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Sunday, December 08, 2013

Dividing the Dross

SpiritA lot of things that are being spoken of today as the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it´s just emotional exuberance. Because people don´t know what is soul and what is spirit... Young people are so often taken up with that exuberance and say, `Oh, this is Holy Spirit.´ It´s not, if it were Holy Spirit it would bring holiness. Zac Poonen

I disagree with Zac Poonen.

It is not only young people who confuse an emotional experience with the touch of God's Spirit. They are being brought up in a church where the generation of leaders had already been sucked into this delusion.

The problem is that there is such a close relationship that many Christians do not even recognise there is a difference between soul and spirit - they think of these as the same entity but with different names. Consequently they don't even consider it might be possible to distinguish between experiences of the soul and those of the spirit.

However, the Bible is clear on the matter.

May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Just as God is Trinity, we too are tripartite beings. As one preacher puts it, I am a spirit, I have a soul and I live in a body. That may be oversimplifying the situation but it is perhaps a helpful starting point for considering the nature of human beings. But it still does not explain the difference between soul and spirit.  

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Soul and spirit may be so closely knit together that it is difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins, but there is a difference, just as there is between joints and marrow and Scripture can reveal it.

Romans 8:16 makes it clear that the human spirit is the part of us which is designed to enable us to communicate with God.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

As Poonen's words suggest, the soul is a different thing altogether. In the psalms we discover that the soul can be in anguish and experience grief (Ps 31:7-9) or rejoice (Ps 35:9). David speaks to his soul, asking why it is downcast (Ps 42) and calling it to wake up (Ps 57:8). The soul is also instructed to praise God (Ps 103:1). From these passages we can glean the understanding that the soul is the seat of the emotions.

The problem arises when we don't recognise the distinction between soul and spirit and begin to believe that our emotions are telling us something about our relationship with God, or even that our emotions are a message from God. Our emotions tend to be stormy but the voice of God to the human spirit is a gentle whisper (1 Kng 19:9-13).

Above all, the Spirit of God is holy and the measure of His activity in 0ur lives, as Poonen points out, is not in the depth of our emotional response but whether or not we become more holy. As part of a generation of people who measure the value of everything according to how it makes us feel we need to be especially careful to discern between feelings and the touch of God. His ultimate goal is not to make us feel good but to be good.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

And The Wall Came Tumbling Down

By faith the walls of Jericho fell. Heb 11:30

Today is the 24th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. It was one of the most important events of modern European history and yet the full story of powerful prayer is rarely told.

The building of the Berlin wall was begun on 13th August 1961. It was erected by the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a communist state, to isolate West Berlin, part of the nation of West Germany but surrounded by the GDR.

As with the border between North and South Korea, the dividing of Germany into two states after the Second World War meant many families were separated and economic decline in the East made West Berlin and West Germany very attractive to those in the East.

Over the years many people tried to escape from the communist East to the West via the Berlin Wall. Few were successful, most were shot.

But the late 1980's saw Communism beginning to lose its grip across Eastern Europe and demonstrations began to occur in East Berlin. Ultimately the crowds breached the wall and guards stood by as thousands crossed into freedom.

This is established history. But behind the headlines is an amazing story of the power of prayer. Much of the story is told here by BBC's Peter Crutchley.

In 1982 Open Doors began a seven year campaign to pray for the nations under the heal of Communism.

Meanwhile, behind the Iron Curtain and in the same year, Christian Führer, pastor of St Nicholas Church in Leipzig in the GDR, began to hold prayer meetings for peace every Monday evening. Numbers were small to begin with because the atheistic government made it difficult for people to attend any kind of religious meeting.

In 1985 Pastor Führer put up a sign outside the church which remains to this day. It read, “Open to All”. Numbers began to increase rapidly as word spread about the prayer meetings for peace.

"On 8 May 1989, the authorities barricaded the streets leading to the church, hoping to put people off, but it had the opposite effect, and our congregation grew. There were beatings and arrests of demonstrators at protest rallies in Leipzig, Berlin and Dresden," the pastor said in an interview on the BBC’s World Service.

The general population began to respond with peaceful rallies in Leipzig and across the GDR. They became known as the Monday Demonstrations.

On 7 October 1989, the 40th anniversary of the GDR, President Honecker ordered in the police to close the church. A local newspaper ran an article which announced that the protests would be stopped Monday 9 October "with whatever means necessary".

"The church was visited by doctors who told us that hospital rooms had been made available for patients with bullet wounds. So we were absolutely terrified of what might happen," Pastor Führer said.

On 9 October 1989 about 8,000 people crammed into St Nicholas Church and other churches opened to help cope with the 70,000 people who had come to protest. After the service the pastor led his people outside to join the peaceful candlelit demonstration. He later said, "They didn't attack. They had nothing to attack for. East German officials would later say they were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer."

The following Monday the crowds were even larger. Two days later Honecker resigned and a month later the Berlin Wall came down.

It had taken seven years of consistent and faithful prayer to bring about the liberty of people from atheistic Communism.

On the day before Remembrance Sunday we would do well to consider that the weapons of Christians are not the weapons of the world but are still, "mighty in God for pulling down strongholds" (2 Cor 10:4).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Prayer and the Obsession with Self

praying in the countrysideOne of the arguments atheists sometimes make against the existence of God is that prayer doesn't work. This, of course, makes the false assumption that all prayer is about asking God for things, which clearly it is not.

