most important person in any team? Is it the most skilful player? No, because it is a team and one player cannot win for an entire team. No! It is the coach, or the manager. That’s why clubs and national teams replace first of all the coach if they are on a continuous losing streak. And they will replace him with someone with a good track record. What is his history? What is his experience? What is his track record like?
If you’ve been on a long downhill stretch, with poor results and little or no improvement, maybe you need to replace your coach. There is no-one more qualified to coach a human being than God Himself. Whose advice have you been listening to? Whose training plan have you been following? Whose game plan has let you down so often, for so long? Change your coach, my friend! Take on the One who has a plan for you, for your welfare and to give you a hope. You say, “But I can’t see God’s plan for me.” God replies, “Maybe you can’t. But look at My track record. I know how to manage people’s lives. I know how to bring hope into hopelessness, joy into despair, gladness into sadness, light into darkness, dancing into mourning. I have done it with billions and billions of people like you from the beginning of all time. And I can do it for you. I have a plan for you.”
My friend, God knows the plan He has for you. He’s not sitting up in heaven somewhere scratching His head, guessing the next step, responding to your mistakes and wondering what to do with you. He knows every detail of your past, your present and your future. He knows what He has in mind for you. You are His workmanship (literally, His “poem”), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He has prepared beforehand so that you would walk in them (Ephesians 3.2). I will illustrate next week.
Change your coach! Listen to the plan of the Master, line up with that, and just watch how your performance alters and the results improve, and the words of your life begin to rhyme.
God bless you, under new management!
Looking forward, what do you see? Jeremiah 29.1-14 (04/02/15)
#2: Feeling trapped? In a hopeless situation? Sending out your message, “Is there any hope?” God’s people felt like this…for 70 years. And there were various reasons for their hopelessness, and possibly for yours too. (This is a tough one, so stop now if you want sympathy rather than sense!)
Firstly, they were under God’s judgement and His divine discipline. It was God Himself who sent them into that situation, because of their persistent and deliberate disobedience and rebellion against Him. He is not vindictive, but He is redemptive (Hebrews 12.10-11). The broken leg does not like the plaster cast, because it is restricted. But it will not heal unless the cast is there. Even the psalmist wrote, “Before I was afflicted I went astray.” (Psalm 119.67). How about you?
Then they were a long way from home. They were in a foreign place, with foreign people, foreign practices, foreign beliefs and foreign gods. And they were deeply unhappy. That’s where you will find yourself if you insist on ignoring the will and the way of God. Keeping the wrong company – “bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15.33). How about you?
Religion wasn’t helping either. False prophets all around them. What’s new?! Great promises Sunday by Sunday, on TV and internet, of blessing, and prosperity and power and self-aggrandisement…for everyone but you it seems.
There are other reasons for our seemingly hopeless situation. These mentioned above were self-induced. But unforeseen tragedy, crisis and calamity can hit at any time, through no perceived fault of our own. This is a sad chapter in a sad book. Maybe you’re having a bad day in a bad week, or a bad week in a bad year so far. But hey, there’s good news coming…see you next week!
God bless you, patient one!
Looking forward, what do you see? Jeremiah 29.1-14 (07/01/15)
#1: The Christmas festivities and New Year celebrations are pretty much over, and for most of us it is back to the routine of life, the “daily round, the common task”. For many, that is not so glorious or glamorous. In August 2000 a Russian submarine sank because of an internal accident, and the rescue divers heard the survivors inside tapping on the sides of the vessel in code, “Is there any hope?” Many of us right now are tapping out in our own code language, “Is there any hope?” We feel trapped in a hopeless situation. Looking forward we see no change, we’re in a place where despair rules, where no good day seems to last, where there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. A hopeless relationship, a financial black hole, a terminal illness, a job you dread turning up to every day, or no job…Is there any hope? Will it ever change? Will I ever get out of this?
Its effects can be debilitating. You have low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, you’re nervous and feel insecure, you lack self-confidence and find your thinking is naturally negative, and that shows in what you say. That in turn affects the way people relate and respond to you, and generally it is to keep their distance. Bitterness about the supposed causes, doubts, fear, jealousy and envy, anger, discouragement and disillusionment. Sometimes you even ask yourself the questions, “Why am I here? What’s the point of living like this?”
You may not be suffering from all of this by any means, but in all honesty you are pinging out your message in your own way, “Is there any hope?” Looking forward, what do you see?
Well, firstly, you’re not the only one…now or in the past. Nor will you be the only one in the future. Secondly, there is an answer to the question…we’ll look at it over the next few weeks.
God bless you, as you look forward.
Foolproof recipe for victory in the coming year – from Reinhard Bonnke (31/12/14)
“This is how my parable begins. Let me call him John. John had a double story house, five plus five rooms. One day there was a gentle knock on the front door. When John opened it was the Lord Jesus. “Please come in,” John pleaded, “I will give you the best room in my house – it is upstairs.” Well, Jesus is a gentleman and said, “Thank you”.
The next morning someone hammered against the front door. When John opened it, who was there? The devil. “No,” shouted John, “I don’t want you here.” But the devil said, “I’m already in” – and a big fight started. Satan poured filthy temptation on him, it was horrible. By the evening John somehow got the victory and threw the devil out. Then he said, “Wait a minute… I gave Jesus the best room in the house, why didn’t he come to my rescue?” Jesus said to John, “Look, you gave me one of the ten rooms…” John was on his knees and said, “I can see my mistake. Sorry, Lord. Let’s make it 50/50.” Jesus is a gentleman and accepted.
The next day was a repeat of the day before. Somehow the devil got in and out and John was totally exhausted. “Why didn’t Jesus come to my rescue today? I need to go and ask.” The Lord said, “My son, why don’t you give me all 10 rooms and then, instead of me staying with you, you stay with me?” John broke down. He pulled the key of the front-door from his pocket and handed it to Jesus. Now, he had given it all.
The next morning, it was still dark when someone was knocking at the front door so hard that the whole building shook. John jumped, frightened and shaken out of bed crying, “O, it’s the devil again,” when suddenly he heard footsteps – but this time inside the house. Jesus was marching in majesty and power towards the front door. He had the key. It now was His duty to answer the door. John was wondering what would happen and stood right behind Jesus when the Lord opened the door wide. Who was it? The devil, of course. But when the devil saw Jesus standing in the door he bowed low, very low indeed, and said, “Sorry Sir, I knocked on the wrong door!”
Some have given 9 rooms to Jesus and on the door of room number 10 they have written “Strictly Private”. It is there where they have their secret sins and live their double life. But Jesus cannot be cheated. “Unto Jesus I surrender, unto Him I freely give….I surrender ALL, unto thee my God and Saviour, I surrender all.” This is my foolproof recipe for victory in the New Year 2015!” (Reinhard Bonnke)
Thanks to all who have read, liked and commented on our posts this year.
God bless you throughout the coming year … and don’t worry about who knocks on your door!
Work of Christmas Begins … (26/12/14)
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all peoples,
to make a little music with the heart…
And to radiate the Light of Christ,
every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins.
(Howard Thurman, adapted)
God bless you this Christmas time.
The Price of a Fulfilled Dream – Acts 2.17/Joel 2.28 (17/12/14)
#6: If you want your dream to end, here is the surest way – take the glory! Not so with Joseph…the moment he had waited for, for so long, through such hardships, frustrations and difficulties, was about to dawn. He was summoned from the dark dankness of the Egyptian dungeon to the dazzling sparkle of the courtroom of the Pharaoh. He had washed, he had shaved, he had dressed…and he stood there now before the most powerful man in the whole nation. The challenge comes… “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph took a deep breath, and in that instant saved his dream by answering, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favourable answer.” Freedom and the fulfilment of his dream were poised in the delicate balance of his reply. A simple, “Yes, I can,” would have meant that his dream may never have reached its fulfilment.
The final price we must all pay for our dreams to be fulfilled and fully realised is self-glorification. Give God the glory always…as Joseph did, as Daniel did, as Jesus did (Daniel 2.27; John 12.28; 17.4). Remember the frog who needed to escape the raging fire all around. He was trapped at the edge of a lake, but the lake was infested with crocodiles. How could he escape the fire? All of a sudden two ducks landed beside him. He thought fast, and then made his proposal to the ducks. “Ducks, I can’t escape this fire, because if I jump in the lake and swim across a crocodile will get me. Why don’t we find a long stick, and if one of you puts one end in your beak and the other puts the other end in your beak, and I bite hard on the middle of the stick, then you can take off and fly across with me hanging on with the stick between my teeth. Then when we reach the other side, you land, I will let go, and we’re all saved from the fire.” The ducks conferred with each other, and then agreed. They found a stick, each took an end in its beak, and the frog fastened his teeth into the centre of the stick, hanging on with all his strength. They flapped their wings and took off. The plan was working perfectly. The frog was feeling so happy with his idea. As they approached half way across the lake, he looked down. There were some other frogs desperately swimming across trying and hoping to escape the crocodiles. Not all were succeeding. One little frog looked up and saw the ducks flying over with the frog hanging on by his teeth for dear life. “My, my, my,” said the little frog in the water, “What a fantastic idea…that’s brilliant! Whoever thought of that?” “I did!” shouted the frog …. and fell down into the water! Friends, always give God the glory for giving you the dream, and seeing you through to its fulfilment.
There’s a price to be paid for a dream to be fulfilled. We have touched on some of them. That’s why many are called, but few are chosen…they weren’t prepared to pay the price. But those who know their God are strong and do bold exploits (Daniel 11.32). Let God give you a dream, or revive the one you once had, and dedicate yourself to paying the price to see it fulfilled.
God bless you – as you pray big prayers, dream big dreams, and obey God.
The Price of a Fulfilled Dream – Acts 2.17/Joel 2.28 10/12/14
#5: Are you still dreaming? Can you remember your dream? Don’t let your dream die. How real is it to you? How much do you want to realise it and see it fulfilled? All of us dreamers will be challenged with these questions, and a simple verbal answer will not be sufficient. We have to tough it out. Joseph, the great dreamer of Genesis, certainly did. Genesis 40.23 teaches us another lesson…his main hope and helper forgot him!
Friend, you will be forgotten! How will you handle that? For someone reading this, how are you handling that? Well, you’re in good company again! Noah, Abraham, Rachel, and Hannah, to mention just a few, all thought that God had forgotten them. But He hadn’t (Genesis 8.1; 30.22; Exodus 2.24; 1 Samuel 1.19) – He remembered them. And He hasn’t forgotten you! How vast is the sum of His thoughts towards you, and they are precious thoughts (Psalm 139.17). God is not so unjust as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name (Hebrews 6.10). There have been many times over the years when I have been labouring away for the Kingdom of God, not always seeing much fruit for those labours, being generally taken for granted, and wondered if God had forgotten me. Feel that way yourself? It robs your joy, and takes the spring out of your step. But He hasn’t forgotten you, and He will never forget you.
People will forget you, as the cup bearer forgot Joseph – don’t worry about it, let them, you’re not here to please people and court their appreciation, approval and praise. If you’re feeling overlooked, ignored, unappreciated and forgotten about, remember, God remembers you!
