Colours on the Horizon – viewing the future from the Father’s table

There is a new season coming for the church.  A season characterised by creativity and community.  As a friend and I were praying and talking yesterday we were struck afresh by how true this is, how we can see signs of it already bubbling up, but how we have no idea what it will look like.  Like colours on the horizon we can see signs of it, but can only walk to it step by step, doing what God says each moment.  This isn’t a set model that we can develop a tried and tested strategy to reach. We feel like we have been given an opportunity to explore what it might look like in one particular church gathering that we’re part of.  Exploring by simply doing what God says to do each step.  First we began eating together, now we want to encourage, demonstrate and release creativity and expression towards God.  That is what has inspired this poem.  It’s not meant to be polished or amazing, it is the beginning of an expression of praise through creativity, of me finding a voice I didn’t think I had, in the hope that others might find theirs.  (Click on the image below to read the poem.)

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Dwelling: The Christian Life Part 3

From: http://dailyjesusnow.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/dwelling-in-gods-secret-place.htmlFaithfulness is the center of the Christian life, perseverance is how we respond to opposition, dwelling in God is where the two come together.

Psalm 91 is considered by a number of scholars to be a psalm describing spiritual warfare.  (Why not read it now?)  The references to ‘the fowler’s snare’, ‘deadly pestilence’ and ‘the terror of night’ for instance, are probably references to demons and gods of the nations at the time.  In other words, this psalm is talking about how we find safety in the battle that we enter as Christians.

So how do we find safety?  The answer in this psalm comes in the very first verse:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)

When it comes to opposition and spiritual warfare we are called to dwell in God.  There is huge similarity to the call to perseverance we find in Nehemiah.  Again it is John Wimber who helped me see this incredible truth that, no matter what the enemy may throw at us, nothing can harm us when we dwell in God.

Wimber describes how, during the second world war, numerous bomb shelters were being built near his home in America.  One day there was an accident by one of these shelters and a house was blown up.  Wimber remembers hearing a man say, “What a shame the house wasn’t in the shelter rather than near it!”From: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/homefront/shel/shel2.html

God is our shelter, the one in whom we are safe.  It is not enough to live near God – to have right doctrine or remember a particular experience from time ago – we need to live in Him today and every day.

Dwelling in God is a journey.  It is a journey of intimacy.  And it is this intimacy that links perseverance and faithfulness together.

Jesus said “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.  The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21).

Dwelling in God is to remain in love with Him.  As we love Jesus we are loved by the Father – this is the place of safety – the place where no opposition can harm us.

Yet this love and dwelling comes from obeying God’s commands.  Does this mean that God does want us to achieve for him, to fulfill his tasks before he will love us?  Only if we misunderstand the commands of Jesus.  The greatest command is to love God with everything we have and to love our neighbour.  The command Jesus wants us to obey is the command to love Him, to live with Him, to be His children – the command to be faithful.

Let me conclude like this: the three words of these three posts are different angles on the same theme.  Faithfulness. Perseverance. Dwelling.  There is a mission for the church, callings for every Christian, a purpose for which we are made.  These are important and worthy of all that we have.  But these are not the essence of the Christian life, they are not tasks God expects us to fulfill or goals we are meant to achieve.  We could do nothing to save ourselves before Jesus saved us and we can do nothing by ourselves to achieve the purpose Jesus saved us for.  We were saved when God brought us into relationship with Him and now the focus of our lives is to keep in that relationship.

Faithfulness means walking with God; perseverance means not getting distracted; dwelling in God means trusting we are safe when we simply stay with Him.  The Christian life is about faithfully persevering in dwelling with God.

Perseverance: The Christian Life Part 2

From: http://www.gembapantarei.com/2008/11/7_leadership_lessons_from_a_mountain_goat.htmlThe purpose of the Christian life is to be faithful – to live with God as the kind of person He has made us to be.  This is what we are called to focus on and put our effort into.  This is the essence of the last post.  But there is more.

There are callings that God places on our lives, things that He is wanting to do through us.  Ephesians 2:10 describes the Christian as God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works prepared in advance for us to do.  We are called to put our effort into being the person God has made us to be, but there is also a purpose he has made us for.  This purpose is something that God will work through us as we focus on living faithful to Him.

Yet I wonder how many of you have, like me, experienced the reality that when we put our face to the work God has given we begin to face opposition?  When we hear the call of God and decide to walk with Him, things often get difficult.  The fact remains that we are in a battle and this battle is real.  But how do we fight it?

Here the book of Nehemiah reveals a simple yet profound truth.  Our secret weapon in spiritual warfare is Perseverance.

Nehemiah is a book in the Old Testament that described the work of Nehemiah in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  A number of years after God’s people had been exiled and Jerusalem destroyed, the Persian King gave Nehemiah permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.  What we read both describes the historical situation and offers an example of how the Enemy brings opposition to God’s work and how we respond.