However, the question remains, "When I ask God for something, why don't I always get it?"

As Christians, we know God answers prayer. Just two days ago a friend and I prayed that my son would get an acting job for which he auditioned yesterday. The audition didn't go particularly well and he was a bit discouraged. But today he had good news - he was offered the part.

Now, it's easy to call that kind of thing coincidence but I am reminded of the words of Archbishop William Temple:

When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don't, they don't.

Of course, there have been prayers for other jobs for my son which seem to have gone unanswered. And there are the more serious unanswered prayers such as those for an acquaintance who died of cancer earlier this year leaving a husband and two young children. It is understandable if the response to that kind of event is that God is either cruel or does not exist.

However, that is to measure God by human standards. God is ineffable, beyond human comprehension. The Mind, which created space-time with its billions of stars and the complex code of DNA as a computer programme for the construction of unique human beings, does not see our lives in the same way we do.
Whilst it is true that He has a unique plan for each individual, the fact remains that there is one over-arching plan for time and eternity and human minds do not have the capacity to grasp how the details of our personal existence fit into that.

The current obsession with self in Western culture, which I believe stems from moral and social immaturity in people who have been taught liberty and license rather than self-discipline and self-control, has left us so absorbed with our own difficulties that we are incapable of grasping the truth of Romans 8:28:

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

We need to learn to seek God's plan and purpose for when we pray with those in mind, our prayers will be answered.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Take a Break

dads-shoulderEven youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:30-31

This week I heard a news story about what happens in the brain when we sleep. Apparently our brain cells shrink during sleep allowing for fluid to wash away waste products that have built up during the day, cleaning toxins from our brains (read the story here). We are, indeed, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

So, when God tells us we're going to get tired, why do we continually drive ourselves to do more? We think we need to have a job, be perfect parents and attend church whenever the doors are open. Most Christians are actually exhausted. So we shouldn't be surprised that they sometimes behave in ways which are quite out of character, even destructive.

Jesus knows what we're like. That's why He said:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Time spent resting in the presence of Jesus is refreshing to body, mind and spirit. Like a tired toddler nestling into Daddy's shoulder, we can simply enjoy the sense of closeness with Him.

Prayer doesn't have to be about telling God all the things we want Him to do, or even about praise and worship. It can simply be a matter of spending time close to our Father's heart. And if we happen to fall asleep, so be it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament

Jesus in OTYou study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me. John 5:39

I have found that the more I study the Old Testament, the more I see foreshadowings of Jesus. Some are quite clear such as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. Others are more subtle like the offspring of the woman in Genesis 3:15.

What fascinates me though, are those passages or accounts which appear here and there without any apparently plausible explanation.

Why, for example, did Samuel anoint David as King of Israel long before Saul died and he was able to accede to the throne? It might have made sense if David was tasked with the removing of Saul who had ceased to reign in a godly manner. But he wasn't. Instead he was exiled with a band of misfits and malcontents.

That has always puzzled me. Did Samuel mishear God? Should David have taken the throne by force?

And then I heard a Jewish Rabbi explaining why Jesus could not be the Jewish Messiah. One of his reasons was, "the Jewish Bible does not have a messianic installment plan where the Messiah comes, fails in his mission and then returns thousands of years later to finally succeed."

What the Rabbi seems to have forgotten is that the meaning of the word Messiah is anointed one, not king.

There are in fact, a surprising number of parallels between the life of David, from the anointing to the throne, and the ministry of Jesus. Here are a few which immediately spring to mind:
  • anointing long before the coronation
  • rejection by his own people
  • acquiring a small band of followers
  • returning to reign as king
God knew that there would be those who would not understand that Jesus' messiahship would precede His kingship. But the life of David has always been a prefiguring, a type, of the Messiah. That is why David had to be anointed years before he became king - to illustrate that we would have to await the second coming of Jesus before He fully reigns as King.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Main Thing

The main thingTimothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 1 Timothy 1:18-19

Why is it that Christians, especially those in leadership positions, sometimes mess up in big ways? Why do some fall so far that they even lose their faith?

Of course, for each individual the story will be different. But I suspect that in the majority of cases the root cause was a failure to maintain the important priorities. As Stephen Covey once put it: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

I have seen Christians become totally immersed in interests outside the Christian community. They begin to get involved in some secular activity in order to meet people with whom they can share their faith. But they forget to guard their hearts and gradually become corrupted by the world they set out to reach.

Others have a personal passion which becomes more important than the Lord Jesus. When there's a choice between Sunday worship or their hobby, the hobby wins out every time. Little by little they lose the desire to meet with God's people for worship.

In some cases it is more subtle - an obsession with a particular ministry or doctrine. Time which should be spent in the treasure chamber of the prayer closet is spent "working for the Lord," or "studying the Bible." In reality the ministry or the study, which was founded on godly direction has become an idol. Love for the work or the study has replaced love for Jesus. The personal relationship begins to slip but everything on the surface seems fine. Nobody notices until, apparently suddenly, another saint walks away from the faith.

In all these circumstances the main thing has ceased to be the main thing.

So what is the main thing for the Christian?

It is expressed very clearly in Micah: He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

If Revival is Being Withheld...