God bless you… (sorry, who are you?!)
The Price of a Fulfilled Dream – Acts 2.17/Joel 2.28 (03/12/14)
#4: Well, if that one was tough, these two aren’t any easier. One is painful and the other is frustrating. You will be betrayed, sooner or later. So be warned! The woman, offended by Joseph’s rejection of her lustful advances, twisted the truth and lied about him to her husband when he returned. The result? An enquiry? No. A reasoned and balanced appraisal of both sides of the story? No. Anger, and a prison sentence for the innocent Joseph(Genesis 39.3-18).
It may not happen the same way in every case, but it will happen. Ahitophel betrayed David, and hung himself (Psalm 55.12-14; 2 Samuel 17.3). Judas betrayed Jesus, and hung himself (Matthew 27.5). Never mind the outcome of the betrayer, betrayal by one very close to you is most likely going to be a part of the high price you must to pay for your dream to be fulfilled. It may be by a friend, it may be by a colleague, it may be by a relative. “Why?” you may well ask. Because God wants to see if you will remain faithful to your heavenly vision and dream, despite extreme emotions and seeming injustice. It’s a test. You have to press through hurt, anger, pain, criticism, self-justification, and many other hot emotions. And yes, it hurts…but remember your dream. How much do you want to see it fulfilled? Pray big prayers, dream big dreams, and obey God.
Then there’s the frustration of imprisonment. For Joseph, it was a literal incarceration. But for you it may be metaphorical prison. There will be times when you simply can’t go where you want to go, do what you want to do, be who you want to be. Maybe you will lack the finance, the personnel, the resources, the circumstances won’t be favourable, relationships won’t be right, family responsibilities and commitments will clash with your dream. You will find yourself, as Joseph did, humbled by handling menial tasks, and you will think, “I can do better than this. What about my dream? What about my vision? What about my call?” When I was first called as a missionary and sent to Egypt, I was going to save the whole of the Arab world and Middle East, single-handed, no problem. After all, I had been very fruitful in my few years in Christ so far! And I found myself stuffing other people’s Bible Study notes into envelopes in a pokey little office in the suburbs of Cairo. Hmmm…it felt like prison to me. It was illegal to preach the gospel. I couldn’t speak the language. I had little money, no transport, a wife and a tiny little baby. I remember a Godly, wise man there saying to me, “Peter, just surviving one day here is success!” I remember another minister of a prospering church back in the UK lamenting over all the admin he had to handle, and confessing that he had once said to God, “Dear Lord, was I really ordained for this?”
To realise your dream is not plain sailing. You’ll encounter misunderstanding, semi-success, betrayal, restrictions and limitations. But you still have a dream…cherish it, hang on to it.
God bless you, in your hurt and frustration!
The Price of a Fulfilled Dream – Acts 2.17/Joel 2.28 (26/11/14)
#3: Right, here comes a tough one! To see your dream fulfilled, there’s a price to pay. You will have to resist temptation, and not just a one-off temptation. “Lie with me,” demanded Joseph’s master’s wife, “day after day.” (Genesis 39.7,10). Now in his case the temptation was sexual, but in yours it could be in any area – your principles will be tested, in finance, reputation, status, security. For men, it’s generally gold, glory or girls. How many leaders has God raised up, who then stumble when tempted by money, pride or lust? Sadly, too many. For women, I guess the same is true – gold, glory or guys.
Jesus was not exempt. For a period of time He underwent intense temptation regarding His ministry. Be spectacular, and jump off the high point of the centre of worship, the Temple in Jerusalem, and perform a miracle by landing safely and demonstrating angelic power and protection on your life. Be selfish, and feed your starving stomach with bread you have miraculously produced with powers provided for the wellbeing of others and the demonstration of the Kingdom of God. Be submissive, but not to God your heavenly Father. “Do it my way,” tempts the devil. “Do it man’s way.” And it didn’t end there. Right through to the last moment, even at the very end, “Come on, save yourself…come down from the cross.” (Mark 15.30).
Jesus gets you to question yourself, the devil gets you to question God. “Did God really say…?” “If you are the Son of God…”(Genesis 3.1; Matthew 4.3) You will be tempted to abuse any one or more of the following – money, possessions, people, ministry, gifting, time, body, health…and I could go on. Doubt, and go without; or believe, and receive. Submit to God; resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4.7) It is only too easy to reverse it – submit to the devil, and resist God. But be encouraged – when Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, it was the Holy Spirit who led Him, He was full of the Holy Spirit, and He returned in the power of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1.12; Luke 4.1,14). You are not alone in the hours of temptation – the Holy Spirit is with you.
I said it won’t be easy! But press on…the dream is waiting to be fulfilled.
God bless you, in and out of the wilderness!
The Price of a Fulfilled Dream – Acts 2.17/Joel 2.28 (19/11/14)
#2: So, don’t expect everyone to think your dream is great! They won’t…in fact, far from it! But don’t stop there…you’ve only just begun, and there’s a much higher price to pay to see it fulfilled.
Next up, you will have to pay the price of short term ‘success’ for long-term fulfilment. Genesis 39.2 says, “The Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man.” Every vision has an appointed time (Habakkuk 2.3), and an inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning will not be blessed in the end (Proverbs 20.21). Be patient, my friend! If you received it all now you would most likely do what the prodigal son did! In stead, imitate those who through faith and PATIENCE inherit the promises (Hebrews 3.13). The farmer WAITS for the precious produce of the soil, being PATIENT about it (James 5.7-8).
The good is the enemy of the best. On your journey to fulfil your dream you will hit some really very good times. But don’t stop there…if it is not all your dream is. You may be successful, you may be doing well and prospering, you may have the favour of God and man (Genesis 39.3-4) …but is it your dream? You will have to do some pruning, or face some pruning, even of the good, if you want the best. I was a very successful school teacher…but it wasn’t my dream. I was content and doing well leading a church…but it wasn’t my dream. At any point I could have settled for less than the best. I remember being at one of those stages, I was coasting along, doing ok generally, busy with raising a family and pastoring a church, and thinking, “Well, I might as well just stick with this. God is being good to me, so be grateful for that.” And then the phone rang. Unexpectedly I heard a voice of an internationally well-known and hugely respected prophet of God: “Peter, it’s Jean. Keep your eyes on the harvest field.” And she rung off. You see, I had lost sight of my vision, I was settling for less than the best. It was good, believe me! But it was not my dream.
Don’t settle for less than the best! You will have to pay the price of short term ‘success’ for long-term fulfilment.
God bless you…and keep dreaming!
The Price of a Fulfilled Dream – Acts 2.17/Joel 2.28 (12/11/14)
#1: We are living in the last days. They began nearly 2000 years ago, on the Jewish Day of Pentecost (Acts 2.17). That means you may be a dreamer or a visionary. You’ve dreamed a dream, you’ve seen a vision. You’ve heard a call. And you’re carrying it, as a woman carries her child (or children, if twins!). I always followed the words of a wonderful man of God who spoke to me early in my life in Christ. “Dream big dreams, pray big prayers, and obey God,” was his clear cry. You are a member of this Facebook group because you were once a member of a church known as The VOICE. That was one of many dreams God gave me – to open a church for internationals arriving in my town. It was a big dream, and I prayed big prayers, and I obeyed God. And you know the result.
But listen, dreamers and visionaries, there’s a price to pay for a dream to be fulfilled. You need to know that. Or you will start, and you will stumble, and you will stop. “Then Joseph had a dream…” (Genesis 37.5). What can we learn from that great dreamer, about the price we have to pay for a fulfilled dream?
Lesson #1: Do not expect the understanding and acceptance of others. Joseph’s brothers hated him anyway, but when he told them his dream, they hated him even more (Genesis 37.5, 7). You may well encounter mockery, resentment, rejection, opposition, discouragement, doubt, denial or disdain. People, sadly even God’s people, get jealous, or more correctly, envious – probably because they’ve never had a dream because they’ve never really wanted one. Or maybe they once had one, and lost it. Or they just don’t understand because God has called them to something else. Or maybe they just feel threatened because they are insecure and feel spiritually inferior. It’s just pride anyway, so don’t worry about it. But be wise about with whom you share your dream.
So we’ve set off on a new journey together. Let’s see next week and the weeks to follow where it takes us. Believe me, I’ve travelled this journey…more than once!
God bless you … sweet dreams!
Waiting on the Lord – Habakkuk 2.1-3 (05/11/14)
#5: Oh my! Oh my! Oh my! Patient trust and confident humility – all while I’m having to wait, and not getting what I want! Hmmm…bit tough, isn’t it? Yes, it is!!! Come on, Christian, man up!
The third requirement for waiting on the Lord is this – inextinguishable hope. The apostle Paul writes that we “wait eagerly with perseverance while we hope for what we don’t see.” (Romans 8.25). Elsewhere in the Bible it is written that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 13.1). I sometimes buy things on-line – I make my order, enter my card details and receive the confirmation email. But do I have the article I have ordered and paid for? No, but it will come. If it fails to arrive, I have the email confirmation and can reclaim my money. But I have to wait for it to arrive. Likewise, when God makes a promise to you, you will probably have to wait for it to come to pass – but it will come. Just be patient, and wait on the Lord – it’s on its way.
Waiting on the Lord involves different experiences, stages and phases. The prophet Isaiah suggests three – “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40.31) There are three methods of flight for a bird – flapping, just keeping the wings beating; gliding, coasting for a while having built up enough speed, but it doesn’t last long because of gravity; and soaring, when the wings are so strong that the bird catches the currents of warm air and can soar at 80 mph. Not many birds can soar, but eagles can. Sometimes whilst waiting on the Lord you will soar – God answers your prayers, uses you wonderfully, you’re beyond your ability, above the temptations to sin. Be grateful for those times, and endeavour to keep in the current.
Other times, however, you’ll be running, but not growing weary. Marathon runners know about this – they just keep going. Stay on course, faithfully obeying, serving, giving. Don’t compare yourself to someone who is soaring – your time will come. Just keep running, because when you do that, you’re strong and won’t grow weary.
And then there’s walking, without fainting. You don’t seem to be too fruitful or productive. You’re struggling with doubt, disappointment, discouragement, despair even. Maybe you’ve been hurt, wounded, suffered loss, confused. Don’t let go – keep just walking. God knows, God understands, and God is beside you every step of the way. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. That’ll do.
Jesus soared – on the Mount of Transfiguration, at the tomb of Lazarus. But not always. He kept running when frustrated by the disciples’ unbelief, when opposed by the religious leaders who should have been the very people welcoming and following Him, when weeping over Jerusalem because it refused to recognise its time and receive Him. And He walked, on that long road through Jerusalem to Golgotha, up the hill to Mount Calvary. He was strong, He was fit, He was healthy, but His back bent and His knees buckled that day. But He kept on walking. When you’re in this time of waiting, unsupported by the soaring heights and the tireless running, just keep saying, “I won’t quit, I won’t give up. I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other, take up my cross and follow Jesus.”