Opposition to the work comes mainly from Sanballat, the leader of the neighbouring people who did not want Jerusalem rebuilt.  Throughout the book we see numerous attempts from him to obstruct Nehemiah.  First he mocks and ridicules the very idea of rebuilding the wall.  Next he begins to threaten.  Later he calls Nehemiah to have a conversation giving a false sense of security, but then begins to spread lies that Nehemiah is seeking to revolt.

Mockery, accusation, distraction, and lies.  Ring any bells?  Anyone who begins to follow a clear call of God, no matter how great the experience that led to that call, will experience some or all of this issues.  Having moved cities or started a new role or stepped out in a particular way we’ll face ridicule that we’re being stupid, accusation that we’re doing the wrong thing, distraction that we should be busy with something else, and potentially even lies accusing us of things that have no basis in truth.  We may even find, like Nehemiah, that close friends of ours begin to speak the same things to us – even when well meaning.  It was one of Nehemiah’s friends who tried to convince him to hide in the temple due to fear that Sanballat was sending people to kill him.

What was Nehemiah’s response?

From: http://dwellingintheword.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/654-nehemiah-4/

This is what I find particularly interesting.  Nehemiah fought this opposition by simply keeping on keeping on.  He persevered with what God had said.

Too often we can slip into thinking, as soon as opposition raises it’s head, that we need to stop, turn aside and ‘deal with the opposition’ before we carry on with the work.  The assumption is that we must first make this opposition stop before we can continue with what God has called us to

John Wimber, whose teaching brought this to my attention, puts this wonderfully: ‘Nehemiah didn’t stop building the wall in order to fight the opposition. Rather, he fought the opposition by building the wall.’

Now, Nehemiah didn’t simply ignore opposition.  He took some precautions by arming some of the workers and setting people as watchmen.  He also brought every issue to God and we repeatedly read that, when accusation or threat came, he went straight to God in prayer and asked for help.  But he kept on building.

The Christian life is a call to faithfulness and the response to opposition is perseverance.  Why?  Because ultimately it is God who works through us to do what He has planned to do.  Our job is to keep in step with Him – to be the people He has called us to be in order that He can do through us what He has purposed to do.  There is no opposition that can stand in the way of that and there is nothing that can harm us when we dwell in Him.  And that is the topic of the next post.

Faithfulness: The Christian Life Part 1

From http://www.faithfulmagazine.blogspot.co.uk/Being Faithful.  That is the heart of the Christian life. It is the name of this blog because it resonates with me as being the simple center I want my life to be built around.  Whatever issue or situation we’re facing or thinking about, from personal finances to social morality, the focus point we always return to is the call to be faithful.

In these next three posts I want to reflect on three terms that have brought this home for me recently.  Faithfulness. Perseverance. Dwelling.

Faithfulness.

First things first: what does it mean to say that ‘being faithful’ is the heart of the Christian life?

It means recognizing that God has not called us to achieve but to follow.  His focus is not on what we do for Him but on who we are.  Think of it in terms of success.

From: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=faithful&aq=f&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=8n47UY_IN8rb7AaQjICIAQ&biw=1438&bih=754&sei=9X47UbHlA-KJ0AXMx4GgAg#um=1&hl=en&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=success+happiness&oq=success+happiness&gs_l=img.3..0j0i24.33143.36992.2.37060.17.11.0.6.6.0.53.495.11.11.0...0.0...1c.1.5.img.5xgH2AQ_Bkg&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.43287494,d.d2k&fp=331fcdb54cbdf1dd&biw=1438&bih=710&imgrc=NsbHnIRHqKzcsM%3A%3BjbJOAbcVwp63OM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.actionforhappiness.org%252Fumbraco%252FImageGen.ashx%253Fimage%253D%252Fmedia%252F37928%252Fhappiness-success_230_x_240.jpg%2526format%253Djpg%2526compression%253D80%2526width%253D230%2526constrain%253Dtrue%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.actionforhappiness.org%252F%3B230%3B240It’s fair to say that most people today want to be successful.  We want to do well.  Bookshelves are full of titles designed to help us live better, be happier, to succeed.  For many, though we may not verbalize it quite like this, there is an underlying belief that if only we can succeed in the next thing we’ll be happier, more loved, more significant.

It is easy in this context to view Christianity as just another set of principles and ideas to help you succeed.  I know many Christians, and indeed was one myself, who essentially ‘Christianise’ the way of life, priorities and understanding that we had before coming to faith and meeting Jesus.  ‘Success’ may now mean not doing naughty things, bringing more people to church, telling more people about Jesus – but however we define it, succeeding remains the priority and the basis of our value.  God will like me if I do well.

The entire Old Testament demonstrates how, even when we are given God’s perfect rules, we are unable to live as the kind of people He has made us to be.  That is precisely why Jesus came and paid the price we could not pay on the cross, so that we could come close to God.  The incredible truth of the gospel is not that we are given even better rules, but that we have been made children of God.  That we have been made alive in Christ, rather than dead in sin.  That we have been made saints rather than sinners.