Jonathan GoforthIf revival is being withheld from us it is because some idol remains still enthroned; because we still insist in placing our reliance in human schemes; because we still refuse to face the unchangeable truth that 'It is not by might, but by My Spirit.'

Jonathan Goforth (1859-1936)

Missionary to China

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Avoiding Corruption

waves-cliffPure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means ... refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27

It is actually very difficult not to be corrupted by the world. We are surrounded daily by actions, sounds and images which are far from pure. In a crowded world we rub up against people who's morality and culture are contrary to the gospel and we are constantly being told that our beliefs are outdated or even bigoted.

This frequent repetition can wear away at our core values like waves of the sea against the shoreline, gradually undermining the rock on which we stand.

We begin to think it's OK to borrow a pen from our workplace, to under-represent our income on our tax return or to watch a film with a scene of explicit sexual imagery. We no longer are offended by the misuse of the name of God and even begin to do the same ourselves. We follow the fashion rather than dressing modestly. We judge, criticise and gossip. Instead of running from sin we tiptoe close to the edge and then wonder why we find our foot slipping as the ground gives way beneath us.

The gospel of Christ is a gospel of repentance, which literally means turning through 180 degrees and going in the opposite direction. This is a choice we have to make - to build our lives on the rock which is the teaching of Jesus (Matt 7:24-25). In order to do this we must be constantly measuring our lives against the word of God, bringing our sins to Him, asking for forgiveness and for the Holy Spirit to empower us to live a godly life.

We cannot avoid being in the world but we do not have to let the world be in us.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

We Are Family

FamilyEpaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. Col 4:12

Colossians chapter 4 is one of those passages which it is easy to skim over without much thought. At first sight it's just a list of people Paul knows and has no relevance to us.

But think about this: they were all part of a close-knit fellowship. They are mentioned because they are real people who lived out their Christian lives with one another.

Now consider your own group of Christian friends, those members of your church or home group who meet together regularly and enjoy one another's company. These are the people you share your joys and sorrows with, the ones who pray for you and for whom you pray. They are as close, perhaps closer, than some of your blood ties. They are part of your family in Christ.

You may not be particularly overt in your expression of it, but you love these people.

This little collection of people in Colossians 4 were like that. Yet they were certainly even closer because of what they had been through. Don't forget, Paul was in prison as he wrote, along with Aristarchus. That kind of experience draws people together. Paul also mentions his traveling companion, Luke. We know from Acts that they had been through many joys and trials together.

But I want to draw our attention to Epaphras. This is what Paul says about him in the first part of the letter:

our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. (Col 1:7-8)

Clearly Paul held him in great affection, respected his ministry and valued him as an envoy. Epaphras had gone to Rome and taken news to Paul of the state of the Colossian church. But Epaphras' heart was still in Colossae. Perhaps he was in leadership there and was concerned about his people while he was absent. It wasn't as though he could pick up the phone and check how things were going.

Epaphras' prayer life was something to aspire to:

He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you. (Col 4:12-13)

That word wrestling challenges me. It reminds me of Jacob in Genesis 32 and Abraham in Genesis 18. It makes me ask, "Do I put that much effort into praying for those I care about?"

And there doesn't seem to have been a particularly pressing need. Perhaps we might pray like that if a loved one was seriously ill or in other desperate circumstances. But do we pray with passion that our Christian friends will grow into full maturity in Christ? Do we recognise, as Paul did, that this kind of prayer is work, and that it genuinely matters and makes a difference?

How encouraging it must have been to the people back home to hear that their friend, even though he was 1200 miles away, was doing all he could for them to keep them strong in the faith.

Will you be an Epaphras to your Christian family?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Be Quiet!

man under bridgeMake it your ambition to lead a quiet life. 1 Thes 4:11

The apostle Paul is well known for telling women to be quiet and has received rather a lot of opprobrium from people who have taken his words out of their original context, by which I mean both the context of Scripture and the context of the culture in which he was pastoring.

But it shouldn't be surprising that Paul was a fan of quietness. We only have to read 2 Corinthians 11 to realise he had, what the British might call, a bit of a trying time. Not many of us can claim to have been shipwrecked three times, let alone flogged five times or stoned and left for dead.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that Paul might say to the Thessalonians, "try to lead a quiet life."

But what he says is actually much stronger than that.

Ambition is what motivates us to do something. Human beings can generally only cope with one ambition at a time, so we ask someone, "What is your ambition?" We expect someone with ambition to be single-minded, focused on the path ahead and undistracted.

It is sometimes frowned upon for Christians to express any kind of ambition but we know that there are preachers with the ambition to build large congregations, worship leaders who want recording deals, and evangelists who collect converts like notches on their belts. We're uncomfortable with that. We're perhaps also uncomfortable with Christians having ambitions within their careers. On the other hand, if we can find a spiritual way of reformulating what we want, we can perhaps get away with it. Is it OK to want to be a millionaire if it means I can give money to mission?

Paul was an ambitious man. He told the Romans, "It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation," (Rom 15:20). And yet, every other time he mentions ambition in his letters he qualifies it with the word, "selfish". The only exception is in this verse in 1 Thessalonians.

Ambition and quietness almost seem to be at opposite ends of a spectrum. Ambition is associated with drive while quietness is linked with stillness; ambition strives, quietness rests; ambition presses forwards as quietness retreats.