“Why should I?” you may well ask. Because what happens to you while you wait is as important as what you are waiting for. The wait is worth it. So “be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 31.24).
God bless you … and keep hoping!
Waiting on the Lord – Habakkuk 2.1-3 (29/10/14)
#4: Recently I have been endeavouring to gather several high profile people together in a high profile place. The national and local press are baying all around, as the issue is a hot political potato here in the UK. All I want is responses from offices, and replies to email and voicemail messages. And I‘m not getting what I want, when I want!!! Good to be writing this post right now!
The second requirement to waiting on the Lord is confident humility. “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You. And the work of righteousness will be peace, And the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 26.3; 32.17). Quietness is the humble recognition of your limits. In other words, you’re not in control, it’s not all up to you.
Society states that the length of the wait reflects the status of the person: low status = long wait; high status = short wait. The doctor doesn’t go to the Waiting Room, the patient does. In God’s Kingdom, however, there is no social status or fast-tracking – God is no respecter of persons in that sense (Acts 10.34; Romans 2.11; Ephesians 6.9; Colossians 3.25). In the Waiting Room the patient must humble themselves and wait to called, because they’re not in charge. Likewise in God’s Kingdom – we all have to humble ourselves and wait, because we are not in charge. But whilst waiting, that time can be used, to relax, to read, to ponder, to chat, to rest. One can panic whilst waiting. When Jesus was in the boat during a storm, His disciples panicked. He slept. He experienced sorrow, joy, pain, hope, anger, but never panic. God is never in a hurry, never frantic. When you experience frantic, panicky thoughts and feelings, it is never God’s voice speaking.
Waiting on the Lord requires patient trust and confident humility – you’re not ultimately in charge, God is. So take your rest! And use it profitably – relax, read, ponder, communicate, be a blessing to someone else.
God bless you, in your waiting room! (And don’t panic!)
Waiting on the Lord – Habakkuk 2.1-3 (22/10/14)
#3: “Sorry to keep you waiting.” “We are currently experiencing a high volume of calls…” How often we hear these words, on the phone, in the store, wherever. The old Adamic nature rises up and moans, “Why can’t they have more staff on?” Or we blame ourselves for leaving too late, mismanaging our time. Or other people for being in front of us. Or the accuser of the brethren condemns us for having an impatient spirit! Or just whispers, “Jump the lights, there’s no camera on these.” Waiting, and learning to wait well, is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be. It is perhaps the hardest part of hoping. What does it require, to wait on the Lord?
Firstly, it requires patient trust. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3.5). It requires trusting that God has got good reasons for keeping us waiting, which He may well not reveal to us. He has a different perspective to ours. An economist once said, “Lord, is it true that a thousand years to us is like just one minute with you?” The Lord said, “Yes, that’s true.” “Then,” ventured the hopeful economist, “a thousand pounds to You must be like 1p to us?” “Yes,” replied the Lord. “Well, could you give me one of those pennies, please Lord?” “Sure, I will;” said God, “Just wait a minute!”
Too often we want God’s resources, but we don’t want His timing. We want His hand, but we don’t want His calendar. We forget that His work in us while we wait is as important as what it is that we are waiting for. Read that again, because it’s my main point! We must trust that God knows what He is doing – “all His works are true and His ways just…” (Daniel 4.37). You may be single and waiting for that life partner, that relationship that will alleviate your loneliness and bring fulfilment? You’re being pressurised by or into a relationship that is demanding sex, and you think anything to relieve the pain of loneliness, surely I’ve waited long enough? Wait on the Lord – don’t enter into a relationship that won’t honour the Lord, and will damage people. Determine, “OK, Lord, I will trust You, I will wait.” Or you may be dreaming to accomplish your vision and goal in business, education or even ministry. And you are tempted to just cheat a little, manipulate a bit, scheme or force to get the deal through, to cut corners and get it in the bag. Or maybe you’re just feeling like giving up, quitting, saying “It’s never going to happen for me, I’m never going to get it done.” Be patient – don’t force it, don’t quit. Learn, grow, receive feedback and coaching from those who have gone before you and succeeded, and are still standing strong. Trust God’s plan for you, rather than what you think you need right now. “My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him… Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62.5-9)
I read about some famous trapeze artists in a circus. There was a very special relationship between the flyer and the catcher. The flyer must let go, and remain as still as possible whilst in the air, and wait for the catcher’s strong arms. The flyer must never try to catch the catcher, but must wait in absolute trust for the catcher to be there in perfect time and catch him. You may be stranded in mid-air right now. You’ve let go, but you don’t feel God has caught you yet. WAIT…in absolute trust. Be patient – waiting on God requires patient trust.
God bless you, flyer!
Waiting on the Lord – Habakkuk 2.1-3 (15/10/14)
#2: What God does in us while we wait is as important as what we are waiting for. Read that again! The apostle Paul writes that while we wait, we suffer, BUT…that produces perseverance, proven character and hope (Romans 5.3-5). Waiting is a part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be – namely people who know, love, trust and obey Him.
So what does it mean to wait on the Lord? Some like to think it is a kind of passive hanging around for something to happen, for someone or something to turn up to get you out of trouble. “I’m just waiting on the Lord,” can actually mean, in truth, “I’m opting out of taking action or responsibility.” Often people in serious debt and financial crisis say, “The Lord will provide…I’m just waiting on Him;” when in fact He is actually waiting for them to take some responsible action to control their impulsive spending habits. It is unlikely you will get that perfect job if you don’t find out who is looking to employ, and put in some applications. If you hide behind a shell of shyness you probably will remain single. Tough talk, yes…soft talk doesn’t produce stable and mature believers.
Waiting on the Lord means confident, disciplined, expectant, active and sometimes painful clinging on to God. It is a continual daily act of saying to God, “I will trust You, I will obey You, even though the circumstances of my life are not turning out the way I want them to. I have no Plan B.” Waiting on the Lord is the hardest part of hoping in the Lord. Three requirements…see you next week for the first!
God bless you, hopeful waiter!
Waiting on the Lord (Habakkuk 2.1-3) – 08/10.14
#1: Often when we inquire of the Lord, we expect an instant response. It doesn’t always come immediately – we have to learn to wait on the Lord. Patience is a part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22), and nature shows us that not many fruit develop and ripen in a hurry. It’s a process, with many factors, internal and external, interwoven, interdependent and involved.
I don’t like the Waiting Room! I don’t like being put on hold on the phone, I don’t like standing in a queue, I don’t like the red traffic light! But waiting is a universal experience. These we can put up with – they’re only temporary. But there are far more serious periods of waiting – the single person waiting for the right life-partner, the childless couple waiting for their first baby, the unemployed or under-employed waiting for a successful job application or meaningful work, the deeply depressed longing for a glimmer of light at the end of the dark tunnel of despair and the morning when one wakes up actually wanting to live, the spouse trapped in a love-less marriage, the elderly person with health gone in a residential care home waiting to die. These are times when the cry, “How long, O Lord, how long?” comes from the depth of the heart.
Waiting is the hardest part of hoping. Yet God says we are to do both. Forty three times in the Old Testament alone people are told to wait. The last prayer in the whole Bible is, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And we are still waiting (Revelation 22.20). One man wrote, “Waiting is our destiny, as creatures who cannot by themselves bring about what they hope for.”
So why does God make us wait? What does it mean to wait on the Lord? We shall explore this in the weeks to come. Hope you ‘waiters’ will find it helpful!
God bless you, patient one!
Inquiring of the Lord (1 Samuel 23.1-2) – 1/10/14
#4: There is a will and a plan and a purpose for your life, initiated by God Himself, and it can only be discovered by inquiring of the Lord. There are things you should do, and things you should not do, even though many of the latter are good, decent, honourable and worthy things. There are places you should go to and places you should not go to. There are battles you should fight and battles you should not fight.
The Bible is a guide – for doctrine, for morals, for how to live a life that pleases God. It gives a broad outline, but often not specific instructions. The apostle Paul says to Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist.” But he doesn’t tell him exactly how to do it (2Timothy 4.5)! Jesus instructs us to go and make disciples, and to preach the gospel to all creation, but He doesn’t tell us exactly how or where we should all do it. We are encouraged to marry. Yes, it tells us not to be unequally yoked, and that the person who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour with the Lord (2 Corinthians 6.15; Proverbs 18.22). But it doesn’t tell us whom exactly to marry! It is the Holy Spirit who tells you and gives you the details in all these things, as you inquire of the Lord.
You can’t just live your life as you like as a follower of Jesus Christ. God doesn’t leave you floating like a leaf blowing in the wind. You are not necessarily the person God wants to do that task, or job, or ministry, or to have that role. You are unique, God doesn’t make mimics and copy-cats. And wherever God leads you He will provide for you to go – the wisdom, insight, finance and resources, companionship, company and accommodation, support, strength, energy and measure of faith required. There is an umbrella of provision over your head – step outside of it and the provision dries up.
The devil has a plan for you too, a false one – to distract, divert, distort, discourage, and deceive, and we are told not to be ignorant of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2.11). So, whatever situation, or circumstance or crisis or catastrophe you may find yourself in or be asked to help in, always inquire of the Lord. And you will find that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Proverbs 8.17).
God bless you, as you seek to walk in His will and His way.
Inquiring of the Lord (1 Samuel 23.1-2) – 03/09/14
#3: True, David inquired of the Lord! And we must too. I have heard so many people over the years say, “Well, God has told me to do it.” I like to ask, “How did He tell you? When did He tell you? Where did He tell you? Has He told anyone else other than you, so you can be encouraged in it?” Usually I am met with a blank expression, and later a disappointed, discouraged believer, sometimes frustrated and cross with God because He “didn’t show up”! Oh dear, wise up, friends! There are many masquerading spirits out there, and they love a hot-head on a personal mission for God! Most of them reside inside us too! They are called Self-will. Learn from David, yes, but even better learn from Jesus.
When criticised by religious know-alls His reply was essentially, “Why criticise the things I do? I only do the things the Father shows Me.” (John 5.19; Hebrews 10.7) He didn’t just go randomly to any town or village, or come and go as He pleased. He didn’t raise just anyone and everyone from the dead. I’m sure you have heard it said that if He had not have declared, “LAZARUS, come forth” then every corpse in the area would have turned up! Surely for Peter and James and John and the others, when asked how long they would be staying they would have said, “Don’t know…when He goes, we go!” Following Jesus is so simple when we inquire of the Lord – we just obey orders and follow Him!
It was the same with what Jesus taught. He only said what the Father gave Him to say. He didn’t speak on His own initiative (John 7.16; 8.26; 8.38). That is why He kept slipping away to pray…He was inquiring of His Father (Luke 3.21; 4.42; 5.16; 6.12; 9.18; 9.28; 10.21).
There was a wonderful old hymn once sung often, not heard these days, which went: “Take time to be holy, Speak oft with thy Lord…” I’ll leave you with those wise words –
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above. (William D Longstaff, 1882)
God bless you, especially in the place of prayer!
