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Friday, October 24, 2008

In Memory

Today we attended the funeral of my husband's aunt Muriel. It was a sombre affair. We do not believe she had put her trust in Jesus and there was no sign that any of her family believed. The minister who conducted the service at the crematorium clearly did not know the family and twice referred to the deceased as Beryl.

A Quiet Passing
One nephew read a popular but distinctly un-Christian poem, while another talked briefly about the highlights of Muriel's life, one of which was a "gorilla-gram" on her 60th birthday. The congregation sang, rather weakly, two well known hymns and the prayers were formal, straight from the service book.

All in all it seemed rather a pathetic end to a life. No doubt Muriel brought joy to many people and enriched the lives of her family and friends. But today, for the minister and the organist, she was just another old lady to be dispatched. As far as I could see, neither of them were thanked for their services.

In Contrast
Gayle Williams, on the other hand, has had her name and face splashed across the media. She is the Christian charity worker murdered in Afghanistan this week. She died serving the Lord, but if she hadn't been killed in such a fashion I doubt any of us would have heard of her.

Does It Matter?
The truth is that most of us live entirely ordinary humdrum lives and even the few remarkable things we may be able to achieve will not come to the notice of the world. So does it matter how we live and how we die? Does it matter how many people know our name?

God said to His chosen people, "fear not for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine," (Is 43:1). It doesn't matter who knows our name or what we've achieved. What is important is that God knows. Countless Christian martyrs have died without recognition from the world. But every single one of them is recognised by God. Many times more have lived simple faithful lives without being called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice. But the Lord has seen them set their alarm clocks to wake early in order to give Him the first part of the day. He has seen them on their knees as they plead with Him for the needs of others. He has seen their sacrificial giving of their money, their time and their very selves. He has seen them stand firm against temptation when no-one else was watching. He has seen their worship and adoration.

Such people may pass quietly and unremarked from this world, but they will enter the next with a fanfare and a party. They will be welcomed home by their Heavenly Father as conquering heroes and there will be no question of their names being forgotten for they are written in the Lamb's book of life and graven into His palms.

Prayer College Assignment
Who are you seeking recognition from? We're all tempted at times to be more concerned about the impression we make on others than what the Lord thinks of us. But in reality, He is the only one who matters and we matter more to Him than to anyone else. He never gets a name wrong. However mundane you think your life is, determine to live it for Jesus and no-one else.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Beginnings and Endings

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Rev 22:13

I'm told that the wonderful composer JS Bach wrote a series of initials at the beginning and end of each of his compositions. He began them with JJ, the initials of the phrase Jesu Juva, Latin for "Jesus, help me." He ended them with SDG, the first letters of Soli Deo Gloria, "to the glory of God alone."

In All Your Ways
Proverbs 3:6 says, "in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths." That appears to have been Bach's experience. Like that other great Christian composer Handel, the results of his labours have a quality about them which makes us feel as though the writer must have had a glimpse of heaven in order to create such beauty. In fact whilst Handel was composing The Messiah he is believed to have turned to his servant and said, with tears in his eyes, "I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself."

Whatever we do, if we give the Lord Jesus priority at the beginning, and acknowledge at the end that any achievement is not ours, but for the glory of God, we will find our lives transformed.

Beginnings
Jesus Himself claimed to be the beginning. When we look to Him at the beginning of the day, surrendering to His plans and His will for us, the whole day can be lived for His glory. We will find unexpected ways through or around difficult situations; we will discover more ways to serve God; the mundane activities of the day will become more meaningful as we honour God in them.

Endings
Often days begun with the Lord Jesus will prove to be more productive. We may have more opportunities to witness, we may gain greater victory over temptation, we may simply perform better at work and earn praise from our employer. The temptation in such circumstances is to pat ourselves on the back and to pride ourselves in all we've achieved.

But Jesus is the end as well as the beginning and all that we do should be for His glory. If we have been successful in overcoming temptation, or sharing the word of God with someone, or completing a task ahead of schedule, it is simply by the grace of God and His ability to direct our paths.

In Parentheses
We need to learn to live every aspect of our lives bracketed by our commitment to Jesus and our glorifying of Him. It is right to begin and end our days with Jesus, to give ourselves to Him for each fresh responsibility we face. We must not fall into the trap of thinking there are certain things we can handle on our own, and taking glory for our achievements.

The Lord Jesus said, "apart from me you can do nothing," (John 15:5). We do not grasp how reliant we are on the grace of God for every aspect of our lives. If we become complacent He may well decide it's time to take us down a peg or two and show us how vulnerable we are when He withholds His hand.

Prayer College Assignment
Ask the Lord to remind you to give Him your day at the beginning and to give Him the glory at the end.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Where's Your Treasure

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Jer 29:7)

The prosperity of our nations, or the lack of it, is something which consumes the interest of the media at present. Every day the headline news is of the crash of share prices, the demise of banks somewhere in the world or the attempts of governments to solve the problems by making vast amounts of money available to the financial institutions. One expert noted that, in Britain we were now budgeting more for the rescue of our financial system than for the entire NHS which makes a complete mockery of the arguments that certain drugs which can extend or save lives are too expensive.

Where is Your Security?
Jesus told us not to store up treasures on earth because they are so vulnerable and we will set our hearts on them (Matt 6:19-21). In the prosperous West we have not taken those words seriously enough. We have pretended that what Jesus really said was, if you store up treasures on earth don't make the mistake of becoming too attached to them. But Jesus wasn't offering some good advice, He was giving us a command, "do not." In the light of recent weeks we can perhaps begin to see why. How many Christians have stored up pension funds based on shares, some of which are worth only half of what they were a week ago? How many have put their trust in the money markets to provide for them, rather than in the Lord? How many have felt wealthy because the value of their property has soared in recent years.