Paul urges his Christian readers to make it their ambition to lead a quiet life but this does not imply an unproductive life. God Himself says, "In quietness and trust is your strength," (Is 30:15) and, "Be still and know that I am God," (Ps 46:10). All of our ambition will change nothing of value if we are not in step with the Holy Spirit, and that will only happen as we are quiet enough to hear His direction.

So make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and let God do miracles with it.  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Old Way

Way“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust in me also. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If this were not true, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. If I go and do that, I will come back. And I will take you to be with me. Then you will also be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” 
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. So how can we know the way?” 
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father also. From now on, you do know him. And you have seen him.” John 14:1-7

Where Are We Going? 
Jesus told the disciples they were going to His Father's house to be with Him, and that they knew the way there. But this concept of the Father's "house" is a little enigmatic. Thomas certainly didn't understand what Jesus meant.

From the context it's pretty clear that Jesus didn't mean the home of Joseph. But, the first thought of the disciples might have been that Jesus was going to the Temple, commonly referred to as the House of God. There were certainly plenty of rooms in the Temple. Thomas seems to have realised that was not Jesus' meaning but Jesus doesn't clarify the details of the destination, simply the route.

Jesus The Way 
There are two overriding views in our world today. The first is that there is no way to God because there is no God. The self-styled New Atheists preach an aggressive anti-gospel which is really just an angry version of the old atheistic arguments. But the quality of the new apologists, such as William Lane Craig and John Lennox, have pushed them into positions of absurdity (such as something coming from nothing).

The second popular view is that all roads lead to God. This again is clearly nonsensical if we think about it. If all religions have equal access to God, He must be the same God in all religions and a cursory review of a handful of faiths will show us there are significant differences. The god who demands, under Sharia law for example, that a thief has his hand cut off, is certainly not the God of the Old and New Testaments.

No, there is only one way, the old way, and Jesus is it. We must put our faith in Him and trust Him to bring us home to the Father. The Bible gives no special words to pray, no catechism to learn, no penance to perform. It is outrageously simple:

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Eph 2:8 

Jesus The Truth
But Jesus doesn't simply claim to be the way. He also calls Himself the truth and this would seem to be an even stranger saying.

In our generation, many would echo the words of Pilate, "what is truth?" The idea of absolute truth seems on the verge of extinction.But Jesus said, "Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37). If you want to know what truth is, study the words of Jesus.

The truth of Jesus is what infuses us when we have accepted Him as the way. Once we are on our journey we should be following his teachings. We can only do this as we read the gospels and take heed of His words.

red letter bibleWhen Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble," you can be sure trouble will come.

When He says, "Anyone who is angry with a brother will be subject to judgment," He means it.

When He says, "Do not swear an oath at all," you would be advised to take Him seriously.

None of the teachings of Jesus are optional.

But it is not only His teaching which is truth. everything about Him is truth. When He told Philip, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father," He declared that we could know the truth about God by looking at Him.

Paul explained it this way in Colossians:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him.

To know the truth about God, study Jesus.

Jesus The Life 
Jesus is the way and the truth. He is also the life.

Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, think that the life of the Christian is boring and full of self-denial. While it is true that Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me," He also said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full," (John 10:10).

The best way to reconcile this apparent paradox is, again, to look at the life of Jesus. He Himself said, "For the works that the Father has given me to finish - the very works that I am doing - testify that the Father has sent me," (John 5:36).

In the gospels we see Jesus at parties and barbecues, in the bustle of the city and the quiet of the wilderness. We see Him drinking wine and fasting, teaching the crowds and spending time with children. He heals the sick with compassion and turns over the tables of the money changers in anger. He shares the glory of God on the mount of transfiguration and washes the dirt from His disciples' feet at the Last Supper. All of this in just three years of ministry. The previous thirty had been spent growing up with His brothers and sisters, obedient to His mother and learning the trade of His father in an obscure village in an unpromising corner of the Roman empire.

Most of the life of Jesus was ordinary, some of it involved the miraculous and a small part was consumed with extraordinary suffering on behalf of others.

This was a full and abundant life with eternal consequences. Ours is unlikely to be as dramatic but as we walk in His way and learn His truth we can expect that we will share something of His challenges and His joy.

For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. Matt 12:50

Friday, July 12, 2013

What Revival Looks Like

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 1 Thes 1:5-6

The word revival has become devalued in the church today.

Perhaps that is not surprising given that it has been so long since we experienced a genuine revival. However there do seem to be some stirrings in Wales at the moment. At Ffald-y-Brenin remarkable things are happening as people learn the meaning of God's blessing and His grace. And at Victory Church in Cwmbran the Holy Spirit seems to be moving.

What's happening in these places is very far from the self-styled revival, artificially planned and hyped-up meetings that have become popular in some places where prominent individuals are glorified before God.

What is happening in Wales seems more like the events when Paul visited Thessalonica - the true gospel of sin and repentance was preached, the Holy Spirit worked on people and they experienced deep conviction. Consequently souls were saved. This was not just a worship party for Christians to enjoy.

Please don't settle for rock-concert-style church. Seek the face of God, ask Him to raise up preachers empowered by the Holy Spirit who will declare the true gospel of Jesus.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Day of Destruction

western_wall_jerusalem_7You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place.