Inquiring of the Lord (1 Samuel 23.1-2) – 27/08/14
#2: God has a specific prepared plan for each of our lives (Ephesians 2.10). Following Christ is not a formula! People love the “How to…” teachers, in vain. When the time comes to say what we’ve done, and why, and how, you won’t be asked, “Did you read that book on …? Did you go to that Conference on …? How many souls did you save? How much money did you give to church and charity? How big was your church/bank balance?” No! You will be asked, “Did you do what I asked you to do? How did you get on? Were you a good and faithful servant? Let’s talk about that.”
God doesn’t say, “Go out there, live your life, do your best, try your hardest!” Rather He says, “I knew you before I formed you… and I know the plans I have for you…” (Jeremiah 1.5; 29.11) And they are good ones, too! But you must come, pray, seek and search to discover those plans. And then be open and submit to them, serve and obey them.
Don’t try to be someone you are not! Don’t be a copy-cat! You are born of the imperishable seed of the One whose name is ‘I Am Who I Am’, so ‘You Be Who You Are’! God is a creator, not a duplicator. He produces originals. That’s why the apostle Paul refers to himself as a bond-servant of Christ Jesus (Romans 1.1) – servants just obey orders. So don’t drift around trying to do your best like a feather floating around in the wind wondering where it will land. Inquire of the Lord! Seek, search and discover those plans. What would you have this man/woman do? What’s on your agenda for me today/this week/this year/this season? (Acts 22.10)
God bless you – the only one like you!
Inquiring of the Lord (1 Samuel 23.1-2) – 20/08/14
#1: Whoever you are, wherever you’re from you will increasingly be bombarded by voices, opinions and ideas telling you how to live your life, what to believe and not to believe, how to do this, that or the other, how to spend your money, what to wear, what to own, how to appear… You can end up confused, to say the least! But God is not a God of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14.33). So how can I find peace in this confusing world?
In 1 Samuel we have some guidelines. The relatively young David is escaping from a jealous King Saul (20; 21.10). He had killed the giant Goliath and been taken into the King’s court as a musician. He was a warring worshipper, or worshipping warrior – you choose! Now he has a few hundred men with him of dubious background and is being hounded by the whole Israelite army. Deep joy all round! He receives news that a nearby town, Keilah, is in serious trouble. He is a “youth” – not yet even 30, the age of maturity. What should he do?
We all have our Sauls’ pursuing us and our Keilah’s begging us for help. What do we do? David could react in one of two ways: he could say “I’ve got enough to do to just survive right now, I’ve got enough pressure as it is. The last thing I need now is to help others with their problems.” (That’s what his men said – v3). Ring a bell with you? Resonate with someone? But David didn’t do that.
Or he could say, “I’m God’s anointed, His man of power for the hour, I killed Goliath and people sing songs about me killing tens of thousands. God’s been with me in the past, no problem, I’m His chosen servant. I can handle this.” But he didn’t do that either. Nor should you. So what did he do?
David inquired of the Lord (1 Samuel 23.2). “Lord, I’ve fought other Philistines before, and You’ve helped me on other occasions, starting with Goliath. But should I attack THESE Philistines?” Likewise with us – you don’t have to respond to every request to help others with their problems, needs, crises or catastrophes. Nor do you need to boldly and blindly say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” and run off as a spiritual Superperson to solve poor so-and-so’s situation because you think only you can do it! Learn from young David – inquire of the Lord!
God bless you, in your dilemma!
Jesus – who is he? – 13/08/14
In chemistry, he turned water to wine.
In biology, he was born without the normal conception.
In physics, he disproved the law of gravity when he ascended into heaven.
In economics, he disproved the law of diminishing return by feeding 5000 men with two fishes and five loaves of bread.
In medicine, he cured the sick and the blind without administering a single dose of drugs.
In history, he is the beginning and the end.
In government, he said that he shall be called wonderful counselor, prince of peace.
In religion, he said no one comes to the Father except through him.
So, who is he?
He is Jesus -the greatest man in history!
He had no servants, yet they called him master.
He had no degree, yet they called him teacher.
He had no medicines, yet they called him healer.
He had no army, yet kings feared him.
He won no military battles, yet he conquered the world.
He committed no crime, yet they crucified him.
He was buried in a tomb, yet he lives today.
I feel honored to serve such a leader!
God bless you as you too serve Him!
Jonathan the Risk-taker (1 Samuel 13.19 – 14.15) – 06/08/14
#4: You are potentially a Saul or a Jonathan – the spirit of both lies within you. Sauls sit and wait, playing it safe. Jonathans get up and go, knowing that they DON’T KNOW all the details or even the outcome, but knowing that they DO KNOW their God. And finally …
Jonathans go till God says No! What was Saul sitting under the pomegranate tree waiting for? Probably a sign from God, because he had his priest beside him wearing the ephod, which was used for discerning the will of God (1 Samuel 14.3). But God had already spoken! It was “the day of battle” (1 Samuel 13.22). That meant it was time to fight. Why are you waiting for a special sign from God? Shall I pray? Yes – pray without ceasing, pray at all times. Shall I get baptised? Yes – if you have repented and believed you must be baptised. Should I be baptised in the Holy Spirit? Yes – if you want power to be Christ’s witness. Should I give a tenth of my income to God? Yes – if you don’t want to rob God. And so I could go on…I have heard over the years so many lame excuses – oh, I’m waiting for God to speak to me. Well, He probably already has! And tell me, why should He have to repeat Himself just to you?
Why wait for some special word from the Lord on what He has already made clear? Are you deaf? It is possible to spend your whole life wishing God would do more, and waiting for God to move, not realising that God is longing to do that but can’t “find faith on earth”. Imagine if every believer in your village, town or area said “I’ll go till God says No!” Imagine if every believer wherever you are assumed that God has called, chosen, equipped, empowered, anointed and sent them to serve in some way, and to get into the battle. Don’t you think revival and reformation and transformation would happen? Believe me, it would!
Jonathan did something. He had every reason not to – his father was King and doing nothing, he only had two swords, the enemy was well armed. But…there was an enemy to defeat and it was the day of battle. The Saul in you is content to live a normal, ordinary, usual and natural life. But the Jonathan in you longs to live in the ab-normal, extra-ordinary, un-usual and super-natural. Who are you today? Saul? Or Jonathan?
God bless all you risk-taking Jonathans!
Jonathan the Risk-taker (1 Samuel 13.19 – 14.15) – 30/07/14
#3: When facing any situation, especially one that threatens us, we can be a Saul or a Jonathan. Like Saul, we can sit in the shade of the pomegranate tree, or like Jonathan we can stand in the shadow of the Almighty. Jonathans know that they don’t know – if you’re waiting to tick all the boxes before you get up and go for God, then you’ll remain for ever under the pomegranate tree.
Jonathans also know that they DO know. Excuse me?! #@%!! I thought they knew that they did NOT know! True, they won’t know all the details or the outcome, but what they do know is…
…their God (Daniel 11.32). If you’re going to be strong and do bold exploits, you must know your God. Jonathan’s plan to reveal himself before the enemy seemed crazy – surely it would be wiser to sneak up on them by night (1 Samuel 14.8). Then he decides to climb up on hands and feet – why not call them down to a level playing field? At least he would have had a chance. But Jonathans don’t work solely by human intellect…they know they must go beyond the point of no return, the point of succeeding humanly. Then they are in God’s hands and it’s entirely up to Him. Once the enemy saw him, he could only survive if God acted. If God didn’t step in, he would be stepping out … of life!
Jonathans go where dead men go. They have died to self, reputation, approval of people, understanding of others, praise of men and the appreciation of the crowd, or congregation for that matter. They don’t fear death, rejection, man, misunderstanding, failure, or criticism…they only fear God. They only care about what God thinks. Sauls fear to reveal themselves to colleagues, clients, customers, course and class mates, neigbours, friends and relatives. Sauls fear losing arguments and credibility. Sauls fear rejection, mockery, criticism, rebuff, ridicule and failure. So they don’t move. But often God won’t step in till we step out; God’s Kingdom won’t come till God’s people will go.
Yes, Jonathans know that they do know…their God.
God bless you, as you reveal yourself!
40 years Testimony – 23/07/14
Forgive me…I’m suspending the normal post for this week. Tomorrow, Thursday 24th July 2014, will be my 40th Anniversary. It was between 12 noon and 1.00 pm on 24th July 1974 that I was “laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3.12). I remember very clearly the time and the place, the day and the date. I did not understand, but I did know. Now I knew the Lord, no longer just about Him.
I had graduated with a Masters Degree in Theology from the University of Cambridge. I was a regular church goer (which most of my generation weren’t). I was already, at the tender age of 24, Head of Religious Studies at a prestigious Grammar School (State Secondary School in UK for top 30%). Only a few months earlier I had written and performed the music for a Rock Mass. These are some of the lines I had written and sung:
“But one thing I ask, Lord, come wind, rain or snow
Is that for me and all like me, you’ll just let us know.
Oh Lord, am I too late?
Oh Lord, how long must we wait?
I’ll try once again, Lord, I’ll put it to you now.
All that I’m asking is you’ll just show us how.
Please make it more easy, I give up on my own
Come now and tell me, I’ve had enough all alone.
There’s one other thing, Lord, that I must add
If I say it to you now I won’t feel quite so bad.
Please don’t think I’m demanding, I know I’ve got no right
Just come to me, Lord, sometime one night.
Oh Lord, am I too late?
Oh Lord, how long must we wait?”
That was 21st February 1974 between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm. I was not too late. The answers came on 24th July 1974, just five months later.
I want to thank God publicly for answering my cries with a “Yea and Amen!” For keeping me these 40 years, sustaining and strengthening me in good times and in bad. I joined the “mighty army of preachers of the gospel around the world” in August 1981, which has taken me regularly to four Continents. I’ve lived by faith, with no guaranteed income, since 1983, and He has never failed me. I’ve made mistakes and wrong decisions, but He never left me. I’ve come through cancer on the strength of Psalm 118.17: “You will not die, but live to declare the works of the Lord.”
So, 40 years on… sure, I’ve lost my temper like Moses did, but I don’t plan on going up a mountain to die! Like Caleb, I’m as strong now as I ever was, so I’m going in to knock out a few more giants and take a few more mountains! I really don’t know what the future holds, but I do know who holds the future – my Lord and my God, Jesus Christ.
Thanks for reading this. Please join me in thanking God for His love and faithfulness. “Jonathan the Risk-taker” continues next week.
Jonathan the Risk-taker (1 Samuel 13.19 – 14.15) – 16/07/14
#2: Are you a Jonathan? Well, let’s see. Firstly, Jonathans know that they don’t know. “…perhaps the LORD will work for us, …” (1 Samuel 14.6). Perhaps?! What?! Oooh, but what about positive confession?! Hasn’t he just spoken doubt?! Come on, get back to the Bible and reality! There is so much we do not know. Why? Because God chooses not to reveal it. Now we see in a glass dimly (1 Corinthians 13.12). It has not yet appeared what we shall be (1 John 3.2; 1 Corinthians 2.9).