This is what it means to ‘become a Christian’ – that who we are is changed – but it also shapes what it means to ‘grow as a Christian’.

Having explained this incredible truth of the gospel – that we can now, through Christ, ‘participate in the divine nature’ (i.e. become like God) – Peter goes on to summarise what it is God wants us to actually do:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  (2 Peter 1:5-7)

‘Faith’ is trusting that what God says He has done for us, He has done – namely, that we are made new in Him.  He wants us to add to this ‘goodness’, then ‘knowledge’, ‘self-control’, ‘perseverance’, ‘godliness’, ‘mutual affection’ and ‘love’.  None of these are goals to achieve or things to do for God.  All of these are about the kind of people we are called to be, no matter what we are doing.  All of these are about faithfulness – living like God based on believing the truth about God.

There are things that God calls us to do, but these are promises of what He will do through us, not tasks we are expected to achieve.  The focus for all of our efforts is in being like God, which comes from knowing that we are with Him.  It doesn’t matter if you are an international preacher or a dinner lady, a president or a dustbin man – whatever we do we can live fully for God, being a completely successful Christian, as we focus on being the kind of person we are called to be.

Christianity is about faithfulness.

Truth is told through stories – so here’s mine…

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/true-storyHow do you tell the truth? By telling a story.

This may sound odd.  We often contrast facts and stories; facts are about truth, and stories are about opinions or perspective.  Inspired by Stanley Hauerwas, amongst others, I want to suggest that truth is conveyed by stories that connect the facts.  Facts alone tell us little; stories that contradict facts are false; but truth is found when facts are connected and given meaning by a story that makes sense.

Think about it.  To describe who you are, the truth about yourself, to a stranger, you may tell them facts about yourself, but these make sense because they are connected to form a story about you.  In science, the most persuasive theories are not just lists of results from experiments, but descriptions of the world that link these results together and give them meaning.  Evolution is a prime example of a theory that gains it’s persuasive power not least because it is a compelling story of the way things are.

No wonder God revealed Himself through story.  The Bible is essentially a narrative of God’s creation and relation with humanity.  And still today, as individuals  we get to know God through our own stories with Him.  These aren’t just ‘opinions’ or metaphors with a ‘deeper meaning’ underneath.  These stories are descriptions of reality and the way things are.  They don’t allow us to ignore factual evidence, but they recognise that facts alone can’t convey the whole truth.

Who is God and how do I know Him? I can only answer that with story.  So I’ve tried writing mine short enough to print, put in my wallet, and share with people.  Here it is…

If God is real, not made up, then we don’t decide what he is like, we discover. 

Life is not always easy.  When I was 6 years old my Dad, a solicitor, had a nervous breakdown and stopped working.  That left a family of five (including Mum and 2 older sisters) with no income for 3 months before health insurance and benefits kicked in.  When I was 15 years old a close school friend of mine died suddenly – he was there on Monday and dead by Tuesday.  For a while after this I took anti-depressants to help me sleep.  To date my Mum has had cancer 5 times and numerous operations, not to mention recently being seriously weak for months following complications from so much surgery. 

Who have I discovered God to be?  He is a provider.  During those 3 months after Dad’s breakdown we had no income and no food.  We prayed for God’s help.  Boxes of food were left on our doorstep and money was posted under our door. 

He is faithful.  After my friend died I was deeply sad and angry with God.  But even in that time, when I was at my lowest, it was in God I found peace and comfort.  He draws close in the hard times, even if we don’t understand them.

He is a healer.  Every time my Mum has had cancer it has either disappeared or been easily removed when we have prayed.  When my Mum was seriously weak she spent most of her day in bed, couldn’t lift even a saucepan, couldn’t wear make-up as it brought a terrible infection.  After a month of this I was praying and felt the presence of the Holy Spirit – God with me.  I began to cry as I thought about Mum and I was asking in my heart for her to be healed.  After a time I felt a sense of peace and that it was done.  I called Mum the next morning and she was out of bed, had been for a bike ride, was wearing make-up, and was back to health.

God is provider, faithful and able to heal.

He is our good Father. I don’t know why He doesn’t always do what I want Him to, but I have a choice to trust God as He is, or reject Him because He isn’t exactly like I think He should be.  I choose to trust Him and have found He is better than I could ever make up.  God doesn’t sit at a distance, but lived as one of us in Jesus.  He knows what it is to suffer, to be rejected and even to die. In fact, He died for us, to pay the price so that we can be forgiven from everything we have ever done wrong that keeps us from coming close to Him.  Because of Jesus we can know God as our Father if we come to Him.  I’ve discovered a Father who loves me, has a plan for me, is with me in every situation, who does incredible things I could never make up, and who strengthens me and gives peace when things are hard.

This idea came from an amazing church I was privileged to be a part of at University – Grace Church Nottingham – and it certainly is something you can try at home!

Who do you think God is and how have you come to know Him? What is your story? Why not share some of it by leaving a comment?