Rev 2:4-5

Tisha b'Av 
This evening, Sunday 7th July, sees the beginning of the Hebrew month of Av. Jews are in the middle of a traditional three weeks of mourning which began with the fast of Tammuz and will culminate on Tisha b'Av (9th Av), 15th and 16th July.

Why is Tisha b'Av so important?

It is because so many destructive things have happened to God's chosen people on that date. Here are some which relate specifically to the Temple:
  • 586 BC Solomon's Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar
  • AD 70 The Second Temple where Jesus had taught was destroyed by the Romans
  • AD 136 Roman Emperor Hadrian built a temple to Jupiter on the site
The day has also been associated with the Crusades, the expulsion of Jews from Spain and the deportation from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka in 1942.

No wonder modern day Jews still mourn.

Heed The Warning 
Why then, given the evidence of God's dealings with His special people, do we not head the words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus?

The casual attitude that says, "oh well, if we do get it wrong, Jesus will forgive us," denies the righteous anger of the Lord. The threat to remove the lamp stand is not an idle one. Judgement on God's people did not end with the Jews. He is serious about His reputation and the honour due to His name. We ignore the repeated references to God's jealousy at our peril.

Our Lord wants our undivided devotion and, as our Creator, He has every right to demand it. If we treat Jesus and His sacrifice for us lightly we should not be surprised if He disciplines us. But there is always a way back for the individual Christian:

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Rev 3:19:20

For a congregation of His people, willful disobedience may lead to the removal of the church, as it did at Ephesus.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Delighted Tree

apples on tree
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.

But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.

They are like trees transplanted along the riverbank, bearing fruit in season.

Psalm 1:1-3

The Question is This, What is Your Source of Advice?

We have two choices as Christians when we want help to make a decision. The first is to go to the experts in the world and seek their advice. That may seem wise, especially when it comes to such things as major financial investments or career choices. But why would we trust worldly people with such important matters. Surely they are the ones where we most need to know God's will. Whether we have a latte or an americano with our breakfast is unlikely to make an impact on our effectiveness for the Lord. Which house we buy may affect our fruitfulness.

God's word however, or His law as the psalmist puts it, has something to say about every aspect of our lives. While it may not deal directly with all contemporary issues, we can see principles which are able to help us see God's view on these things.

But, if we are to get a balanced view of what God deems to be right or important, we need to be thoroughly steeped in Scripture. We need to be transplanted from a place of worldly thinking to word thinking. It's no good just flicking through the pages of the Bible when we have a decision to make. We have to be reading and meditating on it in a systematic way so when the time comes we are already familiar with the ways of God.

The outcome of seeking God's will in this way is that, in God's timing, we will be productive for Him. We would like to see some kind of fruitfulness every day of our lives. The reality is that does not happen. It may not be because we are out of God's will or failing. It may simply be that it's not yet the season for us to be bearing fruit. In fact, it is often the autumn of our lives, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness to quote Shakespeare, where we bear the most fruit. This is because we have had time to assimilate the water of the word into our souls so that it permeates our being and results in an abundant crop.

Trees dying for lack of water do not produce a great crop. Vigorous trees are those who's water supply is plentiful.

Delight in the word of God and you will be able to make right decisions, the ones which will allow you to bear a bumper crop when your season comes.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Let Jesus Wash Your Feet

washed feetAfter that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him. John 13:5

Thanks to problems with our car this week, I have been getting to work using the wonderful West Midlands bus service and God's original transport system - my own two feet. Although my feet became hot and tired by the end of the day, at least I wasn't wearing sandals (with or without socks) and they weren't exposed to the dirt and grime of first century Palestine.

Getting Dirty 
Foot washing was a normal part of every day life in Jesus' world. It must have been wonderful to experience the cool water on your feet after being out in the heat all day but it was a dirty, menial task for the servant or slave who had to do the washing. That Jesus did this for His disciples is remarkable.

I haven't felt polluted by physical environment, but I have found myself feeling unclean after some exchanges with atheists on Twitter this week. I am more than willing to engage in rational debate with people asking serious questions. The problem is that some people don't like it when you have an answer to their objections. When they discover that you know what you're talking about and aren't cowed by their arguments, there are a few who resort to insults, bad language and personal attacks.

I am not offended; I know the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). But if I engage with such people for too long I find myself slipping into their style of argument and failing to deal with them in love. There comes a point at which you have to shake the dust from your feet and move on. But I still find myself feeling in need of cleansing.

Being Cleansed 
The only place to go is to the presence of Jesus, submitting to His desire to pour His cleansing Spirit over our souls. There doesn't need to be any great effort of prayer or worship, just a willingness to let Him wash away the accumulated dust, grime and filth. In the words of songwriter Dougie Brown:

River, wash over me 
Cleanse me and make me new 
Bathe me, refresh me and fill me anew 
River wash over me

Spirit, watch over me 
Lead me to Jesus' feet 
Cause me to worship and fill me anew 
Spirit, watch over me

Jesus, rule over me 
Reign over all my heart 
Teach me to praise You and fill me anew 
Jesus, rule over me

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Why I Walked Out Of A Prayer Meeting

Woman's feetMaybe it's because I'm an introvert or perhaps I'm simply becoming a grumpy old woman, but I keep finding myself wondering if I'm on the same page as everyone else around me ... or even in the same book.