There will always be a dimension of uncertainty in our walk with God. But Jonathans refuse to let that paralyse them. Jonathans understand that God is sovereign, and doesn’t need numbers, and programmes and projects and statistics and flow-charts or frenzied prayer sessions in order to win. He can save by many or by few (1 Samuel 14.6). To enter into the extra-ordinary, the ab-normal, the un-usual and the super-natural you must know that you don’t know all the details, or indeed the outcome – you must trust in the “perhaps” of God.
The apostle Paul went on his frequent journeys (2 Corinthians 11.22) in danger from rivers, seas, robbers, false brethren, in the city, in the wilderness…but it didn’t stop him from going. Barnabas, Prisca and Aquila and Epaphroditus are all referred to as risk-takers (Acts 15.26; Romans 16.4; Philippians 2.30).
Jonathans know that they don’t know…and they don’t let it stop them from going! They will take risks in faith.
God bless you in the “perhaps” of God!
Jonathan the Risk-taker (1 Samuel 13.19 – 14.15) – 09/07/14
#1: When I first gave my life to Christ I would go anywhere, tell anyone my story – family, friends, colleagues at work. I was invincible, more than a conqueror! Then on the crest of a faith wave I gave it all up, my job, career, salary, security, reputation and ambition and flew boldly off to north Africa as a missionary with a one-way only ticket and a heavily pregnant wife, to save the whole of the Middle-east! Then I met an oppressive and repressive culture, discovered what secret police do, could no longer tell my story, and even when I did no-one wanted to listen. Welcome discouragement – who are you? Hello doubt – where do you come from?
Then my first son was born, and I held that tiny little vulnerable guy in my arms and wondered what they would do to him and his Mum if I was arrested and imprisoned … a helpless babe in a hostile environment.
Jump with me now to another real live situation, also in the Middle-east, but centuries before my time. Saul, first king of God’s people Israel, was sitting in the shade of a pomegranate tree, surrounded by the enemy. He was paralysed with fear, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Yet in the same place at the same time was his son, Jonathan – same circumstances, same situation, same conditions. But he took a different view, he had a different perspective.
Two people reacting to the same circumstances and situation. For one it was impossible to succeed; for the other it was a magnificent opportunity for success. One sat and watched the moment go by; the other stood and seized the moment. One thought he only had two swords – we can’t possibly win; the other thought half the weapons of Israel are ours – surely we can possibly win. One missed the moment altogether; the other walked right into it and through it.
Why did I tell my testimony just now? Because there is a Saul AND a Jonathan in each one of us! We can know times of great boldness, courage, faith, success, anointing and blessing. And we can know times of impotence, weakness, barrenness, fear, doubt, caution and failure. For the next few weeks I want to address and speak to and stir up the Jonathan spirit in each of us. I suggest there are far more times we can stand up, and step into the activity of God and see His divine power and blessing than we realise. There are more times we can stand up and move under the shadow of the Almighty than sit and tremble under the shade of the pomegranate tree.
Let’s look at three characteristics of the Jonathan spirit. See you next week.
God bless you, whether you’re standing in the shadow or sitting in the shade!
God’s Appointed Time (Job 14.14) – 11/06/14
#4: So we’ve eaten and eaten and eaten, we’ve shed our skins, we’ve waited and waited with nothing much apparently happening, and we’ve died. Oh, great – is that what this following Jesus life is all about? Why bother? Because the final stage is …
Stage Four: You’re a beautiful butterfly!!! The time for release, the season you’ve been destined for, waiting for, longing for, arrives! It’s your time at last! You’re into your full potential. All the rest now makes sense. You’re into a new relationship, a new job, a new ministry, a new anointing – you’ve taken off, you’re flying now! No more crawling, and leaf eating, no more hanging on a branch doing nothing. You stretch your wings and take off, resting in the sun, basking on the flowers. You’re so happy, so fulfilled, so content, so beautiful…at last you have become who you’re meant to be.
So when it’s your appointed time, take off, spread your wings and fly. It’s your time to discover a new purpose in living, a new environment, new strengths, new skills, a new boldness and courage. You bear no resemblance to what you once were. You’re in a golden, glorious and wonderful season. Your season of release is upon you!
One final word of warning though – you must struggle hard to get out of that chrysalis. No-one should help you because the coming out process forces the fluid to flow into your wings, and fires up your tissues and sinews and enables you to be ready to fly when you emerge and achieve your freedom. Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need.
Someone wrote: “I asked for strength … and God gave me difficulties to make me strong. I asked for wisdom … and God gave me problems to solve. I asked for prosperity… and God gave me a brain and brawn to work. I asked for courage … and God gave me obstacles to overcome. I asked for love … and God gave me troubled people to help. I asked for favours … and God gave me opportunities. I received nothing I wanted … but I received everything I needed.”
A patient asked a doctor once how long he must lie there after a serious accident. “Only a day at a time,” the doctor replied. So with God, if we are faithful one day at a time, the long years will take care of themselves.
God bless you – in whatever stage you’re in, whatever God’s appointed time is for you right now.
God’s Appointed Time (Job 14.14) – 4/06/14
#3: From the beginning of the formation of the earth as we know it, God ordered seasons (Genesis 1.14; Psalm 104.19 etc). Everything has its appointed time. So too with our spiritual life. Let’s learn some more from that little caterpillar. He’s had his eating season, and his shedding skin season. What next?
Stage 3: the chrysalis season! Er…what’s that? you ask. Good question! “When the caterpillar is fully grown, it makes a button of silk which it uses to fasten its body to a leaf or a twig. Then the caterpillar’s skin comes off for the final time. Under this old skin is a hard skin called a chrysalis. The chrysalis stage is one in which there is little movement.” (Wikipedia)
Realise that every season is not a going/doing/achieving season. There are waiting times…sometimes lasting a long time. There is little movement. This is the season of prayer, of waiting, watching, listening and loving God, of learning and discerning the will of God….of “dwelling in the shelter of the Most High and abiding in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91.1). It’s the time of stillness, quietness and getting to know God better (Psalm 46.10). It is the season often of breaking, humbling, yielding, submitting and learning to trust and obey. It is a place of searching, where God searches for you and you search for God… “a time to search” (Ecclesiastes 3.6). It is the season of moulding, as the potter works on the clay to shape the vessel he wants (Jeremiah 18.1-4). Inconspicuous, unseen growth, little movement.
For us active ones, we don’t like this season! But to be who your Creator has planned for you to be, you must go through it! Nestle, don’t wrestle…it’s all part of the plan. He hasn’t abandoned you, He hasn’t forgotten or neglected you. He’s changing you for what He has in mind for you. It is the place where the caterpillar dies…
God bless you in your chrysalis – hang in there!
God’s Appointed Time (Job 14.14) – 28/05/14
#2: Everything on earth has its own time and its own season (Ecclesiastes 3.1). If our greedy little caterpillar just kept on eating he would eventually burst! But he doesn’t, and nor should we. There’s the next stage. The time comes for him to shed his skin. The outer garment has to go.
Tough time, this one. Follower of Jesus, let love be without hypocrisy (Romans 12.9). Hypocrisy is a mask that hides what is behind. “Our foolish pride comes from this world, and so do our selfish desires and our desire to have everything we see. None of this comes from the Father.” They have to be shed (1 John 2.16). “Don’t go to wild parties or get drunk or be vulgar or indecent. Don’t quarrel or be jealous. Stop being hateful! Quit trying to fool people, and start being sincere. Don’t be jealous or say cruel things about others. And stop lying to each other. You have given up your old way of life with its habits. Each of you is now a new person.” (Romans 13.13; 1 Peter 2.1; Colossians 3.9-10 Contemporary English Version).
Time for you to shed a skin? Only you and God know, but if it is your time, then let it go! You’ll be better off without it and you’ll see why in the next week or two!
God bless you, especially the skin-shedders!
21/05/14 God’s Appointed Time (Job 14.14)
#1: For everyone there is more than one season. We are all involved in constant change. The C6th BC Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who interestingly lived in Ephesus, said, “You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing on.” Seasons, days and years are built into God’s world. Jesus referred to times and epochs fixed by God, David knew his times were in God’s hands. Yes, there is an appointed time for everything under heaven (Genesis 1.14; Acts 1.7; Psalm 31.15; Ecclesiastes 3.1).
Transition from one season, or time, or stage in life can be sudden or gradual – days, months, years, decades, even a generation or a lifetime. I like to learn from simple things I see around me, and right now I’m seeing the caterpillar!
Stage 1: eat and grow! He’s hungry, and greedy so he eats and grows. Whether it is milk or meat you need as a believer, eat so you can be strong and fit and healthy. Feed when you can. However you can access the word of God, access it – it is life and health to you (Proverbs 4.22).
But our friend the caterpillar doesn’t spend his whole life eating and growing, or he would burst! What next? Check in next week…
God bless you, especially the greedy eaters!
14/05/14 The Face of the Lord
#4: Consider your face (no need to look in the mirror!). Beneath your eyes is your nose. God has a nose too. He smells. Oh help…do I need to wash before I pray then? No! Because if you did, as we are to pray at all times we’d never get out of the bathroom! God smells our prayers, and they are a sweet smelling incense to Him (Psalm 141.2; Revelation 5.8; 8.3-4). He also smells your generosity and your gifts to His workers, as a fragrant aroma (Philippians 4.18). Smells are evocative and when you pray, and when you give, morning, noon or night it brings pleasure and delight to God.
Beneath the nose is the mouth. Well, we’ve considered the voice of the Lord previously (see earlier posts). But remember you can’t put God in a box – the Israelites thought they could by taking the Ark of the Covenant into battle against the Philistines, and they got beaten! (1 Samuel 4.3, 10). He will speak when He wants and how He wants and He will say what He wants, not necessarily when, where, and what you want! It may be in the whirlwind or the storm, as with Job, or in the gentle blowing, as with Elijah, or in thunder, as with Jesus, or when you are lying down, as with the boy Samuel. It may not be for a long time, as with Jeremiah. But He speaks! (Job 38.1; 40.6; 1 Kings 19.12; John 12.29; 1 Samuel 3.3; Jeremiah 42.7)
And finally, though not on the face, the finger. God casts out demons by His finger, and by it He does miracles that magicians can’t do (Luke 11.20; Exodus 8.16-19). Ask Him to point it at you and you’ll notice the difference!
So whenever you are next in front of the mirror, remember every part of you tells you something about the One in whose likeness you have been made. You are His best visual aid!
God bless you, image of God!
7/05/14 The Face of the Lord
#3: We are made in God’s image…we are like Him! On our faces there are two eyes. That means God’s has eyes. No creature is hidden from His gaze – He sees everything (Hebrews 4.13). You can run from Him, but you can never hide from Him! He sees your successes, He sees your failures, He sees you in your holiness and He sees you in your sin, He sees you on the mountain top and He sees you in the bin (and the biscuit tin!). And He loves you, whoever you are, and however you are, because He is love – it is impossible for Him not to love you (1 John 4.8, 16). Love is not what God does, it is what God is! It’s His character…He cannot be anything but love and therefore loving, and therefore loving you!