Throughout the history of God's people, whenever they have put their trust in something or someone other than their true Sovereign, He has removed their prop from them. It is what happened in Jeremiah's day. Many of the people had been carried off into exile by the Babylonians. But see what the Lord tells Jeremiah to write, "I have carried you into exile." The Babylonians were simply God's instrument to discipline His people.

Restoration
There was no quick restoration for the people of Judah. They remained in captivity for 70 years. But from the outset they had God's promise that He would bring them home, He would return them to their own land. In the meantime it was their responsibility to pray for the place where they were exiled. Though they were in great anguish because their world had been turned upside-down (see Ps 137) the Lord told them to get on with life, to settle and live ordinary lives. They were told to pray, not that they would be returned home, nor even that they would be blessed where they were. They were told to pray for the prosperity of the very people who had taken them into captivity.

The Lord Jesus told us to store up treasures in heaven. We now have a wonderful opportunity to reassess our values and our dependence on God. We may live in turbulent times but it is only what has been permitted by the hand of God. Nothing we can do will shorten the period of this financial chaos. Instead, like the people of Jeremiah's day, we are called to pray, not for our own good but for the blessing of our nations.

Prayer College Assignment
Our nations will be most greatly blessed if they turn in dependence to God. People have been praying for revival in Britain for many years. Now is not the time to become discouraged but to redouble our efforts. Pray that those who have been or will be adversely affected by the financial crisis will seek out the true treasure of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord (Phil 3:7-8).

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Revelation

A man can only receive what is given him from heaven. Jn 3:27

When Peter declared, "you are the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus replied, "this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven," (Matt 16:16-17). Paul prayed for the Ephesian church that they would, "know the love that surpasses knowledge," (Eph 3:19).

Two Kinds of Knowledge
There are two kinds of knowledge: worldly knowledge which is learned by our senses through teaching and experience; and spiritual knowledge which we can only acquire as God reveals it to us. There is a danger for Christians who listen to many sermons, read many books, and study their Bible diligently, that their spiritual knowledge does not match up to what they have learned with their minds. They may have heard many talks about the love of God, they may have read volumes of material on the subject and learned to quote relevant verses of scripture. But observation of their lives shows they have not truly understood that the Lord loves them. They are still anxious and fearful about the circumstances of their lives, they haven't fully shaken off the sense of guilt for past sin, they do not enjoy the presence of God.

We cannot simply learn kingdom truths with our mind. Many heard the teaching of Jesus, saw His miracles and witnessed His lifestyle, but they did not recognise who he was. Peter received a revelation - the Father opened the eyes of his spiritual understanding so that he received a revelation that Jesus was the Messiah.

Our Knowledge
When I became I Christian, I first accepted, intellectually, the truth of the Gospel but it was some time before the Lord knocked at the door of my heart, I invited Him in and received my first revelation of Him. It was the most intensely real experience I had had up to that point in my life.

But revelation isn't supposed to stop at conversion. It should be an ongoing experience. We can have too many sermons, read too many books, so that we begin to think we know a lot when, in reality, very little of it has become real in our lives.

I remember a little over two years ago when I received a revelation about forgiveness. I must have heard dozens of sermons on the subject, I had a theology of forgiveness, but I didn't have a knowledge of forgiveness that affected my life. Then, one morning, when I was helping out at a children's club, the leader spoke to the children about forgiveness and suddenly a light went on in my spirit. I had such a revelation of forgiveness that I was able to forgive people I had not been able to forgive for 35 years! I had received a revelation.

Receiving Revelation
If we can only truly know things through revelation, what can we do about it? Are we stuck with just waiting to receive what God deigns to give us?

On the contrary, we have an active part to play. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the Lord rewards those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6). He also tells us that the word of God "penetrates even to the dividing of soul and spirit," (Heb 4:12). It is in the mind, part of the soul, where worldly knowledge accumulates, but it is with the spirit that we receive revelation.

The word of God, the Bible is essential to us receiving spiritual understanding. This is why Bible centred preaching is essential, and the public reading of Scripture even more so. But most vital of all is personal devotional reading of God's word which opens us up to the still small voice of the Spirit. If you need a revelation about something, study the scriptures on the matter, meditate on those passages which speak about the subject which concerns you.

The other important aspect is, of course, prayer. Not the kind of prayer that is seeking answers to requests, but that which seeks to lay hold of God Himself. Jesus commanded us to abide in Him (Jn 15:4), He prayed that we might know God (Jn 17:3). When our heart is devoted to knowing God, rather than knowing about Him, He will increasingly reveal Himself to us.

Sadhu Sundar Singha Sikh convert to Christ, said, "prayer is a breathing in of the Holy Spirit," (At the Feet of the Master). Those who have discovered this aspect of contemplative prayer will understand precisely what is meant. Prayer was never intended to be a vending machine where we put our requests in the slot and God dispenses His answers. Rather, it is the means of fellowship, a sharing of intimacy, with our beloved Lord Jesus.

When Paul told the Ephesians that the relationship between husband and wife was a picture of of Christ's relationship with His bride, he gave us a beautiful image which not only sanctifies the act of marriage, but reveals to us the intensity of intimacy it is possible to have with Jesus. But only for those who will submit themselves to Him, abiding in Him, & taking the time to spend alone with Him in prayer.

Prayer College Assignment
Do you need a revelation of how much God loves you, His hatred of sin, or His passion for the lost? Whatever is lacking in your spiritual knowledge, spend time in Scripture seeking God's word on the matter and seek His face for a revelation.