Today I walked out of a "prayer" event which will remain nameless.

It was partly because it was just too loud and was giving me a headache. Don't these people know that God is not deaf? Do we really need to whistle and whoop like a crowd at a pop concert? And someone really should tell the guy at the front that now he has a microphone in his hand everyone can hear him perfectly well without him shouting at the top of his voice. It physically made my ears hurt and I was half way back the auditorium.

And I really do have a problem with people singing words without thinking about what they're saying. Songs addressed to one another (worship his majesty), or to ourselves (bless the Lord o my soul), were sung with eyes closed and hands raised as though we were actually singing to God. It was a blessed relief to sing the old hymn, Crown Him with Many Crowns, which concludes:

All hail, Redeemer, hail!
For thou hast died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail
Throughout eternity.
Please don't get me wrong, I love some of the modern hymns and choruses. My problem is with people who leave their brains at the church (or convention hall) door and lose themselves in the sickly morass which passes as worship in some of these places.

See what I mean about becoming a grumpy old woman?

But the thing which disturbed me the most was the expectation that in ten minutes we could confess our own sins and those of our nation and believe that would move Britain towards revival.

The place where we stood had seen revival in 1875 when Moody and Sankey visited Britain. Of all the revivals I have read about (in Scripture and elsewhere), none have happened without many hours, days, even years of saturating prayer. Revival only ever happens when Christians become powerfully convicted by the Holy Spirit of the awfulness of their sin. That doesn't happen in ten minutes, after a somewhat feeble time of worship.

The one glimmer of light from the day was a video message from a (sadly unnamed) pastor who reminded us of 2 Chronicles 7:14, a verse which has been on my heart recently and which, I believe, is the key to the revival for which I have been praying sporadically for the past 25 years:

"If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

I left the event with my spirit groaning. There was no humbling of self, there was no seeking of God's face, no appeal to God's people to turn away from their sin. We are no closer to having the Lord heal our broken land.

It seemed to me to be a wasted opportunity and I am grieved and frustrated.

May God have mercy on us and show His church our spiritual poverty.
You can read more about 2 Chron 7:14 here.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Teach Us To Pray

praying-manOne day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ Luke 11:1

I wonder how you learned to pray.

If you were brought up in a Christian home perhaps your formative experience of prayer was within your family. Or perhaps you floundered your way to prayer within a cell group or church prayer meeting.

The disciples, being first century Jews would have been taught from childhood how to make the ritual prayers of their faith and would have read the prayers recorded in the Tanakh - the Hebrew Bible. Yet when they saw Jesus praying they recognised something they had not seen before. There was a quality in the prayer life of Jesus which was unfamiliar yet attractive and they wanted to experience it for themselves.

It puzzles me that there are Bible colleges and seminaries all over the place, where people can study God's word and be trained for service, but no Christian institutions whose primary goal is to teach its students to pray. We seem to be expected simply to absorb the ability to pray.

I count myself privileged to have studied at one of the UK's best Bible colleges. It was a place soaked in prayer: we were expected to have personal devotions before breakfast; there was chapel each weekday morning; every meal and every lecture would be preceded by prayer; every lunchtime would conclude with prayer for former students; once a week we would meet in small groups to pray for different parts of the world; every term there would be a quiet day when we would not be allowed to speak and were expected to devote the time to prayer. Yet we were never actually taught to pray. It was just assumed we could do it.

I have to say that it is my experience that most people can't do it. It's not through any fault of their own, they simply haven't been taught. Most people don't know how to go beyond confession (perhaps), thanksgiving (probably) and asking for things (the bulk of our praying). There is little worship beyond singing on Sunday, no adoration and absolutely no concept of seeking God's face. Consequently, prayers are prayed half-heartedly and rarely answered.

I don't wish to sound condemnatory but I believe the church in this generation is floundering because we have not been taught by previous generations how to get breakthroughs in prayer. We need to relearn the lessons from the classroom of prayer and the place to begin is where the first disciples began.

Lord, teach us to pray.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Persevering Prayer

Disciples PrayThe apostles were all united in persevering prayer and petition together with the women, Jesus' mother Mary, and his brothers. Acts 1:14

They had been told to wait.

Jesus' followers had no idea how long they would have to wait. They just knew they had to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. Would it be hours? Days? Weeks? Months? How would they know when the Holy Spirit had come? Would He be visible? How would they react?

We have the benefit of being able to look back to the Day of Pentecost but they had no frame of reference except for a few words of Jesus promising them that His Spirit would dwell in them and comfort them and that they would receive power enabling them to tell the world about Him.

And so they waited, perhaps with some trepidation.

Imagine your self in a waiting room. What do you do while you sit there? Twiddle your thumbs? Read a magazine? Send text messages?

I remember Derek Copley, former Principal of Moorlands Bible College recalling a situation when he had been waiting for a student who was late for an appointment with him. He became increasingly irritated as time passed and the student failed to appear. Eventually she did arrive but by this time the Prin (as we affectionately called him) was quite angry and told her so, complaining that she had wasted his time. "Well," she responded, "you could have spent the time praying."