He has roaming and roving eyes – they move to and fro throughout the earth. Why? To catch us out?! No! To strongly support those whose heart is completely His (2 Chronicles 16.9). How about your heart? Completely His? Be happy then…because He is strongly supporting you!
And He has talking eyes too. What?! “What are “talking eyes?!” you say. Remember your Mum or your Dad…that look! And you knew they were saying “Uh-oh, no!” No words needed, you knew what they were saying, and you obeyed (or not!). He instructs us and teaches us in the ways we should go, and counsels us with His eye on us (Psalm 32.8).
“He who formed the eye, does He not see?” (Psalm 94.9). You can move out of the range of the CCTV camera, you can move away from the mirror, you can switch your phone from the selfie setting to the opposite…but you can never get away from the eyes of the Lord!
God bless you in His glorious gaze!
30/04/14 The Face of the Lord (Psalm 27.8)
#2: Have you been seeking God’s face since last week? Then you will have felt the sunshine of His favour and love in a new and fresh way! Amen?
But His face can be hidden. Why? Because of His anger. “Whoa…wait a minute…careful…come on now, God never gets angry!” you say. Sorry, my friend, but He does. He gets there very slowly, but He can and does get angry and hides His face. He says about Himself, that He, the Lord, the Lord God, is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;” (Exodus 34:6). Safer to take Him at His word than believe what you prefer to think, or what people say about Him. Jesus was angry about the hardness of the religious people’s hearts (Mark 3.5). How about your heart? Hard or soft?
His face can also shine on us! That brings us peace of heart and mind. We can ask it of Him for ourselves and for others (Numbers 6.25-26; Psalm 80.7, 19). And then we in turn can reflect that glorious glow!
So here’s my prayer for you: “Dear Lord, I am seeking Your face to shine upon the one reading this now. Forgive those of us who have angered You by our hard-heartedness towards You and others. Cause Your face to shine on us all, in Jesus’ name.”
Why not say “Amen” and begin feeling the warmth of that divine shine?!
23/04/14 The Face of the Lord (Psalm 27.8)
#1: We’ve looked at the Voice of the Lord, the Arm of the Lord and the Feet of the Lord (see previous posts). But what about the Head? Every part of the body is controlled by the head. Christ is the head of His body, the church. The face is the outward visible expression of the head.
We are told three things about God’s face. Firstly, it must be sought. He tells us to seek His face (Psalm 27.8). So many seek His power, His provision, His prosperity – things which actually fuel our unbelief and desire for material strength and security. But He wants us to seek His face, His countenance, His smile, His blessing, His favour. And it must be sought. Are you seeking His face? Actively, positively, searching, looking till you find? Or are you sitting there saying, “Why doesn’t God do more for me? I’m just waiting for God to move.” God moves with the movers, He goes with the goers, He doesn’t sit with the sitters! God’s Kingdom comes when God’s people go! The writer’s reply to God’s request was from his heart, “Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” Make that your response today and every day.
Next week…what else are we told about God’s glorious face? Check in to find out…
16/04/14 The Feet of the Lord (John 24.39)
#5: Those beautiful, blessed feet of the Lord took Him up a mountain to pray and shine in His heavenly glory, to walk over the raging waters of Lake Galilee, to towns and villages to teach and preach, houses and homes to eat and sleep, to synagogues and the capital city with its magnificent Temple. They just took Him about doing good, healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him (Acts 10.38).
They were washed with a woman’s tears, kissed and dried with her hair, they were anointed with precious ointment, they were crossed and pierced with a cruel nail, they went down to hell, and returned. They were feet of the gospel, feet of healing, feet of forgiveness, feet of learning, feet of sacrifice, feet of victory, feet of worship and feet of triumph. And now in heaven they are feet like burnished bronze, busy preparing a place for you and I, yet seated once again beside the Father where He prays for us. And one day every knee shall bow at those feet, and every tongue will confess that He, Jesus Christ, is Lord.
Are you following in His footsteps?
Happy Easter! God bless.
[Next…The Face of the Lord ]
08/04/14 The Feet of the Lord (John 24.39)
#4: One place those divine feet were driven to (literally “thrown out into”) was a favourite haunt of the devil himself – the Judean wilderness (Mark 1.12). But who threw Jesus out? The Holy Spirit! Strange? Why? To be tempted (Matthew 4.1).
“You are My beloved Son…” said the voice of the Lord. “If you are the Son of God…” said the voice of the tempter… not once, but twice (Luke 3.22; 4.3, 9). If…if…if…just question and doubt what you heard your Father say. Do you? It happened for Him and if you follow Him it will happen to you. Your feet will be driven somewhere they don’t want to go, and you will be besieged with doubt about whether God has spoken to you about your true identity and relationship to Him.
Help! What do I do? Follow Him all the way, and respond with the Word of God.
“It is written…it is written…it is said…” is your weapon. Know it and use it. And watch out because the tempter knows it and will use it too (Luke 4.4, 8, 12; 10).
It was not the only time those beautiful feet stood opposite those ugly feet. They took Him through the storm and across the water to go head to head with around 5,400 demons all in one poor man (Luke 8.30). Nor was it the only time the “if” word was used. The skirmishes continued through to the end – “…if this is the Christ of God….If you are the King of the Jews…” (Luke 23.35, 37)
Follower of Jesus, how nice it would be to walk our earthly days in comfortable, fashionable designer shoes on soft, gently sloping grassy banks! But it won’t be so, and was never promised. When God speaks to you, so will the tempter. It’s part of the training programme. It’s a compulsory module! “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” and you will return, as did Jesus from the wilderness of temptation, not just full of the Holy Spirit, but “in the power of the Holy Spirit.” Then you can go and calm storms and cast out demons like He did (James 4.7; Luke 4.14).
And don’t worry, not every semester has that particular module!
God bless you…and your feet!
02/04/14 The Feet of the Lord (John 24.39)
#3: No donkey, no camel, no horse, no bicycle, no motorbike, no car, no bus, no train, no personal jet plane carried Jesus everywhere He went – except perhaps the No.11 bus… yes, His feet! No doubt often dirty and dusty, bruised, cut and aching. And where did the feet of the Lord go? And why?
They took Him to Egypt as a young child, as a refugee, where He lived with His earthly parents out of their culture, out of their comfort zone, out of their climate. North Africa and the Middle East (as we know them today) are very different from each other. They didn’t go for an expensive holiday, a cruise on the Nile or to visit the Pyramids – they went to save their lives.
Those feet took Him back to Nazareth in Galilee. They took Him to the carpenter’s workshop where He learned the trade and how to make a meagre living from hard labour. There He learned all about family life and village life and synagogue life and business life, how to budget and balance the books and make ends meet. And how to handle gossip, and back-biting and criticism and misunderstanding and disappointment, and hope, and joy and fun and laughter, and sorrow and sadness and tears.
The feet of the Lord went where you and I have to go also. And your feet, led and directed by the same Spirit of God, will take you to all the places you need to go in order to learn how to handle fear, isolation, prejudice, insecurity, rejection, faith, relationships, hard and mundane work, lack of appraisal and appreciation, criticism, gossip, slander, misunderstanding and more. His feet survived all that, and so can yours.
But they also took Him to the Temple in Jerusalem when only twelve years of age, where He longed to be, in His Father’s house, about His Father’s business – listening, learning, questioning, seeking, searching, hungering and thirsting after righteousness and His Father’s Kingdom where He had dwelt since before all time.
Where have your feet taken you? And what have you learned in each place? Don’t feel sorry for yourself when you don’t like the place where your feet have taken you. Every lesson has a value of its own, the ones we enjoy and the ones we don’t!
God bless you as you keep walking just the way you do!
26/03/14 The Feet of the Lord (John 24.39)
#2: Those tiny little beautiful baby feet that kicked in the cradle were tied tightly in cloths (Luke 2.12), not just to keep them as warm and dry as possible, but so that they would grow straight and strong.
The Word now had become flesh, and He who existed as God was now made in the likeness of man.
Can you imagine what it must have required to have been the very Author and yet now to have to learn what you had written?! It must have been similar to someone who after a terrible accident suffers from total memory loss and amnesia, but slowly step by step relearns all about him- or herself. He surely must have learned the Scriptures from his mentor-father Joseph, a “righteous man” (Matthew 1.19) and His mother Mary, the “favoured one” and “blessed among women” (Luke 1.28, 42). He hungered and thirsted for knowledge and wisdom as He grew strong in grace (Luke 2.40), and was found in the Temple, aged twelve, sitting with the teachers both listening to them and asking them questions. “I have to be in My Father’s house,” he replied to His anxious earthly parents (Luke 2.49). He even had to learn obedience, the hard way, through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5.8).
Those feet were “wrapped in swaddling bands” so that they would grow strong and straight. Jesus wrapped Himself in the Scriptures so that when the time came those feet could take Him where they were destined and He could do what He had come to do. In the same way, wrap yourself in the Word of God so that as and when your turn and time comes, you, like your Master, will go and walk in the works that God has prepared beforehand for you to walk in (Ephesians 2.10).
Where those feet took Jesus, and where yours may take you, we shall see in due course…
God bless you in your swaddling bands!
19/03/14: The Feet of the Lord (John 24.39)
#1: So, we’ve looked at the Voice of the Lord, and the Arm of the Lord. Jesus said, “See My hands and My feet.” (John 24.39) So now, let’s look at the Feet of the Lord. God has created us to be like Him, and He took on human flesh and blood so we could get a better understanding of what He is really like. “He who has seen Me,” said Jesus, “has seen the Father.” (John 14.9)
They were beautiful! (Isaiah 52.7; Mark 1.14-15) Beautiful not necessarily in appearance, we don’t know, but certainly because they brought the gospel, the good news that the Kingdom of heaven is so close that anyone, past, present or future, can simply enter it, and become a citizen. No need to send money and details of bank account and passport size photographs and letter of recommendation and invitation from someone already living there, no air ticket, no immigration queues, no border control! None of that stuff! He says, “I’ve done all that preparatory work for you, come on in and settle, and take full advantage of all it has to offer.”
Is it really that easy? Surely! So just decide you’d rather live there than where you are, change your mind, and say, “Jesus, thank you for making it possible for me to live in the Kingdom of heaven and take on full citizenship there too. Thank you I don’t have to save up, get a scholarship or funding, wait for the right time, take exams or fill in forms. I’m sorry I’ve been living where I have for so long. Thank you for coming and letting me know the door is open. Here I am…I’m coming in! And best of all, I get an indefinite!”
God bless you…and if you’re already a citizen, then let your beautiful feet cross over some mountain to someone and tell them! Freely you received, so freely give! (Matthew 10.8)
12/03/14 The Arm of the Lord (Deuteronomy 7.17-26):
#5 With a strong hand and an outstretched arm, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Psalm 136:12)
Some people think God is sitting up there in heaven somewhere on a massive white throne, his feet up, arms folded and shaking his head in despair as he watches his favourite team Mankind Disunited lose the match every time, season after season! Well, they’re wrong! His arm is stretched out, and on the end of it is his strong hand, grabbing you and me out of danger, difficulty and distress, rescuing us from sin, and sinking, and sickness. But that’s not all … He doesn’t just use his strong hand and outstretched arm to get us out of trouble. He stretches it out to empower us to cause trouble, and destroy the works of the evil one.