The disciples did pray as they waited. The apostles, the women who had accompanied them throughout Jesus' ministry and his family were united in persevering prayer. It seems that was their primary focus. There was really nothing to do but to keep praying that the Spirit would come to them. Nothing of any import was going to happen until they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and so they prayed. And they went on praying.

How long will you persevere in prayer until God empowers you with His Holy Spirit? Will you wait until it happens or will you simply go off and do what you believe God wants you to do anyway?

As churches, bodies of God's people seeking to do his will, do we come together in unity and persevere in prayer until we know that the Holy Spirit has equipped us for the task ahead? Or do we make plans and pray that He will bless them?

I believe the poverty of power in the ministry of the church today, and in our individual Christian lives, is due to the fact that we have absolutely no idea what it means to persevere in prayer in the way the early church did. So we do not have the genuine revivals of the 18th and 19th century. Instead, we have a society in decay and a church following it rapidly into a rise of materialism and decline or morality.

May God forgive us and teach us to pray.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Crowned With ...

imperial_state_crownCrowns are the privilege of monarchs and princes.

This week Queen Elizabeth II attended the State Opening of Parliament to read out her Government's plans for legislation in the coming year. Many present were dressed in dramatic robes of various kinds or in the sometimes very strange uniforms of British pageantry. But amongst them all, there could be no doubt who was the monarch.

The Queen wore the Imperial State Crown - an extravagance of jewels with over 3,000 individual gems set in gold and silver with a purple cap and ermine trim.

Our Glorious King 
As Christians we know Jesus is our glorious King:

But we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour. Heb 2:9

One day everyone will recognise His sovereignty and bow the knee. We are simply His subjects.

Or is this really true?

We Have Crowns
Ordinary subjects don't have crowns. But when we examine Scripture we discover that God's people do have crowns.

Here are just three examples:

Psalm 103:4 - He crowns you with love and compassion. The diamonds, sapphires and pearls of the Imperial State Crown have nothing on these brilliant jewels. God has set His love and compassion on us and they beautify us more gloriously than any rare gem.

Psalm 149:4 - The Lord takes delight in his people; He crowns the humble with victory. Gold and silver won't buy your freedom from any sin but God gives us victory over temptation if we are humble enough to accept His help.

Proverbs 10:6 - Blessings crown the head of the righteous. We are righteous in Christ and so experience all the blessings God has for us. As Paul put it, we have been blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3).

Love, compassion, victory and blessings - all things which should make us stand out as spiritual royalty and give us confidence in our Father, the King.

Why not take some time to meditate on these jewels and praise God for them.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Contemplating God's Glory

unveiled faces god's gloryAnd we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:18

Glory is self-replicating.

It is impossible to encounter the glory of God without being changed.

Perhaps that is why we often shrink from prayer.

Our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29) and fire is comforting and warming just so long as we maintain a safe distance. So much of the time, when we come to God in prayer, we remain superficial, as though we are conducting some kind of business transaction.

Maybe we offer a few words of praise, admit some minor fault, say a polite "thank you" for answered prayer and bring some more problems which need solving. The whole exercise is quite pleasant, But we have not allowed The Lord's fiery gaze to burn into our soul.

And yet, if there is going to be any genuine transformation we need to take time to develop a deep intimacy with God.

One of my favourite quotes on prayer is from Andrew Murray:

Take time in the inner chamber to bow down and worship; and wait on Him until He unveils Himself.

But Paul tells us that we too need to unveil our faces.

It is as dangerous as playing with fire but that is when we begin to become Christ-like and to reflect the glory of God to the world.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Even If He Does Not

FlamesShadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Dan 3:16-18

It has been said that faith is spelt R.I.S.K.

The decision of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego may be the ultimate example of this.

Unlike the "faith preachers" of today, they did not believe that simply having enough faith in God would make them immune from hardships. Theirs was not absolute trust in faith but absolute trust in God.

Faith To Surrender
Firstly, they had the faith to surrender themselves to the circumstance. They did not try to hide away in the hope that no-one would notice their absence. They did not avoid the issue but faced it head on.

Faith To Stand 
Secondly, they had the faith to stand when everyone else was bowing down to Nebuchadnezzar's statue. Man looks at the outward appearance but God sees the heart (1 Sam 16:7) so perhaps they they might have thought they could get away with making physical obeisance while keeping their hearts set on God. But instead they chose to stand amongst a crowd of prostrate people. Their faith was visible to all.

Faith To Sacrifice
Thirdly, and this is what sets Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego apart from those who believe you only need enough faith to avoid the unpleasant aspects of life, they were willing to trust God even if it cost them their lives. They knew God could save them. But even if they had to die an excruciating death in the flames, they would not deny Him.

Great faith is not believing God for the impossible but trusting Him through the unbearable.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Day Of Small Things

ripplesJesus said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:7-8

God In The Small Things
Who dares despise the day of small things? Zech 4:10

One tiny drop of Holy Spirit power is all it takes. We can work hard to do great things for God in our own strength and achieve absolutely nothing at all.

But when we discover where the Holy Spirit is at work and we begin to cooperate with Him, the ripples will extend well beyond our sphere of influence.

This idea of small things making a big difference is seen throughout Scripture.

Gideon's army was reduced to 32,000 men to 300 before God would allow them to defeat the Midianite hordes.

God took a shepherd to slay a giant.

Jesus spoke of faith the size of a mustard seed being all that was required to move a mountain and took a single packed lunch to feed over 5,000 people.

And to Paul He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God can do far more through one person's small step of obedience than through a church-load of people with bright ideas.

God Gets The Glory 
Why is this?

It's actually quite simple.

When we achieve things in our own strength, we get the glory. But when God uses ordinary weak people the glory is all His. And He will not share His glory with anyone (Is 42:8, 48:11)

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ 1 Cor 1:26-31

We don't need to be in a rush to do things for God. If we think we are ready for Him to use then, almost certainly, we are not. God calls on us to wait until the Holy Spirit comes upon us.

Then the smallest things He asks us to do will have ripples way beyond what we can imagine (Eph 3:20).

Friday, April 12, 2013

What About Him?

follow jesus footprintsPeter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them ... When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” John 21:20-22

Are you jealous?

Is there someone you know who has the car you want? Or the house you could only dream of? Or the attentive spouse? Or successful children? Or fruitful ministry?

Do you wish you had the bubbly personality, the clutch of friends, the model's body?

Have you ever looked at someone and wished that God would bless you as much as He seems to bless them?

Don't do that. Jesus doesn't compare you with others. He doesn't say, "come, follow your pastor." He doesn't say, "come, follow your friend." No. He says, "come, follow me."

Your only measure of success should be the degree to which you plant your feet in the footprints of the Master.

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Heb 12:1-2

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Dealing With Doubt

Yes-No-Maybe--YesNoMaybe-Dice-Black-on-Yellow-front-800x800Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” 
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:24-28

Basis For Belief
Thomas, often referred to as doubting Thomas, gets a bit of a bad press. He refused to take the accounts of Jesus' resurrection on faith and wanted evidence for his belief.

Sometimes we expect people to believe all sorts of claims about God and the Christian faith without recognising the genuine need for evidence.

Let's not forget that the apostles and other early disciples did have clear evidence that Jesus was alive. Peter and John saw the empty tomb and the apostles, apart from Thomas, witnessed Jesus empty a locked room and speak to them.

Thomas wasn't actually asking any more of the Lord than any of the others had already received. He simply wanted some evidence.

Facts and Faith
blind faithJesus, of course, offered a blessing to those who believed without seeing (Jn 20:29).

But He did not ask for blind faith.

He gave Thomas the evidence he needed to believe.

Many Christians have come to faith with little or no physical evidence. Perhaps this is why so many intellectuals find it hard to accept Christianity. And yet there remains an overwhelming body of genuine evidence for the truth of the Christian faith which, if examined carefully and with an open mind, is perfectly able to convince the skeptic.

It is unreasonable for us to demand faith from people without offering evidence. Even Peter said:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. 1 Pet 3:15

Answering Atheists 
The resurrection convinced Thomas that Jesus was God. If we can provide good evidence that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead then we have a credible reason for our hope.

But most Christians do not have the basic knowledge to present the arguments for the resurrection. This is quite tragic as there are so many resources available.

My favourite website is Apologetics 315 (apologetics is simply a fancy name for arguing in favour of the faith). There are lots of resources there including articles, videos and mp3s. But it will take you some time to find your way around as there is so much material.

So here's a quick acrostic to help you, courtesy of Timothy McGrew from his talk Evidence Jesus is Alive  

Reasons To Believe Jesus Is Alive 
evidence-jesus-is-aliveA - Appearances. Jesus appeared to many different people at different times and in different places. The most compelling example is that of the 500 people who saw Him at the same time - that could not be an hallucination (1 Cor 15:6).

L - Low Status of Women. Women were the last people who would be taken seriously as witnesses is first century Israel. No-one who wanted the account of the resurrection to be believed would invent a story about women being the first to see the risen Jesus.

I - Immediate Proclamation in Jerusalem. It didn't take centuries, or even decades, for the disciples to start telling people Jesus had risen from the dead. Just 7 weeks after the crucifixion they were preaching about it publicly in the Temple.

V - Voluntary Suffering of the Disciples. All the apostles (with the possible exception of John) died as martyrs, willing to give their lives rather than deny they had seen the risen Jesus.

E - Empty Tomb. No serious alternative explanation of the empty tomb has been offered. No-one ever found the body of Jesus which was a major problem for the authorities.

I've just given headlines here. I recommend you listen to the interview with Tim McGrew to get the full arguments so you can have a basic preparation for dealing with the doubts of the skeptics. It will build your faith too.

You may also like to visit this site

Of course, having the good answers is not enough. There is no substitute for praying for the skeptic. Pray like only prayer will work and make your case like only that will work.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Grace Upon Grace - A Story Of Repentance

The silent night with thoughts that tempt
Draws me towards my failing sin.
Yet I, for endless anguished days,
Resist the cries from deep within
To fall.

Determination weakens now.
My strength is gone, my spirit fails.
With every beat of pounding heart
I hammer in those dreadful nails

In desolate grief beside the tomb
I rend my broken, aching soul,
In desperation crying out
For One alone can make me whole,

And then the radiance of His gaze,
Which turns to flesh the hardest stones,
Touches me with exquisite love.
At last I hear His tender tones:

Prostrate I fall to worship Him,
Forgetting all my tortured fears.
I wash those precious bloodstained feet
With reverent penitential tears.
“Grace upon grace –
My Lord!”

Lynda Scotson