“But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil…As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (1 John 3.8; John 20.21) His final words to that motley crew, startled, frightened, doubting, amazed, and excited were to send them out to tell their stories, and his final act on earth was to lift up His mighty hands and bless them.
So, follower of Jesus, whoever you are and wherever you are, He’s lifted you out, lifted you up, made you well, and blessed you, all with His mighty hand and His outstretched arm, so now go and carry on His work, in His name and in His power and with His blessing, tell your stories and begin to stretch out your arms and hands to others all around you who can’t help themselves and need rescuing.
Never forget the mighty hand and the outstretched arm of the LORD your God, in the midst of you, a great and awesome God. Let Him clear away the nations before you little by little… (Deuteronomy 7.17-22)
God bless you!
05/03/14 The Arm of the Lord (Deuteronomy 7.17-26):
#4 Don’t forget the mighty outstretched arm of the Lord…it’s in your midst, saving you from sin, and from sinking. But that’s not all His great arm can do…
Someone once woke up and realised things weren’t right…didn’t look good. He went to get it checked out, and received the news he, and all like him, had always dreaded. “Yes, confirmed…here’s your bell, and off you go. Don’t ever go near anyone else without ringing it and shouting out a warning to them that you’re around, and to keep away from you.” He was a leper. No hope, no future, no company other than those crushed like he was by despair and rejection. Normality, whatever that had been, was now history.
But then news came that someone could help him. How could he get to him? He was forbidden to mix in society. “Too bad,” he said to himself, “might as well be stoned to death rather than live like this any longer. I’m going, and if I die, I die…but maybe, just maybe, the opposite will happen, and I will live, properly, again.”
The moment came, the people were crowding around, shouting at him to go away, get out, get lost. He pressed through, found the man, lowered his head and then blurted out, “If you are willing, you can heal me.” And that mighty hand of the Lord was stretched out yet again … and the man was completely healed, and restored to society, made whole physically, spiritually, emotionally, socially, in every way. (Matthew 8.1-3)
Feel rejected? Do you long for friends and company, to be normal and accepted like everyone else? Something about you others don’t like? Don’t accept? Have condemned? No-one to help you? No-one to rescue you from the loneliness and isolation and misery and shame you feel? Ignore them, and push through to Jesus and let Him stretch out the mighty arm of the Lord to you, and hear His voice say, “I am willing!”
God bless you in your new-found freedom!
24/02/14 The Arm of the Lord (Deuteronomy 7.17-26):
#3: Not only does that almighty divine arm stretch out from heaven and rescue you from sin…it also rescues you from sinking. King sins cause sinking. So, it’s lifted you out of the control zone of sin, but you’re not necessarily safe and sound yet. God’s work of perfection is a process.
Remember Peter – he stepped out of the boat, he walked on the water, but then, with the wind and waves thrashing around him, he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. And then, without hesitation or delay, the mighty arm of the Lord was stretched out, and he was rescued.
What are your king-sins that cause your sinking? What areas aren’t firm under your feet? Where do you feel you’re going down? Where is your faith lacking and your doubt prevailing? Be like Peter – just cry out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14.30), and instantly you will feel that mighty arm lift you up to safety.
And in future try not to take your eyes off Jesus!
17/02/14 – The Arm of the Lord (Deuteronomy 7.17-26)
#2: God has a very long arm! And He stretches it out to rescue people in difficulty and distress (Isaiah 59.1). He stretched it out to rescue His people from hundreds of years of slavery – underdogs in a foreign land. They couldn’t do what they wanted or live how they liked. They were mastered.
True for us all – sooner or later we realise we’re not where we want to be, or doing what we would like to do. Mastered! Slaves.
“Surely slavery has been abolished,” you cry. Sadly not…literally or spiritually. Sin gets hold of us all… “for there is no man who does not sin.” (1 Kings 8.46).
“But I don’t sin much,” you say. Hmmm…let’s see… three sins a day is more than a thousand a year. Multiply that by your age and you’ll see that’s a heap of sins!
“Ah, but my sins are only little ones compared with other people.” OK, eat an omelette made with several fresh eggs and just one rotten one then! One sin, however small, spoils your whole life.
“So what do I do then?” Let the mighty outstretched arm of the Lord reach out to you and lift you out of your slavery to sin, as He rescued His people out of theirs all those years ago. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10.13); believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved… (Acts 16.31).
Feel mastered? Need rescuing? Tried everything you know to get free, find peace of heart and mind, and have hope for the future, but still not found it? Pray with me: “Dear Father God in heaven, I’ve tried my best to do well, and find peace…but I just don’t have it. Sorry that I fail so often…I don’t want to, and I don’t mean to, but I just can’t help myself. Please help me, stretch out your arm and save me from my sin life…now. Thank you. I’m asking in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
God bless you!
10/02/14 – The Arm of the Lord (Deuteronomy 7.17-26)
#1:You stuck? Trapped? In a helpless situation? Almost always in Scripture the Arm of the Lord refers to God rescuing people from circumstances and situations from which they can’t rescue themselves. The man trapped in his vehicle after a horrendous accident can’t rescue himself; the child who can’t swim but has fallen in the water can’t rescue itself; the victim under the rubble of a mining disaster or earthquake can’t rescue himself; the woman stranded with her young children on a top story of a burning building can’t rescue herself or her children. They all need someone else to save them from their situation. They need the rescue services.
We are told to remember God’s arm, not forget it or take it for granted (v18), that it is very strong, not weak, feeble and powerless (v19), that it is stretched out, not folded in comfortable, carefree on-looking (v19), and that it is God’s arm, great and awesome, not a human being’s or even an angel’s (v21).
So where is it? Up in heaven somewhere out of our reach? No! It’s right in front of you, in the middle of where you are (v22).
Need a helping hand out of a situation in which you’re stuck? Whom does the Arm of the Lord stretch out to, and what does He rescue people from? See next week…
God bless you…and try not to get stuck!
3/02/2014 – The Voice of the Lord
Every flourishing relationship is two-way! You want the Voice of the Lord to speak to you? Well, you must speak to Him too. Finally, Psalm 29 tells us what to say …(I made a little rhyme up, easy to remember!)
Tell Him He’s glorious, tell Him He’s strong!
Let Him know it’s to Him you belong.
His name is Jehovah, He loves you to sing
“You’re my healer, provider, my peace and my King!”
That’s it for the Voice of the Lord. Next week…the Arm of the Lord
God bless you whoever you are, wherever you are and however you are. Be strong and at peace with yourself (v11)
27/01/2014 – The Voice of the Lord
God is not a dumb idol! He speaks, and when He speaks lives are changed, radically. Need radical change? Psalm 29 tells us what changes happen when the Voice of the Lord speaks.
New life! (v9) Feeling barren? Unproductive? Need new fruit? Converts? Churches? Ministry? Job? Promotion? Gifts? Business connections? Friends? Relationships? Contacts? Job? Direction? Vision? Physically and spiritually when God speaks new things are birthed.
When the forest is stripped bare the light and rain reached the dormant seeds, and they germinate and grow into beautiful, fruitful plants and flowers.
Dare to pray: “Lord, make me to calve, strip my forest bare and give me new life, in Jesus’ name!”
God bless you and your fruit!
20/01/2014 – The Voice of the Lord
Feeling dry? In a waterless place? Lifeless? Deserts are where the devil tempts and where demons go (Matthew 4.1ff; 12.43). It’s the place of oppression, obsession, depression and even possession. It’s the place of doubt, despair, disappointment, discouragement and disillusionment. Been there?
You’re not meant to be a desert-dweller! Let Jesus, the Voice of the Lord, shake and stir up your wilderness. He is the One who gives living water…and when water comes to the desert, all the dormant seeds germinate and blossom.
Resonate? Then pray this…”Dear Lord Jesus, please speak into my life now!” And feel the rain fall and the life return.
13/01/2014 – The Voice of the Lord
Jesus, the Word of God, the Voice of the Lord, is still speaking in 2014. When God speaks, it happens! Psalm 29 tells us what will happen when He speaks. (See previous posts for Lessons #1-4)
Lesson #5: He sends the fire! (v7). Like lightening – what it hits, it instantly destroys. What do you need destroyed in your life? It starts fires too, and fire purifies, refines and purges. New Year’s resolutions won’t last! Let God do the work of destruction, purification, purging and refining in your heart – self-perfection is hard work and ends up in pride or disappointment.
Cry Glory! from your temple (v1,2,9b) and the Voice of the Lord will speak! Amen!
Happy 2014 – God bless
Priorities – a Christmas Message
Those wise men can teach us some lessons about priorities (Matthew 2.11)
Lesson #1) When they entered the house, they saw Jesus – do you see Jesus when you enter His house?
Lesson #2) As soon as they saw Him, they fell down and worshipped Him – do you fall down and worship Him?
Lesson #3) Only then did they present their gifts.
Let’s learn about priorities from these ancients! Enter His house, see Him, humble yourself, worship Him, only then give Him what you have brought.
God bless you this Christmas and abundantly throughout the coming year. Focus on giving to Him rather than getting from Him!
9/12/2013 The Prayer Room
I discovered this whilst sorting through some of my late mother-in-law’s bits and pieces. She passed away peacefully last Wednesday, aged 95. I would like to share it with you this week (her Funeral is next Monday 16/12/2013)
The Prayer Room
I leave aside my shoes (my ambitions)
Undo my watch (my timetable)
Take off my glasses (my views)
Unclip my pen (my work)
Put down my keys (my security)
To be alone with You, the only true God.
After being with You,
I take up my shoes to walk in Your ways
Strap on my watch to live in Your time
Put on my glasses to see things Your way
Clip on my pen to write up Your thoughts
Pick up my keys to open Your doors.
2/12/2013 – The Voice of the Lord
When God speaks, it happens! Continuing to examine the Voice of the Lord (Psalm 29)
Lesson #4: Lebanon and Sirion are mountain ranges (v6). They are inhospitable, and divide loved ones and people groups from each other.
We can have barriers which divide us, in families, in churches, in neighbourhoods, even in our hearts. Barriers between who we are and who we would like to be. We can’t live there! But when Jesus speaks to these mountain ranges which divide us, they “skip away” like a young, newly-born animal.
Fed up with barriers of division between you and another? Let the Voice of the Lord make them skip away!
God bless you in your new-found place of reconciliation!
25/11/2013 – The Voice of the Lord
Continuing from last week’s post on the Voice of the Lord (Psalm 29). Jesus is the Word of God, the Voice of the Lord.
Lesson #3: when Jesus speaks into your life He “breaks the cedars” (v5). The cedar tree takes a long time to grow and is very tall, tough and resilient. We can have “cedar trees” in our lives that have taken years to grow – unresolved bitterness, unforgiveness, insecurities, addictions, attitudes, unprofitable habits resulting from past hurts, resentments, disappointments, depression, prayers not answered as we wanted…etc.
You may have tried your hardest, but still the old “cedar tree” stands strong and proud and sturdy, but you know it must come down. Ascribe glory to the Lord, worship Him and let Him today speak to that tree and bring it down once and for all – let him do what you cannot do! He will break them to pieces, shatter them, so they cannot be repaired, like a broken bottle or mirror.
God bless you
18/11/2013 – The Voice of the Lord
As we are Virtual VOICE let’s examine the Voice of the Lord (Psalm 29).
Lesson #2: when Jesus, the voice of the Lord, speaks it is as powerful as thunder, and as audible to the one He is speaking to, and as authoritative as a decree from a King or Queen. “Majestic” is only used of Kings and Queens, and God’s throne is never vacated! As you praise Him He is enthroned! (Psalm 22.3)
Jesus speaks over the waters of your life. Water is the only element man cannot tame. But Jesus could calm it and walk on it! When He speaks into your life He brings calm, and you can be the element that lifts Him up, even the solid foundation which exalts Him and enables Him to do the impossible!
Is He speaking to you today? Let Him calm you down and do the supernatural through you!
11/11/2013 – The Voice of the Lord
As we are Virtual VOICE let’s examine the Voice of the Lord. When God speaks, it happens. Jesus is the Word of God (John 1.1; 14). Psalm 29 tells us what Jesus will do in response to what we do.
Lesson #1: we must declare, confess and ascribe to Him the glory and strength His name deserves. (v2). Declare Him to be healer and He will heal. His name is Jehovah Rapha. Declare Him to be provider and He will provide. His name is Jehovah Jireh. Declare Him to be peace and He will give you peace. His name is Jehovah Shalom. Declare Him to be Saviour and He will save. His name is Jesus.
Worship Him (v2) = give him what you think He’s worth. Some of His followers barely tip Him on a Sunday! Give Him the first and the best of all you have … your time, your attention, your finance, your home, your family, your work, your everything – that’s how He likes to be worshipped.
When we start like this, He begins to speak! And we’ll see what happens when He speaks!
God bless you today and every day as you ascribe the glory and strength due to Him and worship Him as He deserves!
10/10/2013 – 8th and final “Eternal Epitaph” – (what God has written in Scripture about various largely unheard of people)
“Eternal epitaph” #8 – Philologus, Julia, Nereus, his sister and Olympas, and everyone with them (Romans 16.15) …saints
True saints are those who have been set apart, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, called by God and who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place (1 Corinthians 1.2). And it’s a work in progress – Jesus prayed for it, Paul prayed for it and it makes a person Jesus’ brother and sister (John 17.17; 1 Thessalonians 5.23; Hebrews 2.11).
Godly men and women down through the ages have been called “saints” by other people, but in the Kingdom of God He is the One who bestows the honour…
If you have called upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, then your “eternal epitaph” will read “saint”, wherever in the world you may be! If you have not yet done so, why not do it now? Whoever comes to Him He will not reject. Whoever calls upon His name He will save. (John 6.37; Romans 10.13)
What will be said of you?
03/10/2013 – Seventh “Eternal Epitaph” – (what God has said publicly for ever about various people)
“Eternal epitaph” #7 – Prisca and Aquila (again!) (Romans 16.3-4), and Epaphroditus (Philippians 2.25,30) … risk takers
It is said faith is spelt R-I-S-K! Not to be confused with presumption or foolishness. Just because God does it for someone else, it doesn’t mean He will do it for you. We need to hear what He is saying to us, personally, individually, and see what He is doing through us, personally and individually.
Risk takers 1) know their God, so can do bold exploits (Daniel 11.32); and 2) know they don’t know all the details, but go because God has said so.
So, when God says “Go”, take the risk and go! “A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (William Shedd)
24/09/2013 – Sixth “Eternal Epitaph” – (what Scripture says for ever about largely unheard of people)
“Eternal epitaph” #6 – Phoebe (Romans 16.2), helper of many.
What a wonderful way to be remembered for all time! Helper of many, not just helper, or helper of a few she liked, or helper of family members. Such a ministry is listed as high as 6th place in God’s appointments, only preceded by apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles and healings – that shows how much it is needed. (1 Corinthians 12.28)
People all around you need your help. Could it be said, will it be said of you – helper of many? May it be so!
18/09/2013 – Fifth “Eternal Epitaph” – (from the Greek “epitaphos” meaning “upon the tomb”.)
“Eternal epitaph” #5 – Ampliatus, Stachys, Apelles and Rufus (remember them?! – God does) … “beloved”, “approved” and “choice”. (Romans 16.8, 9, 10)
God is love – He cannot not love … and that includes you! So whatever you’ve done, however you feel, in the past or even today, when you are a “convert to Christ”, and “in Christ” you are His beloved, approved and choice one!
Some friends of mine went several years ago to China to adopt a little baby girl. There was no hope for her there, no future but a miserable one. They “approved” her,” chose” her, brought her home, “loved” her and raised her. Today she is a beautiful, well dressed, well educated teenager prospering and succeeding in all respects.
So cheer up, God says of you now and for ever, you’re my “beloved, approved and choice” one. Enjoy it! (Isaiah 43.1-5)
09/09/2013 – Fourth “Eternal Epitaph” – (what the Bible records about largely unknown heroes and heroines of the faith)
“Eternal epitaph” #4 – Prisca, Aquila (again!), Urbanus, Mary, and Persis, “fellow workers” and “hard workers” (Romans 16.3, 6, 9, 12)
All of us are a part of God’s larger whole. We are never supposed to be working alone, we have fellow workers to be alongside and have alongside. Or are you a “one man band”, or a one denomination church, talking about “me and my ministry” and “we at our church”?
I have a piece of woodland and beneath the ground there is an unseen root network and system, through which the trees share and transfer nutrients, water etc and so support each other. A good lesson from another form of God’s creation for us to learn from – we need each other.
Who are your fellow workers? Who draws from you and from whom do you draw sustenance?
And work heartily, be diligent (= do your best) – be known as a “hard worker.” (2 Timothy 2.15; Luke 17.7-10; Colossians 3.23)
02/09/2013 – Third “eternal epitaph” – (things written in Scripture about people, most of whose names we can’t pronounce and don’t remember – but God does!)
3) Prisca and Aquila, Urbanus, Tryphaena and Tryphosa , all “workers in Christ Jesus/in the Lord” (Romans 16.3, 9, 12).
You are saved to serve, not to sit; you are called to work, not to wait! The call to salvation is a call to service. You are blessed to bless! The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Work while it is still day…. (Matthew 9.37; John 9.4)
God has a work for you so you can be called a “worker in Christ Jesus”. Are you doing it?
27/08/2013 – Second “eternal epitaph” –
2) Andronicus and Junias, “in Christ”; and those in the household of Narcissus, “in the Lord.” (Romans 16.7, 11)
Once a convert to Christ, you are “in Christ/in the Lord” . That means where He goes, you go. When you are in the car you go where the car goes! If you are in the aeroplane you go up when it goes up, and you go down when it goes down! The baby’s Dedication Service is not (hopefully!) it’s first visit to church – he/she came every time his/her mother came…for nine months!
So relax and enjoy going where He goes if you are “in Christ, in the Lord”? You’re safe and sound!
19/08/2013 – Look at these “eternal epitaphs”, written for eternity about people whose names most of us can’t even pronounce!
1) Epaenetus, “convert to Christ” (Romans 16.5).
Will that be said of you? If you’re not sure when you converted (deliberately and consciously turned to Christ), why not do so now? God has no grandchildren – you must be born again (John 3.3). How? Just ask Him.
12/08/2013 – Call it summer or whatever you like, when it’s time to gather, gather while you can, for the time will come when you will need it. (Proverbs 30.25)
15/07/2013 – Feeling seriously down? Never underestimate the value of a broken spirit – it’s a sacrifice which attracts God’s presence (Psalm 51.17; Isaiah 57.15).
24/06/2013 – In a sticky position? The Holy Spirit is like oil – He lubricates.
Feel messy? The Holy Spirit is like fire – He refines.
Exhausted? The Holy Spirit is like wind – He refreshes.
Dehydrated? The Holy Spirit is like water – He revitalises.
Be filled with Holy Spirit today and every day! Luke 11.13
17/06/2013 – Final thoughts about the power of the blood of Jesus –
– It brings you near to God (Ephesians 2.13): it leads you
– It keeps you near to God (John 5.56; Hebrews 10.19)): it sustains you
– It has the ear of God (Hebrews 12.24): it speaks for you
– It gives you peace (Colossians 1.13): with God
– It gives you power (Revelation 12.1): over the devil
– It gives you a promise (Hebrews 9.15): of eternal life
May the blood of Jesus work in your life always.
10/06/2013 – There is power in the blood of Jesus. By it you have been, or can be
– cleansed from all sin (1 John 1.7): you’re pure
– justified (Romans 5.9): you’re not guilty
– healed (1 Peter 2.24): you’re healthy
Ask for the blood of Jesus to work in you this week. More reminders next week of the power of the blood of Jesus.
03/06/2013 – There is power in the blood of Jesus. Through it you have been, or can be
– purchased (Acts 20.28): by God, to belong to Him
– redeemed (Ephesians 1.7): for God, to live with Him
– sanctified (Hebrews 13.12): in God, to become like Him
Ask for the blood of Jesus to work in you this week. More reminders next week of the power of the blood of Jesus.
27/05/2013 – James and John asked for personal glory, and got a “No.” Then Bartimaeus asked for personal mercy, and got a “Yes.” (Mark 10.35-52)
20/05/2013 – For anyone needing to move on – when you pray, supernatural power is released to take you to where you need to be (Psalm 46.10)
When you are still you’ll hear His voice
When you are still you will rejoice
He loves you.
As you gaze into His glorious face
You will surely end the race
In His love for you, child.
13/05/2013 – Facing a giant? The task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you (Psalm 60.12; 108.13). Don’t look at the giant, look at Jehovah! God bless!
In the place of prayer you’ll be revived
In the place of prayer, sanctified
He loves you.
If you let your heart receive His grace
You will surely know your place
In His love for you, child.
06/05/2013 – When things appear to be a bit out of place, keep watching and praying … (Matthew 26.41).
If you come before the throne of grace
All else will fall into place
He loves you.
If you set your heart to seek His face
You will surely know the taste
Of His love for you, child.
29/04/2013 – It is the last step that wins (2 Corinthians 8:11). For anyone feeling weary, keep going! Drink from the well that never dries … He’s the all sufficient One.
20/04/2013 – Hoping makes waiting possible (Isaiah 49.23). For those of you who are waiting, keep hoping…He’ll never let you down.
God bless you!
“When it’s time to take on a baton, take it on. When it’s time to run with a baton, run with it as fast as you can. When it’s time to pass a baton on, pass it on. There will always be another relay to run which needs you!” (1 Corinthians 9.24; Hebrews 12.1) Pastor Peter
“Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.” Anon